Thursday, September 28, 2006

I thought the whole point of demotivational posters was to be condescending and mean-spirited?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Heroes is better than I expected it to be, but it's still damnably pompous and full of weirdness for the sake of weirdness. Hiro the Japanese fanboy is particularly peculiar - he's an undeniably appealing and amusing character, but he's full of *western* fanboy tics and references. I'm fairly certain that the Japanese fanbase for the X-Men comics is miniscule approaching non-existent, so having a random salaryman making an offhand reference to Kitty Pride strikes me as a non-sequitur.

As for the rest of it - the New York subplots left me kind of cold, but Hiro & the two Red-State blondes were pretty arresting. The show may get me watching network TV on a semi-regular basis for the first time in... geez, half a decade or more.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Man, this stuff is cool: the early Voyagers are reporting from the Heliosheath - the turbulent weirdness of the outer membrane of the solar system, where the solar wind runs out of gas & slabs up against the interstellar environment. I never thought of that chunk of reality as being much more than a good deal less than the usual not-very-much, but apparently it's a complex and strange nothingness about which Voyager 1 & 2 are proving that we know even less than we thought we did.

I gotta say, though - if Voyager 1 hits a crystalline wall & goes smash - everybody duck!

H/T Robert A. Hahn on RedHot.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I bought the first volume of an OEL comic called Ravenskull based on this review and the first dozen or so pages that the publisher maintains online here. The notion of a the Dracula Tapes-style continuation of Ivanhoe featuring the villain of that piece & the semi-tragic heroine struck my fancy.

I'd never actually read Ivanhoe before, but with a library within walking distance that was a problem easily remedied, and I read a library copy while waiting for Amazon to get around to shipping the comic. For those of you who've never read the Sir Walter Scott novel, it's essentially a nineteenth-century Marty Stu rehash of the Richard the Lionhearted/Robin Hood stories, with a lot of bollocks about Saxons and Normans and a tone peculiarly stretched between that of Scott's contemporary Romantics and the previous generation's skepticism and cynicism. As a romance, Ivanhoe is about four-fifths of a really great book, but the last fragment lets it kind of fall apart. Scott lets himself get pulled in different directions, and never can really decide whether he's writing tragedy or comedy, including bits of both, undigested and sitting side-by-side like Susquehanna valley rock formations. The best sections are those eventually-orphaned tragic moments, such as Ulrica's death-song immolation & the turret-top debate between the unbelieving cynic and false Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert and the Jewess Rebecca of York, his captive and object of obsession.

In the end, Scott drops the tantalizing suggestion that he was going to make a Miltonian project of Sir Brian's monumental pride and self-will, and lets him expire in a rather deflating and unheroic fashion in the climax, thus committing in the end to a sort of comedy. Rebecca, easily the most admirable and noble character in the book, is saved from a witch's incineration, only to be summarily drop-kicked out of the story into a Jewish form of nunnery which I strongly suspect is a product entire of Scott's overheated (or possibly overtaxed) imagination, leaving the rest of the ending to the less substantial, duller heroine & hero & numerous clowns and supporting characters.

I can easily see why Ivanhoe would attract authors of fanfic & glorified doujinshi, in which category I'd place Ravenskull. The dynamic of Rebecca and Sir Brian *screams* for a good het-slashing, the tension is palatable, and their respective endings so perfunctory as to almost demand a good re-write. In fact, I suspect if I dig around, I could find in the depths of literature and fanfiction some two or three examples of what I expected, based on the introduction, Ravenskull to be. A grand, baroque, dark, thoroughly Romantic spasm - self-sacrifice, guilt, witchcraft, a re-gendered Eurydice and Orpheus - a rich vein of deep potential, indeed.

It's rather a shame that Ravenskull isn't that story.

Oh, the art's there - a little shoujo-generic at times, there's something not quite right about the eyes at certain points, the occasional slight SD affection is off-tone for the material - but overall, for OEL pseudo-manga, it's quite good. The bizarre choice to mimic the Japanese style to the extent of following the unflopped back-to-front layout is, however, rather off-putting. You people aren't Japanese, this story wasn't scripted in that language, no-one involved seems to be Japanese, the source material is the product of a pre-Victorian Scotsman - stop trying to pretend otherwise!

But really, the problem with the comic is in the writing. I suspect the writer has no essential grasp of character conflict. The essential and sustaining conflict of any story based on the Rebecca of York and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert presented by Sir Walter Scott ought to be romantic tension. The text of Ivanhoe offers a Rebecca who explicitly despises her suitor, and a Bois-Guilbert who is enraged by his inability to rearrange the world and his love-object in line with his self-image and cynicism. The entire emotional journey of a proposed sequel based on their relationship ought to be between that impasse and the eventual resolution of happiness or self-destruction, or possibly both at once, in the spirit of Scott's own depiction of Ulrica's deathsong, perhaps. This particular journey is completed by the writer of Ravenskull in the first third of the first volume, at break-neck speed, skipping many steps, in a dream-fugue depiction of the road to hell.

Having broken the neck of romantic conflict like a farmwife breaking that of a chicken destined for the soup-pot, the writer then goes on to address what he apparently prefers - artificial divides between already-committed lovers and RPG-style macguffin hunts & generic indestructible villains of the most generic sort. You can see the artist struggling with the material handed him by the writer, and making the best of a bad script. But it wasn't really what I had signed on for, and I rather object to the bait-and-switch. I found myself re-writing on the fly, which is always a sign that the authors have lost me.

Such a shame. I really would have liked to have read the book in my mind, the anticipated story rather than the one delivered. Oh, well.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hah! That's great - the ethanol replacing MBTE in gasoline has been scouring out the meters in the pumps, biasing the measures downwards so that consumers have been getting a hair more gas then they pay for, on average. That's a benefit of ethanol I hadn't considered! Although it'll probably bite us in the end as we pay for the increased cost of the gas inspectors' time & the early replacement of the eroded, damaged meters. Among other parts, no doubt.

h/t Gas Buddy, which is a daily, sick fascination. And a good source for energy stories.
Could someone in a position to do so remind Ma Nature of the existence of the calendar, and the fact that we have more than a week left in Summer according to that lovely invention? It's been chilly and overcast for three days or more, and I'm not ready for it to be autumn yet. I've still got all of these clean short-sleeved shirts, and somebody just gave me a pile of second-hand shorts that it's too damn cold to wear.

I recognize that nobody can do anything about the fact that dawn is creeping up on me, making my morning commute somewhat gloomy, but the temporary removal of the Grey Monocloud of Fall would definitely brighten up the few remaining days of "summer".
Oh my god, Hekmatyar? I would expected them to have captured bin Laden before they found that old fox. He's an old, old, old-line ghazi, who has fought the Soviets, the other warlords, the Taliban, and us in succession. At one point after the Soviet withdrawl, he was "Prime Minister", which meant basically that he was primus inter pares among the warlords, or at least claimed to be so. I'll dig up some material on him over the course of the day. That's a damned impressive catch.

(Wiki entry here. When I checked, some Wiki silverback was whinging that the only source for the capture was Roggio.)

The source seems to be Deutsche Presse-Agentur according to this Rantburg article.

Some first-rate ululating in this Rantburg article from late yesterday.

Inital link via Instapundit.

Update: Meh. Looks like Roggio is walking it back to just a prominent commander in Hekmatyar's organization. Oh, well.
Aiee! There's an insanely cheap Geneon sale over at Right Stuf, 10 DVDs or CDs for $50, or 25 DVDs or CDs for $100. Even after screwing up and getting normal UPS Ground instead of the el cheapo free shipping, that's not much more than $5/DVD, which is my kind of cheap. But don't forget the coupon - BOUNTY10 for the 10/$50, or BOUNTY25 for the 25/$100 - because that can be a difference of over $500.

It's definitely a chance to pick up all those Geneon series you were kind of on the fence about.

This seriously destroys my budget for the fall, which was kind of straining at the seams as it was...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Through a series of impulsive decisions not distinguishable from mere whimsy, I found myself reading two adventure novels set in the Victorian period narrated by self-professed cowards, Flashman by a twentieth-century Scotsman named Fraser, and King Solomon's Mines by an actual Victorian, H. Rider Haggard. I'd been recommended the Flashman books repeatedly by folks on the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list and by Fred Ramsey, so I don't suppose that would be too unexpected a turn, though my perusal occurred solely because I passed by the book on the shelves at Schlow Libary while looking for the last volume of an eight-volume fantasy series by another Scotsman, Dave Duncan, of which I had in my personal collection the first seven, having somewhere through my travels since graduation misplaced said eighth volume into the darkening depths of oblivion. The Haggard novel, on the other hand, I came across the other weekend, while amusing myself by trawling through the "antique mall" over on High Street, the entrance of which I've passed on a almost daily basis these last six years, but never had until that day entered. That establishment calls itself a "mall" instead of the usual claim of "store" or "shop" based on the owner's habit of renting out (or lending, or extending on credit - I'm not exactly sure of the contractual details or the practicalities for that matter) segments of that vast and sprawling laybrinth, extending throughout portions of if not the whole volume entire, of three buildings between the Curtin Mansion and Petrikin Hall, to individuals or consortiums of individuals looking to sell curios, antiques, and the scrapings of their deceased relatives' domiciles. Said book has on its front leaf a plate indicating that it once belonged to the holdings of a public library in Erie, Pennsylvania, and I am not sure if it was stolen from that institution, or merely sold off & not properly voided in the transaction.

The comparison of these two views of the period from the view-point of fictive "cowards" is rather instructive. The protagonist and primary narrator of the Flashman Papers novels is one Harry Flashman, a villain from Tom Brown's Days, supposedly gone on to enjoy a great and grand career as one of the most-decorated of Victorian heroes, in truth a base poltroon & moral monster, turned honest solely in his final memoirs, allegedly reproduced in the novels. King Solomon's Mines, on the other hand, is a narrative allegedly recorded by that book's protagonist, big game hunter Allan Quatermain of the Natal Province of South Africa, for the edification of his son, a much more direct and yet less likely conceit - for what man would repeatedly proclaim in a memoir intended for the eyes of his progeny his self-described cowardice? The answer, most likely, is that we're intended to accept that the narrator and alleged author is professing a sort of self-effacing falsehood for the purposes of, indeed, false modesty. At points during the reading of Flashman, one is inclined to suspect something of the same sort, having been hammered repeatedly about the head and shoulders by the narrator of his self-declared worthlessness and cowardice, until one turns contrary and querulous through a sort of combative perversity, but in the end, the comedic effect of this is too overwhelming for such heroic doubts to survive intact. If the pretended coward of King Solomon's Mines is more of a liar than poltroon, the protagonist of Flashman is a plain-dealing villain, and his lies in his would-be memoir more for effect than against the substance so stated - Flashman is, indeed, a coward.

Though both books are striking in their picaresque effect of exoticism, King Solomon's Mines in its fantastic re-design of Zululand as the mythical Kukuanaland, Flashman for its of reproduction of the setting and events of the First Afghan War, the purposes of their authors, of course, could not have been more diametrically opposed. Haggard had set out to write a simple lost-world adventure, without serious satiric intent. Fraser, on the other hand, intended nothing if not satire, and a nihilistic assault upon the figure of the Victorian heroic figure itself, in all its self-effacing glory, while he was at it. He was writing in the Sixties, in post-colonial Britain. It's not at all surprising that a writer of that time and place would want to tear down the intellectual and literary memories of the Victorians, obliterate those elements and personages and ideas which supported colonialism - discredit the morals and virtues which made the Empire possible, and justified it. After all, if those were allowed to stand, then they would continue to embarrass those descendants who had let the Empire lapse, had wasted their patrimony. It was not merely necessary to critique the Victorian project - see Orwell's Burmese Days - it was necessary to *destroy* it. The author of Flashman, taking seriously that old saw about Waterloo being won on the playing fields of Eton, went back to the very roots of Victorianism, resurrecting a minor prep-school villain, proposes to drag him through every heroic moment of the period, rendering each one as un-heroic as mud in the process.

One thing that stood out, since I'm sensitive to such things, is the two books' usage of the word "nigger". [ugh] The narrator of King Solomon's Mines, written in 1885, uses that word exactly once in the introduction, then immediately discards it as unworthy, observing that he'd known natives who'd better deserved the designation "gentleman" than many an Englishman. The word "kaffir" is used throughout the text, and though I'm not exactly sure that this is much of an improvement over that prior epithet, given its current racist associations with Afrikaans and the memory of apartheid, it couldn't have been as offensive to Victorian ears as it is now, at least to me. Indeed, most of the cast of the novel are "kaffirs", including many if not the majority of the characters with demonstrated agency & importance in the novel. Not that I'm saying that the book doesn't display a certain half-blind patriarchal paternalism, but it's not a virulent or vicious sort of bigotry, being rather similar to the tone of many space operas which clearly descend from this exact book, via Edgar Rice Burroughs and many lesser immitators.

Flashman, on the other hand, is absolutely rife with the "n-word". There are few pages, once the narrator arrives in India, which is not disgraced by that epithet. Repeatedly. With contempt & intent. Mind you, as an American, in my mind that word doesn't apply in the way used by the author & narrator, that is, the British usage, synonymous with "wog" or "native", only more offensive. But that's the intention, I suppose - the point being how inhuman the narrator and his peers considered the Indians, Afghans, and other native inhabitants upon which they proposed to impose Empire, absent-mindedly or otherwise. The distinction, in the end, between the usages of the two authors, boils down to intent. Haggard's primary intention was exoticism and entertainment. Fraser's intent seems more nakedly didactic, if clothed in the fashion of humor and satire.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I was told by a mailman walking up the Stoney Batter on the way in today that I was the only person he'd ever seen stupid enough to walk and read at the same time who wasn't also a mailman. Am I to infer from this that mailmen make a habit of reading other people's mail on their routes?

Do other people get randomly insulted on the road like this? Admittedly, the usual insult is more of a there-there poor pauperish you, do you need a ride somewhere? than an insult against my intelligence. Of the two, I think I prefer the insult direct. No, you condescending do-gooder, I own my own car - it runs and everything. Even has multiple gears & a working parking brake! I walk so that I'm not as fat as you are.

Ugh. You know, when somebody calls me & asks for me to write up a bunch of descriptions, and promises to email me *what* he wants written up, I kind of expect to find an email with said information waiting for me by the time I walk up here. I can just randomly make up stuff - and I did, and just sent it to him - but that can't be actually, you know, useful.

And I don't know which departments have already delivered descriptions per their requests. They're the ones with actual knowledge of what they're planning, aren't they?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Four new Evangelion movies in the works? I guess those unnecessary Zeta Gundam movies must be making enough dosh to get *somebody* excited about film adaptations of old TV anime. But really, they've already done the movie adaptation thing for Evangelion. Just how many times are people willing to sit through dramatizations of Hideaki Anno's psychoanalysis transcripts, anyway? I just re-watched the Eva TV series a few months ago...
Bleargh. I now know why this Lipton green tea mix was half-off on closeout down at the Weis. Tastes like tap water strained through a clothes-iron & left in the crisper drawer for a week. *Smells* great, but the taste... If you make a mistake with a two-liter of soda, you're stuck with bleh for a couple days. Make a mistake with a box of tea mix, and you're up for a week or more of yetch. Thought that was too much of a good thing...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sorry, sorry. Not really busy, just... meh. I was down in Maryland last weekend, touring the Antietam battlefield & Harper's Ferry with my parents for Labor Day. Things have been middling busy at work, but not insanely so, I don't think.

It's getting a little coolish, and it's been raining way, way too much for this time of year. The apartment still leaks, although the roof guy & I have agreed that it's probably the exposed, aging brickwork on the south side of the house, and not the new roof that's the culprit. Whatever it is, the apartment stinks of mildew & mold. I've been burning a candle someone gave me at ComCon to try to change the stink, if not eliminate it. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be one of those strongly-smelling candles.

Picked up a cheap copy of the first disc of Argento Soma. Cheap DVDs are neat and all, but once you get one of 'em in a series, you find yourself semi-obligated to go & get the rest of the damned series, which are rarely as cheap as the first one you picked up on a whim. The show wasn't as bad as I remembered it being, from having watched an early digisub of the first episode way-and-a-hey back when it was new and notable. Nothing great, but really well-animated, and not the usual run of mecha cliches. It's supposed to be a loose mecha version of Frankenstein, in the same way Infinite Ryvius was supposed to be a very loose space opera version of the Lord of the Flies. (Same production house, I'm told.) I've never actually finished reading Shelley's book, but I doubt it had quite such a prominent role for the little girl befriended by the monster as what's portrayed in Argento Soma. In fact, I kind of suspect that the flower-girl from the classic Frankenstein movie was an invention of the filmmakers. Eh, speculation from total ignorance - so illuminating! The Japanese writers of Argento Soma turn the relationship between the flower-girl & the monster into the typical miko-and-kami Japanese cliche. Think Neo Ranga.