Friday, April 30, 2004

I've been volunteering for the last few years for the state round judging of the National History Day competition for Pennsylvania. They're held in May on the University Park campus of Penn State. In prior years, I helped with the judging in the junior and senior documentary tracks. It wasn't particularly onerous - I just showed up for the judging, and evaluated the documentaries, which couldn't be longer than fifteen minutes. It's an intense schedule - usually featuring the viewing of a dozen to two dozen documentaries in rapid succession, each of which have to be judged in near-real-time, then frantically scanning often quite lengthy bibliographic abstracts in between interviews with the teenaged documentarians - but not particularly challenging, intellectually speaking.

This year, I was unexpectedly transferred to the papers track due to a cancellation by one of their usual papers' judges. You obviously can't read and carefully evaluate a dozen to two dozen twenty-page papers in a single one-day sitting, in between interviews and conferences with the other two judges in your track, so they naturally send the papers ahead of time for a more leisurely evaluation. UPS dropped of said papers this morning.

I flipped through the pile, and found that almost all of them are by female authors, which I thought rather strange. The documentary tracks are usually pretty well gender-balanced, not that I think anybody's playing the affirmative action numbers or anything, just that history tends not, in my experience, to be particularly gender-biased either way.

I'm rather nervous about the whole prospect of papers-judging. I'm not a trained teacher, and my schoolwork back in the day was better on matters of substance than on structure and technicalities - aspects which the documentation suggests is a fairly important aspect of the expected evaluations. I managed to skim rather lightly over the whole secondary/primary sourcing issue while in documentaries, for instance, because primary sourcing for student historical documentaries tends to be pretty light on the ground. If in doubt, go with secondary, you know? I mean, where are they going to get primary audiovisual sources for something on 18th-century French science? Documentaries by their very nature emphasize presentation over technical scholarship. Papers tend to invert those two elements.

The judges are supposed to be teachers or historians, with considerable experience in exactly this sort of evaluation. What am I doing judging, then? I think they found my name on an old Phi Alpha Theta membership list, back when I still paid dues. Either that, or they were going through Penn State history department alumni lists. I'd be embarrassed at my lack of qualifications, except that many of my fellow-judges have turned out to be no more experienced than I - members of historical societies, employees of sponsoring corporations, other alumni, etc. I'd guess that no more than 65% of the judges were actual teachers. Part of that might be that if a teacher knows about the competition, there's a better than even chance that she's got at least one student in it, and thus is excluded from judging for conflict-of-interest reasons.

One of the elements upon which we are expected to judge is how well the student ties in her work with that year's theme. Oftentimes, the thematic requirement is barely acknowledged by the documentarians, or even worse, shoehorned into their subject of interest in a convoluted, ludicrous fashion. One year, when the theme was "Revolution, Reaction, and Reform", a student with an interest in sports among the handicapped, featured a back-breaking tangle of twists and turns to justify how handicapped access to golf courses was "revolutionary". This year's problem? None of the forms or documentation I've been sent so far mentions what the yearly theme *is*. Thank god for Google... "Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History", is it? Well, that would explain the presence of at least one of those nouns in the titles of every single paper in the packet. The theme is always alliterative, and maddeningly vague. "Rights and Responsibilities", "Revolution, Reaction and Reform", "Exploration, Encounter, Exchange". Meh.
Joe Wilson admits that an Iraqi official *was* talking to Niger officials in 1999, and probably was trying to buy yellowcake. So, all that passion, all that drama, all those martyr-complex involutions and displays? Unfounded fabrication. An untruth. A series of untruths, to be precise.

Wilson himself says that his Niger governmental source recognized the Iraqi official on TV. It was Baghdad Bob - Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf. The source had forgotten his name, but remembered his face.

Via nikita demosthenes of Command Post.

[Edited for incoherency and excessive vitriol. Sorry about that.]

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Conspiracy-mongering is alive and well in Norway, on NRK, Norway's national public radio network. They apparently set out to "prove" that there was a secret cabal of dissenting Christians who were acting as agents for the Israeli government. They did so by hounding pro-Israeli activists and people trying to organize a Norwegian conference on European anti-Semitism and the Palestinian terror-bombings, until they were able to get a few of them to use the right words in more-or-less the right sequence on tape, and then edited the hell out of the result. It's being called the "Norwegian Protocols".

This is ugly on the face of the matter, but the interesting and strange thing to me seems to be the dissenting-Christian angle. Norway, like all the Scandinavian countries, and like most of Europe, has an established Church, Lutheran in Norway's case. The line seems to have been, that the established Lutheran Church was strongly anti-Israeli, and therefore dissenting Churches - called "independent" in the letter provided - were suspect & believed to be cats-paws for the Israeli foreign service. It rather seems as if bigotry against dissenters and leftist anti-Semitism has come together in this situation to produce an outrage more typical of the Egyptians than what is nominally a free media.
Wow. You remember that awful draft constitution that d'Estaing and his committee of EU baboons came up with last year? The European Commission apparently decided to lay down the law, and decreed that you could either ratify the draft or get out of the Union. They did this in response to the British government's decision to put the draft to a referendum. There's better than even chance that the British will refuse the draft, mostly because a good percentage of their electorate has been convinced by their right-wing press that said draft is a massively bad idea. So the response is - like it or lump it. No other ways into Union, no compromises, no real negotiations, debate, or popular input.

Keep in mind that the d'Estaing draft is just that - a draft. It has no legal force, and no electorate has ratified it. No, not even the French or Germans, far as I can tell. The core continentals seem to have assumed that they could just will the new constitution into existence, without any real appeal to any electorate outside of the governmental elites.

Now that I think of it, Chirac and d'Estaing's attitude is exactly that I would expect of American politicians if another country had applied to join the United States, but was debating ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The United States is, after all, a sovereign state, and its Constitution is an established fact, with all the authority and power of two centuries of popular sovereignty. The d'Estaing draft is no such thing, and the EU as a political entity is twelve years old. The French pretense is one of de facto ownership of the EU, isn't it? It's as if Virginia had announced in January of 1788 that the new Constitutional draft was in effect, and any fellow state which dared vote on ratification had best vote in favor, or else they would be ejected from the United States. In 1788 the Articles of Confederation were still in effect, and Virginia had no more right to dictate terms of a new Union on its own authority, than I might have to declare myself Emperor of the Borough of Bellefonte.
Ugh. Co-worker has been irritating me for the last fifteen minutes with a monologue in the front office about the horrors of pot criminalization and waa waa waa "drug of the politically impotent" waa waa waa "less dangerous than alcohol" waa waa waa "racism".

You know what? I say it's time to legalize pot - not "decriminalize", because I don't approve of this half-assed sort-of-but-not-really-legal ambiguity crap - just to get the potheads to stop whining about their goddamn devilweed. After we legalize their noxious shit, we can go back to ostracizing their stank-ass, forgetful, disheveled selves.

But if we do legalize pot - can we please make patchouli illegal? I'll give you your right to destroy your brain cells, if you agree to stop air-bathing and start actually bathing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Quoth Fred Ramsey:

The Spring Creek Slammers will host
A First Sunday Poetry Slam
Sunday May 2nd, 5pm
Zeno's Pub, 100 W College Ave, State College, PA

Slam Host: Dora McQuaid
Featured Poet: Natalia Pilato

$2 cover
$3 competition fee

Cash Prize to the slam winner.

Competitors should come prepared to read three original poems.
We follow National Poetry Slam rules.

There will be a short business meeting before the slam to introduce the new
Slammers' t-shirt design and to discuss our activities during Wordstock.

Come on, come all. And bring a friend.

Fred Ramsey
Grand High Curmudgeon
Spring Creek Slammers

And once again, I've managed to schedule a family affair on the weekend of a slam. I might be able to make it this time, but no promises...

Monday, April 26, 2004

The Gantz anime turned out to be rather disappointing. The manga was a trippy, violent tits-and-viscera heavy on the visuals, with an amoral, entertainingly horrible protagonist. Our heroes, after getting killed in various ways around Tokyo, are re-assembled in a downtown apartment by a big black ball which tells them they belong to it, and that they're to kill aliens for their keep. I rather enjoy the manga, which probably says nothing good about my character, but there it is. The anime has the amorality and the weirdness down pat, but somebody in Practices and Standards lost their nerve mid-way through the project. The nudity and the gore has been cut. Now, when I say "cut", I don't mean removed at the script stage. There are scenes and parts of scenes missing. The show looks like somebody left it alone in a room with those volunteer videoshop editors who chop up mainstream movies for their Mormon customers who want to enjoy pop culture without being corrupted by the gentiles' predilection for tits and gunplay. Scenes which were cut for gore and violence are referred to later on in flashbacks which make no sense - because there's no back to flash to! Characters get shot - and disappear!

Now, when I say "somebody in Practices and Standards", I'm being metaphorical, because Japanese television is famously without institutions such as a department of Practices and Standards. But this isn't the good old days, before Hideaki Anno pissed on Those Who Must Not Be Urinated Upon, and producers and sponsors have started to act as if there were such a department, acting the part of a Practices and Standards board. So, we get something based on a wild manga like Gantz, but we get it cut to shreds by somebody who isn't quite sure what he or she wants. Bah.
Last Friday night, our weekly poker night meandered into the Poker Laboratory on a whim, after a less-than-inspired tournament round of Texas Hold-Em. We normally alternate Texas Hold-Em with multiple rounds of Dealer's Choice. Dealer's Choice is exactly that - the current dealer chooses a game from the ones the players at the table know, or can explain to the rest of the table. Usually it's some variant on Seven-Card Stud. The seven-card variants are usually the most fun, such as Dimestore (AKA Murphys), Follow the Queens, Visual Baseball, Low Hole, or Reapers. But, as I said, we didn't actually get into a traditional round of Dealer's Choice late on Friday. Instead, somebody came up with the idea of imposing a new rule on Seven-Card Stud for each hand played, as long as we could tolerate it. The resulting game got named "D.P. Dough", in honor of the calzone delivery place which printed the menu upon which the game rules were recorded. (I wanted to call it "Dragon Poker", but I was apparently the only Asprin reader at the table…) The whole mass of the rules as written make for an essentially unplayable game, as we made several rounds of the table before shaking down into simpler sub-sets. The following are descriptions of some of few of the versions, but first, a description of the basics, for those of you who don't play:

Seven-Card Stud is the base game on which most of these variants rest. You get dealt two down, or "hole" cards, and one up, or "face" card. The dealer antes. Everybody checks, bets, or folds as judged necessary. Dealer deals another face card, followed by betting, then a third, then a fourth, then a hole card, each time followed by betting. After the last round of betting, the last player to raise is called, and shows his hand. The surviving players compare their hands, and best set of five cards wins, based on the usual poker rules. In games with wild cards, five-of-a-kind wins. I'm not really sure whether a royal flush beats that - I've never seen a royal flush come up in Seven-Card, at least not yet.

"Follow the Queens to Another Game", AKA "Ballroom". Don't confuse this with "Follow the Queens", which is a traditional Seven-Card Stud variant where the Queens are wild, as well as the latest face card to follow a Queen dealt face-up. You can theoretically go through three or four different sets of wild cards in a hand of "Follow the Queens" before the cards are shown, if a lot of queens come out face-up. People usually bet heavily in Queens to drive out the pikers, and lower the chances of new Queens queering the current set of wilds. "Follow the Queens to Another Game" is a straight Seven-Card Stud game, until a queen is dealt face-up. When a queen appears, she changes the rules to another game entirely. The game you're now playing depends on the suit of the queen dealt. Thus, when the dealer declares "Straight Ballroom", you start out playing stud, but you may be in any of five different games by the end of the hand. It breaks down as follows:

Queen of Hearts - you're playing "Dimestore" or "Murphys" - fives and tens are wild.

Queen of Clubs - you're playing "Low Hole" - the lowest card in the hole, or face-down part of each player's hand, are now wild. Low Hole is itself unpredictable, because a player can bet on the pair in his hole, and find that he was dealt a lower hole on the last card, thus wrecking his hand.

Queen of Diamonds - you're playing "Visual Baseball", in which threes and nines are wild, and fours get you an extra card for your hand. Baseball games obviously wander from the concept of "Seven-Card", due to the fours rule. Existing fours at the time when a queen leads the players into "Visual Baseball" are "dead", and do not elicit extra cards - only fours dealt subsequent to the initiation of "Visual Baseball" allow additional draws. If another queen appears and leads the players into yet another game, the extra cards generated by dealt fours stay in the game.

Queen of Spades - you're playing "Reapers" - aces and eights are wild.

There was one variant on Ballroom worth mentioning - "Ballroom with Whores", or "Dance Hall". At the end of the hand, but before cards are revealed, one player can elect to buy the favors of an undealt queen, by paying a dime for each additional card dealt, until he gives up or is rewarded with a queen. The additional dealt cards don't go into any hand, but if a queen comes up, she leads the players into her game. If a queen comes up, every other player still in the hand can pay a quarter to eject her, and discard the proffered game. All other players must agree to blackball the new queen. This is a rather silly rule, but it came up in the same round of rules-making that generated the "thieving threes" rule (every time a three is dealt face-up to a player, every other player must pay that player a quarter, or fold) and the rock-paper-scissors sixes rule (whenever a player is dealt a six, he or she can challenge another player to a round of rock-paper-scissors in order to force that player to fold, or be forced him or herself to fold), so what are you going to do?

Another game based on Seven-Card Stud ended up getting called "In the Land of the Blind". One-eyed Jacks - the Jack of Hearts and the Jack of Spades - give the holder the ability to arbitrarily declare one rank of cards wild after the last bet. Two-eyed Jacks - the Jack of Diamonds and the Jack of Clubs - give the holder the ability to arbitrarily declare one rank of cards null, or not playable, after last bet. The holder of the Suicide King - the King of Hearts - can render one Jack unable to make wild or nullify a rank, but still leave that Jack as a playable part of any hand. It goes last bet - Suicide King - Jack of Clubs - Jack of Hearts - Jack of Diamonds - Jack of Spades - show hands.

The last serious game that emerged from the Laboratory is the sort of thing to make a geek proud. It's called "Magnum P.I.". Black threes, fives, and sevens - the odd primes - are wild; red threes, fives and sevens allow the holder to draw an extra card. If red threes, fives, or sevens are dealt facedown, the player must reveal them to in order to draw his or her extra card. Finally, a special winning condition was added - the player who is able to build "Pi" - at least three-ace-four-ace-six, wins. It doesn't stop at five cards. The longer "Pi" hand wins. The one hand I saw this come into play - "Magnum P.I." with "thieving threes" and the Jacks rules - a "Pi" of five digits was beaten by a "Pi" of six digits - three-ace-four-ace-six-nine.

Friday, April 23, 2004

I just spent an hour or so laughing my ass off at 213 Things Skippy is No Longer Allowed to Do in the U.S. Army. Sorry I don't have anything else to say today, but it's been that sort of day. The Confusion is turning out to be pretty OK, if not as good as the first book...

Link via Frank J..

Thursday, April 22, 2004

This is priceless. The new Tehran international airport, which has apparently been under construction or in planning since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, and was technically opened in February, is unusable. The "Oppressed and Disabled Foundation" was given the contract to construct this major airport. Think about that. They let social workers and charity pimps take over a monumental engineering and construction project. The result was about what you'd expect. They cut corners by paving the runways and landing strips with asphalt instead of concrete. This is not recommended in hot or warm climes, and although Tehran is much less extreme than Baghdad, it's still not exactly what you'd call temperate. The runways will turn to black taffy in the summer, and will splash under the pressure of full-weight commercial airliners.

Via Rantburg.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

I didn't think much about Kyou kara Maou before Dave Asher talked me into watching it. The pre-buzz made it look like another minimally-animated bishie fantasy like Saiyuki, which I didn't much care for. Actually, it made the show look *less* interesting. So much for expectations. Kyou kara Maou is a hell of a lot of fun. I'm told that the title means, basically, "From now on, Demon King", and that sums up the story. Our average Japanese school boy with the excessively auspicious name, while being given a swirly by a pissed-off gang in a public women's lavatory, is sucked down the toilet into an alternate dimension in a scene that reminded me strongly of the "worst toilet in Scotland" bit from Trainspotting. He arrives in fantasyland, his black uniform dripping with toilet-water, to find the local peasants terrified of him, and a lot of handsome uniformed horse-thugs ready to fight over him. They inform him that he's their Maou heike - Demon King-Emperor, and their god has sent him to lead the Mazoku - "Evil tribe" - in destroying the pestilence that is humanity.

The plot is fairly similar to the Korean comic, Demon Diary, except the execution is far more amusing. The character dynamics are even more similar to that of the comic Vampire Game, what with the three pretty-boy brothers-with-different-fathers and the androgynous court-sorcerer. Other than that, it's pretty much Rune Soldier re-done as a bishounen ai comedy.

The animation is, indeed, fairly low-quality, but I'm willing to overlook it for now. The energy and character of the story definitely over-whelms any shortcomings in that department. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Back when I was publishing a single-sheet newsletter for meetings of the Penn State Science Fiction Society (the arrogantly-named Dangerous Advice, I often went to the FANAC archives for filler material. They have a largeish fanzine archive, as well as a number of interesting fan histories scattered hither and yon in the somewhat-convoluted site design.

I went through something of a mania for fan history in the late Nineties. I find that I've lost that enthusiasm. Perhaps because it's mostly old news to me now? Possibly I'm not as big of a fan as I used to be.
I was reading Bastard Sword, a blog I hadn’t come across before, and he was discussing a the-skies-are-falling article in the Guardian about Argentina’s "ecological disaster" due to Roundup Ready soybeans, and the follow-up article in the Telegraph debunking the hell out of the Guardian article and the New Scientist hitjob that inspired it.

I don’t have any real problems with the Telegraph article, or his take on the whole situation. What did catch my eye, however, was the claim that the RR soybean crop was screwing up the soil ecology of Argentina’s croplands, and how both the post and the article dismissed this claim without explaining why it’s not credible.

Soybeans are a legume crop. Like most legumes, the soybean plant creates soil cultures which produce lots of excess nitrogen. This helps nutrient-drained fields recover from previous industrial use. This is why soybeans are used in rotation with highly demanding crops like cotton, corn, barley or wheat. Corn or maize is particularly fertilizer-dependant, especially on nitrogen. (Of course, corn produces something like three to four times the yield of soybeans, all other factors being equal. Wheat and barley produce half again to twice the yield volume of soybeans.) Soybeans actually replenish nitrogen to the soil. And that’s part of the problem, if you don’t rotate the soybeans with something else.

The problem with continuously planting soybeans without rotation is that soybean fields are susceptible to nematode infestations which do a real number on productivity. Nematodes love that nitrogen-rich environment, and suck up the biomass into their unproductive, wormy selves instead of letting it flow into the field crops. They also feed on the root systems. Cyst nematode resistance, by the way, is the second or third most popular line of genetic modification in soybeans.

This vulnerability to cyst nematodes is why nobody plants continuous soybeans, despite the attractiveness of a field crop which doesn’t require expensive nitrogen fertilizers. In the four years I've been in precision agriculture, I haven't found anyone doing this. There are a number of misguided Midwesterners who believe "continuous corn" planting practices will result in magical crop yields, but the nematode cyst issue keeps a similar "continuous soybean" myth from popping up. That this is the case, even though soybeans are massively cheaper to plant than corn, suggests to me that any such behavior in Argentina is no doubt vastly over-reported. Additionally, the most popular soybean varieties are short-season, and can be easily double-cropped in the more temperate climes. This lets the farmer plant soybeans in the summer, and a second crop of wheat or barley in the fall for a late spring harvest. They get two harvests a year from the same land, with still less fertilizer than what they’d have to use on a single-crop planting of corn. Double-cropping with a winter small grain allows the grower to cut down on the likelihood of a cyst nematode infestation. If an infestation develops anyways, the grower can just switch over to corn the next year and starve the cyst nematodes out.

Another bit of silliness is the worry about soybean plants going "rogue", or leaving behind second-year growths in the old field, or neighboring fields without the stigma of having nasty, nasty GM crops planted within their pristine borders. This sort of thing is actually a mild problem with corn or maize crops. If you drive by a field of soybeans in rotation with corn, you'll often see a few corn plants towering over the lowly soybean plants. Operative word being "towering". The soybean plant is not a particularly tall one. It is, in fact, somewhat dwarfish. It grows higher than timothy clover, and some of its fellow legumes, but in general, we're not talking "competitive threat" here. Wheat, cotton, barley, and corn plants all are much taller than even the most robust soybean plant. If your current crop can't out-compete a rogue soybean plant for light, water or nutrients, then you're doing something wrong, McDonald.

As a side-thought, the herbicides that Round-Up and the other, off-brand glyphosates have replaced are far, far more noxious than the glyphosates themselves, which break down rapidly in field conditions. Think chemical weaponry. The field hands would often have to make applications in full biogear. This is probably why the Greens hate the glyphosates so much. It's easy to freak out donors and politicians with Silent Spring scaremongering when the chemicals in question are actually pretty scary. You couldn't scare a cringing obsessive-compulsive neurotic with glyphosates, let alone somebody rational. Nothing irritates an activist more than a solution - it's a threat to their livelihood.
I was down by Tallyrand Park on Sunday, doing my wash at the laundromat across the tracks from Bellefonte’s mostly-ornamental rail station. The most peculiar collection of brightly-colored buggies and mini-cars were collected on the main rail along the station plaza. Each car or buggy was fitted with rail-wheels, and were about as big, on average, as a Mini Cooper. In fact, one of them was a Mini Cooper with the tires replaced with railcar fittings. Most of the rest were variously-painted open-sided cars emblazoned with the logos of various Pennsylvania rail lines, like the Lycoming Valley, or Conrail, or whatever. They were lined up on the tracks facing in the direction of Pleasant Gap and the rest of the valley. Upon questioning some of the drivers and riders as the convoy started moving forward, haltingly and one car at a time, I found out what was going on. The cars are mostly-retired inspection & repair cars, the gasoline-powered replacements of the classic old two-man pump-cars, which themselves have been replaced these days by more automated systems. They were labeled with the logos of various Pennsylvania lines because they originally belonged to those lines. The drivers were a club which made yearly arrangements with various local rail lines to reserve the tracks in a particular area for a leisurely tour. This I got from the second-to-last car in the line, just before they motored off to join the rest of the expedition which was then crossing the railbridge over Spring Creek.

I couldn’t find anything on the specific tour group which passed through Bellefonte last weekend, but here’s someone from a similar group out of California.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Toren Smith of Studio Proteus announced that he was retiring from the manga business and selling Studio Proteus’ half of the publishing partnership to their partner Dark Horse in this Comics Journal article. Y’all missed out on my initial, enraged rant on this subject due to an equally infuriating copy-paste error. I’ve since had time to calm down a bit, but I’m still pretty pissed with Smith. Studio Proteus is one of the oldest surviving companies in the manga translation business, and Smith himself is a pretty big ProFan. He was instrumental in the running of the first true American anime convention, 1991’s AnimeCon. He was Gainax’s pet gaijin for a number of years. He was well-liked by Hayao Miyazaki, a bitter old ex-Maoist infamous for his hatred of Americans. He founded and ran one of the best-known and most-respected manga translation houses, Studio Proteus. I have a shelf full of his output from the late Eighties and early Nineties. So you’ll understand why I consider him one of the two biggest ProFans. The other would be Robert Woodhead of AnimEigo.

Who the hell is Robert Woodhead? Exactly. Woodhead pulled something similar to this stunt of Smith’s in the mid-Nineties. Woodhead’s AnimEigo was the first big company to license and release respectful versions of Japanese animation in the states. There were others, but AnimEigo was the company that got in early, earned folks’ respect, and did well. Woodhead was a computer-programmer millionaire who made his nut in the early Eighties with the Wizardry series of computer games. Never heard of Wizardy? Well, me neither, but I’ve been assured that it was hot shit back in the Apple II days. I was always more of a x86 gamer, so I suppose that particular craze passed me by… anyways. AnimEigo was the shit in 1993, when a brash bunch of Texas cowboys showed up in Long Island with an armful of VHS copies of Devil Hunter Yohko at that year’s I-Con/ChibiCon. Three or four years later, AD Vision had eaten Woodhead’s lunch, having flooded the anime niche market with erratic material, erratic quality, and first-rate advertising. Meanwhile, Woodhead still toddled along as if the anime industry was still his rich-man’s-hobby. ADV, flush with profits from their half-assed porn, violence and cheesecake anime, repeatedly out-bid AnimEigo and the other American anime companies for the choice licenses. A real company, with that priceless instinct for the jugular, had taken the industry mass-market. The companies that survived learned from ADV. The rest faded away, into various dusty little niches.

Woodhead announced, about the time when ADV really started getting traction, that he wasn’t interested in the new anime scene, the exploitational crap and rubbish being released by his contemporaries. He was going to concentrate on the stuff he liked, the stuff he thought was quality material. For some reason, this included rubbish like Shonan Bakusozoku, but whatever. In the end, Woodhead shifted ground into chambara live-action movies, a niche where the stakes weren’t high enough for ADV’s take-no-prisoners approach to get much play. He found a boutique business in which he wouldn’t have to compete.

You can see why the parallel impresses me. Of course, Woodhead was a rich man, who could afford to play rich-man games with his company. As far as I can tell, Smith has no such cushion of primitive-computer-gaming riches to shift himself into a less-stressful market. So he’s just giving up.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Smith’s AD Vision is Tokyopop. While Smith was lazing about, proud of his status as a big frog in the little pond of direct-market manga, a clumsy, dopy, ambitious company run by a self-promoter named Stu Levy was stumbling around, mucking about in the mud. Levy’s Tokyopop tried two or three times to pull the manga scene into the American mass market, first with newsstand sales via Mixxzine, then through the Grrl-Power fad with Smile, and probably a few other damp squibs and duds which I didn’t notice, because I had written off Stu Levy as an overly-enthusiastic snake-oil salesman by that point. Meanwhile, Smith and Studio Proteus cruised along, fat, smug and self-satisfied in their boutique business, pleased that the manga end of the direct market was holding its own, even if the rest of the comic-book business had collapsed in a miserable, greasy shambles all around them.

Then Tokyopop found the way forward. They cut their graphic-novel prices to the bone, and found a solid distribution channel through the bookstores. Every other company treated the bookstore market as a minor side-show – Levy, with his hard-driving mass-market instincts, went for the jugular. The first few waves of Tokyo Pop graphic novels were cheap, they were ugly, they were disposable and not particularly interesting. But they sold. Product line followed product line, and Levy started dropping the overly-expensive pamphlet sales, and concentrated fully on the graphic novel bookstore business.

Meanwhile, the direct market made something of a minor recovery, and turned around. A losing business turned back into a comfortable niche business. But the bookstore market was exploding. Just then, the Studio Proteus/Dark Horse bookstore distributor went bankrupt. Instead of scrambling to get around their bankrupt distributor, they screwed around. The rest of the manga industry cut prices to meet the Tokyopop price-point last year, but Studio Proteus/Dark Horse continued to charge 30% more for their books than anyone else in the industry. And still they screwed around.

Now that Studio Proteus’ business ineptitude is fully exposed, and the industry is on the near side of a classic bell-curve boom, Smith has discovered the basics of economics. He can’t possibly get his company back on track before the inevitable bust cleans out the underperformers. He wants to get out while the getting’s good, because he’s the weak horse in the pack. But he doesn’t want to say that, he doesn’t want to admit that he’s a fuckup. So his books are too good for the market – his quality is getting drowned by quantity. This is the battle-cry of the elitist loser. His example of the great comic which deserves to be more expensive? Ghost in the Shell. Now, don’t get me wrong – I loved Ghost in the Shell. In 1993. It’s not terrible, or even bad. But it’s an old-fashioned archaic cyberpunk fanboy jerkoff exploitation rag, not the second coming of Wil fucking Eisner.

Smith was bullfrog happy in his little pool, until Levy’s boys figured out how to divert rivers. Now Smith’s flippers over ass in the tumbling current, and wondering where his lilypad has got to. Fuck him, I’ve had enough of fetid and stagnant swamps. Let the Woodheads and Smiths of the world wring their hands when the bank comes to foreclose on their buggy-whip factories. I’m gonna go buy myself a Model T from Stu Levy.

Via Anime News Network.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I've seen a number of this season's anime TV premieres, and I thought I'd make some ill-informed and pointlessly opinionated comments:

Madlax is another show from Bee Train, the studio which made Noir, Avenger, and the various .hack incarnations. You can tell immediately by the poor sound mix and the distinctive female technochorus BGM. I'm told that it's *supposed* to be another female assassin duo series, but there's only one of them in the first episode. It's set in some third world war-torn jungle hellhole - the usual pseudo-Hispanic dream-world conceived and produced by typically insular, ignorant Japanese creative staff. That was mildly annoying, but I found that my mild irritation was overwhelmed by the first episode’s climax. Our heroine intentionally changes out of her slightly impractical casual clothes into a black cocktail dress slit thigh-high, grabs a pair of pistols and a grenade, and goes into the jungle to ambush a mechanized column. Standing on a tree-branch, firing at a distance with her eyes closed, as the enemy blasts fruitlessly away with assault rifles, heavy machine guns, and a tank cannon. It’s almost exactly like the Rambo parody from UHF - except done completely without any hint of humor or irony. It makes Najika - a panty-fest knockoff of Bee Train’s own Noir - seem clever and thoughtful in comparison. Truly, truly awful.

Bakaretsu Tenshi, or Exploding Angel, a girls-with-guns anime from chronic underachievers Gonzo, which by all rights should have been the dog of this pair, is almost half-decent. Dave Asher described it as “Daphne in the Brilliant Blue with more clothes”, and that isn’t far off the mark. Our protagonist is a standard-issue girly-man, a cooking student looking for part-time work, who gets hired by a pack of underdressed, aggressive, overarmed girl-thugs who are looking for an Alfred to feed and pick up after their slovenly asses. It’s not fully explained in the first episode, but they’re apparently some kind of improbable mercenary outfit which specializes in violent, destructive face-offs with the criminal element and rampaging mecha. It’s about as unoriginal as it sounds, but watching competent mediocrity in close succession with something as lame as Madlax tends to really bring out my regard for efficient hackery. Since it’s Gonzo, I fully expect the show to tank in short order, but until the train wrecks, it’s probably worth hanging on for the scenery.

Both Bakretsu Tenshi and Tenjou Tenge have irritating Japanese rap songs for opening themes. I’m afraid this qualifies as some sort of trend. Not one my lily-white cracker ass is too thrilled with, but you can’t win every cultural battle, I suppose. Tenjou Tenge is based on a fighting manga with a reputation for skating just this side of pornography, but they’ve toned things down considerably. The sex is mostly gone, and there’s only a little cheesecake. It isn’t actively offensive, as of the second episode, and it isn’t as bone-stupid as, say, Ikki Tousen, but I can’t say it’s really grabbing me. If you’re wondering why I mention Ikki Tousen, that’s because there are complaints that that show lifted stylistic elements whole from Tenjou Tenge, and they’re essentially similar stories – high-school student fighting associations with lots of cheesecake, over-the-top martial arts, and a dim-witted kick-ass female protagonist. Tenjou Tenge has a much stronger male protagonist, but overall I can’t say I give much of a damn.

Aishiteruze Baby, or “Icantpronouncit Baby” as we’ve taken to calling it, due to my less-than-minimal Japanese skills, is another show trembling on the edge of my regard. It’s based on a popular, long-running shoujo manga about a teenage Romeo saddled with the care of a five-year-old girl by his near-criminally neglectful family. So, we’ve got a sexually aggressive bishounen stuck with an intensely cute little cousin prone to making announcements about how she’s going to “marry” him. If that doesn’t freak you out at least a little, you must be Japanese. Doesn’t help my composure when she crawls into his bed at the end of the first episode. More than a little creepy sums the story up so far. Pile on top of that a first episode with fairly low animation standards and a slow first half, and I was ready to give the whole enterprise a pass. But the little girl is cute as a button, and the interaction between our two protagonists is much more affecting than I was expecting. Despite all my culturally-programmed nerves, I don’t think it’s going that way – they’ve provided a quiet, sour-tempered, age-appropriate love-interest in the wings. I suppose there’s still hope for Aishiteruze Baby.

Koi Kaze is another one of those romance shows that freaks me out. The protagonist is a youngish salaryman at some sort of dating agency who’s in the process of failing out of a relationship because he just doesn’t give a damn. He lives with his father, who’s been separated from his mother for more than a decade. He has a much, much younger sister who has been living with his mother, who is going to be moving back in with her father and brother any day now. Mr. Rebound meets cute with a high-school freshman, and they go off on an impromptu date at a nearby amusement park while she’s waiting to meet with someone, and he’s waiting to meet with his family. They make an emotional, romantic, but chaste connection, and go off to meet their respective whomevers. Which turns out to be dear old dad, who is delighted to see that the siblings have met. Whoops. I want to hate this story, I really do. This isn’t Aishiteruze Baby, they’re seriously doing a romantic sibling-incest story, and I don’t think they’ll punk out like Marmalade Boy did in the end. On the plus side, it’s well-animated and strongly-plotted. On the minus-side – come on, man! Sister incest! I’ll still watch it, but you know I’ll be hating myself in the morning...

Midori no Hibi, on the other hand, is absolutely guilt-free fun. It’s a beautifully-animated Studio Pierrot comedy based on a popular shounen manga. Our hero Seiji is a delinquent high school punk, an intimidating loner of epic stature. He attracts wanna-be tough guys looking to make their reputations, and is a magnet for trouble. Girls are terrified of him, and with every new romantic rejection, he goes a little more nuts. Finally, he cries in despair that the only lover he’s ever going to have is his own right hand. Fate is a cruel, playful bitch, so the next morning, he wakes to find a tiny, adoring green-haired girl protruding from his right sleeve where his “Devil’s Fist” used to be. Much wackiness ensues. The manga is fun, but not particularly spectacular – a typical shounen comedy with a solid theme and story. The anime is better. It hits all points of the source material on every level, and builds a solid aesthetic on top of that. It’s the classic example of an adaptation exceeding its source. I’ll definitely be hanging around for as long as they want to play this one out.

Hanaukyo Maids La Verite is the opposing example of a poor adaptation. There is a prior TV series in this franchise called Hanaukyo Maids Tai, which was a harmless, sweet, sexist puddle of a sex comedy. It’s your typical wish-fulfillment fantasy gone terribly wrong – the protagonist is a teenaged boy given command of wealth and a mansion staffed by an entire regiment of overly-enthusiastic maids by his absentee, fetish-crazed grandfather. The catch is, of course, that our hero had a strong girl-fear neurosis, and became physically ill in contact with women. The maids spent the entire show taking comedic advantage of his good nature, with the head maid continually guilting him by threatening to throw the whole useless lot onto unemployment whenever he objected to whatever new insanity they had come up with. The whole show was done in a sort of half-super-deformed character-animation style, so that the comedic aspect was heavily played up, and it was impossible to take the whole thing seriously. La Verite, instead of being some sort of direct sequel to that previous show, is instead a remake of a show that didn’t really need to be remaid –er, remade. They cut the girl-poisoning gag, and the character designs were done on a more realistic, adult-looking line. Otherwise, it’s the same thing in different clothing. And god knows, the thing we were really missing from the current anime scene was yet another bland maid show with its few distinctive characteristics sanded down flat. Bleh.

Kono Minikuku mo Utsukushii Sekai, or This Ugly and Beautiful World, for those of you who can’t pronounce Japanese worth a damn, is one of two new Gainax series for this season. There was a lot of buzz about it, almost all of which, I have concluded, was thoroughly unjustified. This is the type of show that reinforces my impression that Gainax is a slowly deflating bladder of hot air. It’s sprinkled with pointless, stupid anime-otaku references which play exactly like the weak injoky product of a half-witted fanzine. I suppose they’re supposed to be fanboy shoutouts, but it’s just a lot of irrelevant bullshit. The plot seems to be “alien light comes down from the heavens, and transforms into series of cute girls who use our protagonist as a rubber-suit knight errant”. The “twist” is that the first cute alien-girl is secretly a cold killer. Or something like that. The little bits that they might have built on from the first episode were totally undermined by a confused, self-indulgent, incompetently incoherent second episode. It’s the sort of show where the obligatory Misato-gaijin-loudgirl introduces herself to the cast by showing up drunk, naked and uninvited in somebody else’s living room. So much hate…

The other Gainax anime is called Memory of Oblivion, and lord knows, nothing shouts “qwality” like a showname which acronymizes to “Moo”. It’s another skiffy highschool-hero-fighting-monsters story, with fairly low-end animation, a blurry, reddish aesthetic, and some welcome surprises. The monsters have secretly defeated humanity, and they walk among mankind, demanding and receiving human sacrifices from the people in charge. The monsters are honestly, actually strange, in a fashion that is more reminiscent of Utena than any Gainax show I can think of. There are strong Greek-classical allusions throughout the first episode, but they don’t put up big “cultural material” signposts around those allusions. Memory of Oblivion looks like phoned-in hackwork on first glance, but there seems to be something actually worthwhile hidden under the rough exterior. I’ll definitely give them a chance to screw it all up, that’s for sure.

The Mars Daybreak is a disappointment. It’s a Bones production, and I had very high hopes after RahXephon and Scrapped Princess. Admittedly, they’re also capable of miserable crap like Wolf’s Rain, so I should know better than to get worked up like this. The Mars Daybreak (also known as Kenran Butoh Sai The Mars Daybreak, but that’s too much of a mouthful to bother using) is a mecha SF story set on an over-terraformed Mars. They seem to have gone a little over the top with the ice-comet impacts, because the whole planet seems to be waterlogged, enough so that desiccants are a major import item from Earth. There’s some lame politics, and some pirates in a super-sub with mecha, and government troops with their own lame mecha leashed to command vehicles like a bunch of metallic cocker-spaniels out for walksies. The show has some chrome to it, but no-one and nothing in the first episode really inspired me to go watch a second episode. I’ve found more character and verve in seed catalogs, to be honest.

Hi no Tori or “Phoenix” is based on Osamu Tezuka’s masterwork. I’ve never been a big Tezuka fan, and Hi no Tori has a reputation for being sort of grim and unrelenting, but the first episode was pretty good. A doctor from ancient Yamato washes up on the island of the Ainu-esque Fire Island tribe, saves a girl, gets married to her, and betrays the whole tribe to destruction. Grim story, well-told. As I understand the series concept, it’s going to be a series of semi-independent shorts revolving around the figure of the mystic Firebird, or Phoenix. Kind of a literary, downbeat sort of show, but it won’t suck. I don’t think.

Speaking of literary and downbeat, Monster is a stylish, gloomy anime based on a highly-regarded manga from the same guy who did Yawara and Mr. Keaton. The character designs are homely in the same style as Mr. Keaton, but the show aesthetic is attractive despite the character designs. The protagonist is a Japanese doctor in late-Eighties West Germany, a brilliant surgeon who is slowly sinking into a sort of corrupt success story. He’s engaged to his hospital’s director’s horrible daughter, a scaldingly cynical fashion-plate with no apparent regard for moral values. His father-in-law-to-be uses him like a dog, and manages to possess fewer scruples than his repulsive spawn. The doctor is guilty about having let a Turkish immigrant die under the knife of an incompetent co-worker while he operated on a famous artist instead. So when a boy with a serious head wound comes in just as he’s ordered to go work on the mayor of Dusseldorf, he has a crisis of conscience. The really excellent thing about this all? Not played in that broad, exaggerated style that so many “mature”, serious Japanese animated series affect when they want to play with the big boys. It’s restrained, and solid, and excellent. I look forward to the next episode.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The collection of short stories whose endless publishing delay was responsible for keeping LM Bujold's "Winterfair Gifts" from seeing English release has *finally* hit the shelves. Fair warning: Irresistable Forces is a romance collection, and it's very possible that not a single goddamn word in the rest of the book will be of interest to the standard Skiffy Bujold fan. But it's not the first time I've bought a collection for a single story from an author I liked... did the same thing with an Elf Magic collection with a really nifty Rosemary Edghill short...

The skies opened up over Central Pennsylvania sometime yesterday morning, and it hasn't let up since then. Perhaps we'll see the sun again sometime in mid-May. Well, one would hope we would... to have another year of murderously wet, cold weather throughout late Spring would do a real number on the small-grains market.

Monday, April 12, 2004

The company two lots up the street from my office does some sort of industrial chromatography work, that results in some heavy metal discharges. To meet EPA & state requirements, they have to have an oversize leeching field for drainage and catchment purposes. They have a jogging track around it to salvage some of the wasted land for something other than quietly soaking industrial waste-water. They also occasionally indulge in a little bit of fireworks. Apparently industrial chromatography has quite the profit margin, to judge from all the wackiness that company can afford.

Anyways, last week, they gave us notice that they'd be playing with fireworks again over the weekend. We came in this morning to discover an acre and a half of scorched, blackened field out in the drainage area, right across the jogging track from our property. Apparently the fireworks got a little out of hand over the weekend. There's the strong scent of burnt land, and a big black scar marring our northern prospect . It's spring, so I suppose new growth will wipe it away in good order. But it's a bit nerve-wracking when you consider what might have happened if that brushfire had gotten into the trees along the edge of the property...

Update: Hah! It made the local paper. "Fireworks safety training", eh? Well, if that's what you want to call it... They claim the grass was very dry. Considering how much rain we've gotten in the last three weeks or so, I'd classify that as low-grade happytalk. They were just screwing around and it bit them on the ass. There's a nice picture of a fire truck spinning its wheels in the middle of a field on fire. That explains the tire tracks through the ashes I noticed out there.
I wasted the weekend playing a new game, HPS Solutions' Civil War Battles: Campaign Corinth, a turn-based wargame from the guys who used to work for Talonsoft, generally similar to Talonsoft's old Battleground games. You'd have to work pretty hard to find a class of computer game with less cachet and cool than turn-based Civil War games - probably something involving bass fishing. Oh, well. I'm having that sort of strange fun which involves sitting unmoving at a computer terminal for dozens of hours at a stretch, listening to semi-random cable TV.

I'm reading Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture, which is proving to be something of a slog. I haven't decided yet whether he's indulging in an extended selection fallacy - AKA "looking for my keys under the streetlamp" - or is actually on to something. On the plus side, he's not exactly sentimental. The first chapter is full of references to "brutal Greek armies".

Friday, April 09, 2004

The last thing I ever expected to see in the New York Times was a feature article arguing for the reintroduction of DDT in the Third World. Offhand, I'd call that a sign of rout for the environmental activists.
New poll, showing the same as the last poll, Bush and Kerry in a statistical dead head, with Bush only nominally ahead. Boring as hell, right? For the most part.

What gets me is the 6% for Ralph Nader. Not that it's large - I can accept that. That it's *always* six percent, in every poll I've seen since Nader announced. There is a steady, small, but coherent bloc of the American voting public which apparently labors under the peculiar impression that they're living in an European parliamentary democracy with a proportional representational system. I can't imagine any other explanation for why a protest-vote candidate would get a consistent small, but substantial vote total, impervious to the shocks and swings which affect the two real candidates' numbers. If it was just a matter of anger and impulse, Nader's numbers would swing from poll to poll, as people get pissed, as the mood takes them. Instead - 6%, 6%, 6%, 6%.

They are aware that we use a "first past the post" system, right?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I was just reminded of something.

Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew. Jew.

I had forgotten to pitch in on the googlebombing as requested. That's my contribution, such as it is. Think of it as giving virtual blood...

And if you're not giving blood - you better have a medical excuse, such as "I can't pass the screening". Societal duty, y'all. I can't believe how many of my friends say they'll start giving blood as soon as they start needing blood.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

John Kerry: fifth columnist, or idiot? Go read it. He calls that fat gangster al Sadr a "legitimate voice". It isn't Scrappleface satire - he was speaking to NPR.

If the man had paid five minutes attention to the situation in Iraq, he would have known what al Sadr is - an ignorant, unlearned thug who runs his organization off of Iranian terror-money and extortion from moderate Shi'a mosques. Either Kerry hasn't been paying attention to the news, or else he's just embraced a terrorizing gangster. You tell me - idiot, or jackass?

Fuck it, I'm voting Bush. For the first time ever.

If you're wondering why I haven't been posting, it's because I'm hanging out at in the comments sections of Rantburg and Command Post. Touch and go, but I believe in our guys and girls.

The soldier writing the journal behind that last link, BTW, is a Buffy fanfic writer (sounds like she writes Spike material, to judge from the draft about two weeks down the page) who *was* posted in al Kut, before they evacuated. She just spent the night pinned down under fire with the Ukrainians. Sounds like one royal cock-up from one end to the other. I can't be sure about the rest of the south, but that province is Injun Country right now.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Michael D. Sallah, Mitch Weiss and Joe Mahr of the Toledo Blade have won Pulitzers for last year's series on Vietnam era atrocities by the 101st's "Tiger Force". The Blade is quite excited about it's first Pulitzer win. That's my uncle, Ron Royhab, with his back to the camera in the first picture. He's got to be flying high right now. He's the executive editor of the Blade. My mother had mentioned that there was a Pulitzer in the wind. Great to see that they were recognized.

Congratulations, Uncle Ron. We're damn proud of you.
OK, Hummer-mounted laser cannons is exactly what I was expecting from The Future. The idea of using lasers to remote-detonate IEDs and the like is just cool. Very Jedi-Knights. I have to wonder what sort of situation in Afghanistan required the detonations of 51 devices in a 100 minute period. Minefield? One would hope that it was a minefield which had already been well-flagged and mapped. As I understand the problem, clearing a field by detonating the devices is an excellent way to seed the entire area with shell fragments, making it pretty hard to search again if you missed a mine or two. The false-positive results go off the charts, I would think.

Via Rantburg.
Pulp, ground and crushed,
Rent through industrial processing
Bleached and treated, converted
By unconcerned intentions
Torn from living context, grains
Ground into new patterns
Water-marked bonded
Sliced thin and supple
Slate for whatever
The mind might conjure
Thus conjuring
What was not
By the natural vacuum
Of the empty page.

The artificial plain
A theoretical plane
Three points in context
Extrapolated into infinity
Yet constrained
By the rigid definition
Of eleven by eight and a half
And yet eternity glances
At an angle
Indirectly through the page.

Not a dream
Of conical projections
Or mathematical precisions
Or the processions of nature
But the dream-matrix
Of illogic

The fantasy of the empty page
Filled by yourself
The ambition of ego
Unconstrained by reality or rationed
Pragmatic possible nows
The future without the past
The past in the present's
Prismatic distortions
Dreamed anew
Dreamed right
All evils broken
By the beneficence of
Memory's wilful distorting

Friday, April 02, 2004

I guess Air America won't be a total waste of time and money. One of their on-air personalities chose to ambush Ralph Nader for her first day. She basically screams at him "We. Can't. Afford. You." with variations until he finally loses it, screams back, and hangs up. He whined about her "poor interview techniques", and she denied she was "interviewing" him at all. Simply glorious.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

In a certain sense, however, Baen's substandard binding is a dead issue. The reason for that is that company's Webscriptions model. Almost all of their new printings, for the last two years or more, have been simultaneously offered as virtual books, via a half-dozen different formats. Over the last few years, I have gotten used to reading large amounts of text on monitor-screens, and it doesn't bother me as much as it does some folks, used to the superior high-res experience of physical text. Text is text is text, in my opinion. If I'm stuck at my desk not doing much of anything, might as well be reading, you know? The one down-side to Baen's webscriptions is that I don't have a good way to make them portable. But I've lots of material I can carry around with me, to the Laundromat, to restaurants, on a long walk where-ever. I can deal with some reading material that isn't totable. And Baen's usual output is particularly suitable to the desultory reading-style that webscription lends itself to. As I said, most of their authors produce cheap and disposable pulp - space opera, low-wattage fantasy, cheap space adventures. They aren't books that you savor or relish - these are romps, for the most part, and not something you'd want to try deep-reading.

The webscriptions are damn cheap, too. I just bought Flint's latest West-Virginians-in-the-Thirty-Years-War book via the webscription model, and it's definitely worth the six bucks or so it cost. I didn't have to pay for shipping and handling, or go driving across the valley to the Barnes and Noble, or put myself out in any particular. Cheap and easy, with no poorly-bound trash-book to clutter up my tiny apartment. Not bad, not bad at all.
I found myself in something of a "reluctant widows" entertainment mode last night, having coincidentally started watching Maison Ikkoku and reading Bujold's A Civil Campaign at more-or-less the same time. I suppose if I'm in the mood, I could always go on to Heyer's the Reluctant Widow for the hat-trick.

My copy of A Civil Campaign is definitely starting to show it's age, I'm afraid. I'll admit that I am terribly hard on books - I'm not a gentle reader in the first place, but I walk while reading, often in the open air for long distances. This book has been both rained upon and snowed upon, though it has escaped high winds. Still, even given those caveats, the book is in poor shape. Baen's hardbacks are generally fairly shabby affairs, but at least they're better than Baen's paperbacks, which often are incapable of surviving a second reading. I've encountered worse bindings, but those were from an extremely low-rent romance line which happened to be reprinting some of Heyer's work.

It makes sense that Baen would tend towards cheap and disposable binding work - most of that company's output is either cheap and disposable original work, or reprints of out-of-print warhorses like James H. Schmidt's books. (Keep an eye out, folks - Baen's reprinting the Witches of Karres sometime soon. That book's been dead and gone for decades, and most undeservedly so.) Bujold is something of an anomaly at Baen - she has a certain literary quality which isn't exactly par for the imprint course. Not that I should speak, I suppose. My days of voracious fiction reading are sadly past. What new work I read is either fantasy, or from a familiar author. My occasional attempts to read new writers has come repeatedly acropper. I don't know if my tastes are failing, or if the quality of new authors is on the decline...