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.