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.