Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Via CalPundit: Andrew Sullivan is calling Bill Clinton as one of the people who thought the war would be fairly easy. I guess the eternal search for Bad Things Clinton goes on, or at least the eternal search for ways to use Clinton to embarrass liberals and Democrats. Just a couple of points:

:: First, I don't think anybody really knows how the war is actually going. Things are happening that make it look bad, and things are happening that imply that the things that look bad really aren't that bad at all. If the war ends up being won in the next three weeks or so, I still think that might qualify as pretty easy. It's only been two weeks.

:: Second, one has to look at Clinton's actual words here. He clearly thought the tactics would be an aerial war with lots of bombing, lasting for several weeks, followed by a massive push of infantry and such. Obviously he was assuming that the tactics this time would somewhat mirror the 1991 Gulf War. Since that's not the tactic that's been employed, Clinton's prediction is pretty meaningless in the way that Sully wants to use it: as a stick to somehow beat on liberals.

:: Third, Sully is probably unaware of it, because the CBS News article on which he bases his post doesn't convey it, but I watched the interview in question and I remember it quite well. Clinton's larger point was in his misgivings about world peace and national security in the wake of such a war, and what he saw as troubling precedent for exactly the kind of pre-emptive war we are now fighting.

I hope that our soldiers in Iraq don't accidentally ingest whatever Peter Arnett has been drinking. "Wow, we didn't think you guys would fight back!" is not on any list of things you should say when giving an interview to the enemy's news media in wartime. Imagine Edward R. Murrow going on the Berlin Radio in late 1944 to say, "We didn't think you'd be able to almost push us back at the Bulge...."

Incredible.

Syracuse is in the Final Four. The locals seem very excited by this, as well they should be. Of course, since one week from today I will no longer be a local, I'm not really able to get caught up in it. Alas....I like it when the local teams do well.

The feeling is sort of similar to last fall when we moved. I was all set to vote in Buffalo's various elections, since I knew the issues and candidates, but then we moved a few weeks before Election Day. I ended up not voting at all, because I wasn't able to register in the new district, I certainly wasn't going to drive 130 miles back to the old district, and I'm pretty sure I missed the absentee deadline (which I'm not sure I would have exercised, anyway, since I had no idea that I'd be moving back six months later). I did feel a few pangs of guilt about not voting the night the Democrats' grand strategy -- which was apparently jointly designed by Michael Dukakis and The Amazing Kreskin -- failed utterly, but I consoled myself that as it turned out, the races in Central New York were not even remotely in doubt.

Anyhow, it's strange to note the degree to which I never really came to feel that I lived in Syracuse; the overwhelming sensation was of a six-month jaunt -- like a Rhodes Scholar's trip to Oxford or something like that.

Courtesy Joseph Duemer is this interesting visual guide to blogging "neighborhoods". (It's Java-driven; I had to download a plug-in to make it work.) It purports to visually show one which blogs are related to one's own, if I understand things correctly. I'm not sure how this thing works. When I plug in my own URL, a group of left-leaning political blogs are returned and shown as being in "my neighborhood", along with Instapundit. That struck me as a bit odd: while I make no secret of the fact that I am pretty much on the liberal side of things, my political focus is not a primary (or secondary, or tertiary, or quarternary) concern of mine here. I would have expected to see some more blogs of the literary variety show up, but I suspect these things are decided by which blogs link mine, and the ones out there that permalink me are all liberals. (Just why Instapundit shows up is a mystery to me, as I've never noticed any traffic in my referrals as coming from him -- and I suspect that if it happened, I'd notice. I still remember the spike I received a couple of months ago when something I wrote in response to an SDB post earned one of those "Jaquandor comments" updates of his.)

Nevertheless, it's quite fascinating to plug in several blogs at once and note the interconnections. Just noodling around, I created a fairly large map of liberal blogs and conservative blogs (yes, not everyone fits into those labels as conveniently as others, but it was just a momentary exercise) and as I did so, I couldn't help but notice the density of connections on each side of the map contrasted with the sparsity of connections between the two sides. I'm not sure if this indicates anything special about the current political landscape or not -- if so, it would require more rigorous research than me sitting here over morning coffee clicking stuff and saying, "Hey, cool!" -- but it still struck me as interesting. Kind of a graphical picture of the "echo-chamber" phenomenon.

And it was really cool to be able to visualize Byzantium's Shores, with its 45 hits or so a day, as the center of the blogging universe. Nothing like a little graphical egoboo to start the day!

("Egoboo" -- there's another ugly word. Are the poets of the future going to be able to create beautiful poetry with the ugly words we keep coining these days?)

My newest book review for Green Man Review, for Kerry Hardie's novel A Winter Marriage, is now available. This is one of the more problematic books I've ever read, from the standpoint that I hated the characters but I'm very nearly certain that this was actually intended by the author. Anyway, follow through the link to read in more detail.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Sports notes:

:: Michelle Kwan is once again the World Champion!

I remember the first time I ever heard of Kwan, way back in 1994 when she was forced onto the scene in the wake of the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan debacle. I remember watching her and thinking, "Wow, she's going to be pretty good." And has she ever been pretty good! I don't know if she'll still be around for the 2006 Winter Games, but I hope she is, and I hope that she finally puts it all together and gets the Olympic gold medal that's eluded her. (I also hope she doesn't do anything goofy like try to go without the services of a coach when 2006 rolls around. I'm convinced that's what did her in last year, because she simply didn't have her usual polish.)

:: It's Opening Day for Major League Baseball. I'm not going to attempt to pick a World Series champion, because I'm not entirely up-to-speed on the offseason player moves and whatnot. My team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, are apparently in the middle-stages of their rebuilding efforts, and some publications say they could be a surprise this year. They're still prone to making goofy decisions, their farm-system is still a bit on the lean side, and they're still a small-market team in a sport that seems totally unwilling to come up with some kind of revenue-sharing. If things break their way, they could have a pretty decent year, and maybe Brian Giles will finally be recognized for the player that he really is. He's the best-kept secret in baseball.

A couple of responses to some things posted by Rachel Lucas:

:: The story contained in this post, assuming it really happened (and I have no reason to assume that it didn't), is certainly nauseating. That someone would go to such lengths to behave in such a fashion is despicable. But for God's sake, Rachel, that is not a reason to tar all anti-war people with the same damn brush. I am so unbelievably tired of seeing this kind of thing, on both sides of the political spectrum, and it doesn't help matters when we keep resuscitating the myth -- whether it's the left-wing myth or the right-wing myth -- that it's the other side that does mean-spirited, vindictive crap to "us poor regular folks who are just trying to go about our business".

:: Rachel also defended, in two separate posts, the notion of violence as a solution to problems. I am not anti-war, certainly, and I've never subscribed to the idea that war is inherently bad -- well, not that, but the idea that war is never the correct answer to a particular problem. However, when thinking through problems like these -- especially the Robert A. Heinlein quote -- I worry that the pendulum is pushed too far in the other direction, namely, that war and violence are more a solution than they really are.

The problem I have with war is not so much that it doesn't work, because that's simply historically false: World War II was a pretty effective solution to the Hitler problem and the Imperial Japan problem; the American Revolution was a strikingly effective solution to a host of problems between England and her colonies. The problem with war is that it seems to me best geared toward solving very specific problems -- and then, not so much solving the problem from the standpoint of addressing why the problem happened in the first place, but simply removing the problem altogether -- and that's about it. If I may indulge in a poker metaphor, war tends to shuffle the deck, or worse, upset the table and spill everyone's chips to the floor. And while it is certainly true that the specific objective for the war may be achieved -- the illegally invading army may be pushed back to its own country, the evil dictator may be killed or removed, the ruling faction's policy of "ethnic cleansing" may be halted -- it's spectacularly hard to know whether the situation that exists after the achievement of that objective is any more conducive to long-term peace and prosperity than the situation that existed before it. War is not unlike surgery to remove cancerous tissue: it may work in that regard, and it can pave the way to health and prosperity afterwards for the person undergoing the surgery. But it can also lead to more health problems, more pain and suffering for the patient, and ultimately not play much of a role at all in whether the patient lives for another five years or merely another five weeks.

That's why I waffled so long on the current war, and it's why my ultimate support of this war is still quite soft, even as we're fighting it. Getting Saddam Hussein the hell out of power -- and, if need be, the hell off this mortal coil altogether -- is, in itself, desirable. The problem I keep running into is whether the world will really move into a better position afterward. I'm supporting the war because I simply can't envision a peaceful and just world that includes Saddam in charge of Iraq. But I'm also scared because I can envision any number of violent, warlike futures that arise not because Saddam's still alive, but because he's dead.

So, I disagree with pacifists who maintain that war and violence are never the answer. But I'm completely unconvinced that war and violence are ever the entire answer, either.

One of my favorite authors is Christopher Moore, who writes darkly humorous novels that usually have some supernatural element -- his tone usually reminds me of some of the comedic episodes of The X-Files, particularly the ones written by Darin Morgan or Vince Gilligan. My favorite books of his are still the first ones I read, Island of the Sequined Love Nun, a whacky story about an airline pilot who is forced into a kind of exile in the South Pacific, and Bloodsucking Fiends, a love story about a boy and his vampire girlfriend. I found his most recent book, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal something of a mixed bag -- some of it was very funny indeed, but the dark tone of the book's last hundred pages or so didn't work as well.

Anyway, Moore has a new book coming out in a couple of months: Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings". The novel is describe as "a rollicking adventure involving an age-old conspiracy, top-level military secrets, a highly evolved super race with a penchant for baked goods, the source of all life on the planet, a very bizarre long-distance love affair, and a megalomaniac undersea ruler thrown in for good measure."

I can't wait.

(BTW, I was introduced to Moore by a certain being of pure evil who shall not be named.)

I tend to not be as anal as some when it comes to matters of language. Just for one example, I'm not one of those people who decries the use of the word decimate as meaning "destroy a large percentage of" (as in, "Homer sure decimated that box of donuts"), on the basis that decimate's original meaning was quite specific: "to destroy one-tenth of". Language shifts and meanders, and words that mean one thing today might well mean something quite different a hundred years from now. This is one reason why readers tend to have a hard time when they first read Shakespeare, for example.

But one thing that does bug me is our insistence on abbreviating words or coming up with "shorter" versions of words, quite often for no reason other than "the coolness factor". Blog is one such word. I find the word blog inherently ugly -- for some reason, it sounds to my ears more appropriate to describe, well, something relevant to a proctological exam. Plus, it's a shortened form of Web log, which seems to me just fine and not in need of "reduction" or abbreviation. I fail to see where we gain anything by going from six letters to four, except that somehow we've consensually agreed that blog is cool whereas Web log is nerdy, I guess. I tried avoiding blog when I started Byzantium's Shores, but I've come to concede the word even though I don't like it.

So, this morning when I checked the news on MSN, I found a side-headline in their war coverage that read as follows: "World Reax".

Reax.

Now, come on. That's just goofy. It really is. It can't be because of space or line-length, because there are other headlines that are longer, with some taking up two lines. I doubt very much it would be that hard to write "World reacts" or "World reactions", depending on what's required. Now, maybe reax is some bit of military jargon that I'm simply unfamiliar with, and MSN is trying to hew to that line. But I'm not the military, and actual English is just fine for me. Let's leave the soldier-talk to the soldiers who actually have a reason to talk that way.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Well, I guess it's clear how out of touch I am with comics: when I posted last week's Image of the Week, I was unaware that Wonder Woman's look has been "updated" to reflect a new time. Apparently she looks like this now, as contrasted with her original, WWII-era appearance:



OK, I guess. But I prefer long hair, really.

Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, I'm reminded of a Puzzler once offered on NPR's CarTalk. It goes something like this (paraphrasing liberally, as I'm not going to search their archives for the thing):

A guy in a small town somewhere decides, upon winning the Lottery, to open a bar somewhere in the Great Plains. After choosing the town -- Sturgis, SD -- by throwing a dart at a map, he opens his bar in late winter. Business is decent to start with, but after a few months he wants to drum up some publicity, so he decides that he's going to hold an arm-wrestling tournament toward the end of summer. He pays a buddy of his to promote the thing on the Internet, sets up the dates, and waits for the participants to sign in. A few weeks later, he calls his buddy to find out how it's going, and the buddy tells him:

"Man, I forgot to tell you: the dates we chose are during the Sturgis Bike Rally, when thousands of people on Harley motorcycles flock to town. We've got 16, 348 people signed up for the tournament! I gotta start setting it up, but first I gotta figure out how many matches that's gonna take. That'll take forever...."

"Wait a minute," says the bar owner. "It's a single-elimination tournament, right?"

"Yeah. But 16,348 people! How many matches is that?"

And without missing a beat, the bar owner tells him exactly how many matches the tournament will require. Question: How did he know, so quickly?

-------

Obviously one could figure this out with paper and pencil, dividing everything by two and counting up the matches. But in a tournament of this size, clearly this would take some time, especially for a couple of bumpkins living in Sturgis who are unaware of the Bike Rally each year! So, how does the bar owner know how immediately how many matches the tourney will require?

It has to do with the tourney itself. There are many kinds of tournaments: you can have a "Round Robin", for example, where every entrant is guaranteed to play every other entrant at least once; or a "Double Elimination", where each loser is placed in a "Loser's Bracket", with the winner of the "Loser's Bracket" going on to the Championship and therefore every participant being able to lose twice before elimination. This, though, is a single-elimination tournament: Lose once, and you're done. The bar owner is able to reason, then, as follows:

1. Each match will produce one loser.
2. The tournament, overall, will produce one Champion.
3. A participant can only lose one time.
Therefore:
4. The total number of matches must be equal to the total number of losers that the Tournament produces.

And then it's simple arithmetic: since only one of the 16,348 participants can be Champion, the tourney will produce 16,347 losers -- and thus take 16,347 matches to do it. QED.

So, basically, we learn that in any single-elimination tournament, the total number of games played is equal to (N - 1), where N equals the total number of participants in the tournament. Thus, the NCAA Tourney -- being 64 teams -- involves 63 total games. The Major League Baseball playoffs are decided by series, not individual games, but it works here too: eight teams enter the playoffs each season, so there are a total of seven playoff series held. And it even works in the NFL's lopsided system, where four teams in the playoffs don't even play the first round: twelve teams enter the playoffs, and eleven games later we have a Super Bowl Champion.

Thus ends the mathematical portion of Byzantium's Shores.

Jane Galt has an interesting article up about the recording industry and file-sharing. The fact is, the recording industry does have a certain moral position here -- protecting their product against copyright infringement, which I as a writer-in-waiting can get behind, to a certain extent. But the industry's efforts to fight for their cause have been so ham-handed, stupid, and Draconian that it's hard for anyone to feel sorry for them.

Gee, a partially-moral position undermined by poor tactics, strategic bungling, dishonesty and the unavoidable stench of raving commitment to self-interest....now, that sure sounds familiar....

You'd think that if anything were to get me excited about the NCAA basketball tournament, living in Syracuse while the Orangemen make a run at the Final Four (a win tomorrow, and they're in) would be it. And yet, we're moving next week, so I'm still ho-hum about the whole thing. Oh well.

Shortly after 9-11-01 happened, Ann Coulter -- the Right's answer to Michael Moore -- opined, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them all to Christianity". Well:

1. Invasion: Check.

2. Kill their leaders: In progress.

3. Convert them heathens: Waiting in the wings.

I seem to recall a Chinese curse or something that said, "May you live in interesting times." I'm starting to understand just why that is considered a curse.

Friday, March 28, 2003

A couple of questions for the technoids out there: What's this "XML-feed" thing I keep reading about? Is it something I need to do? And if so, how do I do it?

Time for some random links and such...

:: Check out the mouse-navigation here. (Unless you're afraid of mice.)

:: Heh. (By the way, Home is a great album.)

:: Sheila Viehl has a nifty post up about how to handle backstory in fiction.

:: All right, shouldn't this be a sign of some kind of Apocalypse?

:: And finally, I just have to love the veiled threats we're apparently making against Canada. Because, you know, restricted trade with Canada is just the thing for the ever-suffering economy of border cities like, oh, Buffalo.

There is still snow to be seen around Syracuse -- not blanketing the ground, but large piles where snowplows deposited them over the course of winter, and we're supposed to get a little more snow this weekend in what will probably be the last blast of wintry weather for this season. With all the melting snow, waterways are up and the ground is very soft and, in most places, muddy; the grass has barely begun to move from "earth-tones" into the "greens".

In other words, it's time for the obsessive golfers to start wading through the quagmire golf course across the street.

I guess I'm in a sports mood today. Sean sends me a report that Patriots QB Tom Brady has agreed to restructuring of his contract in order to free up money so the Pats can pursue some free-agent talent. This is a very classy move on Brady's part, and it's the kind of thing that we don't see enough in sports today -- especially the NFL, when players would just as soon gnaw off their own arms before giving up any of the money promised them in their contracts. I remember how Bruce Smith, one of the finest defensive players in NFL history, would become a complete blockhead during the offseason -- he'd sign a new contract one year, making him very rich; but a few years down the road when someone else would sign a bigger contract somewhere else, he'd suddenly make noises that he wanted more money than what he'd signed for earlier. Brady is taking a financial hit for the team, and it's good to see.

But I still hate the Patriots and hope they use this new windfall to sign, say, Jim McMahon or Jeff George or someone similarly useless. Harumph.

(There, Sean, I publicly praised Tom Brady. It will NOT happen again, I don't care if he gets the Pats to the Super Bowl and then goes 35-36 for eight touchdowns and 700 yards!!!)

Timothy Goebel came in second at last night's World Figure Skating Championships, beaten by Evgeny Plushenko. Once again, the event was won by a Russian man who, quite frankly, bores me. I can't put it in any other way than that: Russian men, with the exception of the fiery Alexei Yagudin (who sat out last night with an injury), bore me to tears. It's a long tradition that dates back to Viktor Petrenko, who should never have beaten Paul Wylie for the gold medal at Albertville. And then there was Alexei Urmanov, who was staggeringly dull in defeating Elvis Stojko and Phillipe Candeloro in Lillehammer. And there was Ilya Kulik, leading up to Plushenko -- all of them flawless jumpers, outstanding athletes, and just boring skaters. There's got to be something in these guys' skating that I'm just not seeing, because it seems to me that every time out someone else skates with more passion and fire, and yet each time lately, the Russian wins. Plushenko's performance last night was technically excellent, but it was also rather lifeless. Goebel, though, was also flawless and he skated with grace and charm. Oh well -- I'm sure that if Yagudin had been able to skate, though, he would have blown both of them out of the water. Now there is a fiery skater.

(The Scene: A bar in Washington, DC. Last night.)

BARFLY: So I says to the guy, ya don't know what yer talkin' about!

BARTENDER: Really? What'd he say to that?

BARFLY: Well--

(He is interrupted by the sudden histrionics by a guy a few seats down, who is banging on the bar, sobbing into his beer, and screaming, "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?")

BARFLY: Geez. What's that guy's problem?

BARTENDER: Oh, him. Yeah, he's a Duke fan.

Thursday, March 27, 2003



Yee-haw, it's time for the true March Madness!!!

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Cover image to Wonder Woman #189.

I've always liked Wonder Woman, although she seems to perpetually be ignored in favor of other DC superheroes -- Superman, Batman, et cetera. With all of the superhero movies being made these days, I'd love to see a Wonder Woman film -- perhaps starring Julia Roberts. She's got the hair for WW, although she'd have to dye it. A red-headed WW just wouldn't do.

I've changed my mind on my upcoming hiatus during the move. I'll be taking the break after next Tuesday, not after today, as earlier reported. (This doesn't guarantee that I'll be posting each day from this day to that, however.)

(And those Attack of the Presidents posts will resume after the move, just so I have something to do between rounds of unpacking boxes.)

I just re-read Lord Foul's Bane, the first volume in Stephen R. Donaldson's classic fantasy trilogy, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (which was eventually followed by another trilogy, The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant). This was a favorite fantasy series of mine since I first read it when I was in seventh grade -- in fact, I read the Covenant books before I read The Lord of the Rings, strangely enough.

Thomas Covenant is a successful writer whose life crumbles when he is diagnosed with leprosy. His wife leaves him, taking his son with her; his town basically turns him into a pariah, with people literally running from him whenever they recognize him; he loses all sense of touch in his fingers and toes; and to prevent the spread of gangrene after a cut, the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand are amputated. Covenant lives on, then, almost out of habit and raw bitterness. And then, after a strange encounter with a beggar, Covenant is transported to another world, called "the Land". The people of the Land are threatened by their ancient enemy, Lord Foul the Despiser, and Covenant is thrust into the center of this struggle, because he wears a wedding ring made of white gold -- a metal not found in the Land, which is said to be able to release "wild magic" -- and because the people of the Land view him as the reincarnation of their greatest hero, Berek Halfhand -- who likewise was missing two fingers.

The various fantasy struggles in the book -- the ancient villain risen again to threaten the peaceful kingdom, the forces of good who are substantially less powerful than their forebears, the pastoral peoples whose lives are disrupted by evil -- are all standard fantasy tropes that will be familiar to any reader with any experience at all in the genre. What sets the Covenant Chronicles apart is its hero, who is so tinged with shades of gray that at times he becomes anti-hero, baldly refusing -- frequently out of selfishness -- to do the right thing, the thing we want him to do. Covenant is one of the most complex and memorable characters I have ever encountered, in any genre; his fragile grip on his own sanity defines the books, as he not only cannot bring himself to act on the Land's behalf, but he cannot bring himself to commit to believing in the Land in the first place.

Covenant-the-leper is thrust into this world, with its frequent metaphors relating to health, and it nearly drives him mad. Early on he suffers a few scrapes and bruises; these are treated with a healing mud called "hurtloam", which actually regenerates his dead nerves and restores his feeling in his extremities. Each person Covenant encounters in the Land seems to have no idea whatsoever what he is talking about when he speaks of disease; the very idea of "unhealth" is totally alien to them. He goes from a world where he is pariah to a world where he is revered almost at sight, and very early on it drives him over a certain edge as he commits a vile act that colors just about everything he does afterward. It is this act which establishes Covenant as anti-hero, and it's probably this one act that makes the book -- indeed, the entire series -- a "love it or hate it" affair.

Reading Lord Foul's Bane again after a long time -- it's been ten years since I last read it -- was a fascinating experience. I was captivated anew by the Land, and I felt even more strongly Covenant's struggle even as I wished he would commit, one way or the other. Donaldson's skill at description is also as good as I remember; his fantasy world is as effectively visualized as any. His characters are memorable as well, not just Covenant -- the Lords, for example, or the Giant, Saltheart Foamfollower. I do sometimes feel as if the Land isn't as "populated" as it should be. That's probably not a very good way of putting it, but the Land just doesn't seem to have the vastness of, say, Middle-Earth.

I also noticed, this time, some very clunky prose by Donaldson. The story is eminently able to overcome it, so it's not that big a fault, but Donaldson's attempts at poetry here really don't work. Some of them are intended to be reverential chants, some are ritual songs, others are epic tales; most of them, though, take the form of prose broken up to look like poems, with almost no attention paid whatsoever to rhyme schemes, scansion, or anything else. Of course, I am no expert on poetry, despite my little "Poetical Excursions". I have it on pretty good authority that Tolkien's poetry in LOTR isn't very good, and yet I love it; so I suppose Donaldson's poetry in The Covenant Chronicles is great stuff. But somehow I doubt it: the effect, to my ears, was no unlike that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when Data attempts writing poetry and ends up with verse about his cat's "taxonomic nomenclature".

I also have to report something that's become a pet peeve of mine: Donaldson is one of those writers (or perhaps he was, since the Covenant series is over 25 years old now) who insists on avoiding said in his dialog attribution. Characters in Lord Foul's Bane never "say" anything; they're constantly "jerking out" or "grating out" or "growling" their utterances, and at one point there is a particularly unfortunate one: a character actually "ejaculates" a sentence. Ouch. So where one can read Tolkien just for the glory of his language, that approach really doesn't work with Donaldson. He's much more concerned with character in general, and internal struggle in particular, so his work has to be appraised on that basis.

Time was when I would have moved right into the second book, The Illearth War, but I'm not going to do that just now. Mainly, because I want to try breaking up the series a bit, and appraising each book separately (the Covenant books lend themselves to this much more than does LOTR). And also, well -- my copy of Illearth War is already in a box.

There's not much that I can say in tribute, but it saddens me that my former Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, died yesterday. I didn't agree with him all the time -- when I understood what he was talking about, that is -- but he was the kind of person we should aspire to have in our Government.

I apologize for my silence over the last three days, which was brought on by the unfortunate confluence of being out of town Monday to find an apartment (we found one, bigger than the one we live in now), a focus on putting all of my stuff back into boxes, and generally having not a whole lot to say anyway. I think that's because I'm generally preoccupied with moving, and the world seems to be generally preoccupied with the war in Iraq, which I'm avoiding like the plague on TV. NPR's programming seems to be "All War, All the Time", so I'm not listening to much NPR right now. I'm avoiding war coverage for a number of reasons: I don't care for the idea of watching a war on TV, especially in as sanitized a fashion as this one appears to be receiving; and I'm frankly focused on the stuff that's really going on in my life right now. (Although, this turns out to be the worst possible time for my subscription to TIME Magazine to lapse....I'll re-up in a couple of weeks, after the move is complete.)

I reject the idea that life is to be put on hold while the war is going on. There is little, if anything, that we can do to influence events in Iraq, either for good or ill, and it does little good for all of us to do nothing but watch and worry. There are still books to be read and written, music to hear, films to view, walks to take, games to be played with children, and lives to be led.

And while I'm on the subject, I have to note that while I found Michael Moore's behavior at the Oscars boorish, I'm have to note once again the almost pathological hatred some people on the right have toward Hollywood in general. Reading this post by Rachel Lucas -- someone whom I generally like even though I agree with about six percent of what she says -- I just have to wonder just where on earth all that anger toward Hollywood comes from. First of all, I guess one can certainly think it inappropriate to have the Academy Awards ceremony at all this year, although it's been pointed out elsewhere that if they held the Awards during World War II, how could they not hold them during this war, which nobody -- left or right -- thinks is likely to last even one-tenth as long as that war did. I also note that a lot of folks on the right express their anger at Hollywood for failing to cancel the Oscars, and yet I've not read a single post anywhere, by anyone, expressing the view that the NCAA Basketball Tournament should be called off. So I think we have a case of "I hate liberals, and Hollywood is ninety-five percent liberal, so I want Hollywood to be embarrassed and inconvenienced to as great a degree as possible."

Yes, Rachel, the "show" must go on. To do otherwise would be disrespectful of all those men and women who we're told are fighting in the name of a culture that allows such shows in the first place.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Wow, Rachel, he really is an ass-hat!!

(As far as I am concerned, no person who very loudly and vocally supported Ralph Nader and helped fuel the incredible hostility toward Al Gore has any right to complain about the 2000 election. As for the war, well -- there's a damn time and place. I'm all for free speech. I'm also for, well, being polite.)

As much as the physical labor of moving sucks -- all the cleaning, all the packing, the constant smell of corrugated cardboard, the reduction of a somewhat-orderly home to what seems like a hopeless clutter -- what's infinitely worse is when your three-year-old daughter realizes that today was the last time she'll get to play with the kids at the Sunday School you just started taking her to a few months ago. I moved a lot as a kid, so I'm in a weird double position: I know that "You'll make lots of new friends" is pretty much true, but I also know that "You'll make lots of new friends" is also of absolutely no consolation when you're about to leave the current friends behind. In all likelihood she will have forgotten these kids' names by Christmas, but she knows their names now, and three-year-olds are notable for not having yet figured out how to mask their heartbreak.

Notes on the War:

:: A lot of bloggers I read have commented on the sanitary aspects of our media's coverage of the war, with special focus on CNN's coverage. I'm told it sometimes borders on "cheerleading", and the coverage is strangely insistent on showing war-from-a-distance: bombs erupting, loud booms rolling across the Iraqi landscape, et cetera. I don't have cable, and I'm really watching as little of it as possible -- I'm becoming more and more prejudiced toward the written word these days -- but I've been referred to some very disturbing images on Al'Jazeera. (I mean it. These images are graphic. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

This is the side of war our media almost never shows us.

The language of war is necessarily loaded with terms designed to dehumanize the business, but when I see some of the language out there that not only advocates war, but celebrates it -- when I see it becoming an entertainment that we plop down to watch, much as we would to watch Survivor or the World Series -- I think we need to force ourselves to look at images like this, and remind ourselves that real human beings are dying horrible, violent deaths, on both sides of the conflict.

I am not a pacifist, and I think there is moral justification for this war (as I've said before, what scares me is not the war but our Administration squandering that moral justification afterwards and my suspicion of less-than-moral motives at the heart of it). But I can't help but feel a bit nihilistic about a world where such things are as common as they are here.

:: But if the pro-war side gets too heady in its enthusiasm, the anti-war side has its own underbelly and it's just as gross. I've been advocating an end to anti-war demonstrations, mainly because they're pretty much irrelevant now; by continually protesting the war, we lose focus on the fact of the post-war world, which is where the success of this war will ultimately lie. But another, smaller reason I advocate ending the demonstrations is to shut up people like this. I can't help but note that the guy holding up that sign, on the right-hand side, is wearing a ski-mask.

:: Finally, I found a bit of humor in the BBC's airing of the minutes leading up to President Bush's address to the nation the other night. I've wondered why Bush doesn't address the nation from his Oval Office desk more; earlier last week he did it from what I think was the East Room at the White House (I could be wrong), and other addresses have come at other locations, most notably his address regarding his decision on stem-cell research, which seemed to come from his kitchen in Crawford, Texas. But what I found funny here is not that Bush would have a stylist primping him a bit, but that she's so diligently primping the back of his head, which we would never have seen. Did she shine his shoes, too?

I plan to watch the Oscars tonight, at least as late as I can. (I haven't managed to stay up all the way to "Best Picture" since Braveheart won.) Of this year's Best Picture nominees, I've only seen The Two Towers, which has no chance of winning, really. I recently read somewhere -- but I don't recall where, specifically -- a theory that the Academy is waiting until The Return of the King next year to shower its accolades upon Peter Jackson, which I hope is the case. I don't have much of a read on any of the Oscar races this year, so I'm mainly hoping for an enjoyable and entertaining telecast. (I'm also glad that Steve Martin is hosting again, because I never really cared for Whoopi Goldberg's brand of humor at the Oscars. Of course, it's worth bearing in mind that I actually enjoyed David Letterman's now-infamous turn at hosting the ceremonies. Yeah, he did beat "Oprah, Uma" into the ground, but I loved it when he drafted Tom Hanks for help in a "Stupid Pet Trick".)

Roger Ebert has a good article about his Oscar memories today. My personal favorite Oscar memories:

:: Clint Eastwood presenting the "Best Director" award to Steven Spielberg for Schindler's List. Eastwood lost the teleprompter, and you could just see the words, "Oh, God damn it!" forming on his lips before he got back on track.

:: Robin Williams's speech after winning "Best Supporting Actor" for Good Will Hunting.

:: David Letterman to the Academy President (I can't remember the guy's name), after the President's opening speech: "Sir, there are some guys out back who'd like to talk to you about Hoop Dreams...."

:: Randy Newman, addressing the orchestra that was beginning to play, ushering Newman off the stage after he'd finally won an Oscar for "Best Song" after losing oh, so many times: "Oh, you're not going to play now. Please don't play."

:: Jim Carrey, the year he was denied a nomination for The Truman Show: "I'm here to present [some award], and that's all I'm here for." Also, a few years prior when, in presenting a different award, he referred to the Oscar as "the LORD of all knick-knacks!"

James Capozzola is wondering why more people don't link TRR, the sister-site to The Rittenhouse Review. I haven't done so because I tend to view Rittenhouse as the "front-page" to Capozzola's various publications (including TRR and his "Letters Page"), so I just follow my links to Rittenhouse and then follow the subsequent links to TRR.

Of course, I would have done otherwise had I known that Capozzola would specifically single out those blogs who are directly linking TRR. I could use the traffic!

Oops.

Due to a slight problem with my ISP (that's really my fault, because....well, I forgot to pay them on time), my graphics are obviously messed up, with louses up my template. I probably won't be able to get things totally fixed until Tuesday -- we're going apartment-hunting tomorrow -- so I've at least changed my text color to make the thing readable until I get it all squared-away.

Oops, again.

(EDIT: Somehow, the problem resolved itself without my attention today -- which is weird, because by my understanding my ISP's billing department is closed on Sundays....but oh well, looks like things are back to normal.)

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Is there any way I can get it off my fingers without betraying my cool exterior?


-- Fox Mulder, The X-Files ("Tooms")


One of Google's changes to Blogger and BlogSpot has been to tailor the masthead ad to something that theoretically reflects the content of the blog.

So, imagine my surprise when I load up my page two minutes ago to find an ad for....the books of Robert Jordan !!!!

Ugh....

BONUS IMAGE OF THE WEEK





I was looking through the Astronomy Picture of the Day archive, looking for some new wallpaper for my desktop, and I found this striking image of star-trails on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I just thought this image was amazingly cool, and a big image is always good for taking up some screenspace here on a slow blogging day, thus making me feel a bit more productive than otherwise. (ahem....)

Addendum to my post a few days ago about the TV show Emergency!: Yeah, it was a good show and all, but those guys never had to do this.

Amazing.

I announced last week our impending move back to Buffalo, and the fact that this will entail a hiatus for Byzantium's Shores. I've decided that the hiatus will begin this coming Thursday (March 27) and possibly end on Monday, April 7. However, I may well wait until Thursday, April 10, rounding it out for two weeks. This is also contingent upon unforeseen circumstances like the broken phone lines our current apartment had, unbeknownst to us or our landlords when we moved here back in September.

Some notes on blog-surfing I've been doing lately....

:: I've had Laputan Logic blogrolled pretty much since John Hardy launched it -- he's a fellow participant in Collaboratory -- but I've been remiss in reading it, despite the fact that he somehow unearths more fascinating stuff that I ever thought possible. Check him out; it's like National Geographic in blog-format.

:: I can't vouch for the content, but I love the name of this blog.

:: I've also taken a liking to Punning Pundit and RaptorMagic, enough so as to add them to "Other Journeys". (BTW: I've seen it remarked occasionally that the longer a blogroll, the less valuable it is to readers. Can anyone explain to me the reasoning here? I only link blogs that I read at least on a weekly basis, and most of them I check at least once daily. Of course, maybe this is a sign that unemployed people who are in limbo while they await their opportunity to launch their freelance careers -- like me -- spend too damn much time blogging. Nah, that can't be it.)

:: And finally, joinging MetaFilter and SportsFilter is BookFilter, for which I've signed up. It's just like the first two, albeit with a specifically literary focus, as the title implies.

Friday, March 21, 2003

The esteemable James Capozzola, writer of one of the left's finest blogs, The Rittenhouse Review, is apparently mulling over running for United States Senate in 2004, as a challenger to sitting Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. I read Rittenhouse daily and would unhesitatingly vote for Capozzola, if I lived in Pennsylvania. (Which, after all, could end up happening, with the frequency of our moves lately….) But I remember the brouhaha between Rittenhouse and Little Green Footballs a while back, and that's got me thinking. Not so much about that incident, in which I thought Capozzola went a bit over-the-top, but about some of the effects that the Internet -- particularly blogging, bulletin boards, and Usenet -- are likely to have on political candidacies in the future. I'm not talking about political commentary sites, which have already started to show signs of muscle -- witness the way Atrios and others kept the Trent Lott story from dying on the mainstream press's vine -- but about what happens when bloggers and people who have made other postings to the Net start running for office.

We've seen, in recent campaigns, how the press likes to dig into candidates' pasts, bringing up very old writings and incidents from more than two or three decades before. The high-water example of this, to my mind, is the whole business about Bill Clinton and the Viet Nam draft. In the case of Jim Capozolla, the existence of The Rittenhouse Review will make it much easier for anyone to research Capozzola's opinions and general stances on the issues, which on the face of it can only be a good thing. But I'm not even so much thinking of Capozzola's running next year but some young person blogging today – say, a nineteen-year-old college student – running for office in, say, 2028. I wonder if the semi-permanence of Web writings – especially the Usenet archives, where just about any goofy belief under the sun can be found expressed by someone, somewhere – will be held against future candidates, exacerbating the problem of recent campaigns in which candidates' lives are pried into twenty or thirty years prior to that person's seeking of office. I expect to watch press conferences and interviews with candidates in the future, with questions like this:

Congressman, in 1998 you wrote a Usenet post in which you said that any Republican willing to vote for impeachment should be castrated. Do you still endorse castration for your political opponents?


Mr. Mayor, you've proposed for your Fiscal Year 2027 budget a ten percent increase in public-school funding. How do you reconcile this with your writings, on your weblog in 2003, that public schooling should be ended in favor of exclusive home-schooling or private education?


Sir, you are running for Congress in a district that is fifteen percent Jewish; and yet, in 1999 you posted to an Internet bulletin board that there was no justification whatsoever for Israeli opposition to a Palestinian State. Can you elaborate?


Sometimes you'll see a portion of the Blogosphere erupt into a massive debate on the same subject. This happened a month or so ago, with D-Squared and his "Shorter Steven Den Beste" posts; a similar eruption happened last summer, over Demosthenes and the virtues/sins of pseudonyms online. These eruptions tend to be fairly ephemeral, though: even though the participants can get quite worked up, and their regular readers can flood the other participants' comment sections, things tend to die down when the posts in question inevitably move off the front page. This is similarly true of Usenet, where even the biggest flamewar will eventually die of attrition once the participants become bored. And many such postings are made in something of a "heat of the moment", when the posters or bloggers are focused not on whether they want the particular view they are expressing and the way they are expressing it available for everyone to see, and for all time, but rather on the argument at hand.

So it seems to me there'd be a certain dilemma for people presented with their own writings, years after the fact: they can distance themselves from them, which tends to involved manufactured events and speeches and writings designed to accomplish this task (and thus, paradoxically, keeping the story alive); or they can simply stand by their original words, which can then become an albatross around their necks. That's not all, though: they can take a third tack, and simply ignore the questions utterly, trying to make virtue out of the very fact that they're not answering. Here I think of George W. Bush's refusal to answer questions about his drug use. Now, on the one hand, I'm not sure that whether he used drugs twenty years or more before he ever ran for President is entirely relevant; but on the other hand, his refusal to even discuss the subject seems a bit disingenuous. Ditto Clinton and Viet Nam: were his attempts in the 1960s to avoid service in a war just about everyone now agrees was a colossal mistake relevant to his ability to serve as Commander-in-chief in 1992? Probably not. But did those attempts go some way in painting a portrait of the man as something of a waffler? Probably. Candidates for office already have enough work to do, balancing the people they used to be with the people they wish to become.

The rise of "Gotcha!"-style journalism has been fairly roundly decried in recent years. If it's going to get better -- and I'm not sure it will -- then it has to happen soon, because the rise of the Internet is just going to provide that much more muck to rake through -- and it's going to be more high-quality muck, too, because Net postings -- by their nature, textual and somewhat disconnected from our everyday selves -- tend to be a lot more provocative than the things we say in real life, to real people.

Whenever people complain that the quality of today's movies is not as good as, say, the movies of the 1970s or the 1950s or 1930s, it's generally been my habit to wonder if they're remembering the hits and forgetting the misses -- in other words, if they're nostalgically overvaluing the time periods that produced Singin' In The Rain or Taxi Driver or Gone With the Wind while forgetting the dozens, if not hundreds, of lousy films that must have been produced during those periods. I used to watch some of the movies that showed up on AMC in the middle of the night or in the afternoon and thought, "My God, they used to make some bad movies." It's also been my general belief that in any particular time period, the people living in that period are the least adequate to the task of judging the art they're producing -- whether it's movies, music, architecture or anything else. This is because such judgments are two-pronged: greatness depends not just on inherent qualities but also on the roads taken after, and since by definition the people in a given epoch are not able to foretell what is to come, they can only basically judge works on the basis of their own response to it, which is colored mainly by what's gone before. So, to return to my original statement above, I tend to not get worked up when someone tells me how bad today's movies are. I figure we'll know in twenty or thirty years how our movies were. Not now.

But then, maybe I'm wrong and our filmmakers really are a bankrupt bunch of yutzes.

I'm trying to think of a film project I would less like to see. I'm not having much success.

CalPundit has returned, and there was much rejoicing. (He blogs about his cats on Fridays, though, which saddens me a bit because one of his cats is named Jasmine, which reminds me of my cat named Jasmine, who died last fall. Ah well....)

On another message board I frequent (for discussion of non-political matters), there are some very vocal and very conservative participants -- the type of people who are happiest if they can find any reason at all to both exalt George W. Bush and vilify Bill Clinton in the same post, and double-credit if they can do it in the same sentence. I mainly ignore all of that, because these same people can be quite sensible when discussing that message board's actual focus (film music). But yesterday, one of them commented to the effect that President Bush should get credit for choosing to set aside "Shock and Awe" in favor of the "surgical strikes" we saw, in which our forces attempted to either "decapitate" the Iraqi command, or better still, kill Saddam Hussein in the very first hours of the war. This was contrasted, of course, with the air campaign in Kosovo, when President Clinton directed massive air strikes in an attempt to kill or incapacitate Slobodan Milosevic.

Well, yes, I suppose the current commanders deserve some credit for this. I'm not prepared to give credit to President Bush -- at least not all the way -- for the same reason that I'm not willing to blame Clinton for any civilian deaths in Kosovo. I'm far from a military expert, but I very much doubt that Bush or Clinton -- or any President -- has a direct role in planning military campaigns. This is why they have things like Joint Chiefs and Secretaries of Defense and National Security Advisors. If the President decides to attack, he asks for options from his commanders, they present their recommendations, and then the order is given. While Bush's decision may have been clear -- intelligence provided someone with some information about the whereabouts of some very important people in the Iraqi command, and time will tell if one of them was Saddam himself -- I have a very hard time castigating Clinton for Kosovo, especially considering the campaign there was ultimately a success, if definitely messy.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





The Ministry of Planning building in Baghdad, after being struck by a missile.

While I've come in recent months to view this war as probably necessary, I also can't help but consider with sadness the nature of a species that so often makes a necessity of killing off large numbers of its brethren in as violent a manner as possible.

It's really easy to focus on the wrong stuff, out of habit or anger or other reasons. I remember, eight years ago when I was entering restaurant management, a boss of mine (who was soon to be fired) decided to focus on food-cost issues in our restaurant, which were quite out of control. Food-cost is basically that: the amount of money a restaurant spends on the ingredients for the food that it prepares and serves. In our case, a Pizza Hut, this involved the dough mix, oil, cheese, sauce, toppings and all the rest. The unit I was in at the time was in the habit of discarding at least three full batches of unused dough each night -- which anyone can see is a pretty big expense -- but the manager (who was soon to be fired) focused on tiny things like the amount of ice in the beverages, the number of shakes of seasoning we put on the breadsticks, and so forth. He was concentrating to exclusion on things that had little, if any, effect on our food-cost problems and ignoring larger practices that had a big effect on those same problems. This is what the saying "Penny wise, pound foolish" means: concentrating on ways to save pennies, because pennies are often easier to track and we're simply in the habit of doing so, and not seeing the more important big things going on behind it all.

That seems to me to be what the anti-war movement is now experiencing.

I'm sympathetic, I really am. I'm one who is supporting the war, but not without a queasy fear deep in my stomach that things are going to be messed up afterwards. But the thing is, the war has begun. It's happening, and the only thing that anti-war protests -- especially civil disobedience designed to shut down, or at least hamper, major metropolitan areas -- is going to accomplish is to make the anti-war people look more and more flaky and disconnected from reality. It reminds me of the liberal commentators and bloggers who never refer to President Bush without a parenthetical comment like "You know, you weren't really elected", and it quite frankly reminds me of the conservatives who still find ways to blame the evils of the world on Bill Clinton.

So if you opposed the war, and went to the trouble of screaming your opposition at the top of your lungs, great. That's what America, and democracy, are all about. But America and democracy are also about moving on to what's next -- and in this case, the "what's next" is far, far more crucial than the war which I think everyone knows we're going to win. If the Left wants to be productive, then it seems to me that protesting the war itself needs to end; what the Left needs to do now is to start holding the Administration's feet to the coals to make sure that the post-war stuff isn't screwed up the way Afghanistan was. To keep up Bush's poker-metaphors, we on the left really need to stop crying about the hands that have gone by, because the cards are being dealt again. It's a new hand, so let's play it.

Sometimes the gravity of events must be forced to the back seat, and having a three-year-old in the house is just the way to do it. Instead of watching war updates on the news this morning, we watched Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. There's plenty of time for war stuff, and for all our pious rhetoric about the Reasons We Fight -- to preserve our liberties, our culture, et cetera -- I think that sometimes we still forget to actually partake in the things for which we fight.

(Yes, I'm still suffering the cold and hopped-up on over-the-counter stuff. Deal with it.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Just a quick book-note: this morning I finished The Duke of Uranium, by John Barnes. This is a colorful SF adventure story that's a pure romp -- action, romance, and some actual "sensawunda" to boot, about a young man in the 36th century who falls into adventure when his girlfriend is kidnapped. He's plunged into the standard world of intrigue and interplanetary adventure when he embarks on a mission to get his girlfriend back. It turns out, of course, that she's not who he thinks she is; but then, this is one of those books where nobody is who he thinks they are. The book isn't loaded with surprises, but surprises aren't the point in this kind of story. The point is the sharply drawn characters, the interesting background (Barnes gives a lot of hints-in-passing of the history that intervenes between now and AD 3600), and the excellent pacing. SF is such a versatile genre. You can have tragedy, or thought-provoking literature, or mind-expanding stories about the universe and our place in it, or extrapolations of our possible future as a species -- and you can have just plain fun, which is what The Duke of Uranium is all about. Highly recommended.

(This is the first in a series.)

Just in case anybody's wondering, I've seen this little thing around the Web the last couple of days that tells you to do a Google search on "French military victories", and then click "I'm feeling lucky". This causes Google to respond that no results are found, and it asks you, "Did you mean French military defeats?" Heh heh heh.

Except that it's a prank, folks. Don't take this as meaning, well, anything.

When you click "I'm feeling lucky" on Google, that takes you directly to the Number One page in the Google search results. In this case, someone's finagled a page to look exactly like a real Google page, as described above. (And, in fact, that page has now been replaced by another that's soared to "Number One".)

(BTW, France's past is certainly checkered -- as is the past of just about every European nation -- but they've had their military successes. Yeah, it's been almost a thousand years since the Battle of Hastings, but I wonder how different British history might have turned out had William the Conqueror lost there. And of course, Napoleon Bonaparte was something of a military success before he overreached. And then there's the greatest Frenchman in history. He hasn't been born yet, of course, but his destiny is to shape humanity's outreach to the stars. I'm talking, of course, about Captain Jean-Luc Picard.)

I've been considering buying the new album by the Dixie Chicks, and not because one of them said something mean about President Bush. Truth is, I don't care about that. I'm not a fan of what passes for country music these days -- the "rockabilly" stuff that seems to me to be closer to Madonna in tone than Patsy Cline -- but I've heard enough of the D.C.'s music to want to hear more, and I thought their simple, three-part harmony version of "The Star Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl was the best rendition of the National Anthem that I've heard yet. Their political views, as far as I can see, have nothing to do with their music or the quality thereof. But of course, some folks don't agree.

I've never understood the whole business of boycotting a particular artist because of that artist's political views. Maybe it's because I grew up listening to classical music, an area where if one selects the composers whose works one will listen to on the basis of their views in life, one would have a pretty short playlist indeed. I doubt, frankly, if any artist has ever been more of a lout in his beliefs and behavior than Richard Wagner, and yet Wagner's operas form one of the grandest peaks in any art. Wagner's name ranks with Shakepeare and Michelangelo, in terms of his art, which seems all the more incongruous because in terms of his personal politics, Wagner's name ranks with Hitler's. (Literally. Wagner's views were Naziism, seventy years too early.)

Even though I don't air my political views much in this space, I make no secret that I'm pretty much of a liberal. But I see no reason at all to base my choices in terms of art and entertainment on my political beliefs. I didn't suddenly stop watching Magnum, PI when Tom Selleck introduced Nancy Reagan at a Republican National Convention; I've watched movies featuring Charlton Heston since I found out about his conservative beliefs; and so on. So why is it that so many people on the right in this country are so willing to either (a) boycott an artist or entertainer who publicly supports liberal causes or (b) play the "Just shut up and entertain me" card, as if by virtue of being a liberal entertainer or artist, they should abandon any public voicing of their beliefs? I find this phenomenon incredibly odd, every time it comes up. And no doubt it will again this coming Sunday, when I'm sure some Oscar winner will say something not terribly pleasing to the conservative crowd.

I have to say that I find this attitude at once goofy -- think of the great films and books and musical works we'd never hear if we limit ourselves to that subset of artists with whom we agree politically -- and, frankly, hypocritical. "Shut up and entertain me" was never much of a concern if Ronald Reagan was the actor doing the talking, and it certainly seems odd that on the one hand the ravings of talk-radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh are apparently not to be taken seriously ("He's just an entertainer!") while the ravings of other people who actually are entertainers are to be treated with enormous gravity.

This post probably isn't very coherent, which I'll chalk up to the DayQuil. I'll leave off with this: owning a copy of Thriller doesn't make a person a nut-case, plastic-surgery-fetishizing weirdo with an unhealthy love of children. If you're a conservative, watching The West Wing is not the equivalent of sticking a "Martin Sheen for President" bumper sticker on your car. And if you're a liberal, enjoying T2: Judgment Day doesn't require you to religiously trace every negative event in world history since January 20, 1993 to Bill Clinton.

There's an old adage that I try to apply in my fiction writing: "If you want to send a message, use Western Union". I think the reverse applies as well. Let's stop limiting ourselves.

Stupid cold. Ugh. I'm torn between being annoyed that I'm sick on the first instance of nice weather in Syracuse since, well, September and my desire to take a big-ass drill bit, jam it into my sinuses, and spin it away.

I think I'll just make some tea and watch a few more movies. I already watched Say Anything, which just happens to be the best teen romance ever filmed. "I gave her my heart; she gave me a pen" has to be the single most succinct expression of total heartbreak ever uttered in a movie.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Just some very brief stuff today, because I'm nursing a cold.

:: Ah, Spring in Upstate New York -- when the ground enters that most beautiful intermediary state, between "snow-covered" and "grassy green". Otherwise known as "muddy quagmire".

:: We drove to Buffalo yesterday to do some apartment hunting. It sounds incredibly geeky, I suppose, especially given that we were gone for all of six months, but it was really good to see our once-and-future-haunts again.

:: Today's entrees on the liquid diet include green tea with honey, and copious amounts of DayQuil. I hope to be back on solids by dinnertime. My colds, fortunately, tend to be really rough for a single day and then I get better. I expect to be somewhat recovered by tomorrow.

:: CalPundit is on hiatus until Friday. I suppose he deserves a break. But I don't want to give him one. Oh well.

:: Sean is a NCAA b-ball fan, and he's got an online pool going. I'm refraining because my knowledge of such matters is so bad that I'd be tempted to write-in St. Bonaventure. But, people who are more aware on such matters might want to have a look.

:: I'm shocked! shocked! that Saddam Hussein rejected President Bush's ultimatum. So, it looks like it's time for bombs to start dropping. As others have noted, it's time to hope for the best. My general position is that while I agree with the necessity of the war, I look on the people running things and imagine what the country would look like if the South had waited to secede until Calvin Coolidge was President. This Administration's bungling attempts at diplomacy and nation-building do not particularly infuse me with confidence in what a post-war Iraq would look like -- rather the reverse, actually -- but the die is cast. President Bush has shown a certain fondness for poker metaphors lately, so here's one of my own: in the war itself, we're about to play our full house. Problem is, I can't help but suspect that when it comes to the post-war stuff, we'll be sitting on a pair of two's.

:: That's all for today. I'll try to be back tomorrow, and hopefully with the long-awaited continuation (heh) of "Attack of the Presidents".

Saturday, March 15, 2003

The following humorous anecdote appeared in my Inbox this morning, and I would be remiss in my duties as a blogger if I did not inflict it upon all nine of my unwitting readers. So, without ado of any kind:

:: Two Pirates, Black Jack and Capt Blood, meet up unexpectedly in a Jamaican bar...

"Blood!" says Jack, "I haven't seen you since we graduated from pirate school. You're looking fantastic, what with the wooden leg, parrot, hook and eye patch. You must be one hell of a great pirate, man."

"I'll be honest," replies Blood. "Most of this stuff's just due to stupid accidents, I'm not really a great pirate at all. I lost the leg trying to tie my ship up to a mooring in Plymouth. I'm such a dumb ass that I got the rope wrapped round my leg and pulled the sucker clean off. The parrot was just left to me by my great Aunt who left it to me as one of the conditions of her will."

"What about the hook?" said Jack, "surely that's the result of some epic battle?"

"No," Blood sighed, "I lost the hand in the galley, helping to prepare vegetables for the crew. Nothing piratical, I'm afraid."

"Hells Bells, man" said Jack. "But you look every inch the perfect pirate. At least tell me that you lost the eye to a musket shot!"

The Capt gave his old friend a one-eyed look of weary resignation. "Ah, Jack. I lost that eye when I was walking the fore deck at sea, looking up at the top mast rigging, where my men were setting the mainsail. A seagull did a shit right in my eye."

"You were blinded by seagull shit?!" exclaimed Jack.

"Of course not, I just hadn't got used to having a hook yet....."

The persons responsible for the preceding have been sacked.

Buffalo's NHL team, the Sabres, fell into serious trouble when their previous owner, John Rigas, fell into serious legal trouble of his own when his company, Adelphia, went bankrupt after one of those accounting-scandals of a year ago. Adelphia was once to be Buffalo's corporate savior, not just of the Sabres but of the city as a whole: there was going to be a big office tower built in downtown Buffalo to house the Adelphia corporate HQ, a construction project that was shrunk from forty stories to twelve and then canceled altogether. (The most recent developments have Adelphia jilting Buffalo altogether, in favor of moving to Denver.)

The Sabres were taken over by the NHL itself as a new buyer was sought; a guy named Mark Hamister was the front-runner but he wanted the city and state to pony up money for improvements to HSBC Arena, where the Sabres play. (This would have been mostly for parking, since the Arena is less than ten years old itself.) The city and state balked, and it looked as if potential owners from outside the Buffalo area -- who would likely have moved the team -- were going to be allowed to make offers.

However, in the last couple of days a deal for the Sabres' ownership was finally put together with B. Thomas Golisano, a billionaire from Rochester, NY whose main claim to fame is his quadrennial independent run for Governor of New York State. He has pledged to keep the Sabres in Buffalo, and he provides the franchise with financial footing that it hasn't enjoyed in a long time. I haven't followed the whole thing much, so I'm not sure why Golisano wasn't the front-runner in the first place. I'm also annoyed that Buffalo, through mismanagement, put itself in a position of having to keep the Sabres there -- because Buffalo owns and runs HSBC Arena, an expensive facility that would almost certainly have failed without the NHL team's presence on its calendar. For some reason, the Arena doesn't host nearly enough events. I find myself wondering why Buffalo, with this beautiful arena (and it is a fine facility), can't put together a bid to host, say, the NCAA Final Four, or perhaps the Figure Skating National Championships (or maybe even the World's). Part of Buffalo's problem is that they just seem too ready to settle for small, as opposed to thinking BIG once in a while.

Random notes on maintenance issues and such:

:: I updated "Other Journeys" at left to replace a couple of blogs that haven't been updated in many moons, and to add a few of the more heavily-frequented members of the left-wing blogosphere. I also added a link to my evil twin.

:: It strikes me as weird that I can walk into Wal-Mart or Target and, for the price of a single new, full-price music CD buy two movies on DVD, complete with extras and widescreen presentation. No wonder the music industry is in the toilet....and further evidence, from the classical world: Naxos, whose discs retail for around seven bucks, is really starting to outsell the bigger labels.

:: I'm not sure why, but I'm supposed to say Hello to a person named "Mieke". OK, here goes: Hi, Mieke. (By the way, I like the name "Mieke" and have every intention of stealing it for a future book or story.)

It's supposed to hit fifty degrees today in Syracuse. Wow. We've melted enough snow that brown patches of grass are beginning to show up.

My question is: how much snow must melt before the golf-freaks start using the course across the street?

It turns out that SDB is a one-time fan of the show Emergency!, that terrific 70s drama about the adventures of a pair of paramedics and their fire department, as well as the tribulations of some of the doctors at Rampart General. That was a great show, and I distinctly remember hustling home each day the year I was in second grade to catch the 4:00 re-run of the show on TV. (Which was followed at 5:00 by Star Trek.) Being that age, I had no idea that the show was partly mainstreaming the idea of paramedics. Who says TV is useless?

One of my favorite bits of Emergency! lore comes in the film Wayne's World, which many people assume to be just a dumb teen-type comedy -- but it's full of jokes that only people of a certain age could possibly get, such as when the perpetually-drunk background character is about to "spew", and Wayne yells, "We've got to get him to Rampart!" When I saw that movie in the theater, at that moment everyone over the age of twenty laughed, and the kids just kind of tittered along, the way they do when they're in the presence of something funny but they don't get it.

For some reason, the episode of Emergency! that always sticks out in my brain is one where the guys respond to a call where a person who has eaten something like nineteen hamburgers for a contest has passed out. One of the guys says, "Well, I guess he won", whereupon another guy standing nearby says, "Nah, I did. I ate twenty." The paramedic asks, "OK, how do you feel?" and the guy kind of shrugs and says, "Kind of full."

Thursday, March 13, 2003

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Some people want to build the item pictured here as a shrine to the Virgin Mary on Buffalo's waterfront. This arch would become the tallest structure in Buffalo, dwarfing the current tallest building -- the HSBC center -- by more than one hundred feet.

Politics and the abortion debate aside (this arch is intended as a shrine for pro-life Catholics), on aesthetic grounds I oppose this thing. I can't think of something more garish and dumb-looking than this item, looming over Lake Erie and the entire city. I don't expect it to ever get built, but then, I don't expect a lot of things.

I'm going to allow my Ebay auctions to lapse until our impending move is complete. But it will be the same batch of books, so if for some unknown reason the teeming masses of Byzantium's Shores readers are waiting to pick up one of these volumes, well, they'll be back.

(EDIT: Actually, I'll keep them going because I've just learned that the move isn't to take place for a couple of weeks yet.)

Of all the various human behaviors that one can observe in the great spectrum of activity that our species has to offer, one of the most awe-inspiring is the ability of some to, when they see one group of people acting like idiots, respond with a hearty "Hey, I can be an even bigger idiot than them folks!".

So if we're going to use government funds for this, hell, let's just track down Doc Brown and his Delorean so we can go back in time and keep those soldiers from dying over there in the first place. Or, failing that (since Doc's a fictional character and all), maybe we can take some government money and use it to melt this minor token of France's onetime affection down and use the metal to make bullets for use in Iraq.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

(On Screen): One of SDB's favorite past-times is to examine a left-wing, generally anti-war, argument and identify what he perceives to be a commission of one of the "informal logical fallacies" within the argument's construction -- Tu quoque, perhaps, or more usually a "strawman", wherein one argues against a formulation of an opponent's view that isn't entirely accurate, in hopes that the terms can be shifted. So it's interesting to look down to his "Updates" that follow the article, where he links to various people who have commented on this particular post. Grouping several left-wing comments together, SDB says this:

Update: Ted Barlow and Kieran Healy and Tom Bogg comment. (Bottom line: I'm a raving paranoid. The French are really our best friends; they're actually better friends than the Brits.) Atrios, too. And Kevin Drum.


That snarky comment of his in the middle is intriguing. Following each of these links, I find that each of these bloggers does, in fact, think that SDB is, to put it mildly, a bit off his rocker in this post. (I tend to agree. I mean, he actually wonders here about the possibility of France launching a nuclear strike against the United States, for God's sake.) But, not one of the linked bloggers says anything at all defending France's status as an ally, or comes within a San Diego mile of suggesting, in even the most veiled terms, that France is a better ally than the British. Talk about a Strawman.

(By the way, I find it interesting that warbloggers of every stripe will engage in just about any kind of conspiracy-theory they can concoct in their attempts to explain France's opposition to the upcoming war -- France is secretly allied with Saddam! France has given Saddam the raw materials for his weapons! Chirac and Saddam are genetic twins! France may nuke us to keep their complicity in Iraq secret! -- but if anyone on the left suggests that maybe, just maybe, the Bush Administration's motivation for war in Iraq isn't solely based on Goodness and Virtue and Striking A Blow For All That Is Good In The World, well, that's just crazy talk!!!

An almost-certain war, deficits spiraling to scary levels, millions of citizens without health insurance, homeland security concerns, rising unemployment (including yours truly), an economy that is teetering on the edge of plopping right back into recession....

....and yet, it seems that some of our Congressmen need something better with which to occupy their stress-addled brains.

Instead of "Freedom Fries" and "Liberty Toast", I propose more accurate names: "Stupid-and-useless-measure-by-a-mental-midget Fries" and "Twits-with-entirely-too-much-responsibility-and-time-on-their-hands Toast".



Fort Drum, New York, is about seventy miles north of Syracuse. Nearly everything that happens there makes the local news, including each time a large number of men stationed there has shipped out for the Middle East. I even had to stop at a railroad crossing twice while living here while long trains carrying military equipment rolled by, no doubt heading northward for Fort Drum. Somehow, having a fairly large military base nearby makes the reality of impending war all the more real.

Yesterday, a Blackhawk helicopter -- like the one picture above -- carrying thirteen men out of Fort Drum crashed.

As I write this, the number of dead has not been released.

The military is a dangerous business, no matter how far away you are from the front lines. These were men who chose to serve their country, and that they died in a patch of Upstate New York woods as opposed to the sands of Iraq in no way changes this.

I started planning my freelance copywriting business late last summer, and I finally decided to take the plunge in late August, writing my initial draft of a sales letter and ordering business cards, imprinted with my name and contact information. Within days of getting the cards in the mail, my wife was offered a promotion and transfer to Syracuse, which rendered a box of 250 business cards useless.

So, after living here for a little while, I finally decided to get going on my freelance copywriting business again. I rewrote my sales letter, crafted a brochure and reply cards for my informational packet, and began combing the Central New York Business Journal and the Central New York Book of Lists for contacts. I even sent out my first mailing -- sixty letters, ten days ago. All well and good...

...except a few weeks ago I went ahead and replaced the now-useless business cards I had printed in Buffalo, this time with my Syracuse contact information.

Yesterday, my wife's Area Director calls her at home.

(Do I need to finish this story?)

Anyway, it's looking very probable that we're moving back to the Buffalo area sometime in the next two weeks. So, at some point -- I'll announce it when it happens -- Byzantium's Shores will go on hiatus for a short while. (Last time it was about ten days or so.)

I don't think I'll miss Syracuse very much -- it's simply not as big a town as we want to inhabit, and my love of winter has been really tested here. I will miss the big shopping mall here, which is bigger than the biggest of Buffalo's malls; and I grew to really love our suburb's public library.The weird thing is that the apartment complex to which we are most likely moving is about five minutes from the one we left back in September...so six months and two moves later, we will have functionally moved the total distance of about five miles.

Life's just weird.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Remember that mind-blowing educational film Powers of Ten? Well, there's a Flash version of it online. And it's still mindblowing. Watching it always makes me want to say in my best Keanu voice, "Whoa...."

(Courtesy of Aaron, who's entirely too smart to not have a blog of his own.)

Each year, NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday does a three-part series in which they profile the year's Oscar-nominated film scores. Part One was yesterday. I haven't heard all of the scores this year -- in fact, I've heard only two (Road to Perdition and Catch Me If You Can) -- but I'm rooting for Elmer Bernstein and his score for Far From Heaven. Bernstein is the current dean of film music composers. (I do think that James Newton Howard's score to Signs should have been nominated, probably in place of Catch Me If You Can, which I don't even think was John Williams's best score of last year.)

Shamelessly filched from MeFi is this very impressive gallery of big ships encountering bigger waves. It's always worthwhile to remind ourselves of Mother Nature's ability to give us puny humans a bit of a bitch-slap.

ATTACK OF THE PRESIDENTS, part III. (in which I ratchet up the "weirdness")

INTERIOR: The Great Throne Room, Rigel IX.

Enter the Emperor HSUB EROG and his Councilor, WEHTTAM SENOJ. EROG is holding a long, thin object in his hand and studying it.

EROG: I'm not sure I understand what this is.

SENOJ: It is a cigar, sir. I don't think you should have accepted it.

EROG: Oh, rubbish. She's just an intern. How much harm can she be?

SENOJ: Well, none, I suppose. You're right.

EROG: So, tell me about the next United States President.

SENOJ: Ah, yes. President Andrew Shepherd was elected after President Marshall was forced to withdraw from the race. Shepherd was elected on a very slim majority, but after three years in office he had built up enough good will that a poll of his people gave him approval ratings of 63 percent.

EROG: By the Seven Gods, they still take polls on Earth?

SENOJ: Yes, sire. They have never succumbed to the need to expel all pollsters from the planet surface and into undersea caves.

EROG: Reckless Earthers!

SENOJ: Tell me about it.

EROG: Back to Shepherd.

SENOJ: Yes. He decided to focus his administration's energies on a massive crime bill for which there was lukewarm support in the legislature. At the same time, a sweeping environmental bill also came up for consideration, which was lobbied by a very beautiful woman named Sydney.

EROG: Isn't that one of their cities?

SENOJ: Yes, sire. Australian enclave. It was also a common person's name.

EROG: Sydney. Hmmmm….so the President squared off against this lobbyist? I hope he killed her and left her head on the gates as a warning to future lobbyists.

SENOJ: Ummm…they don't do that on Earth, sire.

EROG: Who do they behead?

SENOJ: No one. Well, not since the people in the French enclave did so on a regular basis. But the Earthers have come to view the people of the French enclave with some suspicion.

EROG: Oh, yes! They're the ones who built that extensive line of fortresses but pointed them all the same direction, yes? So the invading force from…Germany, I think…could simply go around?

SENOJ: Yes, precisely. That, and their abnormally high level of cheese consumption, which some conspiracy-minded Earthers think is behind their refusal to go along with certain political actions.

EROG: No, no – let's not talk about that. It gives me a headache.

SENOJ: So that's why you've been ignoring all of the reports that the commander of our Earth-based monitors has been filing on a daily basis?

EROG: Who can read all that? What we need are reliable summaries.

SENOJ: We tried that, Sire, but I'm afraid his head exploded.

EROG: Strange…but back to President Shepherd. How did he deal with this impudent lobbyist?

SENOJ: He invited her to be his companion at a grand celebration – for the President of the French enclave, I might mention – and then, in a series of encounters, fell in love with her.

EROG: (slapping forehead) Oh, no….

SENOJ: Yes. His polling numbers began falling almost immediately, and his likely rival for the upcoming election began scoring blows in a series of personal attacks.

EROG: I suppose Shepherd didn't have this man executed, either?

SENOJ: Earthers tend to be selective in their executions. Well, except for the Texas enclave.

EROG: You said that last time.

SENOJ: Oh. In any event, Shepherd appeared to flounder. His legislative agenda nearly collapsed, and he offered no response to the character attacks. Finally he was convinced to salvage his crime bill by scuttling his lover's environmental legislation.

EROG: (clapping his tentacles) Yes! Now there's a President!

SENOJ: Not so fast. After a brief but nasty argument with the woman – in which she trounced him, basically – he spent the night in his office. We have video surveillance of the whole thing via one of our probes that has never been detected. I've distilled the basics down to the material on this vid-disk, along with some appropriate musical accompaniment for the sad parts.

(He hands EROG a disk.)

EROG: I'll watch it later, I suppose. So what happened?

SENOJ: Shepherd interrupted a standard briefing of the planetary news organizations the next day to deliver a rather caustic speech which invigorated the President's political base and terrified his opposition. His newly-crafted legislative agenda passed the legislative body, and his polling numbers reached near unanimity as he headed for re-election.

EROG: And--?

SENOJ: Strangely, Shepherd decided not to run again at the last moment.

EROG: (slaps forehead again) What is it with these Earthers? Don't they know that power is to be held onto until one's dying gasp? Why would he do such a thing?

SENOJ: Publicly, he said that it was because he wanted to marry the lobbyist and form a life outside of the political world. Privately, he was quoted as saying, "Hey, I got this great looking redhead. Who needs to be President?"

EROG: He quit for a woman.

SENOJ: Yes.

EROG: He quit for a woman?!

SENOJ: Well, your father quit for a woman.

EROG: Shut up.

SENOJ: Come to think of it, your father gave up power voluntarily—

EROG: Quiet!

SENOJ: And now he lives on a farm—

EROG: I can't hear you! LA-LA-LA-LA

SENOJ: Oh, well….

EROG: So what happened after Shepherd? Was his opponent elected?

SENOJ: No, actually. It was another close election, but the new President was the former Governor of the New Hampshire enclave. Strangely, he bore a striking resemblance to President Shepard's Chief-of-Staff.

EROG: That is odd.

SENOJ: And polls taken after the election revealed that the American citizenry simply didn't want as President someone who looked suspiciously like Roy Neary.

EROG: Neary? Oh. Well, I can hear more about the next President tomorrow.

SENOJ: Yes, sire.

EROG: Oh, by the way, whatever did become of Roy Neary? Did he like the tour of the Universe we gave him?

SENOJ: He gave it high marks, sire, although he's been requesting to be taken back to Earth.

EROG: The answer's no.

SENOJ: Understood, sire.

EROG: Remember what happened last time we tried sending someone back after we took him away….

SENOJ: I told you that he was a bad choice for abduction, sire. Just a few months ago he dangled his child from a balcony….

EROG: You mean, Earth babies don't bounce the way Rigellian ones do?

To Be Continued….