Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Posting: Two Blogospheric Traditions

One of the things I like about the blogosphere is its nescient culture and traditions. I haven't done all that many specific blogosphere games (just one meme), but I do like them. And because of various circumstances I can participate, this week, in not one but two blog traditions that I don't usually do.

The first of these is the Friday Random Ten. The notion here is simple: get random songs from your iPod, note the first ten, and post them. I haven't been able to do this until now because I haven't had an iPod. But I was given one for my recent birthday; and after a few weeks most of my music (and some other fun stuff) is now on the iPod. I doubt I'll do it every week, but for now, here is a


1) The Lord of the Rings, unabridged reading by Rob Inglis: the Fellowship of the Ring, Disk 3, Track 20
2) * Ditto, The Return of the King, Disk 11, Track 9 (beginning of chapter 7, "Homeward Bound")
3) Talking Heads, "I'm Not in Love"
4) George Harrison, "All Things Must Pass"
5) Annie (the musical), "It's the Hard Knock Life"
6) Tracy Chapman, "Mountains O' Things"
7) The Beatles, "I Saw Her Standing There" (live version, from the BBC)
8) ** The Hobbit, unabridged reading by Rob Inglis, Disk 6, track 11
9) Pimsleur Mandarin Set II, Unit 13 - Readings Track
10) Eric Clapton, "After Midnight"

* Yes, I have the entire thing on here. It comes up a lot on "random" because they put track dividers every three minutes, so there are a lot of tracks.
** Yes, I have The Hobbit too. Shut up.

This, incidentally, is why I never play my iPod on random -- I have a special playlist called "songs" which includes all but only songs, and if I want random I play that. But as I understand the rules of the Friday Random Ten, one sets random for everything one has on the iPod... which, for me, includes some non-music and leads to some weird choices. So it goes.

The other Friday blog tradition is pet blogging. This began with Kevin Drum's cat blogging, but has since expanded to a lot of different types of Friday blogging (plus parallels on other days too). Well, we don't have any pets... but we do occasionally pet-sit a pair of unrepentant felons known as Weber and Fields. They're with us this week, so here we have


Ruler of the Roost

Everything is Tasty

Squabbling (not kissing, despite how it looks)

Happy Friday!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Stanislaw Lem, 1921 - 2006

Via Boing-Boing, I see that Stanislaw Lem, the great Polish SF writer, has died. Reuters has an obit here. To mark his passing, I'm reposting an edited version of this earlier post which included a snippet of one of his works.

Rest in peace.


This is a long-time favorite of mine. It's from Stanislaw Lem's novel The Cyberiad, translated by Michael Kandel (pp. 50 - 51 of the Harcourt Brace paperback). In it, the robot inventor Klapaucius comes up with an assignment for his competitor Turl's new electronic bard...

The Assignment:

"Have it compose a poem -- a poem about a haircut! But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!"

The Solution:

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.

Well, what do you say to that?

It's a marvelous poem, I think -- in itself, and particularly given the stipulations. But of course it is also an astonishing piece of translation: it is hard to believe it wasn't written in English. (Douglas Hofstadter talks about this aspect of Kandel's translations, though not that I recall in relation to this particular poem, in his delightful book about translation, Le Ton beau de Marot.) So the question becomes: what's the Polish look like? Fortunately, the Polish version of Lem's Cyberiada is online -- it appears in its entirety. At any rate, it gives us:

The Assignment in Polish:

Niech ułoży wiersz o cyberotyce! - rzekł nagle, rozjaśniony. - Żeby tam było najwyżej sześć linijek, a w nich o miłości i o zdradzie, o muzyce, o Murzynach, o wyższych sferach, o nieszczęściu, o kazirodztwie, do rymu i żeby wszystkie słowa były tylko na literę C!!

The Solution in Polish:

Cyprian cyberotoman, cynik, ceniąc czule
Czarnej córy cesarskiej cud ciemnego ciała,
Ciągle cytrą czarował. Czerwieniała cała,
Cicha, co dzień czekała, cierpiała, czuwała...
...Cyprian ciotkę całuje, cisnąwszy czarnulę!!

As for how literal a translation this is, it turns out that Michael Kandel himself has answered this question. Greg Keogh at the Nancy Street Network has a Stanislaw Lem page on which he describes emailing this question to Kandel. Kandel provided the following literal gloss on the Polish:

Cyprian the cyber sex fiend and a cynic, appreciating tenderly the miracle of the dark body of the Negro daughter of Caesar, constantly wove charms with a zither. She blushed all over, silent, waiting every day, suffering, watching ... Cyprian kisses her aunt, have abandoned the black beauty!

(Of course the paradigms given the machine are quite different.)
Unfortunately, Kandel didn't give a literal gloss on the Polish paradigms (the "assignment" as I've called it). But this gives a sense of what the original is like -- and hence what Kandel was up against.

I still think "Seduced, shaggy Sampson snored..." is a terrific little poem. The question is: given that it isn't really a translation of Lem's poem (but rather an English equivalent of it), but one that occurs in a translation of Lem's novel and wasn't offered for independent publication -- who should be credited as the author of the poem? Lem? Kandel? Lem as translated by Kandel? Both in collaboration?

This is, however, an extreme case: the book as a whole is, quite clearly, a translation. And it's brilliant. For a taste of it in English, check out the opening of The Cyberiad, "How the World Was Saved", which is available (in English) on Lem's web site.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

2005 Koufax Awards Ballot

Here are my votes for the 2005 Koufax awards. Some choices were very narrowly decided -- there's a lot of great liberal writing out there. In some categories I wish I had more time to study the various choices in more detail. But in the end I decided to vote based on what I knew and thought at the moment (rather than deciding I was so overwhelmed by good and/or new choices that I wouldn't vote at all). So, without further ado --

Best Blog (non-pro): Hullabaloo
Best Blog Community: Daily Kos
Best Blog (pro/sponsor): Think Progress
Best Group Blog: Pandagon
Best Post: Unclaimed Territory by Glenn Greenwald: Bush's Unchecked Executive Power v. the Founding Principles of the U.S.
Best Series: Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns, and Money for his Supreme Court coverage
Best Writing: Michael Berube Online
Best Expert Blog: Pharyngula
Best Single Issue: Informed Comment
Most Humorous Blog: Fafblog
Most Humorous Post: Kung Fu Monkey: Lunch Discussions #145: The Crazification Factor
More Deserving of Wider Recognition: 3 Quarks Daily
Best New Blog: Unclaimed Territory by Glenn Greenwald

[I cast no vote in the following categories:
Best State or Local Blog
Best Blog Commenter]

If you want to check out the competition, here are the pages with the links to all the finalists: Best Blog (non-pro); Best Blog Community; Best Blog (pro/sponsor); Best Group Blog; Best Post; Best Series; Best Writing; Best Expert Blog; Best Single Issue Blog; Most Humorous Blog; Most Humorous Post; Most Deserving of Wider Recognition; Best New Blog.

Incidentally, so far as I can tell this post by John Scalzi -- Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs -- was not ever nominated for best post. Now, I don't vote in rounds before the finals round, because I'm intimidated by how much I don't know. But I think it's a terrible, terrible oversight that Scalzi's post wasn't even nominated; had it ever occurred to me that it wouldn't be I would have done so. If it were on the final ballot, I would vote for it over any of the other contenders for best post this year (good as those are). So consider it my vote for "work most overlooked by the Koufax nominators" and my (uncounted) write-in vote for best post. In the meantime, if you haven't read it. do so. Don't skip the comments, which add a lot.

And the winners are...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

There Are No Excuses

...for those who got the war wrong. Three years into the greatest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam -- quite possibly one that will in the end prove far greater than that unhappy conflict -- none of the disastrous things that have happened were beyond the range of what was widely and loudly foreseen by anti-war voices at the time. I'll say it again: it was widely and loudly foreseen at the time. There are no excuses for getting this one wrong. You can't say you didn't know. This was not something that was tricky at the time or about which you can say, "if only we knew...". Because either you knew, or you damn well should have known, because most of the world was saying it as loudly as they could manage.

It was all perfectly clear.

No, it was not widely known that Saddam had no WMD at all. (But it was widely known that inspectors were on the ground in Iraq and finding nothing; it was widely known that there was no possible threat that could have justified removing them from the country and invading before letting them finish their task.) But WMD was always a category error -- worse, a deliberate category error, a portmanteau designed to rope together genuinely dangerous weapons that we had no reason to think Saddam had (nuclear weapons, biological weapons such as smallpox) with weapons that all sides believed that Saddam possessed -- weapons that, however horrific in their uses, were not a particular threat to the US (chemical weapons). No, we didn't know that Saddam didn't even have chemical weapons. But we knew he didn't have nuclear weapons and that he wasn't on the verge of getting them; we knew, in short, that he wasn't a threat.

And all the rest was simply and widely known, widely spoken at the time. The disastrous ineptitude of the Bush administration and its almost pathological tendency to lie and distort were both well known. The folly of trying to build a liberal democracy at "bayonet point" (to use the phrase that, of all people, Ronald Reagan used to dismiss the notion) was widely known. The caldron of ethnic and religious tensions that would boil over if we invaded was well known too. We knew all this.

And please, don't say: do you wish that Saddam Hussein were still in power? Of course I don't: no more than pro-war proponents really wanted Casey Sheehan and more than 2,300 other coalition troops -- to say nothing of an unknown and uncounted number of Iraqis (a number which, however, is likely to be well over 100,000 people) -- dead. The point is that removing him in this way was a foreseeable and foreseen disaster.

So no: there are no excuses. This is true of course of Bush, the supreme architect of this disaster (who was already talking about having a war for the political benefit before assuming the Presidency: a point which should not be forgotten). It is true of all the many other members of this administration behind the war -- all of whom, in a just world, would stand in the dock at the Hauge for the crime of aggressive war, the supreme crime of which the Nazi leadership were indicted by the U.S. and other at Nuremburg. (Not to mention the horrific crimes committed in the course of the war, which has turned the U.S. into a nation which tortures prisoners (most recent revelations on this matter in today's New York Times.))

But it is true of everyone else too. It is true of the cowardly Democrats who voted for this war (I'm looking at you, Senator Clinton, and you, Senator Kerry). It is true of the editorialists who endorsed it, of the warbloggers who pushed for it. Without the abetting of all of these groups the war would have been, at the least, much harder for Bush to pull off -- if not impossible.

I don't know what we should do now, since given the current disaster there are probably only various different bad options. I strongly suspect that the best course would be a U.S. withdrawal in a speedy a manner as would be consistent with troop safety. I might well be wrong about that. But how to proceed now that this disaster is upon us is not obvious.

Unlike the fact that the war would be a disaster, for all the reasons that almost everyone now acknowledges. That was obvious, three years ago. And for all those who abetted this disaster, there are no excuses. None at all.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Brief Continuity Update

A couple weeks ago I posted a comics script released under a creative commons license, linking to it both here on my blog and on its own site. The script had taken me perhaps a month to write, on and off. It was for a 24 page comic, intended as a one-shot (i.e. not the beginning of an ongoing comic series), and I called it Continuity #1.

Well, I just found out last night that there is a graphic novel -- an actual, really-drawn-and-not-just-a-script and really-being-published-by-an-honest-to-God-publisher (AiT/Planet Lar) graphic novel -- coming out in June called, yes, Continuity. Not being a regular reader of Previews I hadn't known this. Now, I don't think that a big-time graphic novel like Continuity is going to be threatened by an embryonic little project like my script. And, frankly, it's not the most astonishing title for a comic ever devised ("continuity" being a big topic with comics fans). Still, if I'd known that there was a published book coming out with the title, I'd have chosen a different name for my script. But I didn't know, the script is out there, and I don't plan on changing it now. I doubt anyone will care, frankly. But I thought I should note the coincidence.

If you want to check out the upcoming graphic novel Continuity, the first 25 pages are being offered as a preview (in pdf format); you can find the preview here (direct link). If you want to read my script, you can find it here (direct link).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Friday Five and Sunday Ten: Good Comics Covers

Tom Spurgeon has an excellent comics news blog called The Comics Reporter. One of the fun features that he does is one called "Five for Friday": he'll come up with a comics-related question to be answered with a list of five -- questions like "List Five of Your Favorite Comics Quotes (Without Attribution)", "Name Five Comics You've Found Non-Comics Readers Feel Are Easy to Read" or "Name Five People You Would Draft Into Making Comics -- No Cartoonists Who Have Worked as Such Since 1985" -- answer it himself, and then post responses from other people which he receives in the day or two after. It's a fun High Fidelity-type game in the comics field, although his comparatively strict deadlines, and my haphazard schedule, means I've only participated once myself.

Well, this week's version (which I, as usual, only saw post-deadline) was the superb question "Name Five Covers You Love". But I wasn't all that crazy about the nominees people put up -- although, truth be told, I only looked at those whose nominators provided links, plus Tom's own list even though he didn't -- because he's the host, y'know. (Although yes, I am enough of a geek that I did know some of the listed covers without links. Shut up.) Incidentally, since I looked up Tom's choices, here, as a public service, are his choices, with links:

1. Amazing Spider-Man #55
2. Weirdo #8
3. Kamandi #23
4. Yummy Fur #18
5. MAD #5
Don't get me wrong -- some of the various choices (both Tom's and other people's) were fine covers. But they weren't what I would have listed. So I decided to put together my own list -- I mean, what's a blog for?

But it's Sunday, it's my blog, and I felt like it... so this is ten, not five. (Actually, I found this incredibly easy. I could have gone to fifty. I love comics covers. Oh, sure, many are atrocious... but that's just Sturgeon's law.)

This isn't, incidentally, my "Top Ten Comics Covers Of All Time". It's just "Ten Covers I Love". I love others, too. On a different day I'd make a different list. But these are all great. In each case, I've given a thumbnail linked to a larger version; in many cases, you really have to click through to get what's good about the cover.

Alan Moore's final cover for the first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Series retold the entire story so far -- in rhyme -- while also being thematically consistent with the series. It's fabulous.

As Scott McCloud later said in Understanding Comics, so much of superhero costumes worked by making a few simple, bright colors iconic. This combines that idea with an awesome abstraction.

This one's just pretty. It's the cover for the second issue of Jessica Abel's La Perdida; I just got the collected version yesterday (yes, I "waited for the trade" -- or in this case the hardback -- and so missed out on this gorgeous cover. Ah well.)

Another cover that tells the story to date -- in this case, by quite literally putting every panel in the earlier 11 issues of the comic on the cover. (No, not that legibly, but if you've read them it will remind you.) It's a rather audacious idea, and it works.

Maurice Sendak meets the Hulk. I didn't read this issue, but this cover's just awesome.

This comic I haven't read either -- I'm not sure that it's even out yet. And no, I probably won't read it. But it's such a cute cover, which almost reprises the extraordinary Flex Mentallo in a single image. (You sort of have to know the history of these two characters to get this one, I'll admit.)

John Byrne did a lot of cute, self-referential covers back in the day, and I like most of them -- his covers for his She Hulk run were quite fun. But I actually read this when it came out. And it's so dynamic -- the perfect superhero cover -- plus, if you look inside the first page is the one revealed by the ripping hand on the cover. Awesome.

A lot of Dave McKean's covers are wonderful. This is just one I particularly liked.

Simple, marvelously iconic, and I love how it begins the zoom that takes up both the cover to issue one and the entirety of the first page.

And this is, quite simply, the greatest comics cover ever done. (Although this is a close second, I'll admit: if your curious, the answer is that the latter reprinted a story from the former. It looks like this was fairly common, although sometimes a few changes were required.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

Those words comprise the first line of Dante's Inferno, and mean (in Allen Mandelbaum's translation) "When I had journeyed half of our life's way". Since Psalm 90:10 says that "the days of our years are threescore years and ten", this has always been interpreted as meaning that Dante was 35 years old (and that the poem took place, therefore, in the year 1300). 35: "half of our life's way" according to David and Dante, two reputable sources.

Today is my thirty-fifth birthday.

Now, even Psalm 90:10 acknowledges the possibility that they might "by reason of strength... be fourscore years". And, of course, the psalmist was writing before modern medicine. Yet even if one goes by Genesis 6:3 ("his days shall be an hundred and twenty years") -- as, for instance, Moses is said to have done; something which I certainly hope (kenina hara!) to achieve -- still one must admit that even so life "is soon cut off, and we fly away."

I suppose this is all just to say that I'm feeling a bit melancholy. Afraid that, like Dante,

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita
("I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray")

-- and feeling also that

Io non so ben ridir com' i' v'intrai,
tant' era pien di sonno a quel punto
che la verace via abbandonai.
("I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
the point where I abandoned the true path.")

Perhaps such feelings are par for the course on "major" birthdays -- defined, due to our counting system, as those divisible by five.

And of course, at the end of the day, I know what the answer to such feelings are -- the only answer that there can be: the answer found in another, older poet (well, older than Dante: not the Psalmist), the odes of Horace: "carpe diem" -- "seize the day".

What else is there?

You say it's your birthday
Well it's my birthday too, yeah...
-- Lennon/McCartney

On a cheerier note, very happy returns to my fellow birthday celebrants: P. Z. Myers, Hayden Bock, Jason Bock (who shares my precise birthday, i.e. not just March 9 but 1971 as well) -- and, heck, all the famous ones too.