Wednesday, October 27, 2010

So I read my copy of Bujold's new book, Cryoburn, mostly while waiting on PepBoys to finish working on my car. It wasn't the cheapest maintenance I've ever gotten, and when you're dealing with a tiny little clown car, even basic maintenance "feels" pricy. As for the book...

It isn't her best work. In fact, I'd call it the weakest since Ethan of Athos. She clearly has run out of things to do with Miles Vorkosigan. Overall, the book feels like a first draft, or written from the gutted remnant of an unsatisfactory, largely discarded outline. There's little emotional arc to the story, and it isn't really thematically fleshed out. She obviously went into the project wanting to talk about the politics of suspended animation - the story's set on a planet where they took Chesterton's aphorism about tradition being the democracy of the dead way, way too seriously. But somewhere along the line, the emotional resonance got lost.

Part of it might be the dispersal of the viewpoint among three characters, none of whom are real moral actors in the story. In fact, there is no real moral point to the story - things just happen damned thing after another, and the solution to high-handed corruption of corporate mores is, apparently, high-handed illegalities & exploitation of corporate mores on the part of the good guys. The threats are mostly bloodless, and the resolution is kind of low-impact.

There are signs that the book originally was cast as some sort of heavy-handed allegory in favor of universal government monopoly on healthcare cryogenic storage, but that an editor complained & Bujold (who always has been a big lefty, at least when it came to socialized universal healthcare) dialed it back in consideration of her rather right-wing Baen audience.
This is neat. Makes me wonder what the theoretical gripping strength of something based on coffee grounds and rubber could be, though. Seems more of a "delicate operations" device than anything seriously beefy. The idea of a phase-transition robotic hand is just cool, though. I wonder what the reaction time of its grip could be? The release sounds relatively fast, but the close might be a little slow, given the need to pump a vacuum every time.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Things I wish I had written, #3:
"Oooooohhhh, those scary libertarians. They’re going to take over the government and [discordant organ sound, thundercrack, horses neighing] leave us alone."

Friday, October 22, 2010

It's a beautiful beaten-bronze morning, of the sort you see towards the end of the season of turning leaves. I sort of regret not walking in to work, but I've started going over to State College for GOTV calling.

I really should have gone in earlier, but you know inertia. The office was full of women, mostly college-age; aside from one crew-cutted college student who was in for about an hour, I was the only man calling from the office that evening. I didn't realize we were calling the Sugar Valley area until it came up on the very last call of the night, on a long, involved "undecided" call. Some folks really do want to be argued into a decision - not that the call script encourages it. I apparently sold her on Toomey, so - hurrah! The call volume is pretty impressive, given the numbers I saw on the board - '08, we would have been dancing in our tiny, tiny call centre to clear that sort of volume. The scripts haven't changed much, though.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

All I have to say about WisCon's insult to Elizabeth Moon is: who the hell is Nisi Shawl? I'm not even a particular fan of Moon's - she's written some fantasy novels I appreciated, and Phases was a pretty good short story collection, but most of her recent work hasn't impressed me at all, and the essay that earned her this betrayal wasn't even particularly hard-knuckled or interesting - a standard, vanilla, rote recitation of liberal melting-pot commonplaces, really.

Pile this on top of the Juan Williams firing and it's shaping up to be a spectacularly self-destructive week for the PC left.


Update, next day: Oo-okay. Maybe they did Moon a favor by disinviting her, although if she voluntarily goes to these things, perhaps that sort of ugly is her cup of tea. h/t Brickmuppet.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Can't remember all five freedoms guaranteed by the 1st amendment? Don't worry, neither could I. I had to look it up to remember that "petition the government & present grievances" business. It's a pretty dense little bit of law, isn't it?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Since the decision to not have a baby clearly impacts both national defense and the health of our economy, it is obvious that under the Commerce Clause Congress can regulate abortion, and ban it. Right?

I'm pretty sure that little argument is a heck of a logical fork. Goes for contraception as well, as far as I can see.
My bias inclines me to accept this report as valid. But I worry a little about demolition by analysis. The abandonment of faith in traditional standards doesn't result in a new rationality, but rather the replacement of faith in tradition with the randomized embrace of novel irrationalities.

h/t, wherein the comments section immediately turns into a slap-fight about ACW instead of the medical-study subject of the article itself. Where trust has been destroyed, politics drive the discussion of *any* given contention.

Monday, October 18, 2010

So, the last place I expected to be exposed to a bitter anti-Tea Party campaign speech? In the middle of Friday's Smallville episode, sandwiched in between Clark-and-Lois-at-their-class-reunion rom-com antics and an A-plot about Brainiac 5 and Ghost-of-Christmas-style Legion time-travel shenanigans. All of a sudden, we get Green Arrow ranting about bloggers and supposed anti-immigrant bigotry. Apparently, the Tea Party is Apocalyps psychic astroturf. Maybe next week we'll find out that Darkseid is funding anonymous anti-Blur campaign ads courtesy of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision?

Admittedly, they've been larding the show with politically correct greenwash horsehockey for years now, but at least they balanced it out with Knight Templar eco-fanatic villains like Tess Mercer.

The thing is, I'm actually paying folding-cash money for the privilege of hearing some pretty-boy play-fascist call my friends and relatives bigots. That's not cool, and I'm seriously thinking of cancelling my season pass because of this. The only thing keeping me on the edge here is that the character in question, Oliver Queen, has always been a pinko "liberal" - in the Frank Miller version, he was a flat-out New Left bomb-throwing communist. I *may* be overreacting to an unreliable-narrative speech which wasn't supposed to be a Writer On Board soapbox affair. But it sure was *staged* like an Ayn Rand monologue, and in combination with the forget-the-errors-of-the-past and fear-of-the-future only-the-present Grand Inquisitor speech given to Brainiac 5 in the previous segment, the whole thing sure as heck felt like a particularly nasty campaign presentation to *me*.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Win or lose, the congressional elections this year have a more interesting cast than in most years. An entrepreneur, roboticist, and Marine reservist, Scott Bielat, is running against Barney Frank in my sister's district in Massachusetts. There's an actual rocket scientist, Ruth McClung, running against a Democratic congressman in a deep-blue district in Arizona. There are doctors (two of them in Michigan, Dr. Rob Steele in Ann Arbor and Dr. Dan Benishek of the Upper Pennisula), and nurses (Renee Ellmers of the Trinity Wound Care Center in Dunn, NC, running against Bob "the Strangler" Etheridge).

I'm sure there are more I've just not noticed, or am not remembering at the moment. It's a nice change of pace from the usual cloakroom full of lawyers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Who *are* the greatest living Americans? It's a hard question, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, "call no man lucky until he is dead", similarly, trust no evaluations of greatness until their accomplishments have stood the test of time and weathered a crisis or three. Five years ago, Alan Greenspan would have been on my list. Three and a half years ago, Ben Bernanke would have been on it. At one point George Soros was a candidate, before I read more about him & realized just how much of a villain with good publicity he really was.

Secondly, don't confuse good intentions with greatness. George W. Bush is a good man, and occasionally a competent politician and passable statesman. He still failed when it was important, and left a mess for those that come after him. The same goes for most politicians, whom as a class are generally second-rate intellects and second-rate human beings, at best.

Thirdly, it really does seem as if fewer and fewer real innovators, real leaders, real thinkers are left in our polity. The true giants were by and large pre-boomers, and are dying off at a rapid pace. Milton Friedman is gone, so is Norman Borlaug, Ronald Reagan, Sam Walton... The heroic figure has largely been eclipsed by the celebrity in the public eye. Despite all the self-serving Randian piffle of the last two years, there are no John Galts or Howard Roarks on the national scene; the best we can offer is Donald Trump. We don't really have any true robber-barons, and many of those we have, aren't Americans at all, like Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson.

Fourthly, there may be a set of "greatest living Americans" whom no-one has ever heard of, "for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs." Our awful, worthless media are of no help in this regard.

I don't know, I'd essay Rudy Guiliani, if only for how he did the one thing that no-one would have ever expected in the days of my childhood - redeeming unredeemable Gotham, diverting it from its self-demolition, if only for a generation, if only for a bit... Perhaps T. Boone Pickens? It's sometimes hard to tell a true captain of industry from a self-promoting con artist of monumental proportions. Look at Lee Iaccoca!

Logically speaking, there should be some great man or woman lurking in the medical research field, with all the activity of the last thirty years, but it's all been so bureaucratized and corporatized, it's hard to spot the motive man among the Organization Men... I don't know, maybe Leland Hartwell or Robert Horvitz.

(While looking around, I noticed this strange duck, Ahmed H. Zewail. Can't decide if he's technically an American or an Egyptian. He seems to live in the US, with citizenship, but anyone who has rumors about him running for the presidency of another nation is a dubious example of an "American". It's like claiming Golda Meir as an American, I think.)

Nanotechnology would seem to be a fertile field for earth-shakers, but the only people in that field I'm likely to have heard of - like Eric Drexler - are most likely nothing more than popularizers. Huh, looking around, some of the American candidates in nanotechnology are already dead - Richard Smalley for one. The field hasn't even come close to fulfilling even a hint of its promise, and already the pioneers are leaving us. Yet another example of how greatness is only proven in many cases posthumously. Examples like Norman Borlaug are rare indeed!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Oh heck yeah. Although really, playing hard-ball welfare-paternalism in a season of massive popular dependence on the dole might not be the most tactically sound attitude.

Monday, October 04, 2010

We had another fire in my end of town, BTW. Third fire on Bishop in the last year, second one on that block. A badly run-down rental duplex on one of the worst blocks in town. Pretty crowded area, they couldn't fit all of the fire trucks close enough to bring all the equipment to bear. Ironically enough, all of these fires have been within a block and a half of the Undine fire station. I wasn't the only looky-loo, half the town was crowded around rubbernecking.

Now that I look at the local paper, I see that those additional sirens I heard afterwards was due to another fire over in the Bush Extension on Reynolds Avenue. The duplex sounds like a total loss. I had thought it was a Victorian, but the owner claims it was 1930s-vintage.

There's some pretty ferocious discussion in the comments of the duplex story about the regulation of Section 8 housing, with commentary about how many of these units in Bellefonte have burnt due to bad wiring. As for the later comments... I'm sorry, but if you're on public assistance, the way you live your life is everyone's business, and you shouldn't beg with one breath and demand respect for your privacy with the next breath. Speaking of breath, I saw at least one very young firefighter sitting wiped out back on South Ridge by the ambulance, either heatstroked or suffering from smoke inhalation.
Well, hell. Apparently Del Rey's bailing out of the manga publishing business, possibly in favor of packaging for Kodansha USA instead, distributing for hire. While the shift-over might conceivably occur painlessly, industry folk suggest that Kodansha has been spectacularly inept so far, and "trainwreck inside the station" is the way to bet.

This kind of sucks. I'll have to tally up the Del Rey titles I've been buying which will either be terminally delayed, or just plain terminated. Let's see...

Nodame Cantabile - no great loss here, it should have ended a couple volumes back. It's just been spinning wheels since about three volumes into the Paris continuation of the story.

XXXholic - again, this is a manga past its prime. The most interesting character has disappeared, CLAMP is relying more and more heavily on cross-overs with a separate title I honestly can't stand, and there just isn't much more life in the story.

Genshiken - actually, this title was finished, but word just popped last month that the mangaka is reviving it. A delay wouldn't affect matters here at all, since we wouldn't see a new volume for over a year regardless.

Moyasimon - this is the one which will hurt. It's a fun comic, but we've gotten two volumes in as many years. Another delay of another year will just kill interest, and thus kill the title dead.

My Heavenly Hockey Club - honestly, this comic is the second-weakest Ai Morinaga title in US release. I would gladly see this one killed dead in exchange for another volume of Duck Prince, orphaned by the CPM implosion.

Princess Resurrection - fun; but I barely noticed its failure to release. Put it in the "please don't kill her!" column, but barely.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei - boy, this one is snakebit in the US. The brilliant SHAFT anime adaptation is stuck in turnaround, imprisoned by MediaBlaster's slow-motion demolition. Still and all, I like it, and it was getting better with time and repetition. Jokes which were merely amusing in the first two volumes were positively lacerating by the third or fourth time around in later volumes. Repetition is very kind to Koji Kumeta's sort of humor.

the Wallflower - speaking of repetition... this manga is over twenty volumes long. If it were about anything substantial, its welcome would be long-since worn-out. But the recent volumes were what they've always been - pleasant ways to waste an hour without thinking too hard.

School Rumble - again, nothing great or grand, but the recent omnibus was a good way to kill a couple hours. It's close to the end, I hear...

Yozakura Quartet - this one just never paid off on its promise; the story was gloomy and down-beat, compared to the characterization and tone. "Tonal dissonance" and failure to make much sense left this comic an exercise in pretty nothingness.