Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stuff like this makes me go absolutely mataglap. Edward Kennedy is so much like one of the cardboard Washington villains of a Tom Clancy novel that it isn't funny. He probably thought he was playing both ends against the middle, but one of those ends were the enemies of civilization itself. And we were in the middle, with Damocles gone thermonuclear and half-spastic.

This man was almost a presidential candidate, and is still a senior US Senator. How can we be sure he isn't playing games with the Iranians or, gods forbid, some well-mannered salafist front? I really, really hope he's bugged and wired to an inch of his life, but knowing the modern intelligence community, I fear that's wishful thinking.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Well, it's Florida time again here at Blogfonte, wherein your faithful hero goes venturing into the land of retirement, relatives, and excessive flatness. The way which yours truly chose to beat southwards was somewhat more convoluted than last year's, suiting the current season's parsimonious & farthing-pinching mood better than the previous attempt.

Left the Korean putt-putt in a park-and-ride north of the city by the bay (eastern edition), and took the light rail to a new airport, which likewise has a newish monicker, borrowed from a respected, historical, and newly-defunct SCOTUS member when I wasn't looking. The light rail operator kept talking about the line terminus being "Thurgood Marshall", which was terribly confusing while examining the map, which had two termini listed, neither of which being named after the region's most recently famous son. I suspect that if I were a member of my greataunt's generation, I would still be talking about people flying in and out of New York City's Idlewild Airport.

A businessman was barked at by a uniformed TSA type for carrying a bottle of water through the security station, wherein I damn near stripped naked in an attempt to get my metal into the scan-bin. Meh, taking boots off in public is entirely too much of a spectacle for my sense of self-worth.

This year's flight was actually a pair, with an hour-and-a-half layover in Atlanta, waiting on the connecting flight. Both seats were in the rear of each respective plane, which made for much more lively airtravel than I've come to expect. More like a roller-coaster ride, less like a glorified seat on ye olde Greyhound of the Sky. By the way, what exactly is the point of automating the trash recepticales at Atlanta-Hartfield, which make impressive mechanical sounds every time someone shoves a bit of rubbish inside, presumably compacting each empty fast-food bag in real-time? This cannot be particularly efficient. Is it that hard, getting the janitors from one part of the stretched-out string of Atlanta sub-terminals to the others?

The second flight, from Atlanta to Orlando, was both more crowded, and much more impressive. The difference between a 757 and a 767-400, is the difference between a airborne bus & an auditorium on springs.

All in all, the trip was quite long, and I'm pondering just driving down next year. The extra five to ten hours might be worth having mine own transportation oncet I arrive. Course, it would completely negate all the pretty promises I've made to mine honorable auto insurance agent about how few miles I'll be putting on the Korean putt-putt, in exchange for this year's much lower premiums...

Friday, November 17, 2006

There's a new martial-arts supply shop in Bellefonte, located behind the Jabco Millrace Cafe on Dunlop Street across from what used to be the Bush House & is now a rubble-lined hole in the ground. Presumably they're aiming at the traffic from the Tae Kwan Do parlor the next block over on High Street. I'm not so much into the kung fu or the kendo, but at least now I know where to go if I ever feel the need for a bokken or a nifty pair of Seventies-style spangled nunchuku.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

So, Skip Beat volume 3. I had been worried that the artist, Yoshiki Nakamura, was going to ease up and let her saint-gone-sour protagonist, Kyoko, revert to saintliness & sweetness. As of the third volume, that threat has not yet materialized. Our heroine, having been provisionally accepted into talent agency LME as a member of the cloyingly named "Love Me Section", is obliged to prove that she can both elicit, and accept, affection. The flamboyant head of the agency believes that the most bedrock requirement of "talents" who work in the entertainment industry is this ability to be lovable. Kyoko, whose whole life up to the point of the beginning of the story was a sort of rigorous ryokan-themed training in this exact sort of self-denial and hospitality, is thus emininently qualified to do what is required of her - be what the "customer" wants to be, by engaging the core emotional needs of the "customer" - but her radical alienation means that she harbors the worst possible motivations for said performance.

After the climax of the story which covers the last half of the second volume and the first half of the third, Kyoko comes to an interesting revelation: the horrible realization that she is hollow. Everything she ever did for others, especially for the cad Shotaro who betrayed her selflessness in the manga's inciting incident, has been entirely *for others*. She was a shell of performance - of doing things for others, with a reflexive smile and outward happiness, and an internal, manic sort of grasping desperation. Admittedly, it was a cheerful, happy-eyed sort of grasping desperation, but even in the initial scene of the first volume, the allegedly-happy Kyoko, slaving away at multiple jobs to support the selfish Sho, briefly breaks out of her working-happy shell to race madly and maniacally off on a poster-hunt. This sort of outburst is not the behavior of someone living her ideal life, although this is allegedly what she was doing at that moment. When an unintentional revelation shows her that her self-sacrifice has only earned contempt and betrayal, this shell of selflessness and outward cheer is shattered, exposing what was supperating below. This new Kyoko is a personification of the grudge, with a comedically-themed mania for curses, voodoo, and scorned fury, but what we're seeing is the energy of desperation directed outwards for the first time, the little that was left of the heroine which hadn't been dedicated to the shell of performance.

The second volume was kind of uncomfortable, as it cut a little close to the true, core theme of desperation, as Kyoko, rejected from her attempt to spite the now-hated Sho by outshining him at his own business, tries to crawl back into her shattered shell, to be other than what she is - to heal her "inability to love" by main force. The irony is that everything the agency president wants her to do, she could, and can, easily do, if she was willing to deceive herself & crawl back into the shell.

Once the stories shift to her direct interactions with other artists at the agency, this discomfort fades, because it's the other artists who are being discomfited, instead of the audience. Or, perhaps, just me. You see, I prefer to identify with Kyoko-the-terrifiying-truth-revealing-monster, scaring the crap out of her peers & fellow entertainment-workers, over suffering with the comedically abused Kyoko-the-desperate-victim, scrabbling after her false, lost sainthood. This is why the next arc, which covers the last few chapters of the third volume, and extending into the yet-to-be-published fourth volume, has my rapt and urgent attention.

The story rotates around the rehersal for a performance of a play at the agency's acting school, where the theme of the play - the effect of a mother's death on a child and her family - echoes the emotional trauma of the president's difficult young granddaughter. The granddaughter's problem is that she doesn't want the happy words and fake optimism of the play's script and her grandfather's artistic dogma - she wants to be told the things she fears. It's a true bit of characterisation - nothing is as infuriating to a depressive personality as to be fed aphorisms and happytalk. The granddaughter is looking for catharsis, and her grandfather's philosophy only allows for empathy. Nakamura brings us to that moment of catharsis, with a perfect look of appalled shock on the president's face as Kyoko inverts the schmaltz and pollyannaesqueries of the script into something ugly, and dark, and real - and then Nakamura drops us into the gutter between volumes. See you in two months! Argh!

On another subject, while I agree with Jarred Pine about preferring heroines who are self-motivated & empowered over the self-sacrificing types who exist to motivate or control a strong love interest, I have to think that Night of the Beasts is shaping up to be one of the worst possible examples of that particular post-modern impulse. The protagonist of Night of the Beasts, Aria, starts out as a kick-ass man-thumping brute who has literally never lost a fight with anyone, and gets into enough daily street-brawls to make that more than an empty boast. But the conflict and ongoing centre of Night of the Beasts isn't Aria vs. demons or thugs or whatever, but rather Aria's ability to redeem her morally-precarious, demon-haunted love interest Sakura, to keep him from going wild & killing innocents in the heat of a beserker demonic episode. So far, her toughness has only been of use in fueling her ability to get close to the out-of-control Sakura & bringing him under control - to tame him. This is classic romance-novel wish-fulfillment, acted out with a big-boned busty tomboyish thug of a heroine instead of the usual big-eyed demure wisp. I don't know, maybe Night of the Beasts will go in a different direction from the one I'm anticipating, but it doesn't feel like it'll be a Devilman Lady or cross-gendered Bleach, with growth-through-fists-of-fury character-development.

Instead, it scans like Red Sonja cast against type as Jane Eyre.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Picked up the second and third volumes of Dokebi Bride from NetComics based on the impressive first volume, and found that, while the story and art continues to impress with a flair for the low-key and the mildly grotesque, the translation and lettering is getting increasingly nonprofessional and intrusive. Somebody needs to do a bit more polishing to their scripts - there's a lot of bad grammar and worse English. And the font they're using in the word balloons? Even *I* find it ugly and coarse, and I'm not exactly a font snob.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Robert Gates? Who the heck is Robert Gates? How is an ex-CIA guy SecDef material? Is this Harriet Miers Pt. II?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Aigh. Waited for twenty-some minutes outside the polling place in Bellefonte West before they came out & said that they couldn't say when the machines would be up & operational. Had to get to work, so it looks like this evening instead.

Idiot technophilic optimists. Yeah, we can set up a commonwealth-wide secure network in an hour! Bah!

Friday, November 03, 2006

OK, that was the shortest Fall, ever. I just got snowed on, while walking over to the main building to pick up some packages. There's still leaves on the trees...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Oh, wow:

...when someone says he's a Green and wants to "save the planet", that translates to me as:

"I am a puritanical killjoy with no concept of the scientific method and a burning desire to decimate my fellow-men so that the ugliest remnants of humanity can live the short, miserable, disease-ridden, brutal lives of medieval peasants in a spirit of smug self-satisfaction born of the sense that we have condemned billions of tediously aspirational humans to poverty or death"

Ironically enough, that also perfectly describes the plot and general spirit of S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire novels. The sad thing is, I consume those books like bon-bons. Just finished reading A Meeting at Corvallis the other week.

Via Andrew Stuttaford on the Corner.
Rightprof asked in the comments to this post if Bono was actually an evangelical. (Tried to respond in the comments, but Haloscan is being obnoxious this week. Thinking about dropping that service.)

Evangelical? Bono?

Sort of. By Irish standards. There's this interview with BeliefNet. There was mention back in the late Eighties that most of U2 were members of a Christian fellowship of some sort which sounded evangelical.

This article talks about that group, Shalom, and has a quote from Bono that he is sort-of-maybe Catholic, at least to the extent of raising his kids "technically" as Catholics. There's a chunk here that describes Shalom as charismatic & non-hierarchial, which definitely matches my informal definition of "evangelical".

This article seems rather definitive, though. They left Shalom in the Eighties over the whole rock-star thing, but are still pretty much believers in that tradition, just unchurched.
BTW, lesson from Tuesday's Halloween barbeque-and-potluck, to which the new CEO brought a bunch of candied carmel apples:

Don't eat a carmel apple when you're wearing a full beard, especially not when you're due for a trim. At least a quarter of the carmel will end up in your mustache or beard instead of in your stomach.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

If anyone could argue me out of my agnosticism back into the Faith by negative example, it would be John Derbyshire. What a shallow, cretinous fool. "Mysterian" my arse - if you want to totter through life a deist, use the proper terms. His reasons for losing faith are variously foolish (human minds being wired for religion is an argument neither in favor of, nor in contradiction to, the propositions of any particular religion) racist (blacks are religious! east asians aren't! I hates me some blacks, and love those Chinese!) and ignorant (dur, never did understand biology, but now's I've been edujumicated on my Darwin, I sees as how religion is bunk!).

I mean, he's still more religious than I am, even on a good day, but I can't help but feel contempt for his irreligiosity. And I suppose you can't possibly find a better argument for man's essential irrationality than that admission right there. Or at least, my essential irrationality.

Oh, well.
Utter, vicious nonsense.

The actual article - which provides the detail which Noah fails to supply - namely, that U2 was relocating to a country which *doesn't* impose an arbitrary and obnoxious windfall tax on royalties, in addition to the usual income taxes. Furthermore, Bono and the rest of the band will continue to pay their normal income taxes within Ireland proper. Nothing illegal or even particularly immoral is going on here, by rational standards.

Noah's predicate - that if someone crusades against poverty, then he can't have his own self-interests at heart when conducting his own private business in a tax-minimizing fashion - is utter, miserable, ill-thought-out horse radish. Real anti-poverty activists - from the early Victorian bourgeois to Carnegie to Melinda & Bill Gates - have traditionally been wealthy, canny capitalists with a perfectly rational commitment to not wasting their private resources on non-tax-optimal behavior.

Bono is merely the latest in a long string of wealthy evangelical Christian do-gooders. To denounce him as a hypocrite for not behaving as an economic martyr is just foul.

On another level, U2 is just the latest rock band to become tax emigres due to confiscatory European taxation policies. Were all of those hedonistic Seventies hard-rock outfits like Led Zeppelin hypocritical for bailing on Laborite England's obscenely high top tax rates, even though that money theoretically financed the era's progressive permissiveness in some sort of roundabout fashion? Of course not.

I wonder how much of this is just a push to tar Bono as a nasty, hypocritical evangelical neocon. He's said a few too many nice things about American Republicans recently. Time to cauterize the wound, soldier! Burn him!