May 31, 2011

Really, I Think We’re Going to Be Just Fine

Still working in WV, through the Grace and Generosity of the LofM. The life she is so different here that I feel at a loss to explain it.

There’s a steady stream of young men showing up at the job site just to ask for work. I finally hired a new guy after he showed up to work three days in a row--that’s when I learned he had been walking here from Ohio for six bucks an hour. Walking. From Ohio. Circa 13 miles. He’s been living in an RV with no running water. I offered him a shower and use of our washer and dryer. He suggested working two days without pay as compensation. He ate three bowls of pork stew.

JA has been working for me since I got here. Yesterday he showed up with a toothache. It’s even worse today. He’s got no insurance so I called up my childhood dentist and told him I needed him and needed him cheap. He says he doesn’t do charity. I said I’m an atheist who is willing to pay and if he’s a Christian he ought to act like it. Looks like a root canal. Treatment provided at a discount. JA will work it off.

DW needs to work until he heads off to the Army’s basic training in August. JW, painfully shy, is thrilled to have a boss who actually learns his name. Came by on Sunday for BBQ. Stayed long enough to eat, do the dishes, walk the dog, and carry the exhaust fan four blocks. It was 95 degrees F.

JC, the hardest-working man I know, asked for help studying for the building contractor’s license exam. The library doesn’t carry the study guides but it will soon. Thanks to the LofM, I bought the books and sweet-talked the librarian at the public library into keeping them available as reference guides. JC knows the technical stuff, I’m just guiding him through business law. Today, JC gave me a cordless drill and a socket set. Kind of a thank-you present.

SH showed up today with a gash on the side of his face. A rock flew up from under the lawn mower when he was working at his sister’s place and it cut and bruised him just next to his eye. He thinks he can still work but he needed someone to clean and bandage his injury and that was me. No insurance.

Mark is thrilled that he just got joint custody of his son. Brad wants a letter of recommendation which I will give him when the big windows are finally framed in. Every one of them has been showing up for my Thursday Night Business Law Study Session. Two weeks ago they were so happy with my “lease versus buy” presentation they brought me flowers. Stolen from my own yard.

About half of them are Army veterans who were very interested in the history of Memorial Day. Today I’ve had stomach problems. Each one of them stopped by to check on me. These young men are all under 26 years old---smart, strong, caring, skilled and capable. If they represent the future, we’ve got nothing to worry about.

May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: Singer-Sargent's "Gassed."

For the Memorial Day here in the U.S.: John Singer Sargent, world-famous for his portraits of  daughters of the wealthy, developed late in life a more socially conscious subject. This haunting painting of soliders blinded by mustard gas in the carnage of WWI de-glorifies war and marks the horrific sacrifice of the soldiers, evoking as well the blindness of war-making. (Be sure to click through to the large image.) This work is in the Imperial War Museum. 
A contemporary version is here in the NYT, Michael Fay's sketches of wounded American soldiers in the hospital. If you haven't read the essays, I recommend them. Not only evocative and powerful, but it is an excellent example of the way painting from life expands how you think.  

The Gay Bomb, Redux

Barricading himself behind a massive mahogany desk, (Roger) Ailes insisted on having "bombproof glass" installed in the windows - even going so far as to personally inspect samples of high-tech plexiglass, as though he were picking out new carpet. Looking down on the street below, he expressed his fears to Cooper, the editor he had tasked with up-armoring his office. "They'll be down there protesting," Ailes said. "Those gays."

What does he think they're planning to do? Bomb Fox News with fabulousness? Or maybe....

I hope that's what Zuckerman told Obama

[T]here are policies we could be pursuing to bring unemployment down. These policies would be unorthodox — but so are the economic problems we face. And those who warn about the risks of action must explain why these risks should worry us more than the certainty of continued mass suffering if we do nothing.

May 29, 2011

When Superman Rocked

We watched some of the old 1940s Superman cartoons they're good (a bunch of them are available streaming on Netflix). The art and animation are just wonderful. Take a look at the finale of the first episode (starting around 8:00).

The problem

The problem is simple. In my lifetime, the disparity between rich and poor has consistently widened. We have now passed the 1920s and are now in an era of unprecedented inequality, one which has no parallel elsewhere in the developed world. Plantation America, the project pursued so industriously by the Cheney administration, is right on track.

(Oh, did you hear? Tiffany is doing great. The latest quarter was terrific, record earnings, thank you for asking. But with such powerful friends, how could they not?)

Last year, Timothy Noah at Slate wrote an excellent briefing on this topic. Although it's a bit unclear on who should be blamed, one of his key conclusions was that the deterioration in K-12 public education has been a major factor:
During the Great Divergence, the education system has not been able to increase the supply of better-educated workers, and so the price of those workers (i.e., their incomes) has risen faster relative to the general population. At a time when the workforce needed to be smarter, Americans got dumber. Or rather: Americans got smarter at a much slower rate than they did during previous periods of technological change (and also at a much slower rate than people in many other industrialized democracies did). That was great news for people with college diplomas or advanced degrees, whose limited supply bid up their salaries. It was terrible news for everyone else.

America's coal industry wants to help with that. They're sponsoring a "teaching tool" called The United States of Energy that really explains to kids just how important it is that we burn as much coal as possible indefinitely to keep our nation strong. That is to say, they sponsored it until that ungrateful publisher killed the project under pressure from meddling liberal interests.

Noah says that "If we were to compile a list of the ways in which the United States has made both itself and the wider world a better place, then at or very near the top would be its commitment to universal education." I imagine that almost anyone who subscribes to a value system that aims to help the less-fortunate would find the point persuasive.

But I think the point is equally persuasive from a nationalist perspective. Like all countries, America has a story for its people, and the story is nothing without upward mobility. One thing our country has historically done right is get people through college, e.g., the G.I. Bill. But today, according to David Leonhardt of the New York Times, "at the University of Michigan, more entering freshmen in 2003 came from families earning at least $200,000 a year than came from the entire bottom half of the income distribution. At some private colleges, the numbers were even more extreme." Amherst aside, the elite schools are now just basically for sale. Forget fairness for a moment - think of the cost to society of those wasted human resources. You can't throw away half of the best brains and expect to win, not when there are eight bright Chinese and Indian kids for every one of your own. If the poor and weak have no shot, we're just Argentina with worse weather.

At the same time they are working to replicate the British class system in America, the elites' loyalty to the host organism is wavering. I'm not saying we shouldn't have elites. As much as I believe in fairness and the American Way, it is also true that America was founded by rich, well-educated property owners, and you really can't have a civilization without an upper class that cares about it.

It's the caring part worries me. The book Richistan documents the separation of the rich from the rest of us. We don't see them much - they don't fly commercial, they don't live where we live, their kids go to special schools (not the crappy $40,000 per year private schools the dentists use). They are not the Millionaire Next Door, they're the billionaires who really don't live anywhere and don't have much allegiance to any particular nation.

And it's not just the billionaires. Large corporations are increasingly trying to disconnect themselves from their country of origin. There used to be a company called Andersen Consulting. They renamed it Accenture, then incorporated in Bermuda so their taxes wouldn't be so high. When that got too hot, they switched to Ireland. Meanwhile Cisco, its CEO fresh off his role as McCain's co-chair, holds cash offshore and won't bring it back to the U.S. unless we promise not to tax it. I think these folks have the right idea.

No one admits to wanting such massive inequality, or for our country to run such gross, unnecessary risks with its future, but it's obviously working better for billionaires and large corporations than for the rest of us.

As I think about it, several options come to mind:
  • Education über alles. Especially you, Democrats. You really need to get serious now. California's education system is a disgrace, with more cuts coming. Meanwhile, City Hall looks like this.
  • Tell the rich to pick a side. Here's the thing about mediocre elites: they're easily replaced. Tell the rich: if you don't like America, turn in your passport. The Cayman Islands are right there, go be there with your money. We will muddle along without you.
  • Same with companies. You're a global company that "just happens" to do business in America? Fine, you're also a global company that "just happens" to never get another government contract.
I'm not sure if these steps would work, or what else to do, but we need a new...what's the word I'm looking for? A new set of options? A new program? A new paradigm? It'll come to me.

But this has to be addressed. Continuing on the current course won't work for anyone.

May 27, 2011

The Debate: On Kicking Doug's Ass

Point/Counterpoint on kicking Doug's ass.

The Mighty Thor

I saw Thor tonight, in fabulous 2-D. I really liked it, probably more than it deserved for being great cinema, or anything. It was just a great movie adaptation of a comic book, which is as much as I can ask of it. A few things that stood out for me:

  • I disbelieved that Natalie Portman was in this movie. I went so far as to convince myself that it was a young actress that resembled Natalie Portman. I thought Natalie Portman was above comic book movies. I was wrong.
  • They did a pretty good job of explaining why/how Norse Gods were able to appear on Earth. (One man's wormhole is another man's Rainbow Bridge, apparently.)
  • I love Sif and The Warriors Three!
  • Speaking of The Warriors Three, it drove me nuts trying to figure out where I'd seen Ray Stevenson (Volstagg, far left) before. (Answer: Titus Pullo on HBO's Rome.)
  • I really liked Idris Elba as Heimdallur, only partially because white supremacists hated it. (But it took all my self control not to yell out "Where's Wallace at?")
  • It's no big spoiler to reveal that Thor spends most of the movie without any actual superpowers. He demonstrates how far you can get by on pure attitude.
This movie is good clean fun, and as such has my highest recommendation.

(If you take children, I recommend removing all mallets from the house beforehand as a precaution.)

Thank you

One or the other, Republicans, not both.

One misplaced comma

A tough day at Fastmail recently:

A small configuration change was rolled out. Every new incoming IMAP connection would cause a new imapd to be forked and immediately abort and dump core. Each core file would end up with a separate filename. This very quickly caused the cyrus meta partitions to fill up. They reached 100% full before we fully realised what was happening. This caused changes to the mailboxes database to only partially write, causing a lot of them to become corrupted...

Despite the service interruption I absolutely swear by Fastmail. Highly recommended, and rarely, if ever, hacked by the Chinese government...

May 26, 2011

I'm in the wrong business

I need to be renting out a shack in Ninilchik.

Tough sell

The big issues of 2012 will be jobs and incomes in a nation still unrecovered from the catastrophe of 2008-2009. What does the GOP have to say to hard-pressed voters? Thus far the answer is: we offer Medicare cuts, Medicaid cuts, and tighter money aimed at raising the external value of the dollar.

No candidate, not even if he or she is born in a log cabin, would be able to sell that message to America’s working class.

- David Frum


Looks like Ratko will be flouting international law from the Stateville Prison from now on.

May 25, 2011


May 23, 2011


Dr. X posts this from the Tanglewood Institute, where he is working on his new book, Semi-Erotic: Junior Brown and the Priapic Imperative:

What are we to make of We're an American Band, one of the many guilty pleasures of early 70s arena rock? Slickly produced by Todd Rundgren, it came out on a gold-colored single, and sounded like this.

According to Wikipedia, "a popular take on the band during its heyday was that, although the critics hated them audiences loved them." From this distance it is hard to see what the hell the critics were complaining about. Unfortunate wardrobe choices notwithstanding, there is nothing lacking in this live performance from 1974. It's powerful, musical, and, er, also powerful. A quarter century later, they played it at a Bosnian relief concert - a little less melodically perhaps, but still quite...powerful.

Although it breaks no new musical ground, We're an American Band is thematically somewhat tangled. In my reading, it is simultaneously all of the following:
  • As the first song on the band's breakthrough album, it must be read as a founding statement of identity and intention. Like The MC5's Kick Out the Jams, it favorably compares American rock to its self-indulgent British counterpart. The proximate target in this case is the very capable Humble Pie, Grand Funk's co-attraction on an early tour. The song was reportedly written after a late night argument between the two bands.
  • There is nothing overtly sophisticated about it. Apropos of the band's Flint, Michigan beginnings, it expresses midwest working class aesthetics. In its celebration of straight-ahead power, it is the musical equivalent of the Dodge Charger, the I formation, or the missionary position.
  • The song casts the band as Dionysian servants of the audience (in the hedonistic sense, not the cthonic): "we're comin' to your town / we'll help you party it down", an explicit repudiation of Rand's contention that emotions are not tools of cognition.
  • It states the band's blues credentials via references to guitarist Freddie King. We don't know if Dave Marsh was impressed by this. The fossil record is ambiguous.
  • There is another blues connection: in its celebration of the band's sexual exploits in Arkansas and Nebraska, it picks up a thread dating back at least to the hokum songs of the 30s.
  • Its autobiographical narrative invokes a rock confessional tradition that oddly parallels Seger's contemperaneous Turn the Page (what is it with Michigan rockers and Omaha?). The episodic focus and hard rock treatment are also reminiscent of Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water.
  • The song eschews the fantasy elements that were gradually infiltrating and subverting rock. Grand Funk Railroad doesn't care if there's a bustle in your hedgerow.

Most covers of We're an American Band are disastrously bad. We will not be linking to Bon Jovi or Poison.

If you wish to cover We're an American Band you have just one chance: play it dead straight, and play it well. Working class affectations aside, the original arrangement is excellent and carefully balanced. Moreover, the song does not admit irony, subversion, inversion, deconstruction, or any other type of artistic posing. The song is already a pose - it is the Charles Atlas pose of rock, and you either look good doing it or not.

The L.A. power pop band Autograph delivered one of the better covers of the song, with a march drum intro and some slight changes to the lyrics. Boston punkers The F.U.s delivered a speed version, and it too is enjoyable.

But if there were any question in your mind about the relevance of We're an American Band to a sophisticated modern audience, I would draw your attention to this performance by Phish (another clip here). Note the crowd reaction when they hit the chorus at 1:50 ("oh it's that song!"). Full marks to Phish for skipping the nods and winks, and successfully elaborating on the song's more melodic aspects. As usual, Anastasio's guitar solo is particularly fine.

Man, look at the smoke in that place. I had always thought of We're an American Band as more of a whiskey tune than a marijuana tune, but it makes you realize the Grateful Dead could have done a fine job with it, too. In the right hands, the possibilities are limitless.

That weird feeling again

Pride. The video's fun.

May 22, 2011

What he said

[H]ere is what you get if you use the frowny face to ask Firefox what the fuck is wrong with their shitty fucking browser:
Your comment contains swear words (fucking, fucking, fuck, shitty). In order to help us improve our products, please use words that help us create an action or to-do from your constructive feedback. Thanks!
Here's a constructive to-do for you, Firefox: take your kindergarten-principal attitude, wrap it around your useless browser, and cram them both up your gosh-darned poop-hole.

May 21, 2011

This is a perfectly good explanation for why the rapture didn't happen.

"OH MAN. The son of God DID NOT see that one coming!"

Letter to Colleague / Lecture Ideas- Art and Politics in 2011

A while back, I was very glad to see your return to (art-making)- and your comment yesterday on Velasquez raised some interesting ideas about Art and politics, and I've got the germ of a humanities lecture/presentation forming. I would greatly value your thoughts on it.

In the news of course is Ai Wei Wei, the brilliant, uneven, and mostly apolitical Chinese avant-garde artist just recently held up as a model of muscular Chinese cultural leadership, and who is now in indefinite detention. Two years ago, a former soldier at Tianamen took out his old photos and made paintings of them. These were not only suppressed, but nearly eradicated from the internet in spite of front page New York Times coverage. At the University of Washington, one of the Department Chairs  (Zhi Linn) has been making traditional paintings based on hundreds of years of capital executions, as well as documenting Chinese labor in the United States - in Zhi's case, the extraordinary quality is essential to making the message much more emotionally resonant than the horrifying facts.

At a personal level, I noticed (the journey of several people from politics towards Art-making in various forms.) We haven't ceased to be political, but we have made Art-making an essential process of forming the substance, and dynamically expanding it, of our values. Critically, this is done in work that is not expressly political.

You may know Walter Benjamin's famous "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," the art world's most overused defense of mass images and cultural production as, by their nature, liberating in the old Marxist sense. Somewhat ridiculously in retrospect, Warhol's diminished Duchampian work was identified with a general sense of liberation. The poetic and the humanistic, the work of the New York School painters in particular,  began to be identified with privilege, while the massed, graphic, concept-heavy, ironic, anti-artisan, and propagandistic were identified with movements of liberation. To this day, in contemporary art, a huge contingent is contemptuous of traditional art values, taking a very unexamined view that the individuality, romantic, humanistic, poetic work is by nature intellectually unsophisticated and merely a commodity. This movement favors the conceptual, the anti-craft, the technological. This is driven by a historical association of the avant-garde with Marxism; its modern form is something of a politically disconnected art world creature. A visit to Target will tell both of Warhol's influence and his political vacuity.

But a strong counter-reaction has developed; oddly, as painting and drawing become less common as practice, they are becoming MORE valuable in the culture, and I would contend, (potentially) more threatening to many varieties of brutal oppression. And all without being expressly political.

The core of this idea becomes: political, religious, and scientific ideas are incomplete systems for forming coherent social values, and making social realities. Failed ideologies tend to become fundamentalist, and tend to crack in the face of unexpected pressure. Art, the most fundamental cultural impulse, defining better than any other activity what makes human beings human, is both an indispensable and inevitable system for building not only culture, but society as a whole, especially defined broadly, as distinct acts of creative execution in any form, from Las Meninas to motorcycle design.

Most especially, I am interested in how the act of art-making itself changes and deepens perception of life, and how this generates social norms in real society.  Also, how this competes with commodified, or propagandistic, cultural production. ( Years ago at Reed, I read an excellent paper on the Beatles which contended that their love songs had a powerful and liberating social effect - In my view , his version of pop culture, humanizing, was the opposite of Warhol, which was literally fine art's version of wholly commodified culture.)

The arc I want to trace here is:

A) Art increasingly is regarded by scientists as the characteristic that most defines and distinguishes human beings.
B) How does Art make what we think of as us?
C) Expressive artworks, even by individuals doing non political work, are regarded as priority threats, requiring brutal suppression, by governments, religious, social, and economic organizations. Why?
D) Why would someone who has political influence and a potential career which can lead to substantial personal economic, social,  and even spiritual rewards, move away from this toward the extreme uncertainty of art-making.
E) How does art-making, distinct from art-consuming, change one's thinking? (We can look to art There is interesting new neurology on creative thinking, for example, that sheds some light.)
G)  What is the mechanism of social change leading from art-making?  How does the visual experience exist as intellectual inquiry?
H) If Art is bigger than politics, what is the failure point of political thinking - what does it mask, and hinder?

What I have in mind is creating a one-hour lecture and brief presentation of my artwork - which is largely apolitical - but that links art-making and the resulting ideas with potentially profound political impacts. Ai Wei Wei is in prison for, it seems, making the inevitable conclusion and point of so many contemporary artists: so many structures of power are absurd, vain, cruel, greedy, and temporary.

Your Faithful Servant, signed

Back to the drawing board

I was a bit worried that this guy might be right. But he did the math could he have possibly been wrong?

I think this was his mistake. Misdirection dude, it's the Devil's favorite trick. 616 also makes perfect sense, since it's Padovonian and also the sum of the squares of the factorials.

It's hard to say much in favor of the procedure, anyway. "The day of the Lord cometh like a thief in the night," not like a puzzle on a cereal box.

Look to your own house, Mr. Camping.

[Update: "In my view it just doesn't square with Biblical revelation, which clearly suggests that according to the 25th chapter of Matthew's Gospel we neither know the day nor the hour that the end times will begin," said Gregory Chisholm, pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church of Oakland.

"So if one were really trying to help people prepare for the end times, one would counsel people to minister to the sick and feed the hungry and visit those who are in prison, because that's exactly what the Lord says to do," Chisholm said. ]

Lithgow speaks Ging-grish


May 20, 2011

I hate am confused by...Utah Zionists?

Hatch Condemns President's Demand that Israel Revert to Pre-1967 Borders.

I don't know what we're spending on this, but the population of Israel is about the same as that of Massachusetts. I'm thinking this book maybe had the right idea. Everyone knows the money's going to be on the Pacific Rim, anyway.

(I wish it were otherwise. Chabon elaborates here.)


Pakistan’s army, at 550,000 men, is too small to match India’s 1.1m, but too big for Pakistan. The armed forces eat up 16% of the government’s budget, whereas education gets 1.2%. Because the armed forces are powerful, the government is weak; and the soldiers’ frequent interventions in Pakistani politics exacerbate this imbalance and undermine democracy. (link)

I was going to make a comment to the effect that, you know, stupid and heavily armed is no way to go through life, son. But then I thought several things:
  • It's hard to say it's worse than being clever but unable to defend yourself.
  • We have a crapsack education system, but we make up for that by having it be insanely expensive.
  • Except for teachers.
  • They should be lifeguards.
  • We're not exactly living in a pacifist paradise, either.
  • No one asked me, but if it's my Army, you don't get a medal unless you were actually involved in fighting of some kind. Near as I can tell, that didn't happen to David Petraeus until he was commanding a division.
  • When I was a kid I got a merit badge for reading, and even I thought: "who are we kidding?"
  • I didn't get any other merit badges.
  • I wonder what's for dinner.
So, um, Pakistan, I don't know where you got this crazy idea that being heavily armed and ill-educated will benefit you, but I, and the people of Wasilla, urge you to reconsider.

May 19, 2011

Better than reality

Craig interviews Geoff.

Point taken

"Why does it get so complicated to do this? I mean, this is page after page of legalese," Mr. Colbert lamented. "All I'm trying to do is affect the 2012 election. It's not like I'm trying to install iTunes."

We've always been at war with Eastasia anyway

AppleCare does not provide support for removal of the malware. You should not confirm or deny whether the customer's Mac is infected or not.

Do not attempt to remove or uninstall any malware software.

Do not send any escalations or contact Tier 2 for support about removing the software, or provide impact data.

Do not refer customers to the Apple Retail Store. The ARS does not provide any additional support for malware.

But I'm sure the government will use the information in a responsible way

If you've logged into Twitter or Facebook within the past month, the Wall Street Journal reports, those services are tracking every visit you make to any Web page that has a "Tweet" or "Like" button on it. (link)

May 18, 2011

Note to Senator Begich on His Vote to Continue Free Federal Cash for Oil Companies

Senator, while I understand the political realities of Alaska, I am extremely disappointed in the myopic logic of your vote for continued oil subsidies. People on the West Coast ask me about your work all the time, and this indefensible position undermines your growing national influence. It instantly weakened your national credibility on energy policy.

That's enough privacy, apparently

May 17 - Heartbroken Maria Shriver seeks privacy
May 18 - Oprah!

Blogging from my phone

You'll no doubt be impressed that I've figured out how to blog from my phone. (I know I'm impressed with myself!)

There's your problem

"The Supreme Court doesn't care, and I don't care, and the [FEC] doesn't care. No one that matters cares."

Sorry, almost forgot


"Looks like he'll be in a luxury suite at the Stateville Prison from now on."

May 17, 2011

Leading Candidate for My Talk Show Walk-On Music

Curtis Mayfield, Little Child Running Wild.


I present the blobfish. Yes, we're killing it off too.

May 13, 2011

Your pencil is not good enough

You have some Palomino Blackwings? Might as well just throw them away.

"He wouldn't be governor if my people didn't go: OK!"

Rickles roasts Reagan.

For all the children of Wasilla

Since you are not allowed to hear it, this is what Bohemian Rhapsody sounds like.

It won't turn you gay. But your Principal may turn you stupid.

In other news, Texas is firing teachers, building race tracks.

This fuckwittery needs to stop.

May 10, 2011

And so it goes

A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University's economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting "political economy and free enterprise."

May 09, 2011

For home protection

Adequate stopping power, I'd say...

May 07, 2011

More on the nature of reality

Reality isn't.

Descent into Darkness

This post would not have been possible without the monstrously powerful capabilities of TVTropes, which I would recommend to you, except that I wish for my friends to remain employed.

The Wesnoth campaign Descent Into Darkness is the story of a young adept named Malin Keshar. The unfortunate Keshar turns to necromancy - first to save his village...then to gain revenge for the disgrace of his expulsion from same...then to punish those who destroyed his life and world.

Playing through this story, I found it more compelling and more psychologically believable than Lucas's garbled account of the corruption of young Skywalker. In any case, Skywalker's odd behavior has now been put down to a psychological disorder rather than a series of moral choices. I feel sorry for the generation of kids growing up with this incoherent mythos, trying to parse the logic of a character whose creator, despite massive indoctrination into the work of Joseph Campbell, was unable to understand the basics of the Protagonist Journey to Villain trope.

Descent Into Darkness does better. When the story opens, Malin Keshar is already the protagonist in a Tragedy of Impulsiveness. As a promising child of 10 he was sent to the magic academy on the Isle of Alduin, but was expelled after casting an ill-considered curse on a classmate.

Now back in his hometown of Parthyn he faces a terrible choice. The village is on the northern border of Wesnoth, and must annually fend off orc raids. But the orcs have caught the village with its guard down. Many men are away in hunting parties, and the understrength garrison faces an unusually powerful attack. Well, if you had the choice of being in an orcish stewpot or summoning The Undead, what would you do?

See this thread for the story of how this image and those that follow were developed.

Well, he does what he has to do, and his community does what it has to do - they drive him out, and he becomes a Well-Intentioned Extremist, raising undead against the orcs in hopes of winning back the affections of his people. He is guided in this by Evil Mentor Darken Volk, who, over the course of a few seasons, imparts to him the skills he needs to become a true Necromancer.

Of course they return to Parthyn, and of course his people again reject him. Enraged, he agrees to help Volk recover a heavily-guarded book, only to discover that he was an Unwitting Pawn. Of course Volk knew there was no hope that Malin Keshar's people would accept him, but this gave the young adept the motivation he needed to become powerful enough to help him achieve his goal. Malin Keshar has learned, the hard way, that You Can't Thwart Stage One, and You Can't Go Home Again. The strain is starting to show:

But Darken Volk has forgotten about the Mentor Occupational Hazard. As the two immensely powerful magic users face off, a team of paladins arrives intent on destroying both of them. Not much later another army arrives from Parthyn, led by Malin Keshar's sister, who has sworn to kill him, and the HSQ goes Up to Eleven.

In the brief parley with his sister he explains that I Did What I Had to Do and You Have to Believe Me, but there's a bit of Fridge Logic in her complete refusal to listen to him. This is the toughest scenario in the campaign, and by the time Malin makes off with the MacGuffin, there is not much left of his army, or anyone else's.

Too late, he learns it has all been a Senseless Sacrifice. Parthyn is a Doomed Hometown. And that drives Malin over the Moral Event Horizon, and into the conviction that Disproportionate Retribution - the total extermination of the orcs - is the only thing that can fill the void in his soul. The MacGuffin, it turns out, is a Deadly Upgrade with a Necessary Drawback, and after being mortally wounded and muttering an incantation, the country magic user has become a Lich - one that that each season brings forth hordes of the undead to torment the orcs, before being finally driven back, until, one day far in the future, a hero completes his quest by destroying him.

It is hard to draw a moral from such a dark story, but perhaps we can say that He Who Fights Monsters may end up with a Skull for a Head...?

Anyway, the story is sticking with me. Ultimately his life and death were entirely in vain. Despite his single-minded determination, he failed to protect his home, and then failed to achieve vengeance by eradicating the orcs.

And yet, can we really call him evil? From his expulsion from the academy until the final rejection by his people, his sole motivation was the protection of his hometown. To have expended all of one's physical and spiritual resources to these ends is the mark of a hero, not a monster. The only difference (an important one, Cheney would point out) is the result.

It's a good story. It avoids the worst traps of the genre, and points to a possible state of the universe that deserves some thought. It could be that in this life it is not really possible to know which side you're on. What if you've got to serve somebody, but there's no way of knowing who is who? Or what if there just are no sides? You can take Sartre's answer or Kierkegaard's, I suppose, but one could wish for an improvement on these two options.

Not bad for a computer game. I hope someone buys the rights and makes an Epic Movie of it. I'd buy a ticket.

May 06, 2011

Pakistan is fed up

The head of Pakistan’s army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said Thursday that he would not tolerate a repeat of the American covert operation that killed Osama bin Laden...

Actually, there's no danger of that, because Osama Bin-Laden is dead now.

No thanks to you.

Is this a defining moment?

Jon Stewart investigates.

I can't believe they're playing along with this

Al Qaeda's leadership has issued a statement confirming the death of Osama bin Laden...

May 04, 2011

Dalai Lama says: you gotta do what you gotta do

"Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."

May 03, 2011

Back from the dead

The abandoned and wrecked Cadillac Hotel, Detroit - 2003


Best Detroit website is here - plenty of ghosts left. Surprisingly few quonset huts, but you can get your loft here.

Book your reservation at the newly-renovated Cadillac Hotel here.

Photographer wins The Internet

"I have seen a great number of poorly Photoshopped images in my time as a photographer and I can tell by the pixels that it is a fake." (link)

Before we discuss free will...

...let's each have three cups of coffee.

Don't let this happen to you

Get your schadenfreude quotes straight...

May 02, 2011

Speedy and Jimmy tear it up

In this solemn moment, let me just say...


Daniel Frum puts it more diplomatically:

Obama has performed the first job of an American president: He has used the power of the nation well to defeat the nation's enemies and defend the nation's people. After an interval for celebration of yesterday's accomplishment, it will be back to politics as usual. But let's hope that this time, the usual will include this difference: that the administration can be criticized as "liberal" without being libeled as "alien."

Hitchens on Bin Laden's death

Worth reading.
There's perhaps some slight satisfaction to be gained from this smoking-gun proof of official Pakistani complicity with al-Qaida, but in general it only underlines the sense of anticlimax. After all, who did not know that the United States was lavishly feeding the same hands that fed Bin Laden? There's some minor triumph, also, in the confirmation that our old enemy was not a heroic guerrilla fighter but the pampered client of a corrupt and vicious oligarchy that runs a failed and rogue state.

May 01, 2011

Rest in Peace

Rest in peace Mr. Massoud. We honor your memory.


Never forget.

Problem solved

However, when they compared their measurements with other scientists' work, the values of the published decay rates were not the same. In fact, after further research they found that not only were they not constant, but they'd vary with the seasons. Decay rates would slightly decrease during the summer and increase during the winter.

Oh come on now, how hard is this? Just seasonally adjust it. Physics needs to catch up with finance.