Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Facts? Pagh! We don't need no facts!

[WARNING: Here I rant.]

How nice. Apparently some blogger visited Buffalo at some recent point, and, having failed to be impressed, decided to write a blog post in which he lies about the city. A lot.

Now, we, the crack young staff of "The Hatemonger’s Quarterly," don’t want to rain on anyone's parade - though you'd be stupid to have a parade in Buffalo - but we happen to think that Buffalo, New York deserves to die. In fact, it possibly begs for a killing.

A few of our editors — let's just call them "Chip" — spent some time in Buffalo recently, and we must say that we wouldn’t spend 38 years in Buffalo without gunfire: Stuck in that dank hellhole, we’d shoot ourselves long before then.

No, fuck you. This post is nothing that anyone else out there who doesn't know Buffalo from any other place doesn't regularly dish out.

"It's miserably cold in Buffalo!"

Well, if you think Buffalo's too cold, then you must not like lots of cities in the US either, like Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Portland ME, and so on. None of those cities has an average temperature in January more than two degrees higher than Buffalo's, and a few of them are lower.

If you think Buffalo is "miserably cold", then don't come here. But don't blame Buffalo for the fact that you're a damn wuss.

"It snows quite often!

No shit. But lots of places get more snow than Buffalo; in fact, Buffalo doesn't even crack the top ten cities in the US for snowfall. (We're eleventh, beaten out by the likes of Flagstaff, AZ.) Also, snow isn't the whole story of a winter. Frankly, I'll take more snow and temperatures in the 20s over less snow and winter temperatures in the single digits or colder (without factoring wind chill), which are the norm in the Great Plains cities.

Oh, and guess what! Lots of people -- gasp! -- actually like snow. I know, it's hard to imagine people enjoying winter and stuff, but there's a reason that we have stuff like hockey and the Winter Olympics. It's the snow and the ice.

So put on a scarf and grow the hell up.

"It's horribly windy in Buffalo!"

Hmmmm. Well, yes, we do have wind here. No doubt about that. But our winds don't bring us extremely frigid air from the Canadian plains in winter, nor do our incredibly dry winds fan the flames of our wildfires in summer, nor do our winds carry lots of moisture from the tropics except for a few brief periods in summer when everybody's hot and humid. Our winds mostly come across Lake Erie, which makes Buffalo one of the few places where the temperature in summer has never officially hit 100 degrees in all the time they've been keeping records. Yes, our winds do produce lake-effect snow, but refer back to the point above. (And that's only an issue as long as Lake Erie hasn't frozen over; once that happens during the winter, we're pretty much done with snow.) And our summer winds are good for boating. (Yes, people do outside-type stuff in summer here. It's because our summers are nice, and our autumns are the best on the damn planet.)

Here's food for thought for the Buffalo Wind haters: our average wind speeds are only slightly higher than locations in Hawaii. I hope the Hatemongers aren't vacationing there anytime soon! They might blow away, being so wussy and all.

Then we get this crap:

Further, as a cultural center, Buffalo’s moribund. Sure, it’s home to a good art museum. But that’s about it. It used to be a haven for avant-garde classical music (Lucas Foss, Morton Feldman), but now it’s completely dried up. The Buffalo Symphony plays nothing but standard fare for the blue-haired ladies in the audience.

Yup, we have a good art museum. But which one? This one? This one? This one? This one? This one? I mean, the Hatemonger must be claiming that only one of these is a good museum and the others all suck, because surely he wouldn't be saying something like that without even knowing of the existence of those other museums. Why, that would be dishonest!

Also, Hatemonger must have taken in some of our local theatrical productions and found them wanting? He doesn't mention theater, but Buffalo's vibrant local theater is always cited as one of the city's cultural icons. Too bad they failed to impress Hatemonger. (Surely Hatemonger didn't fail to take in a show! That would be dishonest!)

I also have to thank Hatemonger for alerting me to the existence of the Buffalo Symphony. Here, all this time I've been following the exploits of the Buffalo Philharmonic, not the Buffalo Symphony! (He can't mean they're one and the same, right? Surely someone cognizent enough of Buffalo's cultural wealth wouldn't get the name of the orchestra wrong, would they?)

As to repertoire, no one would dispute that the heyday of new classical music in Buffalo is over. But "standard fare for the blue-haired ladies in the audience"? What twaddle. Yes, there are representative works from the standard repertoire in the offing for the upcoming season, works by Brahms and Schumann and the like. But this season will also see performances of Shining Brow, an opera written in 1991 by Daron Hagen; Miklos Rozsa's Violin Concerto, a work by a prominent film composer of the mid-20th century that isn't exactly an "old warhorse"; "Seven Passages" by contemporary Iranian composer Behzad Ranjbaran; Roberto Sierra's Concerto for Saxophones; "Three Hallucinations" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" by John Corigliano (one of the biggest names in contemporary classical music). And more.

If the blue-haired ladies in the BPO audience enjoy hearing all that, then good for them! That will make them more aware than some asshole blogger.

So let's re-write one of Hatemonger's paragraphs, shall we? The original -- "A few of our editors — let's just call them "Chip" — spent some time in Buffalo recently..." -- should actually read, "A buddy and I spent went to Buffalo on a business trip. We got there on a Tuesday and left on a Thursday, we never left our hotel room except to take a cab to wherever our business meeting was, and we spent the rest of the time sitting in the hotel bar drinking Bud Lite, munching stale Beer Nuts, and alternating between watching the news on Channel seven and listening to some guy named Bauerle who must really hate where he lives. And we figured, hey, that's good enough for us. Fire up the blog!"

You know what? You hated Buffalo? Then don't come back to Buffalo. We don't want you. It'd be one less asshole to export from our once-great and soon-to-be-great-again city.

(Oh, and by the way, Hatemonger: Niagara Falls isn't part of Buffalo. It's a whole different city, thirty miles away. Your mention of it in your post makes about as much sense as if I were to say that Manhattan sucks because Yonkers is ugly. And Timothy McVeigh isn't even from Buffalo, but from some other town that's a distance away. But don't let the facts get between you and the Stupid Well, because when you're thirsty for Stupid, you gotta drink deep and all.)

(Original link via Alan.)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Quiz Time!

I saw a quiz over at Paul's blog, so I will answer them as well, as is my wont:

1. A month before it happens you're told you're going to lose your memory. How do you prepare for it and do you attempt to regain what you've lost?

Hell yes, I try to regain it. I try to write down as much of it as I can, I suppose, but then I'd have trouble prioritizing things to remember. Hmmmm.

2. How do you describe your outlook on life?

"Life is quite absurd, and death's the final word...."

3. You fall in love with your soulmate, decide to get married, and then find out that person is going to die soon. Do you marry them anyway?

Absolutely. (But here's the thing about soulmates: I've never believed that there's only one.)

4. What are three of your favorite ice cream toppings?

I like hot fudge, chopped-up Reese's pieces, and fresh berries.

5. Is there one article of clothing you love to wear no matter how out of style it is?

Hmmm. That's a head-scratcher. I should think that over a bit. Gee.

6. Is there one color you wish would go away in fashion?

A color? No. But then, I think "fashion" is just about as stupid an endeavour as I can think of. I find it hard to fathom how a few people in some city somewhere can up and decide that this year, this is what looks good, but a couple of years from now, we'll all decide that it all looks horrible. And then a few years after that, the look we liked and then hated is judged favorably again! Screw that. I wear what I like.

7. What's the first department you head to when you go shopping in a department store?

Assuming we're talking about a place like Target, usually I either veer toward electronics or men's clothing, although I almost never buy anything in either. Hardware's always fun. Toys are a necessity. I usually save the DVD section for last.

8.How far away do you live from your parents?

Sixty or seventy miles, roughly. Maybe a little less, but the route from here to there requires lots of "over hill and under dale" stuff through the Southern Tier.

9. Growing up, who was your favorite cartoon character?

Bugs Bunny. Still is. Didn't care much for the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons, because there was no hope for the coyote. And I love Sylvester, but there's this one with him where his owners go away for two weeks, but leave him a cupboard full of canned tuna -- but the mouse gets the can opener, and Sylvester is foiled throughout the whole cartoon. That one pissed me off. F*** you, Mouse!

10. You plan a romantic evening and everything goes wrong, including the fancy dinner you burned. What do you do?

Swear a lot, then apologize profusely as I order a pizza.

11. What's the last thing you bought at the store?

Which store? Today I brought home some hot dog and hamburger buns. Last time I was at Borders I picked up a copy of The Art of Revenge of the Sith and a better quality King James Bible than the one I already owned.

12. Have you ever walked out in the middle of a movie?

Never, but I have shut off DVDs or videos halfway through.

13. What celebrity do most people say you look like?

To my knowledge I've never been compared to a celebrity.

14. Is there any piece of jewelry you always wear?

I wear my wedding ring and another ring The Wife bought me most of the time, but not at night. Also, when I'm not at work, I wear a bracelet of silver beads that was made by a friend of The Wife's in honor of Little Quinn.

15. Have you ever tried to pick someone up?

No. I'm terrible in situations where I don't know people, and it takes me a little while to open up a bit.

16. What's the one thing you always manage to lose on your way out the door?

Nothing, really, although I do leave the grocery list at home occasionally.

17. Out of these creatures which one are you most afraid of:
A.) Snakes
B.) Spiders
C.) Rodents

Rodents, I suppose. Although I'm probably freaked out in equal measure by all three: not much if I just spot one somewhere, but if one manages to get onto my person before I've spotted it, I tend to fly into this mixture of fear and rage that's not at all healthy for the beastie to provoke.

18. What's the last gift you bought for a friend?

A dear friend of mine at The Store had a birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I got her a couple of small items like a journal to write in, a candle, and a tiny incense burner.

19. Do you ever buy people things for no reason?

Often. I love giving people stuff.

20.What's your favorite way to spend a lazy summer afternoon?

Reading, writing, walking, putting music on the stereo and dancing while trying to look like I'm not dancing.

And there's the latest Blog Quiz thing....

Sunday Burst of Weirdness (the "Oops, I forgot so I'll do it on Monday" Edition)

Serpentes on a Shippe.

Sentential Links #63 (The Plutonic Edition)

Some of these deal with the recent decision to strip Pluto of its planetary status (as though the little planet-that-could had been caught doping in an attempt to pack on extra mass so it could maintain its position of planethood). Others deal with other stuff.

:: Just a little refresher: Pluto is smaller than our moon, people!

:: Pluto's been demoted? That's crap! (No, dearie: if it's not Scottish, it's crap. But I get the sentiment.)

(Oh, and congrats to the new Campbell award winner, who unfortunately decided to model the tiara that is now associated with this award, thus making him look like a really creepy televangelist.)

:: If you've been keeping an eye on any of the wire services (or Language Log), you may have noticed that the members of the International Astronomical Union meeting in Prague have been wrangling, Vatican-style, over the definition of the word planet. Judging by the periodic puffs of contradictorily-colored smoke the meeting is emitting, it sounds like they may be getting bogged down in the details. (That's where the Devil is, you know.) Well, defining words involves language, and language is what linguists study, so that means this is a linguistic problem. Let's roll up our sleeves and see what all the trouble is.

:: I submit that scientists own the science, but laypeople own the narrative. And the narrative of the nine planets of the Solar System is rich in mythology (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), serendipity (the discovery of Uranus), mathematical prediction (the discovery of Neptune), and Herculean effort (the discovery of Pluto). It has been enriched that much further by the stunning imagery of every planet except Pluto returned to us by the Mariner, Pioneer, Viking, Magellan, Galileo, and Cassini probes. (Written before the ultimate decision, but still some worthwhile points.)

:: They wanted to base it on measurable scientific factors rather than a human-created, arbitrary dividing line. Unfortunately, what they came up with was a messy slight-of-hand pushed by the anti-Pluto radicals that opens the door to far more problems than it can ever hope to solve. (Read this post for a short synopsis on the new planetary definition's shortcomings.

My own position on this is, well, what is the big deal with considering Pluto a planet? Why does this matter? How will planetary astronomy be set back or advanced by this? I don't get it. And besides, this whole business reminds me that the real physical world is a messy place that can't always be mapped nicely onto a language where the act of creating definitions assumes binary states that may not exist. Anyway, back to the links.

:: If global warming is going on, every day must be warmer than the same day the previous year, every summer must be hotter, every winter must be less cold. There are no statistical effects, and definitely no random component to the weather. "Weather" is also a single unitary phenomenon which can be evaluated by one instrument, a thermometer.

:: When I was a kid, my parents used to play the I Ching once a year.

:: We now rent just about anything. We rent houses and cars. We rent tractors. We rent (to own) computers, TV's and furniture. We rent tillers and banquet halls. We rent like crazy these days. Why not rent a casket?

:: I’m so excited, I think I just Fergied in my pants! (Uhhhh...OK....but congrats on the 100,000th hit, guys!)

More next week. Tune in. Drop out. And stuff.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Something. On television.

I see that other folks (here and here) are listing twenty-five favorite TV characters, so I'll prove ever the follower of established trends and do the same! There are some ground rules: No puppets or cartoons (otherwise we'd all be listing Homer Simpson and Statler&Waldorf); No mini-series; No reality-show people; All characters must be regulars on the show.

Here are mine, in no particular order. Keep in mind that if I write this post tomorrow instead of today, I probably name at least fifteen characters who don't appear on this version of this list.

1. Fox Mulder, The X-Files.

2. Dana Scully, The X-Files. These two always had such a great chemistry. Back when the show was on, fandom tended to separate into two camps: "Noromo's" (for "no romance", i.e., folks who wanted Mulder and Scully to remain strictly platonic), and "shippers" (who wanted a "relationship" to exist between the two). I tended to fall into the Shipper camp, but it impressed me greatly how it just gradually became clear that Mulder and Scully were in love without there being a Moonlighting moment when the air just went right out of the show. And both were perfectly portrayed by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

3. Dr. Elliot Reed, Scrubs. Anyone who has ever known anyone who was freakishly smart and freakishly competent but who was also so neurotic as to be convinced that they were actually stupid and inept will recognize Dr. Reed. Sarah Chalke always plays her wonderfully.

4. Chandler Bing, Friends. I think that Chandler grew more as a character over Friends's ten seasons than any of the other five; when the series launched, he was pretty much the least interesting of each of them, seemingly existing only to inject wisecracks into the dialogue. (Frequently very good wisecracks, admittedly). By series' end, he'd become a committed family man whose heart was nearly broken when he and Monica could not conceive.

5. Rick Sammler, Once and Again.

6. Lily Manning, Once and Again. Well, duh! I wouldn't love this show nearly as much as I do if not for the outstanding work done by Billy Campbell and Sela Ward as the leads, two emotionally wounded divorcee's in their forties who find each other and fall in love.

7. Toby Ziegler, The West Wing. It bothers me that Richard Schiff won't be on Aaron Sorkin's new show. Nothing against Bradley Whitford, but Schiff was by far my favorite actor on The West Wing.

8. Claudia Jean Cregg, The West Wing. Alison Janney's my second favorite actor from The West Wing. C.J. was a brilliantly written character.

9. Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Star Trek.

10. Captain Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. My favorite Trek captains. Nothing against Picard or Janeway, but the original series and DS9 were my favorite Trek incarnations. (I've still never seen an entire episode of Enterprise, so I have no opinion at all about Captain Archer.)

11. Rayann Graff, My So-Called Life.

12. Enrique "Ricky" Vasquez, My So-Called Life. What an amazing show this was. Rayann was a troubled teen; Ricky was struggling with his sexuality. I haven't seen this show in years, but it's burned on my brain.

13. Frank Black, Millennium. Sadly, this show never figured out what it really wanted to be, so it produced two seasons that were often brilliant but disjointed and a third that wasn't very good at all. At the center of it all was Frank Black, however, a man haunted by...something, who was often trying to puzzle out...something. I loved this show and always felt that it was on the cusp of greatness before Chris Carter put the absolute wrong person in charge of season three. Oh well. Lance Henriksen's Frank Black was a standout of understated acting.

14. Nash Bridges, Nash Bridges. You know, I've never met anyone else who liked this show! But for a while, I found it highly entertaining before it got too soap-opera like in its last season. This show was always a lot of goofy fun, with Don Johnson and Cheech Marin playing flamboyant San Francisco cops who sped around San Francisco in a bright yellow Barracuda, solving all manner of violent crimes. Eventually Yasmine Bleeth even joined the cast, providing some nice cheesecake.

15. Dr. John Carter, ER. In the pilot, Carter was a surgical intern who barely knew which end of a scalpel was up; eight or nine years later, he was the steady hand running the ER. I've made no secret in the past that for me ER not only jumped the shark a while ago but, after jumping it once, kept circling back to jump it again and again and again (this past season's cliffhanger ending was just embarrassing); but I loved the show for a long time, and Carter's realistic growth, portrayed on a realistic time scale, is a big reason why.

16. Jonathan Quayle Higgins, Magnum PI. Man, did I ever love Magnum PI! Higgins was such a great character, too: he was mysterious without ever seeming mysterious. Was he really Robin Masters, rich author of potboilers? Did he really have all those exploits as a soldier in various militaries? Thinking back on the show, just who really was Jonathan Higgins? We never really knew, and we never really realized we didn't know, either.

17. John "Hannibal" Smith, The A-Team. Come on, who didn't love it when George Peppard would grin at the end and say, "I love it when a plan comes together!"? I loved it!

18. Detective Andy Sipowicz, NYPDBlue. A bigoted, sexist, alcoholic, and burned-out New York cop in the pilot, Sipowicz would spend the next ten years being put through what might be the toughest emotional territory I've ever seen a regular TV character suffer. He got shot, nearly fired, married, lost a son to violence, had another son, lost a partner to disease, lost his wife to violence, lost another partner to violence, married again, and eventually became the boss of his precinct. All the while played brilliantly by Dennis Franz.

19. Frasier Crane, Cheers and Frasier. What a great character he was.

20. Dr. Addison Shepherd, Grey's Anatomy. My current medical drama of choice. Lots of nifty characters here, actually -- but Dr. Shepherd is a good doctor and an interesting, sympathetic character. Since the show's major subplot continues to be the attraction between Dr. Meredith Grey and Dr. Derek Shepherd (often referred to as "Dr. McDreamy"), the writers could have made Dr. Shepherd's wife an uninteresting shrew, but they didn't do that: Addison is her own character with her own problems. Plus, she's a smokingly hot redhead.

21. Gil Grissom, CSI. A forensic scientist whose hobbies are roller-coaster riding and etymology. What's not to like?

22. Jamie Buchman, Mad About You. Helen Hunt's character on a show that was one of the better sitcoms for a few years, before it started sliding a bit. (And its final season was an unmitigated disaster.) To this day, sometimes if I suspect that The Wife is having a bit of fun at my expense, I'll say, "I heard a tone", to which she'll respond, "There was no tone!"

23. George Costanza, Seinfeld. Yeah, the show's genius was in its ensemble nature, but I was always a George fan. The episode where George decides that every instinct he's ever had has led nowhere, and therefore he must do the exact opposite of whatever his instinct may be, is a favorite of mine (to an attractive woman, George introduces himself: "My name is George. I'm unemployed and I live with my parents").

24. Jarod, The Pretender. Now here was a show that deserved a better fate than to be dumped by NBC just so they could free up Saturday nights for Vince McMahon's dumb-assed "Extreme Football League" crapfest. Jarod was a "pretender": a genius who was so smart as to be able to pass himself off as just about any kind of professional at all. He used this ability to go around the country righting injustices while a group of operatives from a shadowy organization called "The Centre" tried to track him down, for their own nefarious purposes. This wasn't a great TV series, but it was solidly entertaining.

25. Ed Stevens, Ed. Big-city lawyer moves back to his small-town Ohio roots, and runs a law practice out of the bowling alley he runs. The "ten dollar" bets were always hilarious. Another show I miss, although it probably lasted about as long as it really could have.

For good measure, here are an addition ten characters I like, from the "recurring character" category. These are characters who weren't series regulars, but showed up every now and then:

1. Q, from various incarnations of Star Trek. How do you make a character who is virtually omnipotent interesting?

2. Harry the Hat, Cheers. It was sheer genius for the writers to make the final victory of Cheers over Gary's Old Towne Tavern come at the hands of Harry the Hat, who had robbed Sam Malone blind a number of times over the years.

3. Cigarette Smoking Man, The X-Files. He was "recurring" almost to the point of actually being a regular, I suppose. And I'm limiting myself to just one recurring character from TXF, which had a bunch of 'em.

4. Detective Martens, NYPDBlue. He was the Internal Affairs cop who showed up whenever one of the precinct detectives did something wrong (or might have). Everybody in the squad hated him. Still, he was played well.

5. Ryan Chappelle, 24. The manner in which Chappelle went from "recurring" to, well, never recurring again still surprises me.

6. Danny Concannon, The West Wing. He came and went, as a White House reporter and romantic interest for C.J. (later revealed as her post-White House husband).

7. Ben Sullivan, Scrubs. Played by Brendan Fraser, Ben Sullivan appeared in three episodes of Scrubs, the last of which is one of the greatest episodes of a television I've ever seen.

8. Mr. Edwards, Little House on the Prairie. He was always so much more flawed than any of the Ingalls clan.

9. Princess Ardala, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Yeah, Erin Gray was hot as Wilma Deering, but my crush was always on Pamela Hensley's Princess Ardala, who was one of the show's villains.

10. Mac, Magnum, PI. Now here's something odd: two different characters, played by the same guy. Thomas Magnum used "Mac" as a nickname for Lieutenant McReynolds, who was a pudgy naval officer with a sweet tooth. Magnum would often bribe Mac with dessert items in exchange for information he wasn't supposed to have, or access to places he wasn't supposed to get into, and so on. Mac was eventually killed in an explosion that was intended to kill Magnum. But then a few seasons later, Magnum thought he spotted Mac on the streets of Honolulu. This, however, turned out to be a con-man whose real name may or may not have been Jim Bonig. This second "Mac" would occasionally be an annoyance for Magnum, and also occasionally an assistance.

11. Newman, Seinfeld. OK, an eleventh character. Newman was just a classic. It's a constant aggravation of mine that the only time in my life when I've known someone named "Newman", it was before Seinfeld came along, so I could never greet her with a hearty "Hello, Newman!"

That's it. List your own favorite characters today! All the cool kids are doing it!

That ball wouldn't have gone out of most parks....

I wasn't involved at all, so as a pure external observer, I've been terribly impressed this weekend with how Buffalo Old Home Week has been going. It is unbelievably heartening to see the rolling-up of the sleeves on the part of many people in this region to get whatever we can going before someone gets Albany to wake the f*** up.

Anyway, as always, it's time for a pop-culture metaphor. This new bout of optimism in Buffalo has me thinking of the movie Major League. Remember Cerrano, the voodoo-practicing big slugger who, while able to send just about any fastball out of the park, cannot ever hit a curve ball to save his life, no matter how much he prays to "Jo Buu", his god? And remember, how in the climactic game against the Yankees, Cerrano comes up to bat in a crucial late-inning situation while also mired in a long slump? Standing at the plate, Cerrano addresses Jo Buu for the last time:

I pissed off now, Jo-Buu. I good to you, I stand up for you. If you no help me now, I say f*** you, Jo-Buu. I do it myself.

I'm kind of thinking Buffalo's getting to be a bit like that: F*** you, Albany. We'll do it ourselves.

Ask HIM Anything Too!

Oy! I keep forgetting to link this, but Mark is doing Ask Me Anything!. So go ask him stuff. Mark's a guy I went to college with; he played bass guitar in the jazz band and double bass in the orchestra. I once needled him in the middle of an orchestra rehearsal because our conductor decided to spend a minute of rehearsal time going over some tiny little portion of his part, something like two or three notes, which caused me to call out, "Mark, could you play that with more expression please?"

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Two years

Happy birthday, Little Quinn, wherever you are.

We love you and miss you.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Not one sparrow...."

A few years ago, a friend recommended to me the book The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. Trusting that friend's word, I bought the book -- but then lost track of it when the book ended up in one box, and then another, when we moved to Syracuse and then back to Buffalo. I had forgotten The Sparrow completely until a month ago when the friend reminded me of it. So I set aside space opera for a bit to finally read it, and I was well and truly astonished.

If you know someone who reads "serious" fiction and won't give science fiction a second look, or even a first look, this is a book you can give them.

The Sparrow tells the tale of humanity's first contact with another world. A signal is detected from a planet orbitting Alpha Centauri, a signal that comprises an alien voice singing, and an expedition is mounted by the Jesuit order to go to Alpha Centauri and make contact with the aliens. Years later, Father Emilio Sandoz returns to Earth as the mission's sole survivor, whereupon he is required by a Jesuit board of inquiry to explain what went wrong, despite the fact that he has been both physically and emotionally mutilated and violated.

What went wrong went horribly wrong.

The book is told on two different timelines: chapters set after Sandoz's return alternate with chapters set in the days of the signal's discovery. Thus, the reader is given the knowledge that the mission to Rakhat, the alien planet, is doomed before we ever meet any of the characters who will go there (save Sandoz). This imbues much of the book with a sense of impending doom that only becomes more intense as we get to know Russell's characters, who come alive on the page as few fictional characters do. These people seem real, and frankly, a good part of what keeps the pages turning is the terrible need to learn just how these vibrant people meet their end.

For the first half of the film, the dual-time setting device is a bit distracting, but as the events of the doomed mission gather momentum, it becomes much more effective. This is almost exclusively because of Russell's ability to make us care about her characters, and when their demises start to come, they are still somehow surprising.

I won't spoil the denouement of the book, aside to note that the mission fails not for simplistic reasons of good conflicting with evil, but because good people who intend nothing more than good things fail to note several things about the culture they are meeting. The book is a giant tragedy of unintended consequences.

Of particular interest is the book's spiritual dimension. Many of the characters are Jesuits, and Emilio Sandoz is presented as the most complex of these. His is not an easy faith; he constantly has to work at it, and his faith is nearly destroyed by what happens to him on Rakhat. Russell takes a fairly unflinching look at the nature of religious faith, and it is to her credit that this look reveals neither an overall positive view, nor an excessively negative one. By necessity, the book provides few answers -- as, we suspect, it must.

I found The Sparrow quite a brilliant novel.

Determining my S.Q.

My SQ is my "Shamus Quotient". How do I derive my Shamus Quotient? By simply assessing how my blog stands up to Shamus's list of commonalities amongst the blogs he reads. Since he's linked me a few times lately and commented here, I hope I fall at least into the "somewhat approved" category, even though my knowledge of anime is pretty much limited to the films of Hayao Miyazaki (whose work I utterly adore).

Anyhow, here are his seven commonalities. (I call them "commonalities" because I assume he doesn't sit with a checklist and strike blogs from his reading list if they fail to meet them all. But maybe he does. Hmmmmm!)

1. Informal, conversational style.

I think I'm more conversation than not, although I do tend to in my writing employ longer sentences than I do when I'm speaking, since when I read stuff myself I find that I take particular delight in a long sentence that is artfully crafted. Yeah, like that.

But then, I do use words like "yeah", "meh", and "dumb-ass" quite a lot, and those are definitely conversational words. So I'll mark myself down for this one.

2. I like people who use their real names more than those who use pseudonyms, and I like pseudonyms better than pure anonymity.

Hmmmm. Do I count as being pseudonymous still? I just realized that my real name isn't on the blog itself, but it is very easy to find via my various links under the "Your Humble Narrator" section of the sidebar. I'm not militant about my use of "Jaquandor" as a Net identity anymore, and nowadays, other bloggers seem about as likely to refer to me as "Kelly" as they are as "Jaquandor" or "Jaq". Since my real name is no mystery at all, I'll just mark myself down as meeting this one as well.

(Thus far nobody's referred to me as "that weirdo in overalls", but I figure that's gotta come sooner or later.)

3. No ads.

Check. No ads here, with the exception of the links to my own tip jar and the link to my eBay auctions, none of which I even have going at the moment. (I'll be getting back into that sometime soon, though.) I've occasionally considered signing up for Google Ads or BlogAds, but I don't want a third column on my blog, and I've given a lot of thought to the order in which stuff appears in my sidebar, and I wouldn't want to supplant any of that for some ads. If I ever make money from blogging, I'd like it to be because someone somewhere decided to contract me out for either a pro-blogging gig or for an article or two, not because of advertising here in my own space.

So, worry not, steadfast readers: Byzantium's Shores will remain ad-free (unless, of course, the Blogger people decide to force ads upon me, in which case I would probably ditch them and move the blog elsewhere).

4. I prefer dark lettering on light backgrounds.

My color scheme isn't exactly black-letters-on-white-background, but it still satisfies the criterion, I think.

5. I prefer to read what adults have to say, and I’m not talking about age here.

I'm torn here. Given certain subjects, I either write like a wisen'd adult (the saga of Little Quinn), or like a twelve-year-old fanboy (Star Wars). I'll give myself half a point here.

6. I like one-author blogs better than group blogs, but only because I like to know who I’m reading.

I've never even used a guest-poster for my hiatuses. Check.

Shamus also wishes that group blogs would put an icon denoting the poster at the top of posts. I haven't seen this either, but I have seen group blogs that put the poster's name at the top of the posts, like Making Light, About Last Night, and the Dead Parrots Society.

7. I like some info about the author.

Check, unless he means direct info right on the main page. One will, however, learn enough about me to know where I'm coming from by perusing the stuff under "Your Humble Narrator" in the sidebar.

So, my SQ turns out to be 6.5. Huzzah!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sentential Links #62

I know these are appearing fairly late in the day, but it's awful nice outside. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. Anyhow, here are this week's links:

:: Here we are near the end of August without a single hurricane to date because, as we're told, the surface waters of the Atlantic have cooled. What do you want to bet that someone will soon blame those cool waters on those melting glaciers. (Well, they could try to say that, but they'd be crazy because Greenland is too far north for its melting glaciers to significantly cool the waters of the tropical Atlantic. What's alarming about the melting of Greenland's glaciers isn't so much the amount of cold water entering the Atlantic but rather the simple amount of water entering the ocean anywhere, raising sea levels, and additionally, that much fresh water entering the Atlantic at that point. A serious shift in the salinity of the North Atlantic could disrupt major ocean currents like the Gulf Stream, and that would be disastrous for Europe. What Craig's referring to in his post is a new Danish study that suggests that Greenland's glaciers have been melting for a very long time, over a century in fact, which would somehow negate the idea that it's all due to global warming. Maybe so, but everything I've read -- here's an example from just the other day -- suggests that the problem isn't that Greenland's glaciers are melting at all, but that they're melting significantly faster than ever before. Which, in fact, is something the Danish scientists even come out and say at the end of the news article I link above, so how does this news article justify suggesting that maybe Greenland's icemelt has nothing to do with global warming? Here's part of the danger of having an increasingly scientifically illiterate society: some of these scientifically illiterate folks become reporters.)

:: In the real world, one of the jobs responsible people assume is that of fixing (as best they can) the screw-ups they cause in spite of their best efforts to avoid them. You never, ever see a Rand hero in that position. (Do you? Somebody tell me if I'm wrong.) It is that unreality that, more than anything else, bugs me about Rand's fiction. (That fits in with my recent post on why I'm neither Libertarian nor Objectivist. I've always been mystified at the near-worship Ayn Rand's writings inspire, because, like Fred, I don't see that she's anything other than a terrible observer of the human condition.)

:: I've spent nearly twenty years trying to make the point that fantasy can be as important as any other form of literature. (That's from an interview with Guy Gavriel Kay.)

:: My husband made me cry. (OK, that's the post's title and not a sentence from the post. Who cares. And making a woman cry? What a jerk!)

:: Why do I eat fried hotdog sandwiches, but I don’t eat Spam?

:: This relatively northerly position would normally weight against the location of a spaceport in Cape Breton, since the farther a rocket is from the equator the more fuel it takes to overcome the Earth's pull and reach orbit with a given mass: The Kennedy Space Center in Florida or the French/European Centre Spatial Guyanais in French Guiana have decided advantages. (OK, I need someone to explain this to me. Isn't Earth's gravitational pull equal in all directions? Why would it take more rocket fuel to launch from a more northern location? I'm genuinely baffled here.)

:: [If you're German, you might want to bail out now before I make fun of your language.] (Oh, fun with the German language! Cool!)

:: L is the first and twenty-sixth letter in this sentence.

Enough for now. More next week.

To My Google and Blogger Overlords

Look, guys, I really am looking forward to your rollout of SuperBlogger or whatever it is that you've got cooking up at the Google Labs. I'm sure that the next iteration of Blogger will be incredibly cool.

But if you're not going to let me into the Beta version, can we at least make it so I'm not clicking through four or five screens just to get to my posting interface? Please? Thanks.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Come back, Shane!

I've been remiss in not mentioning next weekend's Buffalo Old Home Week, which is an event cooked up by a bunch of chipper activists in these parts who are tired of seeing people get frustrated about living in Buffalo, move away, and then realize that where they move to quite frankly sucks in comparison to Buffalo, which I have decided to redub from "the Queen City" to "the Greatest-City-in-the-World-in-waiting". Because that's what this place is going to be once we figure out some stuff. Like, how to wake up Albany.

Anyhow, if there are any Buffalo ex-pats out there reading Byzantium's Shores, come on back and see what's going on. This city may be continually reeling, but at least now we're getting tired of rolling with the punches and are instead getting up to punch back. Or something like that.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

This looks familiar, and I can't quite shake the feeling that I've linked it already in the past at some point, but maybe I didn't. Anyway, did you ever think, when watching Return of the Jedi, that maybe the Death Star II's final explosion would wreak havoc on the ecosystem on the Forest Moon of Endor?

No? Well, me neither. But someone did.

(Via Fred, whose blog I've allowed to go unread for far too long, not unlike a whole bunch of fine blogs, to be honest.)

Go to Arisia!

I've just started reading First Lensman, by E.E. "Doc" Smith, which is one of the books in Smith's Lensmen sequence, which comprises one of the first space operas ever written. However, I may abandon First Lensman and go straight to Galactic Patrol, because that book, while the third in the chronological sequence, is the first that Smith actually wrote, and by and large, series tend to be best enjoyed in the order in which the episodes were created. (I'd never start a Star Wars virgin with The Phantom Menace, no matter how much I love that movie despite everybody else's dislike of it.)

However, I've read about fifteen pages of First Lensman, which isn't enough to really spoil things (I hope), and there's a scene in the second chapter that had me laughing, albeit unintentionally. If your only acquaintance with comics, for example, is via the gritty titles that exist now, it can be quite the shock to peruse the original Lee/Ditko issues of Spiderman, when everybody is calling each other "Daddy-O".

Here we have a man and a woman arguing with each other during a mixed-doubles game of tennis, and then afterwards, a friend suggests to the man that he and the lady are lovers, to which the man responds:

"Lovers! Who the hell ever said we were lovers?...Oh, you've been inhaling some of dad's balloon-juice. Lovers! Me and that red-headed skinker -- that jelly-brained sapadilly? Hardly!"

Hee hee! Now there's a term that needs to be rescued from obscurity, along with "cockamamie" and "far out!". Starting tomorrow, I will be using the word "sapadilly" in conversation at least once per day.

"Boys will be boys"

I gotta stop reading the news, because this made me want to vomit.

Capsule version: two high school football players in some town in Ohio decided it would be funny to swipe a deer decoy, stick it on some road somewhere, and then watch as cars swerved to avoid it. Except one of the cars swerved too much, lost control, and ended up in a ditch. Neither of the passengers in that car died, but both were seriously injured: one has endured ten surgeries, still awaits another, and spent three months in a neck brace.

The two idiots who pulled this stunt were sentenced to sixty days in a juvenile detention center, with those sentences to be served after they finish their football season.

Yup: they get to play football before they serve time for a crime that could well have ended up in manslaughter.

Unbelievable. In the judge's words: "I shouldn't be doing this, but I'm going to. I see positive things about participating in football." And in response to some outcry that the two idiots were treated leniently because they're on the football team, one of the fathers opined: "I don't know why it's about football players. Why isn't it about student council or track?"

Well, gee whiz, let's just give that a little thought, shall we? Does anyone out there think for one second that if a student council member pulled a stunt like this, and nearly got someone killed, that that student would be allowed to postpone serving his sentence because of some student council business? What if this happened not to a couple of football players, but the "equipment manager" (i.e., the kid in charge of picking up the pile of shoulder pads after practice)? What if a member of the marching band had pulled a stunt like this? That father sounds utterly clueless, probably because he is utterly clueless. The judge even admitted it, for Christ's sake: "Here's what I should do, but you're football players. So I'm setting aside what I know that I should do." And kindly stuff the crap about "positive things" about participating in football. I love football too, but there's nothing uniquely special about it that doesn't happen in any other kind of team effort, be it the baseball team, the swimming team, or the drama club, or the concert band.

The article notes that this is a town of 8000 people, where the stadium fills with 4000 people on football night. We're also told that this team has recently been to the state championships. We're not told how good this year's team is, or what positions the hooligans play, so it's not clear if this is the star QB and RB on a team that's angling for another title, or just two benchwarmers on a .500 team. But that shouldn't matter, should it?

When I was a kid, teachers and adults understood the discipline that could be meted out via peer pressure. It went like this: one kid goofs off, the teacher pulls the plug on recess for the whole class, and then come the inevitable words of wisdom, "It only takes one person to screw it up for everybody."

Now that would have been a life lesson for these two idiots. They could have been the jerks who cost Anytown USA its shot at the championship. I doubt they'll learn much of anything, now, except that if you're one of the "cool kids" and you play on the team everybody loves, you'll get treated differently than anyone else. Instead of really having to come to grips with their actions and their real consequences (as well as the knowledge of how much worse the consequences could have been), these kids know that they almost killed someone but hey, it'll be all right because they get to play under the Friday Night Lights.

And after they get out of their 60-day jail terms, they both get to write an essay entitled "Why I Should Think Before I Act". An essay. Why not just make each one stand at a chalkboard and write out sentences 500 times? It would be about as effective a punishment. I'd love to be able to read those essays when they're done. I wonder if they'll pay some nerd to do it for them. Maybe the afore-mentioned hypothetical kid from the marching band.

(But hey, at least I can be reminded that Buffalo Bills fans have nothing on the lunacy that exists out there in some locales for high school football.)

UPDATE: Goodness! Welcome, all you heathen readers of PZ Myers. Feel free to stick around and see what I do here; it's rarely the kind of spittle-flecked rant you've just finished reading, but usually a lot of geekiness and the occasional "tsk, tsk" descent into political comment.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

To the Fair!

The family and I will be spending our second day at the Fair this year today. (We always go twice, because we heart the Fair.) So if any other members of the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan are there, maybe you'll see me. Although be warned, I will be traveling incognito.

(In other words, it's still too hot for overalls. But never fear; September and cooler air is on the way!)

"Birth pangs"

The number of people killed in the 9-11-01 attacks: 2,973. (cite)

And that moment begat this:

The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July, the deadliest month in that country since the war began over three years ago, according to an Iraqi health official: 3,438. (cite)

"We're winning hearts and minds. These are the birth pangs of a new Middle East. Out of crisis comes opportunity. We must stay the course."

Just keep saying those things over and over again, like a mantra.

"We're winning hearts and minds. These are the birth pangs of a new Middle East. Out of crisis comes opportunity. We must stay the course."

Say it enough, and you might even believe it.

"We're winning hearts and minds. These are the birth pangs of a new Middle East. Out of crisis comes opportunity. We must stay the course."

Don't worry about the bodies piling up or the smoke in the air from the explosions or the growing spectre of hostile nations against whom we are ever more unable to confront in an open war that our leaders so desperately want anyway.

"We're winning hearts and minds. These are the birth pangs of a new Middle East. Out of crisis comes opportunity. We must stay the course."

Don't worry about the whole new generation of terrorists which is also experiencing its birth pangs.

"We're winning hearts and minds. These are the birth pangs of a new Middle East. Out of crisis comes opportunity. We must stay the course."

Don't worry about any of that stuff. That's for wimps and appeasers and Leftie traitors. Because after all:

"We're winning hearts and minds. These are the birth pangs of a new Middle East. Out of crisis comes opportunity. We must stay the course."

I feel better already.


Hoo boy. Alan has decided to bait a 419 scammer. The first reply comes back today.

As a hobby, this has got to be more rewarding than making fun of Mary Kunz Goldman!


I must admit that for years I've pretty much held the opinion that JonBenet Ramsey was either done in by her parents or by someone else very close to the family, and the parents had used their money to protect either themselves or that person.

Turns out, ten years later, that I couldn't have been more wrong had I believed that JonBenet was done in by a team of criminals including Jack the Ripper and whoever kidnapped the Lindbergh baby.

Anyway, apologies to the Ramseys for thinking they're murderers, and I'm glad that justice has finally found its way. It's a little too late for JonBenet's mother, who died a few months back, of course. That's the problem with justice: its timetable is purely its own, having nothing whatever to do with the 44 minutes that they have on CSI to solve the mystery.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Our fine four-fendered friend

I saw Cars with the family several months ago, but never posted about it. So now I'll post about it. (Some of this will be spoilerish.)

Seeing Cars was a delightful couple of hours in the theater, in pretty much the same way that it's always delightful to see a new Pixar movie: there are tons of in-jokes, humorous asides, and visual invention a-plenty. The story of Cars really isn't anything new whatsoever. It's something of a mashup between the "Man Who Learned Better" basic plot and the kind of "elegy for a simpler time" tale that Pixar's done before, primarily in the Toy Story movies and, to a lesser extent, in The Incredibles.

Cars takes quite a while to really get going, plot-wise. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the film's theme involves the idea that modern life has become too fast anyway; and although this probably wasn't a reason for making the movie's pace so slack, it does help get used to the film's central conceit that these cars are living beings.

I suppose that's what bugs me about Cars when I think back about it. Toy Story posited a secret life of toys, but it was a smaller world within a human one. The monster world of Monsters Inc. also existed parallel with the human world, so in both cases there was a kind of logic to the way things worked. In Cars, the cars are the beings that populate their world, and that's it. So, I'm wondering, who built the buildings? Why would the rock outcroppings be shaped like the fins of an old 50s gas-guzzler? I loved the idea that farm tractors are the big dumb cows of the car world, but -- well, why are there tractors? Why is there even agriculture?

I know, it's missing the point to ask questions like that. But I kept having this "off" feeling while watching the movie, and I think that questions like that are why. I just couldn't bring myself to totally buy into the movie's scenario.

Again, though, it's not a bad movie at all. I liked it more than A Bug's Life, for instance. I loved the movie's constant parade of jokes about cars and car-stuff, from cameos by the Magliozzi brothers ("Don't drive like my brother!") to the French roadsters and whatnot. I especially loved the continuation of Pixar's attention to visual detail, and their use of visuals that no one else would even think to include.

An example of this occurs early in the film, while the race-car star of the movie (don't recall his name) is riding in the back of his transport truck, and there's an incredibly brief shot of the truck's shadow on the side of the road. The shadow changes shape with the contour of the side of the road in a way that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who ever went on a long drive as a child and had nothing to do but stare out the window at the undulations of the car's shadow. It's the kind of thing that we don't much think about when we're adults, when we take books on our long drives and don't spend much time staring out the window at our own shadows.

Anyway, I liked Cars. But not as much as some previous Pixar movies.

Hey, Blogger Users!

So, is anyone out there among the apparently lucky few who have been able to migrate their Blogger blogs to the "new and improved" Blogger? If so, is it as cool as it looks?

(For those not in the know, Blogger is getting ready to roll out its latest edition, with lots of apparently nifty new features like better syndication and possible "private" blogs and something that looks like the post-categories that are the norm in systems like Wordpress.)

UPDATE: More info on the new Blogger here. It specifically states that eventually all Blogger users will be able to move their old blogs to the new system, although if you really want to try out the new features, you can create a new blog that will be on the new system.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sentential Links #61

Here we go:

:: So much faith in the Lebanese government I do not understand. A puppet of Syria, who is a puppet of Iran. Iran is Barzini here. You see the Godfather? Okay? So a question about it. Who props up that government? I mean if the Israeli, if the IDF, which is, although when I was in Israel, I gotta tell you, a bunch of baby-faced kids. I know they're always portrayed in the media with Darth Vader helmets and the Israeli war machine. I'm telling you, the cutest kids ever. But if they couldn't contain, and I think there's an element of that that no one really wants to talk about. I wonder how much the US government was surprised that Israel didn't go in, bing-bang-boom, and knock these suckers out. Forget about Israel for a second, even though it's difficult for me, right and wrong, good and evil, and all that. Let's discuss real politics, shall we? It's in America's best interest that Hezbollah be eliminated. I mean this is not just Israel's problem. You know who Hezbollah is. You know where they are. So I think there was an element of surprise. Do I think it's Olmert's weakness? I do. Did I campaign wildly for Bibi? I did. Do I have a vote? I don't. So I think Israel also, you know it's interesting, when I was in Israel, you could see the country was in short of like a shock, like a 9/11 shock. Here they had banked so much on land for peace and peace, even this sh--, even a bad peace, sorry about that, John, is better than a good war, so to speak, although I don't subscribe to that. I understand that the current, modern civilization does, to which they're going to pay dearly, but that's besides the point. Such stock we're putting in the Lebanese government, who is totally kowtowing to Hezbollah. You put every remark by the crying Siniora, I mean, another Godfather moment. You remember Godfather, Frank Sinatra, it was supposed to be Frank Sinatra, he's crying, you're godfather. Same thing happens, somebody slap him. So how could you have so much faith in the Lebanon government? I mean, I want to believe, John. I believe in you. I want to believe. (Oh, my God in Heaven. That's an actual question posed to the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, by...a blogger. And not just any blogger, but one who is as close to certifiably insane as any I've ever encountered. Someone at the White House decided that having Bolton sit for this interview was a good idea. And we still have two-and-a-half years of this crowd running things. We are so screwed. Link via TBogg.)

:: Don't these people realize that we're in a war and that weakening the Commander-in-Chief with such criticisms and declaring American defeat endangers all of us?

:: Taking some of these people seriously about Iraq is like listening to Joe Hazlewood on celestial navigation. (Google Hazlewood if you don't get the joke.)

:: But what's true for America in Iraq is true for Israel in Lebanon as well -- just because you have an army on hand and a nice idea of what you'd like to see happen doesn't mean that there's an actual way to use your army to make it happen.

:: I am absolutely buffaloed by the people who insist I man up and take it in the teeth for the great Clash of Civilizations -- "Come ON, people, this is the EPIC LAST WAR!! You just don't have the stones to face that fact head-on!" -- who at the whiff of an actual terror plot will, with no apparent sense of irony, transform and run around shrieking, eyes rolling and Hello Kitty panties flashing like Japanese schoolgirls who have just realized that the call is coming from inside the house!

:: A stark reminder that this isn't a "war" at all -- you don't foil a plot like this with armored personnel carriers and JDAMs. We're also not going to capture the capital city of "Islamic fascism" -- not Kabul, not Baghdad, not even Teheran and Damascus -- and force our adversaries to surrender.

:: There's something to fairy tales, of course. We should keep our sense of wonder. We do need to dream.

All for now. For some reason, most of what I read this week was fairly political. Go figure.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Well, there must be something in the water -- or in the vodka martinis. No sooner do I post about Dave's reviewing of all the Bond movies (see the next post down) than I go over to MeFi and find a thread devoted to a site called, whose purpose is to organize a boycott of the upcoming James Bond flick Casino Royale because Daniel Craig, the guy now playing Bond, is too much of a wimp or even gay or...something. It's all very stupid and a little creepy, so I don't take it at all seriously. It's not unlike the one site I found eons ago that venomously savaged the poor girl who played Cho Chang in the most recent Harry Potter movie.

Actors aren't the people they play, folks. Laurence Olivier sure played a mean Henry V, but I seriously doubt he'd have been much use on the fields at Agincourt.

(BTW, here's a pretty bizarre quote from that MeFi thread, in response to a mini-debate within the thread as to whether Bond films should be "realistic" or not. Steven Den Beste weighs in heavily on the "not" side, a position with which I agree, but here's the quote that stopped me in my tracks:

Vaguely more seriously, the James Bond films of the 60s through 80s were during the cold war, and it was believable. After the cold war things in the real world got more complicated and the writers had a hell of a time keeping up. It seemed all the plotlines post Roger Moore were not in keeping with the current events. The explosions and gorgeous bimbos were still there, but the backdrop which made Bond believable thirty or forty years ago just doesn't apply today. You have to place these films in another world entirely, and in that regard, Delmoi is absolutely correct. If you can't believe what you're seeing, you can't escape into it.

Huh? When the hell was Bond ever "believable", and when did the plots ever really deal with "current events"? Look, folks, I know that everybody thinks that the Bond movies were Cold-war espionage thrillers for the longest time, but that simply isn't true.

And then, farther downthread, someone says this:

Hell, up until Timothy Dalton's run, the best, most realistic hand to hand combat scene in a Bond film was when those Gypsy girls fought each other in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Sure, except that's the wrong friggin' movie, by fourteen years. The title you're looking for is From Russia With Love.

And now I'm remembering a Usenet argument I once got into with a person whose knowledge of the Bond movies was staggeringly bad, and yet, there he was, arguing away with the absolutely certainty that he knew what he was talking about, even though I and a couple others had to keep stopping the argument just to correct him on the facts of the series. We're talking about a person who thought that For Your Eyes Only, which came out in 1981 and starred Roger Moore as Bond, was one of the 60s Connery flicks. What is it about the Bond movies that makes people think they know everything about them?)

Photoey goodness!

For the first time in a while, I've updated the Flickr photostream with quite a few photos that have been sitting around. Photos include our day at the Erie County Fair yesterday, our recent excursion to the Sterling Renaissance Festival, the Daughter riding her bike without training wheels, a couple shots of the recent BloggerCon Episode IV, and more.

Oddly, after our digital camera recently broke (something in the viewfinder came visibly loose inside, making the viewfinder useless, and the optical zoom stopped working entirely, causing the lens to be stuck in the "on" position) we returned to our film camera, which worked for a few weeks and now it too no longer works! (It focuses and everything, but the picture never takes. The film doesn't advance, no flash, and the camera just makes this odd "grinding" noise.) So I dinked around with both cameras a bit, opening their cases with my trusty precision screwdrivers, saw nothing that stood out to me as an obvious problem, and put them back together -- to discover that now the digital camera will turn on and off as normal, and the lens will retract in and out. But we can no longer use the optical zoom, and the viewfinder is still blurred to uselessness, so framing shots is a major trial. But at least for now I can take pictures.

I've already started saving pennies for a new digital camera this Christmas anyway. Nowadays I can get a five megapixel camera for not a whole lot more (say, $30 more) than I paid nearly two years ago for this two megapixel camera. Then, I'll probably send the original camera to Olympus for a repair estimate; if it's not too outrageous, I may let The Daughter have it. (But don't tell her, anyone. It'll be a surprise.)

For King and Country

Dave Thomas has begun the task of reviewing all of the James Bond movies. As of this writing, he's up to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, his take on which turns out to be fairly similar to mine (excepting my acceptance of Telly Savalas as Blofeld over Donald Pleasance's from You Only Live Twice).

By the way, for reference purposes, I wrote my own series of Bond reviews way back when this blog was still fairly new. It was the first thing I did that actually got some linkage around Blogistan, pushing my average daily traffic to around 30 hits per day! Those posts are linked in the sidebar; look for "James Bond Redux".


I'm not sure how I managed to completely miss this post of Jayme's, but he's tagged me with a book meme that's been wending its way through Blogistan. I can't remember if I've done this particular meme or not already (it looks kind of familiar, but then, by the time you reach 4.5 years of blogging, all of it starts to look kind of familiar), but I'll do it again anyway:

1. One book that changed your life?

Ben Hur, or, A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace. I've never read it, actually. But if Wallace hadn't written the book, the movie with Charlton Heston wouldn't have existed. And if that movie hadn't existed, maybe my parents would not have had a first date. (Frankly, I continue to be astonished that my father went to see that movie in a theater anyway. I've never known him to like epic storytelling in any milieu, much less an overtly Biblical one.)

Of course, if I have to name a book that I actually have read, then I'd name Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three. This was my first encounter with epic fantasy in a made-up land with a map in the front of the book. For me, this book probably did for me in a literary way what Star Wars did to me in a cinematic way.

2. One book you have read more than once?

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. Still the best book on writing that I've encountered, although nowadays when I pick it up I expect the book to physically slap me, so little have I written in recent months. (Outside of this space, that is.)

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

How trite an answer is this? Any copy of the complete Shakespeare. Because it's all there.

4. One book that made you laugh?

Christopher Moore's Island of the Sequined Love Nun, the first of Moore's novels I ever read. Truth is, every one of his books has made me laugh, but as my first, this one holds a special place for me.

5. One book that made you cry?

Going back to my answer to number one, The High King by Lloyd Alexander. As my first encounter with epic fantasy, here's where I encountered one of epic fantasy's main tropes: the changing of an entire world, and the sad parting of friends and comrades forever at the end of the journey. When Taran made his choice to stay in Prydain, I lost it. (I was ten, yes, but I choked up again last time I re-read this series, a few years ago.)

6. One book you wish had been written?

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. No, nothing against Zahn's book; I've grown to love Zahn and plan to read a lot of him over the course of my space opera reading project. But as a Star Wars fan, I gave much thought to what happened after Return of the Jedi, and I did write some fanfic on that score. (No, I'm not going to share it.)

7. One book you wish had never had been written?

The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. To paraphrase old Treebeard, there aren't enough curses in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men to capture the depth of my distaste for that godawful piece of tripe with its moral message of astonishing badness: "Become a man by killing that which you love!"

Same damn thing for Old Yeller. Wretched damn crap. I've wondered if George R. R. Martin was partly making fun of Old Yeller when he posited, in A Storm of Swords, that part of the required training for the warrior tribe known as the Unsullied had to kill their pet dogs at their coming of age.

8. One book you are currently reading?

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. A friend recommended it to me years ago, so I bought a copy and then forgot about it. Now I've been reminded. So far it's a highly engaging read, but the book's structure is creating a sense of impending disaster that's kind of a downer. I'll have more to say about this one when I finish it.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

All of them, really. But if you have to have a title, Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson. Because everybody else has read it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ask HIM Anything!

Now John is doing Ask Me Anything!.

So go ask him...something. Anything. Just don't ask him nothing.

UPDATE: And go ask Lynn Sislo anything, too. She says she'll cry if she doesn't get as many questions as me -- but then, at least half of hers won't be "Would you give up overalls for $100? How about $1000? Come on, I'll give you $10,000 to stop wearing overalls! And get a haircut too, ya damn hippie-wannabe!"

(I kid, of course. I kid because I love. But seriously, go ask Lynn some stuff.)

One belfry, minus one bat

Allow me to heave a sigh of relief that Cynthia McKinney will no longer be in the United States Congress. The kookery of the majority party is bad enough; we don't need to keep adding to it.

Now can he do a little picture?

So I watched King Kong last night.

I greatly enjoyed most of it, but like most of the reviewers I've read, it went on just a bit too long. Or maybe it was long enough, but it lost its focus a bit. I'm not totally sure. But King Kong sports a wonderful first hour, a mostly fun and hair-raising second hour (with one gigantic exception), and a third hour that just feels leaden and fatalistic.

The movie takes its sweet time in the first hour, which is something I'm always glad to see in a movie these days. I've grown to really like it when movies take the time to establish their characters, flesh out the backstories, and so on before really amping up the plot. I liked that Peter Jackson made it make sense how all these characters came together, and I liked how Jackson made it all feel like a fun adventure tale well before he started to hint at an ominous sense of impending doom.

Once the movie got to Skull Island, I felt a bit of the tension slacken a bit. First, a lot of the production design of the first bits of Skull Island felt to me right out of the Mordor sequences of The Return of the King, right down to some of the atmospheric sound effects and jerky close-ups on skulls and the sweeping shots of the stone "Savage Village" that looked like some of the Orc fortifications from The Lord of the Rings. Sure, the same creative people behind Kong were behind LOTR, but for a while there the film really shows some design throwbacks to the earlier movies.

As for the rest of the Skull Island stuff: I loved every moment between Ann (Naomi Watts) and Kong, except for the first few when Kong's clutching her while racing through the jungle (I just found it hard to believe that all that jostling wouldn't give her a concussion, if not outright kill her). The battle between Kong and the three T-rexes was the most exhilarating action sequence I've seen in quite some time. It takes a special action sequence to have me on the edge of my seat in my own living room, but damned if this one didn't do it. (Although toward the beginning of that sequence, I kept thinking, "Why doesn't she just stand still? Jurassic Park taught us that T-rexes couldn't see you unless you moved!" * )

The other storyline on Skull Island wasn't as involving, frankly: the search-and-rescue mission for Ann. After a while it started to seem as though Peter Jackson basically decided to indulge every monster-movie dream his little geeky heart has ever held, so we had dinosaurs and lizards and then the first movie sequence I've seen in many years that actually had me watching through the gaps between the fingers I'd clamped over my eyes, the giant-insect-and-bigass-grub attack on the rescuers. When that one giant grub-thing overwhelmed that one poor slob, fastening its maw over the guy's head -- Jesus, I get willies just thinking about that scene. (Seriously, folks, if you have any kind of squickiness-factor about bugs, do not watch this scene! I'll even tell you when to hit your "Skip Ahead One Chapter" button on the DVD player: all the guys are huddled in the dark at the bottom of a ravine, and their fire finally goes out.)

By the time the movie returns to New York City, all that's left is the playing out of the sad ending we all know is coming. The film's mood shifts from ominous doom to ominous tragedy. The final sequence is extremely well-done, although through it all I kept wondering if Ann was completely unaware of where she was. I mean, she decides to climb to the absolute top of the Empire State Building, a circular area about ten feet in diameter with no guard railing whatsoever, and she just stands there as though she's on the sidewalk. When you're that high, you don't dart up ladders like that.

The film's score was OK; Howard Shore had finished scoring about two-thirds of the film when his music was rejected and he was replaced by James Newton Howard. Howard's main motif for Skull Island is a nice, creepy one, but by and large, the music didn't leave much impression. I'm not nearly as big a James Newton Howard fan as many other film music lovers, some of whom seem to think he's Jerry Goldsmith's heir apparent.

I liked King Kong a lot. As a remake of a classic film, it stands well on its own.

* Yes, I know that the "T-rexes can't see you if you're still" thing is false.

Monday, August 07, 2006


As you might expect, I declared all the questions from Ask Me Anything! answered...and then someone pointed out that I missed one. I've appended that answer to the wrap-up post.


Suggestions for my punishment are solicited.

Sentential Links #60

Crackle crackle crackle crackle BZZZZZZT!

The following links take place between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.

:: You know what sucks? (So how long are you going to stay at that job, Aaron?)

:: So, why do I care? Because dammit, he's my little brother and I feel like I should go beat them up. (Someone should go beat them up regardless of whether he's their little brother. Man, what a wuss thing to lose one's job over. But hey, maybe he can come back up here -- Ed Kilgore bugs me.)

:: When hammers are swinging and saws are cutting, it smells like progress. Smells good, doesn’t it?

:: I fully recommend getting married with otters. (Uh...OK.)

:: I often imagine this is what the nectar of the Gods must have tasted like. (Nah! Everybody knows that the nectar of the Gods tastes like Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum. That's my theory, anyway, of why things are so messed up: because the gods are constantly crocked.)

:: His body language suggests he’s describing the size of the bag of Cheetos he wants to eat right now. (Shit, now I want a big-ass bag of Cheetos....)

:: I am a true connoisseur of late blooming female beauty. I love the bodies of older women and I have the pictures to prove it. I'd post them but the wife and professional woman who lives inside the particular forty-something body I love would kill me. (Weenie.)

:: [T]eaching the Classics to many high school students is a waste of time, and further, it is detrimental to literacy efforts. (I found this journal by searching for anyone else who had written about the Sterling Renaissance Festival, which she did here, but I found this post a lot more provocative.)

:: So naturally, we went skinny dipping and T made me pose. (Jayne may yell at me for this, but it's such a lovely picture. Both are, actually.)

:: So -- in Mogadishu and Iraq and Afghanistan and Lebanon -- the soldiers themselves are caught in the maze of war. Even with guidance from above the convoy of Humvees loaded with wounded can't turn the corner without facing the Minotaur.

:: Traveling at the speed of dumb, I assume. (Clearly Tom's pseudo-outing hasn't affected his powers of snark. In fact, you might say that struck down, he has become more powerful than Paterico could possibly imagine....)

All for now. Come back next week.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hiroshima plus sixty-one

Tomorrow marks the sixty-first anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; Thursday will mark the same anniversary of the a-bombing of Nagasaki. One week from Wednesday will mark the sixty-first anniversary of the Japanese surrender, which ended World War II.

Anyway, today Steven Den Beste takes exception to this MeFi thread commemorating the date of August 6:

Why do lefties commemorate August 6, but not March 9 (the firebombing of Tokyo)? Why not September 18, 1931, when the Japanese army manufactured an "incident" to justify the conquest of Manchuria? Why not July 7, 1937, when another "incident" at the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing led to the second Sino-Japanese war?

The traditional date for the beginning of WWII is September 17, 1939, when the German invasion of Poland began, but some historians have argued cogently (IMHO) that WWII actually began either in 1931 or in 1937 on the dates given above.

And the Japanese were responsible for far more civilian deaths in China than the US ever caused in Japan.

Why do enlightened and compassionate lefties not commemorate those dates? Of course, the answer is obvious: because those are not days of shame for America. But that still doesn't explain why August 6 is commemorated but not March 9.

First of all, I think SDB's got his dates slightly wrong above: Germany invaded Poland not on September 17, 1939, but on September 1 of that year. September 17 is when the USSR likewise invaded Poland (more detail here). I also think that WWII, understood as a conflict that arose out of the unresolved problems of WWI, really began when Germany invaded Poland, but that's neither here nor there: good arguments can be made for the war actually beginning with Japan's invasion of Manchuria.

But anyway, SDB asks in the MeFi thread why August 6 should be specially commemorated when the firebombing of Tokyo should not. The answer is, of course, that August 6 involved the use of the atomic bomb.

I'm pretty much of a political lefty, but even so, I've never believed that dropping the a-bomb constituted a war crime, nor have I ever believed that Japan was on the verge of surrender anyway. (If that were true, it wouldn't have taken a Nagasaki to drive the point home.) I don't believe that August 6 is a "day of shame" for America. I don't think it was a moment of greatness or heroism, either. It was a day when President Truman took the best of a couple of crappy options before him.

Why commemorate August 6 over March 9 (the firebombing of Tokyo in 1944)? Because of the atomic bomb, obviously. Like it or not, that was an iconic event in world history. Regardless of the numbers of dead (the Tokyo firebombing claimed more lives than the Hiroshima bombing), the use of an a-bomb representing an upping of the ante. As of that moment, destruction on a comparable scale with Dresden and Tokyo could be accomplished not with several hundred bombers dropping tons of incendiary explosives, but by a single bomber dropping one bomb. As of that moment, it was possible for a country with an atomic bomb to wreak tremendous destruction with significantly less effort. That's why the date is an important one in history. At least to me, it is.

Hiroshima still resonates today because nobody worries about al-Qaeda firebombing new York City. But we sure as hell worry about them getting hold of a nuke, don't we? Sure, Bin Laden could do worse with five hundred B29's laden with thousands of tons of incendiary devices than he could with one a-bomb in a suitcase, but what's the scenario that really scares us?

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I like meat loaf once in a while. (Heck, I even like Meat Loaf once in a while -- although I was shocked to hear him during last year's American Idol finale. His voice is gone, folks.)

I also like layer cake.

Now, the thing about meat loaf is that you don't have to shape it into a loaf. You can do other stuff with it.

Like, say, shaping it into a flat circle. layer of a layer cake.

OK, you can probably see where I'm going with this. I'm having trouble with the frosting, though. I don't like mashed potatoes. I'll have to think about this some more.

(A friend e-mailed this to me about five minutes ago.)

The Final Answer!

Whew! With this post, I finally reach the end of my First Annual round of Ask Me Anything!. (Since my answers to all the questions -- and what a fun bunch of questions it was -- were spread out over a bunch of posts written over about three weeks' time, I will end this post with links to all the other answers. An index, if you will.)

Anyhow, here are the final queries:

Dinner party-10 guests (living or dead, but real) you most want to invite?

You know, these "have X people over for dinner" questions are a lot more interesting than they initially sound, because you have to decide just what kind of event you want your dinner party to be, you know? I mean, you could have a dinner party to which you invite Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Soupy Sales -- but the dinner conversation would be a bit lacking (well, not with Abbott and Costello), and the menu would be pretty easy (nothing but cream pies and lots of 'em, obviously).

Or you could strive to create lots of brutal carnage at the table: here you'd invite Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Osama bin Laden, and Tom Brady.

Or you could give no thought whatsoever to the quality of the meal or the conversation, and just bring in people you'd want to meet anyway. So for me, I'd bring in Berlioz, Mozart, Carl Sagan, Charles Darwin, George Lucas, JRR Tolkien, Bill Clinton, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Burns.

That'll be my answer, in fact.

Same question, fictional folks.

Hmmm -- I've never seen the question framed with fictional characters in mind! I'll go with Roy Hobbs from The Natural, Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, Diarmuid dan Ailell from The Fionavar Tapestry, Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption, Yoda from Star Wars, Josiah Bartlet and Toby Ziegler from The West Wing, Sam Malone from Cheers, and James T. Kirk from Star Trek.

9th circle of hell, 10 folks (living or dead, but real) you would send there (or at least deserve to be there if you're the forgiving sort)?

Whoa, this seems a little mean! But hey, the question's asked so I gotta answer it. I'll leave out some of the obvious ones (Hitler and Bin Laden don't need my help going to Hell), and note that my answer here may well offend a bunch of readers! OK? I'd send Ann Coulter, Fidel Castro (he may be on his way there pretty soon, actually), Pope Urban II (yeah, those Crusades were really a good idea -- I sure like the centuries of fallout from that notion), Father Coughlin, Michael Medved, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Lee Atwater, OJ Simpson, and Ray Ferry straight to Hell. (Google that last one -- he screwed Forrest J. Ackerman over, big time. Nobody messes with Dr. Acula! That's just not in the rules!)

Now, this is all fairly tongue-in-cheek. A few of these are folks I genuinely despise, while others are folks whose net contribution to society is, in my eyes, almost entirely negative. But -- well, there you go.

9th circle...I think you get it.

OK, fictional people I'd send to Hell. That's an intriguing notion! Again, I'll eschew the obvious (Palpatine, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, J.R. Ewing). What's intriguing me with this exercise is that with the very best works of fiction, be they novel, film, graphic novel, or TV series, villains are often redeemable -- or, if not necessarily redeemable, they are understandable. It's hard to consign someone to Hell if you can see their point of view, and the best writers make sure that their villains have a discernible point of view.

Anyhow, fictional characters I'd send packing include: Bob from What About Bob (by the halfway point of the movie, I was strongly rooting for Richard Dreyfuss), Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (just for being that annoying), Mordred from certain tellings of the King Arthur legend, the Cigarette Smoking Man and Krycek from The X-Files, Prince Joffrey from A Song of Ice and Fire, Randall Flagg from The Stand (of course, sending him to Hell would be an exercise in futility), the Green Goblin from Spiderman, Valis from Six From Sirius II (an obscure comic from the 80s that's worth reading), and Roland Modesty Van Buren from Fitzpatrick's War (for more on this book, here's my GMR review -- it's a remarkable work).

Thanks to all who asked questions! I hope the queries are as good next time I do this; I'll probably wait until the middle of winter. Maybe make it a twice-a-year event.

And here are the links to the other posts in this series:

Original post soliciting queries, if you're wondering who the questioners were.

Why don't I care for libertarianism or objectivism?

What musical instrument would I like to be able to instantly master, and what music would I play?

How did I meet The Wife?

Why don't I like the West Wing episode "Stackhouse Filibuster"? If I could change one thing about my past, what would it be? What was the first album I ever bought?

So how am I doing at reading lots of space opera?

Have I read Star Wars on Trial? Why is Letterman mean to Paul? What did I think of V for Vendetta? Superpower: flying or invisibility? Who's my favorite Wilbury? If I had to change one thing about the Star Wars prequels, what would it be? How much inducement would it take to get me to shave my beard, cut my hair, and stop wearing overalls (in other words, look like every other dweeb guy on the planet)?

This exercise was a lot of fun. For those bloggers out there who trust their readers not to ask really whacky stuff, I recommend Ask Me Anything!. It'll give an offbeat tone to your blog for a while; it'll give you built in stuff to post about; it'll improve your golf score, enhance your sex drive, and make you the envy of every person with a blog on your block. Start your own Ask Me Anything today!

UPDATE: And wouldn't you know it: I missed one. Oops! Sorry, Jayme.

If you could trade one Buffalo sports franchise in any league for any other city's in any other league, which would it be, and why?

Hmmmm. I'm not really sure what the thrust of the question is. Does it mean that I could, say, make the entire history of the Dallas Cowboys into the entire history of the Buffalo Bills, and vice versa? Meaning that Troy Aikman would have won three Super Bowls in four years here, with the Cowboys losing the Super Bowl four years in a row? Is that it?

Well, I'd find it hard to make any such swap. When you've lived a sports team's history and made it a part of your civic identity as I and countless fans have with the Bills, you become attached in a way to that history, warts and all. So maybe this is a weasel answer, but I think it's the right one: I'd keep both the Bills and the Sabres and leave their history as is.

OK, now I think I'm done with Ask Me Anything!

Friday, August 04, 2006

I'd hoped his name would be "Spartacus Moulitsas"

In the course of not doing as much tooling around Blogistan for a few days as I usually do, I managed to miss TBogg's outing. Get this: his name is Tom, and his last name starts with the letters "Bogg".

Stunning revelation, I know. I don't know how Tom managed to conceal his identity for that long.

Another Answer....

I only have a couple of questions left to answer from Ask Me Anything!. Here's one that I've been mulling over quite a bit:

What is your beef with libertarians and objectivists (objectivist weirdo aside), and with the pilosophy of objectivism?

Well, I hope I don't offend Scotty with my answer to this, since he has laid claim to adhering to both Libertarianism and Objectivism and since he's a good egg. But the question deserves an honest answer.

To start with libertarianism: I think that a libertarian impulse is a very useful one, and it well behooves us to always ask if legislation is really the best way to deal with a certain problem. Many times, the answer will be no, if only because of unintended consequences that can result from passing legislation too hastily that impinges on one freedom or another. But as the bedrock foundation of a person's entire political outlook, libertarianism bothers me. A lot. And thinking about why it bothers me, I keep coming back to one answer: freedom is a wonderful thing and an admirable goal, but it's not the only goal. It seems axiomatic to me that sometimes attaining equality and justice involve curtailing someone's freedom, and really, so be it. We should always strive to minimize the curtailing of freedoms, but when I see a libertarian pontificating in full voice, I am always left with a series of questions: Why are they almost fetishizing the concept of liberty? And is their concept of liberty really one that I share? Libertarianism, at first glance, always seems like a genial, "live and let live" kind of outlook. But when one makes Libertarianism a central principle of a political philosophy, watch out.

I also don't share the libertarian fascination with "the market", or "the free market", or "unrestricted capitalism", or "universal privatization", or whatever else they want to call it. The idea that there should be no public property at all is completely alien to me, and whenever I try to envision how it would work, I find myself at a total loss. I hear libertarians talk about how taxation is theft, and I wonder, Who is going to build the roads in your society? Who is going to put out the fires? Who is going to defend your borders? Who is going to prosecute murderers?

Libertarianism, to me, always seems to profess a belief in The Free Market that I don't think is well-founded. Either it is asserted that The Free Market can solve all problems better than governments, or it is more perniciously asserted any problem that can't be solved by the functioning of The Free Market actually isn't a problem at all, because if it were, the Free Market would solve it. But when I look at what I know of human nature, and when I conclude that in a system of unrestricted capitalism you'd see a lot more Enron's and a lot fewer [insert good corporate citizen here], I have to wonder why on Earth I should think that the response to more Enron's would be to shrug and say, "Hey, that's not a bug, that's a feature!"

The libertarian disdain for government and adulation of The Free Market doesn't really add up, in my mind. Would the Free Market have put men on the moon? Would the free market have created the infrastructure to launch the satellites that make our nearly-instantaneous global communication possible? Would the Free Market have built the Panama Canal? Would the Free Market have spearheaded the first development of digital computers? Would the Free Market have then gone on to investigate the feasibility of a large-scale and uncentralized computer network? Would the Free Market have stopped Hitler? I don't think so. I really don't.

Ultimately, what I don't like about Libertarianism is that it seems to be an ultimate endorsement of the idea that each of us is only looking out for number one. I like to feel that I am part of something beyond just myself and my own little concerns and my own little freedoms, and whenever I hear a really ardent libertarian speaking, I don't get any feeling for that at all. Instead I hear, "I want everybody to live behind a fence and never bother anyone else except to exchange money."

(Here's an earlier post of mine that I wrote in response to a Libertarian I heard on the radio.)

Now, on to Objectivism. I know that full-bore Objectivists tend to insist that they're not really Libertarians, but frankly, after interacting with a number of 'em over the years, I basically find that Objectivists are Libertarians with some special cultism thrown in. I always hear the exact same refrains that I hear from garden-variety Libertarians (taxation equals theft, the only property should be public property, there is no social contract, et cetera) with some stuff from Ayn Rand thrown in for good measure (references to John Galt or Howard Roark, irrelevant citations of the "Law of Non-contradictory Indentification", accusations of "Subjectivism" directed at interlocutors, et cetera). I already find Libertarianism in itself to be entirely unconvincing; I find Objectivism to be downright annoying.

I think it was Steven Den Beste who put it best when he noted that when people ask him "Have you read anything by Ayn Rand?" they tend to ask it in the reverent tone of other people who ask, "Have you spoken to Jesus lately?". I read Rand over a decade ago, in the year after I graduated college. At that time, I had only a vague notion that there was this highly-regarded author named Ayn Rand who'd written a few philosophical novels. What struck me about her writing (I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) wasn't the startling originality of her ideas, or their compelling truth, or the way they sprung from a font of Reason so pure that their logical divinity could never be questioned. What struck me, frankly, was her crappy prose. Reading Rand, I found myself often invoking one of my favorite lines from the Steve Martin movie The Jerk: "Somebody open a window!" She doesn't create characters, so much as embodiments of whatever point she is trying to make; she doesn't give them dialogue, but speeches of varying dullness; she doesn't write vivid descriptions, but great piles of adjectives.

Philosophically, I'm on less certain ground, since it's been over a decade since I either read Rand or practiced anything resembling serious philosophy, but my sense is that Rand wasn't particularly original in her thinking (a lot of it just springs from Aristotle), and her reduction of every single possible philosophical issue to a binary state struck me as absurd. This behavior, though, I see often enough from Objectivists to this day: their righteous conviction of their own rationality makes them almost utterly impossible to converse with. Just try to get an Objectivist to admit a logical error, no matter how glaringly obvious, and you'll get vicious denial (since how can they, absolutely committed to Reason as they are, possibly make a logical error?), shifting of the goalposts, and a simple changing of the subject.

The more one encounters Objectivists and looks at their philosophy, the more creepily cult-like it appears, and that's not even taking into account Objectivist shibboleths that I find highly questionable in the first place (that morality is objective, that Reason by itself can tell us things about the world, that capitalism is the only just social system, that altruism is not a virtue).

Here's a whole lot of anti-Objectivist linkage, and here's a recent AskMeFi thread about Rand. Toward the end of the thread, someone notes that Atlas Shrugged is worth reading for non-Objectivists in the same way that the Bible is worth reading for atheists (I'd broaden that to "non-Christians"). I don't agree: the Bible is worth reading for everyone simply for its language and poetry. I shudder for anyone who reads Ayn Rand just for her prose alone. Here's Whittaker Chambers on the subject:

The news about this book seems to me to be that any ordinarily sensible head could not possibly take it seriously, and that, apparently, a good many do. Somebody has called it: "Excruciatingly awful." I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous.

That's about right, I think.

UPDATE: Here are a couple of links I found by Googling the phrase "Why I am not a libertarian": this person provides some bullet points, and for those who would argue "No, that's not real Libertarianism you're talking about" (much like the extreme Leftists who always say that we've never really given Communism a chance on this planet), this person responds to actual planks from the platform of the Libertarian Party.