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:: Friday, October 10, 2003 ::

Top Notch Fantasy

As promised, this week's list is some of (in my humble, and always correct, opinion) the best modern fantasy. I define modern as "Anything written in the past three decades or so, because I'm only 28 and while I've read stuff prior to that, not as much, so there!". Plus, frankly, I don't feel like recommending LoTR, since virtually everyone who wants to read it has read it, or at least seen the movies. Jackson's doing an excellent job there, by the way, making one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I've ever seen, and while purists might be angry about the plot changes, they're pretty minimal compared to most film adaptations. The "Extended Versions" are even better, and I can't help being impressed with Jackson as a film-maker. Perhaps he should tackle Dune next as no one's ever managed (although the SciFi channel came far closer than David Lynch did) to make a good version of Dune. It's a pretty complex work, so that's not terribly surprising. Children of Dune, however, was much better done...and the actor playing Leto is one to watch. Sorry, enough of my rambling. Now, onto the list!

  • Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams. Tailchaser's Song is about the secret lives of cats, and anyone who owns one of the furry beasts should pick it up. It owes a lot to Tolkien and stock fantasy (being, in some ways, nothing more than skillful recasting of traditional fantasy into a cat's world), and while not as good as Watership Down, it's still on the short list of "Good Modern Fantasy".

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman. (By the way, has anyone guessed the name of the God no one ever remembers?) First off, Gaiman is a very good author, and has the distinction of getting several books on this list (the only reason he doesn't get more is I haven't actually read his Sandman stuff yet, although it's on my personal "must read" list). American Gods is a classic American road trip combined with 10,000 years of human mythology and a good bit of old fashioned con artistry. The premise itself was outstanding, and I thought the execution was well done, if you like Gaiman's personal style. I hadn't heard of this man until a few years ago (my loss) and have since managed to read several of his works, and pretty thoroughly enjoyed them all.

  • Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Okay, first off, if you haven't read the book and even suspect you might have a sense of humor, run and buy it. Right now. The rest of this post can wait. Back yet? Alright, now that you own it, I'll give you a quick hint: It's about the end of the world, and it's hilarious. I'm not sure if it's technically "fantasy" (it is under my definitions), but it's so good it's worth sliding in. As far as apocalyptic literature goes, it's a lot better than the Left Behind series, which I won't link to in case someone accidentally buys one. Good Omens isn't parody, it isn't slapstick...it's just all around funny, and (not surprisingly, considering the author) not a terribly bad book as far as "message" goes.

  • Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. Most people don't consider Terry to be a "good" fantasy writer (although many consider him to be a damn funny one). It's not easy trick to combine humor and meaning, but Terry manages it surprisingly often. Small Gods is really his best effort in that direction, and is perfectly suitable as a stand-alone book. (I'm torn on whether Pratchett can be considered "fat fantasy" or not, really. I'm going to go with, for the time being, that Terry has more or less created his own genre, and merely rents shelf-room with fantasy). Small Gods has an awful lot to say about religion, belief, and the nature of humanity...and manages to tell it in the middle of a very entertaining book. No small accomplishment. (By the way, if I was recommending Discworld for just humor value, I'd suggest Reaper Man)

  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Neil's first novel, as I understand it, and the first one I've read. (It was originally written as a mini-series, shot on a horribly small budget. As far as I can tell, the book is a lot better than the script). Fairly dark fantasy, it takes place in the London Underworld, where the fantastic live entirely separate lives from those above. I'm a sucker for modern fantasy, enjoying anything that juxtaposes 20th Century live and fantasy, and Gaiman does the best job of it I've seen. Gaiman has serious talent and Neverwhere, even more than American Gods, shows it.

  • The Initiate Brother by Sean Russell. (It's technically the first half of a larger book, with Gatherer of Clouds being the second half). I'm read several other books by Russell (none of which were terribly memorable, to my mind) but The Initiate Brother stood out. Admittedly, I first noticed it because of the Michael Whelan cover, but the book itself is top notch. Set in pseudo-China (it's nice to see fantasy that doesn't take place in pseudo-Europe), it has a very strong sense of setting and culture, as well as a complicated and well written plot (civil wars, assassinations, invasion, Enlightened Masters walking the earth...the usual) and complex characters. It's an excellent choice if you're tired of pseudo-Europe and want a big change of perspective. (And, if that's the case, the very strong sense of setting is a big plus!).

Wow, that's a very English list. Pratchett and Gaiman alone make up 2/3rds of the list, and I have no idea where Williams and Russell hail from. I realize that Small Gods might seem a bit of a copout, being Discworld and all, but Small Gods would be excellent even if it was Pratchett's only foray into the world of writing. Most of the Discworld books are funny, and some are thought-provoking, and Small Gods manages to excel at both.

If you're not fond of Gaiman, and can't consider Pratchett serious fantasy, there's mighty slim pickings for you this week. But fear not! Next week will either be "Top Notch Fantasy Part II" or perhaps "Top Notch Science Fiction". And, coming in the next few weeks, "Truly Bad Books I like, and Why!".

In the meantime, feel free to suggest books back. I'm always in the market for good books.
:: Morat 1:46 PM :: ::

No dice

Darnit, my wife was passed over again. Admittedly to a very experienced teacher, but still....this is getting old. On the other hand, she should start subbing soon, and she's likely to pick up a weekend/evening job to help supplement that. And there's some long-term sub positions opening soon. And it's not unusual for teachers to quit (or move, or change jobs, or whatnot) at the semester break, and their formal notices of resignation (and thus new job openings) should be out in the next few weeks.

Still, I'd like to have this behind us. I worry about things, you know?
:: Morat 11:53 AM :: ::

Thinskinned Pundits

Between Bill O'Reilly's hissy fits over Al Franken (here and here and especially here) and Ann Coulter's hissy fit about Al Franken (here) and Luskin's hissy fits about Krugman (this entire blog) and Billmon (here) and Atrios (here), and David Brock's opus on civility (here), I've come to the unsurprising conclusion that conservative pundits can dish it out....but God knows they can't take it.

I'd be tempted just to call it rank hypocrisy (lord knows that's accurate enough), but the shrillness and paranoia in their responses imply it's more than that. It appears that these plain-speakers, these "telling it like it is" icons of right-wing punditry simply can't handle their own medicine.

I wonder if there's any way I can buy Al Franken or Paul Krugman a beer? Anyone that can make O'Reilly foam at the mouth and storm out of a NPR interview, or drive Donald Luskin to the brink of gibbering insanity by merely existing really needs some thanks.
:: Morat 11:11 AM :: ::

Donald Luskin: Stalker Extraordinaire!

Donald Luskin abruptly expands the stalking field, and cruelly calls Atrios rude.
And you want to see some real incivility on the left? Go the blog of someone who calls himself Atrios (whom Krugman has said he reads regularly), and look at the things he and his readers are saying about yours truly. With Krugman, to disagree is to lie; to prefer different policies is to be a radical. To these guys, to attend a lecture and get an autograph is to stalk. Check it out. Not civil. Not for the faint of heart
This from a man who claimed that the mere sight of Paul Krugman made him feel "unclean".

What does the National Review pay this idiot for? It can't be rational thinking.

I think Krugman should get together with Billmon and Atrios and form the "Luskin Stalkee Drinking Club". Hoist a few beers to the luck of having stupid enemies.
:: Morat 9:36 AM :: ::

A fun morning

Well, let's see...in addition to cleaning up a veritable lake of urine (one of my dogs is a bit shy about rain and thunder, so apparently decided to 'hold it' rather than go last night), I find that the evil fleabag has managed to hit the jeans I was wearing last night.

I rapidly scan the pockets, and toss it (and the towels used to clean the floor) into the washer. An hour or so later, as I'm about to head out the door, I realize my wallet is nowhere to be found.

Turns out, I washed it. Thankfully, credit-cards don't melt, but pictures and insurance papers and business cards do. An excellent way to wake up this morning.

Oh, and to top it off: We haven't heard back from that school district, which makes it highly unlikely that my wife's interview will bear fruit. Damn the luck. It would have been nice....but the principal indicated they were trying to get the new teacher hired in time for Monday's in-service. Which means letting the new teacher know by today, so he or she could get the new hire paperwork out of the way. Oh well. Something will come along.
:: Morat 8:51 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, October 09, 2003 ::

Affidavit Campaign

MoveOn.org has a new idea. It's an Affidavit Campaign.
President Bush told the press on Tuesday that he doesn't "have any idea" whether the senior administration officials who blew a CIA operative's cover will ever be found. But if he just asked his staff to sign a legally binding affidavit confirming that they weren't involved, and referred anyone who wouldn't to the FBI, it's possible he could flush out the perpetrators in a day. To date, the President hasn't even discussed this matter with his staff.
We've already done the President's homework for him by writing the affidavit. Now let's show him how easy it is for innocent people to legally declare their innocence. You can sign the affidavit and send it to the President in under a minute by filling out the form below:
It takes 30 seconds, and it's really nothing more than a petition -- with a sense of humor. Go sign it.

Update: Just to be clear: I think this is a clever way of making the point that "We don't know" isn't an acceptable answer, and that I don't think think that affidavits would be a particular workable solution.
:: Morat 5:16 PM :: ::

Terminator Dreams

I saw this gem over at The Whiskey Bar. Calif.'s next governor sees Bush as fiscal ally:
But Schwarzenegger, a Republican, offered no new details for balancing the state budget, one of the central issues in the turbulent recall campaign. Instead, he said he would appeal to the White House directly for federal aid, hopefully meeting with President Bush when he travels through California on his way to Asia next week.
'I will make sure that I can meet with President Bush as quickly as possible, because I have a whole bunch of business, California business, to talk to him about and take care of,' Schwarzenegger said during a short news conference at the Century Plaza Hotel. 'There's a lot of money we can get from the federal government.'
Yeah, that's going to happen. Bush will, with his massive control of Congress, knock free 8 to 12 billion dollars for California. A state which, despite a great deal of personal campaigning, roundly rejected him in 2000, and is set to do the same in 2004.

Congratulations, California! This is the deep thinking of your newest Governor.
:: Morat 10:39 AM :: ::

Blog Ecosystem

I can't seem to shake free of Slithering Reptile. I was a flappy bird for a few days, but apparently I've regressed.
:: Morat 10:35 AM :: ::

The New Model Republican Party

Kevin Drum has a great post up about the future of the GOP, and it's roots in the Texas GOP.
The New Model Republican Party:
The heart and soul of Republican grass roots activism can be found pretty easily: it's in Texas. The New Model radical right took over the Texas Republican party a decade ago and elected George Bush governor. They have since taken over the entire state and propelled one of their own to the presidency and another to leadership of the House of Representatives. They bring a messianic fervor to their task, and after successfully taking over the second biggest state in the union their sights are now set on the entire country. This is not a fringe group. It is the biggest, most active, most energetic, and most determined segment of the Republican party today.
So it's fair to ask, what do they really want? Not what their public face is, and not what's politically feasible at the moment, but what are their goals? What kind of America do they want?
The answer is easy to come by if you really want to know, because the Texas Republican party regularly publishes a party platform. And like all true believers, they are very clear about what they want. So here it is: selected excerpts from the Texas Republican Party Platform of 2000. At the end of six years with George W. Bush at their helm, this was — and largely remains — their vision for America.
He goes on to quote some sections of the Texas GOP Platform. It's a must-read for anyone...conservative or liberal.

As a native Texan, I can personally attest to one thing: The rise of Texas Republicanism has led to a complete breakdown of relations between the parties. The Texas House and Senate used to be models of bipartisanship, where even bitterly opposed parties remained civil and fair, and managed to get things done.

No longer. The Texas GOP is nothing less than Tom DeLay's personal puppets, and the concept of "bipartisanship" is closer to Grover Norquist's than the fine tradition of decades past.

Update: Reading through Kevin's comment threads, the "defense" of this seems to be "Every party has it radicals". That doesn't really wash. Texas is the second largest state, and both the President and the very powerful Tom DeLay came from Texas...and must have, as members of the Texas GOP, signed off on this puppy. George, at the very least, when he was Governor. The whole point of this is that a significant and powerful part of the GOP is advocating ideas that are, frankly speaking, nuts. Eliminate the seperation of Church and State? Reaquire the Panama Canal? Revert to the Gold Standard, abolish the Fed, remove any vestiges of the Great Society programs?
:: Morat 10:05 AM :: ::

Redistricting at an end

Texas has a map. I have absolutely no idea about it's legality, but I'm guessing that court challenges alone ought to take several months.

To begin with, there's the Voting Rights Act and the impact the new map has on minority districts.

Further, there's the actual redistricting itself. From what I understand of the relevant case law, while partisan reasons can be a factor in determining a map, they cannot be the overriding or sole factor in generating a given map. (If there are any scholars out there who can point out the relevant cases, please do. This is stuff I read years ago...)

Public statements by prominent figures behind redistricting, however, have left no doubt that the sole purpose of this map is to discriminate against Democrats and elect more Republicans. Period. Partisan reasons are the only reasons for redistricting, and proving it in court would require nothing more than quoting people like DeLay, Perry or Craddick.

:: Morat 9:51 AM :: ::

Religious Lies

TAPPED points out an interesting article in the Guardian. Vatican: condoms don't stop Aids:
The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk.
The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to the HIV virus.
Somehow I doubt the Vatican, or any religious really, cares much about what I think. However, just for the record: I know a lot of atheists. I know a lot of people who have left their religion. I know a lot of people who have changed religions, and have nothing but contempt and hate for their former beliefs...and those that share them.

And let me share with you the most common reason, in my experience, for someone to not only lose their religion....but end up despising it. Being lied to. Not "mistakes". Not "differences of opinion". Lies. Just like the Vatican is pushing right now. We know they're lying. The Vatican knows they're lying. The WHO knows they're lying.

Everyone knows the Vatican is lying about condoms except the people who trust the Vatican (and the Catholic Church). And when they find out that the Vatican's position is about as specious and false as possible, and quite a few of them will, they're not going to trust the Church on the more important matters....

The moral here is pretty simple. If you lie about stuff that's easily checked...why should I believe you about the stuff that can't be checked?

Update: What I can't help but wonder is, if the Catholic Church really believe this, why aren't they agitating against the use of latex gloves by EMTs and Doctors? Do they honestly think latex gloves are permeable to HIV?
:: Morat 9:04 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, October 08, 2003 ::

Stalking Evil

Donald Luskin has officially gone off the deep end:
I thought it would be fun. I thought I could throw a tough question at him, or get him to autograph a copy of The Great Unraveling for me before he realized who I was. But there was nothing fun about this experience. I have looked evil in the face. I've been in the same room with it. I don't know how else to describe my feelings now except to say that I feel unclean, and I'm having to fight being afraid.
This, for Paul Krugman. Not Hitler, not Pol Pot, not some cannibal recently in from his meal of delicious Christian babies, but an economist and part-time columnist. The man plays with numbers for a living, and occasionally writes stuff down. He doesn't murder babies, he doesn't run a country with an iron fist...about the only people he can inconvenience are his students, and they can always drop the class.

The question becomes: Should Krugman get a restraining order, or will Luskin's family and friends note his paranoia and growing insanity and force him to get treatment?

There are a lot of people whose ideas and writings I disagree with, some quite vehemently...but I can't think of any, save Phelps perhaps, who might make me feel "unclean". And much as I dislike Phelps, I don't spend my days scouring his every word, hanging upon everything he writes, immersing myself in Phelps world...and I certainly have no plans to go pester him at a speaking event. Throw rocks, perhaps....

No wonder some bloggers have taken to calling Luskin "The Stalker".
:: Morat 12:40 PM :: ::

Beggars and Choosers

U.S. May Drop Quest for U.N. Vote on Iraq:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 — The Bush administration has run into such stiff opposition at the United Nations Security Council to its plan for the future government of Iraq that it has pulled back from seeking a quick vote endorsing the proposal and may shelve it altogether, administration officials said Tuesday.
Two weeks after President Bush appealed at the United Nations for help in securing and reconstructing Iraq, administration officials said, his top aides will decide soon whether it is worth the effort to get a United Nations endorsement.
Wow. This appears to be the exact same problem Bush had when he went to start his war. Who knew that the same countries opposed to the war in the first place would, after it's been shown to be a really bad idea, continue to oppose it?

I know that Bush is used to investors dropping cash into a failing business without requiring a change in management, but perhaps someone should have let him know that the UN, unlike I lot of his business investors, don't owe Daddy any favors.
:: Morat 12:03 PM :: ::

Plame's CIA status

Mark Kleiman covers some of the ground I did last week, and it's even less excusable now. (When I covered it, the matter of Plame's status could be questioned. Now, however, there is no doubt as to her status in the CIA.
"The diehard few who are trying to confuse the public about whether Valerie Plame was a covert intelligence officer, and whether publishing that fact was therefore unpatriotic (certainly) and criminal (probably) seem to have that advice down pat.

She was covert, and there's no way to prove that she wasn't. But it's easy to show that her name, and the name of her cover employer, weren't secret. So the slime-and-defend brigade keeps insisting on those facts, which no one ever doubted, as if that proved something.

:: Morat 11:49 AM :: ::

Some thoughts on fantasy

I still plan to have that book list up Friday, and I also plan to collate all my "book lists" onto another page, separate from my rarely-updated "Recommendations" page.

Onto the thought of the day: Thinking about fantasy novels lately, in between my current -- and torrid -- love affair with Quicksilver, and I started looking at the various magic systems writers have used.

Here's a helpful hint to anyone writing fantasy. When it comes time to design a magic system, assuming you use one, please bear in mind the concepts of "balance" and "restrictions". There are times, and settings, for uber-powerful magic and mages, but for the most part magic shouldn't be the fantasy deus ex machina.

Take Terry Goodkind, for instance. The poor man has written himself into a corner. His main character (Richard) has the ability to use magic, and he's become so powerful that the first hundred pages or so of any Goodkind book is devoted to restricting Richard's ability to use magic. They've collared him, poisoned him, had his own gift damage him, blackmailed him.....see the point here? Goodkind stepped over the line, and he spends way to much time explaining why his hero can't solve the problem with magic. Of course, the fact that he's gotten a bit formulaic (600 pages of complex, interlocking problems followed by one blinding epiphany by Richard, and then a bit of magica ex machina and there's your book. You can do better, Terry) doesn't help either.

David Eddings had much the same problem, since his magic system in the Belgariad was about as complex as "wishing really hard". At least he had the foresight to make it energy-intensive, dangerous without a great deal of training, and noisy enough to attract fellow sorcerers.

As a balancing system, "enemy mages" is a pretty simple one...but often overused. And if you go that route, you end up having to shove mages and magic to the forefront of the plot, and all your villains tend to be (or employ) mages of their own.

As far as good systems go, I've always liked the one Barbara Hambly put together. She tends to use a system that requires innate talent, a lot of scholarship and a lot of hard work. Wizards can throw fire, but not more than about 20 feet. The most powerful can shapechange, but that has large dangers. Wizards are best with illusions and distractions, but wits are more important than sheer power. Complex and powerful magic, while very possible, requires a lot or prepatory work and concentration.

Balance in all things, guys. And if you're going to go the route of super-powerful mages, do plan ahead. Don't end up writing in reasons your uber-mage can't fix the problem with a wave of his hands. It's surprisingly common flaw in fantasy, and I'ld like to see it killed.
:: Morat 10:09 AM :: ::


Atrios despairs about the election of the Gubernator. And suggests you buy him things. I find that horribly unfair. No one ever buys me things, and my birthday was only a week ago!

Onto the topic, however. I've got a few thoughts on the matter. First off, I don't think Arnold is going to last terribly long. I'm willing to bet there are enough very angry people to pull off another recall, and set the date for the Democratic primary.

More importantly, however, is the fact that I simply don't think Arnold is up to the task. Davis, despite his faults, was a fairly experienced politician. The budget crises he faced required some tough, and highly unpopular, decisions. The one Arnold faces is going to require more of the same (even if Arnold doesn't repeal anything Davis did, like the car tax), and I rather doubt even Arnold's charm is going to be able to cover the fee hikes and services cuts that will require. Especially not while being hounded by Gropegate. Even if things go smoothly, he still has to work with a Democratic majority to get anything done.

Speaking of: I wonder if Arnold has been informed that employees of the state aren't going to take sexual assault and harassment lying down? Arnold can't ruin their careers if they speak up...but they can ruin his.
:: Morat 9:12 AM :: ::

Nobel Prize in Economics

Goes to Robert Engle and Clive Granger. Congratulations to them! It would have been nice had Krugman won, if only so that smug people everywhere could note "Shrill? Nobel prize winning shrill, thank you very much."

Plus, Luskin's head would explode, and that would be beautiful too.

(Link via Best of Blogs...who expresses similar sentiments)
:: Morat 9:02 AM :: ::

Clark's Campaign Manager Quits in Feud

Clark's Campaign Manager Quits in Feud:
Wesley Clark is looking for a new campaign manager after his first one quit in anger, the latest setback for a 3-week-old team struggling to mesh its Internet-savvy founders with a corps of Washington insiders assuming more power.
Donnie Fowler, 35, told associates he was leaving over concerns that supporters who used the Internet to draft Clark into the race are not being taken seriously by top campaign officials. Fowler also complained that the campaign's message and methods are focused too much on Washington, not key states, said two associates who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out. I don't think it'll spike the DraftClark movement, at least in terms of losing the more enthusiastic supporters.

But it might make it more difficult to paint the campaign as "true grassroots", and it'll certainly make it more difficult to lure Dean supporters.

I don't think Clark is in any real trouble, but if he doesn't pay much attention....he might find that he's become an insider, which seems to be a liability in 2004.
:: Morat 8:52 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, October 07, 2003 ::

Turkish Delight

Turkish Parliament Votes to Sent Troops to Iraq:
Turkey's parliament voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to allow troops to be sent to Iraq, a move that could lead to the first major contingent of Muslim peacekeepers there. But Iraq's Governing Council said it opposes any deployment of Turkish soldiers.
The motion gives the government the authority to send troops for a year, but does not specify how many troops would be deployed or when. Washington has asked Turkey to contribute some 10,000 soldiers.

The vote does not mean that soldiers will immediately be dispatched. The government is still negotiating the terms of deployment with the United States, which could take weeks or even longer.
But Turkey would come to Iraq with a lot of historical baggage.

The Turkish Ottoman Empire ruled today's Iraq for about 400 years until World War I. For the past 15 years, Turkey has been fighting Turkish Kurdish separatists who have bases among their Kurdish brethern in northern Iraq.

Iraq's 15-member Governing Council met Tuesday to debate the prospect of a Turkish deployment "and after long deliberations we reached consensus on issuing a statement opposing the arrival Turkish troops," said councilmember Mahmoud Othman, a Kurd.
The United States agreed to lend Turkey $8.5 billion to support its economy, but has made clear that the loan hinges on Turkey's "cooperation in Iraq."
Wow! For a mere 8.5 billion dollars (I guess Bush should have asked Congress for 95.5 billion) we can get up to 10,000 soldiers deployed at "some point" to Iraq.

And best of all, these soldiers are guaranteed to anger the Kurds (currently the only ethnic group in Iraq not pissed at the United States) and whose mere presences seems to annoy even our own puppet government.

What a bargain!
:: Morat 10:59 AM :: ::

More on Plame

Mark A. R. Kleiman is a bit upset by the latest turn of events
So far, I have had occasion only once in the Valerie Plame inquiry to say something in praise of the White House. The White House Does the Right Thing, October 3. You can imagine, then, how annoyed I am to find out that the so-and-sos have double-crossed me: the decent thing I thought they were doing was in fact an unspeakably sleazy trick that makes sense only as part of a cover-up.

All those documents concerning the Wilson trip and conversations about it that White House staff has been ordered to come up with by tomorrow at 5 p.m. will not be going to the Justice Department. No, they're going to White House Counsel -- that is, to the lawyers for the President, who must be considered a likely suspect, at least as a co-conspirator or accessory.
But that's okay! Surely the Justice Department will put a stop to this....

Still, I think it's too late. Too many people know who made the calls, and I can promise you that if the Justice Department doesn't find the actual culprits...the CIA and the media will make sure their names come out anyways.
:: Morat 10:27 AM :: ::

And then there were nine...

Graham bows out:
Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, trailing his 2004 Democratic rivals in fundraising and opinion polls, dropped his presidential bid on Monday after deciding that he could not catch up.
'I have made a difficult decision to withdraw my candidacy for president of the United States of America,' Graham announced on CNN's 'Larry King Live' television program.
A three-term senator and former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Graham trailed in the polls and struggled to raise enough money to stay viable in a field of 10 Democratic candidates.
Graham said the late start of his campaign, his responsibilities as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the congressional investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks, heart surgery and war in Iraq were factors that weighed on his bid to win the Democratic nomination.
He's a good man, but I think he can do more as a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee than he can in a Presidential bid.

It is very nice to see grace and dignity, especially in defeat.

Update: John Yuda points out that Graham is no longer on the Intelligence Committee, but is "the ranking member on Veterans' Affairs and also on Finance, Environment & Public Works and Energy & Natural Resources". Well, I stand by my initial statement. Graham does the Democratic party a lot more good in the Senate than as a Presidential candidate.
:: Morat 10:08 AM :: ::

Thoughts on Star Wars

Jaquandor had some thoughts on Attack of the Clones:
I watched Attack of the Clones the other night, and no, I have not come round to the prevailing opinion that it's a giant suckfest. In fact, I am more resolute than ever in my belief that I'm right, that it's a good movie, and that the rest of the world is a giant....well, I think I've covered that in the past.
It got me to thinking about the Prequels and what, specifically, was getting under my skin about the way George Lucas was going about it.

And I came to the conclusion that, basically, I was irritated because Anakin's fall seems so preordained. Of course he's going to the Dark Side, he's a whiny little twit who, despite having a lot of good qualities, is still an impressionable and deeply flawed character. And my basic belief, going into these prequels, was that Darth Vader's fall was going to be as dramatic and central as his redemption. I wanted Anakin's fall to be tragic, and I wanted to be deeply saddened that he has fallen to darkness.

And I'm not. We all know what's going to happen. We can all see it now, in Anakin's character and views. We all know where he's going, good intentions or not. I don't even like him, so his particular fall from grace doesn't really affect me. I wanted a Londo Mollari, a character I truly liked --despite even worse flaws than Anakin's -- and whose fall and redemption were all the more moving because I liked and identified with him. So, while I have enjoyed the prequels, I've felt...disappointed.

But what I'm starting to consider is that my disappointment might have a lot to do with a fundamental misunderstanding, on my part, of the nature of the prequels. I've started to understand that Obi-Wan is the key figure in the Prequels, not Anakin. The tragedy here isn't Anakin's fail, but Obi-Wan's failure as a teacher, and then his failure to correct his mistakes. Admittedly, Obi-Wan tried really hard to fix the "Anakin problem" after Anakin went to the Dark Side. He still failed, though.

And I do like Obi-Wan, even if he is occasionally rash and impulsive. And the fact that, in the end, he's betrayed by Anakin and his actions help destroy the very order he devoted his life to....well, that's tragedy enough right there.

Since I'm on the topic of Star Wars, I would like to note that if Lucas is really smart, we'll find out that Anakin wasn't conceived by the force....but by an act of rape. Having Palpatine rape Shmi Skywalker, and then erase her memory of it would make the relationship between Palpatine, Vader, and Luke all the more interesting, if rather twisted. I think it would play well into the series, adding another layer of meaning to the whole story.

Secondly, I'm really wondering if Yoda also suffers from the "arrogance" of the Jedi. After all, his own student rebelled and joined the Dark Side, and as leader of the Jedi Council...he seems just as blind to the machinations of the Dark Side as any other. Part of me really wants Yoda to be just as flawed and fallible as the rest of the Jedi.
:: Morat 9:32 AM :: ::

Fat Fantasy

Jaquandor at Byzantium's Shores has some reading suggestions (as a response to my latest book list). Go check them out!

My list is referred to as "fat fantasy" which isn't something I'm prepared to argue. It seems like a very accurate label to me! I like fat fantasy, and cheerfully agree that, as far as books go, I'll find something to like in virtually any book or author. There are very few books that I truly hated, although there are lots of books I consider second-rate...or never bothered to read anything by the author again.

My particular affection for fat fantasy is a product of my fast reading speed...and a lot of long car trips as a child. I like big, fat, thick books...they're perfect "comfort" or "light" reading. (Well, okay, not Martin's Song of Ice and Fire).

In all honesty, I view them as the literary equivalent of syndicated TV shows like Buffy or Stargate SG-1. They're familiar characters, in a familiar world, with a familiar style. But, like with visual media, few series -- no matter how well done or entertaining -- are going to have the impact that a truly excellent movie does.

If I get a chance this week, I'll make Friday's list the fantasy heavyweights...not fat fantasy, not enjoyable fantasy...but fantasy that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It might be a short list (for some reason, I have a difficult time remembering really good books when I make these lists), but I'll see what I can do. Sadly, fantasy authors tend to make my life difficult....no sooner do they write a good story than their editors and fans pester them to write more....and while their writing often gets better with practice, the stories rarely surpass the original. It's why I tend to prefer books that were initially conceived as trilogies or duologies or whatnot, than books that just acquired sequels and prequels and God knows what else...

:: Morat 9:29 AM :: ::

:: Monday, October 06, 2003 ::

I love the Ig® Nobel Prize

A few highlights from the Winners of the Ig® Nobel Prize:
Jack Harvey, John Culvenor, Warren Payne, Steve Cowley, Michael Lawrance, David Stuart, and Robyn Williams of Australia, for their irresistible report "An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces."

C.W. Moeliker, of Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.

:: Morat 12:13 PM :: ::

Irony indeed

Juan Non-Volokh over at The Volokh Conspiracy notes:
Ironies Abound: MoveOn.org, the liberal activist group founded to oppose the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, has started running advertisements criticizing California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger for the way he allegedly treated women in the past. An e-mail to MoveOn.org members warned 'the truth about his character is only now starting to get out. We have just a few days to make sure everyone in California knows who this man is.' It seems character counts for politicians after all.
Unless I'm misreading this, I'd say the real irony is Juan Non-Volokh's inability to tell the difference between consensual sex and sexual assault.

Update: I note Matthew Yglesias has comments on this as well, although he puts a bit more effort into discussing perjury (the actual impeachment charge) as opposed to adultery (which was, in my opinion, the relevant "character issue" when talking about Clinton and Arnold).
:: Morat 10:47 AM :: ::

Office of Technology Assessment

CalPundit has a post up about the demise of the OTA. I wasn't even aware it had been killed...although it doesn't surprise me. The medieval worldview isn't restricted to the White House, but infests -- to varying degrees -- a good portion of the GOP.

Personally, I blame the think-tanks and other right-wing outlets. Scaife's largesse has created a system in which any inconvenient fact can be obliterated from the GOP consciousness by concentrated group-think.

If you've got enough versions of the Heritage Foundation hammering a single point, no lone fact - or office full of scientists -- has a chance at penetrating.

The White House, and to a large extent the GOP, is populated with the intellectual cousins of Creationists and Perpetual Motion enthusiasts. They are people to whom facts are irrelevant, and ideology is paramount.

Is it any wonder they feel they're at war with those of us who prefer to reject beliefs, and not facts?
:: Morat 10:15 AM :: ::

Health Care Fun

My PPO, whom I have some issues with, has managed to surpass themselves this week in "bone headed moves". First off, I am relatively fond of them. Over the last decade or so, they've more or less done their job. I paid them a substantial, but not crippling, amount...and in return they're pretty good on the co-pays and prescription fronts. And they've managed to grasp the essential nature of the Man/PPO relationship. Man gets sick. Man sees doctor. Doctor orders tests. Man gets better. PPO pays for it.

I don't undergo unnecessary tests, they don't deny payment. Everyone wins. My only big complaint is fairly recent, and revolves around the fact that my PPO will only pay for non-emergency care at a small fraction of the local hospitals. It's the usual payment dispute and neither side seems interested in concluding negotiations.

So everything was just fine and dandy -- until Friday. That's when I got a lovely notice from my wife's doctor. It turns out my PPO had denied coverage of a rather expensive series of tests.

So I stress and worry about a forty-five hundred dollar bill all weekend. I call today, and my PPO straightens it out in about 15 minutes.

The bone-headed part was why coverage had been denied. It seems they wanted me to call and verify my family's status, that no one had outside insurance or Medicare. So they felt the quickest way was to simply deny the latest claim, figuring I'd call right away.

In all honesty, they were right. I did call right away. I think, however, that I would have preferred a simple phone call last week, and not have to find out when a local clinic sent me a large bill.
:: Morat 10:01 AM :: ::

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