Monday, January 31, 2005

Timeless theme from PBS

'Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.'

"What If" films will always be with us: in the past few years, I've seen The Butterfly Effect and Lola rennt, both having the same thematic substance, and now once again The lathe of heaven on DVD. After seeing the PBS version (which has the expected low budget touches) with my brother & sister years ago, I read the book & thought it be Ursula K. Le Guin's best.

There were several favourite touches from the book that the movie could not fit in. When George turns all humans grey, his first thought was that maybe the loss of Abraham Lincoln & Martin Luther King wasn't such a bad price to pay never having had racial prejudice, but you could tell the disassociation between his thoughts & feelings. Later when he's at a restaurant putting African seasoning on his food, it drives home the metaphor or how the world had been thinned out, made bland, by all his 'effective dreams'. When he meet LeLache at the end, she comments, so this is the world you created with your dreams & he laughs/shrugs well it was the best i could do.

The DVD had few extras, but there was Ursula K. Le Guin's only interview ever with Bill Moyer. A bit over long, but some nice tidbits - The Lathe of Heaven was a translator's mistake. Lathes did not exist when the Taoist proverb came into existence; the movie was filmed in 12 days with the folks working 13-14 hour days. Was late, so did not watch the full 25 minute interview.

Under no circumstances watch the remake - only saw the last 10 minutes & hated that enough to avoid the rest of the film. The original has its flaws (micro-budget made for PBS sometimes shows through), but has enough substance to still be worth viewing.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraqi election

Got a bit teared up reading the stories in the NYT yesterday about Iraqi ex-pats voting in the US. At first I didn't understand the stories about driving for hours, but then yesterdays paper explained that there's only 5 places to vote in the US for the Iraqi elections. One moving story of an Iraqi ex-pat originally not wanting to vote, but then after he read about a death of a US soldier in Iraq, being inspired by the sacrifice, so he loads his family on a van and drives from Seattle to Irvine to vote. Another one about a group trip from Dallas metro to Nashville to vote (guess it would be churlish to ask why they didn't just have voting booths in top 10 metro areas - max of 1 per state?).

I've been opposed to the Iraq War since the drums first beat, but I do fault the left for their hatred of Bush blinding them to any good news from Iraq. Best comment (and final word) of the day I'll leave to Buzzmachine:

Whether it's Kerry or any of these bloggers, it would be the grownup, mature, generous, humanistic, caring -- yes, dare I say, liberal -- thing to do to be glad that people who lived under tyranny are now giving birth to democracy. Democracy isn't a right-or-left thing, folks. It's a right-and-left thing, remember?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Miserable Post Office trip & weak graphic novel

No wonder I always use MBE or UPS store. Waited 20 minutes in line for them to say that they won't supply a single piece of tape to close the box - i would have to buy a roll of tape???? They must have all kinds of tape there & that's standard practice at MBE or UPS. Will never ever go into another Post Office to mail a box - absolutely not worth the hassles & piss poor service.

Started reading my other Xmas graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Just weak. Pathetic story of a pathetic character. Don't care what happens to him - there's absolutely nothing interesting in the story. It's more "look what a comically pathetic character i've created. let's laugh at him." Some moderately interesting (though hard to read) art work. Maybe 1/3 of the way now, and guess i'll finish it, but this review on Amazon is dead nuts on

I usually LOVE graphic novels, and I was really excited after I heard all the great reviews for this book. Then I read it, and it was awful. Really Awful. And it wasn't one of those things where I'm not smart enough to understand it. I get it, I understand what he is trying to say, and I've seen a lot of great graphic story telling. It was interesting, to see the artwork, but the story was awful and the characters were completely unlikable. This book is not worth the time it takes to read it, and is ultimately disappointing.

Will slug on through since i don't want my father-in-law's $$$ to go to complete waste, but unlike Blankets, there's no humanism, no insight, well just nothing to recommend about Jimmy Corrigan. Hope that the other graphic novels listed in that NYT review from last year are better. So far Gorazde & Blankets were both worthwhile & JC sucked, so guess that's 2 out of 3.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Friday Night Wine Gift Blogging

2003 Gallo-Sonoma Pinot Noir

A Christmas gift - tasted a bit sweet to me.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Why movies should avoid the light rail

I've now seen 3 movies filmed using LA's light rail. Speed (preposterous but enjoyable), Italian Job (preposterous and pretty bad), and now Collateral (preposterous but had its moments). Not sure why they can't make a good movie using the light rail, after all Lucas's best & most mature film used the BART tunnels before it opened.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Ecclesiastic Graphic Novel

the development of certain Hebrew phrases proves they were penned more than 600 years after Solomon's time

I remember my late step-brother pointing out that the epilogue of Ecclesiastes must have been written by someone else since its tone & advice is so far different from the rest of the book, but had never realized that several other sections must have been inserted by scribes "to leaven the tone" (2:24 & 5:19) until I read Blankets last night. The authour, Craig Thompson, toys with becoming a minister, but eventually leaves the faith, with Ecclesiastes providing his final epiphany "if indeed they were subtly modified by generations of scribes and watered down by translation, then for me - their TRUTH was cancelled out."

Balancing Craig's leaving his religious upbringing behind is the end of his first love, Raina. I wonder how she feels reading this graphic novel now. He doesn't credit her in the acknowledgements, which makes me wonder if he published without contacting her - or if he provides her with a nom de plume to protect her privacy.

Blankets is lighter than usual graphic novel fare, e.g. Our Cancer Year or Persepolis (2), so I was underwhelmed while whipping through the first hundred or so pages, but somewhere during the fortnight visit with Raina (½ the novel) my opinion changed though I can't pinpoint the passage - perhaps it was the photo of Jesus on the wall passing judgment on his love affair.

Will be curious if Craig can write another book that is not autobiographical. Can think of many authours, O'Neill, Spiegelman (to a certain extent), Williams, Satrapi, Sacco, who's best book was clearly autobiographical, so Thompson will be a rare talent if he can top his own history.

I did have some Ecclesiastical dreams last night, but they've faded - too bad, they would have made a nice addition to this review, and given me a better ending than a forgotten phantasm.

I love new ideas. Here are 2 of my suggestions:
1. Biodegradable landmines. The mines only function for a certain amount of time and than will degrade. Great for your ethical warfare and also a great fertilizer. Death first, tomatoes later.
2. Light reflecting hot houses. The amount of artificial light lost during the nights is tremendous. It costs a lot of energy and is a major contributor to light pollution (a very trendy topic). Put a (one site) reflecting coating on your glass panes and you can increase your light efficiency and keep the dark dark.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Inventions that still need inventing - II

Blogspot's being a bit flaky, so better hurry up with this post & hope that "Publish" doesn't send this off to never-never land. Here's the input from a conservative friend (below in red state colour). Nice to have some non-electronic ideas.

The idea of inventions needed is from an article in the WSJ a few weeks ago for their weekly hi-tech section. The only idea I remember from the article was the ability to move a file from your office to your car (guess you could audio dictate while stuck in traffic) and then home. Personally I don't need a file in my car, and it's pretty easy to mail it home or use a memory stick. I know what BloodPumpTick means about the glass/plate holder - that is a hassle at parties.

Also of neat ideas I've noticed recently, in most cases, it hasn't been an technological advancement. The neat ideas I've noticed recently: weights at the gym are now (1) rubber coated and have (2) hand holds punched in them for the 45lb weights. Another great advance is (3) bicycle gear shifts are now at your hands instead of below where you have to take your eyes off the road. No clue why that took decades for bike manufacturers to figure out. Seems like there's another idea that's struck me recently, but that will have to wait for another posting.

All in one, Baby carrier/car seat/stroller. There is a weak attempt on the market but the stroller part is more like a pull-along suitcase.

Hands free cocktail party all in one glass/plate holder that can be used with one hand so you have a hand free to eat with or shake hands with

Seat belt "stand-off" that keeps a shoulder belt slightly off ones fresh pressed shirt while commuting to avoid big diagonal creases

A lighter that can be operated with gloves or mittens on (could translate to elderly use) i.e. big simple push button or lever

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Inventions that still need inventing - I

Thought it would be fun to query friends what inventions they'd still like to see invented. There were two ground rules:

  1. Technology already exists, but the pieces haven't been put together yet, or
  2. The technology will exist in 5-10 years.

I should have also have put

3. This is not IP from your company.

some folks were hesitant to answer thinking i was trying to steal ideas (guess that's the downside of the current age - wasn't honest!). So with no more ado:


Dual CD bay. I would like an appliance that creates an exact copy of a data CD. I don't want the machine to "analyze" anything about the source disk.... just capture its contents completely and then download into a target disc. The appliance would have to have a microprocessor "core" and sufficient volatile memory ( hard disc?) to first capture everything on the source disc... then fast (9x?) burn to the target. The only analysis: whether the size of the target disk is sufficient to capture everything from the source. I've had a friend who uses data discs to copy audio CD's. These data discs are sucky copies: dropouts and digital skips. I think this is because the CD "burner" is receiving the digital data in dribbles and drabs from the PC, and the multi-tasking plays havoc with either the source reading or the writing to the target. It got me thinking that the only way to properly do this is to first get the entire 600-800MB source material into a drive that could give it back at an "optimal" rate to the CD burner unit.

I also WANT a stack of Smart Media Cards to store my MP3 files on. I wanted an MP3 player that accepts "outboard" memory cards to change playlists. The RCA Lyra is clunky, but it was the concept I was after: would not want to crash my mountainbike with a $300-$600 audio player w/miniature hard-drive, thank you. At least with a stack of media cards at home in the desk drawer.... I go out and buy another $69-buck player and I'm immediately back in business.

A true 3-D display! That is, a volumetric display, not one of those cheapo displays that just give the illusion of three dimensions. I'm talking about a visualization volume (a "tank" if you will) that the viewer can walk around and look at from all sides. Not a "holographic" projection, as in the movies, those are fantasy. But a holo-tank may be feasible.

Real cold-fusion. They still haven't proved that there's nothing there. Cheap energy would be nice, even if it didn't produce more than a few hundred watts at most.

Room-temperature superconductors.

Practical mag-lev trains, 400 kph w/o superconductors or active controls! It can be done, we just need to put the pieces together.

I want a digital video camera with giant internal hard disk. Currently, DV cameras all use flash cards and miniature DVDs. But for anyone who owns a computer, the much better solution is to put a 100Gb subminiature hard disk in the camera. Exactly like the iPod, but for video. Then you can record vast amounts of video, transfer it to PC as needed, and edit and burn DVDs from there.

Here's one: user-friendly self-configuring hardware firewall. You buy a firewall, and instead of reading a setup manual, you just stick a CD into your computer. It detects your computer's IP address, and based on that, either auto-configures the firewall or gives you special instructions. It also installs a little behind-the-scenes traffic monitor that detects every time you try to do some activity over the internet (e.g. browser, email, Windows Messenger, whatever). Initially all ports are closed. When you try to use a closed port, the traffic monitor brings up a dialog box: "You seem to be trying to use Windows Messenger. That port is currentlyblocked at your firewall. Do you want to open it? [OK/Cancel]."


Universal ID card: a friend suggested this years ago when we were job hunting. Such an annoyance to write out the same information repeatedly. Should be both in credit card form for when away from home (I guess being from the Palm is one form) or have an ID file at home. There should be multiple ID's. ID1 would be simple with just name/address/digits. ID2 might have credit card number - since I have to fill that out so many times for online purchases - obviously some encryption for security, but given that i've filled out the same info umpteen times on line without problems, believe that's do-able.

Multi-media book: years ago Ea's son had an abridged version of 101 dalmations that had icons & little buttons to push with a dog barking or car sounds. Believe adults need the same. You have a book, but the end is a small viewer with flash memory that can supply tunes & video. I've seen crude versions of this idea tried years ago of having a book with a very thin plastic record, or books with a CD/DVD in the front cover, but that destroys the flow to stop reading a book & switch to PC/DVD/CD player. Believe the technology is there, so now artists who want to create a book that has song interludes or short clips can have the media for this creation.

True Energy efficient house: houses come with solar panels now, and in Wisconsin they have huge windmills out on the farm, but would be nice if a house came with exercise energy generators & storage, or small windmills on top of your house - not the big ones that piss off your neighbors, but smaller ones should be practical. Obviously you can add these, but would be nice to buy them off the shelf, and would not be surprised to see something similar in a few years.

will be fun to see if any of these ideas come to fruition in the next decade. My guess for most probable are hard disks inside digital video cameras, and more energy efficient houses. Developers are fairly quick to adapt, e.g. houses up near Valencia were built with swimming pools that had hook-ups for fire hoses built-in for the inevitable fires in that area. Can easily see batteries & exercise equipment coming as Option-E on future housing developments.

thanks to my contributors - look forward to more ideas in the future.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Friday Night White Wine Blogging

Beringer 2003 GewÜrztraminer

Has a nice taste of pear and smells like honeysuckle. Ummm, goes nicely with the salad.

I got a little of the acidity. Must have been too cold.

Now I can smell the jasmine and apricot - that is the problem with our refrigerator getting too cold. - so sayeth the ginger haired yank

Friday Night Wine Blogging

I was looking at the blog of Zacht Ei (entry of 17 January), in which he shows a graph of his last run. I have been using a heart beat monitor for my weekly jogs for several years and have noticed that when I take the same run at the same pace my heartbeat differs per situation :
1. In the morning my heart beat is about 10 BPM higher than in the afternoon. Especially the start should be done in a much lower pace as the starting beat peak is also much higher.
2. After a week vacation my heartbeat can be up to 20 BPM lower.
3. When I meet a dog my heart beat goes up around 10 BPM (I love dogs, but still I have a primary hormonal response and my body releases adrenaline just to be sure).
4. When I meet a woman my heart beat goes up temporarily by around 10 BPM (again a primary hormonal response).
Conclusion is that, in a way, a heart beat monitor during a jog can reveal a lot about the primal instincts of the human being (or at least me) and its state of being.
Maybe I should try to commercialise these findings, get filthy rich, retire and have a 20 BPM lower heart rate during my afternoon runs (with the occasional peak).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

DFM gift from my co-blogger

DFM from Norway

Came home to happily find my Paypal delayed CD from Norway via Holland. Just shows how rich the Depressing Female Musician genre is. Here I was running out of artists to purchase just a month ago, and now I've been introduced to two (3?) new DFM's.

Last month, in part because of a posting from Crooked Timber, I looked up Cat Power's latest album - web site first & then Amazon reviews. One Amazon user wrote "oh Cat Power's no good. If you want someone with talent check out Patty Griffin or Kristin Hersh." Neither name rang a bell until I looked them up and realized that Kristin was the Talking Muses lead. Now reading a review of Ane Brun, who does the reviewer compare her to but Kristin! Better still he mentions another unknown artist Erin McKeown, so a 3rd possible DFM on the horizon.

Patty Griffin's Impossible Dream was a real find. Downloaded Mother of God and Cold as it gets and will either download 2 more tracks, or break down & purchase the album.

Ane Brun is an artist I could never have found on my own. Amazon had no record of her existence, so you know she must be obscure in america. Will be jammin' up the 405 tomorrow to "i shot my heart to let you go/i shot it down for you/but you don't know/i let my soul grow cold". The critic didn't like this song because it was too american - as an american i'm vaguely insulted.

As a final note on Cat Power, she, like Ani DiFranco, is your classic 2 good songs per album artist. Cat has the discernment to know which 2 tracks are her best, so her web site, used to have the 2nd best track I don't blame you and her only video is for the standout track He War - pretty clever video: one of those where you just know you can figure out the story if you just watch it a few more times.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Posting that didn't work out

inspiration for this post

Was planning for a clever write-up of a Smackdown between Milla Jovovich and Kristanna Loken, (originally to include Jessica Biel from Blade: Trinity & Jennifer Garner from Elektra) but the idea didn't pan out well & it's a bit too late to start a new one.

It is nice to see that women are now action stars & can even maintain a franchise such as Resident Evil - look forward to the inevitable next sequel. Apocalypse started a bit slow with 30 minute introduction of minor & medium characters before finally kicking into gear when our heroine somersaults off her motorcycle so it can pin some mini-monster to the church wall so Alice can then kill by shooting the gas tank - all in a day's work.

Favourite Special abilities
Alice: Can force all monitors in office building to feed from the camera zooming in on her. Causes males watching the bank of monitors to develop nose bleed & pass out.

T-X: Can run 25mph in 1" heels through Griffin Park (trained on UCLA's track to many stares - still wonder if it had to be replaced from damage)

Predicted outcome

Given that T-X was only killed by our governor's exploding energy cell, would have to make her the favourite, but who knows what extra-super-abilities our T-cell heroine will amass in Resident Evil: the final battle.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Evaluating our approach to the rest of the axis of evil

Just finished reading last month's Atlantic Monthly article on Iran (abstract only) & this month's Foreign Affairs's article on N. Korea to discern Bush's likely approach to the two countries during his second term. Part of the interest is based on Seymour Hersh's article in the recent New Yorker that kicked up a mini-ruckus & induced fears in a liberal acquaintance. To summarize the articles:


N. Korea

Of the two articles, the Foreign Affairs is clearly the superior, so I'll recommend it to the folks that are receiving this posting. The authour is the "Chairman of the Task Force on U.S. Korea Policy at the Center for International Peace...and the authour of Korean Endgame." The article filled in the gaps in my understanding nicely: even though N. Korea and the 6-party talks have been in the news, I never understood the actual charges levied, or how seriously to take the threat of N. Korea having 'the bomb'.

Given that I've heard minimal saber rattling from Bush on Iran/N. Korea - almost a passive approach in both cases - I'll conclude that we will not attack either country, Iran will have the bomb within ~5 years, and they will mimic Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A film to bring back painful memories

Remember all those dorky dweeby gangly times in high school? This is the film that will bring them all back to you. Pretty funny actually - also kinda neat to see a film with zero recognizable actors/actresses. Very very clever opening with the White Stripes "we are gonna be friends" playing while food & school stuff is used to show the credits.

Redeemed myself with the ginger-haired yank after last night's disappointing Where the Heart is - an unfunny comedy that has aged poorly (saw it originally when unemployed so must have struck a cord that has long vanished).

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Learning new gizmos

Received a VN-120PC PC Link Digital Voice Recorder for my birthday & a PV-V4624S Video Cassette Recorder for Xmas so trying to come up to speed with them. The downside of all the new marvels out there, so not alot of spare brain power for blogging. At least you can register your warranty on line. It's still amazing how cheap new electronics are & how light they are.

Still need to blog:

Time to register those new gizmos just in case they do die on me before their warranty expires!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Friday Night Champagne Blogging

I think that may be a little sweeter than the Chandon sez the Ginger Haired Yank

Mumm's Blanc de Noirs

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Why the Supreme Court appointments don't worry me

The main decisions reached recently by the court: against presidential excess at Gitmo & indefinite detainees, against the anti-sodomy law, and now against mandatory sentences have all been decisions I've agreed with. Despite all the sturm und drang with many Supreme Court appointments, the justices usually come to the right decision.

What an odd collection in the majority yesterday: Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Clarence Thomas. Your 2 arch conservatives and 3 liberals decide against mandatory sentencing. In the minor case, Ginsburg then sides with Chief Justice William Rehnquist and justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, and Sandra Day O'Connor. So 2 liberals, 2 centrists, and 1 conservative. For all the fear on the left of Bush's appointments, I can't see the effect being as dramatic as the fears, though I will expect a blood bath when the next opening comes due. For a knowledgeable write-up of the case here's SCOTUSBlog (thought their write-up of the Gitmo, Padilla, and Hamedi decisions was better than Volokh's). The VC does do a nice job with their 3-part write-up yesterday - comes from my fave member of the VC Orin Kerr.

Reading through the explanations does drive home why I never even entertained the idea of going to law school. Either too dull or requires too much WMC.

UPDATE: Changed link per request by PhD candidate specializing in WMC.

For my American friends who wondered what carbide is. Carbide is Calcium Carbide. In the past used in carbide lamps. When calcium carbide comes into contact with water a combustible gas is generated.
With Milk can shooting a piece of carbide is placed in the milk can. Some water is added. A football or lid is placed on the can and the gas is ignited thru an opening in the can. The result is a spectacular sound. Carbide milk can shooting is an art. It is very very important to get the right mix of water, carbide and oxygen and the right ignition time for the best explosion. Years and years of experience are needed for the optimal result.
Carbide costs almost nothing. So this is very spectacular and very cheap firework. Some sample movies can be found here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Happy this didn't win for best foreign picture

Far inferior film to Barbarian Invasions.

Will spoil the plot:

Hopefully the other 3 nominees will be more worthy. Zelary comes out on DVD on February 8th.

Will my conservative friends finally concede on NBC weaponry?

Search for Banned Arms In Iraq Ended Last Month

Given that Kay, Duelfer, and the final report say the same thing I wonder if my conservative friends will concede that there was no NBC weaponry in Iraq beyond some left over artillery shells from the 1980's. Key items from Duelfer's report:

• The former Regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions.

Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program.

While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.

In practical terms, with the destruction of the Al Hakam facility, Iraq abandoned its ambition to obtain advanced BW weapons quickly. ISG found no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW program or was conducting BW-specific work for military purposes. Indeed, from the mid-1990s, despite evidence of continuing interest in nuclear and chemical weapons, there appears to be a complete absence of discussion or even interest in BW at the Presidential level.

Curious if they still believe the canard

White House has been reluctant to call off the hunt, holding out the possibility that weapons were moved out of Iraq before the war or are well hidden somewhere inside the country

Will send this post off to ask for their comments.

Tonight my first cooking lesson at the Herberg van Een. I am somebody who studied chemistry , so cooking up things is one of my favorite subjects. As is eating but that is not chemistry related. So, tonight I will do both. First enjoy some good cooking followed by enjoying the food. Both the cooking and the eating in good company. And to top it off. The restaurant produces its own beer, an excellent beer slightly tasting like champagne.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell tonight

Felt like a forced march over the weekend while driving myself to finish the book before tomorrow when it's due back at the library. Did toy with keeping the book longer & paying the fine, but remember how frustrating it was waiting for months for a book i really wanted to read & how disappointed i was when the library accidentally returned it before my 10 days were up. So decided to return it on time - the next fan-in-waiting should have the book a bit sooner.

The wait was certainly worth the wait. A fine fine novel. Not sure whether to call it "unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years" as Gaiman did since i'm not sure what falls in the fantasy realm. Titus Groan? Many of course would argue for the Lord of the Rings as the best fantasy of the past 70 years, but having listened to LOTR recently after watching the movies, I would disagree. LOTR is too enamored with itself & its invention of a full mythical world - believe Tolkien perhaps became too big a fan of his creation, which perhaps explains why the climactic destruction of the ring occurred with 100 or more pages remaining. Also there were far too many boring sections - a big reason to listen on CD since I could easily skip any boring "history of the dwarves 500 years ago" type section with the simple push of a button.

But back to the novel at hand. I am impressed at Ms. Clarke's creative power. To create an 'world', no, an entire 'history' - the world was our own with an alternate timeline of a magical history interweaving within our own - along with a compelling story makes me envious of her ability to write such a lengthy & entertaining tome. Any critiques i have are mere nitpicks, so instead will write that the novel is superior to American Gods or any of Gaiman's novels - there's too much pulp to Gaiman's novels (comic books are his natural milieu) - or any of the Harry Potter books. Compared to Rowling, Clarke has a greater richness and less formula, not to mention the greater maturity - there is some truth to the tagline "Harry Potter for grown-ups" - this is a novel for adults.

Thinking through the comparisons now, I'd have to pick Titus Groan vs. JS & MN as my picks for best English fantasy of the past 70 years, though neither will attain the iconic status of LOTR. A book has to come along at a certain time to achieve that status & I'm not sure this is the right era for any novels to attain that status. LOTR coming out after the war and in time for the hippie generation touched a certain cord that I don't believe any novel of any genre could touch today.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

2 fetes yesterday

Annual 12th night/good riddance/Zagmuk/feast of the epiphanies fete yesterday.

Luke Skytalker just past the bar, so lots of Armenian dancing & food to celebrate last night. Still a bit drained from being out until 2 - too late even for Art Bell, so that station goes off the air at 2am.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Friday Night Wine Blogging

Turning Leaf Zinfandel 2002

You can smell the plum and taste the pepper and I think of blackberry - so sayeth the Ginger Haired Yank

Thursday, January 06, 2005

S.M.A.R.T. goals & the WSJ

UPDATE: The ginger haired Yank said it was too much hassle to scroll back and forth between the WSJ metrics & my critiques, so placing my critiques just below his metrics.

My previous employer had the slogan S.M.A.R.T. goals. Like all work exhortations, this one was a bit cheesy, but also had some substance to it. The acronym stood for :


A bit redundant to be sure, but I have thought of the slogan many times including yesterday when reading the WSJ's editorial "The 'Boom Factor' Drowns Out Progress in Iraq" by Robert D. Blackwill (sorry no link on and doesn't allow a search without registering).

"So if the boom factor is not an accurate way to understand the direction of developments what metrics should we use instead?

  1. President Bush will not waver. So Bush will not cut-and-run. How does this tell us the direction of development?
  2. Even if every Sunni Arab of any age joins the fight (which will not happen), the insurgency cannot get larger than about 20% of Iraq's population.
    A valid metric would be determining the size of the insurgency, not the upper bound of 5,000,000 insurgents (20% of Iraq) which would not be a positive metric at all. Present estimate is 20,000 which means a very sizable insurgency. Add sympathizers and you're probably talking 200,000 or the same size as our coalition forces. Not a positive metric either.
  3. The Iraqi government is steadily increasing the amount of territory it controls.
    Per Bush & Allawi, the control does not extend to four Sunni provinces, which contain roughly 50% of the population. That has been pretty static for sometime now.
  4. The Jan. 30 elections will take place and there will be an impressive turnout in most of Iraq, urged on by Shiite Grand Ayatollah Sistani and Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. Why not state what percentage of the Sunni triangle you believe will vote? In the US we have roughly 60% of the eligible population vote. What percentage of the country do you believe will vote?
  5. Prime Minister Allawi has a political-economic-military Sunni strategy. Has a strategy?? Not a very SMART metric.
  6. The Iraqi Army is beginning to fight. This should be easy to set a metric, albeit a morbid one. How many troop deaths does the Iraqi security forces experience (1500 through October). If the Iraqi army is fighting the death toll will increase substantially, and if winning will eventually go down.
  7. The overall Iraqi economy is recovering rapidly from its condition just after the war, fueled in large part by U.S. and international reconstruction aid. Recovering rapidly? Give oil production and unemployment rate and electricity. Both have improved very slowly, last I read oil production is now slightly below pre-war totals & unemployment is still below pre-war. Electricity is still less than pre-war.
  8. International help for Iraq is on the upswing. Outside of debt reduction, I would argue that help is not on the way. How many countries have left the coalition? Are Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Iran sealing their borders?

Looking at the Brookings Institute's report drives home how touchy-feely Mr. Blackwill's metrics truly are - you can see the Brookings metrics in a nice table every quarter in the NYTimes - and how non-specific and non-measurable.

This all returns to Mr. Blackwill's incorrect key argument - that the 'boom factor' is not a better metric. Ultimately what is important is how many US troops are dying each month? The average for the past 6 months (July-Dec 2004) has been 78.8 and has not been below 60 since last July. If the government really controls more territory, if the Prime Minister truly has a Sunni strategy, and if the Iraqi army is beginning to fight, then our death toll will lower substantially within the next few months.

However if direction of development is truly not improving, then expect US death toll to stay a steady-state of 60/month, and you can ignore any of the 8 metrics proposed by Mr. Blackwill.

UPDATE ADDENDUM: Kevin Drum has a nice synopsis of "three stories today paint a very grim collective picture of Iraq". Can only hope that the talk of 'disengagement' is true & that we'll be out of Iraq shortly after Bush is out of office.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Double plus ungood day

  1. Stayed in bed in discomfort most of the day.
  2. Got up to log on & find out I failed a phone interview.
Went off to Starbucks for holiday gingerbread & a double macchiato.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

This year end was a hard time for the fireworks loving people. In Holland setting off fireworks at year end is imperative for everyone. However as an aftermath of the huge fireworks depot explosion in Enschede laws have become so strict that hardly any body can sell fireworks anymore. Which is a shame. Setting off fireworks is one off the last legal acts of "machismo" left to a Dutch man. By doing so he still can get the respect and admiration of his little son. Fortunately I have been able to get some off the stuff. So, again my son will be in awe for another year.
As an alternative the use of carbide in old milk containers has really taken off. This farmer tradition is getting hip. This year on 31 December the sound of heavy guns has been sounding all day long in my village because of it. Here some examples of the shooting from the village of Bakkeveen

Monday, January 03, 2005

An adult's review of an American classic

The Bukavu US cultural centre possessed most of Mark Twain's novels in paperback fashion. In the intro, each paperback would call Twain "the Lincoln of American literature" and then the critical section would tear him to shreds.
What stands out reading Huck Finn as an adult in the 21st century is how frequently Jim was conveniently written out of the novel, how unnecessary & contrived was the 'farce' ending with Tom Sawyer, and how often Twain uses the word nigger.

In addition to the separation i mentioned in the first half review of the novel, the highlight of the book concerns the King & Duke attempting to steal the gold from some orphans. For the entire episode, Jim is back just hanging out on the raft for days. Later when the King betrays Jim by brokering him back into slavery, Jim disappears again for several more chapters. Would guess that Jim is missing for roughly ½ of the novel.

As a 10 year old, I enjoyed the re-introduction of Tom Sawyer, but now as an adult, it's not Tom playing a trick on the other characters, it's Twain playing a trick on the reader. The planning of the escape just drags on and on (very annoying) - knowing the ending now, I was angry at how pointless the chapters on plotting the escape were since Jim had been set free by the Widow. Twain could have easily written a believable plot by having Jim sent back north after being betrayed by the King, while Huck has the moral dilemma of heading off on his raft or keeping his friend company back to Missouri. Instead we have Jim sold to a plantation owner who happens to be Tom Sawyer's uncle while Tom just happens to be visiting the same week that Huck ends up in the house. Completely unnecessary 'farce'.

A few years back, I read about an effort to expel Huck Finn from classrooms & school libraries. The folks wishing to expel Huck Finn had counted how often the word nigger was used, and it must easily be over 100. I can understand how the novel would rub today's blacks wrong: Jim & another slave both believed in witches, and overall the blacks are painted as Stepin Fetchit types given to superstition & silliness, but this is not hate writing. The most bigoted character, Huck's father, is also a villain of the piece. The king, who betrays Jim, ends up tarred-and-feathered. Save your efforts for novels that do preach hatred instead of reflecting how people of a given era spoke. Huck Finn has its flaws, but it's iconic status earns it the right to be maintained by every school library worth its salt.

1 short & 1 not-so-short review of movie sequels

Bourne Supremacy - just as good as the first, albeit with no love interest.

Matrix Reloaded - no worse than the first one.

Perhaps it's because my expectations were so low, and that i hated the first one so much, and i had the powerful remote in hand, but found the sequel no worse than mind candy despite the pointless fight scenes & pretentious dialogue - maybe seeing a borrowed DVD instead of paying at a theatre helped as well.

The original Matrix was a masturbatory fantasy for adolescent males, so could not understand why a 40-something friend of mine had recommended it. Once you learn that the matrix is a simulacrum, the whole film falls apart. Why bother giving yourself guns & kung-fu, why not the powers of the Flash or Green Lantern? The answer's obvious of course - guns & kung-fu are cool. The only redeeming character in the entire film was Agent Smith "what goud is a phone call, when you have no mowth Mr. Anderson?"

Otherwise what a disappointment from the creators of Bound - a truly Hot film.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Miserable end of Fantasy Football season

After scoring the most regular season points, having the most weeks as high team, being tied for best record, I end up winless in the playoffs 0-3-1. Twice now in 2 years I've been in the playoffs so close to the brass ring - or at least $$$ - & ended up in dead last.

Licking my wounds too much to give reviews of "Body Worlds" (excellent) or TAOHF or even the "Bourne Supremacy" (ignore what you've heard. it's as good as the 1st film, albeit with no love interest). In part because I could have at least ended up in 3rd with some better coaching today.

Uncomfortably numb.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Slightly hung over New Year's resolutions

Mr. Roger's neighborhood hosts a New Year's Eve fete every year. Ginger haired yank didn't want to stay until 7am again, so we only stayed until 5am this time.

Resolutions & Goals:

  1. Limit myself to 3 blogs + 1 meta-blog on my favourite list at work.
  2. Always spend New Year's Eve in Mr. Roger's neighborhood unless we're out of the country.

- happy new year's to all denizens of the blogosphere!

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