December 31, 2004

Quality Entertainment

First off, I'd be unfair if I didn't say "good job" to the Bush Administration for actually responding to valid criticism and changing their position. They've upped the aid package for the tsunami victims by a factor of 10 now, and it is more in line with what we're able to give, proportionate to other countries and the sizes of their economies. And they've said it is just the beginning. It's high time these morons in power did something, anything, to start trying to rebuild goodwill for America again.

In other news: Jesus' General likes to write letters, and he's reposting some of his favorites from this past year. You should go to his blog and check 'em out. Meanwhile, here is my favorite, to Roger Ailes, head of Fox News:

Dear Mr. Ailes ,

With the American body count in Iraq passing the 500 mark and more soldiers dying on an almost daily basis, it's only a matter of time until the liberal press moves from covering important issues like Dean's barbaric yawp to focusing on the problems we're having with the occupation. It's vital that we do more to tell people the other side of the story.

Anyone who watches Fox News regularly knows that the average Iraqi citizen loves the US and is grateful for the opportunity to be occupied by the greatest nation on Earth. The problem is that most Americans don't watch Fox, so they don't hear that message.

I have an idea about how to change that. Americans love reality TV shows. Let's do one on Fox News about a bunch of Americans living in Iraq. Such a show would increase your ratings while spreading the word about how much the average Iraqi loves the occupation. Furthermore, if it's a hit, it will probably draw viewers to your other programing where they'll hear the same message again.

I'm thinking that we put some of the conservative movement's best communicators in a house in Falluja for a month, people like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Peggy Noonan. I'm picturing the house as being painted to look like a big American flag with a nice green lawn and a lawn jockey out front. No fences, no guards--just you're average suburban home, but with cameras everywhere.

We could call it something like "Occupied Territory" or "Preemption House." Viewers could watch the housemates as they interact with the people in their neighborhood. They could see Ahmad and Maha joke with Bill and Peggy over a nice breakfast of ham and eggs. They could go door to door with Coulter and Hannity and listen to them explain how the Koran is for girly-men. They could follow Rush as he looks for an English speaking pharmacist.

I think it would be a huge hit. More importantly, it would show Americans just how supportive the Iraqis are of the occupation. It'd be a win for both Fox News and America. I hope you'll consider it.

Heterosexually yours,

Gen. JC Christian, Patriot

I would pay to see that show.

Posted by Observer at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2004

Free Money

I'm starting to feel a lot better now about losing my money at poker, especially because today I got an offer to review two chapters of a textbook I'm planning on switching to anyway, and they're going to pay me two hundred bucks. That's your poker money right there, plus another hundred and forty.

Now that New Year's Eve is coming, I'm trying to decide what we should do with the kids. My mom used to have a tradition that we'd play penny-ante poker until midnight, and that was fun. I think I might do that with the boys and Sarah and Michelle if they're game. The problem is that it is hard to have a very long game of No Limit Hold-Em with the "All In" Kids.

Posted by Observer at 08:21 PM | Comments (5)

December 29, 2004

Diversions

I'm trying a variety of things to forget about poker and, of course, the sorry state of political affairs in this country. As of now, it looks like Bush is just going to keep clearing brush on his ranch rather than bother with a public statement or any kind of figureheading of a coordinated relief effort. They'll send maybe $30 million over to Asia (after initially floating $15 million) to help out even though the inauguration ball for the super-rich is going to run a tab of close to $40 million. What would Jesus do, I wonder?

Oh well, I think the main reason Bush isn't doing anything is because he doesn't want his hate-filled supporters to think that he's taking any cues from "I feel your pain" Clinton. I swear this administration is full of five-year-olds. Oh yeah? Well, I'm going to do the OPPOSITE of ANYTHING you do. So THERE! It would be fun to laugh at them making fools of themselves if they weren't representing me, too.

So one of the diversions is Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. There are on-line FAQ's for this, but they are difficult to read and follow. Not as well-organized or portable like one of those spoiler guides you can get in the bookstore. I was very pleased to find a used guide for FFTA at half-price books for five bucks over the weekend, so now I'm proceeding along with more direction, knowing more about the job system, qualifications, etc.

I've also stopped reading Phil Hellmuth's (not very good) latest book of poker stories because the last thing I want to read about right now is someone else whining about their bad beats and/or stupid plays. Instead, I'm tackling Neal Stephenson's mammoth Baroque Cycle, which basically reads like historical fiction for the scientifically literate. If I can finish that before the holidays are out, I'll be amazed.

The kids, of course, want to watch Robotech (we've just finished DVD 11 of the 14-disc series, thanks to Netflix) and play poker when they aren't immersed in their new games/toys. Daniel is a very happy camper right now with so many new things to play with, and he smiles and laughs a lot during the day. When I'm not stressing out over having to get something done (which is the usual state of affairs except during exam weeks), he's so much fun to be around. Always brings a smile to everyone's face.

Even the dogs like him because he's figured out how to let them out of their crates in the mornings. He's less than a week away from figuring out doorknobs, too. Eek.

Posted by Observer at 06:50 PM | Comments (2)

December 28, 2004

Busted

Well, my first (and likely last) poker night out ended in a bust. I learned a lot about how to play in practice vs how to play in theory, but I wish it hadn't cost me sixty bucks. I played super-tight, and that worked great for the first couple of hours. I was up about forty dollars. But that's because it was early in the night and people were betting safe. Most hands saw flops with few pre-flop raises, so I got to see a lot of cheap flops when I was small or big blind. I could've won more had I been willing to bet bigger, but I was trying to stick around.

About two hours in (which was about two hours before I had told everyone I was due to leave), I flopped a straight, 7-8-9-10-J. I had the 7-9, so it wasn't the "nut straight". It could've been beaten if someone had the 9-Q. So I put about ten bucks into the pot, and a guy across from me goes over the top all-in, which would've easily put me all-in since he had about twice as many chips as my eighty bucks or so.

At that point, I realized that I wasn't willing to go all in (this early in the night) unless I had the absolute nuts (unbeatable hand) because I wasn't willing to re-buy and possibly lose more than $60, and I also realized that put me at a tremendous disadvantage. These guys started going all-in about every 10th hand or so (eight people at the table), increasing in frequency as the night went on. And if they busted out, well, they would just throw another sixty out there and buy more chips. Or someone would have about twenty dollars worth of chips in front of them, then they'd throw another couple of twenty dollar bills on to the pot.

So, in essence, everyone but me had an unlimited and unknown about of chips because I went in completely and totally unwilling to risk more than my sixty dollar buy-in. Still, with about thirty minutes to go, there were a lot of callers before the flop, and the flop was an As-Qd-9s. I had the Ks-3s in my hand, so I had a nut flush draw. Basically, a bit less than a 50% chance to draw another spade and have the best possible hand during the next two cards (barring someone getting a full house).

I put my last twenty bucks in the pot, and I got two callers. I had put ten bucks in pre-flop about half hour earlier with A-A in the hole, and everyone folded partly because it was only about the fifth hand I seriously bet at all night. I figured my reputation would let me claim the pot, but if it didn't, I had a decent chance to get it anyway. I didn't get my spade, and someone beat me with a junk pair of fours (the four came on the river, of course), so I called it a night. I'm not too unhappy with the way I played.

I gave myself (1) a decent chance to buy a pot and double-up and (2) about a 40% chance to almost quadruple my $30 to $120 (which would've doubled my initial stake) at a cost of only $20 in chips, so it was the right play. My mistake was not so much in the game play but in the boundary conditions I set for myself going into that game, which made it all but unwinnable for me. I've decided I won't play in any more no-limit games with re-buys unless I'm willing to lose about triple the buy-in.

Posted by Observer at 10:49 PM | Comments (8)

December 27, 2004

This Is What Happens...

... when you surround an incurious, immature, insecure underachiever with a bunch of cynical, political hacks.

Posted by Observer at 11:22 PM | Comments (3)

Done and Done

It only took half the day, but by God, that backyard and those damn barns are clean and organized again. I stuffed our minivan chock full of trash and recycling from all the Christmas presents and waited behind about 50 other pickup trucks at the city dump this afternoon. I'm really tired from the whole week of busy busy busy, but it has been really great. Christmas is the best time in the world to have a big family and lots of kids. I get a smile on my face every time I see them out on the trampoline or Sarah playing her new game on her new little TV or Justin building something new.

Daniel is a blast on the trampoline, and you should go see all the pictures from my wife's blog to see what fun our Christmas was. My dad is coming down tomorrow with the new bookshelves, and I can't wait. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to a somewhat slower-paced vacation from now until mid-January. It will be a lot easier around here with the kids having so much new stuff to do and the trampoline wearing them all out.

Posted by Observer at 03:10 PM | Comments (3)

December 26, 2004

Boxing Day Bouncing

The trampoline itself took about an hour to put together, with help from both eager boys and my stepfather who was visiting with mom for the day. We were being stupid and trying to connect all the springs by hand when somebody found the little spring-stretching hook that came in the box. That would've saved us a good ten minutes and lots of pinched palms, etc. had we used it from the start. It helped put Justin's baseball/soccer ball rebounder together, too, which came with no such tool.

The enclosure was about a 2-3 hour ordeal, with lots of stretching, tons of little bolts, lots of tie downs, loop arounds and bungee cords. But it is on very well now, and it makes the trampoline a whole lot safer. It also makes it possible for 18-month-old Daniel to play on the thing without any danger. He absolutely loves to walk around on the thing. He was wearing a little wool jacket on there today, and the static built up on him so bad that his hair was standing on end like you see in a Physics textbook. Michelle will definitely be posting pictures shortly.

Cody looks like he was born on the trampoline, with lots of acrobatic jumping. Sarah loves it, too, and lord knows they both could use the exercise. Justin has spent a lot of time putting together his great big Gundam model, but he lost a couple of important pieces during the Christmas chaos, we think, so he had to use some tape to finish it. He is now working on his K'Nex roller coaster.

All of the kids were a little overwhelmed with the number of gifts, and the whole house now has some organizational issues to overcome (Michelle helped Sarah today). We bought big new tubs to store ornaments and lights in the barn, and we bought a couple of big plastic shelves. Tomorrow, I intend to organize our two storage barns. When I'm done with that, we have basically three families worth of Christmas garbage and recycling piled up on our back porch that I will need to take to the city dump.

Maybe with some extra room in the barns, the kids will be able to finally neatly put away all of their outdoor toys instead of mixing them between the middle of the backyard, thrown randomly into a barn or in their rooms somewhere. I might try to store some of Justin's extra K'Nex out there, too (yes, he has that much) to open up some space for the boys.

I'm very excited that I got a pair of big bookshelves from my dad, and he's going to transport them down here soon. I can finally pull my whole collection of (mostly) paperbacks out of the closet and into the office on shelves. We may have to buy one or two more to fit them all or at least try to find some extra matching shelves we can insert (the bookshelves have three adjustable shelves, so lots of peg-holes).

I also got the special edition of the Shawshank Redemption on DVD. Can't wait to watch that with commentary to learn about what was going on during the movie. Oh, and while my brother was here visiting, he invited me to his little poker party Tuesday night. For a $60 buy-in, I'll get to try my luck at some No-Limit Hold 'Em. I'm expecting to lose it all and hoping to be pleasantly surprised. I tried practicing a few hands against the boys last night, and they cleaned me out in three hands despite the odds being pretty well in my favor all three times. Not a good sign.

I'd comment a lot on the Cowboy win today, but I hardly watched it. Listened to some of it while finishing the trampoline outside. I'm just so disgusted that Parcells keeps playing Vinny for absolutely no purpose at all (though it is fascinating to watch Vinny get noticeably worse each week ... on the season, he is now below the rating set by Quincy Carter last season). It's just Parcells being a big, stubborn asshole to the media around here. He's got poor Jerry by the balls, because if Jerry fires Parcells, the media will string Jerry up for running off another good football guy.

I'm glad they won, I mean, it's nice to see the Redskins and Little Danny Snyder suffer and all, but in the end, the only significance is a worse draft pick.

Posted by Observer at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2004

Not Even a Mouse...

Shortly after midnight, and the loot is spread out under the tree. Boys are probably not asleep, but at least they are being quiet. I think they actually do try to go to sleep, just to make morning come faster, but they are so hyped about Christmas that it is a lost cause.

I've been stuffing Michelle's dark chocolate pieces of fudge down my piehole all night. I had no idea until a few days ago that Hershey's made chocolate chips out of their special dark chocolate. That's enough to make me start making cookies from scratch again, just so I can try those chips. As it is, I'm usually too lazy, so I just buy the big tubs of cookie dough from Costco. Easy snack for me and the kids.

I loves me some dark chocolate. Dark chocolate Lindt is extremely yummy. Hershey's dark chocolate nuggets with almonds are also very choice. Best is the midnight Milky Ways which I can't find in fun size any more. The minis just aren't quite the same, and the regular size candy bars are too much all at once.

We're having a big chunk of the family over for Christmas morning and an early turkey supper tomorrow afternoon, so it will be pretty wild. I'll miss most of the noise because I'll be out back building a trampoline. I plan to try that bad boy out myself once the kids have had a couple hours each.

I hope Sarah likes it a lot because I got her a game boy game she really really wanted, and if she's on the trampoline, she won't have any cause to steal the Gameboy Advance SP from me. I'm just getting the hang of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and it is as fun as I had hoped. Glad there are extensive FAQ's online or I would be totally lost on the skill/job system.

Posted by Observer at 12:25 AM | Comments (5)

December 24, 2004

Year of the Trampoline

This will be my fourth Christmas with Michelle and the kids. The first year, after they had all moved down from Canada, they had to leave so much stuff behind that was basically just replaced most of their favorite toys. At the last minute, we sprung for a new N64 system because their old one had just broken.

The following year, we moved into our current house, and so it was time to stock the kids up with new things. They got lots of pretty cool stuff, and when all was said and done, we pulled a gigantic box out of the storage barn that had a new Gamecube inside along with memory cards, controllers and a few games (like Soopahsmashbruhs, Animal Crossing, etc). So that was the year of the Gamecube.

Last year, we were trying to think this morning what their big gifts were, but we couldn't remember. Justin got a giant K'Nex roller coaster that he fully built in about two hours, and it was pretty cool. He has gotten a *ton* of mileage out of all the K'Nex we've bought him. I printed out a bunch of blueprints from their website a couple of years ago, along with ordering some crucial rare parts needed in quantity, and that worked great. Most of the other big gifts last year were in the form of Gamecube games. I guess the Gameboy Advance SP was the "big gift" last year.

This year, we're not biting on the next generation Nintendo hand-held device (the DS, or Dual Screen). So far, there just don't seem to be any good games for it. Seems better to wait a year for the price to get cut in half, then the good games will have separated themselves from the pack on the review sites. So they each get individual big gifts along with other smaller stuff. Justin gets another roller coaster and a soccer rebounder (good, sturdy ones run over $50). Sarah gets a TV/VCR so she can watch videos from the library and also she can plug in the old N64 system to that because she likes a lot of the older games on that.

Cody gets the biggest gift, which is really for all three but Cody definitely wants it the most, and that's the trampoline (12-foot diameter) plus safety enclosure. The only part of Xmas day I kind of dread is putting that monster together. The box weighs about 140 pounds, and the enclosure another 60 or so. I have no doubt that the trampoline will be the memorable gift of this year. It remains to be seen just how the backyard will survive and how much the trampoline will be used, etc. I know that when I was Cody's age, a trampoline would've been heaven on earth.

But it is hard to buy a trampoline without thinking of that Simpsons episode where Homer gets a free trampoline and all the neighborhood kids end up going to the hospital, etc. We'll be taking lots of precautions with it, like no two kids on at the same time, but it still worries me.

Posted by Observer at 01:53 PM | Comments (1)

December 23, 2004

Poor Man's Gore v Bush

Although I imagine many of my commenters are more informed than I am, I have been following the Washington governor recount race with some interest. It's a very close race between Gregoire and Rossi, and according to the latest news, it looks like a third count (by hand) has put Democrat Gregoire in the lead.

It's funny to watch Republican arguments turned on their head. Over and over, Republicans demand that Gregoire concede because she's behind in the vote totals, but now that Rossi is behind, where's his concession? Then there's the screwed-up ballots from King County that will surely favor Gregoire, so of course Republicans are against counting them. But the state Supreme Court says count them, which will increase Gregoire's lead (over the current total of 10).

If Washington state currently had a Republican governor and Republican secretary of state, I imagine the election would've been certified before Gregoire pulled into the lead, just to put that veneer of fake victory on Rossi. Then the process would begin of telling Democratic voters to "get over it". But I don't know that. I've been away from Washington for too long to know if the Republicans there are as scummy as in other state governments like Florida and Ohio.

Republicans are now all of a sudden big fans of digging for messed-up votes, saying the same standard accepted in King county for acceptable ballots should be applied state-wide. Well, of course it should. And no Democrat better say otherwise or they'll look just as scummy as Republicans. And if that makes Rossi the winner, so be it. Some party has to stand up for the integrity of the voting process, and it is damned sure not going to be Republicans.

Republicans trotted out the idea that continuing to recount things will cause "irreparable harm" because it will taint the legitimacy of the winner (which would of course be Rossi), just like they did with Bush v Gore. I liked this response:

Justices questioned Republican claims that counting the votes would cause irreparable harm.

"You're looking at it from the point of view of the winner or the loser — shouldn't we be looking at it from the point of view of the voter?" asked Justice Susan Owens.

To Republicans, voters are tools to be manipulated to line the pockets of whatever corporation or person gave them the most money recently, so it is little wonder Owens' reasoning is alien to them.

Posted by Observer at 08:41 AM | Comments (9)

December 22, 2004

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

Tad Williams' first major entry into the fantasy trilogy genre is his series "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn". This trilogy consists of four books: The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower (Parts 1 and 2), with both of the last two books longer than the first two combined, just about. I guess the first two must've sold really well, so Williams' editor just said "the hell with it" and let Williams write as much as he wanted.

This series has a lot of off-the-shelf characters and circumstances. There is an aging king and his oldest son, ready to take the throne. The oldest son is being misled by the evil wizard, so the younger son is conflicted about whether he should intervene. Meanwhile, the kitchen boy (Simon, the main protagonist) starts up a relationship with the kindly old wizard and soon finds himself on the run because the kindly old wizard and the evil wizard don't see eye to eye. Simon then meets an amusing little mascot/guide, and he begins to find his way in the world, meets up with a magical elf-like race who are willing to help, with a standard love interest along the way. All that's missing is a ring/necklace/amulet of power, I guess.

Ok, so maybe that's too many stock things to make a good novel, but I still enjoyed it. What isn't conventional about this series is the plot, which is very unpredictable, fast-moving and entertaining. It is never clear until the very end what will be the fate of most of the major characters, and there are plenty of surprising deaths and plot twists along the way. This is a really good series for inexperienced readers who want a comfortable, long and interesting story with the familiar trappings of fantasy.

In the rankings of fantasy series, I would put them something like this, among the things I've reviewed so far:

Tolkien

Donaldson (Covenant)

1st group:
Rowling (Harry Potter)
Brust (all Dragaera books),
Cook (Black Company trilogy),
Rosenberg (Guardians of the Flame trilogy)

2nd group:
Williams (Memory, Sorrow and Thorn),
Bear (Songs of Earth and Power),
Feist (Magician quartet),
Kurtz (Deryni/Camber trilogies),
Turtledove (Videssos/Krispos),
Donaldson (Mordant's Need)

3rd group:
Moorcock (Elric etc.),
Saberhagen (Swords),
Watt-Evans (Ethshar etc.),
Cook (Black Company other books),
Rosenberg (Guardians other books),
Hambly (Darwath),
Roberson (Cheysuli trilogy)

Edge of readability (for teens, at least):
Eddings (Belgariad),
Roberson (Cheysuli other books),
Saberhagen (Lost Swords),
Pratchett (Discworld)

Those are just average ratings. Some of the Rosenberg or Cook individual books that come later are really very good, but on the whole, these sets are "3rd group" material. Pratchett's "Discworld" books are highly variable for me, but on average just weren't funny enough to offset the pointless plots. I'll add more to this list as time goes on, but only to the 2nd group and below, I think, because I've covered all of my true favorites. There are also a few stand-alones I'll have to review and insert into this list somewhere. Then maybe I'll start in on a more complete list of science fiction type series and stand-alones I've read.

Posted by Observer at 10:08 PM | Comments (3)

December 21, 2004

Time Wars

Simon Hawke's "Time Wars" series begins with "The Ivanhoe Gambit" and goes on for a dozen books that I know of. For the record, I'll list the titles I own, in series order:

1 - The Ivanhoe Gambit
2 - The Timekeeper Conspiracy
3 - The Pimpernel Plot
4 - The Zenda Vendetta
5 - The Nautilus Sanction
6 - The Khyber Connection
7 - The Argonaut Affair
8 - The Dracula Caper
9 - The Lilliput Legion
10 - The Hellfire Rebellion
11 - The Cleopatra Crisis
12 - The Sixgun Solution

This series follows a military unit on various adventures through the past. Thanks to the proliferation of time travel in this future universe, there are all sorts of problems with the timelines that have to be smoothed over to prevent something that isn't entirely clear due to all the paradoxes. In the second book, a counter force is revealed, the Timekeepers. They are purposely trying to disrupt the timeline so as to separate off their universe from ours, and their actions drive the (intricate) plots of many of the later books.

Eventually, it is revealed that one of the favorite military devices of the protagonists is a warp grenade. It is like a nuclear explosion bubble with a 10-meter radius and absolutely no effects beyond that. Well, turns out the reason there are no effects is because the rest of the explosion is warped over into this other universe, causing all kinds of destruction on the alternate Earth. Yes, yes, I know. Suspend disbelief. Anyway, so the Timekeepers are at first seen as evil but eventually you see their motivation.

Good pulp, with very little dropoff in quality as the series goes on. If you like time-travel fiction, this is worth looking for in a used bookstore. Good luck finding the whole series. My books are on the kids' to-read shelf for someday.

Posted by Observer at 08:05 PM | Comments (1)

December 20, 2004

Happy Fucking Holidays

I mentioned this once or twice in the past, just out of annoyance, but this whole "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays" is just way, way, way out of hand. Letter writers to the paper and ConservaBorg bloggers nationwide are sharing anecdotes that ring false to me. Stories like these almost always include either:

Victim in question wishes someone a "Merry Christmas" and the other person staggers back as if transfixed by a holy spear, flinches and glances both ways furtively to make sure no one else sees the "666" birthmark that is now burning his or her flesh, etc. Basically, it is some version of "Merry Christmas" being received as a form of insult. Unfalsifiable anecdotes treated as hard sociological data, from the same people who want to treat Creationism as a science, so why am I surprised? Or...

Politically-correct corporations, universities, local governments put the kibosh on any reference to Christ. Not just your standard (and constitutional) "no" on the courthouse nativity scenes, but they instead allow various other groups to put things up for Kwanzaa or atheists or devil-worshippers. These also typically turn out to be way overblown or completely false, but not before the Church Lady hornet nest is stirred into action to drain the life force from everyone in a 100-mile radius.

I'm sorry, but I have been saying "Merry Christmas" to people for my whole life, and not once has it received a negative reaction. I mean, sure, if I say "Hey, Merry Christmas to you, too, fuckbrain." to some guy who just pulled out in front of me on the road, that's one thing, but I'm talking about pleasant greetings or conversation. And the idea that there would be some kind of emphatic negative reaction, like "Oh, you're not supposed to say that!" is just beyond the pale.

To me, this feels like another one of those things where right-wing nutballs are looking for something to be victimized by, because that's pretty much what they base their whole political philosophy on. They are professional victims. Even now, in firm control of all three branches of government, more or less, all we hear about is how obstructionist Democrats are blocking everything that is good and proper for America because they are such sore losers. This despite the fact that Congressional Democrats are so very good at "Please, sir, may I have another?" behavior when it comes to being abused.

And if I have to quote confirmation rates of Clinton's judges with a Republican Senate (majority or minority) vs Bush's judges with a Democratic Senate (majority or minority) in order to prove my case, then you haven't been paying enough attention. Or if I have to explain how Political Correctness (forcing everyone to say "Merry Christmas" and getting offended when they don't) on language is anathema to real conservatives, then you are officially too stupid to read my blog, so go away and look up "anathema" so at least you learn something you might be able to accept as fact.

Anyway, I call "bullshit" on this whole stupid thing. Face it, nutballs, you've won. You pretty much own the media. Even the last holdouts, the newspapers, are now mostly a joke (and God forbid they have any liberal columnists, because that just proves they are part of the Marxist/Klinton/Ultra-liberal conspiracy). You control the government. You set the agenda. Now you'll have to learn to stop your fucking whining, you poor things, because you've got nothing to whine about. The more things get fucked up, the more it will be your fault, and the more we'll all have to suffer for your ridiculous personality problems.

Rot in hell, you ignorant, fascist pigs.

Oh, and Happy Holidays! Or Merry Christmas. Or whatever the hell else I feel like saying, you sorry fucks.

Posted by Observer at 11:00 AM | Comments (8)

December 19, 2004

End of Line

When the Eagles had an extra point blocked at the beginning of the game, I thought to myself that I'd better not hear the standard announcer speak that "Ooo, that could come back to haunt them," because I was (like everyone else in the world) expecting another blowout. Well, it turned out not to matter, but at least it made a very boring game a little more interesting because it looked like the Cowboys might sneak away with a very cheap win for a while.

With any luck, our silly coach will now realize they aren't a playoff team and pull Interceptaverde out of there to give someone else a chance. Philly is so good now that they've overcome two awful weeks in a row to win. When the Cowboys have a bad week, they lose 26-3. When the Eagles have a bad week, that just means they win by fewer than 10 points.

Despite my criticism during the season, I do believe the Cowboys have the potential to be a strong playoff team next year. They've shown flashes of greatness, especially in losses to Pittsburgh and today to Philadelphia. They need the incentive and/or the personnel to maintain consistency or at least play at a high level 80% of the time instead of 40% of the time. I hope we get to see if we have the quarterback piece of the puzzle during the next two weeks.

Posted by Observer at 03:11 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2004

More from Rosenberg

Reading binge continues. I just finished Joel Rosenberg's latest "Guardians of the Flame" entry, entitled "Not Really the Prisoner of Zenda". This is the third straight book that follows the adventures of three soldiers who are loyal to the good guys.

I reviewed the whole series back here, and this book follows immediately the events of "Not Quite Scaramouche". Like the previous book, this one assumes from the beginning that you know the history of this place, so it is hard to just pick up and hit the ground running if you've only been able to read the series sporadically over the years like me.

In this book, one of the soldiers is assigned to play the role of a missing Baron, thanks to an illusion that makes him seem like the real Baron. They do this basically to get back at the bad guys from the previous book, one of whom is dead and the other they can't get the proof to pin it on. Unlike "Scaramouche", this whole book has a pretty clear direction from the beginning, and it feels like the author just kind of killing time and incrementally advancing the much larger plot until the other bad guy gets his due. There just weren't many surprises, no intricate traps, not a lot of bang for the buck.

Still, it was very easy and enjoyable to read. I could've read and liked a book twice this long, just because Rosenberg is really good at clever writing about soldiers. It felt like I was reading some of the best parts of the "Black Company" series or some of Turtledove's "Videssos" novels. I'll be happy to read more from this series once Rosenberg releases new books, but I hope he gets a move on with the larger plot, because there's still a lot of promise there.

Reading may slow down for a while now, because I realized the other day that I'm not going to get Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for Christmas. So I just went out and bought the damn thing for myself for twenty bucks. Gives me a good, portable game to play as I follow 18-month-old Daniel around the house for the next two weeks.

Posted by Observer at 07:05 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2004

Long Books

Now that the holidays are here, I'm cranking up my reading again. I just finished Jeff Long's "Year Zero", and it was a slog. I first encountered Jeff Long when a relative very strongly recommended "The Descent". I normally trust this person's taste in reading (she was also a big fan of Donaldson when we were growing up), so I gave that a shot.

In "The Descent", humanity discovers that the crust of the Earth hides an enormous series of caves hundreds of miles beneath the surface. A strange group of characters joins a military expedition down into the caves, looking for the creatures who live there, who occasionally sneak out to attack or capture humans. They discover a parallel, savage civilization and unlikely adventures ensue. I thought it was only average. Some good ideas are offset poorly by too many credulity-straining plot devices, and Clancy-esque 2d characters kept it from being really enjoyable.

In "Year Zero", a plague erupts from a 2000-year-old artifact, and the world slowly grinds to halt, like in "The Stand". This is sort of an updated version of that apocalypse, with a community of scientists seeking a cure isolating themselves at Los Alamos and using satellites and other technology to keep track of things around the world. One of the main characters, Nathan Lee, has to overcome a murder attempt in the Himalays to make his way through the world while looking for his daughter.

This one was a little bit better than "The Descent", maybe because I like end-of-the-world books, but that's not saying much. It was hard to really picture Nathan Lee without thinking of Nathan Lane, the actor in movies like "The Birdcage". The other major character is a mad genius scientist named Miranda, daughter of a powerful general. The first meeting with Miranda reminded me in a bad way of Robin Cook's horrible "Mutation" wonder-kid with her weird, advanced genetics experiments.

Anyway, as if the end-of-the-world plague weren't a big enough twist, the scientists start trying to clone 2000-year-old people, hoping to find one with natural immunity to the plague. Even with the usual willing suspension-of-disbelief, I wasn't willing to accept that people cloned from a drop of blood or whatever would not only come back to life as 25-year-old adults but with all of their memories intact. Too late in the book, one of them claims to be Jesus Christ, but whether he is the real thing is never made clear, and that ends up being a 30-40 page subplot.

I mean, look, if you are going to go to all that trouble to resurrect Jesus, I would think that should be a primary focus of the book, but ok. Eventually Nathan finds his daughter and finds the man who tried to kill him in Nepal, but neither of those resolutions is at all satisfactory, and the whole plague storyline also never really concludes. Maybe Long is considering a sequel, but I wouldn't be interested enough to read it. "The Stand" is far more engrossing and remains the standard.

I found "Year Zero" on a bargain shelf, which is the only reason I decided to give Long another chance. Now I know why it was on that shelf.

Posted by Observer at 09:45 AM | Comments (5)

December 16, 2004

Finish the Letter

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 01:00 PM | Comments (7)

December 15, 2004

What's on the Final?

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 12:38 PM | Comments (6)

December 14, 2004

Science Whores

From Digby comes this wonderful tale of science, a case study of how scientific illiteracy combines with journalistic cowardice and incompetence to form a perfect petri dish for the spread of conservative bullshit. You see, the ultra-super-liberal Washington Post recently published an article about climate change consequences, and, well, Senator Frank Lautenberg's letter to the editor tells you all you need to know:

Juliet Eilperin's Dec. 2 news story on climate change, "Humans May Double the Risk of Heat Waves," is the latest example of the media's "he said, she said" treatment of what reputable scientists say is one of the greatest threats to the human race. Even worse, the article countered the findings of the world's top climate scientists by quoting an oil industry-funded economist. Such reporting is not credible, nor does it illuminate a subject of significant importance.

The article began by citing a peer-reviewed study published in the revered scientific journal Nature, which reported that the risk has more than doubled for the type of lethal heat wave responsible for 35,000 deaths in Europe last year. But the last half of the article is squandered on the views of Myron Ebell, an economist -- not a climate scientist -- whose "studies" at the American Enterprise Institute are funded by Exxon Mobil. The article fails to mention this shameless conflict of interest.

The problem with this type of reporting was highlighted at a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing. Robert Correll, senior fellow at the American Meteorological Society, warned, "The trouble with a debate of this nature is you put 2,600 [scientists] against two or three or four [scientists who disagree]." Ebell is not in the same league as the qualified climate scientists who report that the climate is changing before our eyes; only the intensity and the speed of those changes are unknown. Your newspaper does an injustice to its readers by giving Ebell's caterwauling equal weight with the widely accepted views of reputable and unbiased scientists.

The Poor Man has an excellent commentary on this whole affair, and the reason I quote the whole thing is that this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart:

Word. And I like how we have to rely on career politicians to provide a check on the corruption and idiocy of the media. That's a quite healthy situation, and not at all fucked up. Sleep tight.

Now, Ms. Eilperin and the editors of the WaPo (no relation, thank God) are undeniably spayed-and-neutered hydrocephaloids of the first water. But, being journalists by training, they are probably as ignorant as everybody else about what this kooky thing called "science" that all those nerds who could never hope to be on "Scarborough Country" are going on about.

I've already barked at length about how misguided science education is in this country (I can't find where, but I have, trust me. Short version: it is a waste of time to teach utterly uninterested schoolkids how to calculate reaction rates and trajectories of cannonballs and so on, things which are going to be about as useful to most of them in the grown-up world as being able to name all of the seven dwarfs, instead of teaching them A) what is science, B) what isn't science, C) how to tell one from the other.)

The result of this is that 99% of journalists, and the public at large, think that science is just one rather boring topic for "Crossfire"-style argumentation, where there's one side screaming one set of lies and the other side screaming another and everyone hates America and/or babies and now here's some ads for Matt Damon movies and dick pills. Admittedly, you have to be a howling retard with all the intellectual curiousity God gave a Sea Monkey to think this way, but let me introduce you to your fellow human beings.

This is pretty much the philosophy that I use when teaching my course. Other teachers can ask a bunch of multiple choice questions about which planet is closest to the Sun or what's the chemical symbol for ammonium hydrosulfide or what have you, but I like to ask questions with "why" in them. Just about every question on one of my exams contains the word "explain" or "justify", and we cover in every class the idea of scientific integrity, why scientific literacy is important, how to tell science from crap, etc. It's nice to see that I'm not alone.

The systemic problem here is one of corruption. What I mean is this: in respectable science - and, really, in respectable business, academia, government, and every other field of human endeavor - the most valuable commodity one can have is credibility. Credibility comes from aptitude - the ability to get at the truth - and honesty - personal commitment to telling the truth. Like I said, this is not an esoteric concept, nor is it all unique to science, but science is lucky in that the problems it deals with, because, by definition, it deals only with falsifiable statements about the physical universe, come complete with a way of determining credibility.

For example, the scientific question "who are the Seven dwarfs?" can be answered definitively by watching "Snow White" (1937), a reproducable experiment. Anybody who claims that there is a dwarf named Shaggy is either insane, ignorant, an idiot, or lying. It may be impossible to determine which of the above is the reason, but, regardless, the end result is the same: this person loses credibility on the subject, and their opinion can be safely disregarded in all future discussions of the topic.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if political discussions worked this way? As soon as you are caught lying or saying something completely crazy, you have two choices: you either concede the point, compromise and talk about how and why it won't happen again, or you simply aren't allowed to talk about politics anymore. Hey, Republicans like controlling what we talk about, and they are so completely fucking cocky and confident that they are right, why not go all the way? Only catch is: the principles of logic and reason must be applied when deciding what is right and wrong. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

That's in the example of Disney trivia; in science , it means you get fired from your job, expelled from whatever professional organizations you belong to, lose the respect of your former colleagues, get blacklisted, and have to go teach high school or something. This is a very painful process for everyone involved, but the price of not doing this is corruption of the process. The examples when journalists are subject to the same standards - Jayson Blair ,Stephen Glass ,Jack Kelley - while unpleasant, are heartening.

The corruption in the process is that journalists are unwilling or incapable of applying the standards they set for themselves to anyone else. The result being that, despite the fact that he's a store-bought hack with no credibility (or even qualifications) whatsoever, the opinion of egregious Don Knotts impersonator Myron Ebell is given the exact same weight as a few thousand world-class professional experts.

Now, the reason for this is hard to determine - I suspect that it is partially the galactic ignorance of many journalists, who, by and large, have the intellectual curiousity, if not quite the capacity, of ritalin-deprived 12-year-old N*Sync fans; and partially the fact that they are enormous pussies, who think that corruption preferrable to suffering unpleasant repercussions of telling well-funded liars where to shove their fairy tales, which is required to honor their sacred trust with the American public. I don't know which factor is more important, and it isn't useful to spend much time thinking about it, as it is not a scientific question.

But the net result is the same: in the country which, at its founding, represented the most perfect incarnation of the spirit of the Enlightenment, those trusted with preserving the integrity of our public discourse, born standing on the shoulders of giants , squat down and shit on their heads.

Store-bought scientists (aka "tobacco-industry scientists") are the worst of the worst. And once you go down that road, it is tough to go back. If you haven't already, go see Russell Crowe in Michael Mann's "The Insider". Great story about a tobacco scientist trying to come clean, and how he is treated by the media.

Posted by Observer at 11:12 AM | Comments (13)

December 13, 2004

Surprise! Another Hypocrite.

Sometimes, blogging is just too easy. For those who haven't been following the news very closely (who can blame you?), Bernard Kerik was tapped to be the new head of Homeland Security by President Mission Accomplished. He underwent a thorough vetting process by the White House, we are assured, which must mean that they've got no problem with (among other things):

Multiple simultaneous affairs with Judith Regan (the right-wing publishing celebrity/fox news personality) and NYC official Jeanette Pinero.

Rampant corruption and cronyism at all of his previous appointed positions (I guess that is a plus for Bushco), including the obligatory mob ties.

An illegal nanny arrangement (this, for the person who was to head up immigration policy).

An abandoned child fathered in Korea.

This isn't really a philosophical indictment of Bushco, just a problem with basic competency. It's weird, because normally they are pretty good at smoothing over any problems with the usual tactics of media intimidation, calling so-and-so unpatriotic or shrill or out of the mainstream or telling them to "get over it". If Kerik had persisted, one wonders how far his confirmation could've gotten.

The really funny part of all this is the holier-than-thou conservative bitch known as Judith Regan, who has spoken up about adultery and immorality on many occasions, usually on Fox:

REGAN: Absolutely. I don't think there's any question. I mean, here's Hillary who's been standing by her man all these years and allowing him to behave in this reprehensible fashion.

REGAN: You know, look at Monica Lewinsky talking about being suicidal, being on antidepressants, you know, gaining this huge amount of weight. This is clearly a woman who has suffered and is suffering inside because she has no depth of feeling and no morality whatsoever. And so, I decided, after being involved in this ugly negotiation, which I found morally reprehensible, that we should make fun of the whole thing, and we should make a comment about the amorality of everybody.

REGAN: I would never tell. Unlike Monica Lewinsky, I keep my secrets and take them to the grave.

REGAN: I don't know. I mean, I think that they're going to move forward here, and I think it's alarming to me that the country is not concerned about having an amoral man in the White House.

REGAN: I said, "You know what? There's a really great morality tale here with a great, great moral lesson," and nobody's really said that.

REGAN: Well, partially, but it's also an "amorality tale" because the one thing that's missing from "Monica's Story" is, you know, deep thinking about her own amorality, which we saw -- was in ample evidence during the Barbara Walters love fest the other night. I mean, here's a woman who clearly knows a lot about sex, but knows nothing about right and wrong.

REGAN: You know, the amorality tale, "Monica's Untold Story," is about her amorality, and the amorality of all of the people in this ugly story. But one of the things that was remarkable about her two hours is her utter lack of sincere remorse. And in that case, I would say she is a true soulmate of Bill Clinton because the two of them -- she learned a lot about spinning. She learned a lot about publicity. You know, she learned a lot about changing her image. And she tried to do another Barbara Walters show, but I don't know if America's buying it. I'm sure not.

Ms. REGAN: Well, I think that the social fabric of this country has become completely unraveled. I think the sexual revolution had a lot to do with that. I think that we are in terrible shape. I think we have a country where half the kids are being raised by single mothers. A lot of that has to do with male behavior. We look at the men in this country who do not want to be accountable to their wives, do not want to be accountable to their children and we have as a president a man who could be a symbol of everything that is good; he could be a wonderful husband, he could be a wonderful father. He is in a position of great authority to show this country and to lead this country in a way that is much more important than economically.

Ms. REGAN: ...to this kind of fame, don't grow up thinking, You know, what I really want to do is to be a good citizen, to be loyal to my friends, to care about my neighbors, to get married, to be faithful to my husband, to have a family.' These are not the things that we're teaching.

Ms. REGAN: We can conquer others with force but to conquer ourselves we need strength.' And this is really what we need in America today. We need to conquer our own impulses. We need to understand that we can't act on them all the time because it feels good for us. We have to care about the other.

Ms. REGAN: Let me tell you something, my father has never cheated on my mother, my brothers have never treated cheated on their wives. I come from a big Italian Irish Catholic family and I have to say that for the most part, they have not cheated on each other. My brothers were virile...

Of course, there's always the IOKIYAR argument (It's OK If You're A Republican). Maybe Regan could blame her moral lapses on Clinton, who set such a poor moral climate for our country, what with all the sex and lying.

It's just so much fun to watch the inevitable unearthing of right-wing skeletons.

Posted by Observer at 03:22 PM | Comments (7)

Survivor End

I think I was right in assuming Scout and Twila would never vote for one another. The only time Eliza even thought about proposing it to Scout, Scout just listened with a "you're so dead" smile on her face and even then it was only so she could tell Twila and they could share a laugh. I was right that Chris had to win immunity twice to win the game, and that's exactly what he did.

He wisely got rid of Eliza first so he would only have to beat Twila in the last endurance challenge. And he wisely got rid of Scout so he wouldn't be set against her in the final two. Poor Twila never had a chance. Everybody in the last 6-7 wanted to take her to the final two because they knew everyone else hated her and wouldn't vote for her.

The two hour finale wasn't as boring as most final four shows are, but maybe that's because there were more commercials that we could fast-forward through. I think we watched the whole show in about 85 minutes. The last half-hour where the "jury" of voted-off contestants got to question the final two and decide the winner was brutal. That was 30 minutes of concentrated human nastiness, and it was a bit too much.

I would've liked to see Twila fight back a little more. When Ami got on her for betraying the alliance, I would've liked to see Twila say, "Ok, Ami, tell me this. Who would you have taken to the final two. Don't put it off, don't say you don't know. Say you had to choose now. Who would you have taken? Me?" The whole game is based on who is the best and most skilled liar, and people still, after the show's ninth (?) iteration, get really really really pissed off when the ultimate winner betrays them. I would probably be the same way, which is one of many reasons I would never do a show like that.

Anyway, it's over. And with "Third Watch" and "ER" on reruns, I think we're out of TV to watch until January (except the occasional Premier League match). I was thinking about doing what Humbaba is doing with LOTR, start watching "Fellowship" with the kids tonight and just two six nights with two hours of movie per night so we can get through the whole extended edition trilogy in a week. I don't know if we'll have time to watch that much movie between now and Christmas. Too many other holiday things going on.

Posted by Observer at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2004

It's Been Fun

Horrible loss to the Saints today. We scored 13 points against the worst defense (in every category) in the league, and 7 of those came from a bogus pass interference call that put us down on the Saints' 1-yard-line. The defense gave up their usual bundle (27), and we are statistically dead for the playoffs.

Unfortunately, we aren't mathematically dead, which means Vinny will still play, at least until Philadelphia destroys us next week. I was glad to see Seattle beat Minnesota. I was pissed off at those cocky morons after Minnesota beat us in the first week and started strutting. Well, it's the second half of the season, so that team is full of quit as usual.

Posted by Observer at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

Dear Disabled Students,

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (6)

December 11, 2004

Chris the Genius

Another "Survivor" entry. If you don't like it, you are an unpatriotic America-hating Saddam-loving freak, and you should leave the country. Okay? Okay.

I think all the feasts and pampering from reward challenges lately has made the old neurons fire again in the brain of Chris. Mere days after being so clueless that he had to be baby-stepped by Twila through the diplomatic process to save his own skin, he is easily the odds-on favorite to win the game. Either that, or he's just stupid, indecisive and lucky.

There are five left. The two olds, Scout and Twila, who will stick together no matter what now. They are even cockier and more annoying than Ami's crew was when they were on top, which is hard (no, wait ... easy) to believe. Then Eliza, who has probably overcome more plots against her than any other player because she's so damned annoying. Then Chris, the last guy. And Julie, the last remnant of the Ami Alliance (Julie has been smart, too, telling a clever lie at one point to save herself from a bad vote).

Julie is the only sympathetic person left (in the eyes of jury members, anyway), so the smart thing to do was for the other four to stick together and vote her off. Eliza, though, really really really hates the olds, so she tried to figure out a way to get Chris into a 3-person alliance with her and Julie to vote off the olds. Chris pretended to be agonized about the whole thing, and he told both sides he would vote with them right up to the end. Then he voted off Julie.

This had many positive effects. First, it gets rid of the last person who could beat Chris in a vote. Second, by convincing Eliza to vote for one of the olds (shortly after she proudly lied, told the olds she would vote with them, and said she had never lied to anyone in the game), Chris ensured that she would be on the outs in the final four, rather than Chris. And what can Eliza do? Try to rat out Chris? She can't stand the two olds, so she will never ally with them at this point. She's toast unless she wins immunity all the way through.

I guess the same could be said for Chris, though, because if Eliza wins immunity next time, it's not like Scout or Twila will vote for each other. Anyway, it'll be a fun final four on Sunday night. This makes the fourth season I've watched "Survivor" (1st season, Australian Outback, All-Stars and this), and this one is probably the best endgame just because it is still unpredictable to an extent and the people are all playing pretty smart.

Posted by Observer at 07:06 AM | Comments (1)

December 10, 2004

Official Estimates


When Clinton Lied About Sex, Republicans Worried, "What
Will We Tell the Children?" When Rumsfeld Lied to the
Troops About Armor, Did Anyone Raise a Fuss?

(Image from Steve Jackson Games.)

From Atrios and American Street comes a pointer to this story, which pretty much speaks for itself:

Armor Holdings Inc., the sole supplier of protective plates for the Humvee military vehicles used in Iraq, said it could increase output by as much as 22 percent per month with no investment and is awaiting an order from the Army.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday the Army was working as fast as it can and supply is dictated by ``a matter of physics, not a matter of money.''

Jacksonville, Florida-based Armor Holdings last month told the Army it could add armor to as many as 550 of the trucks a month, up from 450 vehicles now, Robert Mecredy, president of the company's aerospace and defense group said in a telephone interview today.

``We're prepared to build 50 to 100 vehicles more per month,'' Mecredy said in the interview. ``I've told the customer that and I stand ready to do that.''

You may have seen in the news that Rumsfeld went to Iraq and held a little photo-op Q & A with the troops, but the troops peppered him with some tough questions, among them why there is still not enough armor over there after nearly two years.

Turns out Rumsfeld lied to them. But, hey, you know, at least he wasn't shaking his finger at them on camera. At least he wasn't lying about a blowjob. It's just armor for the troops, for cryin' out loud. We liberals should quit nitpicking, I suppose.

Oh, it gets better, too:

Armor Holdings has already boosted output from 60 vehicles a month a year ago, said Mecredy, 58. As a result of the increased output, Armor Holdings has cut the price for the armor its supplies for the trucks to $58,000 per vehicle, from $72,000 per vehicle a year ago, Mecredy said. [...]

When he was asked about current production yesterday, Rumsfeld wasn't sure of the exact figure saying ``it's something like 400 a month are being done.''

Not bad, he's only off by about 10%! You think anyone will give Rumsfeld grief for not knowing the exact number? Of course not (nor should they)! It's not like he's a Democrat or anything! But as Bob Somerby reminds us, when it was a Democrat (Howard Dean) being asked questions about Iraq a year ago, it was Tim Russert on your ultra-liberal "Meet the Press" and good old Kit Seelye in the super-duper-liberal New York Times who were getting on his case, calling him unqualified to be in charge of our troops when his educated guesses to the unscripted questions were off by, yep, about 10%.

What's that you say? Unscripted questions sound like crazy talk? I know, I know, but you have to remember that the media only has to stick to the script when they are talking to Republicans. With Democrats, anything is fair game. Stick it to 'em, you know. If you want someone to ask an unscripted question to a Republican, you'll have to rely on a soldier or a regular citizen (who can get past the loyalty oath monitors).

From what I understand today, conservaBorg are trying to dismiss this story because the soldier's question was actually given to the soldier by some ultra-super-duper-socialist-Saddam-loving-liberal reporter. I guess the soldier can't think for himself, can he? I guess it's ok to say we support the troops, but when they say something critical, they must be brain-dead robots. And I suppose reporters were planted throughout the crowd to cheer loudly in response to the question. It couldn't have been a spontaneous reaction by other soldiers.

Could it?

Posted by Observer at 07:03 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2004

Fair or Foul?

James Wolcott makes an excellent point today about something that has disturbed me about Al Franken's show on Air America. From the beginning, Al has periodically had a guest on, his dittohead friend Mark. Al plays a cut from Rush, and tries to get Mark admit that Rush is full of shit.

This went on for the first couple of months of the show. Al would play back Rush saying something like, "And we know for a FACT that John Kerry is a child molester," with Mark usually either saying, "Well, no, you're playing that out of context" (as if an false accusation of child molestation could EVER be said in the proper context) or "Ok, I'll grant you that, but you know Rush is right about this other thing or right about things generally..." (that he's totally wrong about, too).

It is educational, in a sense, because it gives you some insight into how the closed mind of a dittohead works. But it is also maddening because it is a case study of what is wrong with right-wing voters, and I don't like to be reminded every day of just how obstinately ignorant people can choose to be. And it is maddening because you know that you wouldn't hear that kind of reaching out to the other side on a conservative show, like Rush or Hannity or any of the other white-bread clones out there. Wolcott picks it up from there:

I don't listen that often to Al Franken's midday show on Air America. It's too phlegmatic and low energy for my taste. But low energy is better than no energy, which is what Franken's dittohead friend Mark Luther drags to the broadcast. I don't know if Dittohead Mark is on every day with Al, but he seems to be on every day that I listen, put there just to annoy me. Dittohead Mark may be Al's friend, but he never caught a rabbit and he ain't no friend of mine or anyone who appreciates good radio and a modicum of intelligence. Worse, every time Mark appears, it means we're subjected to soundbites from Mark's idol Rush Limbaugh, chunks of triumphalist snorting and chortling that are the reasons I spare myself listening to Rush in the first place.

Today, Al was playing choice cuts of Rush's idiotic, morally debauched rationalizations for torture at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. A pointless exercise, since Dittohead Mark thinks any criticism of the military is picking out the negative instead of accenting the positive. He insisted, practically demanded, that instead of emphasizing the occasional bad thing the military's doing in Iraq--you know, like wiping out entire wedding parties--Al should come up with one positive item a day from Iraq. And not be sarcastic about it either, Mark added.

At which point I would told Mark to open a high window and go fly. But Al, being nicer than most, kept his rumpled cool.

So this is where we are in 2004. Conservatives not only dictate the terms of debate from their side, but dictate how the other side should conduct itself (i.e., like eunuchs). Liberals would never bother pestering Rush or Ann Coulter to acknowledge one positive achievement of liberalism or feminism a day, because they know they'd only get a dismissive get-lost in return. But conservative have no hesitation in lecturing liberals on how to discuss the war in Iraq, even though all of the power in Washington is now concentrated in Republican hands and liberal Democrats haven't the slightest input into the decision-making process.

Al should have told his dittohead friend that it's too damned late to be sprinking sugar on the mound of corpses mounting in Iraq, but instead he persisted in this exercise in futility, trying to persuade someone who's unpersuadable, winkle a mind that's proudly, defiantly clam-shut. It really is liberal masochism trying to find common ground with someone who believes liberals barely deserve to occupy the same earth. Dittohead Mark might concede a minor point here or there, but he's never going to budge on the big dumb positions his hero Rush holds dear, and using his powers of reason on a sensibility so inert is a waste of Al's breath, and a waste of the listener's time.

This last part is especially interesting, about conservatives dictating the terms of the debate. A few weeks before the election, Mark accused Al of cherry-picking, saying that Al was making him look bad by taking the worst moments of Rush's show and assuming they are representative. Mark claimed you could do that with any show. So Al challenged him to do it with "The Al Franken Show", but instead Mark said that Mark would pick the Rush clip that they would then discuss.

Al was (rightly) confident that just about any clip would show the same kinds of problems, so he told Mark "ok". So for the next couple of weeks, Mark got to come on the show with clips from Rush. *Mark* got to basically dictate the terms of the debate, and he *still* looked like an idiot because the quotes he brought were the same kind of bullshit. Rush may state an opinion that would be arguable but then he would at the same time back it up with bullshit or spout off some complete lie about something else unrelated.

You can imagine that this might have rattled any sensible person, but Mark hasn't changed his political views one IOTA since the whole process began. Time and again, Al has either changed the rules to make it more friendly for Mark or to give him a better chance to defend himself. Time and again, Al has pointed out valid parts of Mark's opinions, even if he disagreed. Time and again, Al has ceded ground to his friend, compromise after compromise, and his friend has responded by moving not a single inch and if anything getting cocky and more reactionary about the whole process. It is a mirror of the national debate between the parties (and the candidates to some extent).

So I have to agree with Wolcott: why bother with the guy? At least with this approach (the so-called "reality based" arguments), it just doesn't work.

This raises a larger issue that liberal talkers are going to have to get around: Do we try to be fair, or should we just totally go the propaganda route because the mainstream media is going to equate us with the right wing nutballs anyway? Do we try to present both sides of an argument, or should we bother? Do we try to reach out to violent, ignorant nutballs, or do we just write them off as they have done to us and tell them to go fuck themselves?

If unfairness advances the liberal cause better than fairness, even if only in the short term (to get this disastrous version of the Republican party out of power), should we use it?

Posted by Observer at 09:54 AM | Comments (3)

December 08, 2004

Just Getting Warmed Up


Social Security Is One of the Most Successful Government
Programs of All Time. No Wonder the Right-Wing
Wants to Destroy It.

(Image from Brand Democrat by Oliver Willis.)

Paul Krugman has some important words of wisdom since the election. First, some general strategic thinking:

President Bush isn't a conservative. He's a radical - the leader of a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. Part of that coalition wants to tear down the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, eviscerating Social Security and, eventually, Medicare. Another part wants to break down the barriers between church and state. And thanks to a heavy turnout by evangelical Christians, Mr. Bush has four more years to advance that radical agenda.

Democrats are now, understandably, engaged in self-examination. But while it's O.K. to think things over, those who abhor the direction Mr. Bush is taking the country must maintain their intensity; they must not succumb to defeatism.

This election did not prove the Republicans unbeatable. Mr. Bush did not win in a landslide. Without the fading but still potent aura of 9/11, when the nation was ready to rally around any leader, he wouldn't have won at all. And future events will almost surely offer opportunities for a Democratic comeback.

I don't hope for more and worse scandals and failures during Mr. Bush's second term, but I do expect them. The resurgence of Al Qaeda, the debacle in Iraq, the explosion of the budget deficit and the failure to create jobs weren't things that just happened to occur on Mr. Bush's watch. They were the consequences of bad policies made by people who let ideology trump reality.

Those people still have Mr. Bush's ear, and his election victory will only give them the confidence to make even bigger mistakes.

"The Daily Show" had a funny segment about this last night. Ed Helms was commenting on Donald Rumsfeld's continuing tenure at Defense, and he said, "Look, the key to keeping your job in this administration is not failure. It is COLOSSAL failure." The theme seems to be that if you screw up badly enough, they have to keep you around; otherwise, they have to admit to an embarrassing mistake.

Well, Bushco isn't shy about taking on big projects to screw up. Next is Social Security, and already the media is playing along, publishing columns and stories that refer to the "crisis" in social security (see Bob Somerby for more on the media's behavior here), that pass along nutty Republican memes (such as it won't cost a thing). Krugman wrote the following great column about the coming Social Security:

Privatizing Social Security - replacing the current system, in whole or in part, with personal investment accounts - won't do anything to strengthen the system's finances. If anything, it will make things worse. Nonetheless, the politics of privatization depend crucially on convincing the public that the system is in imminent danger of collapse, that we must destroy Social Security in order to save it.

There's nothing strange or mysterious about how Social Security works: it's just a government program supported by a dedicated tax on payroll earnings, just as highway maintenance is supported by a dedicated tax on gasoline.

Right now the revenues from the payroll tax exceed the amount paid out in benefits. This is deliberate, the result of a payroll tax increase - recommended by none other than Alan Greenspan - two decades ago. His justification at the time for raising a tax that falls mainly on lower- and middle-income families, even though Ronald Reagan had just cut the taxes that fall mainly on the very well-off, was that the extra revenue was needed to build up a trust fund. This could be drawn on to pay benefits once the baby boomers began to retire.

The grain of truth in claims of a Social Security crisis is that this tax increase wasn't quite big enough. Projections in a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (which are probably more realistic than the very cautious projections of the Social Security Administration) say that the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.

Given these numbers, it's not at all hard to come up with fiscal packages that would secure the retirement program, with no major changes, for generations to come.

It's true that the federal government as a whole faces a very large financial shortfall. That shortfall, however, has much more to do with tax cuts - cuts that Mr. Bush nonetheless insists on making permanent - than it does with Social Security.

But since the politics of privatization depend on convincing the public that there is a Social Security crisis, the privatizers have done their best to invent one. [...]

For Social Security is a government program that works, a demonstration that a modest amount of taxing and spending can make people's lives better and more secure. And that's why the right wants to destroy it.

The media is going to go along with this, of course. They're already used to reporting the idea that 2-1=4 as if it is a valid opinion one can hold, so complex math like Social Security is going to get passed right along, straight from the White House talking points. Anyone trying to block the reform will be a poor sport, Democrat obstructionist trying to protect an outdated system, as if old people in America (which will be everyone, eventually) are just another business group or lobby, like Enron.

People obviously don't care about the deficit anymore. Well, as long as a Republican controls the government. Guaranteed that if Kerry were president, we'd be seeing all sorts of stories about how spending is out of control, and how we can expect it to be any different under a Democrat, blah blah blah. With Bush in office, the deficit is just an unpleasant visitor at the door that we're too busy to talk to because we have a war on.

Posted by Observer at 05:40 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2004

Crazy Cowboy Fun

So I'm at a supplemental lab for my students last night. I had to miss the first 50 minutes of the game or so, then I was able to listen on the way home. When I started listening, the Cowboys had just doinked a field goal through the uprights to make it 14-6 in favor of Seattle. I figured if the Cowboys didn't take the lead to start with, they didn't have a chance.

But by the time I got home it was 14-12 (doh, don't go for two, dummy!). Then the Cowboys scored again. Then they scored *again*. Then they scored **again**. Now all of a sudden, it is 29-14, and I'm thinking, crap, they're going to win. In my heart, I wanted the Cowboys to win. In my head, I knew that a win gets us further away from whatever future we might have with Drew Henson.

I took solace in the fact that, despite whatever alien force took over during the Bears game on Thanksgiving, our defense does still truly suck. Plus, we hadn't seen any Vinnterceptions yet. So I waited, and sure enough, Vinny worked his magic, the Dallas defense started playing a little off the receivers, and Seattle started scoring at will. Our secondary needs work, I tell ya. That Terence Newman is pretty uneven, even for a rookie, and the rest of 'em probably wouldn't make most teams' practice squads.

Oh, and Seattle has Jerry Rice. For any Dallas fan, this guy is a Major Nemesis. Throughout the 90's, he was about the only thing standing between Dallas and another Super Bowl victory. Screw Dwight Clark and "The Catch". The game wouldn't have been close enough for the 49'ers to win if it hadn't been for Rice torching us. And Rice had a big game. When Seattle was up 39-29 late, they showed Rice yukking it up on the sidelines, sticking it to Cowboys fans one more time.

Make no mistake, I think Rice is a class guy, great player. But as a Cowboys fan, it makes my blood boil to see him fired up on the sidelines, to see him catch *another* f'ing slant for 15 yards, to see that smug grin sapping the energy from my Cowboys yet again. Anyway, at that point, the Cowboys down 10 with a little less than three minutes left, and wouldn't you know it, they come down and score a touchdown.

And, yeah, I know it probably wasn't a touchdown catch by Keyshawn, but crap, the refs were screwing both sides all night (the fake holding call on one of Jones' touchdowns from 20+ yards out cost us 4 points, the bogus pass interference call that set up a Seattle touchdown, etc). You'd think they would have put the decent officiating crew on a Monday night game for the whole world to see.

Well, then we recovered an onside kick, and we went down and scored. I mean, I thought Parcells would just run it up the middle three times once we got to the 33 and settle for a field goal to go into overtime. But, nope, we had to go and score a touchdown. And then the cherry on top was Seattle desperately trying to get it back down the field with no timeouts and 30 seconds left, and Jerry Rice catches a 25-yard pass over the middle and just gets absolutely CRUSHED by three defensive backs. As he wobbled to the sideline, Seattle's last desperation pass bounced off the face-mask of a receiver in the end zone.

All I could do was laugh when the Cowboys won the game, and it would have been even funnier if Seattle had won on that last Hail Mary. That game was nuts, but believe it or not, the MNF win by the Cowboys over the Giants at the beginning of last year was stranger. I can't believe a team that scored more than 21 points exactly ONCE this season went off and scored 43 points to win!

In the long run, though, it hurts us. Even if we miraculously make the playoffs at 8-8 (which is the best we can do from 5-7 since we still have to play Philly on the road), we're going to get torched in the first round again. We need to just lose out and get a good draft pick and get some experience for Drew Henson. Now, we may not be mathematically eliminated until the final week, and for all I know, Zombie Vinny will be next year's starter, too. Oh well, at least we're finding out that Julies Jones is for real (and Al Johnson, our center who blew out his knee to miss his rookie season last year).

But nothing is better than a Cowboy game for laughs these days, either way.

Posted by Observer at 07:54 AM | Comments (7)

December 06, 2004

Faculty Bias

About once a month for the past fifty years, a prominent conservative (that's not a compliment, by the way) writes a column bemoaning how liberal college campuses are these days. The liberals outnumber the conservatives by 4, 6, 8, 10, 100 to one, they cry, and our poor children are being indoctrinated into a liberal ideology.

I do not dispute the fact that liberals outnumber conservatives among college faculty, a fact that may even be true at my University, despite other influences that would tilt us toward the conservative side. But, really, what are we supposed to do? Do conservative intellectuals want some kind of preferential treatment? Some kind of, oh I don't know, affirmative action program to help them get cushy ivory tower jobs? Should we have a check box for political ideology on the application form?

I personally think most people who lean conservative tend to avoid faculty jobs because it's just not their thing. But I only speak for the sciences when I say I've never seen any kind of discrimination in hiring or in the classroom. Of course, these days it appears that "reality-based" people are accused of having some kind of liberal, anti-Bush agenda, so if we say, for example, that the world has gotten warmer over the past 100 years, or that fossil fuel use is problematic for various reasons, we are biased.

Sorry. Fuck off. The whole goddamned *point* of science is to use the peer-review process to get beyond the on-the-one-hand kind of crap that infects the stupid corporate media. It's not perfect, but it is usually a very open-minded, transparent process that separates fact from bullshit. Unfortunately, some shills call themselves scientists while acting as puppets for the corporation of the month, and the media isn't smart enough to know the difference.

That's the sciences, but who knows what kind of crap they pull over in the liberal arts wing? My guess, though, is that conservatives would prefer to make real money in business or pursue a military career. Say, that reminds me ... what's the current proportion of Republican to Democratic CEO's, hmmm? How about the proportion of Republican to Democratic military officers?

Funny, I don't hear any complaints about that. From either side.

No, the whole thing is just one more example of conservatives playing Professional Victims. It also smacks of the kind of anti-intellectualism that is a hallmark of repressive politics the world over. Are you a conservative who doesn't like how liberal college campuses have become? Suck it up, get a *real* education and come join the fun. And good luck pushing your ideology. It doesn't matter whether you are in arts or sciences, whether you are liberal or conservative. No one gives a shit because they've got grading, grant proposals, research, papers, office hours and committee meetings to deal with.

Of course, I'm the exception that proves the rule.

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (13)

December 05, 2004

Lawrence of Ethshar

Time for another old fantasy favorite, "The Lords of Dus", by Lawrence Watt-Evans. I've read plenty of Watt-Evans stuff, mostly books set in Ethshar, like "With a Single Spell" and "The Misenchanted Sword", entertaining and funny little gems. Not slapstick like Pratchett, but warm and humorous.

In "The Lords of Dus", Watt-Evans follows a great barbarian warrior named Gar, who isn't satisfied with the occasional conquest or victory in battle over the puny humans. He wants to know how he can make sure he is remembered forever. Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, Gar starts taking advice from an Oracle, who sends him off on all kinds of adventures to retrieve various items and/or kill various people. Like the Ethshar books, there is a lot of humor here, and Gar is very three-dimensional.

This was originally a quartet of short books. They are "The Lure of the Basilisk", "The Seven Altars of Dusarra", "The Sword of Bheleu" and "The Book of Silence", all four like the series title fit the dreaded "The (blank) of (blank)" criteria. These have now been collected into a hardback omnibus edition. This story is a little rough around the edges, one of Watt-Evans' first, and I enjoyed his shorter novels more.

In "The Misenchanted Sword", an Ethshar scout behind enemy lines finds an old wizard who gives him a cursed sword. When drawn, the sword cannot be put down until it kills someone. Before it kills someone, the wielder is invincible. After, it turns into an ordinary sword until sheated and unsheathed again. The sword only has 100 kills in it, though. After that, it turns on its master. So the spy is turned into an assassin. Simple enough, but what if the spy gets tired of killing? What happens when the sword gets close to the end? What if the spy loses count? Can the enchantment be broken?

In "With a Single Spell", an apprentice only knows a simple fire spell, and he proceeds to accidentally destroy his master's workshop while trying to pry open a spellbook to learn more. So he runs for it and ends up being recruited into dragon-hunting duty.

These books are not about the fates of kingdoms and empires or about royalty and nobility, but instead about relatively ordinary people in unusual circumstances. Ordinary is a strange term to use for a sword-and-sorcery setting, I know, but there you are. There are a lot of interesting problems here that aren't solved by some improbable miracle or glorious combat against-the-odds but instead of simple ingenuity or unexpected but logical events.

With authors like Tolkien, Donaldson or (going in rough order down the quality scale), Feist, Kurtz, Moorcock, Roberson, Hambly, Eddings, you get the feeling you are reading a world-spanning scholarly history of great events. With Watt-Evans, you feel like you are sitting around a campfire listening to the weathered old guide telling you an amusing story about this strange fella he ran into twenty years ago (I've used that description of Watt-Evans before when I've published reviews online). Both kinds of stories have their merits.

Watt-Evans has written several more stand-alone Ethshar books, with the third being "The Unwilling Warlord" and so on, but I found "Sword" the best, then "Spell" was a small step-down in quality and so on down the line. I know he's gone on to write a trilogy dealing with dragons, but I haven't read it. My son Justin seemed to like them all right when he got them from the library. He hasn't read Watt-Evans' older stuff, though, so he has nothing to compare it to.

Posted by Observer at 12:04 PM | Comments (4)

December 04, 2004

Lab Credit

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 09:59 AM | Comments (6)

December 03, 2004

Unlike Vietnam

Eric Alterman has done his patriotic duty and described many reasons why the war in Iraq is So Very Different from the war in Vietnam:

Unlike Vietnam, our allies are treating the local populace well and are fighting effectively.

Unlike Vietnam, our troops are not torturing anyone or committing any atrocities anywhere.

Unlike Vietnam, our allies are committed to democracy, and are capable and experienced in carrying it out.

Unlike Vietnam, we are backing strong, independent leaders, rather than quislings and puppets whose power base rests with our military forces and economic support.

Unlike Vietnam, we are beloved by the people we are saving.

Unlike Vietnam, our president and his cabinet officers are leveling with the nation about the costs of victory and likelihood of defeat.

Unlike Vietnam, we have the support of the international community.

Unlike Vietnam, it is particularly popular in the region where the war is being fought, and among the alleged audience abroad we seek to impress with our wisdom and resolve.

Unlike Vietnam, our actions are not inspiring anyone to take up arms against us and thereby increase the level of threat we face.

Unlike Vietnam, dissenters within the government, particularly those with expertise in the history and culture of the people we seek to govern, are being heard with care and respect for their views.

Unlike Vietnam, this is also true for experts in academia and with direct experience in these nations.

Unlike Vietnam, our wise leaders have a clear idea of the cultures into which we have inserted ourselves.

Unlike Vietnam, we are not asking the poorest and least well-connected among us to the fighting and dying.

Unlike Vietnam, our troops are well-trained for their well-defined mission, (a particularly hearty congratulations goes to Colin Powell for so effectively preventing the same kind of abuse of grunts he witnessed in Vietnam). 

Unlike Vietnam, our civilian leaders are taking seriously warnings and advice of more experienced military leaders.

Unlike Vietnam, those who point out problems with the present course are not being sullied as “counsels of despair and defeat,” and giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Unlike Vietnam, we have the whole thing well-planned out.

Unlike Vietnam, this is a necessary war against an enemy that had the will and capacity to threaten our lives at home.

I could go on, but you’ll have to take the rest… on faith.

I read in the paper yesterday that our troop levels are going up to 150,000, and this escalation is another sign that we have the terrorists on the run, surely.

Oh, and here's a news flash. Apparently, Iraq can now be classified as a meltdown, but then what would some reporter on the ground in Iraq know? All the 101st Fighting Keyboarders over here are confident everything is going great in Iraq and we unpatriotic naysayers should just shut up.

I'd like to add my "Sorry, Everybody!" to the mix.

Posted by Observer at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2004

Bye, Ami

Survivor talk, be warned.

Well, Eliza added a little bit of suspense to the whole affair this week, acting vulnerable to Ami's sweet-talking, but Ami got voted off. If they hadn't taken this opportunity to vote Ami off the island, if Ami had talked her way out of it after totally going along with the "screw Eliza" smug little smile last week, then Ami by God deserved to win the game.

And it would've been more difficult to watch than watching that ass Boston Rob win. Ami's only hope should've been (and was) winning immunity, and we both cheered when she lost. We were happy for Eliza to win the car, too, instead of Ami, who has won too many challenges and would've had something to Lord over everyone else again had she won.

Chris knows how to convince Eliza to keep her head clear, I guess. He made the one persuasive argument she couldn't ignore, that Chris and Eliza had a gold-paved road ahead of them, going into the final four against the much weaker Scout and the sort-of weak Twila. As I hoped, I got to watch Ami moralize about how horrible it is to vote someone off the island, to lie, to betray, etc. once Ami herself was the target. I'm glad Twila had the (proverbial) balls to actually say "Screw you!" to her in the end.

In the final vote, Eliza talked about how difficult it was to vote off Leann last week. And they cut to Leann who is giving Eliza the death stare, the "how dare you vote for me, you betraying bitch!" glare, when Leann was the one who pushed Ami into betraying Eliza last week! You know Leann would be crying the crocodile tears over Eliza if Leann were still in the game. Ami's instincts on that were spot-on, too, and if she had cowed the women into submission again, making them vote for Chris last week, she would be on her way to a win now.

What fun.

And Chris showed you that you can be in the catbird seat but not be smug. He's just dorky happy, and that's the way to play it, whether he intends to or not. He and Scout and Twila can now pick off Eliza and Julie, then Chris has a huge advantage to the end. I can't imagine anyone on the jury at that point who wouldn't vote for Chris, figuring he was the only man to survive among all the women, that he didn't really piss anyone off, etc. Chris is smart just sitting back and watching the women rip each other's eyes out.

Twila, though, deserves all the credit for putting Chris in that position. She's the one who gave Chris the heads-up to talk Eliza into joining them, and Chris had to guess three times before he figured out who he should talk to. But that doesn't matter because all the voted-off women will hate Twila. The men will have some sympathy for her, but more for Chris. If I were a betting man, I'd say Chris has better than even odds to win it all now. I could live with that.

I wonder if Scout and Twila realize now that they have zero chance to win the million unless they end up as the final two so that everyone *has* to vote for one of them. That would be kinda fun to watch Ami's old alliance feel ill having to write one of those two names down for a million bucks, kinda like how everyone felt stupid having to vote for either Rob or Amber in All-Stars.

Posted by Observer at 09:53 PM | Comments (23)

Darwath

Today, I'll talk about another parallel universe trilogy, Barbara Hambly's "Darwath Trilogy". In this story, two people (Rudy and Gil) are drawn into the world of Darwath. Long ago, this world's population was decimated by repeated nighttime attacks by "The Dark", monstrous magical creatures that fly out of their caves at night to feed on the living. Nobody knows why the attacks stopped then, but now, it appears the time has come for them to start again.

The whole population is protected inside a keep that somehow keeps out the Dark. Meanwhile, Rudy starts learning everything he can how magic works because, well, if you found yourself in a world where magic works, wouldn't you want to try your hand at a little wizardry? Gil also joins the battle against the Dark in other ways, and she soon becomes a major factor in a different way. All the while, the Gandalf-stand-in (Ingold) is in the background, helping them both and trying to figure out how to fight off the Dark.

This is a pretty short trilogy and a very quick read. I understand that Hambly has written two subsequent books continuing the storyline, but I haven't read them. I read these books at roughly the same age that I read Feist, and I found the quality comparable. My book snob friends, though, didn't like them. One friend, Chris, was biased against them from the beginning.

He had a rule, he said, that any book since Lord of the Rings that had a title "The (blank) of (blank)" was almost always bad. All three of these fit that description for him ("The Time of the Dark", "The Walls of Air", "The Armies of Daylight"), so I don't think he ever gave it a chance. I will admit, though, that I've read a couple of Hambly's other books (a Star Trek and a Star Wars book) later in life, and it was mixed.

The Trek book was fine as that genre goes, but her Star Wars entry ("Children of the Jedi") was perhaps the worst Star Wars novel I've ever read, and that's saying something.

Posted by Observer at 11:49 AM | Comments (3)

December 01, 2004

Deryni

Another series that I've foisted upon the teenage boy in the house is one that I liked fairly well in high school, and my friends (who were real book snobs) liked more: Katherine Kurtz's "Deryni" series. The original trilogy consists of "Deryni Rising", "Deryni Checkmate" and "High Deryni". There have been about a dozen more books (including two more trilogies) since this first trilogy was published long ago.

The setting is a typical sword-and-sorcery fantasy world (Gwynedd) with more parallels to medieval Europe than most fantasies. In this world, there are some people, known as Deryni, who are capable of magic, and they have to practice their magic in secret. Despite their spirituality and good nature, the Deryni are, of course, despised and persecuted by the church, which has great power and influence (and they are mostly pretty crappy people). The young 14-year-old set to be king after the assassination of his father is, of course, secretly Deryni, and so is his regent (and so are some of his enemies), so there is naturally some great conflict to read about.

The plot has more intrigue and surprises than, say, anything by David Eddings, but it isn't up to the level of Steven Brust either. It is a natural evolutionary step to read something like "The Belgariad", followed by a couple of trilogies from this set. The magic in this series is very different, much more of a ritual nature (like witchcraft in Brust's world of Dragaera), and at first, it is interesting to see it all described. After about the tenth time I saw the whole counting-in-Latin sequence, it felt a lot like filler, though.

I liked the "Camber" trilogy which is a prequel to "Deryni" but not so much the "King Kelson" sequel trilogy (is there such a thing as a "sequel trilogy"?). I didn't read any of the others in this series, but I haven't heard good things.

Posted by Observer at 09:51 PM | Comments (4)