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:: Friday, October 03, 2003 ::

Book List

Thankfully, I've got time to add a new book list. In case you hadn't noticed, I've added a link to Skeptical Notion's Wish List over there on the right. Please don't take those as definitive recommendations. I do, quite often, enjoy some truly bad fiction, and wouldn't want you to suffer through Salvatore's Drizzt novels. They're okay, if you like that kind of thing (and obviously I do), but it's not something you head to for the writing -- although the Cadderly character in the Cleric Quintet is a very interesting cleric. Interesting enough that reading it has seriously made me reconsider the whole cleric class. (Yes, I do game). The whole idea of an agnostic, darn near atheistic cleric was rather appealing.

Still, the Wish List is hardly definitive (although there are some jewels in there). I'd stick with my side links (unless you're wanting to buy me something!) and these posts if you want good recommendations (and not just "Whatever Morat is in the mood for today"). Which reminds me...I need to update my recommended books list. Feel free to email (or add in comments) any books you'd recommend.

Today's list, in honor of the fact that I saw the new Lord of the Rings trailer, is going to be straight-up fantasy -- from bubblegum swords and sorcery to "Must-read" works.

  • Dark of the Gods by PC Hodgell. It's two books in one (the first was entitled God Stalk and the second Dark of the Moon (Seeker's Mask being the final book in the trilogy). I haven't read Dark of the Moon, although not from lack of trying. Because of "issues" concerning her original publisher, both books were simply out of print for a decade or two. God Stalk, however, remains a highly original and very interesting work of fantasy. It really is top notch, and I don't think I've ever another work of fantasy even remotely like it. I've placed Dark of the Gods on my Wish list, as some conniving knave stole my copy of God Stalk
  • .
  • Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master by Raymond E. Feist. Feist is pretty much stock fantasy, and a pretty prolific writer. The books tend to be well-written, and the world-building is very impressive (most of it done over 20 years of gaming). It's well done fantasy, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

  • The Belgariad, Vol. 1: Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician's Gambit by David Eddings. Very much bubblegum fantasy, it's a light read and has several enjoyable moments. A lot less depth than Feist, even in Edding's more complex -- and slightly darker -- Elenium. I'm rather fond of them, and tend to drag them out for trips and the like. My chief complaint (and this is what, more than anything, gets it labeled "bubblegum fantasy") is that our intrepid heroes rarely seem to be in danger, and you never get a sense of real threat. As I said, a light and pleasant read...but not a deep one. But there are times and places when things like that are exactly what the Doctor ordered.

  • A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) by George R. R. Martin. Martin is everything Eddings is not, and his Song of Ice and Fire books tend to be dark..and highly unpredictable. I remember groaning, quite early on, about the "obvious" symbolism and blithely making predictions...none of which turned out to be true. Very few characters are "off limits" and he's quite capable of maiming or killing off characters, even important ones, to show how dark and dangerous the world really is.

  • The Dragonbone Chair is another good series. I've enjoyed Tad Williams since I first read Tailchaser's Song -- which, if you haven't read, you should. Especially if you own a cat. The Dragonbone Chair is the first book in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and I'd highly recommend it. I enjoyed it, even as one of the few people who didn't work out who the "False Prophet" was. The style is a bit reminiscent of Tolkein, and it's a very solid work of fantasy.

  • The Dragon and the George by Gordon Dickson. An animated film, Flight of Dragons, was loosely -- very loosely -- based on this rather charming book. It's the story of a modern day historian who ends up stuck in medieval England....in a universe where magic works. The series spanned several books, and I was saddened to note Dickson's death before he could complete it. (He was also a noted science fiction author). Dickson's knowledge of 14th Century England is pretty evident, especially in later books.

  • The Time of the Dark (The Darwath Trilogy Series) by Barbara Hambly. I've always enjoyed Hambly, especially her fantasy. Her books almost always have strong female characters (although, frankly, if you're a young female lead in a Hambly fantasy, expect to fall in love with the much-older male mage), and her particular writing style has always been, at least to me, one of the more vivid in fantasy. I always get a very strong sense of "the world" from her books. Mages tend to be central to her stories, and the magic system she's designed is very interesting, and fits well into the worlds she builds. The Time of the Dark isn't her best book, by far, but it's a good starting point.

  • Carnivores of Light and Darkness (Journeys of the Catechist , Book 1) by Alan Dean Foster. Foster is one of those authors, at least in my opinion, whose personal writing style and world building skills make virtually any of his books worth reading (especially the newer ones), even if the plot or characters fall flat. In Carnivores, as engaging as the main character is, the real jewel is the world he travels through and Foster really outdid himself. It's a very engaging fantasy (although the final part of the trilogy was far weaker than the first two books), and it's a good read for pretty much anyone. And if you're looking for something similar, but a bit more "modern day" you might consider Into the Out of, one of my favorites.


While I wouldn't call all of the books on this list "classics" or even "great literature", I do find them all very enjoyable. Most of them have well-constructed and detailed worlds coupled with an engaging style and decent-to-excellent plots and characters.

As always, if anyone has any suggestions for me, please speak up....!
:: Morat 1:30 PM :: ::

More on Plame..

Mark A. R. Kleiman remains the place to go for Valerie Plame information. Recent news reports state:
Plame 'ran intelligence operations overseas,' said Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA counterterrorism operations chief.

Her specialty in the agency's nonproliferation center was biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and 'recruiting agents, sending them to areas where they could access information about proliferation matters, weapons of mass destruction,' Cannistraro said.
As Tom Spencer noted in comments: This renders the "She was just an analyst" defense non-operative.
:: Morat 10:19 AM :: ::

Spellchecking

For some reason, the spellchecker is broken. My apologies for the sudden drop in readability.
:: Morat 9:58 AM :: ::

Redistricting -- Texas Style

Via Off the Kuff, I happily note that the redistricting in Texas continues to cover our GOP leaders in glory.
Frustrated by negotiations over congressional redistricting, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday accused Speaker Tom Craddick of negotiating like an "Iranian cabdriver."

Craddick earlier in the day had denied Senate accusations that the House is negotiating in bad faith. Craddick spokesman Bob Richter later declined to comment on Dewhurst's remarks.

"We would prefer to negotiate with the senators face to face rather than through the news media," Richter said.

Dewhurst said Craddick for months has set only one condition for a new Republican redistricting plan for the state: a district that can be won by someone from Midland.

But as deadlines for passing a plan draw near, Dewhurst said Craddick and House negotiators have suddenly added more demands. Those include drawing a Dallas-area U.S. House district that can be won by state Rep. Ken Marchant, R-Carrollton.
Way to go, guys! You're going to look really good to the average voter if, after three special sessions you can't agree on a plan. And, of course, you can't blame the Democrats this time.

Still, I can't wait to hear your justification for the fourth special session.
:: Morat 9:53 AM :: ::

Actual substance

During the long -- very long -- car trip back from Dallas last night, the conversation turned to Madonna. My wife mentioned that, whatever else you might think of her, she's always been a genius at marketing, Most especially at trendspotting. She'll jump in, start doing something that most people consider nuts....only to learn that within a few months, it's hugely popular and Madonna moves onto the next trend.

We argued for a bit on whether Madonna actually spotted new trends before they became noticable, or if her popularity and influence created them. In the end, it didn't really matter. Regardless of how it happens, Madonna tends to lead trends, not follow them.

Which brings me to politics, and Howard Dean. I think part of his appeal is the perception -- real or not -- that he leads polls, not follows them. And after 2002, the Democratic party was starved for true leadership. They wanted politicians would would lead us out of the wilderness of polls, and focus groups, and swing voters...and offer us a clear and compelling vision for the future.

I realize that politics is as much about popularity as it is about leadership. But I think that, in the last few years, it's been way too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

Will Howard Dean change that? Does he offer true leadership, or just the appearance of it? I don't really know....but at least he went against polls, against conventional wisdom when it counted. And it's worth noting....the rest of the field has followed his lead.
:: Morat 9:23 AM :: ::

Back in town...

I'm back in town, finally, and I've been having a wonderful time catching up on work. Hopefully I'll start making posts containing actual substance (this one is 93% substance-free) relatively soon. I'm having to catch up on news as well as work, so...it might be an hour or two.

On the other hand, I notice that Rush Limbaugh was fired from ESPN, a move that warms my heart.

Oh, and I officially turned 28 Wednesday.
:: Morat 9:09 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 ::

Just to clear something up

I've noted that one of the latest lines of defense on Plamegate (or Treasongate. Your pick) is that "Plame wasn't that secret, she was an Ambassador's wife, and her cover identity was easily connected to Wilson".

Yes, that's quite true. Valerie Wilson did use her maiden name (Valerie Plame) when working overseas, and yes, anyone willing to check would find out Valerie Plame was Valerie Wilson.

At the very least, however, this constitutes a big misunderstanding of Plame's cover. She wasn't hiding the fact that she was married to an Ambassador (if she even was, at the time. The marriage was fairly recent), but the fact that she worked for the CIA.

As far as anyone else knew, she was an energy analyst employed by a private company. She was not in any sense an official of the US government or the CIA, and while her marriage to a former Ambassador certainly made her less useful, she still had all those old contacts...

But now, thanks to the White House, every contact she has, or ever made, knows that she was writing reports straight to the CIA.

I'm afraid that claiming "It was well known that Valerie Plame was Valerie Wilson, married to a former government official" is the product of too many Tom Clancy novels and James Bond movies. While there are, I'm sure, many agents who have covert identities that offer no clue as to their real lives and origins, a good many of them work fairly openly....and their only secret is that no one knows they work for the CIA.

Valerie Plame, private energy analyst, could go places the CIA couldn't. So her CIA affiliation was classified and kept secret. Revealing it did more than end her usefulness, it destroyed the contacts she's made over her career and tainted anyone she's ever come into contact with, shutting down information flow.
:: Morat 1:17 PM :: ::

Shorter Right-Wing Punditry's Reaction to the Valerie Plame Affair: An Internal Dialogue

The Poor Man hits it out of the park.
Why would master do this? Why he tricks us, and betrays us?

No, it couldn't have been master! Master is good and kind, and gives us wriggly fishes from his table, so juicy sweet! No, no, never master!

But why would the names of lady spiesies be in the newspapers? It's so confusing, it makes our brainses feel all swirly and bad!

No, master never said those nassty things! Never! It was the lady spysy herself who did it, never master! Gollum! Gollum!

It must have been ... libruhlss!! Yes, libruhs, all conspirings and scheme-ings! Tricksy, sneaksy, and false! Libruhls have always hated the precious! They want to destroy the precious! But we won't them, will we, precious! We will wring their necks!
He helpfully annotates it with links to conservative reactions.
:: Morat 10:38 AM :: ::

Dean's Challenge

Well, they're on the last bat, with about 920,000 to raise by midnight tonight. I'm not sure how much (if any) House Party money has yet to come in, but I'm willing to guess they'll make it. If you want to help out, go here (Skeptical Notion's Dean Page) and donate a bit.
:: Morat 9:58 AM :: ::

:: Monday, September 29, 2003 ::

Journalists and Ethics

Here's a quick question, dealing (of course) with Plamegate. Now, I understand that journalists are very protective of their sources, and that journalistic ethics are generally pretty firm on this.

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if journalistic ethics even cover this. First off, the actual crime was in telling the reporter in the first place. That makes the reporter more of a witness to a crime (or an unwitting participant) than a passive observer.

Of course, this is technically true of any leak of classified materials. But, in every other case I'm familiar with, the newsworthy bit was unrelated to the leaker in question. In this case, the sole crime and issue is the leak itself.

So where does that leave journalists? A top politician tried to use them to smear someone, but broke the law in the process. The story here isn't "Wilson's wife worked at the CIA", but "Someone, as an act of petty revenge, leaked Wilson's wife's status"....

So I'm wondering if the line between observer and participant is really blurry here. Is anyone out there more familiar with journalistic ethics, who could address it in detail?

What's a journalist supposed to do when he (or she) becomes the story, rather than reports on it?
:: Morat 9:11 PM :: ::

Goodness!

Looks like Valerie Plame really is news, and not just on blogs. I've gotten quite a few search engine hits on her. I can only imagine what some of the bigger blogs are getting.

If you're here for Valerie Plame goodness, Mark Kleiman is the best place to go. He's been following closely since the original Nation article.
:: Morat 6:53 PM :: ::

Dean's Bat

Looks like Dean will retire the third bat in the next few hours (about three million of the five million dollar goal). He's got the House Parties tonight, and I'll be quite interested to see how much that brings in. Offhand, I expect him to bring in at least a million through the house parties, leaving him about 24 hours to raise around one million. I'd be very surprised if he didn't make it, although changing the bat format and switching to a full Q3 total instead of a simple "Five million" is going to make it difficult, at least until they file the full Q3 info, to tell if he really got the five million in ten days. I don't think that'll matter too much, because to the people that count in this (the Deanies) it'll feel that way...and everyone else will be too busy looking at Q3 totals. I'm guessing that, because of the transparency in fund-raising, that'll it'll ultimately be kosher...too easy to find out otherwise.

It looks like they're shooting for 15 million for the quarter (probably a bit more). I'm looking forward to seeing the Q3 numbers, and specifically campaign and media reactions once the numbers are "official".

I expect Clark to do a lot better than is expected (DraftClark, at the least, has been securing pledges for quite some time...and I suspect that quite a few donors were lined up in other ways) so might even have a 3 or 4 million showing himself, as opposed to the million or so predicted.

Everyone else should be at 4 to 5 million. Anyone below that (save Clark) is in serious trouble in the primaries.

Now, since I'm not longer utterly neutral, why not throw a few dollars at Dean? Or, if Dean isn't your man, throw it towards whomever is.
:: Morat 4:41 PM :: ::

One more on Valerie Plame

You know, I just can't get over this scandal. It's not because I consider the White House or the President "above" such petty revenge. It's not because I'm shocked that it was such petty, stupid, and ineffective revenge. It's not even the hypocritical and "politics is all" approach that apparently made such an act sound even remotely like a good idea.

It's the fact that the details give this entire scandal an almost mystical feel. Potentially, it's karmic justice of the most profound and wonderful sort. The kind that would restore my faith in humanity...and the world.

For three years now, I've watched George Bush wield the politics of personal destruction. I've watched him march over anyone in his way. I've watched him -- and his cronies -- use any excuse, any tactic, as long as it got them the results they wanted.

They accused a decorated war hero and triple amputee of being "soft" on national security. They warned (through Ashcroft) that asking too many questions would "aid terrorists". They spent two years bludgeoning us with 9/11, they used terrorists and Weapons of Mass Destruction as political tools to savage anyone who disagreed with the slightest element of their agenda.

Point out their mistakes, and get called un-American. Disagree with their choices, and get accused of aiding terrorists. Argue their methods, and be told you wanted a nuclear bomb to explode in America.

And now, that's come back to bite them. George has spent two years making us afraid of terrorists, of weapons of mass destruction. He's spent two years justifying everything as being vital to national security. He has spent two years classifying everything he could, cutting down on FOI requests whenever possible.

His entire Presidency has been nothing more than a vast, extended lecture on how deeply threatened the United States is, on how important national security is, on how important keeping secrets is. His entire Presidency has been an orgy of secrecy and WMD's were his justification for keeping the American public in the dark.

And now, to see this? To see his administration burn a valued WMD asset (and everyone she's ever worked with), just to get back at a man for telling the truth about a job they sent him on? To expose a CIA operative for petty political gain?

Three years of making the American public afraid of WMD's, three years of making them believe that total and utter secrecy is the only way to defeat terrorists, is coming back to bite him.

And I'm going to savor this. It's not just the thrill of karmic justice. It's not just the realization that this might be the final nail in the Bush coffin.

By burning a national security asset, by breaking federal laws protecting national security information, Bush has demonstrated by deed (which speaks to louder than words) that he doesn't consider either National Security, or WMDs to be that big a threat. If Bush was really concerned about either (and not about, say, getting reelected or covering his own ass), he wouldn't have tolerated burning a WMD asset.

The sheer beauty of this is that Bush's tactics resulted in the downfall of Bush's agenda. And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy....
:: Morat 1:38 PM :: ::

Spy Games

National Review Online:
It's the top story in the Washington Post this morning as well as in many other media outlets. Who leaked the fact that the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA?
What also might be worth asking: "Who didn't know?"
...
On July 14, Robert Novak wrote a column in the Post and other newspapers naming Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative.

That wasn't news to me. I had been told that — but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.
Shorter Clifford May: "It's not a real felony if everyone's doing it! And even if it was, it's not a real felony if you do it to a stinkin' liberal!"

Good try guys. If that's the best defense the right has got...I suggest you hire Karl Rove a really good lawyer.

Update: Calpundit mentions the May piece...and a Levin piece arguing that it's all Wilson's fault for going public in the first place.

I feel sorry for them. I mean, they're having to defend real crimes. Worse yet, because of Bush's WMD and National Security rhetoric, they're having to defend Bush against a crime he's spent two years conditioning the US public to consider especially heinous.

Sorry, guys. You're going to have to do a lot better than that.
:: Morat 1:02 PM :: ::

Family Emergency

My wife's grandmother just passed away, so I'll probably be absent until tomorrow night at the earliest. The funeral will be in Dallas, so I've got a five hour drive each way.

At the very least, I'm unlikely to blog until late tomorrow.

In the meantime, feel free to explore some of the blogs on my blogroll, browse through some of the books I recommend (the vast majority of which you can find at your local library, so even better).

Update: Some details have changed. I won't be leaving for Dallas until Wednesday afternoon (the funeral has been set at for Thursday) and be back Friday morning.
:: Morat 10:11 AM :: ::

McCellan's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Talking Points Memo has a nice transcript of the beating McCellan took today over PlameGate. It wasn't just persistent focus on Plame, the story, whether or not Rove was responsible, why the President hasn't investigated internally... There was even sarcasm.
McCLELLAN: He wasn't involved. The President knows he wasn't involved.
QUESTION: How does he know that?
QUESTION: How does he know that?
McCLELLAN: The President knows.
QUESTION: What, is he clairvoyant? How does he know?
McCellen had a terribly, horrible, no good, very bad day this morning.

And as long as the Administration stonewalls -- and bets that the story will die before enough pressure can be brought to bear on Justice -- McCellan is going to continue to have these very bad days. With Bush's popularity below 50%, and the delicious irony of the whole affair, the media is going to continue to frenzy.

You can bet that every Democrat whose patriotism has been questioned by this Administration (I.E. most of them) is going to hammer this story home. Speaking for myself (and the number of times I was called anti-American for opposing Bush), it really makes you believe in Karma.
:: Morat 9:52 AM :: ::

:: Sunday, September 28, 2003 ::

Valerie Plame

It appears the Valerie Plame story just broke in a major way. First off, the CIA has referred the matter to the Justice Department for investigation, which means that yes, she was an agent, and yes, someone did burn her. Secondly, the Washington Post reports that Novak wasn't the only one contacted. Apparently, the "two senior administration officials" had shopped the story to at least six other reporters. Kevin over at CalPundit really sums it up:
Now that this story has been confirmed, it really makes you face up to the true contemptibility of the whole affair. Think about it: two top White House officials, the ones who run this country and are supposed to guard the security of our country, blew the cover of a CIA agent solely to gain some petty revenge on a minor political opponent.

I just don't know how much worse it gets than that. As much as I despise the team in the White House, I always thought that — in their own way — they were doing what they thought was best for America. I never thought they would betray their own country just out of spite. I really didn't.

But if they'll do something like this, they'll do anything. I guess Krugman was right all along: these are radical ideologues who care about nothing except staying in power and will do anything, no matter how craven and malevolent, to get what they want.
And this from a man who, in my opinion, has always been pretty good about giving people, even the Bushies, the benefit of the doubt.
:: Morat 10:00 AM :: ::

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