Monday, February 10, 2003

MOST SURPRISING THING ABOUT THE AFL ON NBC THUS FAR: Michael Irving is completely non-annoying, and actually quite good. He was the least annoying member of the Cowboys' Big Three, so maybe it isn't that surprising.
WARBLOGGER AWARDS POSTED: Nobody I voted for won, except for Instapundit in the "Best Linker" category. Dang it.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

ABORTION LINKAGE: First, a post from FuturePundit on sex selection and abortion in Asia, which is full of detail and reports that the gender imbalance is all out of whack in East Asia and India because of sex-selective abortions that prevented millions of women from existing. Grrreat. Meanwhile MedPundit reports on the emotional aftereffects of abortion.
COLUMBIA: It is sad all around--what makes it truly depressing for me is seeing all the video of the crew in orbit and noticing how wildly happy they all were. Granted, they all seemed like the kind of people who were permanently high on life to begin with, so maybe they weren't solely buzzed on the thrills of antigravity and being actually in outer space. In any case, the contrast between their bubbly happiness and the fact that their lives were about to be torn away in the upper atmosphere saddens me more than anything else I've seen about STS-107.

There's this weird, neat Kalpana Chawla quote that I saw her say on C-SPAN--they were rebroadcasting the 1/29/03 briefing--and that has "In the retina of my eye, the whole Earth and the sky could be seen reflected" in it--that's definitely not the whole quote, which I can't find anywhere. But if I had to do a On The Transmigration Of Souls for Columbia it would be one of those lengthy, mysterious "trance" (in quotes because I have no idea what I'm talking about) electronica records and that full sample of her words would be in there as the musical centerpiece.

And I have no idea what to make of this:

Top investigators of the Columbia space shuttle disaster are analyzing a startling photograph -- snapped by an amateur astronomer from a San Francisco hillside -- that appears to show a purplish electrical bolt striking the craft as it streaked across the California sky.

The digital image is one of five snapped by the shuttle buff at roughly 5:53 a.m. Saturday as sensors on the doomed orbiter began showing the first indications of trouble. Seven minutes later, the craft broke up in flames over Texas.

The photographer requested that his name not be used and said he would not release the image to the public until NASA experts had time to examine it.

Although there are several possible benign explanations for the image -- such as a barely perceptable jiggle of the camera as it took the time exposure -- NASA's zeal to examine the photo demonstrates the lengths at which the agency is going to tap the resources of ordinary Americans in solving the puzzle.

Late Tuesday, NASA dispatched former shuttle astronaut Tammy Jernigan, now a manager at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, to the San Francisco home of the astronomer to examine his digital images and to take the camera itself to Mountain View, where it was to be transported by a NASA T-38 jet to Houston this morning.

A Chronicle reporter was present when the astronaut arrived. First seeing the image on a large computer screen, she had one word: "Wow."

Jernigan, who is no longer working for NASA, quizzed the photographer on the aperture of the camera, the direction he faced and the estimated exposure time -- about four to six seconds on the automatic Nikon 880 camera. It was mounted on a tripod, and the shutter was triggered manually.

In the critical shot, a glowing purple rope of light corkscrews down toward the plasma trail, appears to pass behind it, then cuts sharply toward it from below. As it merges with the plasma trail, the streak itself brightens for a distance, then fades.

"It certainly appears very anomalous," said Jernigan. "We sure will be very interested in taking a very hard look at this."

Via Ken Layne.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

FROM THE HALL OF TERRIBLE FRANCHISE NAMES: The WNBA finally made their way into the Mohegan Sun Arena in the form of the Orlando Miracle--now called the Connecticut Sun:

The WNBA is hurting. The league needs a victory. The league needs a victory now.

"What they need is a three-pointer like that Villanova shot at the end of the first half in the UConn [men's] game the other day," said Eric Zachs, part of the Hartford LAZ group that lost out to the Mohegans for the state's WNBA franchise. "They need to change the momentum."

The WNBA's three-point shot has turned out to be a gambling casino.

The WNBA has rolled the dice with the roll of the dice.

Now we'll see if the shot from outside the arc of prevailing sports wisdom is good.

Yes, when I think "Connecticut" I think "Sun." The Hartford Gamblers would have been about a million times better, if only as reference to the departed USFL Houston Gamblers. Though invoking the most famous of failed big time sports leagues is maybe not what the WNBA is going for here.

Flip Bondy offers this wackiest of NBA conspiracy theories:

The NBA itself has played exhibitions at Mohegan Sun, though it is hard to imagine its owners approving permanent relocation to the place. The NBA hasn't yet entered the more lucrative Las Vegas market.

Back in 1999, the NBA board of governors passed a motion in New York supporting the idea of Las Vegas as a potential site for a future franchise.

"Las Vegas (is) a first-class NBA-type city and would no doubt be an excellent location for a professional franchise," Stern said, then. "The only issue ... is the subject of betting on NBA basketball."

Is the WNBA in Uncasville being used by Stern as a trial balloon for possible future expansion by the NBA into Las Vegas? That theory may be a bit conspiratorial.

Yes, but it's a cool theory nonetheless. Las Vegas--the glitz city--and the NBA--the glitz pro sport--would seem to go hand in hand, and as Vegas becomes more of a community its citizens will tend to demand national recognition the American way: by getting a pro sports franchise. All they have to do is take basketball betting off the books, and I have no idea how much of a loss that would be but I can't imagine a sport as unpredictable as basketball would attract that much betting. But what do I know? The Mind of the Gambler is foreign to my own. Anyhow, Bondy dismisses his own theory with:

More likely, this is further proof of the parent league's indifference toward the WNBA's future during tough economic times.

Title IX, alone, must stand guard against this sort of paternalistic neglect at the scholastic level. The law ought to be strengthened, not weakened, while universities continue to throw outrageous money at their bloated football and basketball programs.

"To suggest that it's okay for a federal law to allow women to be treated in a manner that is inferior to men is unfathomable in this day and age," Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, told the commission.

If the Education Department can't imagine what it would be like for schoolgirls in a world without regulation, the commissioners might ake a look at how the NBA is treating the WNBA. This once promising women's league is a casino sideshow now. All bets are off.

Interesting.
DIGITAL MAN BITES SENIOR CITIZEN DOG: KaZaA sues entire entertainment industry.

Sharman Networks Ltd. filed its counterclaim Monday in response to a copyright-infringement lawsuit brought by several recording labels and movie studios. That lawsuit accuses Sharman of providing free access to copyright music and films to millions of Internet users in the United States.

The latest filing came two weeks after U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson dismissed Sharman's claim that it could not be sued in the United States because it is based in Australia and incorporated in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu.

Wilson had found Sharman subject to U.S. copyright laws because it has substantial usage by Californians and its actions are alleged to contribute to commercial piracy within the United States.

Sharman's counterclaim alleges copyright misuse, monopolization, and deceptive acts and practices.

"In seeking to simultaneously stop illegal copying and to maintain their dominant position in the distribution of musical and movie content, the industry plaintiffs have obscenely overreached," Sharman said.

It seeks a jury trial, damages, attorney fees and a permanent injunction against the entertainment industry so that it can't "enforce any of their United States copyrights against any person or entity."

Via the Savant forum. Now that's balls-out.
GARDEN STATE FILE: Most New Jerseyans Unhappy With Life In The State. Otherwise known as the My State Is Populated By Cretins File--you all were the ones who put McGreevey in there. So this is no surprise:

"For the first time in six years of polling, a majority of New Jersey voters are not satisfied with the way things are going in their state," said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of Quinnipiac's polling institute.

"They are not only unhappy with Gov. McGreevey, whose approval ratings are stagnating in negative territory, they are particularly fed up with high taxes and auto insurance rates," he said.

Forty percent of respondents said they approve of the way McGreevey is handling his job, while 41 percent disapproved. That was a slight improvement from the last Quinnipiac poll in December, when the governor's approval rating was 37 percent and his disapproval rate was 42.

Because Bret Schundler was going to take away your right to choose or something. Whatever.
INSOLVENT REPUBLIC OF JAPAN: And when I say that Indian pop culture basically has no effect on American cultural life, am, of course, contrasting it with Japan, a nation whose pop culture has a great deal of influence--or at least acceptance--here in the States. Witness Slate today:

So, is there anything good at all to say about Japan these days? It took the ultimate establishment gray-hair, Yotaro Kobayashi, head of the Japan association of corporate executives, to find it. And even then it was in the most unlikely place: youth culture. He stood up to praise an article published last year by Douglas McGray in Foreign Policy magazine, titled "Japan's Gross National Cool." Even as industrial Japan crumbles, McGray argues in the piece, its street culture, from fashion to art to music, has become ever more vibrant and is having an unprecedented influence on the rest of the world.

There is manga and anime (comics and cartoons), innovative product design, and the emergent "thumb culture" of the i-mode generation, who see the world through a cell phone screen. Pokémon, Digimon, and the other gotta-have-them-all menageries designed to colonize kids' brains; PlayStation, GameCube, and the lion's share of the titles driving the booming video-game business. And then the H-bomb of Japanese culture hacking, Hello Kitty, who sells in Japan because she is Western and sells in the West because she is Japanese. "A regular Davos cat," quips McGray.

As Japan's recession gets worse, the country's youth culture only gets more vibrant. Since this is the World Economic Forum, a mechanistic explanation must be found. For starters, the breakdown in Japan's lifetime employment system and rigid social hierarchy has put a lot of young people on the street (or, more often, in dead-end part-time jobs); their energy is now finding other outlets, from cultural obsessions to entrepreneurship. It's also easier to take risks when you're small; the last decade has seen a wave of creative little businesses, from one-man music labels to clubs and micro-niche magazines, that are rising in the rubble of the collapsing conglomerates. Big companies don't work that way, and increasingly in Japan they don't work at all.

Japan: cool but collapsing. As its cultural influence grows, its economic influence shrinks. Even as the country rises as a style superpower, its failing finances limits its ability to exploit that energy.

That Douglas McGray Foreign Policy article looks pretty choice too.
COMICS BUSINESS HAPPY STORY: How the comics-purchasing community banded together and saved Top Shelf. Via Bugpowder. Awwww....
HOLY COW: New Ralph, glorious Ralph. Via Jay Manifold.
BOLLYWOOD: Ever wonder why Indian movies--despite being hyper-popular worldwide and despite there being over a thousand of them made yearly--have an impact on American cultural life that approaches nil? Besides the cultural barriers (i.e., whether Americans want to see sprwaling three-hour musicals) there seem to be business reasons too:

Why is it that the world's biggest, noisiest and most colorful entertainment phenomenon hasn't yet reached the consciousness of mainstream America?

Most of the people I've asked agree on one thing: marketing. "I think the marketing and distribution has been a little undisciplined and unprofessionally handled," observes Amitabh Bachchan, at 60 still a reigning superstar and the only Indian star to be immortalized at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Bachchan also heads the International Indian Film Academy Awards, a huge, yearly event with revolving international venues. "I wish some of America's discipline and management philosophy would be taken by India," he says. "We are the largest filmmaking country in the world, and the sheer demographics would put our stars as more visible than some of the Hollywood stars."

Sometimes, too, Indian filmmakers pull some pretty stupendous gaffes. Last year, "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham" made over $1 million on only 73 screens in its opening weekend in the United States. It was the biggest ever opening for an Indian movie here, but its producers didn't report the figures to Variety or Exhibitor Relations promptly, losing out on the chance to place the film in the U.S. top 10 and make international news.

Another mainstream Hindi film that's just hit theaters, and stars the sultry Bipasha Basu, has the title "Jism." The word means "body" in Hindi, by the way. Yes, the filmmaker and actors all speak English (but apparently not well enough).

Outside the ethnic press aimed at Indian immigrants, Bollywood films are rarely advertised or promoted to U.S. audiences. And let's not forget the piracy, death threats and scary Mafia connections (one major star, the Stallone-esque Sanjay Dutt of "Kaante," has even served hard time for stockpiling weapons). The industry's lack of discipline is legendary; it's not unheard of for an Indian film star to turn up hours late for a shoot, or for films to be shot without scripts. Sons, daughters, nieces and remote third cousins of industry players are regularly foisted on the public as "new discoveries" who, thankfully, tend to burn out after a single film.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

INTERESTING: Bjorn Stark on the lack of European political weblogs. Read the comments too.
COMICS THAT ARRIVED ON MY DOORSTEP THIS WEEK: With apologies to Franklin Harris:

100 BULLETS 41
AQUAMAN 2
BETTY & VERONICA DOUBLE DIGEST 112
BIRDS OF PREY 51
EDENS TRAIL 3
FABLES 9
FANTASTIC FOUR UNSTABLE MOLECULES 1
FUTURAMA SIMPSONS SPECIAL CROSSOVER CRISIS 2
GI JOE FRONTLINE 3
GREEN LANTERN 158
JSA 44
KARE KANO VOL 1 GN
KILLRAVEN 4
POWERPUFF GIRLS 34
POWERS 27
PRIEST VOL 4
THE PRO
RAGNAROK VOL 5 GN
STORMWATCH TEAM ACHILLES 7
SUPER MANGA BLAST 27
SUPERGIRL 78
VAMPI #24
WAR STORY CONDORS
Y THE LAST MAN 7

COMMENTS:

--Yes, there's a lot of goofy crap in this shipment. But this was my distributor for goofy crap.

--Garth Ennis' WAR STORY comics are the best American war comics ever. That I've seen, anyway. If you consider American war comics as something starting out of FRONTLINE COMBAT and TWO-FISTED TALES and EC Comics and going through the 60s and 70s and G.I. COMBAT and OUR ARMY AT WAR and a million different DC war titles, half done by Joe Kubert, moving through the 80s and G.I. JOE--a military comic that reflected the covert wars of its time--then--yes--Garth Ennis WAR STORY comics are the best I've ever read. CONDORS is about four guys hiding out in a foxhole in the Spanish Civil War and how they got their, and to reveal much more would be to reveal everything, but this is great as have been all the WAR STORY titles I've read.

--Garth Ennis' THE PRO, on the other hand, is a silly little superhero story by somebody who (I've heard) hates superheroes, concerning a prostitute who is given superpowers by a goofball The Watcher stand-in. She ends up saving the day and not really subverting the genre as much as I thought this thing would. It wasn't a be-all end-all genre-KILLER!, more of a mild hate letter to the American comics industry for depending on superheroes and endless continuity to sell books and shrinking the audience for comics so much. I mean--there's no good reason you're not reading WAR STORY.

--RAGNAROK and PRIEST are the first TokyoPop comics I've bought that read the right way and not the right-to-left Japanese way. Do Koreans read the patriotic American way too? I certainly hope so.

--KARE KANO is a girls' manga I'm looking forward to. I always dig POWERS. That's about it. I think I bought too much, but everything looks so good when you preorder.

Monday, January 27, 2003

ALL THE ANALYSIS OF THE SUPERBOWL (THE GAME, NOT THE ADS) YOU NEED: "RAIDERS ON SAME CYCLE: TOO BLOATED, MOODY TO PERFORM IN BIG GAME." Dean Rasmussen, ladies and gentlemen.
WHY I LOVE HARVEY PEKAR: The film based on his lifelong work American Splendor wins at Sundance and his comment is:

"I don't know about awards," Pekar continued. "I mean, if a film like 'Forrest Gump' can win the Academy Award, how much can they mean?"

Which is funnier out of context than in context:

"I don't know about awards," Pekar continued. "I mean, if a film like 'Forrest Gump' can win the Academy Award, how much can they mean? But I'm happy for the people who made it. They're very, very nice, they're bright, they're talented. If I had contact with people like that every day, I wouldn't be depressed and everything."

Via Dirk Deppey. The film itself sounds so meta:

Last night, Pekar brought home the gold to Cleveland. "American Splendor," the film based on his comic books and shot entirely in Cleveland, won the grand jury prize, the top dramatic award, at the Sundance Film Festival.

"I'm real happy," said Pekar, who had already returned to Cleveland from Park City, Utah, where he had helped promote the film earlier in the week with his wife and co-writer, Joyce Brabner, and their foster daughter, Danielle Batone. All three appear in the film as themselves, with actors Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis and Madalyn Sweeten portraying them as fictional characters.

I want to see this. American Splendor has gotten me through so many times when I felt like crap for working as a hospital office flunky--which is Harvey's life and what he writes about. I could look at that and think, "See? He's in the same boat as you, and he's writing freakin' American Splendor." So there you go.

Friday, January 24, 2003

DETAILS, DETAILS: NBA gossip king Peter Vecsey fills in the blanks for the recent nonsensical-seeming Rasheed Wallace suspension:

One of the most important precepts taught to officials is not to provoke a confrontation, and walk away should one occur. Yet another reason I couldn't be a ref.

Evidently, Tim Donaghy can't walk away from trouble, either. When Rasheed Wallace verbally abused him as he was leaving the Rose Garden Jan. 15 an hour after the Grizzlies-Blazers game with his partners (Javie and Scott Wall), he met venom with venom.

So, I presume Donaghy wasn't exactly startled when 'Sheed's spew of vile escalated in intensity. In an idyllic setting, he doesn't need much of a motive to snap, crackle and pop at a teammate, coach or an official. Imagine 'Sheed's anger when challenged by a ref.

It wasn't pretty. According to sources, 'Sheed went totally ballistic, cursing Donaghy's and threatening him with violence. Somehow, onlookers were able to restrain him, and the three refs took the opportunity to pass through the arena doors onto the loading dock. That's when 'Sheed took a menacing run at Donaghy and faked an intimidating, roundhouse punch. Involuntary muscle reaction and common sense compelled him to cover up.

"I knew you'd flinch, you punk (fill in the blanks), 'Sheed ranted incoherently, earning him a well-warranted seven-game suspension.

At the same time, thankless job aside, a number of refs, including Donaghy, are not helping their cause, or evoking spasms of sympathy by bungling critical calls . . . worst yet, taking pride in being belligerent. That's the longest and loudest complaint heard today from all slants of the sphere.

Via Lang Whitaker, who also takes on ESPN today:

Oh, and to call the worldwide follower in sports out...last night on SportsCenter, and then again today on ESPN.com, they said that LeBron James has said he won't play for the Cavs since they fired John Lucas. And two people emailed me this quote from today's ESPN.com NBA Outsider column, where you pay money and then don't find out any good trade rumors. They said:
"The aftermath of the John Lucas firing continues to haunt the Cavs. The latest? High school phenom LeBron James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Thursday that he won't play for the Cavs if they draft him with the No. 1 pick. That's a huge blow to a team that traded away its best player and basically tanked the season just to get a 25 percent chance of landing Bron Bron."
My question is, When did LeBron say this? Because the story I read in the Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted "a source close to the St. Vincent-St. Mary team," and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer even mentioned, "Although James has not said so publicly..." So where did LeBron tell them anything? Let's don't go putting any words in LeBron's mouth, please. I know ESPN's huge, but surely someone there went to journalism school and learned that you're not allowed to just make up quotes from people. Come on...

This is different from the Sportsfilter argument contra ESPN--which is that it's this huge Microsoft-esque corporation threatening to monopolize people's choices for sports information--but I prefer an argument where ESPN is taken to task for actual shortcomings, not for market share oppressiveness. Which is also the kind of anti-Microsoft arguments I prefer.
FAST FOOD I NEED TO TRY: Sonic's Pickle-O's--"sliced dill pickles made crispy and perfect for dipping." And Robyn says they eat them with melted cheese too. Aww man, that's great, if only I could get this damn Sonic locater to work. Unless there are just no Sonics in either Jersey or Pennsylvania. Dang.
SPEAKING OF THOSE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: They beat The Beloved Nets last night in another game where a non-scorer had his biggest game points-wise of the season (Jason Kidd, who had 41 points.) I don't know if this is Eric Musselman's plan or something, but hey, whatever works. The Warriors are threatening to take the Suns' spot as Dramatic Turnaround Team of the season; I guess which one is more improved comes down to whether you prefer your turnarounds lousy team to mediocre record yet exciting team, or from mediocre, blah team to playoff team. I lean towards the former.
DAILY DIME, CUT AND PASTED FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT: Some good Marc Stein today:

The Lakers, in case you missed it, can no longer live up to the saucy guarantee Robert Horry gave ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher. Following L.A's Christmas Day loss to Sacramento, Horry predicted that the Lakers would be "above .500" by the end of January. Best they can do now is 22-22 ... and that'll take a sweep of New Jersey (home), Phoenix and Sacramento (the latter two on the road). How do you say panic button in Zen?

And:

A second win over the Lakers. A nationally televised victory over the Nets. With Golden State, now a stunning 19-23 after going 21-61 last season, you don't know which Cinderella story to cover first. Sixth Man Award contender Earl Boykins? Most Improved Player hopeful Troy Murphy. Or is it Eric Musselman? Muss isn't going to win an award but has to get a Coach of the Year vote or three if this keeps up.
ONLY IN JAPAN WATCH: Female office workers and sex workers style their pubic hair to resemble that of David Beckham. Thank you, snarkey malarkey. The "only in Japan" part implying that only in Japan would something this bizarre be a phenomenon.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

CLIPPERS WATCH: Clippers defeat Jazz in a game whose final 90 seconds took approximately ten years. Excruciating to watch, kind of like watching the Jazz has always been.
ABORTION FOE: Eve Tushnet, peoples. On this little Amptoon which--OH MAN!--says that (ready?) pro-life people care more about the unborn than the born. That's CLASSIC. It's like when Jeffy blames the Not Me gnome, funny because it's true. (Say in Homer Simpson voice, it's a Homer Simpson quote, or something very much like it.) This is probably way too harsh on Ampersand, but, I mean--Eve thought it was going for cheap points and I agree. No mention of the dread other A-word that never surfaces in abortion arguments because it actually makes sense--A-D-O-P-T-I-O-N.
LOTR LOL: Eric Olson on Lord Of The Rings:

I finally finished rereading The Return of the King, about 25 years after the first time I read it. I find it preposterous that the series has been voted the greatest work of literature of the 20th century, or even the millennium by one poll: this is a great story with an amazing depth of mythic detail behind it, not a work of great literature. "Literature" at its greatest shines an uncanny light upon human relationships and exposes something so surprisingly true about ourselves that we stare into space in wonder and even fright. Depth of character and the complexity of relationships is what Tolkien does least well.

What he does almost miraculously well is create an alternative world, people it with solid, if thin, characters, and set them off on a, to slip into reviewer-ese, "ripping good yarn" with a powerful surprise ending and a deeply satisfying set of morals. In conjunction with this tale told of a parallel, pre-firearm, cusp-of-the-Industrial-Revolution earth, the unself-conscious values of honor, courage, commitment, and attachment to kith, kin and the land are presented so naturally and powerfully that by the end of the series we are ready to take up arms and stride purposefully out the door seeking to eviscerate evil, in between draughts of good ale, of course.

Charlie Murtaugh pointed this out. Eric pointed out this Orrin Judd response to his review:

As a threshold point, one fails to see how it can be argued that a great read that creates its own mythology of "amazing depth" can fail to be considered great literature. By comparison, I'm currently reading Philip Pullman's Dark Materials Trilogy, which has won awards and much critical acclaim, but as you read it there is no sense that the characters have any life or history beyond what appears on the page and serves the plot at that moment. Part of the unique genius of Tolkien is that he created Middle Earth, its languages, religions, literature, songs, peoples, history, etc. and only then wrote the novels. It may be fair to say that characters don't have the "psychological depth" we require in the age of James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Oprah, but they have an entirely different kind of depth: to the extent such a thing is possible, they exist outside the books.

More:

If the cleverest trick of the devil truly is to convince us that he doesn't exist, then one of his greatest modern opponents is J.R.R. Tolkien--whose writings have reached millions, by now perhaps hundreds of millions. The Lord of the Rings teaches us that evil is real and that it is compelling, that even the best of us will be attracted to it. This is one of the oldest truths of Western Civilization, yet somehow it still surprises people, as Mr. Olsen demands that great literature must. And because it does and because this truth is so vital to a proper understanding of what it means to be human, it seems to me at least that it must be considered one of the greatest works of literature our civilization has produced.

Eric responded to this with "I think it comes down to semantics." And I agree--I interpret Eric (if I can be that presumptious) to be saying that literature is a form of written art wherein insight on the human condition is expressed via the psychological relationships between characters or depictions of the internal lives of characters. Something like that. Or as Eric actually said:

Yes, I agree that the characters exist outside the books, but they do so very thinly. Yes, all of the characters go through their own struggle with the ring, but the struggle is seen from the outside: I don't really know what that struggle feels like to the characters.

I don't think this necessarily diminishes the trilogy as a story, but it does take it out of the realm of literature, by my definition.

And I really love his definition--because it turns literature into just another genre with no special claims on insight into the human condition. That rules. It means LOTR, the ultimate fantasy novel, can be art without being literature because it uses none of the conventions of literature. Which, in my eyes, solves a whole lot of problems with lit-crit types looking down on genres because their high art non-genre gave them special insight. Which was never so because it was a genre all along. Kewl.

I mean, maybe slapping labels on things doesn't change anything. But I think arguing that a book is great should not have to mean you have to argue a book is great literature--those things do not have to go hand in hand.
BLOGGIES UPDATE: The controversy continues. And continues.
ABORTION LINKAGE: Say, I wonder what actual medical doctor Sydney Smith thinks of all this? Lessee:

The thirty years since Roe v. Wade has seen a revolution in neonatal technology. Premature babies that would have died at birth thirty years ago are thriving and living today. Heck, now we even have a speciality devoted to maternal-fetal medicine, that specifically views the fetus as a patient. We perform corrective surgeries (warning:graphic photos in both cases) on fetuses while they’re still in the womb. It’s much harder now than it was thirty years ago for physicians to deny the humanity of the fetus.

I can understand why abortion advocates deny rights to the fetus, despite all of the advances in fetal medicine. They either don’t consider it fully human, or they consider the mother’s rights more important. But I don’t understand why they can’t respect the right of full grown physicians and medical students to defer from doing something they find morally reprehensible.

This in response to the news that fewer doctors are performing abortions. Sydney also points out this bit of nonsense:

But for Roe v. Wade, millions more children would have been born into poverty, where they would be greeted by Congress and the state legislators who failed to provide money for day care, health care, education or job training.

Millions more would have joined the ranks of welfare recipients and the homeless, the populations of prisons, prostitutes and drug addicts.

All that, simply to pander to the religious beliefs of a minority who persist in claiming that a collection of cells, without reason or awareness, is human life with something called a soul.

Kee-rickey. This from the "co-counsel in Roe v. Wade." Sydney adds, "Margaret Sanger would have been proud." Hey, so would Peter Singer. But not Steven Pinker. I always get those two confused.
I HEART THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: "Coach Eric Musselman chuckled before Wednesday's game when asked if he could have envisioned in October that the Warriors would be two games behind the Lakers with the halfway mark of the season approaching." And, as of last night, they're one game behind the Lakers, defeating them in Los Angeles 114-110. That's so great. And:

This was not the Lakers team that stumbled through November and December, either. The Lakers (19-22) had won six of their previous seven games, with Shaquille O'Neal seemingly rounding into his MVP form and the role players elevating their play.

The Warriors, however, outplayed the Lakers down the stretch as backup point guard Earl Boykins delivered once again, the Warriors limited Lakers star Kobe Bryant to five second-half points and shooting guard Jason Richardson made two clutch free throws to clinch the outcome.

Earl Boykins: Laker Killer. Also Troy Murphy gave up his improbable schnozz to one of Shaq's elbows to get Shaq out of the game on fouls. And it was Derek Fisher's best game of the season too, which only makes sense in light of the fact that the Lakers lost this one--when one of your role players is putting up the big numbers something, like Kobe's knee, ain't right. More:

Golden State Eric Musselman liked the way Boykins came up big again late in the game.

"He's a guy that wasn't even with an NBA team the first three weeks of the season, but as far as a guy coming in and being like a baseball closer, he's a guy that hits big shot after big shot and wins games for us,'' Musselman said.

I like this idea of basketball players coming in the role of a baseball closer--what Brian Shaw does for the Lakers, or what Charles Oakley's role was recently defined to be by Doug Collins. And now Earl Boykins, miniature novelty act, legit basketball fourth-quarter player.

Thinking about this game it occurs to me that the Warriors are a team (like the Grizzlies) that League Pass was invented for. At the beginning of the season I thought, "Hey, this is great, I've never even heard of Gilbert Arenas." Now they're sort of blossoming and it is good to watch. You kind of had the sense that they would pull off the victory last night, even as you were thinking "The score's close, it's the fourth quarter; the Lakers usually win this." But Kobe was off and the Warriors looked about a million times less tired than the Lakers, and so they got the win. They're such a fun team to watch. Tim Kraus is the luckiest man on Earth.
GRIZZ REPORT: Jerry West picking Hubie Brown to coach the Grizzlies may have been an even odder choice than initially thought. Here's Mike Khan of SportsLine:

The decision to take the job wasn't difficult for Brown. Figuring out what to do and how to implement it was a different story. West called Brown the morning Sidney Lowe was relieved of his duties. Things had changed for Brown, with the new television contract limiting the number of games Turner would telecast in deference to ESPN and ABC.

Consequently, he was being limited to studio analysis for Turner and had accepted a job to do 42 games as a broadcast analyst for the San Antonio Spurs. But it didn't take long for him to arrive at a decision.

"I'm not a studio guy," Brown said. "I like games. I had done three games (for the Spurs), then Jerry called me that morning. I made the decision in the afternoon, and we were in Memphis that night. Don't let anybody tell you it is better to jump right in after eight games and decide to take a job like I did. Mainly, you're coaching a team, but you're also coaching coaches that hadn't worked together before. Doing this without a training camp is very difficult.

"We had two days off, then six games in nine days, so we had to get into everything fast."

They did and have done reasonably well, even exceeded expectations.

All the plaudits and general respect for his knowledge unquestionably have a basis in fact. They speak volumes of the man whose voice became synonymous with the NBA on CBS and Turner Broadcasting after he was fired by the New York Knicks 16 games into the 1986-87 season. His pro coaching career spanned from 1972-86. He began as an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks; two years later, he took over the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA, coaching them to their one and only championship, then to the semifinals the next season before the ABA folded; and he then became the coach of the Atlanta Hawks (1976-81) and ultimately the Knicks (1982-86).

But what begs for answers is this: If Brown is such a great basketball coach, why did he have a 341-410 record in nine-plus seasons in the NBA with the Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks?

More:

"Hubie is a great basketball mind, but the key is how he gets along with the players," said Orlando Magic broadcaster Jack Givens, who played for Brown in Atlanta. "That was always the issue with him. This is a different age of basketball, and we didn't exactly love the way he treated us 20 years ago. It's going to be interesting."

More:

As Brown tinkered with combinations, [Pau] Gasol, 22, admittedly had trouble dealing with erratic playing time.

"I had to stop thinking about me and learn how to get to another level with the team," Gasol said. "It's always hard to accept the changes, adjust to the coach, new style and whatever he wants to do. We've just got to be on the same page about everything and we're lucky to have somebody like Hubie teaching us how to play together and grow in the same direction."

Doesn't sound like any of the notorious Brown caustic meltdowns have happened with these players, does it? They had no idea about his reputation with the Knicks and Hawks, only the way he has treated them.

From all indications, it has been superb. If he has something to say to individual players, he tells them. No dressing down in front of the others has taken place with this squad.

"There's been nothing like that," [Brevin] Knight said. "I wouldn't even call him a disciplinarian. It's not like he laid down the law or anything like that. He came in, gave us a set of rules to abide by and if you don't abide by those rules, you don't play. Period. I think people misjudged him because he's been really open to suggestions. His only things that aren't negotiable are giving 100 percent when you're out on the floor, being on time and giving your all on the defensive end. If you aren't doing that, there is no margin of error. Otherwise, he just lets us play. Everybody is getting a fair shake."

The calming of his ways is palpable. He is more professorial than ever before. His 25 clinics a year internationally always kept his hands in teaching, while his broadcasting career forced him to be aware of all players and systems in the NBA.

The biggest hurdle figured to be [Jason] Williams, the gifted miniature version of Pistol Pete Maravich. Sacramento Kings general manager Geoff Petrie dealt Williams to the Grizzlies for Mike Bibby in what many believed to be the steal of the 21st century for obvious reasons. For every death-defying spinning hook shot that kissed the glass and melted into the back of the net, there was a pull-up jumper from 30 that caromed off the rim; for each behind-the-back-through-the-legs pass in traffic for a teammate to dunk was a no-look, behind-the-back pass into the 12th row.

That had to stop.

"Hubie is preparing me to be the best I can be for this team and my ears are open to try and learn how to do that," Williams said. "The respect Hubie brought made us care about each other more and that's made all of us better players. If you respect your teammates and coaches, then you respect the system."

This is the greatest paternal coach-player relationship since AI and Larry Brown in the finals a few years ago. So years in the broadcast booth made Hubie Brown a better man and a better coach, and only Jerry West realized it. Wow.

The Grizz beat the Spurs last night. They are such a fun team to watch. Rapmaster is the luckiest man on Earth.
I'M NOT USUALLY ONE TO CRITICIZE THE CHOICES OF MY FELLOW CONSUMERS: I've certainly bought enough pointless crap in my time, but who is buying porn star action figures? I don't get it. Maybe if there was a Miko Lee one....

....I could have a little version of her, he thought to himself. A little representation of her that I could keep in my room--high on top, out of reach and probably out of sight. Something that would remind me of her and all the things I've seen her do. Things, he added to himself, growing depressed, that I've never had a woman do in my presence. Not a woman who looked like that.

It would be like an icon for me, he thought, almost in a religious sense. I who have built these women up in my head to be almost goddesses, sexual deities who literally could not exist in the real world. And I am not the only member of this house of worship--these dolls are evidence of that. More like a cult, actually, he decided. Like in Roman times.

He stared into the face of the doll, printed in the glossy full-color section of the catalog, and its frozen smile, warm and inviting, skin perfectly tanned, huge boobs that had no implant scars--a bit of realism, he thought, that had eluded the doll's manufacturer. He could get a substantial discount if he ordered now, months in advance.

Welcome, he thought to himself, to more pagan times. Nervously, heart racing, he got out his checkbook. And then....

....Yes, that was metacriticism so creepy it required the firewall called fiction. There you go.
NEW AVENUES IN CHOMSKY-HATING: This Matt Welch post that has a little excerpt of Chomsky HATE! in it that reminds me that the fresh new wave of Chomsky hatin' will take him to task for his limits as a linguist--his chosen discipline:

In the Soviet Union, linguistics, archaeology and ethnography suffered for decades under the state-supported fashion of Marrism and the nonsensical Japhetic Theory conceived by the Georgian scholar Nikolai Yakovlevich Marr, who founded the Japhetic Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1921, named after Japhet, the eldest son of Noah in the well-known Judaeo-Christian myth of the ark. The teachings of Marr incurred the favour of Joseph Stalin and were propagated as official doctrine under Stalin's reign. Likewise, after the Second World War, a proliferation of tyrannical [Chomskyan and Neochomskyan - AMR] formalist schools of thought in North America and Europe philosophising about the nature of language largely on the basis of English syntax - though essentially just a scholarly fashion not supported by coercive measures in any way as horrific as the murders and incarcerations of the Stalinist repressions - was to dominate and debilitate linguistics as a discipline in the West just as Marrism had done in the Soviet Union. This trend has in the past several decades resulted in the diversion of much public and private funding into bogus science under the guise of 'theoretical linguistics', and away from the empirical scientific study of human language and the documentation and study of individual languages. The Australian linguist Robert Dixon observed:

The formalists do have names for their 'theories'. I won't attempt a full list, but some of the theories of the past forty years are: Transformational Grammar, Standard Theory [what an arrogant name - AMR], Extended Standard Theory, Revised Extended Standard Theory, Government and Binding Theory, Principles and Parameters Theory (all of these associated with Chomsky) ... [Dixon lists fifteen more theories - AMR] ... The non-linguist reader will surely concur with my cynical comment that if a discipline can spawn, reject, and replace so many 'theories' (in most cases without bothering to actually write a grammar of a language in terms of the 'theory'), then it could be said to be off balance. And [formalists] often say that the people writing grammars of languages (something that, with rare exceptions, they do not do themselves) are working without a theory. As if one could possibly undertake any linguistic analysis without a theoretical basis. (1997: 131-132)

Even in the brief time that has elapsed [four years - AMR] since Dixon wrote this passage, new linguistic formalisms such as optimality, connectionism, minimalism and unification grammar have sprouted up and mushroomed. Chomsky's acolytes and their intellectual successors largely engage themselves in exercises which appeal more to a literary than to a scientific bent of mind ... This can hardly be called progress, and the real contribution of generative and neo-generative [= Chomskyan and Neochomskyan] linguistics to our understanding of language is meagre at best.

Thank you, Amritas, actual linguist. (AMR means Amritas, donchaknow.)
ONE SMALL QUIBBLE: With the latest Jesse Walker article in the WSJ:

[Ridley] Scott has made movies that are genuinely good: "Alien," "Blade Runner," "Thelma and Louise." But for all he's done at the cineplex, the one film he's most likely to be remembered for may be his dystopian ad for the Macintosh, in which a lone athlete stands up against a sterile and conformist future society. Part Orwell and part "Metropolis," his stylish (if somewhat trite) ad debuted in 1984, during--of course--the Super Bowl. It ran only once, yet people still discuss it more than most of his feature films.

Blade Runner is a highly influential movie whose oppressive cityscape shows up basically in every situation that calls for a futuristic, brooding dystopia. Los Angeles, 2019 guest-starred in The Matrix and Dark City and the last Star Wars--so I can't be the only one wh carries around little snippets of that movie in my head all the time. So--yeah--ther're no way that Mac ad is getting discussed more than Blade Runner. But it's a fine column otherwise, in which Jesse makes the Pagliaist point that ads are Art. I didn't know this:

Consider those invisible lovers in the jeans ad, removing their Levi's to the strains of Marvin Gaye. Try to imagine the program it interrupted finding the gumption to include such a gloriously bizarre scene.
That Levi's spot was directed by Michael Bay, the man behind such big-budget turkeys as "Bad Boys" and "Pearl Harbor."

That ad officially becomes Michael Bay's finest moment. That and that scene in The Rock where Ed Harris is arguing with the SWAT team that's out to stop him before he and his men cut down the SWAT team who chose death over dishonor.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

YAO-SHAQ I: I finally watched my copy of that game and it was pretty great. It had playoff-like atmosphere and as the ESPN lead announcer (I think it was Mike Tirico) pointed out every Rockets-Lakers matchup for the next few years will have this atmosphere. How cool is that? Thing I noted:

--Yao blocking Shaq's first three shots was great theater, though one of them looked more like Eddie Griffin getting the block than Yao. Just a really entertaining game, and it was great it lived up to expectations, unlike Mavs-Kings and both Nets-Kings games. Maybe Kings-Lakers are the only big hype games worth watching.

--Tom Tolbert and Bill Walton are perversely entertaining; Walton breaks out with his hyperopinions that Tolbert has no choice but to deflate. At one point, after the Lakers scored, leaving the Rockets with a slight lead, Bill came out with something like: "Things slipping away for the Houston Rockets now, how can them stem the tide?" Tom: "It's just one basket." And then a long silence.

--Rick Fox fouled out. That I like.
ONE ARGUMENT FOR ADOPTION: You get Steve Sailer:

Ramesh Ponnuru writes in National Review Online: Maureen "Dowd, like a lot of people, including Peggy Noonan in a fine pro-life essay published yesterday, assumes that America's population would be 40 million higher if not for abortion. I find this hard to believe. I suspect that the rate of careless conceptions increased after Roe."

Indeed, social scientists have estimated that 60%-75% of the fetuses aborted in the 1970s would not have been conceived if not for legalized abortion. (That was just part of my debate in Slate with the U. of Chicago economist who theorized that legalizing abortion in the 1970s had caused the low crime rates of the late 1990s, through imposing a prenatal death penalty on those more likely to grow up to be bad apples. I pointed out that the acid test of this hypothesis was that the juvenile murder rate should have gone down in the early 1990s, when this abortion-winnowed post-Roe generation reached ages 14-17. Instead, the teen murder rate for those born post-Roe was 3.6 times higher than for the cohort born immediately pre-Roe.)

Other than this, where I actually had something unique to say, I don't like to get into debates on abortion because I don't think I've got much new to contribute. Still, as an adopted child, let me just say that I am glad I was born before Jan. 22, 1973.

And here is the Ramesh Ponnuru essay mentioned above.
YOUR LATEST MOMENT OF POP SCIENCE JOURNALISM: The pill changes womens' taste in men:

Psychologists have found that women who are taking the pill tend to fancy macho types with strong jaw lines and prominent cheekbones.

However, women who are not taking that form of contraception seem to be more likely to go for more sensitive types without traditionally masculine features.

The researchers, from St Andrews and Stirling Universities, believe it may even be possible that taking the pill encourages women to have relationships with inappropriate men.

They presented women with images of different types of men, and asked them to pick out potential long-term partners.

They found those taking the pill were more likely to choose macho men, and to rate men with more feminine, softer physical features as a turn off.

However, the researchers say it is these men who tend to be more sensitive, and more likely to making trustworthy and faithful husbands.

The researchers then added "Men--quite like ourselves, in fact" and substituted phone numbers in place of the usual list of citations. Via GoodShit--now with even more Aria Giovanni. Say, how do you supposed porn use changes male taste in women? Wait......
FUNNY: Dawn Olsen breaks down the Bloggies.
COUPLE OF ABORTION ARTICLES WORTH READING: That talk about kind of what I was trying to talk about below. Here's John J. Miller on NRO:

60 percent of Americans believe abortion should be "legal in only a few circumstances" or "illegal in all circumstances," versus 38 percent who would have it legal in "any" or "most" circumstances, according to a CNN/USA Today poll released last week. But support for a constitutional amendment is weak: 59 percent oppose one that grants a life-of-the-mother exception. Any realistic pro-lifer must admit that passing such an amendment is a far-off goal, and that there's a very good chance it won't ever happen — at least not before the Red Sox win a World Series.

Amid this disappointment, however, there's heartening news: Both the rate and ratio of abortions are dropping, which means that more pregnant women are choosing life over "choice." There are still far too many abortions — more than a million a year, and more than 40 million since Roe — but there are also a large number of people alive today because attitudes have changed.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which keeps tabs on abortion numbers, the abortion rate has dropped to 21.3 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 — the lowest rate since 1974. Perhaps even more important and impressive is the abortion ratio: 24.5 percent of all viable pregnancies end in abortion, another low since 1974.

These numbers are sobering, of course: They still represent a lot of abortions, and some of the decline is probably due to the increased use of so-called emergency contraceptives, and is therefore overstated. But the numbers do show a measurable improvement over the recent past, and this can't be forgotten. As National Right to Life pointed out in a press release last week, "The numbers indicate a significant decrease in abortion that translates into about 300,000 fewer children dying from abortion in 2000 as compared to [AGI's] figures for 1990."

See--an attidude change, though a smallish one, driving the number of abortions down. Here's Kathleen Parker saying something similiar:

While researchers try to figure out why abortion rates are dropping and pundits try to spin why Americans favor protecting the unborn, I'd like to take a stab at the answer: education and technology.

Not moral preaching or punitive measures; not fetus lapel pins or gory roadside posters. But self-direction among people of conscience informed by technology and empowered by education.

Because of technology--the ability to photograph, observe, engage and operate on in utero fetuses at various stages of development--people are not as likely to see a developing human as a "cluster of cells" or a "blob."

That's precisely why pro-life activists want to incorporate 3-D ultrasounds into their arsenal, and why pro-choice advocates want to block them. Thomas Glassner, president and founder of the National Institute of Family Health and Life Advocacy, is unapologetic about his intents and purposes:

"We are going to see a decreasing number of abortions nationwide because of the efforts of pregnancy health centers providing medical services, including ultrasound, to empower women who are considering abortion to choose life."

But pro-choice advocates say offering such services constitutes "intimidation." Now why would that be? Why is it intimidation to say, "Before you have an abortion, we want you to have all available information so you can make an informed decision"?

If a woman sees a 10-week-old fetus inside her, which is to say an identifiable developing human, and elects to carry the baby to term, how is that a bad thing? This is where the so-called pro-choicers lose me and, I think, their credibility.

Shouldn't choice be informed? Isn't feminism all about empowerment? And isn't knowledge the ultimate source of power?

Indeed, 90 percent of abortion-bound women change their minds after seeing their own ultrasound image, according to NIFLA research. These women no doubt realize vividly that what they have inside them is not a cluster of cells, but a live, developing human being with hands, feet, fingers, toes, a double-lobed brain, identifiable sex organs and a very beating heart.

If knowledge prevents ending such life, then maybe we have our answer to the abortion dilemma. Why is it so repugnant to accept that we may have been wrong in our initial embrace of abortion?

Both article via the Christianity Today weblog.
MY NO DOUBT CAREFULLY REASONED PERSPECTIVE ON ABORTION: Tony Woodlief had this wonderful post on the subject, which lead me over to the Megan McArdle-sponsored debate on the subject. And there were some interesting points in there. David Walser wrote this:

The Supremes took abortion out of the public's hands when they handed down Roe v. Wade. So it doesn't matter what a majority thinks about the topic, does it? And that's the problem. Many of us could better tollerate the public policy of allowing abortions if we felt we had some say in setting that policy. We don't.

It's a conversation we, as a country, were just starting to have. Call it arrested development if you will, but we are having a hard time getting past this issue in large part because the Supremes butted in and stopped the conversation. It's galling to have those on your side of the argument telling the rest of us to be mature and just get over it. From our point of view, not only was the wrong policy adopted it was done so in an unfair manner. Telling us to grow up just rubs salt in a wound that will not heal.

The newest Economist had an article that made a similiar point:

The continuing war over abortion in America stands in marked contrast to the situation in Europe. Most European countries have liberalised their abortion laws since the 1970s, and in almost every case that was enough to settle the debate. Europeans went about legalisation through new legislation and, occasionally, referenda. This allowed abortion opponents to vent their objections and legislators to adjust the rules to local tastes. Above all, it gave new laws the legitimacy of majority support. Most European countries offer abortion free, and justify it on the basis of health rather than rights.

America went down the alternative route of declaring abortion a constitutional right. This reliance on the Supreme Court rather than the usual legislative process left many anti-abortionists feeling that they had been denied their say. They remain as angry today as they were the day of the Roe v Wade decision.

Kate came up with this logically consistent, yet spectacularly wrongheaded argument:

Hmmm... Seems my "whoopse" (I think it looks better with the "e") comment was misconstrued. Every single rant against my comments are the "it's a human life" arguments. Again, this implies that there is something "special" about human life. If I don't think there is, then I why would I have any problem with abortion. I don't have any problems eating meat or wearing leather or the death penalty or euthanasia.

Therefore, "whoopse" is completely appropriate. If there is no moral wrong (and I don't think there is) there there is no problem with a cavalier attitude to abortion. I don't think it's "murder" and just because you THINK your right, doesn't make you right (on as similar note, it doesn't make me right either, but it's between me and whatever powers that be to determine that, and not you, nor the Government)
Why is Human Life better than any other type of life? Perhaps you have an argument, but you won't convince me.

Kirk Parker, no doubt open-mouthed, replied with this:

So, Kate, is it OK with you if I just say "Oops!" and rub you out? That seems to be where you're headed with your "nothing special about human life" assertion. Or maybe they'll put me in jail for a short little time, like they do now for cruelty to animals or failing to pay my property taxes.

To which Kate replied:

I was waiting for someone to give me that argument! Here is the difference. If we didn't make things like murder of people who actually live OUTSIDE their mothers womb illigal, it would make it very difficult to walk down the street (what with all the bullits flying and everything).

Life's not precious, but the prevention of anarchy is.

Please note: easy to make life
hard to prevent anarchy

Easy = not valuable
difficult or rare = VERY valuable.

At this point I strongly suspect Kate of living in San Francisco, or some other weird enclave. Will Allen had the best rebuttal:

Well, as I suspected, and as much as I hate to use such loaded terms, it is essentially correct to describe Kate's philosophy as fascist, in that the exercise of power, even the power to violently kill, is self-legitimating an end unto itself, since it produces a non-anarchic society. Order is maintained, so the purposeful killing of those deemed targets (by the state) for killing is automatically legitimate. In Kate's world, the slaughter of several hundred thousand Tutsis in Rawanda is more morally offensive than the slaughter of several million kulaks in the Ukraine because the Tutsis were slaughtered by a nearly anarchic band of murderers, while the kulaks were slaughtered through the actions of a recognized state. In fact, since the slaughter of the kulaks helped consolidate the power of the state which ruled the Ukraine, it logically follows that their slaughter was a positive good, according to Kate's philosophy. Rarely is the philosophical underpinnings of mass slaughter by the state so frankly acknowledged. When you sit down for dinner tonight, in the comfort of your home, reflect upon the good fortune that such a philosophy was dealt large setbacks in the past century, but don't think for a moment that it is gone. This Beast will be with us always, all notions of the End of History aside.

And there was nothing further from Kate on the subject. Meanwhile Paul Snively wrote this:

As an adopted person, my experience with the abortion debate has always been surreal: like Megan, I insist on intellectual honesty in the debate, which means that I won't waste my time with people who try to insist that the fertilized embryo isn't a human being (sorry; once all of the chromosomes are there, it's a human being. The correct question to ask is at what point in the human being's development we grant it the rights that we accord to all human beings whom we consider to fall under the purview of our legal system). Even moreso, I won't waste my time with people who stick to the "it's my body" rant. It's not just your body; your fetus might not even have the same blood type as you do. And so on.

So that leaves us with folks like Kate and others who are honest about the domain of the discourse. They have my utmost respect for being honest and sincere. They also have my utmost revulsion for exactly the same reasons already ably articulated: insisting on the right to choose what they acknowledge is a killing on the basis of "whoops, I made a mistake." Thankfully my birth mother, whom I met a couple of months ago and finally got to properly thank, didn't think that way, and I grew up with one of the many terrific couples who desperately wanted children but couldn't have their own.

And that brings me to my final rant: why doesn't adoption feature more in the debate? Why is it all right for people to defend killing unborn human beings but so many of them become indignant at the suggestion that they carry to term and place their children for adoption? Why don't more on the anti-abortion side urge adoption placement?

Which I pretty much agree with. People are spending thousands to adopt foreign newborns, which is no doubt leading in some circumstances to mothers being talked into giving up their babies so middlemen can make money off them. If adoption figured more prominently in the debate, maybe more women would spend the time carrying their child knowing it was wanted and would be taken care of. Then again, maybe not; abortion is, at bottom, something convenient--like fast food or on-line banking or any other part of our wonderful market economy--and the women having abortions are not going to give up convenience for inconvenience, for staying in a convent for five months (you know what I mean, not a convent but something like it, some well-intentioned place where you give up your baby, no questions asked; I'm thinking of vast peaceful hospitals out in the desert somewhere, staffed by nuns and volunteer doctors, something idyllic that probably wouldn't exist in reality at all). I mean, maybe some women will, maybe enough to justify encouraging adoption.

I guess my take on abortion is that it is a modern convenience, and I can't think of any example of a modern convenience was replaced by an older, more time-consuming method of doing something. In this case abortion is the quick and easy solution, carrying the baby to birth the older, less convenient option. The less convenient option in a free society is only going to be taken on by people with a moral reason for doing so--so only some kind of moral revolution is going to get more people to take the adoption route. Adoption needs a Dorothea Dix to crusade for it, unless you want the government to take care of women while they're carrying their baby to term, or give them a tax credit or something, something to make it worth their while to create a life that isn't in their best interest to create--otherwise they wouldn't be considering adoption or abortion. Which might also require a moral revolution of some kind. There you go.

So the only reasonable defense of abortion is that it makes people's lives easier. The reasonable criticism of abortion is that it is the horrible grisly death of something tiny and defenseless; it's sort of the final frontier of the tyranny of Strong over Weak in our society. Sure, it's an important convenience, giving people a valuable escape route for their dumb mistakes, but the loss is a loss of potential people with varied and great life experiences, struggles that don't happen, nurture does not work out a new understanding with nature as it has to in an adoptive situation. For me that loss outweighs the slight life enhancement given those who already exist. And yet I cannot positively say I want abortion outlawed, just that options that result in "unwanted" children being born (who have waiting lists of prospective parents who want them) should be the ones that our society prefers and abortion should have a sort of stigma attached to it as the Option Of Last Resort. That sounds terrible--or at least not consistent--but it is what makes most sense to me. Abortion is a sacred cow that really needs to be knocked over.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

AS C-3PO SAID, "WONNNDERFUL!": Chriz Puzak brings us the glorious news that rap-metal is dying its richly-deserved death:

Crazytown, a hip-hop/hard rock act, sold 1.6 million copies of its 1999 debut album, "The Gift of Game," at the trend's peak in 2000. But the band's followup has been a disaster.

In mid-November, "Darkhorse," opened at an awful No. 120 on Billboard's Top 200, with sales of 12,843 copies. Five weeks later, it has vanished from the Top 200 with total sales of only 35,000.

Crazytown can't blame radio for its crash. Its song "Drowning" made the top 20 of both modern-rock and mainstream-rock radio formats. Listeners simply were unimpressed with what they heard.

Korn, likewise, continues to enjoy major rock radio play. And its sales aren't exactly poor, at 1.2 million copies of its fifth and latest work, "Untouchables." Still, that's only one-third of what its previous two albums sold. ("Issues," from November '99, moved 3.1 million copies. And 1998's "Follow the Leader" pushed 3.5 million.) Worse, nearly half the new CD's sales came in its first week, suggesting poor word of mouth.

Perhaps anticipating such a droop, Papa Roach — whose major-label debut, 2000's "Infested," rode the rock-rap wave with 3.2 million copies sold — has rejiggered its sound somewhat. Its second album "LoveHateTragedy" inched toward mainstream rock and punk, but apparently not far or fast enough to save Roach from being squashed. Its latest album has managed only 550,000 sales, barely more that one-sixth that of its hit.

Rock-rap mainstay Rage Against the Machine has disbanded (due to personal squabbles rather than genre disloyalty). It has been replaced by the hip-hop-free Audioslave (a supergroup combo of Rage's three musicians with singer Chris Cornell from defunct band Soundgarden). Yet, its self-titled debut album hasn't sold in supergroup numbers. After four weeks, it's at a tepid No. 51.

Meanwhile, another group of rock-rap louts, Limp Bizkit, is among the missing, ever since it lost guitarist Wes Borland. But Linkin Park, which had the largest-selling album of 2001, plans to release its second work in March. Given shifting tastes, maybe it should increase the rock component and leave rapping to the hip hoppers who do it right.

Rap-rock was good for maybe one Anthrax-Public Enemy novelty record and that's it. I mean, I'm all for cultural fusion but rap and metal are not complimentary sounds. Chris also tells you why Lone Star is better than Mile High for mail order comics and I agree.
PORN REPORT: That Village Voice "Dirty Pornos" guy files his report on the Adult Video News Awards show in Las Vegas--the Oscars of pornography. Warning, there is a picture of Aurora Snow there (the top female performer this year; notice the word "actress" not being used, even by AVN) in an unclothed and probably lewd state--so Not Safe For Office, I guess.
QUESTION: Lang Whitaker's correspondent Myung in the ATL sent this in (to Lang, not me):

I agree with what you wrote here:
"If a 7-5 guy with a sweet jumper came along, they'd sign him up, even if his skin was green and covered with blue polka dots."


But the question I got, Lang, is this: what if he ain't 7'5? What if he's just 5'7" like Spud Webb? Or Earl Boykins? You think a yellow kid got the same shot a white kid or a black kid has of making the L? Or how about playing D-1 ball? Or how about even playing NAIA ball? Me and my friends used to run the courts up at UGA. You think anyone came to watch US play? How come Bronnie's games are on national TV and how come coaches are all over 8th grade white and black kids, but when it comes to high school Asian kids, no one even cares?

You know why? Because there's a stigma that Asians are good for programming computer software, being doctors, running grocery stores, and dry cleaning your clothes.

So in a sense, Yao Ming IS our Jackie Robinson. As dumb as this sounds, when we play pick up ball after church on Sunday's, some of us WANT to be Yao Ming. It used to be Money, Kobe, and AI. Now we emulate Yao. In all fairness, our trailblazer should be Wang Zhi Zhi. =) But I ain't even going to go there. But for real, just like Tiger gives hope to black golfers, he's equally Asian, and he gives us hope too. Hines Ward's mom is full Korean. Byung Hyun Kim, Chan Ho Park, Michael Chang, Michelle Kwan, Paul Kariya. These people are the ones blazing trails for other young Asians. In the States AND over seas. We all know the best athletes play here. Europe? Asia? Please. It's all about making it big in the States. And Yao Ming has done that. And in that sense, he IS our Jackie Robinson.

So why is the Asian Jackie Robinson (Yao) coming after the Asian Michael Jordan (Michelle Kwan)? Probably because Yao is a taboo-breaker--Asian people are supposed to be good at figure skating, so her dominance is not unexpected, whereas an Asian guy being really good at basketball is something new and different and represents the breaking of an unwritten color line, which is not the actual and much more racist color line that Jackie Robinson crossed. So Yao Ming is a possible Jackie Robinson, defying stereotype in an era after the civil rights revolution. It was an interesting question to me, anyhow.

Monday, January 20, 2003

RASSLING OBIT: Charles Oliver has an accurate obituary on The Sheik, who passed away recently:

He was a limited worker in the ring. A typical Sheik match lasted just three or four minutes and ended with him getting disqualified for pulling out one of the dreaded foreign objects and leaving the hero in a pool of blood.

Farhat was legitimately of Arab descent, though a devout Catholic, not Muslim. But he apparently didn't speak Arabic, at least not very well. I later found out that what sounded like gibberish to me was just that.

He bought the Detroit promotion in the mid-1960s and sold out arenas there and in Toronto numerous times. But like most wrestler-promoters, he kept himself on top too long, burned out the audience with the same matches and the promotion was out of business by the late 1970s. Farhat continued to wrestle the occasional match up until the early 1990s, especially in Japan where'd accompany his (legit) nephew Sabu.

I've seen maybe one Sheik match, one of those Cactus Jack ones where Jack did all the work making the Sheik look good--his rep as a worker was way too terrible for me to ever actively track down a Sheik match. But I think The Sheik really stuck in your memory if you saw him at the right time in your life, like I'm guessing Charles did.
THE LATEST CHAPTER OF MICHELLE VS. THE TWERPS: Michelle Kwan took her seventh national championship Saturday night, beating Sara Hughes, and Christine Brennan sees their rivalry as a good thing for the sport:

If you've ever wondered why women are the stars of U.S. skating, you'll never have another doubt after Saturday night. One of the most electric scenes in sports is the last warm-up group of the women's long program at a nationals, worlds or Olympics. Saturday, anything seemed possible for the six women swirling around the ice, including Kwan, Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes and perennial gold potentialist Sasha Cohen. It made for fabulous theater.

Kwan skated first. "Rushing out there, the adrenaline pumping, in the moment, the crowd's cheering, it's incredible, an incredible feeling," she said. "The intensity of it all — the judges staring right at you, your heart's beating. It's just like the movies. Your own movie."

I have a question: Has anyone in skating ever loved competing more than Michelle Kwan? She skated magnificently, surpassed only by herself at an earlier age, in 1996 and again in 1998. She was on such a roll that when it came time to throw in her final triple jump, the seventh of her program, she uncharacteristically bagged it. "I was too jazzed," she said. "I just wanted to do the nice footwork and then blast (the arena) apart. At that point, everyone's just coming off the walls."

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 Olympic gold medalist, Michelle Kwan. The third time has to be the charm, doesn't it?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Your 2002 Olympic gold medalist, Sarah Hughes, is into this competition thing just about as much as Kwan, which means Kwan-Hughes has all the trappings of Martina-Chrissie without tennis shoes. Hughes always makes things interesting. On Saturday night, by mistake, she and her coach arrived at the arena 10 minutes before she was to take the ice for her warm-up. Normally, skaters give themselves an hour backstage to get ready. By the time Hughes threw on her outfit and skates and took a deep breath, it was time to hit the ice.

No problem. Because she skated last, she took advantage of an extra 40 minutes to stretch after the on-ice warm-up, shook off 11 months of rust and did everything she had to do to finish a strong second. It wasn't an Olympic replay, but it was solid and gutsy and absolutely perfect for this point in her season. The kid is a money skater, a gamer. If she shifts into overdrive the next two months, Hughes should have her triple-triples back and be ready to provide a better challenge to Kwan in D.C.

Then there's Sasha Cohen. Because she was the only one of the three to compete all season, this was her title to win, and she didn't come close. Once again, she failed to complete a clean long program (she's never done one in competition), and you begin to wonder if she ever will. She clearly wants it too much, is trying too hard, is thinking too much, is getting too nervous. Then again, competing with Kwan and Hughes will do that to you.

Brennan is completely right about the electric moment that occurs when the six finalists are gathered together off-ice, each in their little zone of concentration, right before they go out on the ice for the warm-up skate. It's completely great, in a way similiar to the prolonged staredown at the beginning of any big pro wrestling match. And for the record, let me say that Ann Patric McDonough completely outskated Sasha Cohen--though she fell down in the short program--and I can think of no reason why Sasha came out of there with a medal besides preconceived notions on the part of the judges. But that's just something you accept if you're watching a judged sport.

Brennan takes the time to slag the US men's figure skaters:

The men were so awful that venerable U.S. coach Don Laws had this to say: "It's terribly embarrassing for me because I'm training Michael."

And Michael Weiss won.

I use the word won advisedly. Survived is more like it. Weiss became the first man in at least 11 years to capture the U.S. title without landing that old staple, the triple axel, in either his short or long program. It should be noted that junior girls in Japan are landing triple axels these days. Meanwhile, Timothy Goebel finished second without landing even one quad in his long program, which last happened to him during the Truman administration. "It was an embarrassment," Goebel admitted.

If the United States had any depth in men's skating, Weiss and Goebel would have finished fourth and fifth and missed the world team. Now they have two months to redeem themselves for the world championships in Washington, D.C. This is no joke. If they can't pull it together, neither is likely to crack the top 10.

There's probably cultural reasons for our men's program being pathetic. Like, it's cool for a competitive female to go into figure skating in our society, but a competitive male has so many other sports to go into, plus there's probably a cultural bias against figure skating for guys, so our more competitive athletes become wrestlers or hockey players or whatever, whereas in Russia there isn't quite the stigma about men expressing themselves via the mysteries of the dance. Something like that.