Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Here's a mock source-criticism analysis of the "T" and "PJ" redactions of the "War of the Ring" traditional narrative. Interesting, but I think the author neglects the possibility of an earlier "S" redaction or "UT" collection of sources which might explain a number of common narrative elements between the received texts without direct communication between the two redactors.

As for the kerfluffle about who the Rohirrim are supposed to be, I'd go with Goths-with-stirrups, myself. They're early-Germanic nomads living on plains that had once been occupied by the Fallen Empire, but now exist in political independence-but-culturally-influenced. Maybe the Avars? I don't think they were Germanic, though...

Via Professor Bainbridge here and here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

I just finished reading Johnson & Wilentz's the Kingdom of Matthias, a weird little history I found in a used bookstore in Pittsburgh last week. It's a study of a very minor cult figure of 1830s New York. The book works best when it's not talking about "Matthias" (a Scot from upstate New York born Robert Matthews), but rather about the religious context of the times in question. Matthias' cult, "the Kingdom", is rather tedious, picayune and dull by modern standards. When the authors use Matthias as a starting-point to explore the general religious landscape, things start to sparkle and shine. The authors are of the opinion that Matthias was a failed version of Mormonism's Joseph Smith. I don't know enough about early Mormonism and Smith himself to properly judge that evaluation, but it intrigues me enough to go looking up material on Smith's early years. I rather regret not buying that life of Joseph Smith that was sitting next to the Kingdom of Matthias on the shelf.

Insert Bismarck Quote Here

Dan Drezner is subbing for Andrew Sullivan on Sullivan's blog, the Daily Dish. Yes, Sullivan's blog has a name - it's just that nobody remembers it, so he's universally linked by his name, instead of by the blog name. It helps that he was a nationally-known journalist and columnist long before blogging took off. He's Andrew Sullivan, while Glenn Reynolds is still universally the Instapundit.

Anyways, Drezner is covering for Sullivan. Drezner is a substantial blogger and columnist in his own right, so that's a tad odd. He's having great fun with the gig, though. He's running a stream-of-consciousness log on his own blog, discussing the thinking behind his turn at Being Andrew Sullivan.
We don't really have New Years Eve in Centre County. With the university in State College, we have all the drinking nights the police and emergency personnel can handle. About ten years ago the townies of State College came up with First Night as a family-oriented replacement for the usual bacchanal. It's run these days by the Arts Fest people as their off-season event, but First Night isn't a particularly commercial event. The students are typically out of town for winter break, and it's just locals, townies, and university employees. The merchants bring in ice sculptors, and each participating shop, bank or restaurant in the downtown has one or two two-foot-high customized ice sculptures placed by their doorstops. Allen Street's downtown block is closed off, and the ice sculptors compete to produce the most elaborate and impressive large-scale sculptures. These tend to be ten or twelve feet tall and can range from twelve to twenty feet long. One guy likes to do a sea serpent with free-standing coils coming up out of the pavement every few feet for a fair expanse of the road. Others will do Lady Liberty, or Neptune, or a pegasus, and the like.

There are a couple of tent pavilions selling hot chocolate, and a resolutions booth or what-have-you. I rarely get into town for the children-oriented events, but I'm told they do exist; the Spring Creek Slammers people are going to be doing some sort of children's and teenagers' reading events. There are musical performances in the local churches and so on. Websters Bookstore is open late, Fred Ramsey's drumming circle has been known to break out the strange percussion for late-night noisemaking. At midnight, they'll be setting off a large-scale fireworks display. Some years it's on Old Main Lawn, but the last few years they've been using the football field at the foot of Central Parklet behind the downtown post office. Their firing area is small and contained, but their fireworks inventory is vast, such that the air over the football field quickly becomes a red-lit column of sulfur smoke like a djinn in full rage.

All in all, it resembles nothing so much as an American matsuri. The only thing it's missing is a set of torii leading up to a old-fashioned temple for the first visit of the year…

Monday, December 29, 2003

Jessica of Teep is in the process of tanning deer hides. Why? Because someone has to, damnit.

I'm continually in awe of Jessica's capacity for intensive hobbifying. I was about to offer an excuse that my neighbors would object to the smell of tanning, until I remembered that my neighbors are either students or dead. I can't imagine that people that live next to a crematory would be squeamish about something like tanning. Drat, I guess I'll just have to fall back on ye olde "I'm too lazy!"

Memes Are The Thoughts Of Hive Minds

Somebody exposed Steven Den Beste to serial experiments lain. He's a cell network systems engineer, that shit is like catnip to network engineers. The end result is an exceptionally long essay for a famously long-winded essayist. The basic argument is that he's hepped up about the possibility that internet-enabled "hive minds" are going to achieve superhuman intelligence within our lifetimes - intelligences capable of thoughts impossible in individual human minds.

Surprisingly, he doesn't add the obvious caveat that what he's talking about isn't "group mind" - intelligence with personality. lain, after all, is a group personality. The characteristic of a hive mind is intelligence without consciousness. I suppose you could say that hive minds can be distinctive in a fashion similar to "personality", but it's clearly not the sort of personality that says "I" of itself.

Den Beste offers Open Source projects and blogspheres as examples of emergent hive minds. I don't have much personal experience with OSS projects, but I sort of see what he's talking about in terms of blogspheres. He makes a strong argument that a catastrophic-expansion, singular hivemind like Lain isn't the most likely development. It presumes a perfect, literally instantaneous matrix, I think. The current models of hivemind are very much task-oriented - specific long-term projects, ideologies, affinities, etc. I have to wonder if general-purpose internet hiveminds are even theoretically possible, let alone likely. This is why I've been somewhat hostile to the notion of The Blogosphere, as opposed to an array of lesser blogspheres. The blogspheres are discontinuous. Hrm, I wonder if anybody's done degrees-of-separation studies to see what the average associative order is? I mean, six degrees is obviously too low, but it's certainly not a single-degree situation.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I was supposed to meet my parents in Cranberry Township last night for dinner. My mother works out of an office there; if you've ever been to Cranberry Township, you'll have some idea of how bad an idea this is at the height of the holidays. Twenty years ago, Cranberry was a nondescript crossroads in the middle of a large, open stretch of Butler farmland at the edge of moraine country. Its only distinguishing characteristic was that the Turnpike and I-79 crossed Rt 19, the Red Belt, and Rt. 228 in quick succession, creating a respectable tangle of roads. Fifteen years ago, a number of strip malls and facilities servicing the two interstates had started to spread, wildly. The completion of I-279, AKA "Parkway North", had pushed the first pebble in an avalanche; people could now drive directly and quickly into the centre of the city of Pittsburgh, or to points east and west via the Parkway East and West, along I-279.

Large, moderately expensive housing projects appeared all over the slopes of the highlands. Shake-and-bake condo developments started sprouting all over. The strip malls of the commercial centre around the actual cloverleafs spread into every possible tract of land, and the older, low-end stores started getting pushed out by actual franchises - an enormous WalMart, a Barnes and Nobles, a monstrous Home Depot larger in its interior than the town centre of Bellefonte, then a Costco, a Target, and so on. The developments drove down Rt. 228, which was converted from a horribly overcrowded country road to a multilane artery. The population density of Cranberry and its neighboring boroughs and townships - Adams, Seven Fields, Warrendale - is now higher than the McKnight corridor, or old Shaler Township. Tiny, condo-ridden Seven Fields is probably more dense than the old industrial borough of Millvale that my dad's family is originally from.

I failed to find them in Cranberry; I went over to the Barnes and Noble to use the pay phone to track them down. Twenty minutes of waiting for somebody else's family drama to cease monopolizing the only pay phone in the area, Dad came wandering through looking for me. The family knows where to find me if I'm missing - just look near the closest pile of printed material. I've got to get myself a cell phone. The pay phone is rapidly becoming a relic of the bad old Twentieth Century.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Visiting the folks these days has become an experience rather like camping out in a restaurant. Lots of food, but you have to sleep in the manger with the dogs, or dog, as it were. There's only one bedroom in the current condo, and that goes to the Princess of the Pea & her 9 PM bedtimes. I shouldn't complain - she had a much longer way to go, and via Logan Airport at that. The only travel hazards I have to fear are sleep-deprived maniacs in eighteen-wheelers trying to make NYC by daylight.

No stateside terror attacks yet, unless you believe that al Queda has gotten its hands on major-league BW technology, and chose to use it to attack the beef industry. Beagle II stubbornly refuses to say a peep; I fear that would be due to its current simultaneous occupation of twenty acres of Martian outback. My sister sounds like one of those myopic leftie villains from an old Ben Bova novel, complaining about money spent on the space program which "ought to be spent on education". She's been in New England too long; must be something in Boston municipal water or something. I blame the Kennedies.

I went shopping in a little game shop over on Babcock Boulevard yesterday. Malls are all different, but comix and gaming shops are all the same in their little ways. Had to pry the clerk out of a tabletop gaming session in the back to get my shopping done. Twice. They had the POS station wired with a synthetic voice, announcing the details of every transaction. Wonder if they have a blind clerk on one of their shifts or something?

My sister got me a DVD of Chicago for Christmas, and then complained bitterly when she found out that the parents didn't have a DVD set for the television. She had counted on watching it. Way to go, there, Sis. So she watched an old VHS tape of the Matrix, kevtching about how ooky it was.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I am losing confidence in my judgment on the Last Samurai, mostly because I find myself on the same side of the subject as The New Republic's always-wrong Stanley Kauffman, who is one of the few people to work for that magazine who is not an editor. In my defense, his dislike for the movie is based on tedious script structure quibbles and a dimwitted inability to understand Japanese absolutist politics, rather than anything particularly substantial. He also doesn't like all the fighting. What else he expects from a movie about warriors is beyond me.

I *think* that article is on the free side of the TNR website. I sometimes have trouble forgetting which is which.
Is there anyone who isn't an editor at The New Republic? There must be thirty of them on the masthead. No wonder these political commentary magazines never make a profit.
I've been greatly enjoying my new Maison Ikkoku DVD set.

Back when the only people translating non-SF/Fantasy anime was Vancouver's own Prince of Darkness, William Chow of Arctic Animation, Maison Ikkoku was the most-anticipated part of any shipment of tapes to Quest Labs of State College. I think I brought a tape or two back from one of the monthly marathon copying sessions in a Lawrenceville library basement (old-line fan club in Pittsburgh - Anime Keiken), and most everybody in PSSFS loved it, even though it didn't have science-fiction or fantasy elements like Kimagure Orange Road.

The translations of Arctic Animation were famously haphazard and erratic. "Cry rusted clock" became PSSFS shorthand for Maison Ikkoku, due to a typically wacky translation of the first opening animation song on that show. The fansubbing operation which briefly ran out of Quest Labs State College joined an umbrella fan project to properly translate and sub Maison Ikkoku; we called it "Project Haruka-chan" for in-joke reasons that will only make sense if you've seen the whole show. Bill Johnston went and bought the Japanese box set for the source material. It must have cost him somewhere in the range of $1200-$1600, at a time when he was putting himself through college while working at McDonalds and supporting himself. We never got that far into the project - we might have completed eight episodes before the ravenous beast that was Otakon devoured all of our free time. But if you search for my name on Google, you might find an old message prattling on about a cultural/religious reference in the first episode.

Viz bought the show, and then screwed up royally in selling and marketing the story. Viz certainly isn't the most incompetent marketer in the business - CPM and AnimEigo and a host of lesser lights certainly out-compete them in that respect - but they certainly aren't very good at it. They just didn't have any idea how to sell a non-action, non-fantasical neighborhood-comedy to American fandom. I'm not sure that they're doing any better these days, but a rising tide lifts all boats, and the relatively cheap prices on the current DVD sets can't hurt. The video quality is acceptable for a mid-Eighties TV series, and the sound quality is absolutely gem-like in comparison with the sloppy mess ADV defecated onto disc for the Sailor Moon box sets.

It's been so many years since I've seen the show, that it feels like watching it for the first time. Strangely, without disturbing this new-viewer innocence, I can almost recite the Japanese dialogue as it plays. This is, no doubt, due to the many incompetent hours I spent trying to time these early episodes for Project Haruka-chan, or listening to Bill's or Dave Asher's timing sessions. Thus my strange, faulty memory allows me to both enjoy the story on its own merits, and bask in the glow of a sort of deja-vu nostalgia.
I helped found Otakon, an anime convention that runs these days in the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland. It was, in 2003, the largest anime convention in the United States. Yay, Otakon. I'm not particularly involved in planning these days, but I do still help with registration and such.

This stands in place of the longish, detailed article that the Blogger monster ate when I tried to post it. Maybe I'll replicate it later, but I doubt it.

Monday, December 22, 2003

I saw The Return of the King from the balcony of a very full Garman Opera House on the Saturday matinee. Normally I like watching films from balcony seats - I'm not particularly sensitive to the sound distortions that bug audiophiles, and I relish silly childhood memories of Statler and Waldorf on the Muppet Show. But the Garman's balcony isn't nearly tiered steeply enough to give the seats on the aisles a proper view of the screen. Luckily, there isn't a director in the world that makes heavy usage of the bottom corners of the widescreen, and once the projectionist shut the damn projection-room door, I was able to forget where I was and disappear into the film.

Well, as much as Jackson was willing to let me to, anyways. Other folks have pointed out the timing issues. I couldn't remember how much of the Dead storyline was from the book - it's been years since the last time I read the trilogy - and I was distracted with worrying over that issue instead of dropping into the story. No, the worst problem I had with the third movie is the same problem with the whole trilogy, which is Jackson's low taste in overly-cinematic battle scenes. They're far too self-conscious, bloodless, and decorative. The battle in front of the Black Gate especially drove me around the bend. The way the forces of the West just let themselves be surrounded took me completely out of the action.

I hold Braveheart as a standard for premodern battle staging. The movie as a whole is overheated anti-British bigotry and Highlander self-glorification, but the battlefield pieces are marvels of clarity, interest, and violence. Of course, they're also Celtic medieval melee messes, but then, that's what they're supposed to be. Later films which have incorporated those elements have stumbled, mostly because those elements are inappropriate outside of that context. The Patriot, for instance, is problematic largely because it's clearly Braveheart in American Revolutionary drag.

Anyways, The Lord of the Rings. The ending of the third movie was missing something, but I'm not sure the Scouring of the Shire was what was missing. As much as I would have hated it if the movie had ended in that Gondoran sickroom, I think it might have worked better than the trailing coda that was shown. The best ending would, no doubt, have been the coronation scene in Minas Tirith. The books are elegiac, and mournful, and regretful in the final analysis. But the books are not spectacles, and the movies work the least when they try to be elegiac. If it had been a single-season TV series, which took its time from one end of the books to the other, if it had been a picaresque with room for many moods, instead of an epic with many battles and alarums... As it is, the elements of elegy and spectacle clash violently in the delivered film. There isn't enough space to allow the moods to coexist without doing damage to one another.

As a side-comment, I have to say that it's still too close to 2001 to enjoy the spectacle of a collapsing tower without political twinges. Especially not when it's the Evil Lord's tower. They tried to diffuse the expected resonance with a giant blinking Eye and an explosion and digital effects; it only half-worked for me. I know this is my issue, and not the film's. Damn bin Laden, anyways.

Eowyn's part of the battle in front of Minas Tirith is worth the admission. That was always my favorite part of the book, and it worked almost flawlessly. Well, OK, the humongous morning-star was a little too reminiscent of Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill, but I got over that... good scene. Certainly made up for six minutes of slaughtering oversized CGI mammoths.
Michael Jennings of Samizdata has an article explaining how the incestuous tangle of bilateral airway agreements led Virgin Atlantic Airways to give Cathay Pacific US landing rights in exchange for "fifth freedom" passage via Hong Kong on the Australia passage, and why British Airways and a passel of whining American carriers are up in arms about it. It's all very mercantilist in a way that I had thought had disappeared during the Carter Administration deregulations. Samizdata is good for "you learn something new every day" articles like this...

Friday, December 19, 2003

I got a question about Kare Kano, aka Kareshi to Kanajo no Jijo or His and Her Circumstances. It's hard to recommend shoujo comics like Kare Kano - and Kare Kano is so very, very shoujo - without knowing the tastes of the audience in question.

Kare Kano is a very popular girl's romance comic in Japan; the wildman director of the anime industry, Gainax's Hideaki Anno, adopted it into a flawed but brilliant TV series of the same name, which is available in the US from the Right Stuf. Like other shoujo manga which have been adopted into popular series (Marmalade Boy, Kodomo no Omocha aka Child's Toy), watching the anime before the manga may drain a lot of the fun out of the experience of reading said manga. I certainly found that to be the case with Marmalade Boy. Personally, I've been enjoying the US release of the Kare Kano manga. But your mileage may vary.

Yukino Miyazawa is a brilliant, athletic, kind, generous, popular high school freshman. She's also an egotistical, monstrous fraud, who delights in fooling the world into believing that she's the perfect self she's built in her own image. She's a lot of fun as a protagonist, even after the love interest figures her game out, and the fraud comes out in the open. The love interest, Souichiro Arima, is similarly self-invented, if somewhat more tortured about this falseness.

The A plot doesn't last very long in either the anime or the manga, and generally behaves like a bad case of malaria - going into remission for long periods, only to come back viciously. While the A plot is in remission, various B plots about the swarms of secondary characters chug along in an amusing fashion. Both versions bear more resemblance to a good-humored, sprawling Victorian novel than the usual run of soap opera or romance-comic intrigue. Think Middlemarch.

The anime is probably a little darker, mostly due to Anno's massive personal issues. But the anime is also a much denser text than the manga, and directly incorporates large chunks of comics imagery directly from the manga. The anime is strongly experimental in ways that the manga simply isn't. On the other hand, the manga is a mildly impressive exercise in high shoujo formalism in and of itself. It's this aesthetic quality that's held my interest in the Tokyo Pop GNs, whereas the more utilitarian, plot-oriented Marmalade Boy failed to retain my attention.

For at least one friend of mine, the main reason to look into the Kare Kano manga is because of the incomplete state of the anime - he wants to know how the story ends. Anno was dumb enough to jump into a project when the material wasn't sufficient for the half-year season he had committed to, and tried to pad things out by animating every single part of the manga story, including a long-running arc called "14 Days" which *hadn't been finished at the time Anno was working*. The anime gets, like, five days into the "14 Days" and just calls an end to the series, leaving the audience seriously in the lurch. It's a large part of why I call the anime a failed masterpiece.
One of the manga I wasted my credit on this week was the first volume of Hellsing, which is being released by Dark Horse in the states. Dark Horse insists on maintaining a higher price-point than everybody on the Tokyo Pop train; I was willing to shell out for Hellsing, but not so much for something I haven't heard of before. Dark Horse is really knifing itself in the back with this strategy - they aren't going to get much of a casual-browser lift when their obscure titles are more expensive than everybody else's obscure titles.

Hellsing is a violent vampire-killer story. The name is a wacky Japlish rendition of "Helsing", as in "Dr. van Helsing", but there's no relation to the fearless vampire-hunters of yore. Instead, Hellsing is a British black-ops organization dedicated to fighting monsters, Satanic cults, and the enemies of Her Majesty and the Church of England. It's technically an order of Knights, but in practice it's a bigoted Protestant madman's notion of what the SAS ought to be. Except possibly for the supervampire assassin Hellsing uses to wipe out its more formidable enemies, Dracula Alucard. Alucard is more than halfway on his way to Elder Godhood, but normally is restrained by his enslavement to the bloodline of the Hellsing family, and the only currently surviving member of that family, "Sir" Integra Hellsing. (The author seems a little confused about English usages - Integra is a woman, and not a cross-dressing one, either.)

At the beginning of both the anime and manga versions, Alucard mortally wounds a policewoman in a hostage situation, and "saves" her by turning her into his undead minion. Much violent, graphic mayhem ensues, between the monsters, the members of Hellsing, and their Catholic rivals of the Vatican's Section XIII "Iscariot".

For reasons known only to my id, I bought the run of Hellsing on DVD when they came out. There are elements of the Gonzo production that are worthy - a certain sense of style, viciousness, and the music - but overall it's something of an artistic failure. The TV series makes Celas Victoria (our undead policewoman/minion) the protagonist, and then makes her something of a simpering weebler with a highly variable character design. The writing on the later half of the series is weak, which seems to be something of a defining characteristic of Gonzo work - both Last Exile and Gadguard started out strong, but lost narrative way after a half-dozen episodes or so. Same might be said of Gatekeepers, come to think on it. Anyways, Hellsing TV: promising failure.

I thought to fall back on the source material, since I liked the premise. I've seen bits and pieces of fan-translated Hellsing here and there, but scanned images are not exactly the same thing as a well-printed GN in your hands. The verdict? Not bad, not great. The manga goes a lot faster than the anime, and there isn't a lot of the poorly-considered atmospherics in the source material. The anime ends up being a lot more, hrm, "Anne Rice" than the manga. The wild, silly Christian bigotries are original to the manga, and not an invention. Gonzo might even have toned things down. I liked that aspect of the story, but then I laughed at all of Moore's racist gags in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, so take that with the obligatory grain of salt.

The artwork is kind of variable, though. Various characters have insanely elongated arms, with forearms as long as their torsos and upper arms to match. Poor Celas continues her escapades in bad character design, although she tends more towards an elflin superdeformed alarm than the zaftig squatness of the anime character design. It doesn't matter as much, because she isn't as much of a protagonist in this volume. She also seems to be less of a wimp than the glum and conflicted Anime Celas; I rather prefer the manga version. We'll see how the series goes, but so far it's worth Dark Horse's danegeld.

Updated to add some actual description of what exactly the hell I was talking about... sorry about that.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The mouse I mentioned yesterday has been adopted and taken home by Ben "Chromal" Hauger, who has named it "Plague". Yes, I passed along Fred's warning about Lyme's Disease and all that.
Professor Bainbridge discusses an attempt to use "transactional costs" analysis to demonstrate why parties are less important in an Internet-enabled world than otherwise. The good professor argues that costs of informed decision are going to be nonzero, regardless of the ease of information search, because processing the information still requires expenditure of a limited resource - cognitive effort. He offers the example of voting for president versus voting for sewer commissioner, and how the perceived need to research a presidential candidate outweighs the transactional cost of thinking about it, while that same need in the case of the sewer commissioner will, for most voters, not tip the scales. He further notes that party affiliation represents a shorthand that allows decision without significant intellectual expenditure of resources. He calls it an application of "heuristics", but really he's arguing for the usefulness of habit in the form of party allegiance.

He makes a good point - I find it pretty hard to educate myself on the issues, and Pennsylvania isn't a initiative-heavy state like, say California. But I think he overruns the original argument, that the reduction of education barriers reduces, if not eliminates, organizational costs. It means that parties have to dedicate a smaller proportion of resources to voter education than they once did. The Dean campaign, in particular, has been able to divert a significant proportion of activist resources from educational efforts ("getting out the message") to financing and other organizational efforts that normally would be handled by the party apparatus. It weakens the tie between the campaign and the party, and offers a greater possibility for shake-and-bake campaign-generated party organizations, or transient, short-term parties.

The professor's cited heuristic or allegiance-based force is a centripetal force working against the centrifugal force of the new technology - it means that the old parties aren't necessarily, automatically toast. But the adding of a new force to the existing diagram certainly means a shift in the centre of gravity, I would think.
Jeff Jarvis has an excellent essay in the old Buckleyite "Standing Athwart History" vein, arguing that political campaign blogs are not, and cannot be the two-way revolution of dialog that the advocates have been proclaiming. Now, if you haven't been reading BuzzMachine, you won't realize how unusual this is. Jeff is a big blog-revolution booster, and he's very enthusiastic about the potential and practice of community in journalism, the academy and so on. His favorite mantra is "news is a conversation". The fact that he's stepping forth and proclaiming that political campaign blogs are not, and cannot be conversational in a true sense is striking.

I happen to agree strongly with him on this, but I'm not as strong-blog enthusiast as he is to start with, so *that* isn't particularly impressive. He points out three claims by the conversational campaign blog advocates, and discounts the first two, while agreeing on the third point. That third point is the argument that political campaign blogging allows a democratizing of process, if not of policy. That is, the new blog-reliant party structure is more conductive to the democratic control of extension of message, if not the crafting of the message itself. I am not at all certain about this line of reasoning. It sounds an awful lot like the people-power enthusiasms of the primary-boosters of a generation ago, when the caucuses of Iowa and the town meetings of New Hampshire got the boomers all excited and idealistic. I haven't seen anything so far from the Dean phenomenon that doesn't strike me as a virtual Iowa, characterized by the same degree of relevance and the same sort of insularity that resulted in decades of nationally worthless ethanol subsidies. While the caucuses were physically unscalable, I am concerned that Dean-type virtual caucusing is functionally unscalable - you can't extend them past the very real, if less defined, virtual boundaries of online community.

I predict that we're going to be talking about the limitations of the virtual Iowa in ten years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

"Art isn't democratic, but industry sure as hell is"

I'm wandering through the comics-fanboy end of the blogsphere, which is mostly new territory to me. I came across this rant about the usual "why do mainstream comics suck so relentlessly" questions that were old and tired when I first went wandering through comics fandom ten or twelve years ago.

Aside from producing the above grand Old Leftist quote, which I am quite in love with, the writer also touches on a theory that I hadn't heard before. He suggests that the monthly pamphlet format of mainstream comics is geared to naturally produce eternal superhero serials. The monthly pace drives a simplicity and broadness of characterization and plotting, because the average reader is going to forget more subtle or elaborate constructs in the interval. The broadness lends itself to outsize dramatics, and thus, inevitably, to tights and mutant powers. Manga has certain similar issues; the installments are even shorter in the original formats.

I would argue that the weekly formats lend to a higher level of complexity, but for the fact that the weeklys are generally broader and more simple-minded than the higher-toned monthlys. Graphic novel releases would tend towards a higher tone under this theory; sadly, that's not the original format of most manga - the GNs are compilations from the phonebook weeklys or monthlys. Perhaps it has something to do with the universality, portability, and cheapness of Japanese GNs? They're much smaller than the bulky, floppy American graphic novel, much cheaper (average of under 700-800 yen as opposed to the American $15-$20), and much more predictable in their appearance.
We had a vermin infestation here at the office, and a fieldmouse got caught in one of the traps. Our office manager, who is, despite a rugged backhollows childhood, a hopeless softie, has adopted the blasted thing as a pet. He's got it in a trash can on his desk, with his desklamp as a sunlamp, torn-up tissues as bedding, and a handful of popped popcorn as food. He was outraged when I offered to dispose of the critter.

I've suggested that he name it "Stomp".

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Unnamed journalists of The Guardian report:
The statement said that US troops were fired upon repeatedly and one soldier was wounded during the demonstration in the town west of Baghdad. Around 750 Iraqis attended the protest.

First of all, "the statement" didn't say anything - a spokesman or representative of the military did. A statement might have "read" as such, such might have been "according to the statement released by [x]", but to write that "The statement said" is to credit a literal nonentity with the powers of speech. Dogs might speak but documents never do.

Secondly, I have to stand in awe of the equanimity, the stolidity, the imperturbability of any intellect which can regard a sequence of events characterized by repeated gunfire and the sacking of government offices as either a "protest" or a "demonstration". In this country, our easily disturbed and excitable media workers are generally inclined to refer to such happenings as "riots" or, if the writer is of a sympathetic mind, "popular rebellions". A "demonstration" or a "protest" is typically a peaceable occasion on this side of the Atlantic, or at least an unarmed one. If firearm discharge and the destruction of public facilities are unexceptional events in the course of a typical British demonstration, I can't honestly fault the British government for its draconian gun laws. I'd want to keep such people on a short leash, too.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Here's a blogger reviewing manga that he hated.

I'm disturbed to hear that the third volume of the Battle Royale manga is such a step downwards in quality. I was fascinated/horrified/mesmerized by the first volume, and I was planning on getting the rest of the volumes. Now I'm not so sure about the whole thing. It's entirely possible that I could just resolve the impasse by watching the movie, but I was sort of enjoying the manga approach to the story.

I have to agree with the blogger's evaluation of Sanctuary. It was a solid premise - survivors of the Cambodian holocaust vowing to conquer Japan from both the political and yakuza ends of the respectability spectrum - sabotaged by a casual, brutal misogyny and a soppy sort of homoerotic sentimentality.

I might make this blogger a regular read. Seems to have it going on about manga.

Via Crazy Kimchi.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

I flipped over to the news earlier today, and I think I woke my neighbors with my cheers. It's days like today I wish I had a god I could thank for the bounties put before us. Glorious day, glorious day. Jeff Jarvis is all over it, I'm not about to try and do any linkage with Jeff, the Command Post and Instapundit on the case. I have to agree with Glenn Reynolds' private correspondents - there's something definitely off about NPR's response to the capture. They were using that funereal dirge that they had composed after 9/11 and used to play during the war in March and April. A lefty friend asked me if I'd prefer a jaunty Sousa march; why yes, yes I would, now that I think on it. Bad things may come; still, this itself is a reason to celebrate.
I have a certain interest in Japanese culture. Most of this interest is connected with Japanese animation and comics, but there is some depth to my breadth on the subject. I was never sympathetic to the fashionable xenophobia of the Reagan-Bush years, despite having grown up in the geographic center of the Rust Belt. I lost touch with a number of high school friends, who just couldn't understand my college-years enthusiasm for Japanese things, who cherished a certain congenital national revulsion against the trade-enemy.

That being said, I never could abide samurai-worship, bushido, and all of that death-cult crap that should have died with Mishima but, sadly, hasn't. I won't tolerate European old-right enthusiasm for the lost institutions of nobility, class, and bigotry, and I won't turn a kind eye on that same enthusiasm in lacquered armor over padding and a kimono. In any conflict between a peasantry and a nobility, I will, all other factors being equal, side with the peasantry, with the future, with an egalitarian cause. All men are not equal, but they are born that way. The potentials they hold within are not determined by caste, family, blood or position. Those potentials are not knowable in the womb; systems that pretend otherwise are abominations in my eyes. Aristocracy is an evil. It is not the only evil – the last century stands almost like a laboratory for the wholesale invention and demonstration of all the possible evils the world can produce – but it is evil sufficient in and of itself to warrant fury and rage. A system in which certain people are declared less human because of birth is one for which I have not yet plumbed the depths of hate.

The samurai represent one of the most pure expressions of aristocracy the world has ever seen. The Tokugawa samurai were such that no commoner could ever join their number. It was a caste, as hard and fast and impenetrable as the crust of the earth itself. Only an act of God could break it, a catastrophe of volcanic proportions. The samurai worshiped death; prized inflexibility; reserved the right to slaughter presumptuous commoners. After the Meiji overthrow of the Shogunate, they asserted a monopoly on military power and political authority. The Satsuma Rebellion of the late 1870s represented an uprising in favor of aristocratic privilege – the privileges of nobility, of life or death over commoners, of class arrogance and birth, of the rights of certain families over the common rights of a people, or the natural rights of Man.

The samurai had virtues, as do all traditionalist, nationalist, militarist, or fascist factions or movements. They prized bravery, loyalty, nobility. One can recognize these virtues; one should not let that recognition overthrow one's own virtues – liberty, equality, mercy, compassion, progress.

I knew I shouldn't go see the Last Samurai. I knew it would enrage me. I am a person for whom politics often overwhelm aesthetics. I suppose this means that I don't possess the artistic temperament. It sometimes seems that to the artistic, nobility always trumps equality, bravery defeats mercy, loyalty crushes liberty. the Last Samurai is a very artistic film. I can see the points at which a writer, of lesser artistic sensibilities, might have built a story in which the last gasp of the noble samurai was tragically, accurately depicted; one in which our American hero comes to do a job, meets and is humbled by the titular last samurai, and yet marches forth in the end to suppress the rebellion, and strike down his inflexible friend in a true conflict between eastern and western values.

But the creators of the Last Samurai do not feel it necessary to acknowledge that there are western values. Our hero, as depicted, is a hollow vessel, emptied out by his experiences. He has no values of his own, and thus is filled by the values of the culture he encounters. This is a narrative for a defeated nation, a self-defeated nation, a polity without the courage of its own convictions. This is the ideology of nothingness. It is a placeholder for any assertion strong enough to fill its vacuum.

There are other issues with the movie – the classist, near-racist depiction of all Japanese commoners as cowards, bullies, or cowardly bullies; the way it doesn't follow through on the courage of its own abominable convictions and let the protagonist die in battle; some minor anachronisms, the largely bloodless violence, certain ugly wish-fulfillment moments – but the ones that truly outrage me are ideological. I am offended by this film's historical myopia. I am offended that they didn’t think historically. No-one in the project seems to have thought out the true tragedy - that the moral victory of the samurai, the retention of a samurai spirit within the New Japan, the spreading of that samurai spirit throughout the Japanese commons, would eventually result in the monstrosity of Japanese militarism and catastrophic defeat by the Americans.

The story of the Satsuma Rebellion, of the suppression of the samurai, is one that, told clearly, can only be a comprehensive tragedy. That the Last Samurai ends up a mere myopic melodrama, is both an ethical failure and a sin of the imagination.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Remember how we were destroying the ozone layer, and the proof was a big honking hole over the South Atlantic? Here's an article suggesting that the "South Atlantic Anomoly" is directly related to a drop in the strength of the magnetic field of Earth by about 10%, and thus possibly corresponding ozone depletion. I wondered if there was something along those lines going on when I heard that the magnetic field was weakening...

Yeah, yeah... Fark.
Andrew Sullivan points out an excellent regional analysis of political and social trends. The authors have divided the country into ten regions at the county level, using thirty-year voting patterns exclusively. They provide sociological and ethnic breakdowns based on those regions, rather than vice-versa. It results in some pretty strange choices, which I'm not too sure about - the northern tier of Eastern Virginian counties are placed in "Southern Lowlands" rather than "Northeast Corridor", and the Mississippi delta counties fall into "Appalachia" instead of the rest of the Delta, (Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, and northwards), which were shoved into "Big River". I'll have to ask my Delta people whether they agree with that - I had always thought that the Arkansas and Mississippi sides of the Delta were politically indistinguishable, but I could be wrong. It's a meaty analysis, with a lot of detail and political recommendations for both Republicans and Democrats. It reminds me of Garreau's Nine Nations of North America, except with political instead of sociological emphasis.

Among the other points that the authors make is that if Bush holds the same regions at the same percentages as last time, he'll have a greater majority - he took four of the five regions which have gained most from the last census. One point is that the "Southern Lowlands" and "Big River" regions are the swing votes, with the other eight being mostly committed to one camp or the other - "Upper Coasts" (AKA New England and the northern Pacific Coast), "Great Lakes", "Northeast Corridor" and "El Norte" (AKA the Hispanic southwestern fringe) going Democratic, "Southern Comfort" (AKA Gulf Coast), "Sagebrush", "Appalachia" and the "Farm Belt" going Republican.
The Wright Brothers were from a hard-abolitionist Western Reserve family; their father was a firebrand of a bishop for the United Brethren Church. Excellent article that discusses the hard work and work ethic that lead up to the actual flight that we'll be celebrating next week.

Via Samizdata.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I'm in fanboy lurker mode right now, reading a lot of Battlestar Galactica feedback and working like a dog. So far, the most interesting bit I've found is this honking big interview with showrunner Ron Moore, who was a big writing gun on the Star Wars franchise. While I'm at it, 101-280 linked to a semi-interesting Tarantino interview about Kill Bill.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Was in a really bad mood yesterday, until I came home and discovered that my cable company had, unbeknownst to me, suddenly started carrying SciFi Channel. Just in time for the new Battlestar Galactica miniseries!

The remake was a pleasant surprise. I remember having a very odd conversation with a passel of security guards at the Baltimore Convention Center last August, while waiting for someone at the security entrance, about the plans for the Battlestar Galactica remake. Cynical old bastard that I am, I insisted that it couldn't be any good. The guards were impressed by the casting of James Edward Olmos as Adama.

The original was a mess - poorly plotted, illogical, kitschy in that way that only Seventies TV could be. It was, by my current standards, utterly dopy. But to a kid, it was coolness incarnate. Those solemn horns, the launching vipers, the "by-your-leave" Cylons - it's an inextricable part of my childhood, and probably the childhood of anyone growing up in the late Seventies. The scripts were just dripping with neoconservative bitterness - with the conviction that all detentes were corrupt traps, that the lamb might lie down with the lion, but only the lion was getting back up again. It had a great, late-Seventies multiracial cast. The military uniforms were great - dark blue staff, khaki fighter-pilot, with those meaty, cape-like brown flight jackets with the heavy buckles. The design of the rest of the show was disco-awful, but the military designs were something else... I remember the show running much longer than it actually did., Despite the spectacular destruction of Pittsburgh's Civic Arena in the opening credits, the sequel-series Battlestar Galactica 1980 was utterly worthless rubbish, with none of the charm and little of the cast of the original. I suppose the terrible sequel and the massive problems of the original had primed me to expect a monstrosity of bad taste in the remake.

Boy, was I surprised. I shouldn't have been. After all, its time has come round again. Battlestar Galactica is a story for warlike times. The interrupted peace, the losing battle - the original Battlestar Galactica was at the same time a retelling of the Pearl Harbor attack and a bitter, cynical prediction of the cost of treating with evil.

The new version has dropped the detente storyline. The Cylons don't indulge in treacherous negotiation, they just infiltrate, compromising the Colonial society and attacking from nowhere. The post-9/11 parallels are unstated but unmistakable. The first warning of war is multiple thermonuclear detonations on the Colonial homeworlds. The surviving politicians, enroute from nowhere to where ever, scramble to make sense of the disaster while circling in the figurative skies. There's no let-up, and disaster follows disaster in the second hour of the miniseries. It's absolutely brilliant.

The new Colonies haven't changed in their essentials, but the kitschiness of the original have largely been discarded. Commander Adama still has a fighter-pilot son who goes by "Apollo", but it's his callsign, not his name, which is Lee Adama - a bitter young man, thoroughly alienated from his father over the training-accident death of his brother. "Starbuck" is the callsign of a ferocious, butch blonde pilot who spends half the first installment in the brig for slugging Colonel Tigh in a poker game. The Galactica is literally a museum-piece, going through the rituals of decommission and cruising towards its new destiny as a monument and tourist attraction. They've already installed the museum-shops in the port flight-decks.

I had feared that this nonsense about a female-Terminator-type Cylon and Baltar would be horrible. It turned out to be - not. "Six" is honestly creepy - curious, sensual, questioning, and oddly religious. Gaius Baltar is an unintentional traitor - he thinks he's exploiting a shadowy subcontractor in exchange for access for industrial espionage, aimed at gaining the inside track on future military contracts. The scene where he's told of his treachery is priceless, ending in the shockwave of a nuclear strike on the distant capital.

The show's feeling overall is a peculiar blend of The Day After, By Dawn's Early Light, and the special effects of Whedon's Firefly. The music is largely subdued and vaguely exotic-tribal, heavy on pipes and drums. The only time the famous trumpet cadences sound is during a brief Viper-squadron flyby during the decommission ceremonies, like the distant echo of faded glories. Adama gives a raw, pained, rueful speech at those ceremonies, totally inappropriate for the occasion. Clearly thinking of his complicity in the death of his one son, and the alienation of the other, he muses that the Cylons are Colonial creations, their Frankenstein's sin, and that forgetting one's sins doesn't make one innocent - only ignorant. He's talking about a war as old to them as the war against the Nazis are to us, but it's staged as a delphic oracle. It's given just before the karmic burden descends.

Oh, I am so happy about this new Galactica. Suprise gifts are always the most cherished.
Fowl Dance

A clean page defiled
Bloated, cluttered and scratched
Watch this pen like a hen
Scratch its way
Haltingly, erratically
Across a kitchen yard
Hither and thither,
The churned white, marred
Not a thought in its
Pea-sized mind.


Watch this.

Here comes the axe.


The gouting stream makes
Remarkable little noise
A scrabbling fury
Caught on tape
Makes precious little more sound
Than the living bird itself.
Death is a stinking art
The coppery smell
The emptied-bowel stench
The muddy yard flung in clods in the air…
I guess it's chicken tonight.


Friday, December 05, 2003

I was googling for a definition of "Craftsman bungalow", when I came across this site about American architectural styles by a professor from Northern Arizona University. He must have lived in Centre County at some point, because an inordinate number of his pictorial examples are from either Lewistown, Bellefonte, or State College. He's got pictures of the better part of Bellefonte's Front Street and the courthouse square scattered among a half-dozen pages. The Brockerhoff House is used to illustrate Second Empire. The rowhouses along either side of the courthouse square are there, illustrating Georgian urban styles. He used the ugly brick Methodist church across the street from my apartment as an illustration of Gothic Revival. (Why he didn't just take a trip down to Pittsburgh and use any of the dozens of better, grander examples of Gothic Revival - like the Cathedral of Learning, or the Heinz Chapel - is beyond me.) One of our systems people here at work lives in a back apartment in the building shown in illustration #5 for Queen Anne; that's the Reynolds place in #2, I think.

Oh, Craftsman bungalows? #1 - State College.
Clark apparently thought it would be a good idea to forcefully declare that he would discard Bush's foreign policies by saying he would "put the pre-emptive strike doctrine into the shredder". So glad to see that the good general has a feel for context-appropriate rhetorical imagery.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Patrick S. Lasswell compares Sean Penn to Charles Lindbergh. Personally, I would have used Errol Flynn to preserve the "Hollywood fascist" rhetorical symmetry, but that's my issue, not his.

Now, if we were talking poets, you can't go wrong with W.B. Yeats or Ezra Pound.
We were out to lunch this afternoon, when Chromal announced that he had heard a rumor that Bush was about to announce another "put men on the moon" program. I told him that was highly unlikely, because of our current commitments, lack of money, and NASA's pos-Columbia state of disorder, disorganization, and disarray. I think I managed to convince him. What did I find, upon returning to the office? Confirmation from Fox News, via Glenn Reynolds, that administration officials were, indeed, plotting that very thing. Bloody wonderful.

Is it my imagination, or is Bush the Younger doing his very best Jack Kennedy impersonation? It's as if he took Lloyd Bentsen's swipe at Dan Quayle as some sort of personal challenge. Somewhat disappointing scion of an ambitious, sprawling, New England political dynasty? Check. Idealistic democratic boosterism? Check. Controversial religious beliefs that Eastern political elites find suspicious or politically dangerous? Check. Massive tax cuts? Check. A fondness for aggressive foreign policy, Special Forces, covert operations, and military interventions? Check.

Moon program? I guess so.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Way of the Fool

When the holy are rich,
and the brave have been bought
When the wise are weak
and the learned are all liars
Truth hides a fugitive
in the mouths of fools

In the land of the many
the one-eyed king is blind
The ten thousand things
seen as one thing
Truths become sad lies
when perspective is lost
Fool, help them see
the many-soul'd king
Give each an eye
the ten-thousand-fold lords
In the land of the many
the wise must be fools

The wise congressman, wishing for a Senate seat
The wise senator, dreaming of a White House bed
Wise man, be not wise
Foolish man, be a voice
Tell true lies, and never lies for truth.

Wisdom is a lie
That whispers to the wise
Truth is pure nonsense
Bellowed on a roof
True things are many,
Multiple confusions
Falsehoods are singular
Self-consistent, and strong.

Weakness is a truth
Sadness is true
Strength is a lie
Justice a farce
Triumph a mockery
Victory a boast
Tragedy is sometimes true
Comedy is the truth.


I'm not sure if I agree with my earlier self on this one. I think I've listened to too many wicked clowns recently; I've lost my taste for deliberate foolishness. I still like "Tell true lies, and never lies for truth". There's something perversely right about that one...
A Walk Before Dawn

I stood with the dead in the dark before dawn
And above us the mountain burned at the sun
And before me like lanterns of light
The serried stones glowing white
The rich man's marble and the poor's limestone
And neithers inscriptions could I read in the gloom
The slopes above like pastoral hands
Held in still reverence for what lay below

And all the world in stillness
And the night lit alight
And all that was silent
And all that was calm
Lay as one in the gathering light

The wind drew across a quiet lawn
And the graves heaved upwards in fresh air
And life remembered what it was to live
And lost loves remembered what they once did give

And all was in motion
And darkness took flight
And stillness moved
In day's new might

I stood with the dead at the break of dawn
And saw that eternity, in balance, is dying
But of what remains,
That fraction is mine.


Yeah, it's a little maudlin. There's a fine old cemetary along the ridgeline of the hill behind the Bellefonte Courthouse complex. Union Cemetary holds the remains of three Pennsylvania Governors under fine marble monuments and a half-dozen near-anonymous USCT veterans, their limestone gravestones so worn by wind and weather that they no longer can be read. When I first moved here, you could still sort of read those limestone markers; I regret not making a rubbing of those old USCT markers when they were still readable. This poem is mostly observational. I began composition as I was walking through Union cemetary, and tried to retain those lines while I walked back to somewhere I could sit down and write things out. That last set of lines was what came first, and it sounded much more profound in my head, at the crest of the hill at the break of dawn, than it did afterwards, when I got it down on paper. Bald Eagle Mountain dominates the view from the cemetary, which faces north-westerly towards that folded, wooded mass of ridges. The geometry of the location is such that morning sunlight lights up the mountainside long before the hills of the valley floor see any direct light. In the late fall, in the first light of day, the wooded slopes can glow like beaten iron hot from the forge.
Fred Ramsey says:

Spring Creek Slammers will host
A First Sunday Poetry Slam
Sunday Dec 7th, 5pm
Zeno's Pub, 100 W College Ave, State College, PA

Dora McQuaid, Slammaster

Cash prize for top finisher.

This slam is open to all poets 21 and older.
Original poetry only.
Please bring three poems.
National Poetry Slam rules observed

$2 cover
$3 entrance fee

An open meeting of the Spring Creek Slammers will follow the competition. We
will discuss plans for this year's First Night Poetry Extravaganza and kick
around ideas to increase our audience size and competitor pool for our regular

All Interested Persons Welcome. Please bring ideas and comments.

Now, mind you, the last time I passed along a note like this, the slam turned out to be me and Jessica talking at Zeno's, with Dora breezing through to warn us that the gig was off. I have no control over whether anybody else will be there. I'll go, because there are worse ways to pass a Sunday evening than sitting around Zeno's. I promise to bring some (bad) poetry this time, although it won't be particularly new. I started something the other week, but it turned out lame and I haven't finished it. Maybe I'll look at it again, but I couldn't get the language up to the standard of the idea.

Maybe I'll post some old poetry. I think I have a backlog of old stuff sitting around.
In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage is a "fun" book. That is to say, it's polemical, brisk, and terse. It's on a fairly limited subject, so we're not talking "twelve-hundred-page-catkiller" here. The authors have an agenda, they're not shy in expressing it, and they support their contentious argument thoroughly. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many minds In Denial is going to change. I fear it'll just make the rounds of the readership of the Weekly Standard and the National Review.

Basically, it's an expose disguised as historiography. For a while there, I thought it was going to be comprehensive historiography - an analysis of schools of thought and so on. But there isn't enough here to make a full, balanced portrait of the study of American Communism. There's pieces missing, as if somebody had told the authors to cut the non-sensational parts of the discussion in favor of more red meat about "espionage denial" and red-diaper-baby historians. I'm a little sorry that I didn't get to read that book - the balanced historiography - because I think I would have found it interesting. The problem there being, I would have been one of only two dozen who would have, I suppose.

The authors are first-tier scholars, who were among the group who gained access to the ex-Soviet archives of the Comintern and CPUSA held in the former Soviet Union. They've got a long, distinguished, and much-reviled CV on American Communism. They represent what's called the "Traditionalist" school of the history of American Communism and anti-communism. The authors are irate with the "revisionist" control of the professional organs of American history. Among other things, they point out that "revisionists" control the journals and departments.

They like to use the term "espionage denial", in explicit comparison with "Holocaust deniers" like David Irving, whose failed libel prosecution of historian Deborah Lipstadt is discussed in some detail in the book. They rage, with some justification, that "revisionists" can continue to publish lies about the crimes of Communism that, if they were lies about Nazism, would put them utterly beyond the pale. This is an acceptable characterization for the historians of Russia and world Communism. I'm not sure that a comparison of the denial of Communist treason and the denial of the mass genocides of Nazism is as justifiable as a comparison of denials of mass democides, Right and Left. They try to stretch their point by including a minor slaughter of American Communists - mostly Finn-Americans repatriated to Soviet Karelia in the late 20s and early 30s - in their discussion, and listing those 144 murders in an appendix as victims of American Communism. While the crime is, indeed, horrific, it doesn't measure in the scale of mid-century democidic outrages. The Jim Jones butchery, for instance, dwarfs the Karelian betrayal by a factor of four. And I have to wonder why this is addressable to American Communism rather than the Soviets who actually murdered them. It's roughly similar to a hypothetical mass-murder of Unreconcilables in Brazil after the Civil War, by Brazilian slave-owners. An outrage, but difficult to blame directly on American slaveocracy advocates.

That brings us to a more striking parallel, which one finds at the end of In Denial. After comparing the bad scholarship, bias, and bloody-mindedness of "revisionist" historians to Holocaust deniers for the bulk of the book, they shift in the last chapter to a comparison with the "Lost Cause" school of American Civil War history. The authors quote Stephen Vincent Benet extensively, and make the argument that the CPUSA "revisionists" can be understood as a latter-day "Lost Cause" school - ideological partisans (including some actual participants in that Lost Cause) of the defeated party dominating the historical discussion of that concluded conflict. They note that "Lost Cause" history was written in the service of a current project - the continuing attempt to "Redeem" the South from reconstruction, to suppress the ex-slaves in a new racial system. The new "Lost Cause" is also in service of a current project - the continued pursuit of an America of "social justice", via control of the educational system. It's a fascinating line of argument, and I rather wish that they had pursued it, instead of the less-fruitful "espionage denial" concept which dominates the book.

None of the above criticism should detract from my endorsement of their central argument, which is that leftist bias in the historical profession is alarmingly inclined towards outright falsehood in the pursuit of ideological rigour and current projects. The fact that so many historians of American Communism and the anti-communist era are so attached to debunked and mendacious ideas - that the CPUSA was a "bottom-up" organization, that Communists weren't spies, that their treasons were not important, that anti-communist measures were more dangerous than the treasons they addressed, that anti-communists were un-American tyrants - is disturbing and worrisome. It leaves me much more inclined to support academic reforms.

I have to wonder if the American educational system needs a touch of modern McCarthyism, to keep it honest.
Wonderful. Deep Discount DVD's email confirmations get labelled as spam by Spam Assassin. I guess I'm going to have to learn how to use SpamAssassin's "Whitelist". Between their "I hate the customer" interface and their "hi, I'm spam!" emails, I'm not loving Deep Discount DVD. They are cheap, I'll give them that.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I'm busy catching up on all the crap I let slide for the long Thanksgiving weekend, so I haven't had time to write up my reactions to Haynes & Klehr's In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage, which Andrew Sullivan recommended last week. It left me in a very sulfurous, torch-waving mood of irritation at academic historians. I'll try and get into more detail later; suffice it currently to say that I may not believe in Truth, but I hate lies. Such as the one's we've been told, and are still being told, about the mythical innocence of the Rosenburgs, Alger Hiss, and all the rotten rest of the CPUSA.

Monday, December 01, 2003

I was listening to NPR news in the parking lot this morning, when a pickup pulled into the lot, and stopped back at the edge of the asphalt, where the driver could look out over a fence at the nearby fields and woods. He sat there for a few minutes, so I got out to see what he was doing. He started to roll away when I came into view, but stopped when I glared at him. I told him that there's no hunting on private property, and he quickly denied that he had been thinking of any such thing. I looked down, and he had a rifle sitting precariously on the seat next to him. Riiight. He peeled out of there, as I pondered whether he was planning on firing on deer from the cab of his goddamn pickup.

Hunting season in Central Pennsylvania, folks.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

I was doing the malls on McKnight Road in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, mostly for nostalgia purposes. I end up buying most gifts online these days. Shopping malls are, sad to say, twentieth-century institutions. I'm sure yinz have seen the "Dead Malls" website, right? Northway Mall is by no means a "dead" mall, but it's been on lifesupport as long as I can remember. It's been full of empty shops for at least the last twenty years. They keep renovating it, but the renovations don't generally take. The two tent poles holding up that sagging bladder of a mall are the cheap-movies multiplex on the second floor, and a Borders on the first floor. Eh. I kind of miss the old Northway. They used to have an enormous, two-story birdcage filled with dozens of songbirds. It must have generated a lot of bird dung; it certainly produced one hell of a lot of noise. You could hear it from one end of the second floor to the other.

Northway Mall now has a temporary, third tent pole. It's a library. Northland Library, the main public library for the North Hills, is apparently in the middle of a full-building renovation. Instead of simply putting the whole library into storage for the duration, somebody decided to put all of that empty retail space to use. They've hauled a cluster of tables, desks, and associated library-ish furniture into what was once a large, no-brand toy store, along with one heck of a lot of bookshelves. The librarians on duty insisted that the mall library represented the whole of Northland's holdings, which alarmed me because Northland had been a good-sized two-story library with far more books than could possibly be fit within a single room, no matter how large. I've since been reassured that they put a good share of the less-popular holdings into storage.

I find it amusing that they're using a failing example of twentieth-century commercial technology, the enclosed shopping mall, to house a still-vibrant exemplar of the height of 18th-century intellectual technology - the public lending library. It demonstrates that the blinkers of American zoning ordinances are removable, given enough imagination. I hope to one day see the increasingly-worthless strip malls and enclosed shopping malls of America turned to new, old purposes - housing, office space, or some day, back to the land itself.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Steven Den Beste has been watching anime again, which is always news to be approached with trepidation, caution, and good humor. People give him "advice", and the results can be somewhat farcial. I don't know what to make of a guy who occasionally writes for the Wall Street Journal seriously reviewing Steel Angel Kurumi, let alone what to say when he uses it as a platform for yelling about amnesiac Japanese nostalgia.

To start out with, somebody dropped him in the deep end of "robot maid" fetish anime, and to his credit, he's noticed that it's fairly stupid wish-fulfillment. Still, a diet of Hand Maid May, Steel Angel Kurumi, and Mahoromatic is the anime equivalent of dining on Vending Machine Row - not good for you under any circumstances.

Anyways, the outrage:

It would be a period of a couple of years around the time of the Berlin Olympics, and it could also be seen in about the way these series' see 1925 Japan. No one does that for 1936 Germany, because they understand how monstrous it really was.

This belief, that mid-20s Japan was the same chaotic, oppressive hell that the late 20s and early 30s were, is a misunderstanding of the period. It isn't true. The early and mid 20s represented a "bubble economy" between the end of World War I and the social/political collapse into full-bore militarism of the late 20s. This brief period - the second half of the Taisho era in which both Steel Angel Kurumi and Sakura Wars are set - was the closest Japan ever got to European-style bourgeois prosperity. The Japanese of the period were still uniform-addled, regimented, prone to let paramilitary organizations take the place of private society, and poor by European standards - but it still was a sort of calm before the Showa storm.

I don't know if Germans ever idealize the Weimar Republic in this fashion - I don't really "do" German literature or pop-culture - but that's the parallel that should be used. Japan in 1925 is a Weimar Republic, not an early Third Reich.

To be strictly honest, when I've seen Japanese pop culture do idealized nostalgia, they're much more likely to do Meiji, rather than Taisho. Urusei Yatsura has a lot of that, especially in the OAVs.

Don't take all of this as defense of either Steel Angel Kurumi or Sakura Wars. I couldn't stand Sakura Wars. I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I bought the whole first series of Steel Angel Kurumi, but in my defense it was more of a "well, that provided just enough of a margin of entertainment to justify buying one more disc at online discounted prices". I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone - it's horribly saccharine cheesecake piffle. But there are much more noxious examples of Japanese nostalgia for prewar fascism out there.

Almost every goddamn thing Leiji Matsumoto has ever been involved in, for instance. Space Battleship Yamato, in which our Japanese heroes wage heroic self-sacrificing war against space gaijin. I direct the audience towards the excellent, but queasy Arreviderchi, Yamato, in which our protagonists re-enact the February 26th Incident as part of a doomed campaign that eventually concludes with a massive, suicidal kamikaze attack. Captain Harlock, in his many incarnations, rebels against thinly disguised American occupiers, or relives his Nazi-fighter-pilot ancestor's last flight, or just generally goes on in the sort of self-dramatizing Volk-hero defiance of last-man accommodation that is so central to the spirit of fascist anti-rationalism. More than one of the later Harlock projects are remakes of Wagner Ring-cycle mythology, for the love of Nietzsche! You'll get yet more of the same from the three-part OAV adaptation of The Cockpit which, among other things, features another Nazi pilot who's too noble to allow the dropping of a German nuclear bomb, preferring to go out in a blaze of glory after proving that German fascists are more moral than American butchers.

Don't get me wrong. I *like* Matsumoto's stuff, or at least some of it. The first Captain Harlock TV series is twenty-five years old, and it's still a good show. Arreviderchi, Yamato is an excellent movie. The Cockpit OAVs are brilliant. But it's hard to get away from the obvious, which is that Matsumoto is, at heart, a fascist, and he retails a type of anti-rationalist nostalgia. It isn't as if he's the only creative in anime with a dodgy political point of view. Otomo(Akira) and Mamoru Oshii(Patlabor) are both one-time street-fighting New Leftists. Miyazaki was a doctrinaire card-carrying Communist who was one of the leaders of an internal revolt at Toei in the mid-60s that resulted in a two-year occupation of that animation studio. (The eventual result was the grand, but deeply flawed Horus: Prince of the Sun.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I drove to Pittsburgh this morning, on the understanding that my parents wanted me home a day before Thanksgiving, for what reason, I hadn't really bothered to ask. I arrived about 1:30 PM, to find the front door open and no-one but a dozing, elderly shih-tzu on the premises. So, I settled back, expecting whomever had need of me this day before the season, to show up from whatever errand they were on, list of familial assignments in hand. You know, the usual.

Three hours later, I hear a car pull up to the garage. Walking over to the garage, I managed to scare the crap out of my dad, who was getting out of his SUV, and apparently not expecting anyone to greet him. I noted sourly that if he's going to leave the front door unlocked in a major metropolitan area like Pittsburgh, he's lucky it hasn't happened to him more often than it has. I asked him why I had been summoned. He was damned if he knew. So, we waited.

A half-hour later, mom shows up as I was walking over to move my car from in front of the neighbor's garage. She saw me pulling the car around, and assumed that I had just arrived. I asked *her* why I was there, and she said something to the effect of "you're the one who drove here, wouldn't you know?"

After some back-and-forth, we established, finally, that her busybodiesque inquiry of how many days of vacation I had left (under the mistaken impression that my company operates on a yearly vacation use-em-or-lose-em plan, instead of the continual personal-days rollover we actually use), had *not* been intended as subtle instruction to extend my Thanksgiving Day visit to the better part of a week, but rather just the usual casual meddling. So, I find myself marking time in Pittsburgh, instead of, you know, getting work done in State College.

Ah, family. The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Dan Drezner hosted a debate (here, here , here, here, and here) a few weeks back about the "imminent threat" kefluffle. The "they implied an imminent threat" guy whipped out a thesaurus to "show" that the administration said "imminent" via synonyms - looming, etc. I was reading a new military Iraq blog, when I came across this demonstration of the dangers of relying on thesauruses for serious rhetorical work - a thesaurus containing 42 synonyms for "guerilla", none of which actually retaining the original meaning of "nonconventional warrior, or insurgent". Drezner gave the palm to Thesaurus Boy; I still say he was rewarding the cleverest manufacturer of straw men.

Iraq Now is an interesting blog (via ye olde Instapundit)- he sounds like either a company commanding officer, or a battalion officer of some sort. I'm still reading through his backentries.

Update: our military blogger comments on the Army Times "they're screwing our boys!" article that Fred Ramsey pointed out to me a while back, without having the link handy. He also points out a Stars and Stripes article spinning the same story the opposite way, which is how I had heard it, not being a regular reader of the Army Times. Looks like the Army Times link is dead - so much for media permalinks, what?

Looks like he's a battalion XO.
I vaguely knew that Nelson Ascher wrote about poetry in Portuguese; I didn't know he was a published poet himself. He's posted some translations of his work on Europundits. Normally, I don't have much use for translated poetry. Native language is so central and primary an element of a poem that I have some difficulty regarding a translation as anything other than an adaptation - not to be considered the thing in itself any more than the film made of a book ought to be confused for the novel itself.

But there are exceptions to this vague rule. Some translators take the original work as inspiration for their own flights of fancy. Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is the model and exemplar of this derivative art. I don't read Persian - I merely rely on the informed opinion of those that do - but it is my understanding that the third-rate poetry of 'Umar Khayyam has only a passing resemblance to Fitzgerald's epochal editions. This is a *good thing*.

The above translations of Ascher's poems, on the other hand, have been selected by the writer himself, and thus, endorsed. I find myself ambiguous on the subject.

Oh, well, leaving all pedantic objections aside, there's a lot of excellent imagery in the selections - and imagery is, perhaps, the one element of poetics that is least reliant on the tricks of language. The bitter humor also comes across without linguistic confusion.

I especially liked "the Statue of Wallenberg".
The sky over the office was blue, red and white, and contrails covered the heavens like a child's cross-hatched notion of infinity, stretching out to some poorly defined vanishing point.

For all my life I lived under a full sky, a sky full of man. The visual affirmation of man's continued refusal to admit that he was just another animal - the sign that he could re-make the world entire in a reflected image of himself, his inner imaginings. The contrails were our mark on the world itself.

Then the disasters came, and the skies emptied out, and remained empty. Late afternoon came, and the commerce of humanity was - gone. We were too far out from the major cities for the combat air patrols to quarter our skies in protection of the remaining buildings, the communication centres, the vital hubs. There was just - nothing.

And the skies were terribly, terribly blue, and empty, and it was as if man was already gone, and if we were not quite extinct, it was as if our dreams had died before us. The skies were empty.

Then, at last, they resumed flights, and there were new fears, and you couldn't help but twitch whenever a plane appeared overhead, in irrational fear that it might fall, but these were little fears, and lesser worries. The skies had men in them again; the void was full.

The great blue abyss was divided, by white contrails stretching off towards forever.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Iaa. I just ordered a couple of books (Walter Jon William's the Sundering and Devine's Scotland's Empire 1600-1815) from Amazon UK, and thought "35 pounds isn't that much". That'll teach me not to pay attention to exchange rates. 35 pounds is a little under $60 at today's rates.

Oops. It seems as if ANSWER is laundering its donations through a 501(c)3, which are not supposed to be political. How the hell did that get by the watchdogs? They claim to be "educating" people about peace activism. Right. I'm going to start a 501(c)3 dedicated to "educating" the public about the wonders of democracy by funding the campaigns of pro-war Democratic candidates. I'm sure it'll slip in under whatever loophole the People's Rights Fund thinks is covering their politized asses.

Via Professor Bainbridge.
Erin O'Connor passes along an interesting anecdote in which a "Post-Christian" English professor refuses to address students' questions about the theology in Milton on the grounds that "she didn't think a discussion of Christianity was important to an understanding of Milton". You can't make this stuff up, people.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Book meme:
The rules: Take someone else's list of authors. Remove any you don't have on your shelves. Add replacements, keeping the total number at ten.

Ilaria's list:

Jane Austen
Connie Willis
Michael Ondaatje
Lois McMaster Bujold
Emma Bull
Tanya Huff
Diana Kappel-Smith
Damon Runyan
Christina Quinn
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

My list:

Jane Austen
Connie Willis
Lois McMaster Bujold
Emma Bull
Tanya Huff
Glen Cook
George R.R. Martin
Walter Mosley
Sharyn McCrumb
Neal Stephenson
A nasty misunderstanding based on an accidental kanji/mahwa pun in a skit performance by some Japanese students in a university in Xian resulted in a large and violent anti-Japanese riot in that city. Here's a first-person account of what happened. As far as I can tell, a stupid "we love China" skit by the Japanese students (they were there learning Chinese in some sort of exchange program, it seems) resulted in an accidental pun that jingoistic local students took as disparaging. I'd hope that this sort of thing would stand as a lesson for those folks who think that American nationalism or American racism is somehow unique or exceptional.

Oops. Via Gweilo's Winds of Change China Wrapup.
David Carr of Samizdata infiltrated the London protests to see what happened, and was quite disappointed to find a subdued, mechanical march, that sounded more like a slog with patchouli. Good piece - has a bit of that P.J. O'Rourke flair.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The furor over Nick Confessore's hitjob on Tech Central Station led me to read Arnold Kling's TCS article on the Austrian School of free-market economics. I'm passingly familiar with the Chicago School - I don't think you can get through a decent college education in the states without having encountered it at least once - but the Austrian School is confusing and more than a little gnomic. Descriptions of the Austrian School seem to revolve around the idea that central banks poison the knowledge-base of investors and businesspeople by creating false ideas of the available pool of capital - I get that much. It's when they start in on all of these labored analogies about time preferences and long-term projects versus short-term projects that I tend to lose the train of their argument in a crowded thicket of metaphor and simile.

I went looking for comparisons of the two schools, when I came across this article by an Austrian which makes a great, if somewhat tangential, argument about why high-level economics is such a doubtful science. He makes the point that the development of economic theories resembles the behavior of fads more than it does scientific paradigms or the free-market evolutionism preferred by mainstream triumphalists. A dominant theory tends to glide in stasis until catastrophic error causes a spasm of reconsideration, whereupon a replacement theory is adopted, until the next catastrophic error. I suspect the author is underplaying the degree of hypothesis-testing that goes on during periods of triumphal stasis - young economists do have a slight incentive to tear down the existing paradigm in order to get noticed. But it's this worry, the danger of fads, that makes me suspicious of the "soft" sciences, and their claims to rigour.

It is this fear that "there can ... be no presumption whatever in economics that later thought is better than earlier" that makes me leery of the more religiously progressive supply-siders. If economics, the hardest of "soft" sciences, is so unstable and fickle, how much more so can the political "science" be? Nothing alarms me more than this fear of quicksands beneath the feet of the evangelical philosophers of Democracy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Roger Simon linked to a Free Republic reproduction of a Herber Meyer speech calling for a revival of "Team B", although Meyer didn't specifically refer to it by that name. I found out that what he was talking about was the "Team B" I've heard so maligned by googling his name and coming up with this article on the work "Team B" did uncovering Soviet economic/financial lies. According to that article, systemic Soviet misrepresentation of economic data meant that the conventional CIA mistakenly believed that the Warsaw Pact economies were twice as large as they actually were.

Now, I don't actually know that much about "Team B". It turns out that there were several "Team B"s. This article describes the original "Team B", created as part of a creative wargaming-analysis project under Bush the Senior in 1976. The original "Team B" actually came to the exact opposite conclusion of Herber Meyer's "Team B" - they wildly over-estimated the Soviet capacity for military expansion and upkeep.

Safire has a column from a few years back where he refers to a Rumsfeld "Team B" which was pushing the theory that rogue states like Iran were capable of making a ballistic missile threat on the continental US within five years of project inception. Feith's Office of Strategic Planning has been called a new "Team B".

Well, this all is a nice partisan tangle. You hear and see great gobs of stuff about the earlier "Team B" which fell so thoroughly on its face.
I'm reading the Education of Henry Adams online. One of the more brilliant aspects of the modern internet is it's bottomless potential for self-impression and boundless pretension. You can go chasing pornographic doujinshi, or you can read the self-involved memoirs of Boston's most pompous son. Or, you can do both at the same time, while puttering around doing some actual work.

The BBC has got a reporters' group blog up about the Bush visit to England, along the same lines as the blog they had running last spring during the war. It's somewhat amusing, because from all accounts the protests are looking like a massive wet squib.

The Iain Murray link via Instapundit.
Today's the 140th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
Balticon sent me a flyer the other week; it seems Bujold will be the GoH. This is stranger than it would appear on first blush: I've never really attended a Balticon. I have no idea how I got on their mailing list. I used to do Philcon, back in college. I usually didn't have time to do conventions in the spring, and Balticon was PSSFS's (Penn State Science Fiction Society, for those random readers who aren't alumni) spring con. Philcon was the fall convention, and I usually was flush and at loose ends in the fall.

The one time I did show up at Balticon, it was to help run an anime video room, as part of a publicity/staffing exchange between Otakon and Balticon. This was the year that PSSFS alumni used Balticon as a reunion, the year that John Nadzam got horribly trashed on three pangalactic gargle blasters and earned his nickname "John the Volcano". Maybe I actually bought a membership. I don't remember at this point... No, I must have. I remember sitting on a panel.

Even though Bujold is one of my favorite authors, this is less of a draw than you might think. I'm not a big proponent of fans and authors mixing; I've found that such things invariably come to grief. I prefer to let authors produce books, and let me pay for them. Nice, commercial, distant. I've always felt that conventions should be gatherings of fans, and should concentrate on fannish activity. Discussion panels with "big fans" rather than "interview" panels, or press conferences without the name. Since I don't have a history of attending Balticon, this means that I don't have a lot of social contacts within the Balticon collective. What contacts I do have would be because of staff overlaps between Balticon and Otakon, which, after all, are held in the same metropolitan area.

Eh, call it a big "maybe". Maybe if I can find some PSSFSers who are going. Bill Johnston lives down that way these days...
The Carnival of the Vanities is at Peaktalk this week. There's an idiot sounding off about anime; Ilyka Damen reminds me why I can't stand protest activists; finally, Angelweave almost succeeds in talking me into reading Fast Food Nation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

You know, when I think of countries that specialize in the mercenary business, I usually think of cold, barren, mountainous nations - countries with little prospects, where the terrain actively encourages its sons and daughters to find their armed fortunes in foreign lands. The Scots of French military tradition. The Swiss Guards of the Vatican. The Norwegians and Danes of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine days of Constantinople. Even the Kurds of the latter days of the Baghdad Caliphate.

So when did sunny, tropical, lush Fiji become this era's best-known exporter of mercenary troops? Perhaps Fiji is more mountainous and barren that I had always assumed. A check of the CIA Factbook definitely seems to indicate that it is, indeed, mountainous, and an arable land percentage under 11% ranks it below Afghanistan and Iran, and about equal with traditional-mercenary-exporters Switzerland and Scotland.

Huh. The things you think that just ain't so.
Faith Full

I believe in karma
I believe in dharma
I believe in life.
I believe in destiny
I believe in fate
I take all ideas to wife.

I believe in the life everlasting
I believe in the transience of life.
I believe in angular momentum
And the dervish in flight.

I believe in one God
I believe in endless saints
I believe in trinities
Gods, Norns and Fates.

I believe in Dao All-Path
I believe in one true faith
I believe in the Resurrection
I believe in the Ummah,
Nation of faith.

I hold covenant in an apostolic Church
I bathe in the Inner Light
I sing the tongues Pentacostal
I glory in the life of the gospel

I believe in all good works
I accept only a doctrine of prayer
I cherish the dogmas of my Church
I hold only to the scriptural word.

I believe in all gods
I believe in the endless void
I fear the god of my fathers
I kneel in a foreigner's shrine.

I believe in the Belief.
I believe in all believing
I believe in a belief in all things,
Believing belief will set me free.