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.