Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Maps and the Olympics

I found a link to the first of these sites in the Corner a week or so ago but have taken my sweet time getting around to posting about them on my blog. First up is a site that really probably won't have much interest for anyone now that the Winter Olympics are over, but I think it's still worth mentioning. It's called DFL, in which the "D" stands for "Dead" and the "L" stands for "Last" and the "F" stands for a verb being used as an adjective. Essentially it is one man's attempt to chronicle and bring notice to the people who come in last in the various events at the Olympics. As a matter of organisation, he doesn't count people who are DNF, DNS or DQ. One must start and finish the event to be considered for DFL honours. His reasoning? These people may be the worst of the Olympians, but they're still way better at their various events than any of the rest of us.

The next two sites are related to each other by topic and to that first link because I found them through the DFL site. The Map Room is a blog about maps (duh!) run by the same guy who runs the DFL blog. And, as I was reading The Map Room today, I found a link to The Map Realm (don't confuse the two, mind). The Map Realm is a collection of maps of places that are entirely made up. Not like Tolkien's maps; these maps serve no purpose other than to provide the cartographer with the joy of drawing maps. I used to that as a child myself; I'd draw maps of imaginary places simply to draw maps. I haven't done that in years, but it's got me thinking about trying it again. I don't think they'll be anywhere near as polished even if I do knuckle down and complete one, but it has piqued my interest.

Admiral Lord Nelson, Scumbag

I finished a couple days ago with a (fairly) new biography of Horatio Nelson, The Pursuit of Victory. I'd kind of admired him for some time, not because I really knew much about him, except that he was a pretty successful admiral. He won the Battle of the Nile, the Battle of Copenhagen and, as he's best remembered, died winning the Battle of Trafalgar. He lost his right arm and an eye earlier in his career and seemed to have a fair degree of physical bravery.

All of that is true, but it's not the full picture. Indeed, the more one examines one's heroes, the more that one finds about them that one doesn't like. After reading a few biographies of Churchill I was much less impressed with the man, and the same is true of Nelson. I knew that he ended up with Emma Hamilton, but had not realised that it wasn't because his wife died. Turns out he met her while on station in the Mediterranean at Naples where she was the young wife of an elderly diplomat. She was something of a strumpet it seems and Nelson ended up leaving his wife after he got home, gave her an allowance for the rest of her life and never spoke to her again. Nelson also made a fool of himself in other social situations, and made a lot of bad political decisions when he was on his own in the Mediterranean and in the West Indies. In fact, his only claim to greatness was the fact that he was well-nigh unbeatable in combat because he thought quickly and decided correctly when faced with confusing and complicated combat situations. Such aplomb and talent is rare and he is justly honoured for his military accomplishments, but I can think of other military men I admire more than Nelson. It is possible to possess military acumen and be morally upright.

All in all, it was an excellent biography of a great, but flawed, man. Besides being an engaging read, it is also a serious work of scholarship, it is meticulously annotated, there are several wells of reproduced paintings, the maps are clear and helpful and the appendices contain a wealth of information about other significant people, a simplified chronology of Nelson's life and detailed information about all of Nelson's ships and the officers that served with him on those ships. Anyone interested in Nelson or simply in the days of "iron men in wooden ships" would profit from reading this book.

The Conservative Mind (Accelerated)

Since I'm not blogging as often as I was (almost level 41!), I'm going to start putting several excerpts from The Conservative Mind in each of these posts about the book. Not that you care.

(Quoting J.H. Halowell)
"Only when liberalism coupled the contract theory with the belief in objective truth and value, transcending all individuals and binding upon each without promise, could it reconcile freedom from arbitrary authority with the idea of an ordered commonwealth."
Kirk himself:

What men are seeking, or ought to seek, is not the right to govern themselves, but the right to be governed well.


Taxation without representation certainly is tyranny, yet precisely this is introduced by democrats who give power to the unpropertied classes: men of property, the rampart of a state, are abandoned to be plundered by the ochlocracy.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Conservative Mind

The humanitarian theorists who contrive at projects of ingenious simplicity must arrive, before long, at the crowning simplicity of despotism.

Online Comics And Death

Spoiler Warning: I will be giving away a significant plot point about the topic under discussion in the text below. It's about three paragraphs down, so you have time to see something of what I'm talking about before you decide if you care or not. Also, for my readers who are interested, the links off my blog may lead you to some profanity of the sort you might find in a PG-13 movie; actually, nowadays, you'd probably find it in a PG movie.

So I read this online comic, yeah? I've mentioned some here before, but I've become chary of talking about them or recommending them because the last time that happened I ended up becoming very dissatisfied with the comic and stopped reading it. It's not that I have a superstition about mentioning a comic on my blog and then finding that I don't want to continue reading it, but that when I recommend something and then it turns out not to be what I would want to recommend, it's embarrassing.

Right. I've been reading The Order of the Stick (OOTS) for a while now. It's a stick figure comic strip (though they are more sophisticated than that sounds, pseudo-stick figures, really) about a group of six adventurers in a Dungeons and Dragons adventure. And I mean that in a very literal sense. The characters are aware that they are in a game. They refer to the rounds and turns of attack and defense and discuss the rules under which they operate. But at the same time there is never any mention of a separate person playing them or an alternate reality in which there is a person controlling their actions. Rather, they often behave as if they were actors in a movie. I'm not a tabletop gamer, as they are known, but I have some experience with this kind of game through my computer (Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, etc.).

Recently, I had some rather high hopes built up for this comic. The first 120 episodes (rather than a "strip", I refer to the webpages as "episodes" because many times an episode contains two or more distinct strips) are pretty simple. There is a thread of continuity, but mostly they are vehicles for jokes about gaming mechanics and the behaviour of gamers and such-like. But after that and building on that, Rich Burlew (artist and writer) began to expand the world outside of the initial dungeon and began spinning several distinct threads of plot and as the story grew in scope it also grew in seriousness. There were still plenty of jokes, but the characters were fleshed out and deepened, the story itself became deeper and more interesting and the comic as a whole became a lot less like Archie (where it's just about jokes and nothing ever changes) and became a lot more like Usagi Yojimbo (where the everything grows, matures and ages with time). The strip had episode 285 posted yesterday and (this is a major spoiler for anyone who is thinking about clicking over and reading through it, so you may want to click that link and check it out and then come back once you're done looking) I was sorely disappointed because (last chance, here's the spoiler) no one died.

Now, why should I care that no one died? And how does this matter if you don't know who is involved? Because killing a major character is an excellent way to amp up the seriousness of your story and suck in people. Granted, killing a major character can often make a lot of your readers mad; this is especially true if it is one of whom they are fond. But as I've noted before, killing off a character or two can be important. First, it shows that the author is willing to write the story even if it isn't all smiles and unicorn giggles. As well, demonstrating that it won't just be the guys in the red shirts going down helps people invest their emotion in the danger in which the other characters end up later. Because they know that the author is willing to kill people off if the story demands it, they feel the peril the characters are in that much more. Even worse is when you have characters moving into peril and no one (not even the extras) ever dies. When one does that, the movie, book, comic or whatever becomes like GI Joe. There may be lots of danger, but no one watching/reading believes it because we all know that everything will go back to the way it was before the episode started. It becomes Seinfeld. Nothing changes because nothing really happens.

So, I'll keep reading OOTS, but I have to say that it's lost a little something.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Conservative Mind

(Quoting John Adams)
"There is no necessary connection between knowledge and virtue. Simple intelligence has no association with morality. What connection is there between the mechanism of a clock or watch and the feeling of moral good and evil, right or wrong?"

Monday, February 20, 2006

Let the Waiting Begin!

For those of you who know me and wish me well, say a small prayer for me when you get the chance; the last things I have control over on my application to grad school were taken care of today. Now it's just following up on making sure the recommendation letters arrive and waiting to hear back.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hiatus

Not mine, but of the only blog I truly read every day. Tomorrow will be exactly a month since it ceased, and there are no indications of when it will start again. I shouldn't worry too much, I suppose. My longest break lasted 2 1/2 months before I took up blogging again.

A Conservative Mind

Finished reading The Conservative Mind a few days ago after having it out from the library for a little more than two months. It's a good book, but one that's a bit dated. I'd still recommend it to anyone, though I don't know that it's one I would ever really re-read. I might get a copy just to make my children read it when they're old enough, kind of thing. It's a lot like The Road to Serfdom in that respect. Instead of reviewing the whole thing, which would be rather difficult, since I haven't read anything like all of what he talks about; I hadn't even heard of some of the authors he quotes and talks about at length. The book is an overview of conservative thought since Edmund Burke (father of modern conservatism) and up to TS Eliot (the book was originally published in the 1950's). So what I'm going to do is post excerpts over the next week or so that I found striking. Here's the first one:

(Quoting Burke) "An ignorant man, who is not fool enough to meddle with his clock, is however sufficiently confident to think he can safely take to pieces, and put together at his pleasure, a moral machine of another guise, importance, and complexity, composed of far other wheels, and springs, and balances, and counter-acting and co-operating powersÂ?.Their delusive good intention is no sort of excuse for their presumption."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Art Book

I finished reading (finally) Art: A New History a couple weeks ago. I originally started this book way back in 2005 sometime, got about halfway through before it had to go back to the library and never got around to reading it again until late December. I'm glad I did go back to it. I thought it was a great book and a wonderful overview of the history of art. (Please understand, however, that before I read this book there were few people in the world who knew less about the history of art than I. So there may have been all kinds of controversial and odd statements in this book that would have gone right over my head.) I'm not an art expert now by any means, but I am far more knowledgeable that I was before I began. I have a better understanding of how things fit together and how different periods in art are connected to one another. Paul Johnson's explanation of how terms like "Impressionism" and "Realism" really do more to obscure the art trends than explain them makes perfect sense to me and helped gain a better appreciation for art about which I had previously thought "that doesn'?t look like anything!" I'm still not entirely convinced that what people like Jackson Pollock did was really that impressive, but reading that others who try to imitate him can never quite make their imitations look right does go a ways toward that goal. All in all, this is a marvelous book which undertakes a superhuman and pretty much impossible task and carries it off with aplomb and grace. I would say it is geared more for those with only a casual interest in art, but I could see how it could well be appreciated by those with an abiding interest as well. It reads like the better kind of textbook.

Science of the toilet seat.

Funny and informative.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Super Bowl Analysis

Listened to a little local sports radio on the way home from work this morning. And, like I've been reading in certain places, the consensus was that the Steelers didn't win so much as the Seahawks lost. Well, okay, Seahawks fans. If you can put your whining on hold for a few minutes, let's go over some aspects of the game a little bit.

First, officiating.

Darrell Jackson did push off. He didn't move the Steeler defender away, but the point was to keep him in place, not to move him the other direction. Without that, the ball might have been knocked away. A good call.

Roethlisberger did get into the end zone. If you can, watch the replay again. When you do, note that he breaks the plane of the goal line in the air. He doesn't land across the line, but he doesn't need to. A touchdown and a good call. (Moreover, for you Seattle fans who are yelling at your screen, ask yourself this: If it was that close that I say he was definitely in and you say he was definitely out, is there enough video evidence to overturn the call on the field? No. If the replay is inconclusive, the call on the field stands. The standard of evidence for overturning a call is that it has to be conclusive that the wrong call was made.)

Since I have seen claims made that the refs were trying to let the Steelers win, why did they overturn their fumble call and give Hasselbeck his first down and the Seahawks the ball back in the fourth quarter? That too, was the right call. (A further note for Steve, I watched the same game you did, and I don't recall the officials ignoring obvious calls against the Steelers, nor did the rabid Seahawk fans with whom I watched rant and rave about any missed calls. Could you be more specific?)

Next, did Seattle beat itself? A little, but not as much as you might think from first glance. 7 penalties for 70 yards. Of Seattle's 7 penalties, one was a false start on Mr MVP, one was the pass interference noted above, one was a personal foul on Hasselbeck and the other four were holding calls. (Granted, the personal foul was probably a bad call, but it was after the interception and one 15 yard penalty does not make the difference in an 11 point game.) Seattle is sending two O-linemen to the Pro Bowl. Their quarterback is going to the Pro Bowl. Their running back led the league in yards and set a record for touchdowns and is going to the Pro Bowl. Their fullback (their blocking back) is going to the Pro Bowl. A good O-line and backfield it sounds like. Not one that would be inclined to hold or need to hold. Yet hold they clearly did. Why? Because they were getting beat by the Steelers defense and had to hold to prevent Hasselbeck from being sacked. The Steelers still got to him three times. If not for holding, it might have been five, six or even seven sacks. That's a great defense.

Sean Alexander didn't look like the MVP against the Steelers. Less than 100 yards and no TDs? He was supposed to be a TD machine. But I guess that's what can happen for a guy playing a soft schedule in a soft conference.

Seattle's best half was the first half. They forced the Steelers to go three and out on their first three possessions and picking off Roethlisberger on their fourth possession. The Steelers drove and scored on possession #5 (with Roethlisberger's excellent scramble play), and then getting the ball back with two seconds and taking a knee.

But what about Seattle's drives? The first was ended by a sack. The second featured a holding penalty on 3rd and 6. The third had Alexander rushing for 1 yard on 3 carries and the Jackson push-off. I think the fourth might have been a Jerramy Stevens drop on a 3rd and 2, but I don't remember exactly. Let's say it was. The fifth was a simple 3 and out. And number 6 was (again, I think) a Jerramy Stevens drop. Four of those six were the Steelers defense holding down the Seattle offense; the other two were Seattle mistakes. And while the Seahawks were pretty good in the red zone, they only managed to get there twice. And their only touchdown came on a trip to the redzone provided by their defense.

The Steelers offense, by contrast, may not have put the same yardage, but they came through when it counted. Longest TD run in Super Bowl history, the aforementioned brilliant scramble and cross-field throw by Roethlisberger on a 3rd and 28 after being chased out of the pocket, and Randle El's TD pass on the trick play were all championship caliber plays that the Seahawks couldn't make against the Steelers' defense.

The Steelers did give up nearly 400 yards, but held when it counted. They only allowed 10 points, only let the Seahawks drive inside the 20 once, sacked Hasselbeck three times, forced Seattle into multiple holding penalties and kept Sean Alexander under 100 yards rushing and out of the endzone. Seahawks averaged almost 2 rushing TDs a game. They were held to none. They averaged more than 28 points per game. They were held to 10. Classic Steelers football. The better team won. In fact, I will go further. I don't think Seattle would have beaten any of the AFC playoff teams.

You may now continue whining.