Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Eh, I'm still alive. Just in something of a strange mood. I had something written up about the Terminal, Spielberg's current feel-good movie about a real-life debacle of Kafkaesque, bureaucratic depravity, but my strangeness and a slip of the mouse consigned it to the bitbin. Suffice it to say, Spielberg is at his worst when he is most lovable, and the best part of the movie was not Hanks' traveller-saint, but rather, Stanley Tucci's miserable, brilliant tyrant of a bureaucrat. Maybe it's just that I saw this movie a couple weeks after watching Big Trouble on DVD, but Tucci has really been impressing me recently. His clever malevolence is quite charming.

The Bush people screwed the press right royally yesterday, and you can hear the teeth grinding in DC and Manhattan from up here in the mountains. Or maybe that's the lawnmower in the next lot, I don't know. Be interesting, in a horrible, sickening sort of way, to see if the bastards blow everything up on schedule tomorrow, regardless of the actual facts of the turnover and the fait accompli. Hopefully the scrambling is producing decent sigint for the Coalition.

That's one reason that the surprise turnover was such an excellent move - it seizes the initiative from the terrorists at the moment when they're committed. The 30th deadline has been in place for so long, and was so vital to the political symbolism of the conflict, that the terrorists absolutely had to drop the hammer, spend their resources. Those operations are in progress as I type, indeed, as they sprang the turnover, as Bremer made for the airport. The resources are spent, the operatives deployed. The terror generals now have a choice. They can back down and decommit - recall their forces, recover deployed resources, back down. They can go forward, and spend blood, money and equipment in an attempt to maintain face - maintain balance by swinging as if the propaganda target was still there. They can go forward, and try to convert the planned propaganda attacks into the real thing - a true offensive.

I don't think they have the depth or the capacity to wage a true offensive. In truth, they've got the first two options. Option one will leave them terribly off balance, forces too far advanced to recover, intel resources exposed by recovering other operatives in the clear, everything in motion, and returning to possibly-compromised safehouses, or even safeharbors. Even worse, the people in charge will have lost face. The al Queda terror networks operate largely in an honor economy. There isn't enough money to seriously motivate anyone - the financing is a matter of logistics, not morale. Resources flow to the terror-lords with the biggest brass ones - the guys who can blow up the big bombs, rack up the megadeaths, personally decapitate prisoners on air while declaiming poetry in Classical, Koranic Arabic. Face is important, and a step-down loses Zarqawi bucketloads. I think the attacks will go forward, for the honor of it all.

Christ, I hope they're braced for it in Baghdad.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

I was aimlessly watching Fox, which happened to be getting ready for the Bush/Prodi/whoever-the-hell-runs-Ireland-these-days press conference. The studio talking heads were giggling at footage of the unprofessionally-late press corps running awkwardly to get into position, obnoxious anti-Bush protesters having delayed the press caravan on the way to the conference. Bush kept trying to make a joke out of his confusion over when the NATO summit is scheduled, but it came off like a particularly lame sitcom routine. Oh, well.

Prodi and Bush announced that they've agreed to bring the EU's planned GPS system, Galieo, into compliance with the American GPS system. That's excellent news - the Euros were playing Cold War Lite with the threat of an independent, incompatible Galieo system, due mostly to bad feelings left over from the Balkan interventions, when US military tinkering with GPS during campaign conditions caused all sorts of navigational chaos in the region. If they're talking about "compatibility", that probably means that they're going to send Euro satellites up with US-style GPS, in which the Euros would have control over them, thus removing the threat of the US turning off civilian usage of GPS in time of war. Killing civilian GPS access was a stupid tactic anyways, and the foreign militaries which have proven themselves capable of using GPS as a force multiplier can be counted on the fingers of a leprous amputee.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

That's interesting. Ramussen runs a tracking robopoll with daily polling results on the presidential race, averaged over three days. I had noticed that Kerry had been up 47-44 for the last couple of days, and wondered what was up. They noted today that there was a massive, isolated blip in the Sunday poll sample, on Father's Day. Kerry scored higher on Father's Day than he had "for months". It dropped back down to the usual imperceptible-tie numbers for the rest of the week, at least so far. What does this suggest? Are people who are more likely to vote Kerry less likely to take their fathers out to dinner, and thus more likely to be at home to answer telephone polls? I'm kind of curious to find out if there was a similar blip on Mother's Day.
As I was eating lunch at the Bellefonte Wok - or, more accurately, reading a book while lunch digested, waiting for the blood bank people to open up for the afternoon - there was a sudden commotion in the restaurant, with the waiters and manager rushing around behind a grey-and-blue streak. It fled into the corner between the wall and the windows facing out on the street, and the shift manager said that it was a bird. While I was blithering about how they needed a good-sized bag to catch the bird without hurting it, a waiter emerged from the booth in question, a blinking little budgie held firmly in her hand. She had just reached out and snatched it barehanded. Well, I was impressed. I once spent a half-hour trying to catch a bird in a hospital basement with an empty laundry bag. The benefits of actual coordination and dexterity, I suppose.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Baldilocks has a great link to a high school student's article on his high school political campaign "Protest Warrior". Basically, he formed a group to print and post political flyers in his high school. The flyers themselves are pretty funny - "End the Arab Occupation of Jewish Land", "America, how can we concentrate on pushing the Jews into the sea while you wage your racist war against our people" and a lot of pointed parodies of the usual leftist agitprop - but the interesting bits are his descriptions of the disruptions and rage that the postings invoked, and the accompanying photographs of said chaos. Lots of yelling, screaming, accusations of racism, and cries of oppression. In the end he didn't get to re-post the flyers, but one hell of a point was made.
Speaking of anime censorship, I've been informed that this season's incest romance, Koi Kaze, had its eighth episode banned from broadcast, for reasons that passeth all understanding. It's being called "7.5" as a result. I haven't seen it - I've lost patience with Koi Kaze, I keep rooting for the police or biker gangs or something violent to show up and kill the older brother - but I've been told that it's an unexceptional flashback episode about divorce proceedings.

So, let's see. Somebody at a television network authorized the broadcast of a romance featuring the amours of a fifteen year old girl and her creepy fucking boyfriend of a genetic brother - no putzing around about step-siblings or maybe they are and maybe they aren't and three-card-monte parental swapping and all that - they signed on the dotted line and paid the animation studio and corralled the sponsors and aired seven episodes. Then, they decided that the eighth episode of incest-love just was too much, and refused to air it. End of story, executive comes to senses, cancelled show, right?

No, that would make too much sense. They go on to air the ninth episode, and then the tenth, and I happened to see the end of the eleventh episode, where Lolita and her brother Humbert kick her romantic, age-appropriate, non-related rival out of his apartment, and get down to the old in-and-out, beast-with-two-backs, horizontal bop. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, JAPAN?

I almost want to see this episode 7.5, to determine for myself that there isn't anything more offensive than incest-sex in this mysteriously banned episode which would explain to my satisfaction why it was banned, and not the "beginning of Middlesex" episode 11.

Oh, well. I just hope that their offspring just have a few extra digits, or an easily fixed birth defect. The Anatolian Greek siblings in Middlesex ended up with a grandchild with whom you can't use gendered pronouns in any proper sense.
I've been following two anime this season based on manga which I've seen, Gantz and Midori no Hibi. Gantz was a violent, amoral, merciless manga about teenagers, punks, and random victims getting naked and splattering guts and brains all over the landscape. Midori no Hibi is a light high-school comedy. Both had a lot of potential, but their track records have been distinctly variable.

Gantz ran up against standards-and-practices in a big way. Wait, you say, the Japanese don't have standards-and-practice departments! Well, in the past that might be so, but there's something like that these days. The Old Wild West of Tokyo television is a thing of the past. The Gantz producers, instead of trying for another venue, or going OAV, tried to suck it up, and edit for the timeslot. Word is that they tried to run the show in prime time, which is a major no-no for the sort of salacious nudity and concentrated viscera that the story demanded.

So, Gantz is edited with a cleaver, chopped into incoherent mush, just barely keeping the exploding heads and bouncing tits off screen, or literally blacked out with digital footwork. The original story isn't particularly complex, intellectual, or elaborate. Still, the show as broadcast is a horrible mess. Footage is missing all over the place, and the extra seconds filled with repetitive dialog and stupid melodramatic foot-dragging. The excisions make hash of the visual flow, and the action is impossible to follow. The original manga was somewhat poky and slow to begin with, but the filmed version exacerbates the problem.

Now, I'm not saying that the problems with Gantz is entirely with the censorship angle. Some of the melodrama and softening can be blamed on the censors, but not all. The Nishi character is a prime example. [Spoiler Warning]< He was a quiet, amoral, vicious predator in the manga. A survivor. Little things here and there in the anime have been tweaked to make him more sympathetic. When he blows the head off of a motorcycle gang punk, it's because the punk intentionally tried to shoot him with one of the toys they were given. In the manga version, the punk accidentally discharges the weapon in his direction. It's *justified* in the anime. Likewise, when he's killed, he's given a flashback for backstory melodrama, to heighten the sympathies of the moment. The point of his death in the manga wasn't that anybody should cry for him - they shouldn't, he was a nasty little bastard - but rather: this is the ultimate survivor. He died just like that, horribly. Experience alone won't save you. You're next, asshole. Get ready to die.[Spoiler Warning]

The character designs and animation also seems to have gone down hill. There are sections of the nineth episode where I was horribly distracted by the bizarre ears on various characters. I started playing "where are they going to be now" with scenes, trying to spot the worst ear-line for each character. I *think* that might be new animation filling in the editing-gaps, but I could be wrong. Anyways, the broadcast version of Gantz is essentially unwatchable, and I'm not at all sure that the unedited version would be any better. Hard to tell, with all this censorship in the way.

Midori no Hibi is a different story. There just wasn't that much to edit in the first place. There's a lot of tits and ass in the show, but the violence is of the cutsey cartoon variety, where all anyone ever gets is a collection of bandages and bruises. The version I saw had the nudity intact, and there's another broadcast version with the nipples painted out, but frankly I can't imagine the show losing much with the edited version. It's fanservice, not meat.

I was really enjoying the show, and I still am. The animated adaptation builds on the manga, and extends the jokes and situations in a way that stays true to the spirit of the story. It's consistently fun, amusing, and honest. It also appears to be accelerating the manga-story in a fashion which seems to point to a foreshortened, thirteen-episode run, instead of the comfortable twenty-six-episode run it could sustain, and deserves. The manga had a third-volume fakeout which looked like it was going to end the story earlier. They're taking that fakeout, and piling a lot of extra revelations and character drama that makes it look like they're going actually end it with that false ending. That's a shame, because it's going to cut out some fun sequences. I rarely say this, but Midori no Hibi deserves a longer run.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Well, I'm back from New Jersey. Nice change of pace, I suppose. Drove down with Dave A., who is now convinced that conventioneering makes for a good diet and exercise regime. Seacaucus is a really hard place to find a meal. All of the food outlets are reportedly concentrated on two tiny, constricted strips somewhere in the sprawl. I say reportedly, because we never found them. We descended upon what looked like a brand-spanking-new Olive Garden, only to find that it was so new, they hadn't actually finished the interior yet. Oops. We ended up eating mostly in the hotel.

The hotel itself was kind of interesting. It was built on a spit of land surrounded on two sides by the Hackensack River estuary, with levees in place in case a storm surge came calling. I got a good look at the grounds, because there was often not much for me to do in the convention proper. That, and it was hot as heck.

Anime Next is a third-year convention in a facility about one-half too small for the traffic they get. This resulted in an overcrowded hotel whose air conditioning couldn't keep up with the extra body heat. I found myself sweating like a cholera ward. Thank god for working hotel showers.

The attendees were another story. I went on the assumption that I'd see a lot of the New York/New Jersey silverbacks. I used to know a lot of people among that group. I'm not sure whether most of them have dropped out of fandom, or whether the bad feelings from the great Anime East debacle alienated them from the organizers of Anime Next, but the convention was notably light in Grand Old Men of Fandom. In fact, the convention was light in old men, period. The average age of the anime/manga fan continues to creep downwards. The median might be hovering on the verge of middle school at this point. Most of the people my age in attendance were there to keep an eye on their costumed children, as far as I could tell.

Hall costumes continue to spread through the general fan population. I'd guess that at least a third, if not quite one full half, of the attendees were in some kind of costume or get-up. Less amusingly, the convention security staff had decided that bokken, wooden Japanese practice-swords, were an unofficial part of their uniform. Every single security goon I saw had a wooden stick thrust through a belt while on duty. In 1994, for the convention I help run, one of my less-happy duties was the disarmament of our security detail. The kind of enthusiastic, testosterone-poisoned kids who are attracted to con security, should not be given the kind of encouragement represented by martial-arts accessories like nunchuks and bokken.

There was a three-hour panel listed opposite the cosplay/masquerade called "Cosplay Haters". We went down to hang out, and it turned out that there were no panelists as such. So we took it over. We managed about two hours of random bile, slander, and abuse before we ran short of invention and hot air.

Spent a lot of time in the panels, really. If you keep track of current happenings in anime, the video tracks are not going to contain anything exciting or new. Most other parts of the convention were too crowded, hot, or brief to really eat up a lot of free time. But, I got to hang out with some old Quest Labs alumni, and watch some new music videos.

Oh! The music video contest! Not bad, but not brilliant, either. I thought I spotted something of a homophobic backlash, but that might just be my bias talking. FLCL continues to be the source of a lot of decent music video material. It's just such a rock show, that it can be cut up into all sorts of music videos, from punk to Bryan Adams. I tend to like the sort of excessively over-edited, hyper affairs which the non-linear editing revolution allows. Somebody did a pitch-perfect Eva re-cast of the Cowboy Bebop "Tank" opening animation.

Friday, June 18, 2004

In the office, waiting for my ride, I was reading around, when I came on yet another of Eugene Volkh's complaints about Slate's obnoxious Kerryisms column. He asks what the point of this increasingly absurd "editing" column, which distorts and dumbs down Kerry's statements by removing necessary clauses from complicated responses.

I think I spot the gag. They're trying to get conservative critics to state the obvious, by begging the question. Critics complain that Kerry is too subtle, too nuanced, overly-precise, fussy. So Slate's giving them what they want - they're chopping up "nuanced" statements to prove, in an ironic fashion, that the subtleties are necessary, even vital. In this sense, the Kerryisms column's purpose is identical to that of the Bushisms column - to make conservatives look stupid.

Well, at least they get points for subtlety.

Via Glenn Reynolds.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

I'm going to be out of town this weekend for a small convention in Seacaucus. Some friends are getting a hotel room there, and we're going to all crash like penniless college geeks doing the con circuit. I don't see those guys often enough, so there you go.

What this means, however, is that I'm going to be out of town for the Bellefonte Cruise. This fills me with a great deal of ambiguity.

On the one hand, the Cruise is an interesting festival. Bellefonte fills from one end to the other with gearheads and their mechanical prides-and-joys. It's always entertaining to go down a row of Corvettes, like a muscle-car diagram of evolution in action, or the brightly-painted Fairlanes, each lovingly restored in thoroughly improbable paint schemes.

On the other hand, they’ve used my block for the stereo competition the last two years running. Nothing quite like trying to sleep through "WHOOM! WHOOM! WHOOM!" all night long. The local biker gangs go tearing through town, even more rampagy than usual. And the Fifties nostalgia bands set up in front of the library or on the courthouse square and keep the whole damn town awake with megadecibel renditions of "la Bamba" and "Chantilly Lace". It's not a weekend for the nervous or sensitive, sad to say.

Maybe I'll get one of my neighbors to provide a report when I get back from New Jersey.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Speaking of secretive societies with dubious house rules, what the heck is up with this? According to Dan Drezner, the Council on Foreign Relations runs under "Chatham House" rules, which forbid discussion or direct attribution of what goes on in meetings outside of those meetings. Information can be relayed, but only after all attribution or context has been stripped from the relation. No wonder these sorts of policy associations develop robust conspiracy mythologies around themselves, if they're going to insist on this sort of opacity, nontransparence, and half-assed secrecy!
Hmm. Wonder if that's enough to get me past the Freemason bar on godless atheists? Might be enough to qualify me for the Unitarians, though they seem to have lower standards than the Masons...
In commenting on this suggestion by Jeff Jarvis that we replace the Pledge of Allegiance with a recitation of the constitutional Preamble, I stated, among other things, that:

The Pledge, on the other hand, pledges the population to a nongovernmental abstraction - the flag - which is neither a government, nor a constitution, nor a god

In response, one "Dan" replied, in part:
No, it doesn't. You pledge allegiance to the flag of the USA, "and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God" (emphasis mine). The Pledge of allegiance is a pledge to a specific flag, and to a specific government represented by that flag, which is under a specific god. There's nothing the slightest bit abstract about it.

I don't recognize that "the Republic for which it stands" is a government. For one thing, "the Republic" is itself an abstraction. The government of the United States isn't referred to in American English as "the Republic". Some conservative types like to refer to "the Republic" when they're talking about an ideal from which the actual United States is, they feel, diverging. Of course, many of those conservative types are reprehensable tools like Pat Buchanan, but my rhetorical point still stands: abstraction. Not the government, but the ideal. Not "Senatus Populusque Romanus", but "Res Publica Romana".

Now that I've thought about it, I believe that the "under God" insertion helps prevent the religiously literal-minded from construing the Pledge as a ritual worshipping a tutelary deity in the form of a flag - a literal graven image. Speaking as a hard agnostic, I'm willing to trade the complaints of fellow agnostics and atheists for compromise with the literal-minded religious.

As for "specific god", you can't get more ecumenical than the God of the pledge. He/she/it has no characteristics but a grammatical masculinity which cannot be exchanged in English for a more neutral gender - "god" serving as both neuter and masculine. It's not Adonai, or Jehovah, or YHWH, or the Lord, or Jesus Christ, or Allah, or whatever silly skiffy construct it is that Scientologists worship when they're funneling their sucker-cash to the Church.

Squint hard enough, and that "God" looks like the first-principle, the sparking impulse which even the hardest atheist has to acknowledge, and still admit that the universe had a beginning, and thus, an existence outside of the perceptions of the self.

Well, I can think of a few breeds of agnostic and atheist (and Buddhist!) who would not accept the idea of the first principle being invoked. I fear they embody the religious bigot's conception of atheism - those who cannot be trusted, because they go so far in renouncing the moral idea of God that they deny existence itself. That is, these nonbelievers seem to be solipsistic, in that their beliefs don't appear to have room for others, except as illusion or a sort of divorced extension of their own selves. The fear is that they subscribe to a species of philosophical sociopathy. You don't need a belief in God to be a moral person, but you do need to believe in other people.
Speaking of online zombies, the Filthy Critic is back from the dead! I went to his site to look up an old review of Punch Drunk Love on a whim, and there the reprobate was, back from the dead, and none the worse for wear for all the running over and death and mourning. For a foul-mouthed drunken small-town sockpuppet, the Filthy Critic isn't too bad, and generally gives me a better idea of the quality of any particular reviewed movie than the bulk of straight-faced critical reviews. Stanley Kaufmann, I'm sneering in your general direction.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Jason van Steerwyck of IraqNow, in addition to being a really cracking milblogger, is a pretty deft hand at a certain type of finance story as well. I had noted that story about doctors refusing to treat malpractice lawyers over the ballooning cost of malpractice insurance, and dismissed it as the usual self-serving professional hissyfit. van Steerwyck points out the connection that I missed - that lawyers aren't to blame for the hefty rise in malpractice premiums. He notes that the catastrophic hit on the reinsurance capital pool by the 9/11 payouts has had a vicious ripple effect on the entire insurance industry, and the higher reinsurance premiums paid by malpractice insurance companies are driven by the competition for reinsurance capital by insurers with the threat of a 9/11 repeat hovering over their heads. This is the indirect economic effect of terror, which spreads itself across the entire economic world. Of course, you can't rail against this community of risk, because it is this mechanism which makes that economy resilient and effective. Insurance is an economic force multiplier.
Zeyad of Healing Iraq has been working on a multi-part history of the Iraqi tribes (part one, part two, part three) which is definitely worth your time and consideration if you have any interest in the whole tangled tribal mess in Iraq. My understanding of Iraqi history is shallow at best, and I learned a lot. The one thing that sticks out for me is just how young Iraq is as a nation. There tends to be a lot of bosh talked about Ancient Mesopotamia, but one thing that Zayed's story of repeated tribal migrations from the south and west is how the rural and urban areas of Iraq were constantly dying, and being replaced by desert nomads. Cities in the pre-modern period were black holes in even the healthiest of environments - they suck in the peasantry from their surroundings, while the city-dwellers die of innumerable ills, and the surviving children of the peasantry, now city-dwellers themselves, are killed off in turn by later plagues, famines, warfare, and the like. For all of Saddam's pretensions of being the new Sargon, the new Nebeccanezzer, son of Nineveh and Babylon, modern Iraq is a thoroughly Arabized society descended primarily from nomad populations.

The cities become tribalized, as the tribes became Shia-fied, and then replaced by new Sunni and then Wahhabi migrants from the desert fringes. A further interesting point is how the southern cities outside of Basra, Baghdad, and the shrine cities are Ottoman foundations of the 19th century, and not ancient at all. Fascinating reading.
A pipsqueak toady for Michael Kinsley named David Plotz took the opportunity to pitch in with a "yeah, what he said!" on the subject of David Brooks, on the general occasion of Brooks' new book, On Paradise Drive. I finished reading this book a few weeks ago, and thought it was a decent, optimistic little social book. It wasn't the sort of thing that sets the world on fire, but hey - how would you like to live in a bonfire? It was a constructive book, a book about building the "many mansions" promised in the better moments of religion and prophesy. Plotz is clearly in a destructive mood, and his rancid little tantrum is a song in the key of hate. Brooks isn't angry enough. Brooks isn't a fighter. Brooks doesn't seek out conflict.

Well fuck you, Plotz. There's enough rage in the world to destroy it ten times over again. Blood and fury wash the news pages from the front page to the sports section and back again. What exactly is the harm in optimism, in a forward-thinking, happy-think columnist?

Every political question, it sometimes seems, is a beggar with out-stretched tin cup in hand. The liberal theme for the 2004 elections is pessimism. Everything falls apart. Fuck the centre, and if that bitch looks like holding, drop a mortar stonk on her pointy, optimistic head.

The name of the game, my friends, is Time on Target pessimism. Fire first from the monthlies, then a burst three weeks later from the weeklies, then a hammering by the short-range dailies snug behind the political front. Carefully coordinated, shells from batteries throughout the depth of the theatre, converging as one over the chosen target in a horrific concentrated barrage, obliterating everything on the chosen coordinates in a single instant. Time on Target: that most American of innovations. It's why nobody in their right mind ever makes a massed frontal assault on a supported American position. Entire counterattacking German battalions and regiments were obliterated by Time on Target stonks. Conservatives beware! The pessimists have laid their wire, and have your position marked, coordinates scribbled in greasepencil squiggles on a folded map.

What does it say about the "liberal" mindset that the best metaphor for their behavior is the overwhelming firepower of mid-century American armies? Reactive, swarming, brute-force mechanical fury. What was Brooks' offense again? Being constructive and optimistic. Fair warning, optimists - you're standing on Michael Kinsley's artillery range. Have a slit trench dug before you open your yap.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Ah, the first wheat harvest reports from the field for the 2004 winter crops. Hmm. Yields are significantly up. Hard to tell - first reporters are often outliers, but still, not bad. Of course, this is down in the Delta. Up here, we've had so much rain that I can't help but think that there's going to be some downed grain.
Stay the Corpse: Bush/Zombie Reagan, 2004.

Via Allahpundit, who's been a bit zombified himself recently...

I liked "Trust, but zombify", too...

Friday, June 11, 2004

Steven Den Beste's encounter with the Ghost in the Shell movie inspired a discussion about the definition of the self. Pixy Misa had something to say about it as well.

The main problem I had with Den Beste's essay was his insistence on locating the self within the "frontal lobes". We're not brains in boxes, and to define the self as the brain, or even the mind, is to insist on an overly rationalistic conception of oneself. We don't have a strong particular attachment to that fingernail, or that hair, that flake of skin, or even that pinkie lost in a biking accident when we were six. But they were all still part of the self, however infinitesimal.

The mind extends itself to the fullest extent of the self, and it doesn't even limit itself to the physical body. I extend beyond my skin. When I drive, I am in a certain sense the car; once, when I lost control of my old Ford Escort on Route 22 in a slushstorm, the disorientation and shock was tangible, physical, real - even though nothing happened to my body, let alone my brain. I happen to have an unusually overdeveloped sense of personal space - as much as two feet in some situations. It's actively uncomfortable to have someone I don't have a sense of intimacy with, invade that space. This is why I hate going to see movies I know will be showing in a full house - because I don't like that sense of unwanted intimacy with strangers.

But this means, I think, that the self is not an indivisible whole, an atomized, singular essence. When I park my car, turn the engine off, and get out, I am no longer that man-in-a-sedan self. I discard that part from my self, and become a biped again. Our things are temporary extensions of ourselves; how important those extensions become is entirely dependant on how much emotional importance we invest in those elements of the self. Possession-proud people invest great portions of their personalities, themselves, into their things, their stuff. Land-proud folk invest themselves into their land; such people once evicted are no longer the same people they once were.

Body-proud people, of course, are most invested in their physicalities, that part of themselves which lies within the skin, the muscle and bone, the athletic whole. Those body-proud folk, of course, are most aware of this extension of the self. There is nothing quite like exertion to remind oneself that one is, of course, something more than an intellect - the loss of breath, the heat, the strain, the adrenaline rush, the trembling, quivering self that twitches and shudders. Ask someone who has just smashed his thumb with a hammer, about the physicality of the self. But be sure to stand out of hammer-range.

And, of course, the dismembered are less for their losses. A hand is not the self, but it is a part of the self. You will not find an amputee at the moment of his or her loss, who will tell you that they don't feel reduced by the loss. Of course, it isn't that simple. The amputee will often *feel* that hand, as if it was still there - ghost sensation, ghost pain, a ghost limb. The brain-in-a-box people will insist that all I've been talking about, the extensions of the self through the physical, is all a mistaken understanding, that the constructed self is built, like the homunculus, a tiny, totally representative model contained wholly within the brain. But I would said that that it isn't simply a map, or a model. It is that part of the world which is made, within the perception, the self. It is constantly informed by sensation and imagination. The ghost-hand is the model deprived of sensation, that part of the self divorced from the world that nourishes it. As that part of the self's experience of the world recedes, it atrophies and fades. That part of the self collapses into sense-memory, then mere remembrance, then nothingness. The self, that part of the self is lost.

Alzheimer's is such a foul disease because it is a leprosy of the self. It rots the self from the remembrance outwards, divorcing imagination from association and association from sense-memory and sense-memory from sensation.
I I used to spend a lot of rhetoric dumping on Fred Kaplan of Slate, so I suppose I ought to balance the karmic scales by pointing out a really decent, sensible article on Reagan's responsibility for the end of the cold war. I was quite surprised to find myself in near-total agreement with almost all of his points. It's balanced, well-thought-out, and accurate - characteristics which I have yet to discover in his analysis of recent events. Perhaps his forte is more in history than current affairs?

I especially liked his point that the first Bush administration dropped the ball with the Soviets in their first year. I hadn't noticed this when it was going on, but in retrospect he's correct. For all of the first Bush administration's alleged experience in international diplomacy, they really did flail about during the Communist collapse. The later diplomatic successes associated with the Gulf War tends to drown out those earlier failures, and the steady tide of good news during the chaos obscured how little the Bush administration had to do with it all.
Why the hell would somebody want to do a Dirty Pair Flash for Gunbuster? The designs look more like Sora no Stellvia than the old Mikimoto specials of Gunbuster. Look, I'm not saying that Gunbuster was a particularly timeless or great anime, but this makes no goddamn sense. Hell, look at that - the protagonist is a washboard-flat ferret of a girl. The Gunbuster heroine was a healthy young girl with what might be the archtypical "Gainax bounce". Again, I'm not endorsing this; I'm just pointing out that it's a bizarre thing to do. There's an anthropomorphic villain - the original Gunbuster was a bug-hunt of Edmund "Worldwrecker" Hamilton proportions. I seem to remember that they destroy half the galaxy in the climactic battle.

Wait a minute. Maid costumes? Gunbuster was a sports-anime parody. What the devil does maid fetishism have to do with the Gunbuster concept?

I don't know. Maybe I underestimated the continuing otaku creds of Gainax. This smells like a particularly undisciplined doujinshi "tribute". It's a very fanboy sort of thing to do. Which is to say, it sucks in a creatively derivative sort of way.

Via Natsume Maya, who still hasn't gotten around to permalinking.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Drove through downtown State College for lunch today. They were demolishing the old Schlow Library building on Beaver Avenue. Kind of surreal - it's not the sort of thing I associate with small central Pennsylvania towns. This huge pile of rubble almost a story tall, with a bulldozer sitting on top of the rubble. half the top floor of the building right next to it was torn off - I couldn't tell if they were demolishing that building as well, or it was just secondary damage from the demolition. I can't imagine that it's that difficult to destroy a two-story building, so maybe they're just peeling the next building - rip off a story, process, rip off another story, continue until you're down to foundations.

State College and University Park are changing so fast, that I can hardly recognize the places they used to be. Beaver Canyon grows like a sluggish cancer; there are towering brick buildings all over what was once a rather bucolic east campus. Oh, well. At least the new graduate housing is an aesthetic improvement on the old shacks they've replaced - it looks more like West Halls than East Halls. Thank God concrete and rebar has gone out of style. Some folk may despise institutional-red-brick, but I don't mind it that much. There's something terrible and alienating about the yellow brickwork that dominates the centre of campus - it's got a certain empty, inhuman feel. Yellowbrick is supposed to blend in well with the neo-Federal style in which those buildings were built, but the yellow-on-white feels like, I don't know - a boneyard. Redbrick, no matter how cliche and pedestrian, still does something for me - brings a earth-tone warmth that makes an environment feel more human.
After a couple days of deeply dispiriting news about torture-memos and abominable training exercises gone terribly wrong, it's good to get a little reminder of good news from Oliver Kamm, who reminds us that the war in Afghanistan not only failed to produce a refugee crisis or starvation, but rather reversed an existing refugee crisis, bringing 3.6 million Afghanis back to that country from their places of exile.

Another bit of good news, discovered while I was looking for that Washington Post link, seems to show that the *approved* 24 interrogation techniques mentioned in the article on the 2002 "torture memo" did not include any of the actual torture methods discussed, and that the darkly-described, vague reports of "new methods" fell into the category of deceit and disorientation. The new methods included environment-manipulation and sleep-schedule distortions, with the most dubious new method being an attempt to deceive the prisoner into thinking that they had been put in the hands of a third state party which *would* use torture.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Reason Online has a review of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex from last month. Given the page or so the author was working with, it isn't terrible, but it can't get too terribly deep. He lightly brushes over the "emergent phenomenon" inherent in the "Standalone Complex" that the TV series considers. He doesn't even get into the increasingly archaic and old-fashioned tone of Ghost in the Shell, which was an excellent late example of what, in retrospect, was a somewhat ephemeral subgenre, cyberpunk. The series dwells in a might-have-been-but-probably-not in which hacking is something other than a brute-force annoyance.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Virtual Fences for Wi-Fi Cattle. That's a wicked tech app, and it would even be worth it for cattle herding. Check out the "Rawhide" parody in the comments.
More hand-wringing about scavenged and smuggled WMD elements found in Europe, in this case, Samoud-2 parts scrapped and sold to a yard in Holland.

I'm somewhat comforted that this stuff ended up in a Rotterdam scrapyard and not, say, in southern Lebanon. Let's hear it for the Invisible Hand, which apparently inspired somebody to convert weapons of war in a war zone into smuggled scrap metal for the world market. Yes, it drives folks to strip powerlines and steal sewer grates, but it also causes them to render sophisticated machines of death down for eventual conversion to substandard structural steel for some half-assed high-rise in Xian.

Unless, of course, the metal eventually ends up in the hands of a Ren Faire swordsmith intent on turning out a couple dozen more pot-metal swords destined for the walls of dens and parlors throughout the MidWest. Which would be a case of swords-into-plowshares into swords again. But hey - at least they'll be dull, right?

Via Command Post.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Hey, Peaktalk is back, with, among other things, a couple posts about the passing of Reagan.

That was sort of surreal. I found out about it while visiting my grandmother in a temporary nursing facility, while we were getting ready to move her into a less intensive assisted living facility. My first political act was to stump, in my doofus-six-year-old way, for anybody but Reagan. So I made an "Anderson-for-President" poster and stuck it out where we usually left the trash cans. So began a long tradition of backing the wrong horse. Anderson went nuts, as so many of my candidates have done, and the last time I heard, he had become some sort of one-world federalist lunatic. Scary old Ronnie Reagan, who was going to accidentally incinerate us all in a senile spasm of disoriented dementia, on the other hand, proved to be the one who figured out how to untie the proverbial knot, sword in hand.

The great fear and contempt which surrounded the Reagan administration, taught me a lot about how much to trust conventional wisdom. I've been trying to apply that knowledge ever since, but it's never as easy as Reagan made it seem. He never seemed to *struggle* in public, and that's what made people so wary. Nothing important should be as easy as Reagan made it seem. He must have been a figurehead, or he was another Nixon, fiendishly plotting and raving whenever the cameras are off. He seemed to enjoy a sort of literal grace - justified in the eyes of the Lord. But the modern world isn't comfortable with old Puritan notions of predestination and grace, and the obvious answers were nonsense on the face of the matter.

His besetting sins were neglect, and disregard. He was far more tolerant of the faults of others than his politics would have suggested, and he had the Hollywood trait of being able to ignore those aspects of others which might otherwise cause discord, anger, or acrimony. But, likewise, he didn't see what didn't fit his world-view, and his children have been very public about how they felt neglected and unappreciated by their distant father. The greatest tragedy of his administration was the neglect of the building AIDS epidemic, and the unwillingness to see the horror, because it was occurring within a segment of society which Reagan refused to look at that which he could not reconcile with his principles.

Dementia took him long before the final illness, and in a sense, he's been gone from us for ten years or more. Nothing in this world makes me doubt the hereafter more than Alzheimers, the way that the disease takes its victims a fragment at a time, flaying the intellect and the mind, peeling the man like an onion, until nothing is left but tears. Where is a soul, in that ugly dissolution?

There was a woman in the assisted living home, who was terribly disoriented and confused, and she would let out these heart-rending wails of "Help! Help!" from her chair. When I first heard it, I though that someone had broken a hip, and I mentioned it to the woman at the front desk, who went off to look into the problem. Later, when we were walking my grandmother through the dining room, I saw the woman in question, still pitiably crying for help in a place that might have been called a home, but wasn't for her. My grandmother is terribly forgetful, and can't remember things like when to take her pills, but she doesn't have that inability to remember the self which is the curse of Alzheimers. She's lucid, and my hope is that she will not lose herself before the world loses her. We drove past her old house, down the street from Passavants', and she was so happy that she could recognize and remember the little white-brick place. High-care nursing homes can be terrifying places, when you're surrounded on all sides with the wreck that age makes of us in the end. It breeds a certain paranoia, that what you're seeing and hearing is the future.

While I and one of my cousins from the other side of the family were moving furniture into her new room, I noticed that a couple of young missionaries were holding a prayer meeting, or a Sunday-school session in a room off the front hall. This kid, younger that I, was lecturing a group of about a half-dozen elderly on the fulfilled promises of Christ. I was disturbed, to see the right order of things so inverted, to hear an old lady ask a sleek young boy about some point of scripture or theology, and hear him reply in smug truisms. What right does youth have to lecture to age? They are the ones on the edge of eternity, or the abyss. If anyone can know which it is, it's those on the cliff. How dare you stand in open fields of promise and lecture?

My grandmother isn't going to be staying in the assisted-living place for long - six months or so until the retirement house down in Florida is finished, my father wraps up his retirement, and they all move south. So it isn't a permanent situation, and she should be OK. I just wish I could do more…

Friday, June 04, 2004

Oh, for the love of Christ... Bush isn't technically on the ballot in Illinois, due to an excessively late Republican convention date for 2004. The state legislature managed to turf the bill which would have corrected the technical error due to wrangling over which state departments can distribute voter registration forms. Of all the stupid goddamn messes... Hey, Mark! Set a fire under your representative!

Via Mickey Kaus. Hey, Mickey - get those tightwads at Slate to buy you some real permalinks! You too, Mark, while we're at it!
There's a typically fanboy argument going on over on the Usenet group rec.arts.anime.misc about ADV's decision to render a newly licensed title as UFO Princess Valkyrie instead of UFO Princess Walkure. Lots of yammering about loan words, and localization, and yadda yadda yadda. Me, I can't get over how they're so fixated on the localization issue, when we're talking about Pedo Princess Walkure, here. It's an anime featuring a female lust-object who appears to be a prepubescent little girl, until she's kissed by the post-pubescent male protagonist, whereupon she turns into an impossibly busty and nubile babe. It's a pedophilic fantasy! Lolicon fetishism! And it sucks on dry ice! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? Who cares what you call it? If there's a hell, you're going to it!
Did you know that we're using the uranium from dismantled ex-Soviet nukes as plant fuel in the US? This was brought to my attention by Joseph Somsel in the comments to this post on Kerry's halfassed promises to do a better job controlling nuclear technology on Just One Minute. They're hoping to convert 20,000 bombs worth of uranium to reactor fuel. Probably a bad time to be investing in uranium futures, don't you think? Or, for that matter, investing in breeder reactors. That is, assuming you're planning on actually producing reactor fuel...

I play poker every week with a bunch of nukie grad students. Forgot to ask about this last night. Maybe next week...

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus conference has produced a list of 17 prioritized projects addressing worldwide environmental, societal and human needs. Sort of a "to do list" for the species. Upon examination, one thing this isn't is an ecological action list. Other species are only mentioned as they directly impact human needs - specifically, the proposal for amelioration of the resurgent malarial problem, and various agricultural projects associated with water and land usage. The ecologically religious will see this, and go blind with rage. This isn't a crusade to save the world - the authors are more interested in saving humanity. Being human myself, I have to say that *I* approve, but there are folks out there who have, at some point in their intellectual and emotional development, resigned their genetic commission, and have no interest in the continuance of the species as a whole.

The Consensus usage of cost-benefit analysis, based on the assumption of a spare $50 billion available for the various projects, is bound to enrage those who cannot abide economic thinking. Again, this is a not-inconsiderable population within the ecological community. For the politically-minded, the authors' decision to disregard political costs, holding solely to economic cost-benefit analysis, is clearly a problem. They have chosen to make recommendations as if political questions were nonexistent, and one would expect to find high prioritization of such hot-button matters such as Kyoto. One would be incorrect. The only true high-priority project recommended which represents a truly dangerous political prospect is trade liberalization, which is currently tied up in the faltering Doha round of WTO talks. They propose liberalized emigration/immigration policies for skilled workers ahead of unskilled workers, and place the Kyoto Protocols second-to-last, with the various carbon tax proposals.

The most surprising recommendation is the highest priority placed on the AIDS/HIV project, recommending a near-doubling of the current investments to $27 Billion. Their cost-benefit analysis seems to drive this recommendation, in the belief that the ongoing epidemic is causing economic losses - health-care costs, labor-pool damage, demographic losses, human capital - far in excess of the costs of addressing the problem comprehensively and categorically.

Particularly interesting is the notice towards the end of the list that they were doubtful of various educational projects that were proposed, noting that it is too easy to waste vast resources on unproductive educational initiatives. Interesting.

Via the Instapundit, but of course.
Erin O'Connor is discussing the problem of long commutes for schoolchildren. As parts of the West and the High Plains empty out, governments are compelled to close more and more schools, resulting in longer trips for the remaining children. The example used is a district in Utah where the kids face two-hour commutes every goddamn day, two hours in the morning and two in the evening. Since O'Connor's audience tends pretty heavily conservative and libertarian, the comments are full of arguments in favor of one-room schoolhouses and home schooling. Me, I'm not as enthusiastic about home schooling and tiny schools as those folks. Oh, I suppose it's something that works for some, but I've never been able to convince myself that there isn't some economies of scale to actual classroom instruction. My aunt on the evangelical end of the extended family retired to home-school her two daughters in the Eighties. Somehow, that initial, pure-intent goal led her down unexpected paths until she ended up the principal of a private school for her church. The economies of scale and communities of interest led inexorably from a home-school class of two, to a group, then a class, then people were scraping together funds for a building and a true school. I can't help but think that home schooling is as much a strategy of "product substitution" as the worst excesses of the Nasser regime's "import substitution" economic policies, only practiced for libertarian rather than collective-nationalist ends.

I was talking about school boarding with our secretary. Her family has a house up on Sand Mountain in the Seven Mountains area. Her son, who's just getting ready to go to junior high, has a full hour commute down into Penn's Valley via bus. She generally drives him down to school in the morning, which cuts that by a third to a half. She's thinking about Milton Hershey, a boarding school down in Dauphin, but was worried that it would be too much for him to be so far away. I don't know, it's all new to me. I grew up in township-sized school districts, where the school was never more than a short bus ride, or a long walk away.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A US District Court Judge from northern California, Phyllis Hamilton, ruled in favor of a school district's social studies program which, as part of class activities called "Islam simulation", requires students to playact, to "become Muslims", including actual prayer sessions, including kneeling, facing Mecca, and reciting doctrinally correct prayer. The school district in question is Byron Union School District.

I was all set to doubt the provenance of the story, given the total absence of sourcing in that NewsMax article, when I found this WND article on the same subject, with some actual journalistic bells and whistles. I can't believe this is on the level. The activities are so clearly a form of proselytizing that I can't even put together a coherent devil's advocate case defense. Given the NewsMax article's lack of detail, I thought it possible that we were talking about some sort of private school with public funding, but the WND article makes clear that it's a public school district. Incomprehensible. Judge Hamilton is almost certain to be crucified on appeal. After all, this is in the 9th Circuit, home of the court which ordered the removal of God from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Via Rantburg.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Twice today I ended up out on the front stoop of my office, listening to the meteorologists critiquing summer stormfronts as they rolled over us. The first time, with everybody worrying over whether the hail would get large enough to damage the cars, the second time, with the boss analyzing the "flank" of the storm, pointing out where the funnel would have spawned if the storm had been more powerful. Yay, thunderstorms. We can be enthusiastic about this sort of thing, because we're deep enough into Appalachia that the mountains have kicked the guts out of any serious tornado or hurricane by the time it arrives on our doorstep. There's just about nothing the sunny months can throw at us which can frighten or alarm. I suppose it's a fair trade for the winter snows.
George Turner of Bastard Sword has a crazed idea for upgrading the F/A-18E Super Hornet by - get this - making it a temporary biplane via disposable fueltank/wings. He calls the resulting hypothetical contraption a "Super-Spad". His tech bafflegab doesn't sound too outrageous, and he addressed my uninformed concerns about radically altering the aerodynamics. Sort of.