Saturday, December 30, 2006

'Tis the Season

I haven't posted much about Christmas or holidays generally this year, and I'm not really going to post about it much now. Around Christmas my family has traditionally made certain foods that are not made during the rest of the year: fudge, buckeyes, truffles and, my personal favourite, baklava. So a couple weeks back we did make some habenero truffles and a tray of baklava. One batch of baklava is not enough, however, and so today my wife and I made more. (Well, she made more and I chopped up the almonds and walnuts for her.) Here's a picture of some of my handiwork.



And here's the finished product. You'll notice from the gap in the left side of the pan that some quality control testing was carried out right after completion.



Tests proved satisfactory.

Perhaps the last two of the year.

New books, that is. I've read another couple books since these two, but none that I hadn't read before. These two are Full Moon and Mr Mulliner Speaking. Both are by Wodehouse and the first is a Blandings novel and the second is a collection of Mulliner stories. Full Moon was the most disappointing Blandings novel I've read yet. It was entertaining and I smiled a fair bit, but I don't think I laughed out loud even once. Wodehouse did recycle his plots quite frequently, and because of that it's often possible to see how a particular book will turn out in general. But in this one even the twists and complications were telegraphed way ahead of time and they weren't as clever as one would have expected. It's a bit surprising that this book should be so off since it wasn't one that was written at the end of his life, but was published in 1947. On the other hand, it's quite possible that the problems he had arising out of his internment during World War II were a sufficient distraction to put him off of his form.

The other book was much better and had quite a few interesting and and entertaining stories including a golf story (some of Wodehouse's best stories are his golf stories), several featuring Bobbie Wickham (who also appears in the Jeeves and Wooster tales leaving chaos in her wake), and a particular favourite of mine about the man who tried to give up smoking.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Heh

A couple of years back, I began some generalization or other by saying, “The difference between America and Canada is…” And the American I was imparting this insight to interrupted me with: “The difference between America and Canada is that Americans don’t care what the difference between America and Canada is.”
~Mark Steyn

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It was the best of books, it was the worst of books

Not really true on either count, really. I finished reading A Tale of Two Cities for the first time a couple days back and it wasn't great, but not as bad as I feared. Excepting A Christmas Carol, it was head and shoulders above what I recall of his other works. On the other hand, it may have been that his other books bored me so because I tried reading them too young.

Anyway, the story was pretty interesting though it was obvious what was going to happen at the end as early as one third of the way through. Dickens spent far too much time on his descriptions, I think and too little on keeping things moving. One chapter took about seven pages to describe the introduction of a character before getting to any dialogue or any action more significant than eating breakfast.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Let there be light."

Truly, it is good. Not trying to be flip when speaking about divine personages.

The power was cut off by the recent storm in my area, of which you might have heard, and was only restored late in the morning Sunday. Since it had been out since Thursday night, that was about two and a half days without power. And that's about two days longer than I wanted. I do not complain, however, since I passed houses that were still dark on my drive into work Sunday night. Moreover, some good friends invited us to their house once they had their power restored on Saturday and the opportunity to sleep in a warm house, eat a hot meal, take a hot shower and (last but not least for me) play some Xbox was most welcome. Thanks much, Holly and Andy!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Stem Cells

For those who support embryonic stem cell research and discount "slippery-slope" arguments, this is for you.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Making a Case

I've read a couple books by Lee Strobel recently. (You can see them at the bottom of my "Books Read in 2006" list over there on the left.) One was The Case for Faith and the other was The Case for Christ. I believe the latter was actually written first, but I didn't read it first. I'm borrowing them both from the youth minister at my church. (After taking a second to find that link, I googled his name and discovered he has a blog too. Who knew?) He loaned them to me since I agreed to teach the teens' class on Sunday mornings this quarter and he wanted me to teach on the topic of evidences. Apologetics. Or something. I forget what words he used exactly.

Anyway. The books themselves are a mixed bag. Informationally, they're great. Lots of solid info, organised well and lots of suggestions on how to pursue one's inquiries further should one be so inclined. On the other hand, I can't stand this guy's writing style. Maybe it's because I blew through both books in about a week, but he describes too much. He'll describe a certain answer twice. It was crisp and matter-of-fact. He inserts descriptions of every little gesture. "I shifted in my chair" or "I turned to face him directly" or "I scratched my nose with my index finger and coughed lightly against the end of my closed fist". Okay, that last was hyperbole. But not by much. Overall, however, they are worth the time since they read easily and quickly.

What's Japanese for "vicomte"?

I was taking a quick glance at the DVD shelf at my local library and spotted a couple DVDs in the anime section which I had not seen there before. So I plucked one from the shelf and gave it the once-over. I almost put it back right away since the garish colours and psychedelic confusion on the cover gave it the look of something in which I would have no interest, but then the subtitle caught my eye. The anime was called Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. The Count of Monte Cristo being one of my favourite books of all-time, I of course decided to give it a try despite the off-putting cover art. I was fortunate that the library had on hand the first two DVDs so I could give the thing a proper trial.

So far, it's not too bad. The animation style is, as I feared, garish and silly, though they have avoided using too many or too extreme face-faults. The setting is in the distant sci-fi future yet they still have people using horse-drawn carriages and driving automobiles that would be at home in the 30's. The Count himself looks like some kind of space-alien/vampire, though it's not quite as bad as that description might seem. I don't like the fact that they essentially cut the first third of the book starting with Albert and Franz in Rome for Carnival and telling the reasons that the Count is out for revenge via flashbacks. Finally, they have played fast and loose with some of the relationships between characters and minimized certain characters and added material for others.

On the plus side, very few characters are actually missing and none of the major characters is completely AWOL to this point. They have stayed quite true to the broad outlines of the story and more of the detailed events have been kept than in the disappointing recent film adaptation. On the whole I am pleased because it was better than I expected based on the DVD case, but it still falls well short of what I would want.

Getting Ink Done

I read a book ("read" is a loose term since it consists almost entirely of images with captions) recently that sparked my interest again in getting a tattoo. (This desire is tempered by the fact that my mother would probably forbid me her house should I do such a thing.) The book is Body Type and is about people who have text tattooed onto themselves. Some have single words, others have quotations and some just random letters. Some people have their initials, the name of a husband or wife, some have the name of a pet; several have the alphabet. It was interesting, but the section with "geek" tattoos was rather lacking. I've seen examples on the internet of people who had rather interesting and creative ink done that related to what are generally considered geeky hobbies. An interesting book and one that can be finished in well under an hour.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chandler/Not Chandler

I read Poodle Springs not too long ago which is the "final" Philip Marlowe novel by Raymond Chandler. Really, it is the notes for a novel fleshed out by another author after Chandler's death. It wasn't as bad as the attempt to complete the unfinished Lord Peter novel, but it certainly wasn't Chandler. There were flashes of Chandler's prose in the book, but most of the time it was flat and there were definite sections that did not read like him. I've read nothing else by Robert Parker, and nothing in Poodle Springs inclined me to seek out his other work. Devotees of the mystery genre or fans of Marlowe will read this book regardless, I'm sure, but it can be skipped by anyone else.

It reminded me a bit also of Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon, but that at least had the virtue of being entirely the work of the original author even if large portions of it dealt with the relationship between the detective and his new wife. In this case the relationship between Marlowe and his wife also occupied a good deal of the book, but it lacked the smooth seamlessness that Busman's Honeymoon had in weaving the characters together in a new and different relationship.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Undeserving HOFers

The Hardball Times looks at what arguments might be made this year and in years to come for certain players when they become eligible for the Hall of Fame. The explicit point of this article is that the author does NOT think any of these players deserve to get in, but all might on the basis of arguments such as these. Interesting reading and a couple sentences near the end caught my eye as being true though not immediately obvious. "Fifty, 60 years from now Canseco might become a sympathetic martyr who had a terrific career cut short by the heartless establishment. Sound ridiculous? Look at how the saga of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson has transformed over the last quarter century." How true.

Church Advertising

Advertising seems to carry within it an implication of comparison. The idea being that what is being advertised is, in some way, better than the rest and should be selected for that reason. IMonk looks at three church advertising spots (without any reference to the actual church that created them) and critiques them. I like what he has to say, but would be interested in what he would propose as the proper bases on which to advertise one's church. Worth reading, and the link is worth clicking to see the ads too.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Billion.

"Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor."

Read this. No, seriously. Read the whole thing. You won't be sorry. It's not that long, either.

Done? Now that is a man who deserves to be honoured. It's all well and good for children to be taught about the great men in American history like Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, etc. They certainly ought to be But why on earth isn't this man someone about whom every schoolchild is told? I don't remember learning anything about him when I was in school. One billion people. Billion!

Free Range! Er, Free Bird!

So it's only one study, and we all know that when it comes to science, one study is about as meaningful as the first ten games of the baseball season. It counts, but it could indicate something completely different than the final outcome. But it indicates that you ought to avoid that organic chicken in favour of that which is "battery" (is that the same as factory?) farmed. Why? Because the organic stuff just isn't very healthy. Crazy, I know.

Linked from somewhere in The Corner.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"First they came for the cigarettes..."

"But I said nothing, because I was not a smoker."

Now they're coming for your doughnuts, at least in NYC. Before you know it they'll have people in your house making sure you're sitting far enough away from the TV and putting a sweater on when your mother gets cold.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Book Collecting

This was my quote of the day for today.
To be a book-collector is to combine the worst characteristics of a dope fiend with those of a miser.
- Robertson Davies

Christmas

As my wife has noted, I'm taking a few days off of work to help with various and sundry things around the house. Christmas will be here in about 3 weeks and sometime over the next month or so our second child will arrive as well. So there's plenty to be done. We bought our Christmas tree yesterday morning and decorated it yesterday afternoon. Our daughter was old enough this year to actually assist us in doing so. Though she had trouble actually hanging the ornaments on the tree, she could indicate where she thought they ought to go, so there was a bit of clumping in places.

I also got in a bit of shopping for my wife, though I still have a bit left. I, as usual, will finish shopping after she does this year despite, in all likelihood being done weeks ahead of the actual holiday. I don't know that I have ever been this prepared for Christmas this soon. I shouldn't speak too quickly, however, since we're not done yet and events could intervene.

I'm looking forward to some of the Christmas, well, I guess it's baking. Traditionally, in my family, Christmas is a time to make baklava and buckeyes and I hope to be able to continue that this year despite having a 21-month old daughter and another child born any day now. The problem is that, obviously, my wife is less able and inclined than if she did not have such things with which to deal, and I am not nearly as talented in the culinary arts as she is. Ooh, and some of those spicy chocolate truffles! Yeah, we should make some of those.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow!

Pictures to come later. I'm thrilled that it snowed. Truly. I love the how snow dampens sound, how the world becomes much more quiet and still. I love playing the snow, throwing snowballs, making snow angels and all the rest of it. And I really wouldn't mind driving in the snow if it wasn't for all of those other darn people who don't drive in an intelligent manner. Worst are the morons who are too reckless. So far, so good, I've only seen people send themselves into the ditch, none have taken me with them. Less bad are the people who are overly cautious. It's annoying, but I understand that some people are just plain frightened of the whole business. And if you have old tires, rear wheel drive, or some other mechanical problem, you probably know how to drive your car better than I do. Still, it's annoying to get stuck behind someone crawling at 5mph when I know the conditions allow me to go 25-30mph.

What I really wanted to say, however, is that I wish I knew who the two people were that were helping out on 80th St in Kenmore today. As I was driving to work, there's a large, fairly steep hill on 80th that I drive. A few feet up the slope was a large truck (a moving truck, around 20 ft or so) that was off the road in the ditch on the left hand side facing up the hill. The front of the truck protruded into the lane coming down the hill and a little below the truck was a car stalled out in the right hand lane. There was about enough room for a car to drive between them if you were careful, but it was one lane travel. This could, of course, led to a gigantic mess, as people tried to go up the hill and were met by cars coming down the hill. But a man was standing at the bottom before the slope began stopping people to let them know that he was co-ordinating with someone up the hill so that cars coming down and cars going up wouldn't meet were it would be impossible for someone to back up. They were essentially acting like those Stop/Slow flaggers do when construction restricts a road to one lane. Whoever these people are, they are my heroes for the week. As far as I could tell they weren't cops; they were just regular folks doing their bit to help their fellow man. My hat is off to them.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Are you asking for a challenge!

Palmtree Pundit (a blog I read every day) links to an interesting reading challenge. I'm not much of one for this sort of thing. I don't do NaNo, I'm not interested in posting answers to those silly quizzes that make the rounds, but this was something that I keep meaning to do anyway. Essentially, it boils down to reading 5 books that you own and have been meaning to read but just keep putting off. Me, it's not because I'm always buying new books, but because I get books from the library, and those have a deadline so I put off ones I own that I can read "anytime" which ends up becoming "not at all". So, here is my list:
1. The Republic by Plato
2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
3. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
4. The Book of Lost Tales I by JRR Tolkien
5. The Odyssey by Homer

Oh, and the post title refers to this.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Christian Movies

There is an interesting post over at iMonk about the new film Facing the Giants and about Christian films in general. I haven't seen the movie, and I don't think that I will, but what he has to say about it is interesting, and I don't know that I disagree, though I don't believe I've seen any of the movies to which he compares it either.

On somewhat related note, I am reminded by one of the commenters on that post that I have not yet seen the movie Luther, and I'd like to. .... There, now it's on hold with my library.

Fo' Shizzle

Sheldon strikes again!

Fantasy Reading

I don't normally read a lot of fantasy, but I became interested in a series of books while visiting my brother. The first trilogy in the series, The Farseer Trilogy, was okay. Though ostensibly we are following the life of a young man trained up to be the king's assassin, there is not that much assassination and a lot of teen angst. Even worse, many times the danger that our hero has to face is a result of his own stupidity. It reminded me quite a bit of Memoirs of a Geisha in that the main character refuses to learn from his mistakes and errors simply so that the author can continue to create situations from which said character must extricate himself. Some of it I can understand, teenage hormones often override one's sense of what is reasonable, but you'd think that lessons about spy-craft and saving one's own skin would not fall by the wayside so easily. Moreover, for someone who is supposed to be adept and polished in the techniques required to kill, our hero gets caught and beaten up an awful lot. I'll finish reading the next trilogy too, since I'm interested in the story and I'd like to know how it ends, but I'm certainly not going to add these books to my collection.

I also read How to Dominate Your Fantasy Baseball League and it was disappointing too, rather more than The Farseer Trilogy. The advice wasn't terribly helpful and it really could have been condensed to a couple long articles. Or maybe a pamphlet. (Unrelated tangent: What ever happened to the pamphlet? Time was, pamphlets were published all the time. The Federalist Papers started life as a series of pamphlets, I believe, though they may have been newspaper articles. Used to be that people would write, sell and circulate pamphlets when they had some particular point, opinion or idea they wanted to convey without needing a book in which to encapsulate it. I suppose blogs have pretty well obviated any need for pamphlets any longer, but pamphlets disappeared from the scene long before the rise of the internet. Didn't they?) Mostly the book repeated the points that one should do lots of research and not quit even if it gets boring from time to time. There was some helpful information about common fantasy leagues and a sample set of league rules and what kind of league would be best for certain kinds of players, but on the whole this book was a waste of trees.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Office Space

If you're a fan of the movie, or even have a familiarity with it, you would be well served to watch this trailer. It's for Office Space, but not the Office Space with which you are familiar. I don't know that this was explicitly intended to be funny, but I laughed really hard.

Lewis on size and importance

I found this old draft of a post while going back through my archives and tagging my old posts. I don't remember why I particularly wanted to quote this (though the rest of the draft post held some interesting clues) nor why I decided not to post it after all. So I'm posting it now, almost 18 months after I had originally intended.
"And what, after all, does the size of a world or a creature tell us about its 'importance' or value?

"There is no doubt that we all feel the incongruity of supposing, say, that the planet Earth might be more important than the Great Nebula in Andromeda. On the other hand, we are all equally certain that only a lunatic would think a man six-feet high necessarily more important than a man five-feet high, or a horse necessarily more important than a man, or a man's legs than his brain. In other words this supposed ratio of size to importance feels plausible only when one of the sizes involved is very great. And that betrays the true basis of this type of thought. When a relation is perceived by Reason, it is perceived to hold good universally. If our Reason told us that size was proportional to importance, then small differences in size would be accompanied by small differences in importance just as surely as great differences in size were accompanied by great differences in importance. Your six-foot man would have to be slightly more valuable than the man of five feet, and your leg slightly more important than your brain—which everyone knows to be nonsense. The conclusion is inevitable: the importance we attach to great differences in size is an affair not of reason but of emotion—of that peculiar emotion which superiorities in size begin to produce in us only after a certain point of absolute size has been reached.
....
"This suggests a possible answer to the question raised a few pages ago--why the size of the universe, known for centuries, should first in modern times become an argument against Christianity. Has it perhaps done so because in modern times the imagination has become more sensitive to bigness? From this point of view the argument from size might almost be regarded as a by-product of the Romantic Movement in poetry. In addition to the absolute increase of imaginative vitality on this topic, there has pretty certainly been a decline on others. Any reader of old poetry can see that brightness appealed to ancient and medieval man more than bigness, and more than it does to us. Medieval thinkers believed that the stars must be somehow superior to the Earth because they looked bright and it did not. Moderns think that the Galaxy ought to be more important than the Earth because it is bigger. Both states of mind can produce good poetry. Both can supply mental pictures which rouse very respectable emotions—emotions of awe, humility, or exhilaration. But taken as serious philosophical argument both are ridiculous. The atheist's argument from size is, in fact, an instance of just that picture thinking to which, as we shall see in a later chapter, the Christian is not committed. It is the particular mode in which picture-thinking appears in the twentieth century: for what we fondly call 'primitive' errors do not pass away. They merely change form."
—CS Lewis, Miracles, p. 83, 85

Ancient History

I finished reading Josephus' The Jewish War, a first-hand account of the Roman sack of Jerusalem. Written by a not completely impartial observer (Josephus fought on the Jewish side at first, as might be surmised from his name, was captured and agreed to then aid the Romans), it is still an interesting account of a period in history with which I was not overly familiar. Most of the writing that I have read from that time are the epistles of the New Testament. Still and all the book was informative and I enjoyed reading it, though that might be somewhat belied by how long it took me to finish the book despite it being only about 400 pages long. (I'm not even going to say when I started it this year.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

More Sheldon

Now that I can find and link to any Sheldon comic which I please, (or should it be "that"?) I'd like to direct your attention to these two gems.

Japanese TV and Film

I finished watching Samurai Banners the other day. It was rather disappointing. The movie was good up until the end at which point it left me feeling rather unsatisfied. It didn't feel like it should have been over at that point, like there should have been more to it despite the fact that Toshiro Mifune's character bought the farm. The romantic subplot was hardly worthy of the name, but the tale had so much potential and the first half was quite interesting.

I also crunched through discs five and six of the second GitS season. For some reason, I was thinking that six was the final one, but of course there are seven just like the first season. So I was watching the sixth disc marveling at how rapidly everything was going to have to be wound up and then the DVD ended but the story had stopped right in the middle of what had to be a two-part episode and it dawned on me that there was another disc. Since it was only released a little over a month ago, it's not even in my local library's collection yet and now I have to watch the catalog like a hawk so I can get my request in right away when it does show up.

Another movie note that has nothing to do with Japan, I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the second time not too long ago, and it was still a great movie. Kinda like watching Run Lola Run for the second time, you pick up on things that you didn't notice the first time around while still getting caught up in the flow of the action.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Sheldon can do your income taxes.

Sheldon, a great comic, has moved from comics.com to its own site. And now you can read each and every strip in the archives for free instead of just the last 30 days. So if you missed that great series with Mr T, you can read it now. And you should!

Baseball and Cheating

Well, here's a book I won't be buying. Turns out that Tony LaRussa and Dennis Purdy lifted some fairly large sections of Baseball-Reference.com for their book without Sean Forman's knowledge or consent. He doesn't seem too upset, but you can tell that he's far from happy. As he notes, the least they could have done was acknowledge him and his work and send him a copy.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fight Club, starring... Dennis the Menace?

Toshi Station once again finds the funny on the Interweb. And the three he picked really are the best ones.

Cycling Discovery

Ivan Basso has joined the Discovery Channel team (formerly US Postal, the team for which Lance Armstrong rode) now that he has been cleared of wrongdoing in the Operation Puerto doping investigation. There is still some question over whether DNA testing will be done on the riders on the various pro cycling teams to see if the blood seized in the doping investigation matches anyone, but for now it looks like Discovery is taking a chance on trying to continue their dominance of the Tour de France that started with Armstrong. What will be interesting to see is what this will mean for Levi Leipheimer, who has for years been considered a top 10 or even top 5 threat to win the Tour and who was signed by Discovery earlier this year. At the time it seemed that he was poised to be the leader of the Discovery squad, but the signing of Basso seems to push him back into a support role.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What was that about rigging elections?

Jonah Goldberg says what needs to be said.

Welcome to the 70's

Right now the Democrats have won control of the House and while the Senate is still up in the air they could well have won control there as well. So, what do we have to look forward to? Higher taxes, weakened defense and intelligence capabilities, efforts to undermine the war, temporary political advantage sought through attacks on members of the Executive branch at the expense of effective governance, energy policy that will drive costs up, an attempt to "reform" health-care so we can wait months to see a doctor like our Canuck neighbors, and, I would imagine, a slowing economy. It's the 70's all over again. Yippee.

James Robbins looks at it from a foreign policy perspective over at NRO.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Movies

I watched a bunch of movies this week. Hang 'Em High, Tokyo Drifter, Ikiru, Incident at Blood Pass and half of Samurai Banners which I will finish this week. The first is a pretty standard Clint Eastwood western. He gets wronged at the beginning of the film and hunts down the men who done him wrong. Nothing memorable and it suffered from heavy-handed moralising and an unnecessary romantic sub-plot. Great line from Clint, though, when he finds the first of the men who unsuccessfully lynched him to start the movie. The man doesn't recognise him and Clint leans in and shows the scar on his neck and says "When you hang a man you better look at his face!" (I may have a word or two off there.)

Tokyo Drifter was... odd. It wasn't bad, and in fact I rather liked it despite it being so strange, but it was, truly, a strange movie. Some of that may be because it was Japanese, and there may be cultural cues I missed; that, and the fact that it's about 40 years old. Interestingly, I think the director made use of colour in the same fashion that the director of Hero did, though it was more subtle and better done in Tokyo Drifter. The movie follows a yakuza soldier through his boss' attempts to leave the crime world and go straight and deals mostly with questions about loyalty. I'd recommend it.

Incident at Blood Pass is, I think, the last movie with Toshiro Mifune playing the yojimbo character from the movie of that name. Like the other two movies I have seen with this character, Yojimbo and Sanjuro, the movie feels like a western set in Japan. This movie clearly wasn't as strong as the other two, but that's no surprise since Kurosawa wasn't directing this one. Still, Mifune turns in a strong performance and so does Shintaro Katsu of Zatoichi fame. If you've only seen Katsu in Zatoichi films, you'll hardly recognise him in this role. An entertaining film, if not an exceptional one.

Lastly, my wife and I watched Ikiru together and while I did like it more than she did, it wasn't as great as I had hoped. I suppose that's partly due to hearing it hyped up so much prior to seeing it, but it was less moving than I thought it would be and the movie ends on a rather dismal note. The story itself was told with a deft touch and the characters came to life very convincingly, which one expects of Kurosawa movies, and his choice to tell the second half of the movie in flashback worked very well. Overall, however, it seemed to lack that spark that would push it from being very good to being great.

Stupid library!


I am quite annoyed with my library again. I had decided that it was petty of me to continue returning books to be checked in under my eyes merely to annoy the library staff. Little did I realise how necessary such a course of action was.

I checked out 5 DVDs on October 28. I returned 4 of them yesterday at about 3pm (I had already renewed the fifth from home over the internet); it was the day they were due. Imagine my surprise when I went to the library today to pick up an item I had on hold and found that my DVDs (and books, which were not due back so urgently) had not been checked back in and I was being charged a fine on each of them. I immediately spoke to a librarian about it and was told, in essence, "Tough. We'll check them in when we get around to it." What about my fines I wondered? I would still be on the hook for them. But, I protested, I had returned them on time and dropped them off 2 hours before the library closed. Sorry, they said, we've got about a dozen bins of material to be checked in and we'll get to it when we get to it. Next time, they advised me, you shouldn't use the book drop if it's due that day; you should bring your items inside to be checked in by hand. Oh, I will.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Liberal Academia and Classic Sci-Fi

The Dartmouth Review Pleads Innocent was an okay book. On the one hand, the stories of undergraduates poking fun at and fighting against the entrenched liberal dogmas at their university were funny and inspiring (ah, that my own college paper had such gumption), but they were boring and repetitive on the other hand. The silliness on display seemed no more outlandish than that seen at just about any other university and the responses to it and personal stories of the students at The Review seemed less than exceptional. Really, I think The Review can be compared to Citizen Kane. Seen today, it seems like a fine, though unremarkable, film. Its greatness lies in the things it did first and best. Many film techniques, I am told, were pioneered in Citizen Kane, and in like fashion The Dartmouth Review was the first student paper to push back in such a way against the tide of PC that was rising on campuses around the country. The story of the conservative David fighting off the liberal Goliath, on campus and off, is now so well known that these stories seem less than stunning. Not because they are unimportant or unimpressive, but because use has jaded us to the tales.

Switching gears, I pounded through Ringworld quite rapidly. I liked the concept, a world composed of a giant ring spinning around a sun, though the author falls victim to the same temptation that ruined several of the Heinlein novels I tried to read; Larry Niven has an adolescent fascination with sex. Thankfully, he doesn't indulge it to the point of describing the acts themselves, but the protagonist has a one-track mind and the author feels it necessary to make a point of the fact that he is frequently copulating. I don't think I'm going to read the rest of the series; it just wasn't that good.

Continuing in the sci-fi vein, I read Asimov's The Martian Way, which is four short stories including one which shares its title with the book itself. They were all interesting and well-written. I am always struck when I read Asimov's work at how good he was at writing. Some of his scientific notions now seem rather quaint 54 years later, but despite that his stories still engage and entertain. Each story in the book involves visits to other planets, though not necessarily by humans in every case. The only real drawback was the constant and religious deference given to Science. Science truly was Asimov's god. (And, sadly, that also seems to now be the case with John Derbyshire.)

Blog update

I'm slowly going back through my archive and tagging the posts. I discovered today that when I do this, it sends those posts out through my blog feed again, though they aren't moved up to the top of my blog. If you read my blog via RSS, then you're going to see a bunch of posts from a year or more ago that don't seem to have been altered. Sorry about that.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Vacation and Some Books

Spent the last two weeks on the East Coast visiting family. The first week was with my in-laws in Philadelphia and the second week was with my immediate family in Northern Virginia. Good times were had. I'll see about maybe posting a few pictures in a few days.

As a result of the vacation, my reading has been close to non-existent this month. While at my in-laws I read Emma, which was pretty good. It was one of the rare instances where the main character behaves abominably and yet I enjoyed the reading and liked said character.

Later, when I was staying with my brother in VA, I picked Fool's Errand off his shelf and read it. It wasn't too bad. I'm thinking that I'll read the rest of the books in the series and maybe look for some other books by the same author. Turns out that book is the first in a trilogy, but this trilogy was written to follow up an earlier one. So I'm thinking I'll begin at the beginning. I've put the books on hold at the library, but the first one hasn't arrived yet.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pity the poor materialist.

I've debated a bit on different but similar topics with Beren IV in the past, and each time I came away feeling a mix of pity and contempt. I try to make it more pity and less contempt, but it is quite difficult for me. Truly, I am not certain whether it is deliberate refusal to consider a philosophy that is not strictly materialist or that he is actually unable to conceive of such a philosophy, but he only argues from a position of strict materialism. This leads him to write things that would be, quite unintentionally I am sure, extremely funny if they were not so dangerously muddle-headed.

I bring this up because he is currently examining the "Ecology of Arda" in the Reading Room this week.

Consider this excerpt from this post:
9.Do the Ainur fit into any of the kingdoms of life on Earth (prokaryotes, protozoans/algae, fungi, animals, or plants)? Do they belong to their own kingdom? If you concluded that the Ainur are in fact biological and you were going to name the science of Ainur biology, would it be zoology? Botany? Or something else (what would the study of Angels be)?

The Ainur, in Tolkien's mythology, are roughly equivalent to angels, as is implied in his second parenthetical statement above.

And consider this as well from this post:
On Earth, religious and irreligious scholars have debated endlessly about whether souls exist or not. Science has been unable to answer the question definitively: science has failed to prove the existence of souls, but because science has also failed to measure the existence of the spiritual in any way at all, it also cannot disprove the existence of souls. What science has established, however, is that all of the characteristics that humans possess can be reasonably assumed to be biological in nature, including characteristics such as creativity, curiosity, problem-solving abilities, compassion, and, ultimately, morality. Thus, although science cannot disprove the existence of the soul, it can at least in the context of thought and behavior establish that the soul is at best redundant, at worst irrelevant, if it exists at all.

Nonsense on stilts, as Jonah Goldberg is wont to say. Stanislaus Bocian (who is not a native English speaker, I do not believe, which explains his odd grammatical constructions) answered him thusly here:
Science cannot even allow that two human characteristics exist at all, not to speak about explaining them: free will and reason (ability to know truth).

As the science relies on human reason, it is in quite paradoxical situation.

I suggest that if you follow that thread down (self-explanatory if you follow the link) and see that when Beren IV replies he appears to fail even to grasp the point that Bocian is making. I really can't decide whether it is purposeful or if he is so blinded by his assumptions that he can't see past the end of his nose. I'm inclined to the latter since he seems in all other ways an earnest and thoughtful young man.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Handwriting

Interestingly, the main thing that I got out of this article in the Washington Post (which I found via The Corner) was not anything having to do with cursive handwriting or the death of penmanship, but rather a desire to learn shorthand. How cool would that be? It would be like knowing a foreign language since the knowledge of it is so rare now. At least, I don't think I know a single person who knows shorthand whereas I know people who speak French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and probably several other tongues if I sat and thought about it for a bit.

Whatever happened to...?

I was surfing around on YouTube this morning (while keeping an eye on my daughter to ensure that the crayons are only used on her paper and not on, say, the walls and carpet) and ran across some music videos for Staind. I enjoyed some of their music when I was in college and realised that I haven't really heard anything about them since. Not only that, but System of a Down (which, though their politics were sophomoric, had some interesting music) and some other bands. Whatever happened to these guys? Did the bands break up? Did they release albums that bombed and then they faded away?

Interesting Canon

Probably really late to this, but I found an interesting version of Pachelbel's Canon on YouTube. Someone else arranged it, but the playing is impressive.

Monday, October 09, 2006

October Doldrums

Ugh. Been a slow month. Haven't read much, haven't blogged much.

Did watch a couple Jackie Chan films this past week, Gorgeous and New Police Story, the latter having nothing to do with his earlier Police Story films. Gorgeous had a bit of Jackie's slapstick humour and a couple good fights, but was mostly forgettable and NPS lacked the humour but had some neat stunts though it suffered from an utterly fantastic plot like most Hong Kong crime movies do. Have The Hidden Blade from the library and plan to watch that before the end of the week.

Blogging will probably be light to non-existent the rest of the month.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Paul Johnson writes interesting books

I finished Paul Johnson's Creators a couple days ago. (I missed squeezing it into September's total by about 30-ish pages and having to get up early for church on 1 October.) It was another fascinating book. All three of his books that I've read have been both interesting and very instructive. This book covers a range of creators in the various arts (drama, literature, painting, architecture, etc.) and discusses a bit about their lives and their work and what may have driven them to create, enabled them to create, and so forth. There are so many interesting bits of information and reading Johnson's prose about Albrecht Dürer or Bach or Shakespeare makes one want to sit down and write or draw or compose oneself. I'd suggest this book to just about anyone. It's not a book that will change your life, but I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

En Fuego.

Thank you, Dan Patrick.

I think that applies since I've managed to read 51 books in the last two months. More than 1/3 of my year-to-date total, in fact. It's wonderful until I realise how much more I could have done in all those other months. O! for lost Januaries and Februaries!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Father Brown

I was less and less impressed with the Father Brown stories as mysteries as the series went on. As stories they were still fine and interesting, but the mystery aspect seemed to taken more and more of a Philo Vance feel than anything else. Father Brown was not only smarter than everyone else, he never even has moments of doubt. He becomes a paragon; he's a faultless detective without peer who doesn't even need to resort to anything resembling evidence that is discernible to anyone else. To enjoy the stories I had to stop regarding them as mysteries to be solve and merely enjoy the writing of Chesterton, which was masterful, as always. The last two books were The Secret of Father Brown and The Scandal of Father Brown. In the former, Father Brown reveals the secret of how he is so successful at finding the murderer. It boils down, in its essentials to placing himself in the mindset of the murderer and thinking of what would cause him to want to kill the victim. Once done, and knowing the list of suspects, he then can tell from the suspects personalities and motives which must be the guilty one, evidence or no. Fortunately for Father Brown, he doesn't run across a case wherein there are two suspects of the same personality and motive or equally culpable personalities and motives.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Anniversary

Not my blog, my marriage. Tomorrow marks 6 years that I've been married to my lovely wife, and I thought I'd note it here that were I to make the decision again today whether or not to marry her, I wouldn't hesitate.

It's been a wonderful 6 years and I hope to be blessed with 10 times as many to come. I couldn't be more pleased and proud of her and I thank God every day for permitting me to be her husband.

Does a bear... Well, I know you do, Angelo.

John J Miller points out an hilarious article in the Washington Post about how wildlife (including bears, presumably) are messing their own environment. (And no, that's not a typo.) He quite rightly notes that the best part of that article is, indeed, the phrase "Nature is apparently polluting itself."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

3 & 4 of GitS 2nd Season

I watched discs 3 and 4 of the Ghost in the Shell second season in the last couple days and I'm still less impressed with this season than I was in the first. There's more preachy philosophising this time around, it seems. There have been fewer episodes that could stand on their own as being straight police/spy stories and the main plot thread isn't being handled as well as I thought it could be. On the other hand, in the last couple discs there were episodes dedicated to giving background to characters who were not as well-rounded in the first season. With some background information and extra screen time for Saito and Paz, their characters became less two-dimensional, though the Paz is still kind of a "mystery man". This leaves only Ishikawa and Borma without episodes in which they feature almost exclusively. These episodes were about what I expected from discs 1 and 2.

Shakespeare's Hamlet

From the chapter on Shakespeare in Paul Johnson's Creators:

[A]bove all his greatest creation, perhaps the most formidable, extensive, complex, subtle, and penetrating work of art ever carried to perfection, making the works of Leonardo and Michelangelo, Beethoven and Mozart, Dante and Goethe seem inferior by comparison — Hamlet.


~p. 67

High praise.

Linguistic Pet Peeve

It annoys me to see or hear my state referred to as "Washington state". A case can be made for the usage, but I don't think it's ever necessary. If you want to refer to Washington, DC, include the "DC". One wouldn't refer to "Oregon state" or "Texas state" without intending to refer to a university, neh? So don't say "Washington state". It's simply "Washington".

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Villains and Suspense

It may be that there are some occasions where knowing what the villain is up to increases the suspense rather than diminishing it. Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much comes to mind. But in the second Ghost in the Shell season, it's not working out that way. As I noted before the villain is right out in plain sight, and on the second DVD we're treated to views of the villain acting to which the protagonists aren't privy. In the first season, the Laughing Man's behaviour is not revealed except when he is in public or present with one of the protagonists and little of his motivations and goals is revealed until near the end of the season. Unless there are some big reveals and major twists coming in this series, most of the background has already been revealed on this villain and all that remains is the how of what is being done, not the why. Frankly, I'm disappointed in the lack of mystery this season as compared to the previous season. The script writing doesn't seem to be as tight and our heroes don't seem to be as quick on the uptake as before. If the villain were any more villainous, he'd be twirling his moustache, drawing his black cape up to hide his face, pulling his black hat down over his eyes and laughing like Snidely Whiplash. Yet no one seems to notice.

Still, the serious tone, the quality of the animation and the stories (despite not being as good as before) and the lack of "face-faults" make this series far and away better than almost all others. (Cowboy Bebop despite the occasional face-fault, had stories, characters and especially an ending of such quality that it rose above its faults. No pun intended.) I've got DVDs 3 and 4 from the second season now and I'll watch them and comment on them later in the week. 5 and 6 are on hold at my library, but they don't even have copies available in the system yet, so I don't know how much longer it will be before I can watch them.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Is Toshiro Mifune the greatest actor ever?

Maybe. Anyway, I just finished watching another of his movies, this one without Kurosawa at the helm, and he turned in another excellent performance, though the directing and script let him down a bit at the end. Samurai Rebellion is, unsurprisingly, about a samurai who rebels against his lord. Mifune is our protagonist and is set up to have good cause for rebelling against an unjust lord. Were I to lay out the whole of his complaint, I'd end up describing the first half of the movie to you and that's a bit much. Suffice it to say that the director did a good job in the first half, setting up the situation and introducing the characters and fleshing them out well, and failed to complete the payoff in the second half. The end was what I hoped it would be, but it didn't seem to be executed very well. The fight choreography was lacking too, but then modern movie-goers are spoiled by the slick, effects-aided fight scenes from more recent martial arts movies. All in all, a decent movie and one that I'd give three or three and a half out of five. This is a movie genre of which I am particularly fond and the movie was average or a bit better.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Banned Books

Apparently it's Banned Books Week. This is the week where everyone gets together and pretends that because someone somewhere once banned a book, that makes it literature and worth reading. Sure, sure, there are some books that have been banned that are well-worth reading. No denying that. But the seeming assumption that I see everywhere is that because someone banned it, we must read it. That's stupid. I think banning books is probably more counter-productive than not, but a little censorship now and then is cherished by the wisest men.

But Toni Morrison's books don't suddenly become worth reading because they were banned somewhere. Maybe they aren't particularly dangerous, but they aren't particularly good either. In fact, they're bad. (Okay, I haven't read them all, but Song of Solomon was just plain awful.)

There is a world of difference too, between a private school banning a particular book and the government banning a different book. If a Catholic school thinks that The Last Temptation of Christ doesn't belong in their library because it's blasphemous, that's worlds away from the government banning a political book because it criticises current policy decisions. (Not that the latter happens.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Made-up Milestones

I've reached 135 books read on the year, which was my pace for the full year when I passed 50 books back in May. I passed my prediction, in the same post, of 60 new books on the year in the month of August and am up to 85 now. I'd say I'm definitely exceeding the pace I was on in 2005.

Picture Books and Intellectuals

Finished two widely different different books recently. One was Inside the Tour de France and it wasn't very good. Mostly just pictures and very little info that one couldn't get from Google, I'm sure. It really only took a few minutes to read.

The other book was fascinating. Paul Johnson (whose writings I am going to have to seek out since they seem to be so interesting) wrote a book called Intellectuals (and followed it up with Creators, which I'm reading now). It's a study of various intellectuals since Rousseau, who Johnson considered the first intellectual. A simple working definition of intellectual that Johnson uses through his book is a person that considers ideas more important than people. And he examines not only the ideas of these various people to some extent, but also investigates to see if how they lived, both publicly and privately, reflected the ideas that they wanted all of mankind to accept. To a man, they all flunk horribly. Some of the intellectuals, like Sartre, I was already pretty well aware of their lives, ideas and hypocrisy, but others, like Tolstoy, came as a surprise to me. It's quite an interesting, if somewhat depressing, book. An interesting fact that cropped up was that significant numbers of these intellectuals were filthy in a quite literal sense. Marx, Sartre and others listed rarely bathed and had disgusting habits and households. It made me wonder if there was some connection there.

Beastly Japanese Cinema

Watched two Japanese films recently with similar titles, but not similar stories. One was Youth of the Beast and the other was Sword of the Beast. The first is a modern (contemporary with when the film was made, though that was 1963) yakuza film and it seems a bit like Yojimbo at first. An ex-con shows up in town and starts playing two rival gangs off against each other. It turns out, however, that his motives and background are somewhat different than those of Mifune in Yojimbo and Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars. The ending is both similar and quite different too.

Sword of the Beast is a movie about a samurai running from the vengeance of his other clan members who gets caught up in a plot to steal gold from the Shogun. There aren't too many twists, but the story is an enjoyable one and seems pretty well acted to me. It wasn't a stellar movie, but a solid period samurai movie. A few good fights, decent plot and a little bit of tragedy and comedy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Recent Books

The Wisdom of Father Brown and The Incredulity of Father Brown were perhaps a bit less good than the first book. The mysteries themselves were about on a par, but the emphasis in more of the stories shifted from finding the solution or the culprit than providing Chesterton a soapbox (through Father Brown) to expound upon some philosophical/theological theory. I did particularly like the story The Resurrection of Father Brown, however. It's probably my favourite to this point and it would take quite a good story to dethrone it.

The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll was an okay Perry Mason story. The murder itself should have been a lot more obvious to me and most of the clues were out in the open, fair and square. The premise and set-up was rather too far-fetched and detracted a bit, but still a solid entry. The Mysterious Mr Quin mixes Christie's penchant for both murder mysteries and ghost stories and most of them are interesting, though as with most Christie also rather subpar. One of the stories (I believe the last one) didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but the book was worth reading.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Anagrams, Acrostics and Anti-Semites

An interesting note about AN Wilson, whom I had heard of previously for writing a biography of CS Lewis. It seems he's something of a moon-bat, from what David Pryce-Jones writes here. (Part of this anecdote involves a vulgarity which would be excised from an American newspaper but is apparently not verboten in an English paper.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ever see the movie "Awakenings"?

This story is a lot like that, but more recent. Absolutely amazing. And unlike Awakenings, repeated use seems to help the effects not only to persist but increase. Trials are getting underway in South Africa to learn more about what the drug is actually doing.

GitS Season 2 and Brick

My library is getting the Ghost In the Shell second season DVDs. I checked out the first one this past weekend and watched it. It wasn't too bad. The first four episodes were somewhat disappointing to me, though I think that may have been simply because my expectations are so high after the first season. Still, the villain is a lot more obvious seeming so far this series and the general trend also seems less subtle. I could be wrong, since I've only seen four episodes it could be that I'm being fooled, but from the little I've read elsewhere this season is more overtly political and moralising than before.

The other movie I saw recently was Brick. This was a darn good movie. It's rated R for a reason; there is a fair bit of rather bloody violence and some themes and discussion inappropriate for the younger set. But I do not recall much profanity, none of the words that will garner an R rating on their own (or used to, at any rate) unless they were whispered. (The speakers weren't very good when I watched it.) The best I can do to describe the plot is that it all takes place in a high school context and the main character is contacted by an ex-girlfriend (for whom he still carries a torch) who asks for his help. She isn't able to tell him why she needs help and so the rest of the movie is his attempt to figure out what's going on and do something about it. If I tell you more than that, I'll give too much away. Do yourself a favor and don't go looking for longer plot descriptions and spoilers elsewhere, you'll enjoy the movie so much more not knowing what's going to happen next. You'll probably be able to figure some of it out before it happens, but for me that didn't detract from the enjoyment. The movie has the snappy dialogue that I love which is reminiscent of Raymond Chandler mysteries and Bogart films. Parts of the movie are a bit corny, but it really is consistent with kids, high-schoolers, trying to act like adults. It's a bit silly, but when high school kids try to act hard boiled, that's what happens.

Blog Updates

So, more update-the-blog news, if anyone cares. I've gone back and tagged each post from this year, which wasn't too difficult since there have been far fewer posts this year than in previous years. The most common tags are, unsurprisingly to me, are "Books", "Links" and "Book Reviews", closely followed by "Navel-Gazing". I am surprised that I only have 6 posts about movies watched (will be 7 in a minute more). I had thought I reviewed movies watched more often than that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Changes

Well, I switched over to the new Blogger beta today and it's been a mixed bag. I like having "labels" (tags to the rest of the world) for my posts since it will be easier to go back and find things that I wrote about previously. Well, at least it will be from this point forward; I don't know that I'm going to go back through 995 posts I've made in the past 4 years and tag each one.

On the down side, I had to re-enter all my links and my book list, and I'll have to find a way to get my Library Thing widgets back onto the blog too. The HTML code being used now exceeds my quite limited expertise and so I'm stuck using the WYSIWYG layout editor that the beta has. This was a serious pain for the book list. Each entry had to be put into the layout editor individually and each one entered went onto the top of the list. Okay, no problem right now, I just did the list backwards. But in the future, I'd have to click the button to move the entry down the list some 130 or so times to get the most recent book to the bottom of the list where it belongs. Then I figured I should just make a separate list for each month. Yeah, I thought of that after I finished entering all the books. So I just deleted September and re-did that one as a different list. I'll carry that on with October, but if anyone wonders why there's a bigger gap between August and September than between any other months, that's why.

Even with several posts today, I'm falling behind. I have a couple movies I want to mention, but I'm need to go to bed. I'll try to get to them tomorrow. Last point of note today: Blogger's spell-check finally recognises "blog" as a word. This will be your last update on that topic.

On poetry and nursery rhymes

The September 2006 issue of The New Criterion:

If "adult" poems relied for their survival on someone memorizing them and passing them down, almost all would be lost forever.

~ David Yezzi, p. 143

Four Agatha Christie Novels

And not a one of them interesting. I'm not even going to bother to name and link them; if you care what they were you can find them down near the bottom of the list to the left. I also read Lord Emsworth and Others by PG Wodehouse. It, as the title suggests, is a collection of short stories about Lord Emsworth and other characters. There are a couple Ukridge stories, a couple from the Drones Club, but the heart of the book is several of Wodehouse's delightful golf stories as related by The Oldest Member. I also finished off the first of the Father Brown books by GK Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown. All of the Father Brown mysteries were short stories rather than full length novels and as such they are quite good. The mystery aspect of most of them is rather lacking, but the character of Father Brown and the way in which he goes about his business is quite charming. I am somewhat displeased at how frequently Father Brown allows the culprit to escape, but I can overlook this since the stories themselves are so much fun and because Father Brown is such a pious man; he is more concerned with the eternal consequences of actions than the temporal ones.

Mixing politics and the stock market

Jonah Goldberg linked to the new Washington Stock Exchange. It's kind of like Tradesports, but without real money. Perhaps this will hold my interest longer than Blog Shares did.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Randy Johnson

(Note: I wrote this a couple days ago, so while Randy's numbers are still probably the same, since I don't think he's had a start in the meantime yet, some of the other stats relating to other pitchers may be a bit off. Still, I think the point stands just fine.)

What is Randy Johnson's problem this year? His numbers are up (or down, depending on the stat) right across the board. Higher ERA, higher WHIP, higher BB, higher BAA, lower IP, lower SO, etc.

His ERA, however is one of the few numbers dramatically out of line with his career averages. The ERA is more than 1.6 runs higher this year. WHIP is only up .08, and the BAA is up .030 and walks are going to be lower than his career average, though up from the past two years. The real key here is two-fold, I believe. This could well be the first season in 16 years (not counting injury shortened seasons) where Randy has finished under 200 strike-outs for the year. The lower strike-out total means more balls in play and, I suspect though I do not have access to the data, more sacrifices to score runs. I don't think that is the primary reason, however. I find it hard to imagine that teams are managing to sacrifice enough to score an additional 1.6 runs or so every nine innings.

A bigger reason probably has to do with the patterns and types of hits that Randy allows. There are currently about 23 pitchers who have higher WHIP but lower ERAs, some as much as one or one and a half runs lower. Because there is not a large disparity in home runs, I would speculate that for some reason Randy is giving up more multi-base hits that are not homers, or for some reason he is not spreading out the hits he allows as effectively as other pitchers for some reason.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I meant to mention this sooner

But I never got around to it. And I can't think of anything particularly clever to say in regards to it, so I'll just direct you to my wife's blog where she makes the announcement herself.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Books

Polished off two more books before August ended, bringing the total for that month to 27. The last two were Ukridge and Something Fresh, both by PG Wodehouse. I had seen Ukridge lauded by others before and was, consequently, expecting something a bit above Wodehouse's average. Initially, I was disappointed. The story opened with some business about Pekes that I didn't think could carry the whole novel. After that disappointment, it picked up because they didn't have to carry the novel, the book being rather a collection of loosely connected short stories. It was quite funny, and while there still was some residual disappointment because it wasn't the scream I had been led to believe, it wasn't a total washout either. Something Fresh was the first Blandings novel Wodehouse wrote, and it shows in some ways. The characters aren't quite fixed in their personas and, having read several later Blandings novels, it is rather disconcerting to find that Freddie Threepwood is not quite the wastrel that he is later, and that Emsworth isn't quite so weak and doddering as he is later and that Baxter can be held at bay much more easily. All in all, a good book however, and clearly shows the promise that likely prompted Wodehouse to revisit the setting and characters and perfect them later.

The most recent book I've finished is Do As I Say (Not As I Do) by Peter Schweizer. It wasn't bad, it read quickly and would probably be most useful as ammunition when debating with a leftist. It makes the very good point that though liberals profess one thing, they often do another and, differing from conservatives, usually make their lives better as a result. When conservatives stray from their principles (Rush Limbaugh addicted to OxyContin, for example) their lives take a turn for the worse. The question then is, if leftists don't believe their ideas will do them any good (since they won't practice what they preach), why do they want the rest of us to adopt them?

Morons, your bus is leaving.

I have had trouble with the incompetent clods at my local library before. Several times I have returned items only to have them checked in the day after I returned them and gotten fined for keeping them late. I've even had a DVD that I put on hold be recorded as checked out to me when I didn't actually get it. That was nothing compared to what happened today.

So I went online today prior to visiting the library to see if I could renew some DVDs that I had checked out. Instead of finding out if someone else had them on hold, I was told that my library card was "blocked". That was it, no explanation, just "blocked".

When I arrived at the library I went to the desk and inquired, politely, why my card was blocked. I was told that it was because I had never checked out two of the books I had placed on hold, though I had taken them home and so they were now "missing". I explained that I found this odd, since I most certainly had checked them out and, in fact, returned them a week earlier. The librarian then condescendingly informed me that sometimes the self-checkout at the library didn't function properly and I probably didn't notice that they hadn't been checked out. I swallowed any reply I might have made about how I am not a complete buffoon with technology and asked for the block to be removed from my card. The librarian kindly acceded.

Thinking that this mess, while annoying, was through, I wandered a bit and found some books I wanted to check out, and decided to search for a few more. A book that I thought I would like to re-read was indicated as being on the shelves at that branch. Yet it was not. I looked in several places, the sci-fi/fantasy shelves, regular fiction, etc, but it was nowhere to be found. When I inquired about it, I was told that it was probably missing and did I want to put it on hold. No interest in finding the bloody book supposedly inhabiting their library, nor in changing the status of the book from present to missing (I watched her screen as she checked and then cleared it to deal with another patron).

Right then, I'm already over my quota of incompetence for the day. I'd like to just take my books and go home. But wait! I need to see if my DVDs can be renewed. I log in to a computer, punch in my card number and PIN and... "information is invalid"? I must have mistyped something. I try again. Nothing. I get my card out (despite my confidence in having memorised the number) and carefully type it and my PIN slowly and with deliberation. Same result. So I make my way again, more with anger than with trepidation, to the front desk and inquire why my card no longer seems to exist in their computers? After some footling about the librarian (each encounter has been with a different person) discovers that in removing the block from my card, her colleague has deleted my barcode from the system. Another few minutes of messing about and I can finally check out my books and escape.

As an epilogue, I glance at a scrap of paper I am using as a bookmark when I get home and discover, lo and behold, the receipt clearly stating that I did check out the two books that got my card blocked. And since I know I returned them, whoever was supposed to have checked them in was the one guilty of gumming up the works.

Frustrating, in the extreme. But I have a plan. Both to protect myself from further aspersions on my character and competence, and as a fringe benefit, sure to annoy the self-righteous librarians who have caused such problems for me in the first place. No more self-checkout for me, oh no! Even be it only one paperback, I will wait in line and have them check it out themselves, and of greater effect in both areas of import, I will bring every item in to the desk to be checked in by hand so I can get a receipt for that too. And should they dare to complain, I will be willing, nay, eager to relate this story at length and with flourishes to emphasise my resolution in this matter.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Tolkien Spins in His Grave

Read the final paragraph.

Catching Up

Right, well, it's been a week since my last post and nearly two months since I last gave a brief review of any of the new books I've been reading. The last one was War and Our World by John Keegan. 32 books later I'm not going to try to catch them all up. But I think I will try to hit the high points later in this post.

In related news, I've set a new record (at least for this year) for both total books read in a month and new books read in a month. 25 books so far, previous best being 20 in May, (and I have another couple days to try to bump that total up a bit) and 22 of those books are ones which I had not read previously, previous best was 10, both in April and May. YTD, 116 books read in total and 69 first-time-reads.

Sense and Sensibility was pretty good, though not up to Pride and Prejudice. As Wodehouse would say, "It failed to grip". It wasn't that any part of it was particularly bad, but that none of it was particularly good. Still, Austen has proven interesting enough that I think I shall seek out the rest of her novels, Emma and Northanger Abbey and such-like.

The couple Christie mysteries were pretty forgettable and Asimov's mysteries were too, though I was once again struck by how widely talented he was. The man was brilliant. And prolific. Here's his bibliography. I've also read a couple more Ellery Queen mysteries, both of which were good enough to keep me interested in the series. By and large he (or "they", really) play fair with keeping the evidence in plain sight for the reader to find as well as the detective. I've also been reading some Perry Mason mysteries by Erle Stanley Gardner. They're rather different than how I remember the television show. My recollections of the show are rather vague, but the Della Street of the books seems rather younger to me and there's a lot more sexual tension between her and Mason. Of course, it may be that sine the few shows I saw were as a child, such tension may have gone right over my head. There is also a lot less courtroom drama than I remembered, and most of it is done before the actual trial in most books. Still, they are quick reads and some of the mysteries are rather clever. The titles get on my nerves a bit; they remind me of the McGurk mysteries I read as a child, though I'm sure the influence went the other way.

The couple Thomas Sowell books I read were both consistent with what I had read of him earlier. Each was perceptive and lucid. His memoir was particularly interesting because I knew little about him as a person prior to reading it. I suppose I still don't really know him, but the sum of my knowledge about him is much greater now than it was.

The Dragon books by Zahn were passable. Soldier, solid but not spectacular. Slave, somewhat lacking. Herdsman, better than Slave but the series began showing signs of Jordan-itis.

He Talk Like a White Boy was okay, but nothing new. A collection of essays musing on the conservative side of life. A bit of an interesting twist with the author being both black and a celebrity (albeit a minor one), but still little I had not read already elsewhere.

The two books written/edited by Hilton Kramer were okay, though Twilight of the Intellectuals was less interesting simply because I find it difficult to care about a bunch of critics whose impact on politics and thought will, I suspect, be more transient than Kramer predicts. It is a difficult thing, after all, to determine what, among the glut of writing, will survive to posterity. The Future of the European Past had the same problem as Mr Phillips' book, I had really read most of it elsewhere already, though Mark Steyn's essay was a pleasure to read, as is just about everything he writes, regardless of topic.

Finally, the Prisoner books there at the end of the list (for now) were all pretty mediocre. I was interested in them because I recently finished watching my way through the TV series with my wife. A Day in the Life wasn't awful and it was the best of the lot. Shattered Visage did little more than retell the series with different characters, right down to the confusing and unsatisfying conclusion. The Companion had some interesting tidbits of information, but these were few and far between and offset by the inaccuracies sprinkled throughout as well.

Whew. I think that about covers it. I'll try not to fall so far behind in the future.

Elements of Style, Rule 8

8. Divide words at line-ends, in accordance with their formation and pronunciation.

If there is room at the end of a line for one or more syllables of a word, but not for the whole word, divide the word, unless this involves cutting off only a single letter, or cutting off only two letters of a long word. No hard and fast rule for all words can be laid down. The principles most frequently applicable are:

a. Divide the word according to its formation:

know-ledge (not knowl-edge); Shake-speare (not Shakes-peare); de-scribe (not des-cribe); atmo-sphere (not atmos-phere);

b. Divide "on the vowel:"

edi-ble (not ed-ible); propo-sition; ordi-nary; espe-cial; reli-gious; oppo-nents; regu-lar; classi-fi-ca-tion (three divisions possible); deco-rative; presi-dent;

c. Divide between double letters, unless they come at the end of the simple form of the word:

Apen-nines; Cincin-nati; refer-ring; but tell-ing.

The treatment of consonants in combination is best shown from examples:

for-tune; pic-ture; presump-tuous; illus-tration; sub-stan-tial (either division); indus-try; instruc-tion; sug-ges-tion; incen-diary.

The student will do well to examine the syllable-division in a number of pages of any carefully printed book.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Now That's Good Eatin'

Step 1. Wash a sufficient quantity of blueberries
Step 2. Place them in a bowl
Step 3. Cover them with milk
Step 4. Consume

Elements of Style, Rule 7

7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children.

The word walking refers to the subject of the sentence, not to the woman. If the writer wishes to make it refer to the woman, he must recast the sentence:
He saw a woman, accompanied by two children, walking slowly down the road.

Participial phrases preceded by a conjunction or by a preposition, nouns in apposition, adjectives, and adjective phrases come under the same rule if they begin the sentence.

On arriving in Chicago, his friends met him at the station.

When he arrived (or, On his arrival) in Chicago, his friends met him at the station.

A soldier of proved valor, they entrusted him with the defence of the city.

A soldier of proved valor, he was entrusted with the defence of the city.

Young and inexperienced, the task seemed easy to me.

Young and inexperienced, I thought the task easy.

Without a friend to counsel him, the temptation proved irresistible.

Without a friend to counsel him, he found the temptation irresistible.

Sentences violating this rule are often ludicrous.
Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Elements of Style, Rule 6

6. Do not break sentences in two.

In other words, do not use periods for commas.

I met them on a Cunard liner several years ago. Coming home from Liverpool to New York.

He was an interesting talker. A man who had traveled all over the world, and lived in half a dozen countries.
In both these examples, the first period should be replaced by a comma, and the following word begun with a small letter.

It is permissible to make an emphatic word or expression serve the purpose of a sentence and to punctuate it accordingly:

Again and again he called out. No reply.
The writer must, however, be certain that the emphasis is warranted, and that he will not be suspected of a mere blunder in punctuation.

Rules 3, 4, 5, and 6 cover the most important principles in the punctuation of ordinary sentences; they should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature.

On the United Nations

It is not just that the United Nations is useless; it is, in fact, almost entirely detrimental to the interests of the United States. The problem posed for America, and for other nations such as Israel that suffer more than they gain from the existence of the UN, is that enormous numbers of people in the United States and around the world have somehow gotten the notion that the UN alone is capable of conferring moral legitimacy on the use of force, no matter how much that force is justified by humanitarian and security concerns. The dominant force in the UN is the Security Council, whose permanent membership is a relic of World War II and does not at all represent today's political realities. In order to get the council's approval for the defense of vital American interests, it is necessary to avoid a veto by France, Russia, or China, three nations whose interests are often diametrically opposed to America's and at least one, France, that harbors deep and probably permanent anti-Americanism out of envy. Russia and China appear more likely to act out of various motives, not all of them noble, but unlike France, not out of spite. Why most of the people of the world, including Americans, suppose that the UN is essential to confer moral legitimacy on the actions of America and its numerous allies remains a mystery.

-Coercing Virtue, p. 49-50

On International Law

From Robert Bork's book, Coercing Virtue.
International law is not law but politics. For that reason, it is dangerous to give the name "law", which summons up respect, to political struggles that are essentially lawless. The problem is not merely the anti-Americanism that grips foreign elites and shapes law; it is also the American intellectual class, which is largely hostile to the United States and uses alleged international law to attack the morality of its own governement and society. International law becomes one more weapon in the domestic culture war. It must be admitted, moreover, that there are serious issues of inconsistency of application of this concept: The United States has used its power to force the trials of some men who have done no worse than others with whom we do not interfere. That may or may not be justifiable, but it hardly bespeaks devotion to law.
-p. 21

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Elements of Style, Rule 5

5. Do not join independent clauses by a comma.

If two or more clauses, grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction, are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.
Stevenson's romances are entertaining; they are full of exciting adventures.

It is nearly half past five; we cannot reach town before dark.
It is of course equally correct to write the above as two sentences each, replacing the semicolons by periods.
Stevenson's romances are entertaining. They are full of exciting adventures.

It is nearly half past five. We cannot reach town before dark.
If a conjunction is inserted, the proper mark is a comma (Rule 4).
Stevenson's romances are entertaining, for they are full of exciting adventures.

It is nearly half past five, and we cannot reach town before dark.
Note that if the second clause is preceded by an adverb, such as accordingly, besides, so, then, therefore, or thus, and not by a conjunction, the semicolon is still required.
I had never been in the place before; so I had difficulty in finding my way about.
In general, however, it is best, in writing, to avoid using so in this manner; there is danger that the writer who uses it at all may use it too often. A simple correction, usually serviceable, is to omit the word so, and begin the first clause with as:
As I had never been in the place before, I had difficulty in finding my way about.
If the clauses are very short, and are alike in form, a comma is usually permissible:
Man proposes, God disposes.

The gate swung apart, the bridge fell, the portcullis was drawn up.