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

Thursday, July 31, 2003

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Shipwreck in the Black Sea, discovered by Robert Ballard and dated to the fifth century AD.

If I had to name the person with the most purely fascinating career of the last fifty years, I'd probably flip a coin between Carl Sagan and Robert Ballard. Ballard is most famous for finding shipwrecks, but he has also made great contributions to our understanding of undersea environments and the archeological bounty the seas hold.

The Black Sea is special because there is no free oxygen in its water below 200M, meaning that the wood-eating microorganisms that thus destroy wooden ships that sink in other seas and oceans are not found here; thus, sunken wooden vessels in the Black Sea can last much, much longer -- thousands of years, in fact -- than they would in any other sea. The Black Sea is also of interest because of its location and the possibility that it may have played a part in what eventually became the legend of Noah's Flood, as well as the flood legends found in nearly every ancient culture.

Now, what I really want Ballard to find is Flight #19....

Also, Ballard gave CNN interview about the search for ships in the Black Sea.

This week has seen many screenings of The Little Mermaid in our domicile. It's decent, although it's not my favorite Disney movie -- to this day, it feels like a dress rehearsal for Beauty and the Beast, which was the next one they made and is still the high-point of Disney's current "silver age". The songs are the best thing about it, really. (And to this day I have a creepy association with Ursula the Sea Witch, who bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the professors in my college's music department while I was there.)

That's all I have to say, really, about The Little Mermaid.

ESPN's tour of all the MLB ballparks today hits the granddaddy of the current retro-ballpark craze: Camden Yards.

It's kind of too bad they're not doing AAA ballparks as well, because Buffalo's is a gem, even if it's on its third name (Dunn Tire Park) since it opened (originally Pilot Field, than North AmeriCare Park).

Oh, hell, as long as I'm on this big SDB kick, I recall a post of his from a few months back when he made fun of the Germans because they were proposing the taxation of brothels. (To be fair, his post seems more aimed at taxation-minded bureaucrats than at German taxation-minded bureaucrats.) Well, the idea had already come up....in Nevada.

(No, I don't know why I remember that particular SDB post. It just stuck in my brain, for some reason.)

While I'm talking about current political memes, there's another one floating around the right-side of the politico-verse that's starting to really bug me: it's the idea that those of us on the left, failing to be properly impressed with the way things are going, are not seeing what's obviously, objectively, and rationally true, but are instead actively hoping for bad things to happen because we think it will help us get Democrats elected next time out.

This is stupid, asinine, and obnoxious hogwash.

My belief that President Bush's economic policies are not doing much to alleviate problems in the economy right now, and that they are further likely to cause some serious problems down the road, does not mean that I'm hoping the American economy stays in the toilet. (Yeah, I know, the recession has been declared "officially over" as of eighteen months or so ago. I don't care. As long as the GDP grows but my own wallet shrinks, my own counsel will I keep on the state of the economy, to paraphrase Yoda.) Believe me, I'll be happy as a pig in a dunghill if the economy generates nine million new jobs between today and next November.

And ditto on the war. I'm tired of seeing people who don't think that things are going just swimmingly in Iraq being portrayed as irrational boobs. (SDB is getting pretty obnoxious on this front.) I'm not hoping that this war turns out to be a disaster, and I'm tired of seeing people I agree with being called "irrational", "illogical", "out to lunch", or whatever other euphemism for "stupid" you can think of just because we happen to think that the WMD-rationale, and the lack of actual weapons, is important after all; that the looting of the Iraqi National Museum really did happen; that the continued guerilla actions constitute both a continuation of hostilities (despite what the President may have said in his Busby Berkeley-style photo op two months ago) and and indicative of a curious lack of planning on the part of the people in charge.

Just because I see plenty of potential for bad news does not imply that I want to see bad news, and I'd like it if conservatives would stop acting as though I (and people on my side of the fence) do.

A common meme in American political discourse is that our country is divided sharply between the liberal, Democratic outposts of the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Pacific Coast, with virtually everything in the middle being solidly conservative Republican. This is commonly demonstrated by simply referring to the electoral map in the 2000 election:



But, the truth -- as is always the case -- is more complicated than that, and indicates that we're not as split an electorate as some might insist. The 2002 election results, which resulted in a pretty even split in Congress despite the conventional wisdom that the Democrats suffered a massive bloodbath, bears this out. If you instead combine the percentages of "red" and "blue" -- say, assigning 54% red and 46% blue to Ohio, just to make up an example off the top of my head -- you end up with what Brad DeLong calls "a purple nation". Check this out:



And, for Republicans who like to think that all that geographical space in their red area is impressive (or for Democrats who look at their tiny little blue area and suffer some kind of Freudian envy), there's this map in which state size is represented by the number of electoral votes.



(Crossposted to Collaboratory.)

Over on Collaboratory, we've stolen some game from MeFi or some such place where you simply go into the comments and use the last word of the last post as an anagram for the sentence of your new post. Got it?

Me either....but it makes for some funny-looking sentences. Join the fun. Or not.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Dominion managed to really get under someone's skin.

What I found funniest was that the guy who's goat has been so thoroughly gotten by Dominion* can't refrain from taking a lame, cheap shot at some hobby of Dominion's that Dominion has never maintained was anything more than a fun hobby. Hilarious....imagine Howard Dean, debating President Bush in fall of 2004, saying something like, "Mr. Bush's policies are terrible -- and Mr. Bush can't ride a Segway!" He'd be laughed off the stage.

*This may be the worst clause, in grammatical terms, that I have ever created.

I recall an episode of MASH in which Klinger described one of his plots to convince the Army that he's too crazy to stay in Korea: "I tried shooting off my own toe, but my foot won't stand still." Well, our civic leaders in Buffalo sure don't have that problem. Sometimes I wonder if Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello spends his spare time painting bullseyes on his own feet for target practice, or perhaps placing rakes carefully around his home so that he steps on them and thus causes them to swing up and whack him in the nose. It sometimes seems this way.

As I've noted before, the Seneca Nation of Indians wants to open a casino in the Buffalo area (they already have on in Niagara Falls, thirty miles north). They were looking for a downtown location, but the one they wanted -- Buffalo's convention center -- was taken off the table by the County Executive (Joel Giambra, a guy who vacillates between making really good decisions and really dumb ones), so this week the Senecas announced that they now preferred to put a casino not in downtown Buffalo but in the suburb of Cheektowaga, which happens to be the location of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. This is a suburban location that actually makes sense, because there's no way that a casino will spark the kind of economic development that is needed downtown, but it might give a boost to the slumping hotel market around the airport and spark the creation of a Metro-rail line* from downtown to the airport.

Well, Masiello and Giambra are so sold on the idea of a casino sparking development that now they're suggesting Buffalo's waterfront as a site.

Yup. That's exactly what the waterfront needs: a self-contained casino where gamblers need never go outside to eat, drink, or anything else. That's just the way to take advantage of Buffalo's proximity to water.

Many fantasy readers seriously dislike Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. This ongoing saga, whose shortest volume is 650 pages, now tips the scales at ten volumes, with no end remotely in sight. I sort of liked the first book, but then I stopped about 150 pages into the second, because I'm not that fast of a reader and I simply didn't want to invest the time in what I knew to be a gargantuan series.

But this person hates The Wheel of Time. I mean, he really hates it.

Over at TF/N, there's a pointer to one of their discussion forums, a thread posing this question: What would make you walk out of the theater during Episode III?

Well, I can't speak for any of my readers, but this parody poster would do it for me.

This morning's headlines:

:: Memo Warns of New Hijack Plots

:: Air Marshals Pulled From Key Flights

Well....allrighty, then.

UPDATE: A new headline appeared just now: Flip-flop on Air Marshal Schedules. I'm glad that wisdom has prevailed.

(Cross-posted to Collaboratory.)

Few things nauseate me more than anti-homosexual prejudice. The fact that Senator Rick Santorum, for example, could say some very noxious things about gays a few months ago, and suffer almost nothing by way of consequence, shames me.

But even so, I'm really not sure that we should have entire schools for gay students. This kind of thing strikes me as strange. A proper appreciation for diversity, it seems to me, would not endorse this kind of thing, especially after "separate but equal" was dismantled as official policy so many years ago.

(Michael Lopez also minces some words on this.)

The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.

Bara, the Icelandic web-designer whose journal I've been following, has posted some new pictures of herself, looking utterly radiant. Why on Earth people think that Britney Spears is good looking, I'll never know. My own tastes run much more to elegance and class, as opposed to titillation. But that's just me, and I grant that it's pretty much of a losing battle.

SDB has a new blogroll, and once again, I'm not on it. Harumph. It's probably because, while I -- like Steven -- am a Jacksonian, my focus is on Peter Jackson, not Andrew Jackson.

(No, I don't know if making lame jokes whenever SDB updates his blogroll is to be a tradition of mine. We'll see. I do think that this lame joke isn't quite as lame as the last one.)

They're aiming for the lights!

People who work in law enforcement tend to be, well, "masters of the obvious". Never was this more clear to me than when I was driving along in my 1984 VW Rabbit, which was then on its last legs, and the hood actually blew open. I pulled over (of course), and just as I was getting out of the car to push the hood back down so I could complete the drive home (luckily, I was only half a mile away), a New York State Trooper comes by, stops, rolls down his window, and says, "Is there a problem here?"

I'm thinking of this right now because of this news item from Scotland, linked by Warren Ellis, in which Edinburgh detectives describe the death of a local man -- whose body was found fully clothed, stuffed into a suitcase, and submerged in a local waterway -- as "suspicious".

(Yes, that headline is a movie quote, in a tipping-of-the-hat to Sir Matthew the Not Quite So Brave As Sir Robin, who likes to use movie quotes as his own headlines.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

You know, I don't agree with SDB all that often, and I do think that he tends at times to set up strawmen in his attacks on "leftists", but in general I do find him engaging. He usually gives me something to think about, even if it's only to think about how I think he's stone wrong, and even if he does take a ridiculous number of words to do it (but even in that regard, he's not nearly as bad as this guy). Maybe I'm just not well-informed enough to understand exactly, but I don't quite get why the general reaction to him on the left side of Blogistan seems to be blanket dismissal. Could someone let me know just what it is I'm missing here?

I realized today that you don't see many Quonset huts anymore.



I remember, when I was a kid during the 1970s, I used to see them a lot -- mechanics' garages, independent food markets, feed stores, et cetera would use them. I even recall a suburban movie theater that was inside a Quonset hut. (It was a second-run house; I never saw a movie there, but I've always wondered what the acoustics were like.) But I suppose they went away eventually, since they were never intended as permanent structures to begin with, and other, cheap methods of construction have been developed.

I only mention this because today I was driving on a Buffalo street that I've driven, literally, for years -- and I realized that a building I've driven past countless times in that span is, behind its faux facade, a Quonset hut.

I was hoping that Mickey had not forgotten to share the results of this experiment.

Taking note of this (by way of Gregory), I think that someone in charge needs to read The Once and Future King.

"And then I shall make the oath of the Order that Might is only to be used for Right...."

At around eleven o'clock this morning, my novel began its trek eastward to New York City to find its fortune. Of course, it's only a portion-and-outline and not an entire manuscript, but I'm thinking that the lack of flab compared with all the other full manuscripts out there will help it stand out.

As the envelope containing the three chapters and outline hit the bottom of the mail basket, sporting its spiffy new postage label, its contents could be heard distinctly singing: "If I can make it there, I'm gonna make it anywhere....", until a pile of pithy greeting cards were dumped on top of it, each of them saying, "Shut up, you."

It's a hard life, I guess, being a manuscript...but even as I send him out into the cold, cruel world, I take solace in the fact that at least he's not just a bill.



Holy Crap!

In writing the sports-related post below, I indulged in a bit of comic-book trivia hipness, and I had to go look for a link to support it. In so doing, I came across www.marveldirectory.com, which is apparently exactly what the name suggests: an online version of those grand old Official Guide to the Marvel Universe comics. I haven't done much digging here -- well, none at all, actually -- but it's just gotta be cool. Check it out!

Sports stuff:

:: Ah, July....when ballparks across the nation are alive with the sound of the grilling of hot dogs, the crack of bats, the creaking of thirty-six year old relievers' knees, and....the Pittsburgh Pirates having a fire sale. Come one, come all!

Peter Gammons says it's not so much a firesale as coming to grips with a failed rebuilding project, and maybe he's right, but this is getting pretty frustrating, nonetheless. Since 1993 this is, by my count, the third failed rebuilding undertaken by the Pirates, and this is the one that was supposed to work -- a new park last year and solid, young players coming of age were suppose to add to a run at .500 this year. Instead, the Pirates once again return from the All-Star Break to play out the string. (Gammons also identifies owner Kevin McClatchy as the Pirates' General Manager, which is odd considering that the actual GM's picture -- Dave Littlefield -- appears right next to the graf in question.)

:: Ah, July....when college athletic fields across the nation are alive with the sound of NFL players enduring the dreaded two-a-days, except the ones smart enough to hold out until after two-a-days are over. ("Two-a-days" refers to the early days of training camps, when practices are held twice daily. They are dreaded by players.) I won't be doing my second annual NFL Preview Post until much closer to the actual start of the regular season, but still -- it's getting closer, baby! News on the NFL's proudest franchise, the Buffalo Bills, can be found here. Go Bills!

(By the way, one of the many new faces this year is defensive line coach Tim Krumrie, whom I remember for his godawful injury in Super Bowl XXIII, when he played for the Bengals. This was one of those Joe Theismann-like leg breakings, where the extremity bends in a direction that would be painful for Reed Richards, and of course is replayed over-and-over by the network....)

:: In a column extolling the wonderment that is Lance Armstrong (AOL exclusive, so I can't link it, sadly), sports writer John Feinstein makes this larger point:

Those who mock bike racing and claim it is somehow not a "real" sport should try someday to ride a bike straight up a mountain in searing heat for 100 miles or so. Beyond that, there's simply no need for those who aren't fans of the sport to mock it or attempt to belittle it.

The constant bickering among sports fans about which sport is better or tougher or more dramatic strikes me as silly. Every sport has a niche and a component to it that draws those who love it to care about it. I don't pretend to understand cricket, but seeing the passion of those who do, I respect the passion and understand enough to know that to play it at the highest level takes great skill.

The flip side of the argument is that it is equally foolish for those who do love a sport to put down those who don’t. If you love soccer and see beauty and artistry in a 0-0 tie, that's wonderful. But to claim that those who don't see the game the same way as you are somehow inferior makes no sense at all.



Indeed.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Brad DeLong looks about for a left-wing analogue to Andrew Sullivan, in terms of disconnect with reality, and comes up with...Noam Chomsky. Now, I'm not nearly familiar enough with Chomsky to know if this is a good comparison, but that in itself strikes me as interesting. I'm not the most active leftist out there, but I'm reasonably informed, and yet I have absolutely no idea where I'd go if I wanted to read Chomsky's regular political thinking, whereas Sullivan is quite easy to find. I don't recall ever seeing Kevin Drum, Atrios, Matthew Yglesias, or any of the other left-wing biggies whom I read regularly cite a Chomsky essay or book, and I don't see Chomsky's name mentioned much on the op-ed page unless someone wants to throw his name out there as the standard far-left bogeyman. Just who is it that's taking Chomsky so seriously, anyway?

It's that time again: FilmWise has some new quizzes up. I plug this site every few months, because it's just so much fun!

A couple of notes resulting from two recent posts over at Reflections in d minor:

:: Lynn gives several choice quotes from Sir Thomas Beecham, one of the finest orchestra conductors to ever come out of England. Beecham was one of those erudite wits who seem to breed like rabbits in England. I first read about Beecham in Harold Schonberg's book The Great Conductors (now out of print, I believe), and two of the Beecham quotes related by Schonberg have stayed with me years after reading that book.

To a trombone player Beecham suspected of lackadaisical effort: "Are you certain that you are producing as much sound as is possible from that piece of antiquated plumbing which you are applying to your face?"

And to a tenor while rehearsing an operatic love-making scene: "Observing your grave, deliberate motions, I am reminded of that quintessential quadruped, the hedgehog."

:: Lynn also points to an article denoting the stages of classical music collecting. These stages really do exist - - I've had to explain to other people just why I own five different recordings of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, for example - - and it certainly is true that after you spend a number of years exploring music far and wide, you do return to the Beethoven symphonies or the Bach Masses or the Mozart concertos or the Strauss tone poems and recognize them anew for the works of genius they are.

What differentiates some collectors, in my view, is how willing they are to roam afield. Some classical collectors will pretty much stick to the Germanic symphonic tradition, and restrict their "roaming afield" to lesser works by the greats in that one tradition. Others will take in more - - adding the Russian Nationalist tradition, or the English tradition, or French Impressionism, or twentieth century serialism, and so on. Still others will divulge even farther afield, taking in film music as well, and trying to come to grips with that genre's peculiar set of demands and constraints. Or you can note the rise of nationalism in classical music, and delve therefore into the folk and native traditions on which the nationalist schools are based, thus coming to study Celtic and world music. And then one can leave Western cultures entirely, and take in the fascinating world of Asian classical music as well. Or one can move forward instead of backward, and see how Celtic music has influenced American folk music, and then country and rock in turn.

Many collectors tend to be insular, deciding that once they've reached a certain point, they're happy to set up their boundaries and stay within them, achieving a depth of familiarity with a relatively small number of works. Others take a much wider approach, preferring to know a smattering about a wide variety of music. Both approaches work, and it's a shame that often members of each camp will look down on the other.

Somehow I totally missed this, but congratulations to Yar on the occasion of his successful spawning. (Actually, his wife probably had more to do with it.)

Out of Lascaux should be back to normal posting, I assume, now that Alexandra's done with her math test. But reading her update, just the phrase "Factoring of polynomials" is enough to send me into shivers. My high school algebra teacher was a nice guy, and he really was a pretty good teacher. But he had one odd failing that manifested when I choked on polynomials at the outset: he assumed that my sudden tanking on a couple of tests meant that I wasn't doing the homework, and proceeded to impose a daily checking of my homework under threat of detention if it wasn't done. I had been doing it, but for me, polynomials were one of those things that upon first encounter is rather like Roy Neary's first encounter with the alien spaceship in Close Encounters, without the sunburn on the right side of my face. It was his personal attention and help with the subject that got me up to speed (and once I got there, I was fine), not his Draconian "You're a slacker!" bit.

I'm not sure I had a point here, but there it is. I report, you decide, if you haven't nodded off first.

Joseph Duemer has some neat photos posted of doors in Hanoi. That's right, doors. And they're beautiful.





Bob Hope was never much on my radar screen, for some reason. I haven't seen any of his movies (strange, since my parents have always loved Bing Crosby), and when he was on TV with regular specials, he never made much of an impression on me. But still, it's sad to see him go.

(I learned of Hope's passing on The Today Show this morning, when the guy who did the news headlines -- not Matt Lauer or Al Roker, but some other guy who's been on NBC for a while but whose name I can never recall -- suddenly said, "We're just learning that Bob Hope is dead. We'll have details later on." Cut to commercial. I don't know -- I understand why they did it this way, but it just seems a tad heartless, you know?)

Sunday, July 27, 2003

This just in: This guy is amazing.



In an addendum to my post below about the Gene Wolfe fracas, a LiveJournal user named Natalia Lincoln who was apparently there posts her version of what happened, along with a follow-up. What I found interesting was a collection of "rules" or "guidelines" for writing that are apparently from Mr. Wolfe, and I'm stealing them for use here:

1. Live. Have life experiences. Ride horses. Fly planes. Travel.

2. Learn to read. How does the other writer do it? Play with their idea: switch POVs or settings around. Evaluate it: did the writer fail/succeed?

3. Read the markets you're submitting to.

4. Learn to write (Strunk, Transitive Vampire, etc.)

5. Don't worry about what the reader will think of you personally, worry about making yourself perfectly clear.

6. Don't write sentences like ad copy.

7. Read the type of material you mean to write, for a wide range of ages, levels of seriousness, audiences, classics.

8. Don't read endless series.

9. Find a quiet place to write.

10. Writing time: aim at writing at least one hour a day. What will you give up to get this? Sleep? Social time? TV? For 28 years, Wolfe held down a day job, mechanical engineer, and still wrote.

11. Come to grips with the fact that you're not going to be able to write at the same time & place all the time. Adjust and keep going. Writing on a train is great.

12. You will need a computer/typewriter, dictionary and a wastebasket, and printing and mailing supplies.

13. When you correct galleys, use a colored pen, not black.

14. Write your ideas down as they occur to you. Make notes more detailed than you think you need to be.

15. Initial situations are easy. You don't have a story until you have an ending. Furthermore, you don't have a story until you write it.

16. No amount of planning, world-building, etc. constitutes a story. Don't spend more than an hour researching/planning a short story, or a day on a book, before you begin. Only by writing do you find out what you need.

17. Don't mirror your outline or your research. You made it, or found it, you can change it.

18. Writers' groups can be good or bad depending on who's in the group. Creative writing classes are the same, only they cost more. Find out who the teacher is; that's important.

19. Writer's Digest is for people who haven't published a word. Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop online is better. Kathleen Woodbury, editor.

20. Network. Odyssey is good. Get to know the local bookstores, and who works in them. Go to cons (esp. World Fantasy Con, in DC this year). WorldCon used to be good, but it's so big now it's hard to find the right people. You can find valuable friends at these cons.

21. Get to know the fans, but esp. get to know the editors, agents, writers. Sit up front and ask questions. To get into the green room, ask if you can help.

22. Collect all the best writing advice you've ever gotten.

23. Prepare to be able to teach. Study until you know it backwards, forwards, and upside-down.

24. It's easy for you as the writer/teacher to tell people how to write. What's hard is getting them to believe you.

25. Know the rules, and if you must break them, have a good reason to.

26. Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line. (OK, I added that one myself.)

I don't know if Mr. Wolfe actually outlined these rules in precisely this form, or if this is just Miss Lincoln's distillation of lecture notes. But they're still pretty interesting.

Hmmm....it occurs to me that part of my current anxiety may stem not just from my increasing frustration with matters economic, but from the more prosaic fact that I haven't been listening to much music lately.

A lot of my recent writing efforts have taken place not at my regular desk (where I was doing my rough-drafts in longhand, and where I have a nine-year-old Sony Discman that's still going strong), but at the computer, where I don't have a Discman. But the computer does do MP3s...and I did buy, some months ago, an extension cord that would make it easier for me to plug headphones into the computer.

Anyway, right now I have John Barry's score to The Lion In Winter playing on the big stereo while I edit an old essay, and I'm just happy as a rat in liverwurst (to pinch a metaphor from Stephen King).

If you want a breakdown as to what's going to appear in the Extended Edition of The Two Towers when it arrives on DVD later this fall, check out AICN's story.

WARNING: Unsightly whining coming up.

Great googly-moogly*, I know that Saturdays are always my worst days for traffic around here -- so much so that I take a lot of Saturdays off from posting entirely -- but less than thirty hits yesterday?! That's just cruel!

* Where does the phrase "Great googly-moogly" come from, anyway?

Frustration is getting your novel outline done, printing it out with the first three chapters, printing out the cover letter, getting the whole package nice and ready...and then discovering that your large manila envelopes aren't big enough for all that stuff. Gah!

So it's off to OfficeMax today to grab a set of bigger envelopes, and then tomorrow, this thing's out the door. It's a moderately strange feeling, actually sending out something that I started noodling with nearly seven years ago (and whose central story idea came to me several years before that). But it's not as strange a feeling as I might have expected, since I've already moved on to other things.

Apparently there was a recent fracas of sorts at the Odyssey Fantasy Writers Workshop recently: fantasist and SF-writer extraordinaire Gene Wolfe apparently gave some fairly caustic criticism to a few stories, and the resulting brouhaha led to Wolfe's bowing out of the workshop. Wolfe wrote his side of the story in LOCUS Magazine, and John Scalzi has a long missive on the subject on his blog.

I've never even considered going to Clarion or Odyssey or anything like it. Not because I'm arrogant and think I have nothing to learn; were that the truth, I'd have something other than a drawer full of rejections to show for my efforts. And not because I'm timid about my writing; I send it out, after all, and occasionally I post pieces of my fiction here, if I decide they've "expired" (i.e., I've decided that they're simply not salable, and I don't just want them sitting in a drawer with their rejections). I don't do the writers' group/workshop thing because they strike me as fairly neurotic. I decided a long time ago that the main way I would measure myself as a writer was by selling my work, and not by seeking camaraderie with other unpublished writers. I guess that, for some, this could mean that I'm a shill who's only in it for the money. So be it, really. Time spent sitting around talking sagely about someone else's stories is time I'm not spending writing my own stories (blog posts and GMR reviews aside), but that's not even the main problem. For me, the weight of producing something on a deadline simply so it can be criticized by a bunch of peers would be the death-knell for my writing. I don't need that. I've got death-knells aplenty, thank you very much.

It's not that I'm afraid of being told that my work is crap, because it seems to me that any writer of any worth at all will be convinced, all on his own, that his work is crap. I don't need someone else to confirm that for me.

As for Mr. Wolfe, I've only read a few of his stories and I am now working my way through the first novel of his I've ever read (Latro in the Mist, actually two novels bound as one). But I know that he is held in very high regard in literary circles and that he has years of teaching experience. A Usenet poster today said, "If Gene Wolfe told me a story of mine was crap, I'd say, 'Thank you sir! May I have another'?" I'm inclined to agree, although if Mr. Wolfe told me he didn't understand my story and I was feeling mischievous, I'd say, "Back at ya, pal."

(And in case there's any doubt that these students could have encountered someone meaner than Mr. Wolfe, there's always Harlan Ellison. Yow!)

I forgot to link them before it began, and I didn't do any posting yesterday except to update an already-published post, so I'm probably remiss here. But two people on my blogroll, Mickey and Jesse, took part in this year's Blogathon. Had I any extra money I would have sponsored each. Instead, I'll just pipe up a day late to point my readers to these fellows' sudden explosion of content. (Check out Mickey's laser-shining-through-ice-cubes picture, and Jesse's eerie channeling of Peggy Noonan. Aieee!)



Friday, July 25, 2003

Oh, GAK!

As I'm writing this, the TV is on in the background (only because I didn't turn it off yet), and "Inside Edition" or "Access Hollywood" or some such thing is on. They're talking about some young author whose book has just been made into a movie with Reese Witherspoon (I think), and the person doing the story just said: "She was even able to stand out to the publishers by submitting her manuscript on pink paper!"

Huh-whuh??!!

Everything I've ever read says NOT to try things like this. Some even go so far as to say that manuscripts submitted on funky papers are not even read. What's the deal, here? (I didn't catch the name of the author, but I surmise it can't be too hard to figure out. If I'm bored tomorrow, maybe I'll dig further into this.)



In a response to this post, Shiela recommends me to a Jack-the-Ripper movie with which I'm unfamiliar. Sounds cool, and I might as well plug a favorite Ripper movie of my own: Time After Time, a wonderful film in which Malcolm MacDowell plays H.G. Wells in 1890s London, who has built a prototype time machine. One of his friends, played by the always dependable David Warner, turns out to be the Ripper, and uses the machine to flee Scotland Yard to 1979 San Francisco. Wells goes after him, and so doing meets and falls in love with Mary Steenburgen. The whole "fish out of water" thing common to time travel stories is in evidence, of course, but it takes on a more pleasing subtext by way of Wells's status as a Utopian who believed that the Twentieth Century would see the final blossoming of human society. Man....I gotta go rent that one sometime....

A couple of late-night notes from the job-hunt front:

:: As things are now entering the "Any port in a storm" phase, I am now deciding to re-enter food service. Sigh. At least it will be nice to have a job interview or two where I'm not saying things like, "No, I don't have any direct experience in your field, but let me show you how my skills and ability to learn will benefit you..." (Of course, one of the bigger mistakes I've made in my life is leaving food service before I was ready to do so a few years back. But still....)

:: My Employed Overlord has some thoughts. I've been unlucky in a number of ways that he mentions. First, the majority of my working life has been spent in small towns in the Southern Tier of New York State (that's the region to the south of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, immediately north of the Pennsylvania line), in the restaurant business. This means that my exposure to tech fields during the big boom was minimal, so I'll still be behind that particular curve when things heat up again. This also has the effect of limiting to an absurd degree my networking. Basically, what network I have is online these days, which may help in terms of locating freelance writing work (thanks, Greg!), won't be of much help in the immediate task of securing a job in Buffalo. Spending six months in Syracuse didn't help matters, either. That was good for my wife's career, because it moved her along in her company's career path, and I did do some crystalizing of my goals and thoughts on just where the hell I'm trying to go. But in terms of actually grabbing a job, well -- ick. And had I been hired someplace there, I would have had to quit just months later, anyhow.

:: I agree with my Grudging Overlord that people who can't or won't apply for an IT job online are suspicious. I can think of a few extreme examples in which that might not be the case, but on the whole, they should be applying using the tools of their trade. I will note, however, that if a company assumes this but does not spell it out -- or even does something like specify a snail-mail address on the company Website, thus implying that resumes sent there are considered -- they could be open for legal problems. (I have no idea if My Overlord's company does this or not. I'm just sayin'.)

:: The Imperious Pooh-Bah also takes me to task again for not learning another skill on the side. Well, I have picked up a good deal of HTML -- I'm not competent enough to actually bill myself as a Web designer, but I'm comfortable enough to simply cite my familiarity with it on my resume. (One of these days I plan to set up a site just for my copywriting business, but I have a large number of other priorities right now.) I would point out that I consider by broadening of my writing interests in the last year or two to be learning a skill. Until just a short while ago, I only wanted to write fiction. The idea of writing articles of different types for different publications never much entered my mind, and the whole copywriting field was something I knew nothing about until, about a year ago, I happened to spot this book in the library, the reading of which I followed with this book. This is another area where moving to Syracuse messed things up, because I figure I missed out on a good six to eight months of marketing and developing my skills along that regard. I do agree with the King of Prussia that learning additional skills is advisable. I've tried to do that.

:: Another thought about going back to restaurants: I am willing to do this not because I like the idea of doing that again, but because the other big industry in Buffalo that is always hiring is one that I find pretty damned nauseating: telemarketing. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I spent a year and a half in my last job in telesales, and I pretty much hated it. The people were nice, and the actual work was fairly painless -- it was business-to-business calling, in which we actually worked the same customers over a long period, as opposed to the "Call someone at dinner and then you'll never speak to them again" robotic stuff that takes place in most call centers. There are two big telemarketing shops here that have ads in the classifieds every week, and have done so for as long as I can remember, and they're always advertising on-the-spot interviews. Going into a field with the kind of turnover that makes such recruiting practices necessary really gives me pause, especially when I had the following conversation with one of their recruiters on the phone on Wednesday:

Me: Hi, this is Herbert Walker, returning your call.

Recruiter: Hi, I was looking at your resume, and I was wondering if you would be interested in an interview. Are you available after 3:00 pm tomorrow [Thursday]?

Me: Actually, that's bad. My wife works the evening shift, so I'm pretty much unavailable for an interview after 1:00. Is there any way we can do a morning interview?

Recruiter: Hmmm. All our morning slots are filled up already.

Me: Damnation and a pox on my house, for not calling earlier! [Not really, but that's what I thought.] Oh, OK. How about Friday morning?

Recruiter: No, unfortunately I am in an offsite meeting Friday. So we'd have to wait until next week.

Me: Oh, that's fine, I suppose. I am free at any time on Monday or Tuesday. Name the time, and I'll be there fifteen minutes early, with all documentation.

Recruiter: Oh. But we don't schedule interviews that far ahead. We typically only schedule interviews for the same day.

Me: "That far ahead"? Three business days is "That far ahead"? Especially for a company that, from what I can tell by the classifieds, is always interviewing? Are you insane? Just turn the pages of your day-planner until the top line says "MONDAY". There you go! Not hard at all, was it? [No, not really. But that's what I thought.]

And it can't be a good sign when I ask the question "What do your positions pay?", and then hear the actual flipping of pages as the recruiter, who must hear this question a lot, nevertheless flips to that page in her recruiting script. Hoo-boy....

Matthew Yglesias provides links to a debate that might blossom as to the morality of the Administration's various misrepresentations viz. the war in Iraq. For many on the left, the whole WMD issue is seeming like more and more of a giant lie that was foisted on the American public in order to drum up support for the war; for some on the right, it simply doesn't matter if the claims regarding WMDs were factually true at all, because that was never the "real reason" for the war in the first place. This response strikes me as woefully inadequate.

First of all, it seems to me to boil down to "It's OK that the Administration lied about WMDs, because that entire rationale was basically one giant lie anyway." If I am to be assuaged by the fact that the lies were all just misdirection anyway, then I'm sorry to report that I am not assuaged at all. Rather the reverse, I'm afraid, because that means that the Administration decided to lie to me on two grounds, not just one: Not only did they trumpet a rationale for war that was itself not accurate, they didn't even portray what (we are told) is the actual rationale. Basically, SDB tells us, it boils down to salesmanship. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair decided that they couldn't sell a war on Iraq as an opening salvo in a long-term strategy designed to restructure the entire Islamo-Arabic world, so we got an amalgam of humanitarian concerns and half-baked WMD stuff. Now, I'm not sure I buy the whole "They didn't say this because they knew they couldn't sell it" defense, because quite frankly that rationale has been out there for some time, and not just by armchair generals but by actual Administration officials such as Paul Wolfowitz. It's not like it was a carefully-concealed secret. But even then, I have other reasons for being troubled by what I now call the "Misdirection Rationale".

First, it undermines the humanitarian argument that the pro-war factions have been flogging. I've found it problematic that Saddam's horrible regime has been at the top of the list, where other horrible regimes around the globe are barely on the radar screen at all; surely, to say that we were obliged on humanitarian grounds to depose Saddam Hussein carries with it an implication that we're also obliged to do something about the other brutal dictators who abound. It speaks volumes that we're not doing so, and it leads me to wondering: if Saddam Hussein had come to power in, say, Tunisia and run precisely as brutal a regime there as he actually did in Iraq, and all other things were equal, would we have gone into Tunisia instead of Iraq? Probably not, given that with this strategy of confronting the dangers of the Islamo-Arabic world, we needed a good beachhead, and for various strategic reasons, Iraq was apparently to be that beachhead. Now, if that strategy actually is what we are doing, then Iraq makes sense as a beachhead, in pretty much the same way that Normandy made sense as a beachhead for the big Allied invasion of Nazi-overrun Europe in 1944. But then you lose, in large part, the whole moral claim to dealing with this particular regime. The moral justification becomes an a posteriori justification, used more to bludgeon liberals ("How could you oppose our ending of this?") than a case for action in the first place.

Secondly, concealing the "real" rationale for war beneath a veneer of more emotionally-laden stuff seems to me a pretty cynical approach. It says, "For heaven's sake, we can't possibly tell the people what we're actually doing. We need something big! Something that will grab them! Something that will scare the crap right out of them!" So we were told that Saddam Hussein's regime had connections with Al Qaeda; it was strongly implied that Saddam was on the verge of making a nuclear bomb; and all the rest of it. It wasn't a case of persuasion; it was a case of selling, which is not the same thing. It was like the beer commercials that make it sound like a party will erupt in your own backyard, complete with scantily-clad women, if only you'd drink Coors Light instead of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The whole thing smacks of distrust -- of the American people, of the world, of their own case and their ability to argue for it.

And finally, the "Misdirection Rationale" stikes me as faulty because the Administration does not appear, quite frankly, to have done much planning for the steps after the initial war. No clamp-down or issuing of curfews, no anticipation of looting, the now-dawning realization that our armed forces might be lacking in sufficient manpower to pull it off. We're in a post-war environment right now where the war doesn't so much seem to be "post", when we're dependent on some guy walking in off the street to tell us where the bad guys are hiding, et cetera. I agree with SDB that we're in Iraq to stay, but I'd be more confident of the end result if our planning to this point had reflected that from the beginning.

So that's my current thinking on this subject.

(I can only hope that when I get a job or start doing something actually productive, I'll be able to channel my thoughts into something other than politics. The past week or so notwithstanding, I'm really not trying to morph into a political blog here.)

UPDATE: Kevin Drum weighs in on this topic today (and also here), and I think he's pretty much got the right of it. He concentrates, quite rightly, on the question of just why the President won't say what our real reason for war is. War is a time for leadership, not salesmanship. I commented on this aspect a couple of months ago, as well.

As an unapologetic, unrepentant fan of the show Friends, I can only hope that this Joey spin-off turns out more like Frasier and less like After-MASH.

Via Oliver Willis, I see that Steven Den Beste has reworked another blog-post of his into a column for the Wall Street Journal. I don't agree with the post and article, but I'm nevertheless keenly interested in how SDB has managed to parlay ideas developed in his blog into a paid piece of freelance writing. (I assume he's been paid for the piece.) This strikes me as a potentially good way for freelancers to keep the pot simmering, so to speak.

Here's something I've been wondering: Do managers and recruiters give employment applications placed online -- whether an e-mailed resume or a Web-based application form -- equal weight with employment applications placed in person? I don't know...some people I know insist that it's best to do it in person, but I'm really not so sure about that. I seem to recall having a conversation with Matt a while back in which he scoffed at people who would use snail-mail to apply for a tech position, and he's in a position to know, since he's at least partly in charge of tech hiring where he works. And when I was in restaurant management, it was quite impossible for me to remember the faces of every person who came in to hand me an application, so the ones who would insist on talking to the manager directly (as opposed to simply handing the thing to the host or hostess at the door) really didn't have much of a leg-up. Sure, the ones who looked presentable and clean-cut might get a more immediate perusal of their application, but we never did "on-the-spot" interviews, and unless that person had obvious qualifications -- say, five years or more of restaurant experience -- they'd basically get the "We're accepting applications now, and we'll review them later and call the people we want to interview" spiel.

So I don't know. I like to think it's really convenient that I can apply with a lot of companies online and thus not spend a lot of time driving around picking up applications, but I'm likewise uncertain how that translates as far as getting an interview.

(There were other concerns we'd employ in the restaurants: for instance, if someone would call us during the Friday dinner hour or during Sunday breakfast/lunch hours to enquire about their application status, we'd take their name and immediately file them as an "also-ran". Ditto people who would see our classified ad, which always included the "No phone calls please" clause, and call anyway.)

Thursday, July 24, 2003

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

I'm not actually going to show them here, but if you want to see what the Hussein boys look like in their post-romantic-interlude-with-United-States-soldiers state, click here. That's about all.

Note to job recruiters: When you call me and leave a message on my machine, and you leave your phone number as part of that message, and when said number is your cell-phone number, could you make sure your cell-phone is actually accepting calls when I try to call back? Pretty please?

Jane Galt on telemarketers and the Do-Not-Call registry.

This is an excellent post, really and truly. Read it. Indeed, heh, and huzzah.

I remember when I watched some high-up guy with the Direct Marketing Association talking about why his industry is against The List, and he said something to the effect of, "Why would consumers willingly put themselves in a position to not receive offers that they will find valuable?" Well, that's basically like asking someone why they never shop at K-Mart, despite the fact that K-Mart almost certainly has something there that's (a) of use and (b) cheaper at K-Mart than where they usually get that item.

As the consumer, it is my right to decide when, where, in what manner, and with whom I will part with my money. If I want to do it with Person X and not Person Y, even if Person Y's deal is better, well then, that's none of anyone's business but my own. So there.

Rachel Lucas is in a snit over a poll that shows a substantial amount of Germans believing that the US government is somehow behind the 9-11 attacks. I'm pretty-much with Matthew Yglesias on this: you'll find people believing stupid stuff anywhere, and in this particular case, since a similar portion of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was involved, I'll just consider it a wash.

But Rachel does have this cute item: "Dubya can't even put on a flight suit without liberal journalists accusing him of trying to enhance his crotch so as to gain votes, fer Crissakes." Well, Rachel, since you yourself advanced the idea that Dubya's donning of the flightsuit somehow re-invigorated American manhood or some such nonsense, is this any wonder?

My evil compatriot is on the subject of comic-book movies. I'll just comment further on the Top Ten that he comments on:

1. Batman. No. I did not like the first one. I did like the second one, and I think the third one (with Val Kilmer as Batman) is the best in the series. Now, the one with George Clooney....

2. X-Men/X2. Outstanding, if we're talking about the second one. Good, but could have been much better, if they're mentioning the first one.

3. Spider-Man. An outstanding first half, a lackluster second half, and a last-five-minutes that nearly sinks the entire film.

4. Superman II. I believe this, after Batman, to be the most overrated superhero movie of all time. The fights at the end drag on and on, Superman is given powers we've never heard of before, Gene Hackman serves not much by way of useful purpose, the Clark Kent/Lois Lane love story is handled in a cheating manner ("I'll just make it so she doesn't know it ever happened!"), et cetera.

5. Superman. My favorite superhero movie of all time, even if the climax drags and involves pure deus ex machina.

I haven't seen any of the following, and I'm not sure if I even want to:

6. The Hulk.
7. The Crow
8. From Hell. (Actually, I do kinda want to see this one.)
9. Blade.

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is one of my least-favorite pop-cultural phenomena of all time. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

On the heels of my brief survey of liberal response to the sending of the Hussein boys to sleep with the fishes comes James Capozolla's response. Add another to the "Good news, but that doesn't automatically assuage my original reservations" camp":

Let me ungraciously interrupt the collective wet dreams of the demented right wing to say, without equivocation, that I’m pleased to learn these little cretins are dead, gone forever, and that I hope our otherwise admirable military forces will prove similarly successful with respect to Saddam and the altogether thoroughly forgotten, yet truth be told, more threatening menace to the U.S., Osama bin Laden.



Indeed.

Matthew Yglesias has some thoughts about the whole California-Gray Davis recall thing. I have to say I agree with his take, in general, even given my limited knowledge of what's going on. I think it sets a pretty bad precedent to have a recall for someone who's merely unpopular, as opposed to criminal or somehow unable to execute the duties of office entirely. In cases like these, I'm reminded of the George Carlin take on democracy that I quoted last Election Day: "If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain."

Matthew is also right about this: "One does note in this, along with the '98 impeachment effort and the re-redistricting going on recently, a somewhat disturbing disregard for the procedural norms of the American republic on the part of the GOP." This is something that's been disturbing me for a while now. It also shows up in the current judicial-nomination process, when during the Clinton years, the Republicans made use of every procedural trick they could to deny pretty much any Clinton nominee who happened to be opposed by any Republican, but now, with a President of their own party, gladly change the rules at will to deny Democrats the same ability. We seem to be entering an era when everything is about partisan advantage. I expect the ugliness to only increase from here. (And, to be frank, it will probably happen on both sides. But right now it's the ascendant GOP that's reworking the entire political infrastructure to its own benefit.)

We took a break from animated movies this week to rent Herbie Rides Again, the less-well-known sequel to The Love Bug. (TLB was out, unfortunately.) I've always been a sucker for the Herbie movies, although I never saw the last one, where he went to Mexico. What I liked about Herbie Rides Again is that the filmmakers bothered to come up with an entirely new set of circumstances under which a sentient car might be useful, as opposed to simply retreading the race-car story from The Love Bug. Besides, watching Keenan Wynn's nearly-insane millionaire developer is a hoot, in and of itself. And you won't find too many Disney movies, rated "G", that include the line "I'm going to take this letter-opener and stab him in his ungrateful breastbone!"

In other video-watching news, the local library has a number of Original Series episodes of Star Trek. Last week I watched "The Menagerie", the brilliant two-part episode that was written to utilize the footage from the first Star Trek pilot episode, called "The Cage". And last night I watched "The Trouble With Tribbles", which even now reduces me to helpless laughter, even after I've seen it many, many times (though not in quite a few years).

Well, now.

I've been around the Net, in one guise or another, for almost ten years now. I remember when Gopher was the coolest thing going. I remember the hey-days of Usenet, and the wonderful days of yore when people thought that simple shame would deter spammers. I've used FTP, I used the Web in its early days when NCSA Mosaic was the only browser. I've seen the oncoming of blogging. And yet....

Nothing I have ever seen or done online has risen to the level of this. It's all downhill from here, folks. Would the last person off the Net please turn out the lights?

(Via Teresa Nielsen-Hayden.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

And lo! everything was as it was in the fabled days of yore....unemployment was low....the world was at peace....tech stocks were going like gangbusters....Byzantium's Shores had the right template again....

A note from the job search: one company here had an ad the other day for an "Epiphany Consultant". I figured this was some kind of tech-position involving a program or computer system called "Epiphany", and I was right. But the idea of an "Epiphany Consultant" kind of made me laugh, thusly....

Client: I think I had an epiphany.

Epiphany Consultant: Please describe it.

Client: Well, I suddenly realized that I've been working in sales for fifteen years, and that I'm not any good at it. Now I want to make shoes for a living.

Epiphany Consultant: Did you feel the Spirit moving in you?

Client: No.

Epiphany Consultant: Then what brought this realization on?

Client: My boss told me that I stink at sales, and I haven't had a commission check in six years.

Epiphany Consultant: Oh, that's not en epiphany. That would be a negative evaluation. You should update your resume. Thank you, but our time is up.

My readers from the Midwest might enjoy Mike Finley's tale of the Mountain that wished he was in Minnesota.



Remember how, whenever anything broke on the USS Enterprise, no matter which ship in the line it was -- from the original all the way up to the NCC-1701-E -- some poor schlub (Scotty, Data, Geordi) had to climb into one of those tiny crawlspaces and shimmy along until they found the exact piece of circuitry or whatnot that had broken, thus keeping Captain Kirk from being beamed off the Constellation or something similar? Those crawlspaces were called "Jefferies Tubes", presumably after the Starfleet engineer who designed them...but the name was really a tribute to the real-life Star Trek art director Walter "Matt" Jefferies, who designed the Big-E for the original series way back in 1964.

Jefferies, alas, has died.

As you might have noticed, we're in "Stripped Down Template" mode at Byzantium's Shores for a bit. I hope to have the regular appearance restored no later than Friday, and maybe even tonight, if I get enough other stuff done between now and then. Bear with me. (I kind of dig the replacement colors. But they won't be permanent.)


A key rhetorical trick in political discussion, one of the oldest tricks in that particular book, is to find some of the farthest opposition from your own position as possible, and then to identify that position as the characteristic position of those who disagree with you. And if you can pull this off while also identifying yourself as a moderate or centrist, then you have managed to shift the entire discussion in your direction, without a whole lot of effort.

This is what SDB is up to right now, as he digs up some of the farthest-out quotes he can from some of the farthest-out left-wing discussion boards, and characterize this as representative of the loyal opposition's reaction to the deaths of Darryl Hussein and his-other-brother-Darryl. I know that Hesiod is a pretty popular left-wing blogger, but Democratic Underground and IndyMedia are not, in my experience, taken too seriously by the left side of Blogistan. More typical reactions, I think, can be found via these biggies of Left Blogistan:

Matthew Yglesias is glad they're dead, but wishes they'd been taken alive, when presumably they might have been useful. (I'm assuming he's talking in the "thumbscrews-and-hot-coals" sense of "useful", at this point.)

Daily KOS speculates that the deaths of the Hussein boys (also here) may not prove as great a "turning point" in the war as some believe. I don't know about this, and I'm sure SDB disagrees vehemently. But that doesn't seem as bizarre a claim, on its face, as the weird "Bush is worse than Saddam" post from Way-Leftopia that SDB quotes.

Demosthenes is likewise unsure if this will really prove to be a turning point, or if Iraqi resistance has reached a point where it's less pro-Saddam and more anti-American. Time will tell. He also speculates that this will yield a spike in the President's polling numbers, and he may be right on that score. Noting that strikes me as a fairly innocuous observation, not some wild bit of leftist conspiracy-mongering.

Oliver Willis pretty much restricts his reaction to Treasury Secretary John Snow's assertion that the deaths of Hussein II and Hussein III will somehow boost the economy (Oliver thinks that assertion is bizarre, and so do I). He does think that their deaths are good news, but he further states that the deaths aren't particularly relevant to his reservations on the war in general. Another in the "Good news, not necessarily a turning point and certainly not an all-clear indicator" column. Agree or disagree, it's not a whacko-leftist-pinko take on the situation.

Over at Eschaton, there are a couple of reactions, since Atrios has opened things up to a "group-blog" concept over the last month or two. Leah is first to comment, and she merely says that it's good news. Commentator Lambert, on the other hand, says that killing the Hussein boys was "not the smartest thing this administration has ever done". I'm not sure how "far-out" this is, but I don't agree with Lambert, in any event. Not every dead villain becomes a martyr -- aside from the Neo-Nazis in the world, Hitler's never much been advanced as a martyr, frex -- and from my (albeit limited) understanding of circumstances, I'm not sure these two will become martyrs, either. Second, Lambert is irritated that the killings don't follow the standard model of American justice: Trial-by-jury, et cetera. In this case, I simply can't agree: whether or not one agrees that we should have been fighting this war in the first place, the fact is, we are fighting this war, and these fellows were enemies of war. The idea in war isn't to capture the other guy; it's to kill the other guy if he won't surrender. These fellows weren't surrendering. I'm not going to fault the soldiers involved for eventually killing them, any more than I would fault a police officer who shoots to kill when the "perp" won't put down his gun and put his hands up. (And besides, faulting "the Administration" for killing the Hussein boys, even if they could have been taken alive, doesn't seem right except in the ultimate, cosmic sense that the Administration decided to fight the war in the first place. It's not like they're directly responsible, as if the President and his inner circle were holding guns outside the estate where this all happened.)

As of this writing, Kevin Drum only has one brief comment on the matter. He's in the "We don't yet know if this is good news, but maybe it is and I hope so" camp.

Tom Tomorrow is on vacation, apparently, and thus does not comment.

Greg at Planet Swank straightforwardly says that it's good news, and he's a solid, proud liberal. (For that matter, so am I, and my own reaction was the same: it's good news. But then, I'm far from a "biggie" of anything.)

So I think that there is some more level-headed reaction to the deaths of the Hussein boys than SDB is letting on, even if you still don't agree with the people I cite above.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

In cool science news, a possible key to identifying stars that are more likely to spawn planets has been found. The more heavy metals a star has, the more likely that star is to harbor a planetary system. Cool.

And in a shameless attempt to simply take up space with a nifty picture, here's a satellite image of Mount Kilimanjaro, from this slideshow.




With apologies to Rachel Lucas, I have to appropriate her method of punctuation for just a moment:

God. Do. I. Hate. Outlining. This. Novel.

Via TBOGG, I see that Andrew Sullivan is striking a blow for journalistic standards everywhere:

"Here's an extract from a letter from a soldier out there doing God's work in putting back together a ravaged country. It was posted on Free Republic, but it seems genuine to me."

In other words: "Here's something I picked up off a right-wing message board that feels like something I wanna believe, so read the whole thing."

I wonder what things would be like if our entire press corps operated under the "Gee, that seems genuine to me" standard of factual reporting?

On second thought, maybe I don't wonder that....

A heads-up to regulars here: my template may take on an odd appearance over the next day or two. We may be switching ISPs, and it'll take some time for me to get everything moved and squared away if that happens.

Via Paul Riddell, I see that Penthouse Magazine is in serious trouble.

Is this bad news for publishing in general, or just the sign of a once-powerful brand being usurped by newer, hipper brands offering the same kind of thing without the smarm? I don't know. But ever the optimist, I'll try to take the "Half-full" line and hope this doesn't mean the beginning of the end for magazine publishing. Seeing as how I'm trying to become a freelance writer, you know.

(Not that Penthouse is a market I plan to submit to, in any case. But I imagine Oliver Willis may be sad at this news.)

Two words: Here's hoping.

UPDATE: As the hours pass today, the word gets more and more optimistic that the men killed were, in fact, Saddam's sons. If this success leads to a certain neutralizing of the current guerilla effort and the finding of Saddam himself, then great. While I personally have been critical of the Administration and its prosecution of the war to this point, I'm not so blindingly partisan to the point of hoping for continued mishaps.

(I'm also always conflicted as to whether I should even post news like this or not, since the likelihood of anyone learning of events like these through reading Byzantium's Shores is so remote that, were it to be the case, I would advise that person to get out more. Oh well....)

What do you do when, as a member of the Majority Leadership in the House of Representatives, something with broad-based bipartisan support comes along that you just don't like, for reasons passing understanding? You use your power over parliamentary procedure to simply remove it from consideration.

Nauseating.

(Link via Matthew Yglesias.)

Over on Collaboratory, Scott wants to come up with a ranking of the Top Twenty figures in American history. This is in response to another such ranking that puts Ronald Reagan at Number Two, oddly enough. So, if you want to come up with a top 5-10 such figures, e-mail him by next Monday. He gives his address in the linked post.

Monday, July 21, 2003

ESPN has been sending some of its Page2 columnists on a tour of all the big-league ballparks. Fenway is up today. Man, I'd love to go there.

(And every time I read one of these articles I get in the mood for a hot dog.)

One week to go, and Lance Armstrong will catch Big Mig. Wow.

A lot of times when I'm watching a movie or TV show, I'll spot an actor - - usually in a secondary role - - whom I've seen in some other role before, or even more than one; and I will then spend some time trying to figure out exactly where I've seen that person before. Some people find this kind of thing distracting because it takes them out of the story for a moment or two, but I don't. I enjoy it, actually - - it's like an "Easter Egg" for me, and I've never found that it detracts from my enjoyment of the film. The most recent notable example I can think of (it actually happens all the time, but this one stands out) is that King Theoden in The Two Towers is played by the same guy who played Captain Smith in Titanic. Some actors make an entire career out of playing such secondary characters, and then sometimes when they get to be "Elder Statesmen" of the screen trade they'll get a role into which they really sink their teeth, and walk away with an Oscar nomination or even an award. Such a person is said to be a character actor.

Here are some of my favorite character actors, in no particular order (and not exhaustive, either - - I'll come back and add more in later posts).

:: Carrie Fisher. Yes, she started out as a leading lady in the first Star Wars trilogy, but for various reasons she receded into character-actor status, with notable appearances in films like When Harry Met Sally… and Austin Powers (the first one). She's also kept busy as a writer.

:: James Rebhorn. This guy is one of my favorite character actors, despite the fact that I can never remember his name. His turn as the smarmy Secretary of Defense in Independence Day is excellent, as is his portrayal of the attorney who prosecuted "the gang" in the final episode of Seinfeld. He brings a sense of businesslike precision to just about every role he does.

:: Maury Chaykin. He's been all over the place. For me, he's most memorable for the first time I saw him, as an insane Army officer in Dances With Wolves.

:: John Hurt. A fine, fine actor who can do just about anything: a billionaire industrialist in Contact, an elitist nobleman in Rob Roy, the owner of the Magic Wand Shop in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - - he is always outstanding.

:: William Petersen. He may not count anymore, really, since he hit it big on CSI. But he was a fine character actor before that, with his work in Cousins being an outstanding example.

:: Stockard Channing. I've always loved her. I'm also glad that she's had more exposure in recent years, after taking on the role of First Lady Abigail Bartlet on The West Wing, because that means whenever Channing shows up in a movie, some bozo in the theater doesn't yelp, "Hey, it's Rizzo!"

:: Clint Howard. God, I love this guy. He's been around forever, almost as long as his brother Ron. (He played Balok in the original series Star Trek episode, "The Corbomite Maneuver".) He's especially notable as one of the Houston controllers in Apollo 13.

That's enough of those for today. More at another time.

Via MeFi, I see that American citizens are considering moving to Canada because things are more liberal up there.

Believe me, I occasionally understand the sentiment. Hell, I'd love to live in Toronto for the dim sum alone. But America is my home. It's my country. And as a democracy, it's intended to be a self-correcting mechanism. But the problem with self-correcting mechanisms is this: by definition, a mechanism therefore has to be "incorrect" now and then if it's going to correct itself. That's what is meant by the old saw, "My country, right or wrong: when right, to be kept right; and when wrong, to be put right."

And besides, no matter where you live, there will always be no shortage of stuff that nauseates you, no matter what your political or religious beliefs may be. So, packing up for Canada is just postponing the inevitable. Plus, it will probably annoy the Canadians, and we can't have that, can we?

I'm glad to see that there's one industry out there that may be adding a substantial amount of workers in the near future.

Or, given what those new workers will probably end up being used for, maybe I'm not so glad.

An unpublished novel by Robert A. Heinlein has just been unearthed. All the copies were thought destroyed, but apparently one has been unearthed and may see publication at some point in the future. The book is called For Us, the Living. I've bounced off Heinlein more times than I can count, but I'll keep trying, I suppose. (That title, by the way, sounds creepy to me, like an Ayn Rand thing.)

Ah, Indianapolis...or, as we in Buffalo call it, the gift that keeps on giving. (Those storms are here now, albeit they're not thunderstorms just now.)

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Remember that accident last week, where Wilford Brimley's older brother hit the gas instead of the break and thus ended the lives of ten people? Sure, how could you forget...well, courtesy News of the Weird, this kind of thing is hardly an isolated incident:

America's most underrated highway safety problem appears to be senior drivers who mistakenly step on the accelerator instead of the brake: Henry Clax, 78, Jersey City, N.J. (hit three lampposts and then 13 people coming out of a Jehovah's Witnesses assembly, April); Marcella Stahly, 63, Albuquerque (tore through the front wall of a fruit market, March); Ms. Nahid Nainzadeh, 64, New Fairfield, Conn. (plowed halfway into a bank, April); Leonard Borok, 81, Coral Springs, Fla. (crashed through the front window of a post office, May); Waunona Reed, 85, Crescent City, Ore. (struck 26 people leaving an Assembly of God church, January). [Newsday-AP, 4-19-03] [Albuquerque Journal, 3-27-03] [Danbury News-Times, 4-19-03] [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 5-6-03] [Eureka Times-Standard, 1-5-03]



The more I think about it, the more I think that the renewal of a driver's license should involve continued testing, not just signing a quick form for the DMV.

This just in: writing an outline for an already-completed novel sucks. This is total drudgery that I'm finding utterly, completely annoying. The clinical detachment from the story ("Just the facts, ma'am") required by the outline, in which the story is just flopped out there like that scene in The Adventures of Robin Hood where Errol Flynn saunters into Nottingham Castle and tosses a deer carcass onto Prince John's feasting table, makes the story look like this contrived set of dull experiences and boring events.

"Well, there's this young kid, about eighteen years old, probably. He lives on this desert planet, you see, where he works on a farm with his aunt and uncle because his parents are long-gone. And anyway, one day these nomadic junk-dealers come along and sell his uncle a couple of robots, just to help out with stuff. And then one of the robots turns out to be carrying a secret message from some Princess or something like that..."

Ugh!

"There's this guy who had the greatest love of his life suddenly go sour, just as the Nazis were rolling into Paris. So he packs up with his piano-playing buddy and takes his cynical self to a North African city, where he opens a bar..."

Ugh!!

"There's a young boy who lives in a crappy little house with his mother and his four grandparents, who are all bedridden, and in the same bed. This kid dreams of a better life, but it's never coming. Until the reclusive guy who owns the local candy factory decides to have a contest to let five people in to see the works..."

Ugh!!!

I'm seriously thinking about watching this new "reality" show, The Restaurant. I'll be interested to see how the events depicted on that show match up with my own experiences of that particular industry (although I was in chain restaurants, which this show's focus is not).

There's an article about the show in today's Buffalo News, that includes this interesting quote by the show's producer, Mark Burnett (the evil force behind Survivor, which may hold its place on my Top Five Nauseating Shows List for a long time to come):

"The next step in unscripted dramatic television is to remove the contest and voting and prize money and to make a show in a venue."

That's the "next step"? No contest, just people interacting in a funky setting? Like...this show? It's funny how the "Next step" often involves dusting off something that was "the next step" ten years ago.

Even so, I applaud the concept. You don't need some stupid contest or contrived competition to make for compelling TV watching.

Thirty-four years ago today:





Isn't it about time we went back?

(Crossposted to Collaboratory.)

If you like visual art of the "mystical" variety, check out the work of Gilbert Williams. He's sort of like that Thomas Kinkaid guy, in that he uses a lot of light in his work, but for some reason I like Williams whereas I can't stand Kinkaid. Maybe it's the mysticism and fantasy-type stuff in Williams's work, and it also probably has to do with the fact that Williams hasn't been "branded" the way Kinkaid has, with the Franklin Mint not issuing various gewgaws based on Williams's paintings. Here's one I particularly like:



Williams's work will be familiar to fans of the New-Age musical group Mannheim Steamroller; Williams did a couple of covers for the "Fresh Aire" series. (Mannheim Steamroller was a staple of my musical diet when I was in college and experiencing my "New Age" phase, which I suspect was a low-level substitute for what might have been a "Marijuana and the Grateful Dead" phase had I gone to a larger school in a more urban environment. But I digress.)

Oh, those whacky French!!!

Our summer tour of animated films continued this week with Hercules (which I believe I wrote about some time ago; I'll dig about for a link later) and The Jungle Book.

I've never been able to really make up my mind about The Jungle Book. It's something of a classic, I guess, and while I greatly enjoy parts of it, I've never been able to really embrace it, and I didn't figure out why until just this week. My problem with the film is this:

I don't care one whit about Mowgli.

Yep, that's right: I can honestly say that I have no interest whatsoever in the main character of The Jungle Book. Mowgli is pretty much of a cipher, meandering through the film from one mini-adventure to another. All those mini-adventures are enjoyable, but I never get the feeling that Mowgli is a real person who is actually growing or learning or developing. I get the feeling that I'm simply expected to care about him and his exploits, by virtue of his being a cute-as-a-button kid who gets in a lot of scrapes, some of which through no fault of his own. But the thing is, Mowgli doesn't so much grow as gain experience, which isn't really the same thing. He doesn't start out with a wrong set of values and then become a better person, nor does he learn any great lesson (although he does receive a series of smaller lessons); Mowgli is basically a tabula rasa whose brain is filled over the course of the movie until he spots a girl, and when he would theoretically become interesting as a character, the movie ends. Oh well…Disney's more recent Tarzan film covers a lot of this same territory, and looking from the standpoint of the "orphan boy raised by the jungle beasts" character, that film is far more successful.

But I can't really dislike The Jungle Book, either - - because those mini-adventures of Mowgli's are so entertaining and fun. The elephant marching patrol always cracks me up, with its "stiff-upper-lip" British military attitude; ditto the goofy monkeys who inhabit something that looks like Angkor-Wat. Of course, Balou (the friendly fellow who sings the film's signature song, "Bare Necessities") is a delight; and those buzzards always crack me up. ("What are we gonna do?" "I dunno, what you wanna do?" "I dunno, let's do something." "OK, so what you wanna do?") So that's my take on The Jungle Book, the only movie I've ever seen where I probably would not have been bothered that much if the evil tiger had managed to consume the hero. Go figure.

Cat owners who are still curious as to just what all that meowing means might be interested in this item. Personally, there are some things I would just as soon not know -- especially in this case, when my sneaking suspicion is that a lot of what the cat is saying consists of variations of "Feed me, you two-legged furless twit".

Friday, July 18, 2003

I have been remiss in my duties, and allowed the Sworn Enemy of All Things Good and Pure to attain another year of life. Woe is a task left undone!

(But wish Matt a happy birthday anyway.)

This picture is an almost perfect enactment of something I did when I was in high school, and the day rolled around in biology class when we were to dissect a cow's heart:



But the thing is…well, read.

Reading this John Scalzi post, I'm struck by two things: one, his kid looks a lot like my kid (although I think his kid is older); and two, I'm really a terribly nosy person. Whenever I read some blog writer who says something like, "Man, was today the worst day in the history of days", and then they don't describe exactly why, I'm disappointed - - even though it is, in all likelihood, none of my damn business since with the exception of three people (two of whom I have personally badgered into Blogistan in the first place), none of these people knows me from Adam.

Sean is slightly miffed that Collaboratory hasn't been doing so hot lately. And he's right. I can't speak for my fellow Colaborers, but I've definitely been remiss and will try to pick it up a bit. In my defense, I'm being pulled in about sixteen different directions right now, and the fact that I have a kid rules out what used to be my main method of dealing with such things (swearing a lot, followed by drinking beer and watching Die Hard).

(For newer readers here, Collaboratory is a group-blog of which I am a member. Check it out; we've put a lot of good stuff there, even if we've been total slackers lately. And we seem to be in agreement that new blood might be what the doctor ordered, so if you like what you see, e-mail Sean. He's not that mean. Really.)

Matthew Yglesias has returned from his terrible ordeal of European travel. Now maybe he can revise his blogroll…I can think of one key addition I'd have him make…

(Turn away, folks. Link-whoring is never a pretty sight.)

A key tool of stage magicians is misdirection. What this means is quite simple: while the magician has you watching the mumbo-jumbo he's doing with his right hand, you are paying no attention at all to his left - - which is the hand that is setting up the trick. Misdirection is also used in political rhetoric a lot: witness one of the current rationales of the whole Iraq/uranium folderol, that claims that it's really all OK because intelligence is never perfect.

Except this wasn't a case of bad intelligence. It was a case of bad intelligence that was identified as bad intelligence, and then was used anyway by people who either should have known it was bad intelligence and were thus inept, or did know it was bad intelligence and were thus deceitful. I'm always amazed at the sheer amount of smoke-and-mirrors foolery that can erupt around something that's really not that complicated.

Hmmm….I seem to be missing one of my readers. Is Michelle out there? (I only have one reader with a .tw extension, and that's her…but maybe I bored her. It has been a while since I babbled about Star Wars.)