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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

*Two* of you will get this one in its entirety.

But both of you will laugh heartily. The rest of you can suffer in eye-rolling silence. Except for Hilary. She'll be vocal about it.



[Via the best college football blog of all time, Every Day Should Be Saturday.]

P.J. O'Rourke mulls his mortality.

A funny and touching piece at the L.A. Times about his reaction to a cancer diagnosis.

God knows this stuff. He's God. He's all-knowing. What am I telling him, really? "Gosh, you sure are a good God. Good -- you own it. Plus you're infinitely wise, infinitely merciful, but ... look, everybody makes mistakes. A little cancer of the behind, it's not a big mistake. Not something that's going on your personal record. There's no reason it can't be, well ... reversed, is there?"

No doubt death is one of those mysterious ways in which God famously works. Except, on consideration, death isn't mysterious. Do we really want everyone to be around forever? I'm thinking about my own family, specifically a certain stepfather I had as a kid. Sayonara, you s.o.b.

Napoleon was doubtless a great man in his time -- at least the French think so. But do we want even Napoleon extant in perpetuity? Do we want him always escaping from island exiles, raising fanatically loyal troops of soldiers, invading Russia and burning Moscow?

Well, at the moment, considering Putin et al, maybe we do want that. But, century after century, it would get old. And what with Genghis Khan coming from the other direction all the time and Alexander the Great clashing with a Persia that is developing nuclear weapons and Roman legions destabilizing already precarious Israeli-Palestinian relations -- things would be a mess.


Has he become one of the tribe? He was raised Protestant and explained why that happened in one of his books, but he seems to be giving off beadsqueezer vibes in this one. Starting with the beadsqueezing reference.

Clusterfunk.

At the risk of boring you stiff (or creating a new genre of horror writing where Ben Bernanke wanders around moaning "Braiiiiiiiinnnnns") with the bailout stuff, I'll limit myself to two thoughts.

First, we had no leadership yesterday. None. Bush, being a lame duck and having cashed in his credibility chips, can't count.

But no one else stepped up. Not McCain, not Obama, not anyone in the House. No. Buh. Dee.

And a special Order of Demerit to San Fran Nan, whose shrieky partisanship failed to carry the day. Oddly enough. That wasn't a reason to vote against the package, and it was stupid for the GOP to say so. But her behavior did a nice job of squelching the argument that we are indeed, facing a crippling crisis. Instead, it's partisan point scoring as usual.

Imagine Churchill saying in 1940:

"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. Plus a boot to the arse of the brain-dead Labourites whose blinkered pacificism helped lead us to this precipice."

Not good.

Second: your head to the hills advice o' the day.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pleasant surprise.

I see from trusty SiteMeter that this is the best traffic month in the past calendar year--over 10,000 page views and 8100 visits.

I've had higher traffic, but only on bad personal news, so I'm happier with this result. Not sure why it's going up--only one full-blown Sheavalanche--but it's nice to see.

If you're new here, welcome, and feel free to identify yourself and/or codes/locations for your accounts and valuables. If you're a lurker here, and want to delurk anonymously, have at it. If you'd just like to post one of those obnoxious "FRIST!!" [sic]-type comments, it's a free country and an authoritarian blog.

How about "bailout month"?

Britain's financial sector is tottering (more like Europe's actually), showing that the American malady is a worldwide problem.

There are indications the giant European bank Fortis could go under.

Good news? Of sorts. The oil price continues to plummet and the dollar is getting stronger by the hour.

Just might want to fastball debate on the bailout, lads.

That was fun.

Unless you were a Badger.



[Photo credit David Guralnick, Detroit News.]

I'm proud to say I've now seen the two biggest comebacks in Michigan football history.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Because you asked for it!








Consider it a late bill for six years of unpaid subscriptions. Yes: six years of free brilliance. Feel the guilt...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Never been prouder.

Last night was the last soccer game of the season. They lost, 3-2, and Dale was in net for the deciding goal.

Therein lies the triumph.

Dale went in with his team down 2-1 in the second half, the coach's choice. Early in the half, he went to the ground to gobble up a ball in the goal. The girl on the other team followed through and kicked him in the head, just behind the ear.

A tearing shriek. The game stopped and we rushed out. Heather talked to him and he slowly got up into a sitting position. I asked her to take Louis. The coach called for his son to take Dale's place in net.

Dale asked if he was bleeding, and I assured him he was not. I checked him over closely and there wasn't a welt or any other damage, nor sign of a bruise.

I asked him if he was all right, and told him his team was depending on him. He said yes, and stayed in. The coach called off his son and high-fived mine. The other team's sideline applauded, as did ours.

For the rest of the game, he played the same way as before the kick to the head--aggressively (probably too aggressively) charging to the ball, and falling down to cover, follow through kicks be damned. Then flinging the ball out to his teammates to go on the attack. Matthew's dad came up to me and said "Your boy's going to need hockey goalie pads!" He let what turned out to be the deciding goal in and was very upset. I ran out to the net, wiped the snot off his nose and said "Win or lose, son, I am so proud of you. Don't worry about it and keep playing--you're doing the best you can." The tears stopped and he nodded out an OK. The game started up again and he charged the attackers in the zone, time and again.

"Boy, he's tough," one of our team's mom's said.

The Raiders didn't lose, they literally ran out of time, the whistle blown as they threatened to score again. But Dale sprinted off the field a winner anyway, no hint of shame on his face, proud admiration on mine.

So the Dow loses, what, 15% today?

I'm not being flippant, either.

A Meeting at Corvallis.

And USC did its best Norman-Arminger-at-room-temperature impression.

Heh, heh, heh.

Go Beavers!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New in an intermittent series.

Whatever problems I have with Islamic theology and practice, I freely admit that I love a lot of the art and architecture produced by the various strands of the religion, from giant mosques and madrassas to something as simple as candlesticks.

So, from time to time I'll be posting pictures of stuff I have particularly liked, and explanations of the meaning of the same to the best of my amateur(ish?) ability.

Today's is the Ottoman Turkish masterpiece known as the Selimiye Mosque. Located in Edirne (ancient Adrianople), the first European capital of the Ottoman Empire, the Selimiye was the towering achievement of one of the greatest architects of all time, Sinan. Sinan was born to Christian parents in Anatolia and was taken and forcibly converted to Islam as part of the horrific devshirme child-levy. [As occurred frequently with devshirme men, he did not forget where he came from and once intervened to protect Christians from a rapacious tax collector]. Too old to be inducted into the elite Janissary corps, he was shuffled off to administration and learned engineering instead. Sinan excelled in this field and it wasn't long before his talent was recognized and he was given more and more building projects. In fact, in Sinan's case, something analogous to "George Washington Slept Here" occurred--hundreds of structures in Turkey are claimed for him, though it is unlikely in the extreme that he hand a hand in the majority of them. But the Selimiye (named for Sultan Selim II) is definitely his baby:



The Selimiye was explicitly designed to best Hagia Sophia (the Ottomans were tired of hearing about how they had nothing to compare to this Christian achievement) in size, but does not quite do so.

This is the magnificent dome:



Here is a nice set of pictures by a tourist. Note how the dome "lights up" even on a foggy day.

This is the minbar (not that minbar, B5 fans) or pulpit:



The interior on a brighter day:



[Picture Credit]

Finally, as with all Ottoman architecture of the 16th-17th Centuries, you have to consider the Iznik tilework:



[Photo credit]

Here is an interesting article about the revival of the Iznik tile production methods, which had been long lost.

Bailout Week, Day 4.

Interesting news on multiple fronts:

1. Warren Buffett is not as sanguine as I thought, and calls the bailout necessary:

Billionaire Warren Buffett, calling turmoil in the markets an "economic Pearl Harbor," said his $5 billion investment in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is an endorsement of the Treasury's $700 billion bank rescue plan.

"I am betting on the Congress doing the right thing for the American public and passing this bill," Buffett said on cable channel CNBC today. "I certainly have a vote of confidence in Goldman and vote of confidence in Congress."


So I guess I drop my skepticism again.

2. According to CBS, McCain's campaign suspension is a response to Paulson's call for help to pass the bailout.

3. Hooray! I was right! I'm about to have an ownership stake in GM, Ford and Chrysler

4. Finally, Zach Frey reminds us of the limits of purchasing power.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Five kinds of awesome.

Winston Churchill holding a Thompson gun. And looking like he just might use it.



Why?

Why not?

It's bailout week here at the blog.

Compare and contrast:

William Gross' what's-in-it-for-Main-Street essay

with

John Avlon's Questioning King Henry [Paulson] skepticism.

My late father-in-law was fond of saying "The only thing you do in a hurry is screw up." I'm starting to lean towards the skeptical view. Please note that Warren Buffett just plopped five billllyun [Dr. Evil voice] dollars into the market. Unless he's turned instantly senile, things can't be on the verge of annihilation. In dire need of reform and repair, yes.

Financial Armageddon, not so much.

An evenhanded look at reporting on this Presidential campaign.

Stuart Taylor of the National Journal is one of the great straight-shooters in the world of political and legal commentary. He's fairly liberal but never lets political precommitments short-circuit the truth. He scores a direct hit here: Campaign Lies, Media Double Standards.

Some who have been admirers of John McCain think that the war hero has debased himself by using gross distortions to trash Barack Obama and his record. Others see the media fury over McCain's campaign ads as more evidence of a double standard driven by liberal bias at most major news organizations.

Both are right. Although each candidate is responsible for many distortions -- hardly a novelty -- McCain has lately been leading the race to the bottom. (Since the print version of this column went to press, Obama may have pulled even with McCain in the race to the bottom, or even ahead of him, by launching a scurrilously dishonest new Spanish-language TV ad. It misleadingly portrays McCain "and his Republican friends" as anti-immigrant bigots who say "lies just to get our vote." It also associates McCain with deceptively out-of-context quotes by Rush Limbaugh -- no friend of McCain's -- about "stupid and unskilled Mexicans." Jake Tapper of ABC News provides details.)

At the same time, many in the media have been one-sided, sometimes adding to Obama's distortions rather than acting as impartial reporters of fact and referees of the mud fights.

We still have many great journalists, but I no longer trust the major newspapers or television networks to provide consistently accurate and fair reporting and analysis of all the charges and countercharges. This in an era when the noise produced by highly partisan TV hosts and blogs creates a crying need for at least one newspaper that we can count on to play it straight.


Read the whole thing.

Abort, retry, FAIL.

ESPN is reporting on the end of the Millen-ium. See if you can spot the glaring factual error in this account:

The Matt Millen era is reportedly over in Detroit.

The embattled Lions team president and general manager is leaving the position, FOXSports.com reported Wednesday. It was unclear whether he had been fired or had resigned, according to the report.

The move comes two days after Bill Ford Jr., the son of team owner William Clay Ford, publicly said he would have fired Millen if he had the authority to do so.

The Lions are 31-84 under Millen and have won only one playoff game during his tenure. But until this point, the Lions have resisted widespread demands from fans seeking Millen's ouster.

According to the report, Millen had informed a number of employees about the change on Wednesday morning and had large packing boxes in his office.


Wire services.

I walked around the office to a couple of sports-obsessed colleagues. I didn't have to say a word--they both started laughing when I stuck my head in the office.

I told my wife that the atmosphere is a little like the liberation of Paris in 1944. I keep looking for ticker tape floating in the air.

Our long regional nightmare is over.

Millen is out as GM, President.

Big thanks to witless chum for that find.

Goooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllllll!

The Boy™ scored his first goal in the youth soccer (ages 4-6) league last night.

He's had a pretty good season overall, having one goal waved off and then being stoned at point blank range on three shots he needed to put more leg into. He's also a go-to goalie, having been in net more often than any other member of the team. He's mobile and smothers the ball, which is what the coach wants. He's also good with the clears. He was in net for their one loss (3-1), but the other team was playing at a different level.

His team, the Raiders, is 8-1 going into its last game on Thursday. Last night, they beat one of the other 2 teams that had only one loss, and convincingly: 7-0.

I have fought against (and hopefully succeeded) becoming one of Those Parents. Yes, I am loud, but it is an encouraging loud, cheering for all of the kids on the team. And I felt really sorry for the first half goalie for the other team, who was absolutely shelled (5 goals, D3's being the 4th) and in tears.

The Boy reacted to his score with a cool glance to the sideline and two thumbs up, which caused a lot of laughter. I found out after, though, that he was bent on scoring. He told my Mom and Dad that his internal monologue was "You're going down!" as he took his shots.

It's been a lot of fun, and he's on a good team. One of the girls, Abby, is absolutely lethal (she had a hat trick last night, but has scored at least one goal in every game). When she has the ball, everyone relaxes and watches the clinic. The coach's son, Anthony, is another wizard with the ball and a good teammate who does whatever he's asked without question--no coach's son syndrome there. Nico, the son of European immigrants, would be unstoppable if he didn't have a "Give Me 40 Acres and I'll Turn This Ball Around" approach to moving the ball. Dylan and Matthew are also good, rangy players with deft scoring touches. Dale's about their level, skill-wise. Ben is our nephew (son of Heather's brother) and has been absolutely robbed on about four scoring chances. He really mixes it up well and moves the ball around the field. He also own-goaled his surprised but forgiving cousin.

Then there are the 4 year olds. Avery is a neat little red-headed girl who used to stand on the field and cry at the beginning of games. Now she charges into the scrums like a rugby player, to the delight of her mom and everyone else who has watched the transformation. Eric is the assistant coach's son. Eric is a good natured kid, but I think he'd rather be wrestling. He's a good friend of Ben and they like to put each other in hammerlocks when they are both playing fullback. In fact, Eric likes putting a lot of people in hammerlocks. He also has been known to tune out when the ball is far, far away. Then there's Jake, the smallest of the lot by about four inches. His team shirt hangs on him like a tent. His mom promised him a toy light saber if he scored a goal, and sure enough, she's had to pay up. He also likes to get in the middle of the action, which has to be a little scary for his parents.

A salute to the coaches is also in order. They are good guys who recognize that this is just about having fun (no wagering, please). The head coach regularly puts the brakes on, shuffling the best players to defense or the sidelines when it threatens to become really embarrassing. He even played five-a-side with a team that would have had no substitutions otherwise.

Thursday's the last game of the summer season, but we are already signing the Freckled Beckenbauer up for the spring campaign. And are going to McDonald's afterward.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thoughtful analysis on the scope and necessity of the proposed bailout.

Donald Luskin hits all the right notes in this essay. Looks like I'll have to temper my praise of Secretary Paulson:

There’s simply no objective way to know whether the banking system is as close to disaster as top officials at the Treasury and Federal Reserve claim. They themselves don’t really know. This is a "banking crisis," they say. But then again, other politicians claim there is a "health care crisis," an "immigration crisis," an "energy crisis," and so on.

There’s no doubt that there is serious turmoil in the banking system and financial markets. But that doesn’t mean the proposed extraordinary intervention by the government in private markets is justified, considering that throughout history we have periodically gone through convulsions worse than today’s and survived them without such interventions.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation there have been 15 bank failures in the U.S. between 2007 and today. We had thousands over a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since the stock market hit an all-time high last October, the S&P 500 has fallen 23 percent. It fell more than twice that — 49 percent — during the last bear market, between March 2000 to October 2002.

Even if you grant that this really is a "crisis," and that it justifies an extraordinary intervention, there can be no doubt that the $700 billion authority being sought for the purchase of distressed mortgage-related securities is far too great an amount. Of the $1.26 trillion in non-prime mortgages — that is, "sub-prime" and "Alt-A" mortgages — $743 billion is already either owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, companies that were shored up by a government rescue earlier this month. That leaves $521 billion, which means the Treasury’s $700 billion would be more than enough to buy them all. And that’s even if the Treasury paid full value. In fact, the Treasury will get a steep discount, considering that many of the mortgages in question are in delinquency or default. Does the Treasury really have to buy every single non-prime mortgage — even the healthy ones — twice over?

* * *

And assuming that it is necessary, and assuming that it is likely to work, is this epoch-making intervention in private markets morally justifiable? Die-hard conservatives — especially deficit-hawks and free-market libertarians — would say no. But some mitigating circumstances should be considered.

It seems at first blush that spending $700 billion to buy mortgage-related securities would be a budget buster. But remember, this is not government "spending." It is government "investment." The Treasury would issue bonds, pay a low interest rate on those bonds, and use the proceeds to buy mortgage-related bonds that pay a high interest rate and can probably be sold at a profit in the future.

It also seems at first blush that the government ought to not bail out banks that made terrible investments they now regret. But remember, many of these bad investments were the result of government meddling. Would we be experiencing a sharp housing downturn, and a wave of mortgage defaults, if the Federal Reserve had not created a housing bubble and a mortgage bubble in the first place by artificially lowering interest rates to 1 percent in 2003 and 2004? And how much was the housing bubble inflated by the highly leveraged mortgage buying spree of government-sponsored and government-influenced Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Shouldn’t the government shoulder some responsibility for its own mistakes?


Skepticism seems to be growing on the Hill.

A sporting palette cleanser.



What more needs to be said? Three games in, and the season's over.

You will probably have noticed that I don't get particularly worked up over Lions successes (despite their rarity) or failures (which would fill a couple sets of Britannicas).

Lions fandom has taught me that indifference is the best medicine. Oh, it's not perfect, but they don't move me one way or another. Most of the time, I watch with the same detachment I have when I see Sven, Ingeborg, Leif and Umlautssen battling it out in the MetRx World's Strongest Man Competition.

Deep down, I actually give a hoot what happens to the team, but the willed resignation prevents it from affecting me too much.

That said, the Lions' blogosphere has reached fusion. Even the owner's son has demanded the head of Teflon Matt Millen. I recommend a visit over to Big Al's indispensible The Wayne Fontes Experience, wherein he offers (strong language warning) a few suggestions and surveys the meltdown in LionsNation. He also came up with the headstone, which is dead solid perfect if you have been following this trainwreck at all this year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The MCJ is Back on the Air!

Check it out here, and adjust your blogrolls.

New Politics. Hope. Change.

Rumanian coal miners.



Oh, and the campaign has decided it's going to shout down anybody who offers a criticism in a public forum.

The aggressive rebuttals are very much informed by Obama's determination to avoid being victimized by the sort of attacks leveled against Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee stung by TV ads run by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Except, of course, that regurgitating scripted bullet-points that boil down to "he's a liar!" isn't a "rebuttal," no more than a group of zombies saying "braaaaaaainnnnnnns" constitutes a dialogue.

Hope. Change. New Politics.

When the Senator said Palin's family was out of bounds, he didn't mean a word of it.

Message received.

Right on cue, a stream of allegedly grassroots videos defaming Palin. Until, uh, it was noticed that they were coming right out of a firm retained by Obama's campaign manager. Then they started to get yanked at light speed.

Four years of this? No thanks. McCain-Palin has my vote.

Let's make sure the low blows aim for witty.

Yeah, I'm one to talk.

Nevertheless, GKC has a good point. I'm far from her biggest fan, but recycling the DB insult is not the tone I want to set. Less crude, more funny, please.

Something more along the lines of "If Worf had settled down with Angela Davis, she'd be their daughter"--that's more like it.

Oh, and as regards "policing" the blog on my behalf: I hereby deputize you to make citizens' arrests. As you can tell, I tend to be a haphazard moderator at the best of times.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Remember all the leftists saying how awful it was for Godbotherers to try to end P.Z. Myers' livelihood?

Yeah, that was awesome:

"I think Mike Koelzer is a contemptible, sanctimonious ass, and I hope he goes out of business," said Myers on his blog on Monday. "[Please, if you live in Grand Rapids, boycott Kay Pharmacy.] If Mike Koelzer comes to your town to speak in some demented fundagelical [sic] church, feel free to picket and protest, and feel free to attend and grill him with difficult questions."

Before we dismiss Prof. Aneurysm's statements out of hand, we must give due weight to the fact that he's easily one of the top ten contemptible and sanctimonious asses in North America. So, if you subscribe to the "takes one to know one" theory...

Naturally, Dr. Cranky's herd mind of free-thinkers sprang into action, covering themselves with glory and advancing the banner of Pure Reason into the benighted heartlands of religious ignorance:

Koelzer confirmed that he had received over 400 emails in the 36 hours since Myers' post, but he remarked that the 'difficult questions' Myers wanted his readers to grill him with were nowhere to be found.
"I had to read all of the messages," Koelzer told LifeNews.com. "They were quite boring. None of them offered up any real argument, and they were all demanding I give them their choice while denying my own choice."

"It was like they were following the same script, as if it was their own church or club, using the same boring rhetoric, and the same 5 or 6 words or phrases were repeated often such as 'sanctimonious,' 'fairy in the sky,' 'bronze age,' and 'crackers,'" added Koelzer.

"I was handed a script of what their arguments were," observed Koelzer. "Attacks with no reasoning or posing of an argument, demanding I do everything and anything they want."

The messages also displayed a lack of understanding and outright attempts at deception.
Several messages assumed that Koelzer charged for his speaking engagements and accused him of trying to generate speaking revenue, and others attacked him by lumping his position with unrelated fundamentalist Christian ideals such as creationism.

Many of the messages were sent by people posting as customers, claiming they had been to the store and received 'lectures,' or gave names that were not among the customers of Kay Pharmacy.

"My customers who didn't like the policy left 6 years ago," said Koelzer.

Some messages, however, threatened violence to the store or Koelzer himself, such as, "Burn[ing] the building to the ground."

Voltaire would be so proud. Oddly enough, there is no word yet from Dr. Science about his minions' threats of violence, nor how it might reflect badly on
"rationalism."

Drop the good doctor a note of support here.

[H/t to Larry for the find.]

Is this something?

Deal Hudson at Inside Catholic reports that McCain has shifted on a part of embryonic stem cell research. The right folks are squawking about it, but any insight that can be offered would be greatly appreciated.

Economics is not my strong suit.

But it looks like we all owe Hank Paulson a round of applause for keeping Wall Street from gargling with buckshot.

Was this ultra-bailout really necessary? Yep:

[T]he financial system probably couldn't take another week like the one we just went through. Stocks plunging, credit markets freezing. As economist Robert Brusca puts it, "The proposed US government rescue plan comes at the end of a week of almost unprecedented turmoil on world financial markets amid a crisis of confidence in banks."

The government had to get ahead of the curve and quit reacting on a case-by-case basis. If you look at banking crises in Japan and Sweden, for instance, all roads eventually led to a government bailout with taxpayer money at risk. The rule in these cases seems to be the sooner, the better. If you want more evidence, markets around the world and here in the United States are soaring on this news. Strategist Richard Bernstein of Merrill Lynch, in a research note, says the bailout plan is "an opportunity for the government to solve the on-going problems through one system-wide solution."

...[C]ould we have avoided needing a bailout? Perhaps the government could have offered this sort of plan a year ago and dispensed with the massive rate cuts and the new loan facilities from the Federal Reserve. Clearly neither Ben Bernanke or Hank Paulson thought the situation would escalate the way it has. Recall that Bernanke at one point called this a $100 billion problem. It now looks like he was off by a factor of ten or 20.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Three of you will get this.

And I say let us chuckle knowingly together.



Aunt Esther reminds us that lookism is bad.



Obama spoke in Charlotte on Thursday morning at a women's round-table on economic issues. The crowd roared at her remark disparaging voters who might cast a ballot because of a woman's looks, a clear jab at Republican vice presidential pick Sarah Palin.

Obama tried to clarify her remark with a smile, saying she was talking about herself.


I'm also coming around strongly to the idea that the pig/lipstick comment was not an innocent mistake.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yes, I will be reviewing the

No. 19 book on the New York Times Best Seller list this weekend.

Anybody who wants to chime in with their own reviews in the comment box, feel free.

In the meantime, I'm going to plug another work by the same author, and one you might have overlooked: Ice, Iron and Gold.


II&G is an anthology collecting Steve's short fiction, including some stuff I remember from more obscure Baen anthologies like "Power." It’s not complete–for example, if you’re looking for the Kzinti or Deathworld stuff (which is longer, admittedly), you won’t find it here. As with all anthologies, not everything captures the imagination equally. However, it is a very rewarding read for military sci-fi enthusiasts and especially for long-time fans who can see the development of ideas and themes which will animate his novels.

There are thirteen stories here, and they run the gamut from hard sci-fi to fantasy to mystery. Fans of the Nantucket series will be delighted with Riding Shotgun to Armageddon, a side story set in the climactic campaign against William Walker. Emberverse devotees will want Something for Yew, a mystery set in His Majesty’s post-Change Imperial Britain. A mystery featuring some very familiar denizens of Oregon, as it turns out, he says obscurely.

The largest "single" story is the three-tale Bolo arc. Bolos are more-or-less artificially intelligent mobile fortresses (to call them "tanks" is a little like calling a Harley a Big Wheel) sent with troops abroad. Hopelessly expensive, they are largely self-maintaining. In the arc, the Bolo accompanies American troops in some pointless brushfire war in Central America. Things fall apart back home and the troops and their invincible war machine are faced with daunting choices. And here is where a familiar theme comes in–looking for home and a place to belong. The soldiers are leaderless and a long way from a home that really isn’t theirs any more. So they decide to establish one, in a rather chivalrous fashion, as it turns out.

Similar, if far more grim, is "Roachstompers," focusing on new type of despised Border Patrol unit that tries to stem the tide of refugees (and much worse) on behalf of a decayed United States. (The instability is caused by the complete collapse of the oil market when cold fusion is perfected) When the far more confrontational Cold War turns hot for the Border Rangers, they, too, are left homeless. Again, the theme of finding a place is prominent.

Also notable is the quasi-Drakaesque "Cops and Robbers," involving the attempted apprehension of a time-traveling agent from a completely malign British Empire.

More positive, and I suspect dear to his heart and the heart of Anglophile monarchists everywhere, is "The Charge of Lee’s Brigade," set in a world where the American Revolution was averted by a brilliant compromise engineered by William Pitt. In it, Robert E. Lee leads Royal North American cavalrymen against the Russian Empire in the Crimea. Griping, rather amusingly, about vague orders.

Finally (for this review), is "The Apothesis of Martin Padway," an homage-sequel to L. Sprague DeCamp’s "Lest Darkness Fall," wherein an American archaeologist is sent back in time to Gothic Rome, just in time to thwart the vile Byzantines’ attempt to reconquer Italy. "Apothesis" follows the post-war success and surprising elevation of Mr. Padway. Fun trivia side note–LDF was what convinced Harry Turtledove to study Byzantine history.

Please note that my failure to provide a review for each story doesn’t mean I particularly dislike any of the others, but there’s only so much time in a day. It is quite worth your time. Take, read

The Important Thing to Remember About St. Robert Bellarmine on his Feast Day.

Sure, the great Jesuit was a brilliant thinker and expositor of the Catholic Faith. And he was a sensitive political thinker, positing that democracy was fundamentally compatible with Catholicism. Not for nothing was the man made a Doctor of the Church. Moreover, he's one of my personal favorites.

Yes, those things are important and should be brought to mind today.

But the most important thing about him is not as well-known. The most important thing to remember is that St. Robert Bellarmine was a ninja:


Thanks to the late, lamented Speculative Catholic for that, and to Fr. Mark Mossa for saving the image.

I don't know...

The Hitchhiker's Guide is coming back.

I loved them back in middle and high school. I remember reading the first installment in my 8th grade English class, red-faced and somehow stifling the laughter enough to leave Mrs. Wegner suspicious, as opposed to certain, that I was up to non-studying. I have the entire set hardbound, in leather, no less.

Yes, the final book was downbeat (though still funny), and Adams regretted that. Moreover, he'd started work on another book, and had a chapter more or less worked out, featuring Ford Prefect, IIRC.

Butbutbut...

There was only one Douglas Adams. I'm content to know that Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and the rest of the mad gang were still out and about, even if Adams never quite worked out how, precisely.

Really--when has this new author concept ever worked out? Artistically, I mean.

Great news!

I woke up this morning and found out I now own one of the biggest insurance companies in the world!

Whoo-hoo!

My first action as owner is a sweetheart deal--lower insurance rates on the coverage area of your choice (home, fire, car, etc.) for all my readers!

Stay tuned: I get the feeling I'm about to acquire an ownership interest in three Detroit automakers, too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

And now for a moment of GOP condemnation.

A racist atrocity from the Right--"Obama Waffles."

Hyuk, hyuk.

Asked if he considered the pictures of Obama on the box to be racial stereotypes, Whitlock said: "We had some people mention that to us, but you think of Newman's Own or Emeril's — there are tons and tons of personality-branded food products on the market. So we've taken that model and, using political satire, have highlighted his policies, his position changes."

Not to mention his (nonexistent) big lips and (nonexistent) bug-eyed expression. To you, dear sir, I offer a hearty "Bullshit." The only thing it lacked was Steppin Fetchit dialogue, you bigoted asshat.

Don't remotely try to defend this in the combox, either--my mind is happily closed.

Rick Wright, Rest in Peace.

The Pink Floyd keyboardist died of cancer at age 65.

A gifted musician, and the victim of uber-prick Roger Waters' ego-driven vendetta, it was nice to see Dave Gilmour bring him back on right after Waters left the band to be a Very Important Musician who sold a fistful of records.

Sure, Floyd's music got really new-agey after Waters was gone, but so be it.

God rest his soul.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chris Johnson's temporary new digs.

Can be found here. He's having hosting trouble, and is looking for a new home for the indispensable MCJ.

For my part, I suspect that the server trouble stems from the fact the Rams are somehow worse than the Lions.

For the moment.

You know...

...I really don't need this shit.

I'd made my peace with the idea that his support for embryonic stem cell research was tepid and subject to being overtaken by technological advances.

Nope:

The ad does not specifically refer to embryonic research, which is opposed by most politicians and activists who, like McCain, do not support abortion rights.

The omission is not a signal that McCain is backing away from his record in favor of embryonic stem cell research, spokesman Brian Rogers said.

“Clearly, John McCain supports it,” he said, emphasizing that the ad is intended to refer to all forms of stem cell research, including experiments using human embryos and those using cells from adults.


Goodbye to all that. Have fun storming the castle without me. [Cue strikethroughs.]

[Update: Then again, do I really want the psychotic left in power? No, not even slightly.

Lord, what an unholy mess.]

[Update II: The Obama campaign does its part to drive me back into the McCain camp. Cult of personality much? Never has one man done so little to inspire so much fervor in so many.]

So, looks like I have no option apart from the grievously-flawed Mac and his far more palatable No. 2. Here's hoping he doesn't make her his clone on social issues.

McCain-Palin: Because the alternative will make you vomit.

Weekends. Yay.

The van broke down as I was running errands with Rachel.

During the brutal downpour (was any of that Ike-related over the weekend?) on Saturday afternoon. Rachel was very impressed that her daddy was able to push the vehicle off of Utica Road as he was getting drenched.

She was the picture of patience, as we waited for the wrecker by listening to the Michael York reading of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe on CD. By the way, continuing stunned gratitude to my good friend Eric, who gave us the entire Chronicles on CD, gratis.

The thing just flat-out stalled out and refused to restart. A nearby office building was open and we were invited in by a sympathetic gentleman whom I thanked profusely. There was even a vending machine where I could get snacks (Rachel's big on KitKats). Continuing good fortune--the "other Heather" was travelling by our breakdown area and agreed to pick up Rachel so she could go home. As it turned out, Rachel was a *very* involved backseat driver as Heather took her home.

The wrecker got there and the van started, naturally. But the check engine light stayed on. Diagnosis--none yet.

The other Heather generously picked me up from the repair center and brought me back.

In time to see the Wolverines poop the bed against ND. I have very low expectations this season: 7-5, plus a win in a Weed Eater-tier Bowl. Not a good performance even by those expectations.

But--every week shows improvement in some facet of the game. At last, Steven "Not a Dual" Threet is getting a feel for the offense, the line is giving him time, and Sam McGuffie is a marvel. The defense is hot and cold, but you can't expect miracles when you keep turning the ball over. And over. And over.

Patience is the order of the day. From what I've seen so far, barring injuries, this team is going to be dangerous (to others) by the end of the season.

As to the Lions--well, come on. I can find better uses for my Sundays. I check in on radio or TV long enough for the Ford Field Follies to mistake their way out of victory. The NHL starts up in a couple of weeks.

[Update: The bad news is that the fix (per the onboard computer, a cam sensor (?))is not covered by the otherwise useful extended warranty. The good news is that the van is running fine without it, and it's not remotely certain there's an actual problem that needs to be fixed. So, we're just going to pick it up and run with it, safe in the knowledge that the current bill has the decimal point in the right spot.]

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The bear reports that it has retained counsel and is considering legal options.

Bicyclist hits bear. Solidly.

Jim Litz said he was traveling about 25 mph Monday morning when he came upon a rise and spotted a black bear about 10 feet in front of him. He didn't have time to stop and T-boned the bruin.

He tumbled over the handlebars, his helmet hit the bear's back and the two went cartwheeling down the road.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It is still just "The Day."

[Just a reminder: This is a "Truther"-[sic]-free zone. You try to peddle your fraudulent wares here--on this of all days--and I'll boot your ass out so fast you'll red-shift.]



I've said pretty much all I can say about it in the following posts: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006a, 2006b (buy the DVD) and 2007.

The only thing I'll add is that it's sad that somehow during the last seven years "Never Forget" turned into "Remember What?"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Just when I thought I was out--they pull me back in!

That would be "political blogging."

Sit back and marvel: I don't think I've ever seen a bigger political freakout/meltdown in my life than what I've seen with respect to the Democrats and Gov. Palin.

The latest installment? Carol Fowler, the head of the South Carolina Democratic Party, says Palin's main qualification is that she didn't have an abortion.

They sure do fixate on little Trig a lot, don't they?

[Bonus fun fact: her husband was the cretin who thought it was a sign of God's favoring the Dems that Gustav was going to plow into New Orleans during the GOP convention. None of the usual suspects shrieked about theocrats on this one, and Mr. Fowler was just joshin', of course. I now understand fully why SC is so reliably red.]

Democrats: the electoral equivalent of the Judean People's Front Crack Suicide Squad.

Because I've reached my politics saturation point for the moment.

Though, fear not, I have a fisk about 2/3 done. We'll see if the batteries recharge.

In the meantime, I would like to apologize to all fans of the New England Patriots for Tom Brady's season-ending ACL injury. Why apologize? you ask.

Simple--I'm responsible. I drafted him in the first round of the fantasy league draft.

Grrrrr.

Don't weep too much, though--it's a six team league and Roethlisberger was my backup. Oh, and Philip Rivers was still on the FA list, so I snapped (no pun intended) him up as soon as possible.

Another apology, to Tennessee Titan loyalists: I drafted that fragile soul Vince Young (what the--? Seriously) in my brother-in-law's two QB league. I'm sucking wind on that one, though--there are twelve teams there, and there's squat on the waiver wire until somebody else severs a tendon.

Meh.

I think that the "pig in lipstick" reference is just the most well-reported of the Senator's verbal stumbles on the campaign trail, and nothing more. Given that Obama surrogates are seeing racism in the fact that black olives are imprisoned in steel cans while the green ones get to see the light of day, I don't think it's wise to play the same card.

I think Ann Althouse gets this one perfectly, right down to exactly why some women have reacted badly to it.

Rally To My Banner, O Hussars!

Or something like that. I've added a widget to the side of the blog, whereby you can identify yourself as one of my mind-gelde--er, regular readers. Scroll down to "My Lone Gunmen," which, fittingly enough, has the all-too-kind Cathy as the only current member.

That way, you'll get regular notice of posts and help feed my growing megalomania.

It's a package deal.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

To quote Keanu: "Whoa."

Archbishop Niederauer to speak with Nancy Pelosi about whether she should continue to receive communion.

As Mark is wont to say: "Episcopal Spine Alert!"

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has accepted an invitation from San Francisco’s archbishop to discuss whether she should continue to receive communion at the Catholic Church in the wake of comments she made about abortion.

San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer requested the meeting after receiving letters and e-mails from “many Catholics” expressing dismay over Pelosi’s remarks that the question of when life begins remained controversial within the church. He said many of those writing questioned whether Pelosi should be able to receive communion.

Pelosi made the remarks in an Aug. 24 interview with “Meet the Press” host Tom Brokaw. In response to Brokaw’s question, “When does life begin?” Pelosi answered, “We don’t know. The point is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.” She went on to say, “I don’t think anyone can tell you when life begins — when human life begins.”

After Brokaw said that the Catholic Church believes strongly that life begins at conception, Pelosi said, “I understand,” but went on to say it had been an issue of controversy within the church for the past 50 years.

Her comments have been criticized by several Catholic Church officials, and Niederauer described them as being “in serious conflict” with the church in the Sept. 5 issue of Catholic San Francisco. Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl issued a separate statement the day after Pelosi’s “Meet the Press” appearance, criticizing the comments as “incorrect.”

Niederauer concluded that, based on Catholic Church statements, it is up to him as Pelosi’s pastor to address whether she may continue to receive communion.

“Accordingly, as her pastor, I am writing to invite her into a conversation with me about these matters. It is my obligation to teach forthrightly and to shepherd caringly, and that is my intent.
“Let us pray together that the Holy Spirit will guide us all toward a more profound understanding and appreciation for human life, and toward a resolution of these differences in truth and charity and peace,” Niederauer wrote.


Exactly the right action, with exactly the right genuinely pastoral tone. Bravo to the Archbishop, who has taken a lot of flak and has been accused of inertia on the issue. Definitely not the case now.

This is a relief.

He's taking a few days off.

I've been doing a little re-evaluating of the Atlantic's flagship blogger over the past few days.

Do not get me wrong--Sullivan has been nothing short of vile since Palin became the VP candidate, and has been on a general nasty downward trajectory for two years now, making him unreadable during that time.

But.

His work has been scintillating in the past, and I am grateful for that. He isn't remotely the same man now, save on the occasional issue (torture), and even there his general viciousness probably does more harm than good. However, I have to remind myself that he is a physically sick man and that the sick are commended to our care. There's nothing we can do to actually treat his illness (apart from prayer), but we can remember that sick people lash out and we have to gauge our response accordingly.

Not easy to do when he repeatedly calls the Pope a closet case, expresses sadistic glee about the opening of divorce files and publicly questions the maternity of a special-needs child, but it's something I have to do regardless.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sprout.

Seven.

Seven.

Maddie at birth. She had me wrapped around her tiny fingers about two seconds post-birth.


Maddie, circa 3 months, with the late, great Bailey. She always loved that cat and I'm pretty sure it was reciprocated.

Maddie, during her recent hospital stay.

She can't be seven--I've been watching the whole time.

A public service announcement.

My Uncle Bob has read the blog and notes that I have omitted some pertinent facts about him, namely his "boyish good looks, athletic build, charming ways and intellectual prowess."

Fair enough. And to that I would add "almost saintly humility," even though I'm sure it comes through.

The really important thing was that I had done a good job for "my Sarah," and I think we can all agree on that.

OK, it was a touchdown. But they're still behind.

Still and all, a little Palinmania for yah:

Yesterday's sign that the GOP base is jacked: the Macomb County campaign headquarters was out of yard signs.

H/t to Jonah Goldberg for the tag line, and to Despair for the software.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Take a deep, cleansing breath or four.

And enjoy the following football metaphor.

Yes, Sarah Palin did great last night. But a little perspective: it's one night in a campaign that, at last check, is scheduled to last two more months.

I'll avoid the baseball terminology everyone else uses and instead will compare her to the greatest running back ever to lace up cleats: Mr. Barry Sanders.

Lions fans like myself (though I barely cling (HA!) to the title) remember that Barry was a back who could astonish you on a five yard run, making several NFL defenders look like they had strange nervous disorders in the process. He saw the field, watched as the usually outmanned offensive line failed to keep holes open, reversed course, and spun and juked his way to a decent gain that lesser mortals could not have achieved.

That's what Sarah Palin did last night. For three days, the GOP reeled under every stupid, lying attack tossed at their VP designate and tossed the ball to Palin. Against the odds, she dazzled her way for a nice gain and left her critics looking stupid.

Good stuff. I was cheering for her and she came through, big time. But in terms of the campaign, all she got was a first down. That's all she could get, realistically speaking, and it was definitely a play to remember.

But there's another two quarters to go, and the GOP ticket is still behind.

In the immortal words of George Lucas: "Don't get cocky, kid."

And also remember this: the Lions never won a title with Barry Sanders.

"Cold water splashed on Palinmania: Check."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

That explains it.

Last week I was taking the Detroit People Mover and ran into a nice couple from Ohio.

They were camping north of the city and had decided to come downtown to see Greektown and the MGM Grand Casino. When I asked them where they were from, they said Toledo. I mentioned that I know someone who lives in Norwalk. They laughed and said they were camping with friends from Norwalk. "They're from Norwalk. They're crazy," they said, with a demeanor that said it explained it all.

Hmmm.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

L'affaire(s) Palin.

Well, quite a set of firestorms which blew up, eh?

My mom's younger brother, Bob, should write a book. The stories he could tell warrant one, and I've long admired his sense of humor, which runs the gamut from understated to bawdy. Actually, me and my brother have hero-worshipped Uncle Bobby from the start. My mom's side has Danes in the family tree, and there must be something about America which lets the usually taciturn Danes hoist their freak flag. Remind me to tell you about his jalapeno cornbread and the black cocaine he calls coffee. He and my dad get along really well, which, if you knew the both of them, is something of a miracle of family amity.

Probably has something to do with the fart jokes. Like I said, freak flag flying.

Bob is an ex-hippie, a former resident of Amsterdam and long-time citizen of the great state of Alaska. He is also an unpaid spokesman for Stroh's beer, though I think he's had to wean himself off that given the collapse of the brand. His home in Seward's Folly has been the cosmopolitan Alaskan town of Talkeetna (pronounced "Tell-keet-nuh").

And I say "cosmopolitan" without a hint of irony. Alaska is America's last frontier, and can be fairly compared to a half-million square mile version of Tombstone, only with better vistas and more reliable water supplies. It draws all kinds. He walked around with a video camera for a week shooting his beloved town, and it's nothing short of rivetting. They say it takes all kinds, but Talkeetna has a few kinds yet to be catalogued. Bobby's been a dedicated employee of an Alaska utility for decades, and has built himself a "cabin" in the wilderness, right in the shadow of Denali. He's not exactly been a GOP booster. No one on my mom's side has ever been.

All of this is a long introduction to the following point: my uncle Bob is a pro-Sarah Palin fanatic.

Sure, he knows her father-in-law, but that's hardly the reason. The reason he supports her? She's a fearless politician who took on the (remarkably corrupt) Alaska GOP and has stuck to the reform agenda since she became Governor. It takes a lot to get him enthusiastic about politics, and Palin's tenure in Alaska politics has managed to do that.

My thoughts are a work in progress, but here goes.

First, if you've raised the experience issue with respect to Obama, then you have to be intellectually honest enough to apply it to Palin as well. On the other hand, if you've been willing to make allowances for Obama's thin resume', then shut your yap and go back to playing with your official Community Organizer! action figure (Now with Placard-Wielding Grip!). At a minimum, her experience compares favorably with that of John Edwards. But concerns over her experience are still eminently reasonable, and deserve exploration. And while Biden has more terms in office, there comes a point where it's more seniority than experience. Plus, being the Senatorial caddy for MBNA's licensed usury does nothing to endear the Gaffe-o-matic to me. Brief digression: that said, I suspect I'd like to crack open a beer with Biden, though. I find him a lot more of a genuine guy than I did Kerry.

Second, with respect to her family situation--the frenzy over it is ugly. CNN even sent a reporter to look into whether her youngest son is really hers. Think about that for a moment. Two days after she's tabbed as a VP candidate, "the most trusted name in news" [sic] is investigating rumors which were started on a hard leftist website. Compare the instant investigation with Anderson Cooper's agonized handwringing over "Why are we covering the Jeremiah Wright story?") I guess a news network's got to have its enthusiasms.

Obama's association with Jeremiah Wright--non-issue we're forced to talk about. Trig Palin's parentage rumors--DEPLOY! GO! GO! GO!

While a contributor to a blog that calls itself Catholic is more worked up about something that tired blowhard Limbaugh said (and is absolutely mute on the scurrilous attacks on the Palin family), it's important to remember that there just might--possibly, hypothetically mind you--be an agenda at work in the flood-the-zone coverage you are seeing.

Third (and related to no. 2)--the left, with a few honorable exceptions, has lost its mind. Hatred--simon-pure and gloating--is the order of the day. Oh, and Andrew Sullivan is officially a horrible excuse for a human being. The thought-provoking iconoclast of 2000 is dead and mouldering, and there's an intellectually dishonest shill and bad-faith poseur sitting in his place.

Fourth, and related to No. 3: Don't tell a theocrat such as myself what to get worked up about (language warning). Specifically, pregnancy out of wedlock. News flash: Dedicated Christian parents who love and are loved by their children have seen those children go astray, despite their best efforts. Be it drugs, sex, smoking, violent behavior, booze or flat out abandonment of religion, we've seen it happen. And we've seen it happen to good parents who did their best. Sure, some pharasaical jerks will get on their high horses. But most of us will sympathize and pray we and ours can avoid the same problems.

Fifth, and a tougher question: Trig and his candidate mom's schedule. First of all--to you lefties now singing the praises of stay-at-home motherhood: welcome aboard! For the entirely mercenary and cynical moment you plan to stay. Stick by the edge: it'll make your leap back off that much easier. Frankly, we don't want you all that close in the first place.

We decided that Heather would return to work after Maddie was born. If I may may be so brazen as to speak on her behalf, I think it was the longest eight months of Heather's life. Leaving her daughter tore her up, every time. But we had to. And it stopped after Dale was born, and it worked out as well as possible (albeit with some serious financial hits along the way). However, I've always said that not everyone can do this, and sometimes you have to have both working. While I think that politics is an elective job in more ways than one, it seems to be the case that this was an unexpected pregnancy. And you have to let the unexpected pregnancy take you where it will. While I'm not comfortable with the idea of the grueling campaign separating mother and infant, I'm not living in their shoes, and this is definitely a situation where everybody in the family has to pitch in.

Last and least: it looks like a good pick. She's smart, has a history of integrity in the political sphere and does have more executive experience at the state level than anyone else on either ticket. She's also held up well in the face of hideous bullshit attacks, which can be counted on to continue for the next two months.

Buckle up--should be very, very interesting.