Monday, December 17, 2007

So what are the great film renditions of Empty Manhattan? I can think of the following:

The World, the Flesh and the Devil. Anti-racism inversion of a deeply bigoted Victorian novel starring Harry Belafonte. Pretty damned good, and the Manhattan offered is stark, and modernist, and sleek, and utterly inhuman. The machine grinding on after its care-takers have left, still well-greased, oiled, and precise in the absence of any purpose.

The Devil's Advocate. It's a late-period New York-as-Babylon apocalypse, Gordon -Gecko-taken-to-the-fantastic-extreme film. A horror movie that uses surreality to emphasize alienation and grotesqueries, the empty-streets-of-Manhattan scenes are used to establish the end of the Masquerade, and the beginning of the End-of-Days. So, this movie's empty-streets-of-Gotham are intended to evoke anxiety - ye olde fear-and-trembling.

I'm having trouble thinking of other dead-Manhattan or empty-Manhattan movies. Anyone have anything to add?
Wow, the new "Viridian Collection" edition boxsets from Funimation are spectacularly cheap. Cardboard sleeves cheap. The Tenchi Muyo GXP set just showed up in the mail, and if I hadn't paid roughly $1.15 an episode, I'd be feeling a bit gypped right about now. Hope the discs don't come out of the sleeves auto-scratched, which I seem to remember was a problem with the similarly-packaged early PAL Buffy season 2 sets back in the early days of DVD. Those PAL Buffy collections weren't nearly as sleazy-cheap as this GXP set is. Mind you, I paid twice as much for the PAL Buffy set... which reminds me, would anyone want some decade-old Buffy PAL dvds? I've got the first three seasons sitting around gathering dust on a back shelf. Got an aging APEX DVD player chip-modded to play PAL discs, too.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I just read the novella "I Am Legend". The title makes a lot more sense for *that* story than for the movie. I'm not quite clear why they bothered hanging the title on the new movie - the movie's story had more in common with 28 Days Later and other modern-day zombie flicks than Matheson's story. I suppose there's the bacteriological explanation of the scourge, the madness of the characters, their inclination towards mad science, and their essential isolation. In the end, the novella is an ironic late-modern version of Lovecraft's "the Outsider", about the loneliness of becoming the monster. The Neville of the movie never explicitly becomes the scourge and monster that the Neville of the novella has already become on the first page. His monstrousness is less explicit, less textual, left to interpretation, and subverted by Smith's essential decency as a film presence.
I Am Legend isn't nearly as bad as the critics made it sound. It's actually pretty good - sort of like Castaway with monsters. Castaway's another movie that had an excellent first two-thirds, followed by a shaky final act. But to be honest, I didn't hate the ending of I Am Legend. I could have done without the nearly ten minute excerpt of Shrek - even Steven Spielberg shouldn't be allowed to get away with that kind of stuff any more - but in general I was able to suspend disbelief and go with the internal logic of the ending.

There's a lot of talk about how inherently likeable and amiable Will Smith is as an actor, but one of the marvels of the story was how aged and morally damaged his Robert Neville is by what he's seen and done. The usual moral calculus of zombie movies is inverted by the establishment of this Neville as a scientist and virologist. Despite some idiot claims by some reviewers, Smith's Neville doesn't start the movie hunting or slaughtering the monsters. Rather, he seems to be avoiding them as much as possible, and when he captures one, it's to test out a promising cure on the slavering thing which used to be a girl. Later, we see photographic records of each monster which he's captured and killed in the process of testing his serums. It's an unsettling moment, as you suddenly look again at your protagonist and see a mad scientist and borderline serial-killer in the place of a heroic castaway. It's all means to an end, but you can see that he's operating by habit and routine - that he's going through the motions of a plan, the soundness and righteousness of which he has mostly forgotten.

Smith's Neville lives so much on the surfaces of things because the depths have monsters. He moves from light to light, sealing himself up and locking down as the light goes away. He populates his locales with manikins, and carries on conversations, and has lost his way among them to such an extent that when one is moved out of its place, he becomes confused, violent, and makes a terrible mistake.

Smith's Neville is a man so morally fractured by his failures and successes that he's more a mosaic of partial personalities than a whole man. Inside his townhouse, he's a loving family man - to a family consisting solely of his dog. Inside his lab, he's a rigorous scientist. In his open-air office at the end of a dockside pier, he's a parody of a bureaucrat, waiting for other survivors, of whom he's given up all other hope except for those few designated hours by the river. When the shutters close, he hides with his dog in the darkness. The only thing holding his parts together is the only other person in his life - his dog Sam. Sam is the one thing holding his life together, and when she dies, then Neville goes smash.

The movie goes smash a bit as well, although not so much that I wasn't able to enjoy everything that followed. The CGI was terrible, not in that it was technically bad - although it didn't impress me all that much - but rather that it is a terrible temptation to cinematographers and directors. CGI is a cheat, a shortcut. It requires no discipline on the part of artists, and thus it relieves the pressure on decision-makers to make choices, to commit to one action at a time. CGI allows blazingly-fast action sequences, and the faster they go, the cheaper the cost, because all of that blur can hide all sorts of shortcuts and cheats and render-tricks. Instead of showing one single clash, with a small and well-defined set of actors or objects in motion, CGI allows and almost seems to demand a blur of mobs in motion. Blur isn't interesting, and mobs multiplied by cut-and-paste are basically expensive wallpaper, and about as threatening.

There are honestly cool things in the last third of I Am Legend. Every single one of them would have been better with at least half of the CGI animation cuts excised. I don't know why they thought they needed spectacle beyond the scenes of Empty Manhattan. Those were far, far more powerful than any of the swirling killer-zombie cuts of the last third. The head monster was most alarming when he was *still*. Whenever he moved, he became an effect, and then action wallpaper.

Too bad. American movies aren't going to get better until they fire half the animators, and send the directors off to make films with real-world special effects. Real explosive squibs and stuntmen teach a certain respect for the craft which isn't much different from fear. But fear teaches. Ask John Landis.

Monday, December 10, 2007

So I ended up buying a Chevy this weekend. I walked up to the dealership at the mall, and they happened to have a brand-new metallic-tangerine-orange Aveo five-door on the backlot still wrapped up with the shipping tape they use to keep it from getting banged up in the shipping racks. I got what I think was a fairly good deal; after I took it out for a test-drive, I tried to get out the door in enough time to catch the 11:08 bus from the mall into town, go check out some other dealerships on North Atherton. He pulled the usual "what can I do to get you in this car" routine, and I said, wildly, "$1000 off the sale price" in an attempt to get away without offense. They coughed up, mostly, and it was a good enough price to make up for not being a Honda or Toyota. To be honest, most of my reasons for getting a car from the latter was tied up in maintenance and quality concerns, and multiple thousands of dollars less than I would have been paying otherwise tends to make up for the difference.

So, Aveo. My mother called it "cute" when she looked it up online while I was talking to her on the phone, and I can't deny it. I was greatly amused by the color, as my father has a golf cart in that exact color, which is supposedly the same color as the Charger he owned when my parents met. It's a small car, but remarkably high off the ground - the driver's seat is higher off the pavement than any previous car I've owned. We'll see how good it is in ice and slush; Saturday wasn't nearly foul enough to provide ideal crap-weather driving conditions for the test drive, and no tractor-trailers appeared conveniently on the stretch of I-99 we took for the highway test-drive, so we'll see just how much buffeting this little hatchback can take from the big trucks moving fast. I've never been much of a leadfoot, anyways, so it seems like enough car under the hood to get me where I need to go.

It's an automatic; sorry, Jessica. ^_^

Friday, November 23, 2007

I'm in the market for a new economy subcompact, preferably something small, efficient & low-maintenance, which isn't likely to be blown off the interstate by an aggressive semi or a strong winter cross-wind.

What do you think about the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, or, oh, I don't know, the Suzuki Reno? Does the Toyota reputation for being a good snow-pig include tiny little micros like the Yaris?

(Although I have to say that the State College Suzuki dealership *reeks* of "fly-by-night", and the Toyota dealership doesn't have any three-door Yaris automatic transmissions on the lot, which is off-putting.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Shameful confession time: I've long confused Arthur Miller and Norman Mailer. It appears that I've never read a thing by Norman Mailer.
I've gotten some complaints that I've failed to check-in recently. Sorry about that, it's a little busy here at work.

Mostly it's that I'm not an interesting person these days. Last week or so, I've been watching Legend of Galactic Heroes and reading Girl Genius. I quit the Con, and only really see people every other month or so.

I've got a good bit saved towards a down payment on a house, but the market is a dog's breakfast, and everybody says I'd be a damned fool to buy, or even think of buying. I know *two* people with surplus houses in Massachusetts they can't unload, for instance. (Not that I'd be in the market for a house in Massachusetts - my savings would disappear like snow on a lavaflow if I threw it into *that* market.)

Be seeing y'all around, but frankly I don't have anything much to say that I haven't said once or twice in the archives somewhere.

Friday, September 21, 2007

My Esperanto Club dues are unpayed for the last four years. They keep dunning me. In English.

Best line of the week.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wait a minute... there are 73,000 UAW autoworkers supporting 340,000 retirees & surviving spouses of retirees? There's a five to one support ratio for workers to pensioners in the unionized auto industry?

I'd *heard* that there was an impossible situation brewing among the Big Three, but I'd no idea it was so apocalyptic. I can only hope none of my 401k mutual funds have anything invested in those companies...

Friday, September 14, 2007

I should mention that the work in Tallyrand turned out to be a sewage construction project - they're laying a sewer line under Spring Creek and the whole of the park, going I know not where - there once was a CDT article, but it's been devoured by the CDT's contempt for public archiving.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

They're dredging the pond between the footbridge & the dam in Tallyrand Park. They've got barriers up & have opened the spillways into the millrace, and the only thing running in the lower bed of Spring Creek is the runoff from the Big Spring. Very odd looking, but I guess they had to do it - the aquatic weeds were over over the surface of the creek in July, and it would just get worse. But it looks like heck for the time being - they've torn up the grass in Tallyrand something fierce, and there's construction rubbish all over the place.

On the other hand, they're also cleaning up the mess from the Bush House ruins. Not sure if they're going to rebuild, or just extend Tallyrand along the site of the old building. At this point, I'd wager "more park". There just isn't that much demand for buildings in downtown Bellefonte - the Bush House had been mostly unoccupied when it burned, anyways.

For that matter, I see that the developer pulled down his sign with the five-story "Academy Heights" condo fantasy on the grounds of the old burned-down Academy slums. It's a season for the end of dreams & the demolition of uncapitalized wishes unfulfilled.

Winter is coming.

Friday, August 31, 2007

BTW, Valentine Hill Road is a remarkably different place at 1 AM at night than it is in the light of day. The stretch through the Kelly Springs to the Willowbank bridge over the Logan Branch in particular has a creeping freakishness which wouldn't be out of place in a Pennsylvanian "Legend of Sleepy Hollow", especially that place beside the hillside where the factory floodlights across the merging creeks cut golden slashes through the dark trees and mist. I've never made the trip down the hill in quite so short a time, feeling quite the Ichabod as I bolted for home.
This extended series of essays on the disappearance of Ambrose Bierce is easily the coolest thing I've seen this month. It's not so much a series of essays as the outline of a extended bout of serious research on Bierce, the circumstances of his disappearance, the events of the Mexican Revolution, and the various personalities writing about Bierce & using his disappearance and apparent death for various reasons. It's about half-way to a dissertation, but written in a much more lucid and open style than that scholastic accusation might lead the cynical to suspect.

Anyways: keen longish chunk of text on the mystery of Bierce.

Via Dimitri.

(Sorry if this is cryptic & weird, it's getting busy here at work. Rushed.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Interesting post on St. Cyprian of Carthage, who's apparently been confused with a less-well-known St. Cyprian of Antioch in the Spanish-speaking world and thus has an undeserved following among 'white witches' and other practitioners of Catholic-flavoured magic. Not the kind of blog I expected to find, trolling an unvisited section of the otakusphere - a bit overly Catholic for my tastes, but intermittently quite interesting.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Huh. I'm getting a *lot* of corn out of the Delta this year, in areas which are traditionally primarily cotton growing centres. I guess all that palaver about ethanol crowding out foodstocks & starving the world might be a little overdrawn, if the cash crop getting displaced is heavily-subsidized, inedible cotton. Of course, this isn't good for our direct customers, who make a lot of money supplying cotton needs, and not nearly as much on corn.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

$80 to cross Pennsylvania on I-80? Good God, that's extortionate! All of you dingbats who voted Rendell back into the statehouse? Yes, you, over there, you too. You're all to blame for this. You can be damned sure that Swann wouldn't have attempted to beggar the north half of the state to fund SEPTA.

Look, I like light rail. I take the MTA every time I go down to Baltimore. But I like it because it's monstrously subsidized. If the Hunt Valley-BWI line charged what it actually cost to run, there's no way in heck I'd bother, no matter how exorbitant downtown Baltimore parking fees or BWI long-term parking got.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I'm reading Fleming's Washington's Secret War and I came across the chapter on the great fraud, "Lieutenant-General" Baron von Steuben. I can't for the life of me make out why this grand comedic figure has never been the subject of a slapstick movie. He's such a histrionic buffoon, that you'd think the big comedic actors would jump at a chance to play him. Is it his initial inability to speak English? You'd think it would have been a natural subject for the silent-film comedians, a pompous junior Prussian officer pretending to be a lieutenant-general & shaming all the officers of the Continental Army by lowering himself to drill troops like a common sergeant, all the while ranting profanely in three languages through a series of quickly-exhausted translators.

There's also that bit about him quickly rattling out a manual of arms overnight - I guess that's where Bujold got the "does this make me a space pirate?" scene from the Warrior's Apprentice.

Friday, August 10, 2007

While I was down in Maryland last weekend, my friend Bill loaned me a copy of a book on hikikomori, parasaito, and other Japanese social maladies, entitled Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation. It proports to be a book on how Japan is wrecking its recent generations, but the book actually delivered is not quite what was promised.

For one thing, the author isn't very good. He's the very model of the New Republic-style neo-liberal - shallowly pro-market in a dogmatic, narrow, and unconsidered fashion. A ship without ballast & a shallow keel, he gets blown about by sudden gusts, more enthralled by metaphor than details or depth. In comparing Japan and the Japanese with the West & Westerners, or even the Japanese & the Koreans, he exaggerates differences. The Koreans aren't nearly as individualistic as he portrays, the Japanese not as conservative. He has a remarkable blind spot for politics & leftism in general. To read his take, you'd think the political riots & unrest of the sixties hadn't happened in Japan. I was amused when he obscured the political affiliations of a prominent female Japanese politician (presumably a higher-up in the Socialist Party, from context) who kept divorcing her long-suffering husband for bureaucratic reasons.

As Bill warned, the author doesn't spend nearly as much time as you'd expect on the actual social issues in question, preferring to regurgitate shallow and biased pomposities about Japanese business practices at considerable length. The research is shallow and bare-boned, and I left the book with no more confidence in the common wisdom about hikikomori than I had beforehand. And really, that's all that's offered - a regurgitation of common wisdom.

In the end, it's a crap book. It gets worse as the book gets closer to the end. You can really tell that a journalist wrote it - it's essentially a very long thumbsucker with random factoids thrown into the text to fill out the length, stitched together with poorly-thought-out opinions, prejudices, bias, and over-worked metaphors. I wasn't surprised when he mentioned in passing in the acknowledgments that he's worked in Northern California all of his life. And that last revelation about his pet hikikomori having retreated to his room, drugged to the gills by his overprotective and hostile mother - good lord, what a thing to drop in passing as you're leaving the book! Very "Carrie" or even "Misery" - something Stephen King at any rate, and it left me wondering what these parents do with their hermit-children when nobody is looking.

One thing in passing - using Takashi Murakami as your example of popular anime "cool"? How sodding San-Fran/NYC effete snob can you possibly get? This is the Warholesque tool who picked up the big-eye technique to wow the gallery-folk. Real people don't care about what the Andy Warhols do in their expensive little lofts. Murakami isn't an "anime artist", he's the art-world equivalent of Ben Dunn.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mind you, a good part of this is my loss of enthusiasm for anime fandom in general. They aren't growing up, Martha. Or else, they're in that awful, awkward, unpleasant phase which seems to go on way, way too long. The charm of cute, bubbly female anime fandom has long since worn off. Between the petty thieves in the dealers room, scam artists ripping off the terminally clueless, the horrible 4-chan horde, and general mild lawlessness and ugliness, I'm ready to toss the whole stinking lot out of Eden. It doesn't help that no-one can properly define what good an anime con is for, anymore. I spent AnimeNEXT playing poker or working, and I spent The Con just plain flat-out working, 7 AM to after midnight for the whole weekend. I'm not seeing why these things are worth attending, which makes it harder to explain to a family on a Sunday morning why they're paying $60 for the three hours or so before we close shop and blow away with the tumbleweeds.
I've badly burnt out on The Con again. I can only take so many years of playing glorified hall monitor for the world's largest and freakiest high school before I break. I could do the job again if pressed, but I don't want to associate with the people who run things, I don't want to have to implement their idiot over-complicated schemes for joyless beige panopticon classification, and I'm tired of the crap in general.

Your average con staffer has an enthusiasm half-life of about three years. It's been about five years since I re-joined the Con, which means I'm about due to flake out.

I'm thinking that unless somebody comes to me with hat in hand to say "please stay with the con, and no you don't have to force people to sign their real names to their badges, get rid of Free Sunday Afternoon Con, explain why we're getting rid of the multiple badge designs, enter at-door registrations during the convention, assign members their over-eighteen stamps/wristbands at the door, and implement all the rest of our brilliant, mind-meltingly impractical schemes to make your conlife miserable & you, personally hated by the membership, Mitch" - well, then. Find somebody else to waste their vacation time working far harder than they do at their actual for-pay jobs.

Friday, July 13, 2007

BTW, it appears that the British *are*, in a sense, indirectly responsible for the recent plague of badgers in the Basra area which the locals are loudly denouncing them for. The badgers are fleeing the once-drained salt marshes north and east of the city, which the coalition has been re-flooding as part of a restoration project for the Midian saltmarshes. Sounds as if the badgers originally came from the north, and thus are unusual critters in the Basra region.

Not that I give two figs for the destroyed habitat of a species which has only been in residence for a dozen years, but it's amusing that a pious ecological restoration project (which, note you, I fully support) is causing politically significant ecological disruption of its very own.
Hey-ho. Yes, I'm still with the living. It's just the busy season here at work, and somehow I ended up volunteering for two different cons this month, which means I ended up taking a lot of vacation time during the busy season. Ooops.

I'm mostly using this post to clear out some of the old links on the right hand side.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Geez. Everybody and their brother are watching Shingu now. I suppose I ought to keep an eye out for the next time it gets discounted on Right Stuf. To be honest, I've got viewing material piled to the ceiling, more than enough for the next several months. Heck, I've even got Stellvia in the pile, thanks to the latest Pioneer Geneon 10/25 disc sale.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I have to back him up on that - the anime fan gets conditioned to take video in twenty-three minute chunks, and watching a live-action TV drama at forty-five minutes or an hour - if you're watching it old-school, with commercials & all - can be kind of unbalancing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

So I'm trying to hide from this year's Bellefonte Cruise. The last two years, I staffed a convention in New Jersey to avoid the 'Cruise; this year, that convention is running first weekend in July, so I'm kind of stuck here. We went over to a guy's apartment in Toftrees to watch the last three Star Trek movies, but that was over too long. I'm sitting here at work, trying to kill time. At home, it's like I'm under siege by the car savages from the Road Warrior. Revving engines, fumes, lily-white, tattooed, pot-bellied crackers as far as the watering eye can see. At least they don't have the car stereo contest on my block this year. No, it's just the food court right outside my door. Fried bread and grease stink bad enough I closed my front window.

Meh. I prefer it when they're just burning the dearly departed in the crematory across the parking lot. It's quieter, and smells less.

I guess I'll go home & play anime loud enough that I can't hear the barbarians hammering at the gates.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

OK, two volumes into the Dark Horse manga Reiko the Body Shop, I'm giving up. I had heard that it was worth the preposterous Japlish title & gore factor, and the first volume gave me some reason to think there might be something there. The grotesque violence and blood-splatter came with a certain vicious-minded willingness to follow through, and I kind of respected that. On the other hand, the artwork was bad enough that a friend, upon looking at it, asked if it was American, and the writing wasn't exactly brilliant.

The second volume, sadly, drops everything that made the first volume marginally interesting. The protagonist is no longer an ice-blooded money-grubbing mercenary who barely cares about the living, nor are we expected to sympathize with the victimized, risen dead as they tear apart living villains. Instead, it's a fight-the-evil-wizard slog of the most generic, cliche-worn thread, teeming with one-trick necromancers & their pet, customized zombies. The zombies aren't aggrieved characters with their own emotional arcs, they're grotesque Pokemon. It's lame.

It's kind of shocking just how lame the second volume is in comparison with the first. Even the way that almost every new character introduced in the second volume is gorily dismembered during the course of the book doesn't make up for the lameness they sprayed all over the walls in their death-throes.

Monday, May 21, 2007

I'm finally reading Albion's Seed. Interesting material, reads very much as the summary of an entire school's worth of research, rather than the product of the sort of solitary hero-historian stance you usually encounter in Civil War history. I suppose that's due to the statistics-heavy cultural/demographic nature of the material, which is inherently dense and intensive on the sort of heavy-duty archive gruntwork for which grad students & doctoral candidates employed en mass are best suited. The author is quite harsh on late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth colonial-history revisionists, especially those who campaigned against the notion of Virginia being led by "distressed cavaliers", and he directly dings some of them for having pushed their thesis without actually having done the heavy lifting in English archives that would have disproved the revisionist argument that the Virginian founders were plebian and commercial pretenders to gentility.

Also started reading the first volume of the Del Rey re-translation of Parasyte. Excessively literal in places, I suppose to compensate for the very, very loose translation of the old Tokyo-Pop version. Still a lot of fun, teeth-grindingly literal sound effects and all.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Wow, Spiderman 3 was bad. Like, walk-out-in-the-middle bad. I didn't bother to look up any reviews because the second movie had been so good, but I should have remembered the sequel half-life rule. The chances of a good second sequel following a good first sequel is vanishingly small... It was as if they couldn't find a decent script, and just took the first three off of the top of the pile, dropped them into a blender, and poured a glassful of the results into a mug. It was about twenty minutes too long, was full of logic flaws & deus ex machina, and was over-crowded with villains. It certainly didn't help that the writers included almost every bad idea ever inflicted on the Spiderman comic, though they managed to resist the Gwen Stacy clone thing. I guess they needed to hold something really bad in reserve for the inevitable direct-to-video fourth movie.

Oh, and Stan Lee? Go home, and stop inserting yourself into Marvel franchise material. I know it's the only thing left to you after the suits bounced you out of control oh so many years ago, but I'm tired of seeing, and worse, hearing from you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ugh. The downside of online banking - one mistake, and you're hemorrhaging overdraft fees left and right until the offending bank posts the correction. *That* CD wasn't worth the $32(d4) worth of overdrafts it accidentally generated by being drawn from my checking account instead of my savings account... Not even when you count the extra 0.75% APR.

Meanwhile, my company is moving from a Simple IRA retirement plan with American Funds to a 401k plan with another mutual fund family, and the paperwork got messed up in my case. Monday night I had to talk someone from American out of her plan to mail me several years worth of accumulated retirement savings at my home address. Yeah, that wouldn't generate a massive tax event, thanks ever so much. They told me it was fixed yesterday here at work, and then I got home to another answering machine message last night with the same girl burbling about "not being able to hold this cheque after [today]". The front office says they'll talk her down from whatever new insanity American was about to inflict upon my karma-whipped financial corpus.

Beh. I'm in a mood to go get drunk or something. It'd help if I actually had something to do here at work other than sit and stew. Whenever things get really mangled, the calls stop coming and I temporarily have nothing to do while the customers deal with their immediate issues. Then everything comes down like an avalanche. I hate this sort of silence. It always portends bad things.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Went to see 300 on its first (and probably only) weekend at the Garman Opera House. Saturday afternoon matinee - just me and another middle-aged guy. The hard-left owners of the Opera House could *not* have been enthused at this turnout. I can't imagine why they scheduled it - clearly their usual art-house crowd wasn't up for what Fred called the other day "fascist warporn", and the extensive nudity and violence wasn't going to bring in the family audience which is the other mainstay of the Opera House's traffic.

Not that I can argue with Fred's description. Frank Miller has always flirted with fascistic imagery and the logic of fascism. Lots of emphasis on physical perfection, warrior ethos, blood-and-soil, a nihilistic fixation on "good deaths", a distrust of traditional elites & elders, elected or otherwise - all of this was in The Dark Knight Returns, it's just a lot more obvious when he's playing with Spartans & right-wing mythmaking than back when he was cracking on Reagan & Superman.

It was probably the depiction of the physically deformed Spartan traitor that tipped things over the brink for me. The use of the deformed to represent moral depravity & social weakness is an old, bad habit of the fascistic and the old right, and it would be kind of ugly to find it in a movie made in the second half of the Twentieth, let alone in 2007. I'd say the same thing about the leprous-looking ephors, except that Mel Gibson pulled the same stunt with the literal leper-father of Robert the Bruce back in Braveheart.

All that aside, as far as fascist warporn goes, 300 is pretty cracking good. I fear that film is an inherently irrational medium, and that you can only choose your irrationalities when it comes to works of art in that medium - do you want your warporn to be communist, pacifist, or fascist? Of the three, I'd probably prefer fascist in a time of war. It's less demoralizing. But it isn't really a good set of choices, is it?
OK, I'm about ready for Bleach's Soul Society arc to end.


I appreciated the manga's initial punk aesthetic & monster-of-the-week plotting. It wasn't substantial, but it was interesting and entertaining. I was even willing to put up with all the archaic half-translated Japanese gibberish - ryoka, zapakoto, etc - as part of the ambiance. What I'm increasingly unwilling to put up with is the ten volumes or so of glacial soul reaper quarreling, posturing, and meandering about, destroying spiritual architecture in the Harry Potter-meets-Kyoto-of-the-dead dramatic wasteland of the Soul Society. Enough already.

There's like a thousand members of the guards companies, and I swear the mangaka is determined to make every single one a character, complete with backstory, motivation, and moral arc. Not that I can tell them apart - they've all got peculiar archaic Japanese names, and half the time I can't even guess right about the sex of a particular individual. The author gives them numbers and rank, and I still get confused about which one is which.

I'm ready to see the whole damn place burned to the ground and re-populated with hollows. Which is another thing - what happened to fighting the hollows? They were kind of neat, in a chilling, the-abyss-stares-also sort of way. We haven't seen one except in flashbacks for lord only knows how many chapters.

Doesn't help that the effect that the mangaka is going for - Soul Society order bad, hulk smash! - is kind of... obnoxious. The "good guys" are, objectively viewed, anarchist scum. They're invading a sovereign state with the aim of abducting a duly convicted condemned criminal who's admitted her own guilt, and are provoking a rebellion & civil war among a military force which clearly was designed to keep individuals with appalling intrinsic power & violent instincts from rampaging about, destroying everything around them. The soul reapers are dangerous, morally suspect, and difficult to control even under a ferocious and unforgiving system of discipline. I shudder to think what they'd be like in a Hobbesean state of nature.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I'd be more sympathetic to the newspaper claim that we lost a "landmark" in the accidental burning of the Bellfonte Victorian Manor if it hadn't been one of five bed-and-breakfasts on Linn Street alone. Two of which are for sale, last time I looked. Walked past the gutted remains yesterday, and yes indeedy, it is quite gutted. But, seeing as it's a brick victorian, I suspect that they could rebuild it if they were so inclined with their insurance money. It had been a fairly nice house before the fire.

As for the historical landmarkiness of the place - this is Bellefonte. You can't walk your dog without it pissing on a Victorian. Often one that's worthy of being pissed on by a dog - we've got a lot of crap old Victorians. Not so much on Linn Street, but then, Linn and Curtin Streets are the heart of gentrified Bellefonte. Go one block over to Lamb Street, and you're looking at a much more representative selection of surviving Victoriana. Although it seems as if the gentrified and the ghettoized buildings burn down at about the same rate of flamage. Being a gentrifying yuppie restorer apparently doesn't mean much in terms of fireproofing your property.
I noticed a team of Amishmen pouring concrete for the foundations of a new set of those crap townhouses going up at the top of Valentine Hill Road. They had a token English to operate the concrete mixing truck. The very fact that Amishmen, those paragons of handcraftmenship, are involved in the construction of those aesthetically revolting monuments to the Quick Construction Buck, let alone in a concrete-pouring capacity, has boggled my mind.

I read an arrogant article in a frou-frou magazine while I eating lunch in a Chinese buffet in Baltimore last summer, just before the Con. The writer went on for many pages about the disappearing Amish heartland, buried under by gentrification, expanding sprawl, and the dreaded McMansion plague. I now find myself wondering just how many of the foot soldiers of that invasion of the Mennonite Paradise Lost were, in fact, well-bearded Amish mercenaries, cashing in on the boom & plowing under their "heritage".

Oh, well. Just my post-modern moment for the month.

Monday, March 19, 2007

To carry the story over from Thursday... I ended up driving into State College to pick up the last few weeks' worth of manga from the 'Swap and ate at Ponderosa. Steak & a good, long ransack of the buffet. Five courses of beef!

Skip Beat volume 5. They're now advertising it as "by the author of Tokyo Crazy Paradise". That's great and all - I've heard good things about Tokyo Crazy Paradise & even read a couple scanslated chapters of it - but that itself is the problem. I read them in scanslation. Nobody's published Tokyo Crazy Paradise in English, although there was a rumor for a while that Viz had the license. Why are you advertising a manga in its fifth volume in the English market with a comic which isn't even available yet? Oh, well. Maybe it's a hint that they're getting ready to publish. Tokyo Crazy Paradise looks like fun - it's sort of like Burst Angel with a cross-dressing heroine & bishie yakuza.

Last volume of Please Save My Earth. Eh, it doesn't end all that well. All that drama & elaborate Rashomon-style flashbacks, and it all kind of deflates in a trainwreck of a climax. It bore more resemblance to a classic Takahashi pileup than the conclusion of a proper reincarnation drama. The coda was fairly sweet, though. If the author had only resisted the temptation to have the whole cast in on the climax, it would have been a much, much better finale. As it was, she managed to make the ending of a series in the twenty-first volume feel rushed and slap-dash. Meh.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Well, heck. I almost forgot. Today's the fifth annual International Eat An Animal For PETA Day. I'll have to stop at the Burger King tonight & get myself around a triple-decker.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Walking in to work earlier this week, during that last semi-big snowfall, I made the discovery that while rain might roll proverbially off the back of ducks, snow does not do the same. It's somewhat odd to discover the local waterfowl happily paddling about in Spring Creek during a snowstorm, backs heaped about an inch high with piles of fresh fluffy late-winter snow. Shame I didn't have a camera with me...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I don't really do ACW blogging much anymore, but since Dimitri doesn't have comments and I don't have his email address on hand, this is the only way to comment on a recent item on his blog, which notes a letter-writer's peculiar quote of Lincoln claiming to have incited the war, and an even more peculiar quote from Karl Marx describing the war as "a tariff war", and turning upon a "Northern lust for sovereignty". I don't know about the Fox letter of Lincoln's quoted, but the Karl Marx cite is a deliberate distortion. It's from one of Marx's wartime newspaper essays, and as I thought when I read Dimitri's post, the sentiment is not Marx's own. He was characterizing the view-point of a class of London newspapers, noting contemptuously:
It is characteristic of this discovery that it was made, not in Charleston, but in London. Naturally, in America everyone knew that from 1846 to 1861 a free trade system prevailed, and that Representative Morrill carried his protectionist tariff through Congress only in 1861, after the rebellion had already broken out. Secession, therefore, did not take place because the Morrill tariff had gone through Congress, but, at most, the Morrill tariff went through Congress because secession had taken place.

Karl Marx was strongly pro-Northern in sympathy, as even a cursory reading of his wartime writings on the subject will reveal. He considered it a war of capitalist against feudalist, and naturally chose to approve of the more dialectically advanced antagonist.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Wow, this is pretty ugly stuff - the Cherokee Nation is threatening to purge its roles of Cherokee "freedmen" - members of the tribe who draw their line of descent from freed ex-slaves of Cherokee ownership. I honestly thought we were past this sort of stone racism. Admittedly, it seems tied up in petty tribal politics & it looks like the main goal is to narrow down the number of people with a claim to a part of the gambling pie, but come on, really.

I didn't think the Cherokee were all that big into gambling, though - isn't there too many of them for something as inherently limited as reservation gambling to pay off? I mean, the economics make sense when you're talking about a pocket-sized tribe like the New England remnants, but a three-hundred-thousand-member group like the Cherokee? The money'd be like a drop of ink in a rainbarrel, even if they did purge everyone with a slave ancestor.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Wheee. Obama's descended from slaveholders. Whoop-de-friggin'-do. I'd be willing to bet that at least 80% of all American blacks are descended from slaveowners. The only novelty in Obama's case is that the lineage is from his white, American mother, and not the father from which he gets the pigmentage which makes him "black" by racemongering standards. The discovery of slaveowning ancestors probably gives his "blackness" more cultural credibility.

I haven't found any evidence of direct-ancestor slaveowners, but some of the New York Thorns in the richer, Episcopalian families were. The New Jersey line we're descended from were modest country folk, and were lucky if they owned land, let alone other people.

Via K.J. Lopez at the Corner.
Huh. The Pakistanis coughed up a Taliban minister. If they're going to produce an al Queda or Taliban target every time a prominent American official visits, then we need to send Cheney over there at least once a fortnight for the foreseeable future. Well, at least until they run out of ISI-subsidized malefactors to sacrifice on the altar of false-hearted alliance. Not as if the vice president seems to be doing anything else of value these days, other than playing clay pigeon for opportunistic Afghani terrorists.
There's something about the Right Stuf's 25-for-$100 sales that brings out the bumbling moron in yours truly. Last time around, I screwed up while ordering & forgot to ask for the free shipping, and had to beg and plead via email to get that amended. This time I missed the coupon code box (where you're supposed to enter "abundance10" or "abundance25" to get the respective 10-for-$50 or 25-for-$100 deals) and ended up ordering almost $700 worth of DVDs I only sort-of-wanted for full price.

Damn, I hope they straighten that order out. It'd be nice if their ordering interface was a tad more forgiving of errors & mistakes. Betcha they'd have less of a customer service load if you could cancel or amend orders prior to processing. As it is, if you've given the system your credit card information, you're stuck until the customer service staff get back to you on your problem.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bonfatto's down on Zion Road is doing a free poker tournament series. I walked down there from work yesterday, since the weather was so nice & all. A dachshund was running around in the slushy snow in the meadow the next block east from the National Guard barracks, and I thought it had gotten away from someone walking it. Nobody was around, though, and after a minute or two it ran back to a bloody lump of fur over by the trees, which turned out to be a freshly dead rabbit almost as big as the weiner dog itself. Said dog proceeded to drag this enormous leaking hunk of meat off into the treeline, clearly concerned with protecting its kill from the big threatening predator-shaped animal walking towards said dinner. IE, me. One of the players at the tournament told me later on that dachshunds are particularly vicious hunters, and described some alarmingly alpha-male encounters with the little monsters. Who knew?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Well, I'm now the proud owner of a slightly foxed grey Camry station wagon. It'll need some work, but not too much out of pocket, once the insurance pays off on the totaled Lanos. Emergency averted. Yay?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

So I was about to write up a great big "yay, Captain Herlock: Endless Oddssey" rave about said thirteen-episode OAV series, and then the last minute or so of show dropped a big ol' pile of WTF in my lap. Somebody fell asleep during "Introduction to Foreshadowing 403" at screenwriting school. Not only did it come out of far left field, but it underlined just how useless and passive one of the core characters had actually been in the course of the series.

Don't get me wrong, Captain Herlock is 90% of a really cool series... argh! Can I digress for a second to express just how annoying that officially-endorsed misspelling is? It's stupid - the character is clearly being called Harlock, same as he's always been, and every other translation has *always* used "Harlock". Er, except for that one company that used "Warlock". Anyways, there have been more than a half-dozen different companies that have turned out Matsumoto anime and manga in English with the Harlock character, so the trademark issue is almost certainly not a valid factor. What the heck was Geneon thinking?

Ahem. Right, the semi-compromised coolness of "Captain H[e]rlock". The animation is top-notch, if a tad dark and murky at times. The usual gang of Harlock cronies are about, and it's a real nostalgia-trip for those who remember the old TV series with any sort of affection - and I did like what little I've seen of the old Fuji subs, which is to say, about a dozen or so episodes. The villains are nigh-Lovecraftian in their Elder Godness, full of menace and honest creepy-crawliness. It's an honestly dark show, bordering on outright horror. Rin Taro's talent for set-pieces and striking composition is here in full form, and there's a lot to keep attention riveted fully to the screen. On the other hand, I have to wonder who hired Nobuteru Yuuki for this project, as his "natural" character-design style is not at all similar to the classic Leiji Matsumoto look, and the clash is expressed in a certain plasticity and rubberiness around the eyes which takes a bit away from the presentation.

I guess I've seen much, much worse anime from the Leiji Matsumoto oeuvre. I just wish that ending had been handled better than it was. Maybe another episode? Better foreshadowing? Some more adjustment to the character dynamics to lay a better foundation? Something.

Friday, February 09, 2007

So we're supposed to call fujoshi "otome" now? I call bull. If you see a fan self-appellation and it isn't derived from something derogatory, it isn't legit, it's some sort of marketing gag traveling under false papers.

[BTW: fujoshi ~ "rotten women"; otome ~ "maidens". Roughly.]

Of course, I could be misreading the situation. After all, there are lunatics running around the States these days talking about "princess culture", although that seems to be a mainstream mundane sort of thing. If this otome business is actually legit, then... nosir, I don't like it. One of the things I've always found refreshing about fan culture is its collective tendency to not indulge in excesses of self-esteem. There's very little I love less than self-congratulation.

H/T Brigid.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mm. Car's been written off by the claims adjuster, I've got the license plate in my office now. I have a line on an under-blue-book '89 Camry wagon that a woman in State College is selling, but I haven't seen it yet & she doesn't want to go outside until next week - "it's so very cold outside!" We'll see, the mileage is low, but a lot of things can happen to a car over eighteen years, and the automatic transmission is worrisome in such an old car.

Monday, February 05, 2007

So I was discussing the likelihoods of my car getting repaired with Jason G. in front of the guy at Catherman's along with a random cop hanging out at the counter. Like a pair of comedy sidekicks, the Catherman's guy cracks "It's a Daewoo, of course it's totaled", and the cop commences to busting on my poor violated chariot o' kimchee. I'm feeling a tad oppressed, people.

Sadly, Jason G. agreed with our group consensus. It's a write-off. I walked around parts of Bellefonte looking for tell-tale damage. Less car damage out there than I'd expect. I suppose I've been mis-led by all those years living in a college town, expecting a quarter of all vehicles on the road to have visible damage.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Well, heck.

Last night I lost that long-running long-odds bet called "parking on the street". I was woken up by my neighbors hammering on my door to inform me that some drunk in a light sedan had slammed into my little Korean putt-putt and smashed it around the street, then driven off. The "driven off" part made me wonder how much the neighbors saw, because it's hard to picture a small sedan doing that much damage & driving off under its own power. You'd think that the gas cut-off would have shut down the vehicle at the least. The whole left rear-end was folded back into the trunk, right up to the wheelwell.

Called the cops & had Catherman's tow it away to their wrecked-cars storage lot. It's probably totaled, given that it's seven years old, Daewoos aren't really all that common, and as a modern subcompact, the frame is probably compromised.

Crap. I wanted another two or three years out of that car. Throws a right spanner into my down-payment project, too. At least I structured my savings in preparation for this sort of emergency. But damn, I didn't want to divert house savings towards a new car. Not when I can get by without a car for, like, two hundred sixty days out of the year.

[Edited to reflect the proper name of the towing service & the damage. Got them confused with a customer of ours here at work.]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Setsucon was a success by backcountry one-day event standards. Lots of kids in costume, with a dusting of college-age kids & parents keeping an eye on the herd. I ended up spending a lot of time hanging out with the Duartes from the Con, who were taking out the traveling cosplay photography suite for a test-drive at a local convention, since they live in State College, doing postgrad studies in their respective fields. That seemed to be more of a success than I would have predicted - perhaps that particular budget item *won't* be the dead loss I thought it would be. I ended up getting the "elder statesman" treatment by a few of the staffers, which was kind of peculiar. Oh, well. I've spent worse Saturdays. I expect they'll run another one next year - perhaps they'll be able to get the hotel rooms to support a full weekend next time, assuming they can find a weekend without some sort of athletic event soaking up all the loose hotel space in town.

Friday, January 26, 2007

There's going to be a one-day anime minicon in State College tomorrow, something called Setsucon, run by the anime club on campus. It doesn't seem to be much of a muchness, but I wasn't going to be doing anything this weekend but playing Campaign: Vicksburg, reading Basara, and watching DVDs, so what the heck. At-door registration is $15, and they are running in the Days Inn Penn State, which was the location of the first anime con on the east coast back in '94. So: nostalgia time!

The Days Inn has gentrified a bit since the period when it was the typical venue for comic cons and similar planned, fannish affairs. It was quite posh the last time I stopped in. I had heard that they didn't "do" fan cons anymore, but the anime club people talked their way in - at least in part by agreeing to not run a con suite, if I understand correctly. So be prepared to feed yourself without aid of free con-provided potato chips and soda. The time I ran a con there, we got too much of the stuff and ended up grazing off of the leftovers for two or three months afterwards... the days when you could actually run con suites for anime cons has been long gone, at least for my crowd. Oh, well.

Don't expect any sort of extravaganza, and I doubt there'll be all that many people from outside of the county, knowing the current anime scene. But if you're in town, I'll be around. Look for the heavily-bearded guy in flannel and jeans. If the clutch of cosplayers who seem to be planning to come show, I should stand out by failing to stand out. Like a big ol' blotch of grey in the middle of a Jackson Pollack.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Man, Skip Beat rocks. I started reading the fourth volume over breakfast and was almost late to work because I sat & read it all the way through. The "Secret Language of Angels" story wrapped up about like I expected, if a bit more upbeat than it could have gone. The rest of it was fun with variety show chaos, which isn't something to spit on, really. Who can hate Japanese variety show wackiness?