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  xSaturday, November 22, 2003

least surprising headline of the day

Courtesy today's Washington Post: Two Bills Benefit Big Bush Donors.


democratic plan for beating bush

The Web site of the Indiana Democratic Party offers this interesting essay (evidently reprinted from the Wall Street Journal) on strategies for beating Bush in 2004.
Now the Democrats' battle plan is starting to take shape, with five main objectives. Neutralize Mr. Bush's national-security edge by fanning doubts about his Iraq policy. Craft economic attacks that can work even if the economy keeps improving. Dent the president's reputation for honesty and competence. Mobilize Democratic partisans in 17 states that Mr. Bush barely won or lost in 2000. And maneuver around the new campaign-finance law by redirecting now-banned big donations away from the Democratic Party to a new set of groups that will coordinate attacks on Mr. Bush.

The president clearly has some vulnerabilities. In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll , 40% of Americans say they'd "probably" vote for the Democratic candidate in November 2004 vs. 43% who'd back Mr. Bush -- a statistical dead heat. His approval rating hovers at a tepid 51%, misgivings over the Iraq conflict are growing, and even favorable assessments of his personal qualities have slipped. Those are only slightly better than his weakest numbers yet.

I say, whatever works. I'd also point out that while Bush does have some formidable adantages -- incumbency, a huge war chest, and a near-total lack of scruples not the least among them -- he has one major disadvantage: Discounting the bumps in popularity he received after 9/11 and his invasion of Iraq, the trend of his approval rating is consistently -- one might even say inexorably -- downward.


japanese culture link of the day

Not surprisingly, a number of hits to this blog stem from searches related to that whole Japanese tentacle pr0n thing I've mentioned a time or three. Following up on one of those searches, I discovered this fascinating scholarly essay on themes in the notorious demonic hentai anime Urotsukidoji: The Legend of the Overfiend. The article makes some fascinating points about anime being unique among foreign film genres in its avoidance of conforming to American conventions.


22 november

Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Before beginning his hiatus, Jaquandor posted a set of relevant links, including this somewhat spooky Web cam placed at the sniper's vantage point on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Repository, which is now a museum devoted to the event.

I've vacillated in my opinion as to whether Lee Harvey Oswald did indeed act alone in the assassination (I'm convinced he was not an innocent patsy). Perhaps surprisingly, Oliver Stone's film, with its wild, unsubstantiated and often conflicting conspiracy theories, did much to increase my skepticism that a conspiracy was involved. The film is superb at leaving an emotional impression that Kennedy was victim to a conspiracy, but doesn't even attempt to make a coherent argument. Too, I feel that Stone's obsession with Vietnam proves a blinder -- of all the conjecture in the film, the accusation that Kennedy was whacked because he wanted to pull out of 'Nam seems least convincing. In addition, my family hails from New Orleans, and I can't help but look askance at the film's casting of Jim Garrison as the hero -- he was regarded as something of a nut, and a consummate egotist, in his home city. As a work of art, JFK is superb; as a convincing historical document, it falls short.

However, I've made a minor hobby of collecting Kennedy conspiracy literature, both pro and con (I admit I haven't actually read the whole of my copy of the Warren Report). Of all the books, this concise guide to the major conspiracy theories makes a much better case that, while the details of various conspiracy theories conflict -- and some, like the notion that Kennedy was felled by dozens of shots from no less than five separate gunmen, are too wild to credit -- the preponderance of evidence suggests that there was much more than a lone nut involved on that fateful day.

Update: There's an interesting discussion thread on the assassination over at MetaFilter. It reminded me that the House Select Committee on Assassinations also concluded that more than one shooter was involved.

  xFriday, November 21, 2003

bad bush energy bill blocked in senate

The truly awful energy bill has been blocked in the Senate, leaving its passage in doubt.



cosplay link of the day

belldandy cosplay

Happy Sabrina is a site devoted to cosplayers who wear full-body suits to resemble their favorite anime characters, such as Belldandy from Oh! My Goddess, shown here.

(via #!/usr/bin/girl)


shipwreck link of the day

Here's an outstanding article devoted to the shipwrecks of Lake Superior.

(via MetaFilter)


movie review of the day

St@tic Multimedia looks at the recent Bruce Campbell flick Bubba Ho-Tep.


retro link of the day

70s living room

Here's RetroCrush's salute to '70s interior design.


friday link clearance

There's been a lot of stuff in the past several weeks I've meant to mention.

hi-tech unicycle
Check out this awesome, ultra-stylish next-generation answer to the Segway.

The Democratic Party's blog has the full text of an awesome speech by Louisiana Senator (Operation Icing on the What, Mr. President?) Mary Landrieu. Go read the whole thing.

The Bush Administration appears to be succeeding in its stonewalling of the Valerie Plame investigation -- aren't you proud, conservatives? -- so let's refresh our outrage with this post over at Billmon's Whiskey Bar.

There's ample opportunities to consider Bush's cowardice -- from his declining to address the British Parliament to the elaborate security measures he insisted upon while there to his refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the odious campaign tactics used on his behalf -- but Slacktivist reminds us that the label can apply to Cheney as well.

Here's a great op-ed decrying Bush's cowardice in avoiding associating himself with the real costs of his war ambitions.
As the toll nears 400, the casualties remain largely invisible. Apart from a flurry of ceremonies on Veterans Day, this White House has done everything it can to keep Mr. Bush away from the families of the dead, at least when there might be a camera around.

The wounded, thousands of them, are even more carefully screened from the public. And the Pentagon has continued its ban on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, denying the dead soldiers and their loved ones even that simple public recognition of sacrifice. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained rather lamely that the ban had been in place since 1991 — when another President Bush wanted to avoid the juxtaposition of his face and words with pictures of soldiers' coffins.

Some Republicans say it would take up too much of the president's time to attend military funerals or meet the coffins returning from Iraq. "They're coming back continually," the conservative commentator Bay Buchanan said on CNN on Tuesday. "The president cannot be flying up there every single week."

...Along with the coverage of these casualties, the coverage of combat in Iraq has virtually ceased. The "embedded" correspondents who reported on the stunningly swift march to Baghdad during the invasion are gone. The Pentagon has ended the program. The ever-upbeat Mr. Rumsfeld likes to say that the attacks on American soldiers are brief and relatively few in number, compared with the number of men in arms in the field in Iraq. But without real news coverage, it's hard to know the truth.

...The administration undoubtedly feels that showing coffins on television or having the president attend funerals would undermine public support for the war. (The ban on covering the arrival of coffins at Dover was in effect during the popular Afghanistan war, but was not enforced.) That seems like more of an acknowledgment of how fragile that support is than any poll yet taken.

The Bush administration hates comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, and many are a stretch. But there is a lesson that this president seems not to have learned from Vietnam. You cannot hide casualties. Indeed, trying to do so probably does more to undermine public confidence than any display of a flag-draped coffin. And there is at least one direct parallel. Thirty-five years ago, at the height of the Vietnam War, the Pentagon took to shipping bodies into the United States in the dead of night to avoid news coverage.

Yes, Bush didn't implement the policy of banning cameras from the return of American caskets. But it's within his power to rescind that shameful policy -- instead, he's demanded its enforcement. And of course, Bush is a busy man -- perish forbid he should miss out on one of his fundraisers to perform one of his duties as Commander in Chief. Genuinely reprehensible.

On the other hand, I thought that the notion of British protestors to pull down a statue of Bush was a brilliant idea.

Meanwhile, The Economist takes Bush to task for his miserable failure of leadership.

Speaking of the cowardice of eschewing responsibility for one's actions (and correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't exactly that one of the conservatives' pet peeves?), Condi Rice examines the mess that's resulted from the Bush Administration foreign policy and declares, "It's all Clinton's fault!" She's too modest -- she neglects to mention her eager participation in the Bush Administration's Operation Ignore policy towards terrorism prior to 9/11. wonders if Bush is oiling up the draft machine. (For what it's worth, I don't think there's any way that Bush will impose a draft while he's still up for re-election. But, just as the inevitable long-term costs of his irresponsible fiscal policy makes a tax increase inevitable, we may need to resort to a draft to repair the damage Bush is doing to the military.)

Liberal Incompetent Media watch: A British newspaper presents one of the clearest articles yet on the black-box voting machine problem.

Slacktivist tees off on a recent David Brooks column excusing in advance any atrocities American troops might commit in Iraq.

I've been meaning to link Al Gore's truly excellent speech to MoveOn. Give it a listen -- it's inspiring stuff and strikes exactly the right tone. Avedon Carol has more commentary.

Here's a satellite photo of the world's largest iceberg breaking up.

Cloud Strife wins GameFAQs' second Great Character Battle.


bush administration: saddam was not a threat

Here's a fascinating video of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice stating flatly, pre-9/11, that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction and was not a threat.

(via Daily Kos open thread)


the emperor strikes back

Republican analysts are clearly worried about Bush's slide in the polls, the foreboding situation in Iraq, and the evident resurgence of al Qaeda terrorists. Yet with it now painfully obvious that the Administration doesn't have proof of Iraq's weapons of mass production (and, it must be observed, obviously didn't have it before the war, when they claimed they did), with casualties of the Iraqi insurgency and international terrorism apparently on the rise, with a troublesome security situation persisiting in Iraq, and with relations among America's allies at a low ebb, Bush can hardly make an honest case supporting his performance in the war on terrorism. What to do?

Simple: Make a dishonest case.
After months of sustained attacks against President Bush in Democratic primary debates and commercials, the Republican Party is responding this week with its first advertisement of the presidential race, portraying Mr. Bush as fighting terrorism while his potential challengers try to undermine him with their sniping.

The new commercial gives the first hint of the themes Mr. Bush's campaign is likely to press in its early days. It shows Mr. Bush, during the last State of the Union address, warning of continued threats to the nation: "Our war against terror is a contest of will, in which perseverance is power," he says after the screen flashes the words, "Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists."

Marvel, my friends, at the moustache-twirling prevarication of that last sentence. First, the vague "some are attacking" clause -- a clearer indication of a strawman argument is hardly possibile -- "for attacking the terrorists." Not for failing to nail bin Ladin at Tora Bora. Not for pulling resources away from the hunt for al Qaeda in order to attack Saddam. Not for the failure to provide security in Afghanistan that has led to both brutal warlordism and a resurgent Taliban. Not for saddling the United States with the bulk of the cost in lives and treasure of Bush's obsession with removing Saddam. Not for squandering the international goodwill following 9/11 (recent Republican denials that such goodwill ever existed are telling indeed). Not for tying up huge chunks of the American military in occupying hostile territory and creating a crisis in morale, troop strength and readiness.

Not, in short, for screwing up major aspects of the war on terror and leaving the United States in a present security position that a blind man could see is worse than when Bush took office. But "for attacking the terrorists."

No one criticizes Bush for attacking the terrorists. We criticize Bush for not doing so enough, and poorly at that. Clear enough for you, Mr. GOP?
By indirectly invoking the Sept. 11 attacks, the commercial plays to what White House officials have long contended is Mr. Bush's biggest political advantage: his initial handling of the aftermath of the attacks.

And once again this Administration caves to its addiction for linking its Iraqi adventure with 9/11. Bah.

Although it's truly mystifying how Bush's miserable failure to defend the nation on and before September 11, 2001, is perceived as an asset.
...The Bush campaign has sought to keep a low profile and put off overt electioneering for as long as possible. But some Republicans are worried about Mr. Bush's popularity, and, officials acknowledge, some Bush supporters have pressed for a response to the avalanche of Democratic critiques of his performance in office, which have been extensively covered on television.

Still, the White House has sought to keep distance from this first commercial. It is not a product of the president's campaign committee, but was paid for and produced by the Republican National Committee.

The party has acted as a proxy for Mr. Bush while he tries to maintain the appearance of being above the political fray.

...The 30-second advertisement gives the first sampling of the powerful array of images Mr. Bush's campaign team will have at its disposal when it begins what is expected to be a formidable advertising campaign.

With somber strings playing in the background, the commercial flashes the words "Strong and Principled Leadership" before cutting to Mr. Bush standing before members of Congress. Intended to call out the Democrats for their opposition to Mr. Bush's military strategy of pre-emptively striking those who pose threats to the nation, the screen flashes "Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others," then urges viewers to tell Congress "to support the president's policy of pre-emptive self defense."

The strawman "some" is once again cited for the calls to retreat. And the ad, of course, obscures the fact that while no one disputes the right to preemptive self defense, many regard the President's evident assertion of the right to engage in so-called "preemptive" war on a hunch as just short of insane.

So there it is in black and white: With little chance of defending himself against his opponents' legitimate criticism, Bush's campaign plans to embark on a veritable orgy of strawman destruction.

We should hardly be surprised. This is the same man, remember, who characterized anything short of enthusiastic support for his war ambitions as "doing nothing" about Iraq. We know that Bush won't hesitate to mislead America about the relative merits of his position and his opponents'. The Democratic Party should and must be prepared for this odious outcome right now.

By the way, notice how even Bush wants to portray himself as "above" this dishonest attack. What a coward.

More at Talking Points Memo, Billmon, Pandagon, and Tapped.



It's official: Guinness is good for you!


movie post of the day

RetroCrush lists the worst movie sex scenes of all time. My vote goes to the one (any one will do) from Showgirls.


hero of the day

Chuck Norris's stunt double saved the lives of his fellow passengers when their plane crashed on landing. Kinnie Gibson, 47, kicked open a stuck door, allowing the four aboard to escape the burning business jet. No one was hurt in the incident, except the recalcitrant door. Serves it right for messing with the guy who did stunts for Walker, Texas Ranger.

(via FARK)


happy blog-aversary!

My friend Dodd's Web log, Ipse Dixit, is three years old today. To commemorate the occasion, he's listed his 20 favorite posts of the past year. Congratulations to Dodd for an always provocative and thought-provoking forum. It's a matter of record that he and I disagree on much, if only by slight degrees, but that fact hasn't lessened our friendship or respect. (Indeed, I daresay we're closer friends now than before we started our HTML-formatted debates.) His intelligence, fervor and ability to craft an argument has made him a worthy opponent in the many debates we've engaged in.

Update: Happy blog-aversary also to Chris of Interesting Times.

  xThursday, November 20, 2003

retro link of the day

route 66

A sw33t image gallery of vintage postcards depicting Route 66.

(via MetaFilter)


flash game of the day

Seamonsters, courtesy the BBC(?!). A side-scrolling shooter in which the player's sub battles vicious ocean predators. c00L!

(via MetaFilter)


second japanese culture link of the day

japanese octopus erotica

A big shout out to The Emperor, whose informative roundup of the history of Japanese tentacle pr0n links to a couple of posts I did earlier about this 18th-century netsuke, or ivory carving.

I learn from the Emperor's article that tentacle pr0n in anime is inspired not only by the resonance of the octopus as an erotic image in Japanese culture, but also from Japanese censorship laws that discourage depiction of genitalia (hence, the substitution of, er, other appendages).

The image above is included in this online gallery of the works of Hokusai Katsushita (1760-1849), but the link to that particular image behaves oddly. (I was, however, able to download it, so it's definitely there.)


case closed indeed

Slacktivist has the essential rebuttal to the latest Administration attempt to convince us that there really, really was a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. (Joshua Marshall provides the background here.)
Why has the White House steadfastly, defensively denied its own strongest case for the war?

The most obvious explanation, and the simplest, is that this is not its strongest case. The most probable explanation is that no such conclusive evidence of a link exists.

But the Standard and Safire reject this simple explanation, opting instead for a conspiracy theory that goes beyond anything Oliver Stone could have imagined. They would have us believe in a massive cover-up perpetrated by the Bush administration against itself.

As conspiracy theories go, this one takes the cake.

Joshua Marshall also points to this Newsweek article that also points out that the so-called "proof" is based on selectived and unferified intelligence. And we all know what great results this Administration gets from "stovepiping" raw, unverified intel, right? Marshall has more here and here.

Here's the deal: If memory serves me right, a grand jury can consider hearsay in handing down an indictment. Then, at trial, the evidence is rigorously tested to see if it holds up. Feith and crew seem to be trying to hawk the indictment long after their case has been thrown out of court for lack of evidence.


new at dam

Regular readers (all three of you) know that I'm a big fan of master anime creator Hayao Miyazaki's work in general and Spirited Away in particular. I took The Girls to the library not long ago, and was surprised and pleased to see that our local branch carries the manga version of Spirited Away! They only had issue #3 at the time, but I checked it out anyway. Our four-year-old, Cecilia, has been insisting I read it to her every night. I also reserved issues 1 and 2 (out of 5).

They came in the other day, and The Girls and I picked them up yesterday evening. (I plan to reserve the others soon, of course.) I read Cecilia all of the first issue for bedtime last night. My review of the manga series is now posted at Destroy All Monsters.


holy cow

Richard Perle has apparently admitted that the US invasion of Iraq was not justified by international law.
In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."

President George Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq - also the British government's publicly stated view - or as an act of self-defence permitted by international law.

But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.

This admission is puzzling indeed in light of Bush's UK state visit, intended in part to reiterate Bush and Blair's assertion that the Iraq war was justified. But it's also worth mentioning that part of Bush's contention that the UN charter justified his plans to attack hinges on the right of self defense, and that Bush's case for Iraq as any sort of threat -- let alone "imminent" -- is weak indeed.

(via Daily Kos)


japanese pop culture link of the day

jakq dengeki tai

Jaquandor just mentioned this cool site devoted to Japanese superhero TV shows. I mentioned it back in June, but it's worth another look.

Henshin Hall of Fame is a way-cool site devoted to Japanese superhero TV shows. It features descriptions of various shows (from ones I'm familiar with, like Kamen Riders and Kikaida, to obscure programs like Warrior of Love Rainbowman), theme song samples, air dates, and a handy glossary of frequently encountered Japanese terms. Groovy!

(via Geisha asobi blog and Die, Puny Humans)


retro computing post of the day

Kuro5hin presents its picks for the Top 10 Internet Fads. Number one is the "push" technology exemplified by the PointCast screen saver system, and Kuro5hin links to a 2000 article in Wired that offered an obituary for the defunct technology scheme.

I used PointCast for a while back in 1996 or '97. It was cool and nice looking and all, but the articles are quite right: It was a hideous system resource and bandwidth hog. While it was cool to get customized information with fairly snazzy presentation, mail and customizable Web portals have proved a much more logical method of delivering the desired information.

(via Wirehed News)

Here's another article on PointCast from BusinessWeek.


another burning question solved

At last! The airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow. And, just for laughs, the capital of Assyria too! Simply brilliant!

(via Wirehed News; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)

  xWednesday, November 19, 2003

flash game of the day

MechaBreakout is a fun Arkanoid clone for Flash-equipped PCs.

(via #!/usr/bin/girl)


web fire escape

For those of you reading this blog at work (sshhhh!), I've installed the Web Fire Escape -- sort of a Boss Key for bloggers. Simply click the escape icon (Reading blogs at work? Click to escape to a suitable site!) associated with each post to be redirected to a more work-friendly site.


gallery of the day

megumi asakura

Always happy to oblige, here's a small SFW gallery of Megumi Asakura photos.


milestone of the day

Very early this morning, thanks to a Google search for Japanese model Megumi Asakura (a recurring phenomenon), the hit counter passed 52,000. Thanks for visiting!


comix post of the day

love and rockets

BoingBoing links to a pair of articles about legendary comix writer/artists Los Bros Hernandos, creators of the renowned Love and Rockets series, which is 25 years old! Here's an interview with Jaime Henrandez, creator of Hopey, Maggie and the Hoppers 13 crew. And here's a review of a 500-page anthology of Gilbert Hernandez' Palomar saga.

(Cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)

Update: I own the first six L&R graphic novels, and an inconsistent batch of the comics (mostly from the late-teens and twenties issues). I'm somewhat dismayed to learn that I have 13 other graphic novels to buy for my collection to be complete.


gaming post of the day

Game designer and raconteur Greg Costikyan offers a handy primer on the slang employed by fans of online role-playing games and first-person shooters.

(via BoingBoing; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


zombie link of the day

One of today's posts over at FARK invites readers to Photoshop famous people to look like the living dead. The resulting page is image-heavy and therefore will take a while to load over slower connections. It also contains a number of unmodified photos of Keith Richards.


an extended pleasure

During dinner last night, my lovely wife mentioned that she had a sever hankering to run out and grab the special extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Since I live to cater to her every wish, and since she had just indulged me with the purchase of Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec (albeit for a mere fifteen bucks at Target), I encouraged her to run out and get it. After we put The Girls to bed, we watched it. Surprisingly, we made it through the entire thing in one sitting (we usually have to split even the theatrical releases across two evenings). The extended edition was pleasing indeed.

My friend Dodd has an excellent review over at his site. I agree with just about everything he says, with one minor exception. Dodd responded to a recent kvetch in which I faulted Jackson for seemingly dropping plot points from the theatrical releases, counting upon the eventual extended editions to fill in the gaps.
Much though I esteem Greg and his skills as a critical moviegoer, I cannot agree. I rather like the notion that a film is no longer a fixed, unchangeable commodity, that it can exist in two or three different forms simultaneously. I also like the fact that knowing that they can bring out an extended version that fills out the plot gives the director more freedom during production to try things out and really get deep into the story. There's something to be said for Greg's position that it "would be wiser to leave in five minutes' worth of establishing material and cut -- gasp! -- five from the battle sequences" but which would you rather see for the first time on the big screen: Massive battle scenes or dialogue? Me, I'm perfectly happy to get those nice-to-know-but-by-no-means-crucial details later.

I see Greg's point, of course: The scene between Faramir and Denethor added to this DVD is almost crucial to a proper understanding of subsequent events (assuming the storyline tracks the books as faithfully as it has so far) and no-one who hasn't seen the extended version will be aware of it. That's unfortunate, but all editing choices will ultimately end up displeasing someone. The alternatives are a) a return to the days when all "Special Editions" are nothing but bloopers and commentary tracks or b) much longer theatrical releases. Since we know how unlikely the latter is, I'd say that it's a small price to pay for the richer, more satisying experience dedicated fans get from extended version like this one (one paid, not incidentally, only by those who don't care all that much anyway).

As for his specific example ("the second film... refers to elven cloaks and brooches that Galadriel gave the party [in] a scene cut from the original movie"), I definitely think Jackson made the right choice: Even without the "establishing material" it was obvious that they'd just been given those cloaks. Jackson left in the only vital gift-giving scene (Frodo receiving the phial) and counted on the audience to be bright enough to realize that every member of the fellowship was leaving Lothlorien in matching cloaks with matching broaches that none of them had before they got there. Sometimes editors have to make choices to keep the plot going and I can't fault that one.

Here's the (rather lengthy) response I left in his comment thread (spoilers ahead!).
My lovely wife and I also watched the extended edition last night (and amazingly enough, we made it all the way through). I agree that it was magnificent, and that the additions made for a much richer experience.

I am also in complete agreement that the extended material concerning Faramir largely satisfies my objections from the original film -- if you've read (shameless plug) my review, you know the seeming alteration of Faramir from a noble hero to just-another-guy-lusting-for-the-Ring *really* stuck in my craw.

That said, I have to defend my contention that Jackson erred in cutting certain establishing material. Spoilers ahead, for thouse of you who haven't seen either edition.

I completely agree that DVD allows directors the freedom to create different works of art for different audiences, and in general I applaud that freedom. (I'm inclined to view deleted scenes as not simply DVD filler for precisely that reason.) But that freedom shouldn't liberate them from the obligation to judge the omission of establishing shots very, very carefully.

Bret's mention of 28 Days Later actually brings up an interesting illustration of this exact point. There's a *wonderful* deleted scene from early in the film when Jim, Mark, and Selena are walking along a railroad track. They encounter an abandoned railway car that seems to have been converted into an impromptu first aid station. Mark picks up a purse lying on a stretcher and rummages through it, commenting on the name on the driver's license and the fuzzy teddy bear clipped to the key chain.

The initial scene is pleasingly creepy -- 28DL shares with Aliens the spot-on notion that whatever they can get the audience to *imagine* happened to everyone is much more effective than anything they could show -- but then becomes poignant. The owner of the purse reminds us of the humanity she left behind -- whether infected or the victim of one -- and stands in for the rest of devastated London.

Would its absence wind up displeasing someone? Sure, maybe, but the point is that its absence didn't rob the movie of any crucial plot element. Would including it into a "special edition" add the extra depth that you're talking about? I think certainly.

I'm sure you're familiar with the technical term for introducing a plot point that the filmmaker hadn't established before, Dodd. It's called a continuity error.

I'll admit that the leaves of Lorien aren't a wonderful example, but consider: Dialogue establishes lembas bread as being Elvish, as it does for the rope in the extended edition (and, by the way, establishes *why the rope burns Gollum*, which is otherwise left unexplained -- of course we Tolkien geeks get it, but...).

And while I'll grant that the leaf pins are obviously new after the Lorien scene -- everyone has one, and they're sufficiently showcased to hammer the point home -- I think the *cloaks* are a different matter. The party was cloaked before, so the fact that the cloaks match is not as obvious as the brooches (of course, since we as Tolkien readers *know* about them, it's hard to say, ne?). But beyond the mere "oh, they have new togs" factor, the cloaks' magical nature is important, when Frodo uses its camoflague ability to shield himself and Sam from the warriors. If memory serves me right, that ability came out of nowhere in the theatrical edition. There's a line of dialogue a moment later to the effect that elvish cloaks won't help them sneak through the Black Gate; I don't remember that line being in the original film -- although I could be wrong -- but it would have helped.

For all that, consider that the scene of Galadriel giving the gifts could have been run underneath other dialogue as they were preparing their departure, without needing to be a standalone sequence.

I noticed that, insofar as I could tell, the battle scenes hadn't been extended by much if at all. There's no denying that three minutes of film adds up when you're juggling whether to include ten such segments. But I maintain that they could have trimmed five minutes from the battle of Helm's Deep -- it would still have been spectacular! -- and substituted at least *some* of the footage establishing Faramir's motivation.

Jackson might well have trimmed other elements, such as the fairly long sequence with the Elves leaving and the sequence with Arwen; perhaps those sequences could have established what they needed to without being as long. (I didn't mind the absence of Eowyn's inadvertent declaration of love; I think that's definitely a case when the director should trust the alert viewer to draw the appropriate conclusions from actions, not dialogue.)

And while I could have done without the whole "you can tell Eowyn is a great warrior because she's a lousy cook" schtick, I would have liked to have seen the revelation of Aragorn's age kept in because it establishes he's of the line of Numenor, which will be important in the third film. We'll see how Jackson handles that one, but I sense another potential area for this problem to crop up -- if memory serves me right, only one of the line of Numenor can raise the spirits of the warriors.

Indeed, the presence of certain scenes in the extended edition raise questions for me about whether we'll see more of the same in the theatrical release. Bear in mind that the extended edition establishes that the hobbits *have been warned* about the evil that lurks in the pass in Minas Morgul. Once again, we'll have to wait and see how Jackson handles this sequence, but in the theatrical release they're apparently completely unaware of any danger, and the resulting actions are bound to have different implications based on these two very different setups.

How those scenes resolve themselves is dependent on what the audience knows. I wouldn't argue for a moment with the notion that "that knowing that they can bring out an extended version that fills out the plot gives the director more freedom during production to try things out and really get deep into the story" (as long as the studio will foot the bill!). But I stand by the distinction between "filling out the plot" (the wonderful bit with the horse is a great example) and "establishing things that will later be important." I don't think it unfair to hold Jackson to the least common denominator of what he's established in the theatrical release of the film.

Actually, I'd say Dodd and I are in fundamental agreement on the basic point. What it boils down to is the difference between nice-to-know details and crucial details. I agree, for example, that Treebeard's mention of the Entwives is red meat for Tolkien fans, but its absence didn't harm the theatrical release in the slightest. There's certainly room for a range of opinion on which is which, but I remain curious about how Jackson plans to handle, for example, the difference between "hobbits walk into a trap they don't suspect" and "hobbits walk into a trap they've been warned about." I would hope most would agree that's a fairly crucial detail.

  xTuesday, November 18, 2003

concept album toys of the day

Six words: Pink Floyd The Wall action figures. c00L!

(via FARK)


bush stonewalling watch

Don't miss Senator John D. Rockefeller's Washington Post op-ed excoriating the Bush Administration and its lackeys in Congress for stonewalling the investingation into how much whether the Administration politicized intelligence in selling its coveted war on Iraq.
In the case of Iraq the president unequivocally told the country that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction of such force and readiness that our nation was at risk. The president's case was based in part on U.S. and foreign intelligence and in part on the judgments of his administration. I and many others supported the Iraq war resolution largely because of those presentations. And while today there is no question that Saddam Hussein was a brutal and dangerous dictator, we must face the fact that both the intelligence agencies and the administration increasingly appear to have been wrong in their assessment of the threat Hussein posed to the United States.

Now we must find out why. Today, and in the future, the resolve of the American people is fundamental to our success in the war on terrorism. If we are less than fully honest about how and why we went to war in Iraq, the risk is great that people will not support preemptive action when a more clear and present danger emerges in the future.

The acid test of Bush's policy in Iraq is not only its fundamental dishonesty but whether it leaves America more, or less, secure. By sacrificing the credibility of the Whote House willy-nilly in order to drum up support for a war it was determined to wage, Bush has undermined national security. It's that simple. Its cowardly attempts to shield itself from accountability with the collusion of compliant Republican senators -- who apparently forget that they're supposed to represent a coequal branch of government and a check on the President's power -- are simply reprehensible.

It's interesting how the inescapable implication of the Presidential stonewalling of the Iraq investigation -- not to mention its shutting out the 9/11 commission -- are that a real invcestigation would prove politically damaging to the President. It's unfathomable how any patriotic American could condone such a blatantly un-(small-d)-democratic action with such tangible impact on national security. Are Republicans really so obsessed with being anti-Democrat that they're willing to flush our collectively security down the commode for short term political gain? It's clear the Bush Administation is exactly so, but why are patriotic conservatives so eager to give it a pass?


'medicare monstrosity'

E.J. Dionne has a good summation of the lousy Republican Medicare bill in this morning's Washington Post.
It's said that a camel is a horse designed by committee. But the camel metaphor doesn't do justice to the Medicare prescription drug bill that came out of a House-Senate conference over the weekend. It is not a compromise but a weird combination of conflicting policy preferences. It is unprincipled in the technical sense. Nobody's principles are served by this bill.

The problem is that many conservatives, especially in the House, don't like Medicare as it is. They would prefer a system in which the government guaranteed everyone a certain amount of money that could be used to buy private health insurance. Ending Medicare as we know it is their long-term goal. They call this "expanding choice.

...What about containing Medicare costs? Market principles would tell you that with its huge pool of patients, Medicare could extract a good deal from the drug companies. But the bill prevents the Medicare system from doing that. "If you're serious about cost containment, you don't block Medicare from using its enormous purchasing power to bring drug prices down," says Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

How do you know this bill is such a great deal for the drug companies and HMOs? On word of an agreement last week, share prices of drug stocks soared. Watch your television set for the millions of dollars in advertising the drug and managed-care industry groups will spend to praise this bill. Watch your wallet, too.

The AARP, apparently hungry for some sort of prescription drug benefit -- even an inadequate one -- has endorsed the GOP plan on the ground that its flaws could be fixed later. But what confidence is there that the Republicans would do so when they rejected a weak -- but still superior -- bipartisan Senate measure in favor of legislation that would offer a true trifecta to the GOP:

  1. Undermine the existing Medicare system

  2. Provide huge windfalls to the GOP's corporate cronies, while saddling seniors with higher prices due to limited drug price negotiating power

  3. Allow the Republicans to claim credit for a prescription drug benefit to seniors unaware of the measure's true nature

The AARP is making a bad bet. (CalPundit points out that at least some of its membership seems to realize this fact.) If the Republicans use the prescription drug provision passage to reap electoral benefits, is it more likely they will return to craft more voter-friendly legislation at the expense of their corproate donors, or stuff future versions of the measure with even more corporate welfare? The Democrats are right to oppose this bad legislation.

Update: Molly Ivins also has a good take on the matter.


l33t post of the day

This morning's FoxTrot pokes fun at L33t-speak.

  xMonday, November 17, 2003

can you say that again?

Having grown up in Louisville -- with the occasional forays to visit relatives in New Orleans -- I find this bit of news incredibly amusing: Southern accents apparently befuddle police voice-recognition equipment. Unfortunately, the result is less a blow for civil liberties than frustration at a goofed-up call-management system.
Southern drawls have thwarted voice recognition equipment used by the Shreveport Police Department to route non-emergency calls.

A switchover to a lower-tech, touch-tone system -- in which callers hear a voice recording they can respond to by pressing a different number for each division -- is scheduled for Monday, said spokeswoman Kacee Hargrave.

The voice-recognition system asked people to name the person or department they wanted. More often than not, the system just didn't understand, and they wound up at the wrong place, said Capt. John Dunn, who oversees police communications.

Y'all come back now, heah?


an encounter with japanese candy

I was visiting my friend Dodd over the weekend in my home town of Louisville, Kentucky, and noticed that in a candy dish on his coffee table was was a pack of Kasugai gummy candy. He kindly offered me one, but warned me about the cola-flavored ones, as they're rather strong. (Little hint is offered by the English text on the Mylar wrapping, which reads "Cola Gumi [sic] relaxes everybody with good taste and refreshing flavor.")

Having a reputation for culinary boldness to uphold -- I'm the guy who ate the balut, after all -- I immediately grabbed one of the cola ones. Upon tearing open the packet, a strong scent of cola -- imagine opening a Coke right under your nose -- promised a powerful taste sensation. The candy offered the typical gummy texture, but the flavor was strong indeed, with a hint of bitterness not masked by the cola-style sweetness. Unfortunately, the overall effect was less than satisfying.

I'm a big fan of the soft-drink-flavored "Bottle Cap" hard candy, which offer a distinct soda flavor without being overwhelming. The cola gummy didn't prove so pleasing, and I doubt I'll make them a habit. I didn't try any of the other flavors of Kasugai gummy candy, though. The company offers a wide selection of sweets.

(Cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


mainstream media still clueless about blogging

Sunday's Washington Post ran a ridiculously ill-informed op-ed column about blogging that revealed the mainstream media's staunch refusal to get a clue about the phenomenon. In this instance, writer Jennifer Howard sniffs about the blogosphere's self-referential, insular and insider-obsessive nature (mind you, this is in the Washington Post!), and just for laughs uses the term "blogrolling" as if it were a clever phrase she invented (hint: she didn't)
A year ago, I barely knew what blogs were. Within a few months, they'd become a staple of my daily media diet. Now I can't live without them, but already I'm feeling betrayed -- and a little bored.

What began as the ultimate outsider activity -- a way to break the newspaper and TV stranglehold on the gathering and dissemination of information -- is turning into the same insider's game played by the old establishment media the bloggerati love to critique. The more blogs you read and the more often you read them, the more obvious it is: They've fallen in love with themselves, each other and the beauty of what they're creating. The cult of media celebrity hasn't been broken by the Internet's democratic tendencies; it's just found new enabling technology.

The problem's built into the medium itself. Blogs are set up to be personal forums for someone's opinions. That's the point, the liberating thing about them. Bloggers don't have to get their copy past an editor, and they can sound off at any length -- no word limits in cyberspace. They're products of a seismic cultural shift that makes someone's hangover as newsworthy as the arrival of a Harry Potter novel. The sassier the voice, the more successful the blog is likely to be. In a Google universe, success is defined by hits: the number of visits a Web page gets. The more blogs link to each other, the more hits they all get; enough hits and a cyberstar is born. (Okay, color me envious: I don't even know if Google can find my Web site, not that anyone's looking.)

Howard goes on to present four examples of mutual admiration among literary bloggers to support her indictment, and then complain that she didn't learn anything new. Here's a hint: If she'd have clicked through to whatever post had gained such abundant admiration, perhaps she would have.

Too, her "I used to like the blogs for their hipness and irreverence but now it's grown tiresome" schtick smaks of the righty blogosphere's standard complaint about Paul Krugman. And if she's put off by the "ad hominems" that go along with the snarky criticism in the blogs she cites, she's in for a real eye-opener if she ever takes a tour of the pro- and anti-war section of the blogosphere.

It's simply astonishing that her column made it past a professional newspaper editor.


orient express

Sorry for the paucity of posting. I've been conducting the orientation for the new HR person here at work. Normally I'd do part of the orientation and then hand the rest off -- benefits information and whatnot -- to the HR person. Except she is -- or rather will be -- the HR person. Since we're short in that regard, I've stepped up to the plate. More later.

  xSunday, November 16, 2003

that's colonel swank

We just got back from short but pleasant visit to Louisville, during which we managed to spend time with a great many family and friends. We all had a very nice time.

Part of the joy for me was the realization of a longtime ambition -- I was made a Kentucky Colonel. Actually, my friend Hardin and I received the honor Saturday night at a little dinner in honor of Hardin's birthday. Here's what the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels has to say about the honorary society:
Being a Kentucky Colonel is much more than having an impressive certificate to hang on the wall. The Governor's order creating the commission states that the commission carries with it a responsibility to be "Kentucky's ambassador of good will and fellowship around the world."

It's been that way since the beginning. Governor Flem Sampson issued the directive on the right hand side of the page. He did so at the first meeting of the group that started the first formal Colonel's organization.

Kentuckians have the richest of heritage and history. Each Kentucky Colonel has made a contribution to that vault of legacy through the deeds that earned his or her commission. Upon receiving the commission, the new Colonel is invited to become part of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. The challenge is to become even more active in the "advancement of Kentucky and Kentuckians." Colonels accept this challenge without hesitation. Throughout this web site you will find multiple examples of the Good Works Program administered by the Honorable Order. Unfortunately we can't accurately describe the day-to-day activities of the individual Colonel. However, when you meet a Kentuckian who goes a little beyond the norm in kindness, goodwill and boastfulness about Kentucky, you can assume that individual is a Kentucky Colonel.

Famous individuals who have been named Kentucky colonels have included Jack Benny, Rosemary Clooney, Joan Crawford, Jack Dempsey, Walt Disney, Irene Dunne, Leo Durocher, Edward G. Robinson, Roy Rogers, Gloria Swanson, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn, Ann-Margaret and Dwight Yoakam.

While we're at it, here's the recipe for the drink known as the "Kentucky Colonel."
- 3 oz Bourbon
- 1/2 oz Benedictine
- Garnish: Lemon Twist
- Glassware : Cocktail Glass
Shake both the ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I personally don't advocate drinking good bourbon with anything other than ice, and really good bourbon not even with that.

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