Thursday, December 29, 2005

Boy, I love to fly. It's like a geography-themed rollercoaster. Shame it costs so much...

I picked up some manga I hadn't exactly been eager to read, due to this and that and the other thing. Surprisingly, none of the volumes in question were disappointing; some were actually quite promising. I suppose that's the value of low expectations.

Her Majesty's Dog's biggest problem is that the publisher, Go!Comi, has foolishly insisted on selling copies exclusively through the Waldenbooks/Borders book chain. The closest stores I've been able to find in this chain are in Allegheny County, although both my sister and the clerk in the Robinson Town Centre Borders Express both insist that there's a Borders Express somewhere within the city limits of Altoona. I suppose I'm going to have to go find it in February, because that's when the second volume of Her Majesty's Dog is due, and I don't want to have to trek out to Northway Mall on such a flimsy premise.

HMD is a pretty good book - the protagonist is a magician who derives her power from the knowledge of the true names of things, people, and identities. The dog of the title is her inugami, or dog-spirit - essentially a familiar or pet demon in the alternating forms of a lion-huge demon-dog and a teenaged bishounen. There's a lot of racy humor at the expense of the heroine, who has the blase, peculiarly innocent jadedness of the Japanese rustic. (There must be some essays out there on the distinctly Japanese inversion of the usual Western innocent country/depraved city sexual duality, but my aversion to pomo is cognitively blocking my google fu, sorry.) It was apparently written as a "horror" title, but the writer admits that she's not much for serious horror, and it plays more as slightly fantastic high-school comedy. The first chapter or so is a bit bare-boned and schematic, but the writing settles down quickly enough, and by the end I was looking forward to more.

Crossroad another shoujo from Go!Comi was less promising. Shojo Beat and various relevant websites have been full of obnoxious, dopy ads for the comic which made it sound like the most bare-boned of harem-grade "visual novel" tedium. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't nearly as precious or simple-minded as the advertising threatened. The protagonist is the daughter of a fairly worthless, aging tart who keeps accumulating children from even more worthless beaus, and generally dumping them on the doorstep of her much-put-upon mother, while "Rumiko-mama" goes charging off in search of another meal-ticket. While the protagonist is the actual body-child of the soon-absent mother, two additional step-brothers seem to have just been dumped on the family, and who knows where the second girl came from? The woman who actually kept some semblance of a family together over the years dies as the book opens, leaving the kids effectively abandoned and semi-doomed.

The heroine of Crossroad surprisingly *doesn't* rise immediately to the occasion, mostly because a lifetime of abandonment and broken promises has left her suspicious and nearly pathologically antisocial. Even better, she's not always right, or even particularly sympathetic. There's plenty of room for a lot of character arc in this one. The one big problem with the manga is that the author has a bit of a tendency to let off liberal-concerned-social-conscience steam in the form of inappropriate, doofy sermons from the heroine, and that sort of thing isn't made any more palatable by the typical Japanese insistence on bland political abstraction and airy passive-aggressive idealism. But the hysterical adoption of "no incest in the house!" as a family motto by her frazzled oldest brother makes up for one hell of a lot of preachy speechifying on the part of the protagonist.

Finally, I gave in & finally read the first volume of Nodame Cantabile, which I had been avoiding despite the near-universal positive reviews. Mostly, this had been because the art looked crude, and generally I can't stand artists, and stories about artists. If you've been reading for any particular period of time, I can't imagine that it comes as any surprise to you, dear reader, that I hold the artistic personality in the lowest of esteem, and consider such people suspicious and not to be trusted with sharp objects, responsibilities, or any semblance of authority or power. The delightful thing about Nodame Cantabile is that the author seems to be somewhat in agreement on this point, as the student-artists who populate the comic are alternatively egotistical, thieving, self-regarding, or monstrously arrogant and self-centred. The operating theme of the manga seems to be that most artists must be tricked, conned or otherwise fooled into turning into worthwhile human beings, and the few exceptions are, while essentially harmless, still and all feral & incapable of taking care of themselves or others.

The protagonist of Nodame Cantabile is a wildly talented and skilled college junior, who has grown as an artist to the point where he's essentially unteachable. He's rude and hostile to his instructors, and unapproachable & openly contemptuous of his fellow students. The text never comes out and states it baldly, but it is quite clear from the context that the school essentially gave up on trying to instruct the hero, and left him to sink or swim. I'm still not sure whether the powers that be decided to toss him in with the problem students in an attempt at reform, or whether it's all accidental, but the process seems to be that in cleaning up after his semi-feral neighbor and fellow pianist, our hero grows by irritably instructing the hopeless semi-failures among the loser set within which he's been set loose.

The art's still crude and uninspiring, but I expect I'll still go & pick up the next two volumes this afternoon anyways. Got to do something with this money burning a hole in my pocket.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I'm down in Florida for the holidays with the folks, will be down here for about a week, due to an excess of days off and a shortage of cheap airfare closer to Christmas. Helped my dad clean out his garage yesterday. Lord what a lot of stuff. We found a case of several-years-old Coors Light, well past its drink-by date. They must have gotten it for hypothetical guests, because neither of them can drink due to various minor medical concerns, and I'm definitely not a beer-and-pretzels kind of guy. We stood there in the garage and opened each can & inverted 'em over the drain. Smelled like a barfly convention by the time we were done emptying and recycling.

Got a little lost on a long walk around the housing development. I ended up even more lost trying to navigate by the position of the sun, and eventually returned by finding the main drag and tromping along until I came back in via the community entrance. Not only does every house look alike, but the roads are confusingly named - there's a "96th SE Avenue" one block away from "96th SE Circle", for instance - and they aren't laid out in simple grids or contour-lines. Grids would be hard to navigate, but at least you could use the "position of the sun" method. Contour-lines would give you geographic clues as to how the roads ought to lay; but since central Florida doesn't really have any real contour lines except those imposed by developers, you can't rely on those. There's a neighborhood here called "Highland Falls" which is built around a wide, artificial set of falls crafted to flow off of the artificial hillock built around a tall retaining wall for the neighboring "Richmond Hills". Even the lakes are drainage-project remnants of the original trackless swampland of the region.

About the only genuine geographical features of this country are the springs, from which they've constructed at least two modest amusement parks in the area. One of them, northeast of Ocala, holds a holiday illumination event, which we visited the other night. Live oaks and palm trees swathed in Christmas lights glowed in the midst of what was essentially a well-manicured swamp, while a rather chilly-looking giraffe belonging to the park menagerie ambled through the night, and a deep, clear, huge spring five times the size and volume of Bellefonte's Big Spring steamed around the little tour-boats paddling overhead.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Peter Jackson needs an editor, badly. The Lord of the Rings movies might have permanently broken him. King Kong is about nine-sevenths of a great movie. There are great bits of action, characterization, comedy, drama and romance. There is also far too much gross-out nastiness, CGI-action overkill, and wildly tone-inappropriate material which breaks up the narrative at crucial moments. It's as if Jackson filmed a bunch of material destined for an intended "extended version" and then just forgot to purge the extra footage from the delivered movie.

There's a light-hearted bit on a frozen lake in Central Park which is a grand example of what I'm talking about, here. As a scene on its own isolated merits, it's delightful. Sweet, cheerful, happy. Nice. Except it's sandwiched in between scenes of breakneck violence, death, carnage, and high tragedy. This light romantic comedy moment is in the exact wrong place. It comes across as hallucination, or worse, satire. My god, how much did that scene need to get axed?

There's been a good deal of yammer about the interspecies romantic element in the new version. It kind of works, for the most part. The only real problem I had with it was how Ann Darrow's Ape Rochester is apparently a man-eater, as he BITES A MAN'S HEAD OFF RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER. Our starry-eyed heroine apparently goes for the serial-killer type.

She's a remarkably tough heroine, though. She spends a good chunk of the movie running through some of the most hostile jungle terrain imaginable in bare feet and a borrowed silk nightgown, then again climbs several hundred feet of iron ladder at the top of the tallest sky-scrapper in the world in the predawn hours of what looks like a bitter cold New York winter. Tough, hell, she must be made of tenpenny nails. I half-way imagined one of those dinosaurs actually biting down on her, then pulling back a maw of broken teeth, shattered from attempting to chew on the protagonist equivalent of blue-steel feminine indominability.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Ended up with another t-shirt at last night's game at HiWay Pizza. Between shirts for staffing at conventions, and freebie shirts from these free poker tournaments, I'm going to have half a wardrobe in gimmes by this time next year. Word is that HiWay is shifting its poker night to Wednesdays, which I'm all in favor of, really. Having three tournaments in a night has really played havoc with my playing style. I need to be tighter, not looser, but the temptation to play deep & go out in a blaze of stupid glory is attractive when there's another game coming in less than an hour.
I can be such a hypocrite. Not three weeks after trashing the heck out of ADV, here I am, hat in hand, for the next fire sale. They must really need those warehouses emptied. Think they're in very short-term, very expensive storage? Deep discounting from the Texas anime & stuff company, until Dec. 23rd.
Having read the first half of Bernanke's book on the Great Depression - the part about banking, labor economics not really holding a lot of interest to me - this post about the intentional, planned, and deliberate recessionary policies of three of Europe's largest countries for the next few years is inducing a severe case of deja vu in yours truly. We have a multinational monetary union of sorts - the interwar gold standard in Bernanke's text, the European Money Union in the contemporary case - whose internal logic is absolute insanity viewed from ground level. Any American public official who stated that they were planning to induce a severe recession, for any reason, would be figuratively and quite possibly literally lynched by the general public.

Europe is such a strange continent...
Wow, that was a tiring night. The monster storm of 18 inches and ice and sleet deflated hour by hour until it turned into about three inches and a hell of a lot of sleet & maybe a quarter-inch of ice. Still a trip to drive through coming back from State College, though.

I noticed that they had a new line of Korean manga at the bookstore at the mall. In general I'm not a huge fan of Korean manga/comics/whatever, but one of them looked better than average - sharp art, tomboyish heroine, light comedy angle. The title was Bring It On, although since it doesn't seem to be about cheer-leaders, I suppose they'll probably avoid the lawsuit.

Of course I managed to drop it in the slush while de-icing my car this morning. Pffbt. Not a total loss, I suppose, but it's definitely gone wobbly, which is a shame, because Danbei's quality standards appear better than the industry average.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Well, this is just bloody wonderful. Electronic voting booth technologies, and they're just looking at them *now*. Think they'll get the kinks worked out by the primaries?

Oh, well. The old punch-card system was murder on the election ladies.
The WogBlogger sums up the Sydney beach riots from her point of view. Not a good couple days for humanity in general, I'm afraid.

Link via Pixy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I bought the first volume of the manga Eden on online recommendations and raves. It didn't quite live up to expectations. For one thing, I can't fathom why it was "mature-audience" shrinkwrapped - there's hardly any sexual material whatsoever, and the bits of graphic violence and gore are positively tame in comparison with Dark Horse's other titles - Hellsing, which is intentionally ultra-violent and positively painted in bits of brains and blood and gore, has never been shrink-wrapped. I guess Dark Horse wanted to highlight the "maturity" level of this veddy, veddy serious post-pandemic prestige piece. Well, whoop-de-sodding-doo. Essentially, what you have here is a biohazard variant on the old Appleseed canard, without any of the action, humor, and pulp enthusiasm that the early Shirow brought to that whole pretentious, overwritten project.

Eden's characters are either total sociopaths, nihilistic jackasses, self-consciously "cruel" mass murderers, or basic ciphers. The characters mouth a lot of vaguely biblical profundity which might have appeared interesting or special in the Japanese context, but reads as trite and miserably dull to anyone who actually grew up reading Christian scripture. The ecological nihilism and reflexive anti-American-military bushwalla is equally tedious and trite, and I nearly stopped reading the damnable thing some twenty pages in. But, in the end, I did read it to the end, and... eh. It's not outright obnoxious, despite the politics.

Once all the contemporaries of the pandemic are killed off, the reader is spared all the miserable half-witted pontificating, and it turns into a more comfortably "Japanese" postapocalyptic jaunt. Which means, of course, that we get introduced to a character who has supposedly been raised in a Hobbesian dystopic nightmare, and yet has all of the qualms and misapprehensions of an urban Japanese teen nature-isolate, as if he was just then as we encountered him seeing the world he'd been living in all his life right then, at the age of sixteen or seventeen or something like that.

Augh. This is the sort of book which leaves me hanging angrily on the fence, drawn both towards getting the next volume and tossing it all as a waste of my money and attention.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Last spring, I mentioned Michael Holt, political historian and Whig specialist, and his explicit comparison of his own political party, the Democratic, with his subject of study, the American Whigs. Holt felt that the two parties' shared elitism, fondness for activist, technocratic government prescriptions, and essential pacifism linked the two across centuries and the nominal lines of political descent. While I dislike Holt's contemporary politics quite a bit, and recognize that the central problem of Whiggish evangelicalism makes hash of his argument on at least one front, in the main I have to concur with his general idea. It has the virtues of elegance and counter-intuition, and great predictive power in both parties' increasing proclivity towards false-banner military candidates - Taylor, Scott and Harrison in the Whiggish case, and Clark & Kerry in the latter-day Democratic Party.

Sean Wilentz, a historian and, incidentally, one of the New Republic's small horde of editors, has written a book on the antebellum rise of "democracy" which argues the opposite case. The reviewer, Fred Siegel, sums up exactly the basic problem with both, opposing arguments:

In his Times piece, Wilentz seems to suggest that there are historical plumb lines that, when dropped into the past, can place all that is admirable along a single alignment.

Now, in Wilentz's defense, Siegel seems on a second reading to be conflating a number of articles written by Wilentz with the argument of the book reviewed, such that an injustice may have been done to the historian. I've never been all that interested in "democratic" political histories, as they tend to reduce strong and stirring political conflict and chaos into annotated phone-books with the thin consistency of under-cooked oatmeal, so there was never really a chance that I'd read Wilentz's book on my own hook. I don't know, I might borrow a copy from the library if I have the time next year, just to see how much of this "lineage of descent" argument is in the book, and how much has been ported into the review from political articles of punditry, Cleopatra-like, enrolled in a rug.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A fascinating, radical prediction: we will see the functional extinction of the major Indian regional languages in the near future, as India shifts from an English-speaking elite over regional-language-speaking masses, to a mass middle-class society speaking English as a primary language, with the regionals becoming linguistic relics like Breton, Welsh, Scots, and Gaelic, or like the home-environments of second or third-generation American immigrant families from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

Via Albion's Seedlings.
My quantum-fu is weak, so I might be wrong, but isn't this more news that the FTL ansible is an actual possibility of sorts? I mean, it's information transfer at a distance; the article isn't clear on whether it's *instantaneous* information transfer at a distance or not. Tom McMullen tried to explain to me why this was prima facie impossible once, but the explanation didn't stick, just how emphatic he was on the subject.

Via Nick Danger at Red Hot.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Big Dave was telling me that if I'd liked Tenshi Ja Nai, I should probably check out Ouran High School Host Club. I'd seen the title, but since said title reminded me of some deeply silly stuff I'd seen in other shoujo, I had passed on it as silly girlporn, about the level of those notably Sunako-less parts of the Wallflower. I suppose that was a mistake, because mangaka Bisco Hatori is much, much better at light comedy & quick characterization than the Wallflower's author Tomoko Hayakawa.

The protagonist, a rather androgynous student named Haruhi, is easily the poorest and least-well-born member of hoity-toity Ouran Academy, full to the brim with the spawn of Japan's best and richest. Haruhi stumbles on the open secret of the school, which is a school "club" operating out of one of the music rooms, a "host club" which could easily be translated as "gigolo salon" if you were in an unkind mood. Haruhi, in the process of this stumbling, accidentally breaks the usual horribly expensive vase inexplicably present in these sorts of situations, and is drafted as the high-tone host club's "dogsbody". Haruhi turns out to clean up pretty well, and becomes the latest member of the host club's stable of bishounen. At the end of the first episode, *after* they've introduced Haruhi to their clientele, the rest of the club realizes that Haruhi, who was too poor to afford a school uniform or get a proper haircut, is actually a "she". It hadn't occurred to them to notice or ask. Whoops.

In other hands, this would be a situation ripe for melodrama and high angst, and it's a sign of Hatori's impishness that she quickly introduces a character who's deeply offended that events have *not* proceeded in the typical high-drama shoujo manner, and officiously attempts to direct matters in the literal manner of a film-maker, complete with major character-revisions and copious scripting.

In effect, this is a girl's-harem manga, with a cross-dressing twist. Haruhi and her bishounen are all marvels of efficient character design. She's self-confessedly uninterested in the difference between men and women, and no great surprise there - she's been raised by her father, a deeply indebted employee of a cross-dressing gay bar. Cross-dressing runs in the family, as it were. The other members of the host club are charmingly naive and intrigued by the trappings of poverty, indulging in seminars on the uses and charms of such prole standards as instant coffee and cup ramen. The "King" of the club, Tamaki, is a giddy, monstrously egotistical narcissist, who's nevertheless deeply sincere and vulnerably borders on the bi-polar. The other members tend to represent, embody, or impersonate various girl-lust archetypes, such as the shota (or as the translation oddly puts it, "boy Lolita"), the tall, dark silent boy, the sly, always-smiling dark-haired "megane" vice-president, and the twins, who specialize in the high art of incestuous flirting.

The translation is kind of odd, mostly because they keep tripping up on stuff like gender-specific language. Haruhi decides to use masculine language to refer to herself, and Tamaki reacts wildly and comedically to this mis-behavior. The translator, clearly boggled by the challenge, decides to render it as bolwerized profanity - %$@! - without re-writing the lines to make this fully coherent in the English context. So it reads as if Haruhi is using a cuss word as a personal pronoun. While I know there have been comedy routines built around the near-infinitely malleable nature of profanity, I can't imagine how a cuss-word could be used to refer directly to oneself, really. Not in English, anyways.

Anyways, it's all in good fun. It's the very model of a light school comedy, although you never see anyone study or even crack open a book. You do see the inside of a schoolroom once, but it's after hours for a Christmas eve love confession, so I can't imagine it could possibly count.

More: After reading part of the second volume, I now realize that the "lolita"/"shota" thing wasn't a translation issue, it was the author being really, really weird. Apparently there's some sub-classification of shota fetishism which features horridly cute little fellers, so frilly as to make little lord Faulteroy grit his teeth in masculine shame for the gender. Thus, 'boy lolita'. Right-O.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

There goes the Easter Island "ecocide", where the inhabitants deforested themselves & then wiped themselves out in a desperate, fratricidal series of wars over a decaying resource base. Instead, a rat infestation destroyed the trees and the Dutch wiped out the locals via disease and slaving.

Not exactly a conservative reason for crowing - there's those damned colonial bastards again - but it does blow up one of the central canards of the radical ecological case for doom! doom! doooooom! I wonder if they're still teaching the "Mayan civilization collapsed of resource exhaustion" line of argument which was popular when I took Anthropology 101?

Link via Iain Murray at the Corner.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

One of the problems I had with Cashill's Hoodwinked, which I forgot to really talk about, was his peculiar selection-bias insistence that falsehood and fraud was uncommon on the right, that it was a creature of the left due to ideological and intellectual structural reasons. This case of conservative fraud and academic shenanigans, is a prime example. The tool in question gallivanted about, claiming that he was being hounded out of the academy by liberals for being conservative and a decorated veteran. They never get around to the details on the being conservative end of the argument, because he was flat-out lying about the decorated veteran end of matters. He was a late-Nineties Army Reserve type, who claimed to have been a Gulf War & Bosnia veteran with a Silver Star. Classic "Stolen Valor" syndrome. Bah.

Via ye olde Instapundite
Doom, doom, dooooom.

Yeah, I'm going to take my economic punditry from a French source. After all, they must know what they're doing, our growth rate is 2/5ths of theirs! What was that, it's the other way 'round? You don't say!

Gross doesn't get around to touching, even tangentially, on the whole "destruction" half of "creative destruction" until the last paragraph. Whoop de &#$!in' doo, there are more business failures coming down the pike. Yeah, raising interest rates would tend to *do* that. We're five going on six years out from the last great entrepreneurial bust - that's given the wild men time to recoup and recover. *Something* would eventually come along to cause a fall-out. If it *didn't*, I'd be pretty damned worried that we're going down France's Eurosclerotic path o' damnation.
Amusing idea: take the first sentence in your journal from each month, and see if it makes any sort of sense as a yearly digest.

January: Thinking over the current meme, my five favorite on-going manga series would probably be, in no particular order,
February: Well, hell.
March: I've been going mad on Amazon, blowing all sorts of dosh on books.
April: I'm going to have to change credit cards.
May: Oh, for the love of Zod... George RR Martin finally finished A Feast of Crows - delayed since 2002 - but only by dicing it into character-arcs, dividing them into two piles, and publishing the ones that are finished.
June: Dave Welsh of Precocious Curmudgeon has a review of the first issue of Shojo Beat which covers much of the ground I was intending to stomp on, so I suppose that takes care of that.
July: OK, that's it.
August: On a thoroughly unserious note, apparently there was a multi-event World Cosplay Summit that Anime Expo was involved with in some fashion.
September: The exceedingly large number of manga I ended up buying at the 'Swap yesterday inspired me to finally clean up my manga and new books around the apartment.
October: I'm going over next week's ballot to see if there's any issues I ought to be thinking about.
November: &#$@! Microsoft Word and its &#$!ing "smart quotes" defaults, anyway.

So, that's self-involvement, manga, and random profanity. Wait, that's the first line of the *last* post of the month. Let's try that again:

January: I'm back from Florida, but feeling deeply unambitious.
February: A friend emailed me this site specializing in the history of Bellefonte.
March: Austin Bay writes that, though triumphalists have become quick to see in 2005 another 1989 in the offing, that this is no year for end-games.
April: Ben talked me into going to see the Sin City movie last night.
May: Finished Harsh's Taken at the Flood yesterday, which is less satisfying than I expected it to be, largely because it's apparently the second in a series of three [possibly four] intricately connected volumes Harsh has written about or around Lee's Maryland Campaign, or, as Harsh puts it, the culmination of Lee's "Overland Campaign".
June: Ha!
July: "Blog" is just a species of slang for a class of web-journaling applications.
August: Sorry I've been quiet.
September: Daylight.
October: For those still doing the public poetry thing, here's a report of a Baghdad poetry meeting in what sounds like Uday's old stamping grounds, if I've got the location right.
November: Can an essay be both masturbatory and utter horseshit at the same time?
December: Steve Sailer's doing another tap-dance on Steve Levitt's head over Levitt's Freakonomics claim that abortion cut down on crime, in celebration of some heavy-iron economists joining Sailer in his dissent with a paper arguing that Levitt made two errors which totally negated the results he was relying on for his theory.

Hmm. Much better - more political, less profanity, if still a little heavy on the gnomic short sentences.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I swear, some people are just incapable of recognizing their own monstrosity. I saw all the posts about both the article and the show, but assumed that the bloggers were exaggerating for comic effect. This Hendrix person is a complete and total tool.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Doug Muir has been in Kosovo this week, on a business trip. Today he had a post about the Orthodox church-burnings at the end of the 1999 war and last year's riots and resurgence of church-burning. He gives the Kosovar Albanian side of this, describing the unfinished church squatting in the middle of Pristina University's centre green, and discusses the Nineties-era origin of many of the Kosovar Orthodox churches burned in 1999 and 2004, suggesting that they were political constructs rather than community centres. One of his commenters notes that many churches in Serbia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia date from the Nineties, because before that the Tito regime frowned in a typically communist way on new-church construction.

No experience, no strong opinion either way, but Doug's been interesting this week on the whole subject.
Winds of Change's occasional energy wrap-up is back after an absence of a few months. An always-welcome breath of reasons for optimism, although "biofuel" still leaves me steaming - the whole concept strikes me as "Son of Ethanol". I see that the Texans are getting ready to roll out a massive offshore windfarm - isn't anyone worried about yet another large energy installation being planted on the hurricane coast after this year's lesson on the subject?
Since everyone's pushing this Iraqi party questionnaire... PUK 52%, nobody else came even close. Well, I said the other week that if I had a vote, it'd probably go to the Kurdish coalition.
It takes some work to make Spike Lee the reasonable one in an interview, but this guy manages that feat with something approximating flair.
I had to special-order Tenshi Ja Nai through the local Comic Swap, due to it being published by a johnny-come-lately manga republisher called Go! Comi - word has it that they're escapees from one of the big two - Viz, I think. It's in the hoary old tradition of the cross-dressing roommate/partner micro-genre - there's more of 'em than you'd think. W Juliet and Girl Got Game are just two that have gotten published over here - an unpublished example would be Mint no Bokura, which featured a set of fraternal twins pretending to be identical, with the cross-dresser being the protagonist's possessive brother. Hell, one of the first manga I ever read, Twinkle Twinkle Idol Star, was a not-very-good cross-dressing idol-star-team manga, although that one was shounen, not the usual shoujo affair. Tenshi Ja Nai's schtick is that the protagonist, Hikaru, isn't the usual good-girl or "genki" archetypal heroine, but rather an introverted, determined loner who just wants to be left alone, damnit. Sort of a much-less-psychotic version of Sunako from the Wallflower. It makes for a different sort of dynamic than the usual idol-with-a-secret, roommates-conspiring-around-a-gender-secret love-comedy stuff. The one weak part of the book is the half-painted high-drama building up around the cross-dressing roommate/idol, Izumi. It's all too much, too soon in the story for my preferences. We'll see if the story settles down, or gets pat and repetitive like W Juliet. It's worth ordering the second one at least, I think.

I kind of promised to no longer buy from CMX, but Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne was just too pretty to pass up. It's a fairly rote magical-girl version on the usual "kaito" or gentleman-thief genre, which piles one set of ritual and stylization on top of another, equally rigid set of rituals and stylization, but it has a certain cheerful charm. The first volume was a little thin, but the art's nice, and you occasionally need a slice of pretty-and-stupid to break up the angst and drama. As a bonus, it *appears* as if CMX is in the process of addressing its quality-control issues, as the binding was vastly superior to the last few CMX books I've bought, and the overall presentation was superior and highly distinctive. It damn near jumped off the shelf at me.
I've literally turned into a lightweight! Two whiskey sours, which a few weeks ago would have been no big deal, got me tipsy in between tournaments at the Arena last night. They weren't even in a row! I haven't been drunk in nearly ten years. Novel experience. They aren't kidding about fat being an alcohol-buffer.

Not sure I like the Arena's deal. They jumped HiWay Pizza's night, and I wasn't going to go until my poker buddies ambushed me yesterday afternoon with the news that they were switching, and I felt I had to follow. Then, when they went out early enough at the 7 PM tournament at the Arena to make the 8 PM tournament at HiWay, they took off to play there. I went out a little too late to make it, so I hung around HiWay & had my second drink. Big Dave never did come back from HiWay - I hear he was doing pretty good in a really thin crowd.

It's kind of hard to play half-drunk - not because of the decision-making, but because the rest of the table knows, or thinks it knows, that you're impaired. Makes 'em near-impossible to bluff, and my cards weren't solid enough to play as tight as I wanted to play. Meh. Maybe I just suck.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Steve Sailer's doing another tap-dance on Steve Levitt's head over Levitt's Freakonomics claim that abortion cut down on crime, in celebration of some heavy-iron economists joining Sailer in his dissent with a paper arguing that Levitt made two errors which totally negated the results he was relying on for his theory. Levitt apparently conceded the first error, but is holding his ground on the other alleged error.

John Derbyshire of the Corner wants to know why some think-tank hasn't snapped up Sailer for his skill at being a "datanaut". Well, there's a reason I don't have Sailer blogrolled... boy bitches too much about white this, white that. Podhoretz apparently thinks he's racist, and I'm not too sure...

Update: Oh, for the love of small green apples, I do *not* suspect Sailer of "dark motives". I'm uneasy about his racial politics. I've never noticed him thumbing the scales, not that I have the background or the attention-span to catch him if he were. So why quote me on the subject and not Derbyshire, who was the guy I got the news from in the first place? Meh.
Dubya got called in for jury duty in Waco County. Sounds like a bad West Wing plot, one of the really schmaltzy ones all dewy-eyed with liberal-Norman-Rockwell idealism.

Via the Corner, which I really ought to put in the blogroll one of these days.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

&#$@! Microsoft Word and its &#$!ing "smart quotes" defaults, anyway. Everytime I have to re-install Office, "smart quotes" rises again like a cannibalistic zomboid bound and determined to gnaw on my few remaining brain-cells, or possibly just ruin all of my hyperlinks. Meh.
Touring the wreckage that's left of the city of New Orleans. I was suprised by how upset this made me. I don't usually tear up for much of anything.
Hey! Uncle Ron was named editor-of-the-year by the National Press Foundation. Aunt Bobbie mentioned that this was in the pipeline the other week. You see Toledo Blade cites more and more often in the 'sphere, which is generally a pretty good sign of national relevance, at least by my measure.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Only a company as fundamentally unhinged as AD Vision would plant an article about the need to "make friends" with their customers, and then allow the writer to preface the story with a typical aren't-anime-fans-insane-and-scary anecdote. The applicable phrase would seem to be "cognitive dissonance". You just don't "make friends" by implying that your target audience is delusional by telling a story about a member of that audience who is a literal STALKER. You don't! Well, not if you want to actually "make friends". Let's not even get into the whistling-past-the-graveyard inherent in letting said writer's editor title said article "It's... Profitmon!", when said company has famously and recently suffered a very public re-trenchment and financial setback. This isn't insider stuff, people. Everyone but the hypothetical reader of Fortune should have heard of this, if they've heard of ADV at all.

In the process, anime and manga firms have taken on forms very different from Hollywood studios or publishing houses.

Oh, so that'’s the way they'’re going to justify the industry'’s mortifyingly poor standards of professionalism, is it? The sloppy ineptitude and open hostility that "professional" companies like ADV display are a result of their "friend-making" strategy, and not the bastard child of the industry's penchant for hiring the youngest, dumbest, and most-related work-for-pennies-on-the-dollar slackasses they can find, is it then?

Look, any creative industry that specializes in fantasies is going to have to deal with those emotionally and mentally under-equipped people whom fantasy attracts - the ones who can'’t quite handle reality, and have decided to squat in your dreamcastles. What you do with those folks defines who you are. It's one thing to make fun of your peers, as a fellow occasional-wanderer-from-reality yourself. It's quite another to mock those from whom you're wringing your daily bread. Especially in a piece aimed at the money-men who will theoretically bail your half-insolvent ass out of whatever mess you'’re currently in, you ungrateful pack of jackasses.

As for the extended section talking about the industry's alleged toleration of fansubtitlers, I can't imagine why anyone involved thought it was a good idea for an article playing up ADV's strengths. For one thing, as I understand it, a company acknowledging that they're willing to tolerate infringements of their intellectual property are opening themselves up to losing that property in the American legal context. It's deeply stupid to talk about it in the press. It's a strategy that depends on insider knowledge and group mores, rather than legal protections. Even "open secrets" ought not to be published.

I suppose I ought to mention that they touch on The Con in passing, claiming that "scalpers" were selling "tickets" in the second page of the article. Thanks for that little bit of libel, Fortune! Hope the IRS doesn'’t get the idea that The Con sells "tickets", and decides to yank our 501(c)3 status based on that bit of ABSOLUTE FALSEHOOD! Not to mention this being the very first indication that there *were* scalpers that I've heard of... I'm inclined to *not* blame ADV for that particular failing. It has "stupid, lazy reporter" written all over it in letters of fire.

Update: see here for an example of the fannish bitchiness and utter rudeness characteristic of a certain caustic breed of fanboy, and how one line of ADV products are *TAILORMADE* to implicitly insult their own customers. It's kind of dodgy when fan-run conventions make "got soap?" jokes. No theoretically professional organization ought to do this sort of thing. It isn't playful, it's rude.
Finally opened the second Nadia DVD "brick", and it turned out that there were another two soundtrack CDs sitting in there, the third OST and the movie soundtrack, which doesn't suck nearly as much as the movie itself, which is faintly notorious for its pronounced inferiority to the standards of the Nadia TV episodes.

That means that the thirty-some dollars I spent on the two "bricks" got me four soundtrack CDs at effectively half-price, discounting any actual value in the DVD sets themselves. Score!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Vol. 18 of Kara Kano continues Tsuda's impressive streak, after the slow multi-volume bit with the singer and his step-sister. I'm starting to really groove on the multi-generational dysfunctionality of the Arima family, although surprisingly enough, I don't find myself looking *forward* to new volumes. It's a spiky, harsh sort of brilliant, which doesn't exactly invite repeated visits. Sort of like Bujold's Mirror Dance and Memory, which are probably the best things she's ever written, but are also too intense to revisit on a regular occasion.
Oh, Ann.
Kent Masterson Brown was on the Pennsylvania access equivalent of CSPAN's BookNotes, talking about his Retreat from Gettysburg, which I still haven't finished, having gotten somewhat distracted.

He repeated some of the stuff in the book about Lee & von Clausewitz, analysizing Lee's strategy and behaviour during the retreat by von Clausewitz's recipe. Given that we're fairly certain that Lee never read von Clausewitz, and we're also positive that he *did* read Jomini, this line of analysis is kind of peculiar. Lee might have arrived at von Clausewitzian conclusions independantly in the specific case of "retreat after a decisive tactical defeat", in a case of convergent evolution of theory, but we're pretty clear on Lee's grounding in theory at this point, I think. He was a Jominian. Hell, during the Civil War, von Clausewitz wasn't even a model for any major figure that I'm aware of - maybe one of the "Dutch" generals had read him, I suppose. The rival theoretician during the actual fighting-period was Mahan, not von Clausewitz. The older generation had trained under Jominian principles, the younger under Mahan's revisions.

Talking about theory in the field is probably a bit over-analytical, anyways. Lee was thirty years away from his schooling by the time of Gettysburg, and had been in the field for over a year. He was as far from theory as you can get and not be dead of wounds. By the time of Gettysburg, Lee's behaviour would have been influenced only by the lingering training and mind-set development aspects of theory, with his behaviour emerging more directly out of praxis and experience at that point.

I suppose you could say that the von Clausewitzian analysis proves its superiority over Jominian theory in predictive terms. A brilliant and active general's practical behaviour after a decisive defeat more closely resembles von Clausewitz's descriptions of successful retreat than it does Jomini's version. Given the rather low repute which Jomini's work now has in retrospect, that's entirely plausible. I wonder what, if anything, Mahan had to say on the subject?

Incidentally, Brown mentioned that he's working on a book on the 1862 Maryland campaign. I'd be excited, except in the same breath he stated that it's one of four books that he's working on in tandem, all in his spare time. Given that Retreat from Gettysburg apparently took twenty years of part-time research, I'm not sanguine that I'll see his logistical treatment of Antietam before 2024 at the earliest.
Beating the bounds of Bellefonte this weekend, and the neighborhoods were alive to the ringing of staple-guns and the rustle of garlands and strands of christmas-lights, from the mansions of Curtin Hill to the bungelows of Bishop Street and the levittowns of Half Moon Hill. The weather held until Sunday evening, and everybody was making hay & hanging decorations while the sun shone, if barely.

Friday, November 25, 2005

This Thorn supposedly survived the massacre at Goliad during the Texan Revolution. Completely different branch from either the Libbs or the naval Thorns.
Wow. This family must have had an interesting Revolution. The father, Jonathan, was a loyalist who died in a Continental POW camp in Hartford, CT; he was captured along with two other brothers, the eldest of which apparently spent a decade in exile, probably in Nova Scotia, where his son Samuel was married. His second son, Samuel claimed he was a "minuteman" in the Continental Army, which is a peculiar thing to claim, seeing as how the "minutemen" were militia, while the Continental Army was composed of Regulars of the Line. Note that both cousins were named Samuel - perhaps "minuteman" Samuel was trying to separate himself from the Loyalist taint of his relations by claiming wartime service beyond whatever it was he actually did?

Whatever he was, Samuel's son was a bona fide war hero, Capt. Jonathan Thorn, who helped Stephen Decatur take and destroy the Philadelphia at Tripoli, among other feats. They named a WWII-era destroyer after him. Another son of Samuel's, Robert Livingston Thorn, was a ship's doctor on board the Constellation. Seems as if that end of the family ended up unusually naval, for the Thorns at least.

A grandson of Samuel's, Herman Thorn, was brevetted captain for bravery in the Regulars at Churubusco during the Mexican War, before dying in an Indian war a few years later. This makes him the third Thorn of that part of the family to die in conflicts with Indians, as his uncles Jonathan and James had both been killed in a remarkably stupid and violent fight with Indians on a fur-trading mission in what eventually became the Oregon Territory. Herman's sister Alice became a countess, if you want to believe that one. Well, this branch of the Thorns are definitely more *colorful* than the more strictly Quaker branches.
Here's another military Thorn, a Private Elias Thorne, killed during the Overland Campaign in 1864 on the Union side. If he was killed on May 19th, then the action was at Harris's Farm, not Alsop's - which would have made his regiment the 8th New York Heavy Artillery, which took the by-1864-typically massive casualties of a raw, green Union regiment in a heads-up open-field fight with Confederate veterans.

Update: yep, Eighth New York Heavy Artillery. His cousin Alonzo C. Taylor was in the same unit, and apparently was wounded in the same action.
Some of the sections of that website are more filled out than others. This entry comments directly on the whole "brother's war" aspect of the family's participation in the Civil War. The entry is on another set of cousins, a captain and his private brother from the Isaacs branch, one of which died in the Atlanta campaign. That makes at least four Thorn descendants present at that campaign, counting the Wirt County Thorne, the Thorn of the 150th New York, and the two Thorn Isaac brothers.
An exceedingly distant cousin, Platt Thorne, was a captain in the 150th New York. Here's a mention of him by Sherman. So far that's one Union officer and two Confederate enlisted men from the West Virginia branch of the Thorns.
How ironic that now that Althouse has gone paranoid and defensive, she's suddenly blogging sympathetically about Nixon.

I'd say it's time for an intervention, but it sounds like she's too deep into her defensive huddle to respond.
I had mentioned our Quaker ancestor Thorn to my aunt and sister last weekend at the get-together in Pittsburgh, and my sister just asked for a follow-up this morning. Basically, they had mentioned genealogy, and I brought up our ancestor "Thorn" who came over to Massachusetts Bay around "1640" who had been kicked out for being a Quaker, and had helped found Flushing. "Thorn"'s many-times-great granddaughter had married the son of a damned Dutch draft-dodger in New Jersey, and they became our great-grandfather and great-grandmother Libb.

This is the Thorn family website from which I had remembered all this, it was in existence a few years back in a less-evolved form.

The ancestor in question was named William Thorne. The website now says that he was an "Anabaptist", which wasn't what I remembered. Apparently Thorne was somewhat important in his day, having signed some early Bill-of-Rights precedent called "the Remonstration of Flushing", and having hidden Ann Hutchinson's son while still in Massachusetts Bay. They're now saying that Thorne came over sometime between 1635 and 1638.

We show up here with our great-grandmother Bertha Thorn Libb and great-grandfather Benjamin Libb. By the time of the 19th Century, the Thorns were definitively Quaker, regardless of the early distinctions.

For some reason, I remembered her name as "Elizabeth". Whoops. But great-grandpa Libb's first name was definitely Benjamin, and it's the right state, the right generation, and the right name, given just how rare a name "Libb" is.
Ha! Got called "hidebound" today. Since I *am* kind of conservative, I suppose that's OK. After all, the established literary tropes and conventions are generally so established *because* the alternative generally dies ill-read, neglected, and lonely on the remainder stacks.

I've been reading Brown's Retreat from Gettysburg. I don't generally read Civil War history for incident, but Retreat from Gettysburg is surprisingly full of interesting non-battle conflict. It makes the second Northern overland campaign seem like a vast cattle-raid, an enormous rampage of theft, pursuit, and retribution or escape. The bit where the good citizens of Chambersburg non-chalantly lead a wayward train of Confederate wounded carefully into the center of town, in preparation for their arrest far from the main columns, is particularly surreal. The cavalry-battle in Hagerstown, on the other hand, is impressively chaotic, with Brown describing various townsfolk spontaneously joining one side or the other, extending even to an anonymous female sniper opening up on retreating Union cavalrymen from a second-story window.

Brown doesn't seem particularly enthusiastic about the "Longstreet slave raid" hypothesis which has had such currency the last five years or so. Talks about it at some length, but dismisses the evidence as insufficient, and he tends to emphasize the tens of thousands of black slaves running the ANV trains and accompanying the field units as servants & camp-followers & their propensity for desertion & escape over the "re-capturing Underground Railroad escapees and kidnapping free blacks" narrative. Basically, Brown seems to be arguing that the large numbers of ANV blacks accompanying the vast foraging parties made it seem to local Union witnesses as if they were recent captures being marched back to Virginia, whereas they were actually integral part and parcel of the invading army itself. Eh, it strikes me as a half-explanation.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I was visiting in Pittsburgh on Saturday, and on the way back, I got burned by a gas station pulling the old "cash discount" scam. They advertise a low gas price - ten cents cheaper than the high end of average - and once you pull in & are halfway through your transaction, suddenly that's the "cash" price, and your credit-card/debit-card transaction was ten cents a gallon more - up over the high end of average again. They used to pull this crap a lot back when gas was relatively expensive - before the Reagan-era price collapses in the late Eighties. Or maybe it's just that I don't have to buy gas in Pittsburgh all that often any more, and it just seems like they've stopped with the "cash discount" bushwalla.

It was a place on Mt. Royal in Shaler Township, BTW. Just down the street from the local school.
I was inspired to go buy Sexy Voice and Robo by one of Dave Welsh's columns. I had seen it on the shelf, but had written it off as one of those scholarly-hipster essay collections that Viz used to publish on an irregular basis. No, it turns out that it's an oversize-edition manga collection, an alternative sort of affair. And it really does look alternative, like those rather scribbly black-and-whites that were all the rage just before the speculative direct market imploded, the ones that still get published at Small Press Expos that I never bother going down to Baltimore for. Hrm. Anyways, Sexy Voice and Robo. It's a terrible title, but a pretty good comic. The artist has a great feel for character, and restrained humor. The art is kind of sloppy, though - messier than I'm used to from Japanese artists. One of the signal strengths of the manga/doujinshi, mangaka/assistant dual-level system that feeds Japan's monstrous manga market is the way it builds professionalism, and basic competence.

The standard studio arrangement of a mangaka and a cloud of assistants ensures that artists are educated through the on-hands work of an old-fashioned guild-style apprenticeship program, while providing the manpower for major works to be cranked out in rapid, machine-like fashion. The doujin sub-system gives the apprentice assistants an outlet for any creative impulses which can't be expressed in the masterwork they're spending their daylight hours slaving over, and a way to let off steam. Thus, by the time that the assistant is ready to become a mangaka in her own right, she's had at least a few years of rigorous training in the accepted method, observational instruction in how to put together story, layout, and narrative in a well-thought-out system, and usually at least a few experimental outings in the doujin market to work out the kinks and try out the stupid artistic ideas which just won't fly with an actual audience observing.

American indie or alternative comic artists are generally doing it on their own hook, making it up as they go along because there isn't any solid equivalent of the mangaka-and-studio small-shop system in the States. The result is that artists either grow or die, and you have to suffer them in their growth period, while they don't have a good grasp of scripting, or layout, or drawing, or whatever they're naturally not so good at, at least initially.

By saying all this, I don't mean to slight Sexy Voice and Robo's artist. I'm pretty sure that the slightly rough art and the fat, brutal linework are atmospheric, intentional. It was written for an alternative publication, after all, and that sort of audience is looking for "authenticity", which some interpret as slop. The rough urban setting, full of minor scams and rough edges, is well-served by the art style.

I'm not sure it's equally well-served by the omnibus double-length, oversize edition that Viz gave Sexy Voice, though. Blowing up the page layouts to twice the area of the usual American manga-collection page doesn't do any service to the already rough and over-dark inkwork. Additionally, although there's two volumes of material in this single omnibus, and thus it's essentially a wash as far as cost goes, it's still more of a financial bite to ask a browsing customer to lay out twenty dollars for a speculative title, than a single ten-dollar outlay for the first volume, followed no doubt quickly by another ten for the second volume.

The marginal opportunity cost of the later model is the greatest part of why the ten-dollar manga-volume market has taken off the way that it has. Doing strange little alt-indie works like Sexy Voice and Robo at a twenty-dollar price point seems to be an exercise in self-defeat. Were they looking for lower sell-through numbers? Does it add extra indie cred for an edition to fail to sell?
I wasn't talking about it before, mostly because I have a low taste for surprising people, but I've been on a weight-reduction project since early September. So far, I've lost about forty pounds - the goal's been about sixty or sixty-five. You know, within spitting distance of what the doctors say is the upper bounds of how heavy somebody my height ought to be. I don't feel like I've lost the weight, but my belt says otherwise, seeing as I had to drill a couple extra holes in it, to keep my pants from sliding off. When my mother saw me this weekend, she exclaimed in alarm that I looked like my Uncle Dave. This was worrisome to her because her brother Dave got real thin real fast a few years ago, due to his diabetes. I had to reassure her that the weight-loss was intentional.

It's been a strange experience so far. I find myself with a lot more time on my hands than I used to have - I had apparently been spending a lot of time eating. I'm spending a lot less time in restaurants, and a lot more time at home or walking around town. Home's kind of boring with no-one else in the house. I was apparently substituting food for other people, too. Poker two-three times a week has been taking care of that problem to a certain extent.

I was walking a heck of a lot for a while there. Three to eight miles a day, depending on the weather. I've suspended that particular activity, to a certain extent, due to what seemed like an incipient case of Achilles tendonitis. Yes, I'm pretty sure what that was - I looked up the symptoms and followed the instructions - a rather elaborate take on "stop doing that".

Well, I suppose it's one way to keep oneself entertained. I can see how some folks make a hobby out of losing and gaining weight. I'm gonna see if I can avoid the other side of that caloric bipolar condition.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The day after resolving to not waste money on DVDs, I go and blow a hundred dollars on Amazon on CDs and books. Foolishness will find its own level, no matter how you dam it back with resolution.

But hey! Hank Williams Sr! More Johnny Cash! And, er, a Rahxephon soundtrack.

I must be driving Amazon's customer prediction app batshit.

Update: No, just karmically investing in my own self-frustration. Somehow Amazon's customer interface and my own inattention resulted in my ordering a CD I already owned, and Amazon was so unusually prompt and pseudo-efficient that the order is now "pending shipment" and thus can't be modified by, say, cancelling the CD I already have, and do not want a second copy thereof. And they won't let me go through the returns process until the damnable thing *ships*.

Well, at least it gave me the opportunity to notice that my manga order was going to get devoured by the holiday shipping monster. I can bloody well buy my manga locally; if you're going to assess me a "holiday" shipping penalty, I can take my business elsewhere, Amazon. And I will.

Ratsa fratsa friggin' "customer interfaces"....

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I'm in lust. Especially given this. You can see wall-plugs here, so the designs *probably* aren't neo-Amish back-to-the-earth Luddite bushwalla. My one qualm is that the interior walls look low and shallow, which would make for rotten bookshelf feng shui. Well, that and for someone as unhandy as yours truly, this is kind of a Mt. Everest of arts-and-crafts overkill.

But lord almighty, it sounds cheap. Wonder if they're discounting all the plumbing and wiring from the cost estimates?

Via a NRO article on the rebuilding prospects in Pakistani Kashmir.
Well, Open Source Media is live - and slow as hell. Dunno about the whole thing, I liked the old name better. We'll see if it shakes out to something worthwhile. I suppose I could use a good newswire aggregator, which looks like it might be in the offing, although the current offering is kind of shotgun-blast indiscriminate.
And of course, the Senate Banking Committee just almost-unanimously voted to recommend Bernanke to the full Senate, where he's expected to be quickly confirmed. Given that they only questioned him for about three hours yesterday, I'd say that's definitely a quick turn-around by Senate standards. The hold-out was Bunning of Kentucky. Wasn't there some sort of thing about him being just barely re-elected due to what seemed to be the initial onset of senility?
Yes, I'm aware that the whole debt-deflation gold-standard thing is Friedman and Schwartz (edit: or maybe Fisher), not original to Bernanke et al.; I'm not all that well-versed on monatarism, so most of this is new to me. The details of Bernanke's essays are mostly revolving around research filling out and proving the various monetarist hypothesises (hypothesii? What’s the plural of hypothesis?) and some other stuff about searching for "non-monetary" secondary effects of the deflation, having to do with agency costs and the effects of the loss of "credit intermediation" through bank failures.
Deep Discount DVD is having another one of its sales, and I had a whole slate of stuff lined up and shoppingcarted, when I had to shut down my machine & reboot. This gave me enough time and hassle-motivation to reconsider wasting over $150 (even at discount prices) on more goddamned DVDs. I'm never going to save a dime if I'm always wasting the ready on unnecessary crap.

I'm resolving to not buy another DVD until I finish watching that discounted set of Nadia that's languishing in my DVD machine. Which isn't going to happen anytime soon, because re-watching that series is reminding me just how extremely irritating Nadia was as a protagonist, and how minimally-written the series was for most of its run.

In other news, Guru-Guru Pon-Chan is about five times as much fun as it has any right to be, given that it's a shoujo comedy about a golden retriever who finds a way to become a were-human for tru luv. The second volume is actually an improvement on the first, with the addition of a straight-faced, deranged rival for Ponta's affections. I can't believe the same artist went on from Guru-Guru Pon-Chan to write the plodding, sickly-sad multiple-personality disorder comedy, Othello.

I've been slowly wading through Bernanke's Great Depression essays, mostly by carefully picking over the equation sections and not worrying my soft little liberal arts head too much over the math. Bernanke and his co-authors are generally kind enough to stick to the high points, anyways. Nothing about daring and innovative real estate debt instruments yet, Jessica. Bernanke seems to be of the opinion that Fed overresponses and mis-responses to speculative behaviour was more directly to blame for the start of the Depression than the speculative behavior itself, anyways.

There's a lot of talk about "gold-inflow sterilization". What that means, apparently, is that the interwar gold standard's central flaw was the wide-spread statutory imposition of counter-inflationary "ceilings", but a general absence of counter-deflationary "floors" except by standards of central bank behavior. When gold starts pouring out of a country, that country's central bank or central-bank-functional-equivalent was not only supposed to deflate its other reserves and currency monetarily, but were usually required to by statute - the various "fractional reserve" policies. However, when gold starts pouring *into* a country, by gold-standard logic, the central bank ought to set into place a policy of inflation to expand its own monetary supply to reflect a steady or representative picture of the gold reserves moving into that country's banking system. But there were generally no legislation compelling this sort of behavior, and it flew in the face of anti-speculative conservatism to do such a thing. Thus, France and the US at the beginning of the Depression absorbed a great deal of gold from the rest of Europe due to deliberate anti-speculative deflationary policies, but without inflating their currency to make this inflow proportionally less attractive, thus perpetuating the flow and causing an imbalance. The result was out-of-control deflation, leading to "debt deflation" and degradation of assets and all sorts of nasty stuff.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Massive, meaty analysis of Turtledove's fascist-Confederacy series here. I gave up on that series about two books back, mostly for stylistic reasons. The blogger takes Turtledove's world-building dead seriously, and I think I agree with most of his conclusions, although I have to say that his assumption, which drives his argument that the British would shift to a Northern alliance in the late Victorian/early Edwardian, that a post-secession USA would build its industrial infrastructure in the same vulnerable-to-Canada fashion as was historically the case, strikes me as flawed. Admittedly, much of the infrastructure is geographically-driven, but there is margin for adjustment. The points about the necessity of militarization of the Lakes are, however, entirely cogent.

Via Instapundit.

Correction: that's no blogger, that's Jim Bennett, late of UPI's syndicated "Anglosphere" column.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Crap. American Funds' Growth Fund of America is one-third of my retirement plan right now. I'm way too young, and far too close to the left side of my investment curve, for my "Growth" mutual fund to be peaking. This suggests it'll be a quickly-ripening turd by the time I'm hoping to be hitting my up-curve.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Feast For Crows just showed up. Only what, three years late? Maybe we'll see the next one before January 1st, 2010. Or Martin's death of old age, whichever comes first.
Stephen Green of Vodkapundit has posted that monster essay he's been promising for the last couple weeks. It's not bad, but the repeated cries of "media war" "media war" has brought something to the top of my mind from the festering stews out back.

Ernest May wrote a book about the quick and unexpected victory of Nazi Germany in the spring of 1940 called Strange Victory which was mostly about French intelligence failures and French planning failures, but one of the lesser points, which I think is currently quite apt, is the notable British strategic and logistical failures of that spring.

The British military intellectuals were determined to not fight the last war again. Contrary to the usual myths about Western allied doctrinal failures and the legends of the Maginot Line, the militaries of the West were determined to never fight those bloody ground-stalemates again, a sort of decades-long fear of Benet's spectral soldiers:
All night they marched, the infantrymen under pack,
But the hands gripping the rifles were naked bone
And the hollow pits of the eyes stared, vacant and black,
When the moonlight shone.

The gas mask lay like a blot on the empty chest,
The slanting helmets were spattered with rust and mold,
But they burrowed the hill for the machine gun nest
As they had of old.

And the guns rolled, and the tanks, but there was no sound,
Never the gasp or rustle of living men
Where the skeletons strung their wire on disputed ground....
I knew them, then.

"It is eighteen years," I cried. "You must come no more."
"We know your names. We know that you are the dead.
Must you march forever from France and the last, blind war?"
"Fool! From the next!" they said.

Strange Victory shows in passing the calculating British economists in ill-fitting uniform, calculating the resources and the logistics and the essential weaknesses of the Axis over the long-term. They calculated that they would fight a long war behind an expected ground stalemate and the armored walls of the British Navy, they calculated they could wage what Green calls in passing a "macroeconomic war". There was nothing wrong with their calculations - they all added up, and they dictated the wasteful expansion and diversion of their war to Norway, to interdict German logistical supplies.

The problem, of course, was that there would be no ground stalemate, no time in which to wage the expected future-war, no planned economic-war. While the British soldier-economists plotted their long term, far-sighted strategy, they let pass the unforgiving minute. They learned that wars were still fought with bullets, and chests, and bodies to stop the cannon-blasted breaches.

The cries of "media war, media war" make me think of those wise warrior-economists, who made the mistake of planning, not for the last war, but for the war after the next.
Hey, Fred - this review of a book called Sprawl: a Compact History makes it seem like a useful counter to the Crabgrass Frontier and the whole New Urbanist thing that you've been talking about recently. Hard to tell from a review, but it sounds like the writer might be stretching a bit, if all that nonsense about ancient Roman villas is indicative of the actual content, though.
Dimitri Rotov asks what's happened to Edward Hagerman, author of The American Civil War and the Origin of Modern Warfare. I haven't read this book yet, but I've encountered it in footnotes often enough, especially in Hess and Nosworthy.

The answer seems to be that Hagerman isn't a Civil War historian, strictly speaking. He's an academic historian from York University in Toronto, and he's moved on to other military matters. His name is all over what looks like a massive left-wing conspiracy theory about alleged American biological warfare in the Korean War due to a book he co-authored in 1999, The United States and Biological Warfare. There's some suggestion that some of the key evidence that Hagerman and his co-author relied on in accusing the United States of waging biological warfare in Korea was most likely enemy propaganda.

Personally, reading the authors' unpublished reply to a negative New York Times review, it sounds to me as if they were neck deep in the Kool-Aid. Their key argument seems to be that Mao and Zhou believed that their troops were being bombed with anthrax, and why would they be lying in their own internal documents? I think the recent experience with Hussein's own people's belief that they had WMD, when they had not, and long experience with the endemic paranoia, myopia, and inclination to believe ones' own propaganda, characteristic of totalitarian governments, ought to make anyone careful about generalizing from the apparent beliefs of tyrants. When you throw into the mixture Kim Il Sung's well-known habit of manipulating his patrons and allies without compunction or restraint, and I can't imagine why you would ever want to rely on anything controversial coming out of that end of the historical record.

In short, I don't buy it, not a bit.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Well, so much for that. The big downpour late yesterday afternoon washed most of the leaves out of the canopy, at least here in the valley.

Nothing much going on. Getting a lot of reading in, although I kind of stalled partway through the new Pratchett paperback. The Crowbar cancelled their last poker tournament without much in the way of advance notice, which made for a pointless trip to State College. Since there's a new round of tournaments starting up at the HiWay Pizza out on North Atherton, it's probably for the best. The Crowbar was a dingy, sticky dump of a venue, anyways. Let the bar-bands have it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

We've gotten a much better leaf-turning season than I had expected, given the semi-drought conditions throughout most of the last year or so. The trees on the mountain slopes have all turned a near-perfect, uniform shade of orange, with just the slightest tinge of green from the few hold-outs. Many of the valley floor trees have lost their leaves, but there's the occasional tree with a glorious set of bright crayola orange leaves. There was a set of them towering over the Catholic cemetery at the top of Bishop Street this morning, glowing in the early-morning sun and fast-fading mist, stark against the blue sky and lit up like a flame.

I love this time of year.
I was pretty pissed when the Pennsylvania legislature voted itself an unconstitutional same-term payraise last summer, so I was equally happy this morning to see the headlines in this morning's paper as I took my morning walk about town. Repeal! Ha!

Sometimes the right thing happens, if you give it time and a bit of bile.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Spent the morning and early afternoon waiting on a new computer at work. Boredom is my muse. That meddlesome bitch. ^_^
Rock, stone, willful self
Our crystalline seed
An inorganic creation
Unceasing in a sort of
Unmoving motion
Forming without effort
Or helping hand
Each element converging on
A welcoming surface
The design inherent
In the adamantine core
Doing nothing
Draws the whole
Into its destined shape.

Rock, stone, blinded self
Flung into unknowns
And endless expanses
unmoving uncertain unknown
But never indetermined
Set in a certain course
And unchanging
Determined in the beginning
By an initial collision
Hurtling through empty
Voiding spaces
Unchanging nothingness
Parted solely by the passage
No hope of volition
Our existence a decision
And the consequences to come.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Can an essay be both masturbatory and utter horseshit at the same time? Perhaps not in strict metaphoric terms, but almost certainly so in practical terms given this egregious example.

Or perhaps the entire effort is an exercise in high irony, an act of academic parody. If so, it's neither all that funny, nor particularly clever. Sometimes stupid is just stupid.

Monday, October 31, 2005

I'm going over next week's ballot to see if there's any issues I ought to be thinking about.

There's some paper on Judge Nigro, enough so I'm thinking of voting "no". The other judge, Newman, seems inoffensive if dull. That's the whole and total of state items on the ballot. Eh, off years.

Countywide, it's the big district attorney face-off, as these things tend to be lifetime offices unless the DA gets caught with a sheep, or, you know, disappears suspiciously off the face of the earth. Which, I suppose, would still make it a lifetime office in the latter case... Arnold hasn't done anything since the primaries to make me think anything more of her than I did at the time. The one debate note I looked into had her complaining that a police union endorsement of her opponent, Madeira, wasn't actually an endorsement by the police. Not impressive. Which is sort of a shame, because Madeira hasn't done anything to get me enthused about backing him, either - I'm not particularly fond of a prosecutor who seems to specialize primarily in drug cases. Madeira probably gets it in a tight race to the bottom, unless he's found with a sheep before next week.

Geez, there's a race between a Lose and a Luse for jury commissioner. That's ripe for typo-driven upset. Ann Lose, the Republican, is the incumbent, and I remember her being a perfectly amiable and inoffensive presence at my last two jury call-ups. I'm going to try to remember the right spelling, and vote for the incumbent.

Incidentally, there's a Patrica Lose running for tax collector in Bellefonte on a write-in campaign - I saw two of her signs while walking on Curtin Hill yesterday. I expect they're some sort of relatives. I've seen too much of how much of a pain-in-the-ass write-in ballots are for the ladies who run the election to be enthused about that campaign. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to *be* a tax collector on the ballot - what happened to Thal? To make it even more confusing, Patricia Lose is also on the Bellefonte West ballot for Judge of Elections. Admittedly, Judge of Elections is definitely not a full-time position, and I think Tax Collector might be; it's definitely more of a year-round sort of thing.

As for the rest of the local choices, only Bellefonte West gets any choices to speak of - we actually have more council candidates than council seats, and we have a contest for inspector of elections - lucky us. I think I'm going to vote for Leah Ranio - I slightly know both candidates, and she seems the better choice.

As for the council candidates, we have the Republican incumbents DeCusati and Heidt versus a Democratic challenger, Joanne Tosti-Vasey. Tosti-Vasey doesn't look familiar, and she compares poorly to the relative newcomer, DeCusati, who replaced an incumbent who died in office. Looks like the Repubs for council.

We have, of course, no choices for school district - that was all resolved during the primaries.

Meh. Boring year.

Friday, October 28, 2005

You know it's bad for AD Vision when they have one of their cut-rate store-on-fire sales and I can't justify buying enough to cover the shipping charge. There's a lot of relatively new stuff in there, too. It can't be good for their long-term business when people like me get the idea that it's never worth-while to buy the first version of an ADV title, because we'll inevitably see a brick of that thing we paid in excess of a hundred dollars for in the single-disc version, selling at a cut-rate bargain-bin price of ten dollars - Daiguard, BTW, which is definitely worth the shipping charge if you haven't seen it yet.

At least they're finally getting around to the second volume of Princess Tutu. Watch me buy it at almost retail, like a schmuck.

Caught Solty Rei last evening, before we had to toddle off for the weekly home-game. Dave and I were arguing over whether it was a direct rip of Blade Runner, or a strictly derivative rip of Bubblegum Crisis. I was doing pretty well on the Blade Runner front, until two chixor in partial Knight Sabre battlesuit armor showed up, chasing a lolicyborg. The show was fun for about five minutes' worth of "spot the homage/ripoff", but after that, I had to pay attention to the actual plot, which was tedious, and the writing, which was nearly indescribably inept. Solty Rei's script felt like it was written by a replicant - someone who knew what scripts were, and what they were supposed to accomplish, but was comprehensively incapable of making any actual human connection with the emotional needs of the story. The writing staff of Solty Rei failed the scriptwriting equivalent of a Voight-Kampff empathy test.

I finished reading three of Eric Wittenberg's books on Civil War eastern Union Cavalry - Little Phil, the Union Cavalry Comes of Age, and Protecting the Flanks. I bought the latter two sight-unseen, and was somewhat disappointed in the physical presentation and brevity of Protecting the Flanks, which turned out to be a short tactical study married to a battlefield guide.

Protecting the Flanks also had one of the least reader-friendly fonts I have ever encountered in a professional publication - the dashes were light, thin marks at a forty-five degree angle to the line of text, and visually indistinguishable from paper flaws in an indifferent light. The text was also laid out double-spaced, as if it were a high school term paper. I'm inclined mostly to blame the publisher rather than the author, but lord, what a mess. I had never read much about the cavalry actions east of the main armies at Gettysburg, though, so what little there was of Protecting the Flanks was worth the slight cost, I suppose.

Little Phil is the latest in a relatively popular micro-genre, the enthusiastic revilement of Phillip "Little Phil" Sheridan. To be frank, so many people have had so little good to say about Sheridan over the years, that the idea that he's some sort of paragon of military virtue worth tearing down to reveal the rotten truth behind the lie, is kind of foreign to me, as if the sentiment had been translated poorly from a not-particularly-translation-friendly dialect like Pashtun or Osaka-ben. Ah, I suppose this is what comes of fads of revision and counter-revision, each new song-and-dance seeming old to those that don't generally read that which has been out of the book-stores for a generation or more. After all, I've never read Battle Cry of Freedom, or Lincoln Finds a General or most of that general run of book.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Huh. The results of the Con's corporate elections were apparently posted on the website, and it ended up being a news item on Anime News Network. That's kind of freaky - it's got to be the first time any non-staffer other than our lawyer has ever really paid attention to how the Con (or strictly speaking, the corporation which runs the Con) is governed. An amazing number of people (insidery-type people from other cons, actually) are surprised to discover that the same dusty slate of silverbacks haven't been running the con for Methuselah years.
Looks like the local paper, the Centre Daily Times, has gone in pretty heavily for blogs. I'm going to give this one, Happy Valley, a trial to see if it's worth keeping up with. If nothing else, it at least promises to give an online CDT where the links don't go dead seven days after publication. I think.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Passing by Tora Bora and cruising leisurely over the Khyber Pass, there seemed to be something surreal about leaving a combat zone to head to a disaster area. It seemed the we were, in effect calling time out from the war to go to an earthquake.

"I used to watch action movies when I was a kid, I loved them," laughed Xena, a conservative Muslim who chose her pseudonym from the film character, Xena the Warrior Princess. "My favorite actor is [Jean-Claude] Van Damme."

Xena, the heavily armed conservative Muslim. It's a story about a Lebanon-based security company which uses "modest-looking" women literally riding shotgun on their clients' trucks in Iraq. Xena is the least-serious of the bunch - the rest sound really pissed-off and ready to kill things, with an emphasis on the kidnappers and slaughterers who prey on the shipping industry in Iraq.

Via Instapundit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Huge goddamn snowflakes the size of racquetballs are falling right now here in the middle Valley. We weren't supposed to get anything below 1500 feet, but this stuff is sticking like heck, and we're about 1280 here at the office. Pretty as hell, against the bright orange fall leaves in the patch of woods outside my office window. It's gonna accumulate at this rate - probably not enough to muck up the roads, but certainly enough to cover the lawns and fields. The meteorologists are positively giddy. The one snow-doubter is being taunted with his breakfast of crow.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The invite for next year's National History Day thing just came. The theme for 2006? "Taking a Stand in History: People, Ideas, Events". You think the resulting papers, projects, and documentaries will be a tad... political?

The kids already get a pretty hefty shove down that slippery goddamn slope from their NEA-addled lefty-zomboid teachers in a normal year, with a neutral theme. Why not just go ahead with something like "From Each According to Their Abilities: Parties, Vanguards and the Dialectic" while you're at it?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Calm morning in an otherwise busy week here at work.

We've been watching the new shows for the fall anime season. They're actually pretty good for a change - for the most part, 2005 had been a pretty lame year for new anime. Admittedly, fall is when the studios and networks roll out their decent shows. Winter is an afterthought, and summer is for galfeltch and harems. It's usually spring and fall, and this year's spring was utterly forgettable for the most part.

New fall shows...

I didn't really like the Blood movie when it came out way back when. It wasn't really much more than a proof-of-concept for computer-assisted animation composition & editing, and the actual story and such just didn't do anything for me. They finally got around to doing a TV version called Blood +, which skips quickly from the Vietnam War-era setting of the movie into the usual contemporary timeframe which most TV anime are set in. But hey! at least the show is set in Okinawa instead of the usual indeterminate-Kanto blandness. Our protagonist is a relatively well-adjusted amnesiac version of the movie's flattened-affect schoolgirl killing-machine, which is an improvement right there. The idea of a flattened-affect female protagonist works a lot better in theory than it did in the movie. The new, TV version of Saya gives us some emotional material to work with, when she starts regressing into said killing-machine mode. The TV premiere also has a lot more style and flair going for it than did the movie, which was a pretty straightforward bit of realism, if your version of realism features seven-foot-tall maneating bat-creatures and katana-swinging, emotionless schoolgirls. I'm definitely looking forward to more episodes of this. Not without some trepidation, though - last year Tsukuyomi MOON PHASE started out as a bold, stylish and sharp vampire show, and look where *that* mess ended up.

Shakugan no Shana, on the other hand, looks to be this season's Melody of Oblivion. On first glance it appeared to be a fighting-psychic-teenagers kind of kludge like the execrable Tokyo Underground, but then our bland good-natured protagonist got his torso split down the middle at the shoulder by what I expected would be his love-interest, and she told him the reason that he wasn't dead was that his soul had been eaten, and that he was a walking puppet of the gods, or some such thing. Very freaksome, and off-putting. It's a little like the third season of Sailor Moon if all the people whose hearts were taken by the monsters-of-the-week lost them permanently, and went stumbling off through their lives Stepford-Wife-style with the soul equivalent of clockwork substituting for what they really used to be. Our narrator and protagonist isn't really a person, he's a self-aware thing, by the logic of the show. The actual aware actors - monsters and anti-heroine alike - treat him with the dismissive and annoyed contempt one might give a parrot in a cage at a business meeting. It'll probably sucking pretty soon - lord knows, Melody of Oblivion did - but it might be worth paying some attention until then.

Paradise Kiss was a hell of a manga, sharp and pretty and funny as all heck on the march. I didn't really see how they were going to make an anime out of it, and now that I've seen the result, I'm not sure why they bothered. Apparently somebody wanted to do something avant-garde hip and goofy-cool, and since the manga was all of those things... If you haven't read the manga - do it now! it's short at five volumes, and Tokyo Pop is re-printing it! - the protagonist starts out as a joyless grind of a high school senior who gets scouted by a bunch of art-school weirdos looking for a model for their fashion-studio output. Somebody pulled a major boner by getting Madhouse to run the production, though. Madhouse is one of these studios which produce highly polished, well-animated material with all the grit, soul, and poetry drained out of them. If you're lucky, they'll remove the trepaine and patch up the skull, leaving said production to shuffle, zombie-like, off into the usual obscurity of Madhouse releases. I seem to remember that Gantz was a mostly-Madhouse affair - so was the bland and charmless TV version of X. Madhouse's director's idea of "hip and quirky" apparently features the heavy usage of garish and intrusive photo-montage scene-wipes and a peculiar form of comic superdeformity which bears no resemblance to either Ai Yawaza's distinctive oddness, or the usual cliche run of off-the-shelf smallbodied wackiness. There's no here, here.

Aria is bland and forgettable. It's one of these cute-girls-doing-cute-harmless-things-in-a-pretty-setting shows. It's gotten a lot of good buzz, because a certain class of fanboy are collective suckers for this sort of nonevent bullshit. Bah, I say.

Mai Otome is not really a sequel of Mai Hime, which was a good show about one-half of the time. Rather, it's more of an old-fashioned re-use of character designs in a new story, in the way that old manga and anime creators like Tezuka, Leiji Matsumoto, and Go Nagai would recycle their characters and character-designs as if they were actors, dropping them into whatever story they wanted to tell. The new show is another powerful-schoolgirls story, except it's set in some sort of retro-futuristic Ruritania where the school is an elite training academy for "Otome" ["maidens"], who are basically massively powerful human weapons trained and socialized like samurai-slash-maidservants. It's very well animated, the characters and situations are lively, and it's quite yurirific. Much better start than Mai Hime which started slow and sloppy and only occasionally rose to the occasion afterwards.

Jigoku Shoujo, or Hell Girl, is this season's Hundred Ghost Stories, or what did they call that when it got imported? Oh, yeah, Requiem from the Darkness. Er, anyways - Jigoku Shoujo is a supernatural-people-giving-normal-people-what-they-deserve horror-type show. There were exactly zero sympathetic characters in the first episode, which really put me off. Looks like the world of this show is populated by victims and assholes. It's also got this nasty thing where when the victim-of-the-week gets what she wants, her soul gets claimed, and said victim goes humming happily into the sunset. The moral of the story being, apparently, that the happy are soulless. Er, no thank you. Next!

Ginban Kaleidoscope is some kind of shoujo sports anime in which the protagonist is an arrogant, nasty little piece of work, an ice-skater who habitually refers to herself as "the billion-dollar-girl". She gets her comeuppance when she flames out in some sort of competition in Montreal and knocks herself out on the ice. This somehow results in her being haunted by a Canadian boy-ghost, and she spends the rest of the episode carrying on like a crazy person. This doesn't get her committed to an insane asylum like it ought to, apparently because ice-skating prima donnas are functionally indistinguishable from your average proto-schizophrenic teenager undergoing her first psychotic break. Art isn't quite as bad as I heard, but it wasn't particularly good, and for a show about an ice-skater, there's precious little material on the ice, which you'd think would be the selling-point you'd want to push in a first episode.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My landlord's secretary showed up on my porch last night with another woman about my age, saying that new lady was thinking about buying the building, and asking if they could look around. I said "yes" before thinking about it, and found myself making excuses for my bachelorish lack of basic housekeeping skills and general sloth. The place wasn't filthy, but it wasn't clean by any reasonable standard. Kind of mortifying, really.

The would-be owner was going on about how big the space was, noting that my living room was "bigger than [her] apartment". I found myself wondering how someone living in an efficiency (because lord knows, my living room isn't much bigger than 12'x14') could afford to buy a three-apartment building, no matter how depressed the Bellefonte real estate market might be. Then I realized that she probably wouldn't be renting out the building, but rather would be fixing it up as a residence. Then I started worrying about my monthly lease, which makes it painfully easy to set me out on my ear on the kerb with my stuff piled around me.

I hate moving. Ben thinks it'll be good for me to get moved out to a better place - he hates my apartment's layout - due to the leaking roof and the poor maintenance and all the rest of it. I still hate moving.