Monday, June 30, 2003


So I walked into the house tonight at about 8:30, finally having returned from Ohio, and I discovered that I had left two pints of strawberries out on the kitchen counter; they had liquified in the heat and run down the cabinet faces and puddled pinkly on the floor.

But at least the house smelled nice--exactly like a strawberry milk shake.

I will have a long, long report of my silly weekend at Origins tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

So I seem to have my itinerary for the weekend set up. I'm leaving at 4AM on Thursday morning from Ed Wimble's house in Phoenixville and driving straight through to Origins. This year we actually got a room at the convention hotel, for which I'm thrilled. No having to fight for a parking space at the show every day. No more long trudge to the car after dinner.

On the way back (and Ed always wants to stop somewhere on the way back, as he wants to make the trip an educational experience for his son Billy, who comes with us) we are touring the Fort Necessity National Battlefield, a fact which thrills you, I'm sure. Normally we come back Sunday, but we are taking an extra day and I'll be back Monday night. I am taking my laptop, so I should be online somewhat.

Monday, June 23, 2003

And I am not in any mood today to be ecumenical. I have a huge, huge problem with any religion that even solicits the following questions, which are from the real, not-from-The Onion, advice column, ASK THE IMAM.

Is it acceptable to marry a girl who has not yet started her menses?

Is it acceptable to have sex with my slaves?

Is it OK for a husband and wife to see each other's private parts?

i am a 19yr girl.But when i was 15,i masturbated and bleed abit. I repented, inshallah it will be accepted. How can i cover up my mistake to my future husband or is it haram if i re-stitch my hymen?

In 1977 I was house sitting for a favorite professor of mine at her house on Mill Road in Thornton. The house dated from the early 18th century, had its own gentle and witty ghost (per the owner, he would set fires in the fireplace during arguments) , and I loved going there. I remember being sad when she gave it up and moved to a condominium in the city a couple of years later, after her divorce. One time I was there and another friend named Donna, an English major like myself, was over, sharing the house-sitting duties with me.

One extremely sunny summer day we were out walking in the rustic back yard near the inground pool which was broken and filled with rainwater and had developed its own ecosystem, with more frogs (Northern Leopard Frogs, rana pipiens) per square inch than I have ever seen anywhere. Most of it had been left wild, but there was a small clearing that she had mowed, and on it I noticed that one of her dogs had caught something.

I had to look closely to tell what it was. It was a bleeding, completely naked rabbit, shivering with fear in the 85-degree heat. The dog had torn off all its fur, and was continuing to play with it in a decidedly un-canine manner; normally it's cats who prefer to toy with their prey like that. The rabbit couldn't have had more than minutes to live.

Donna winced and turned away. I didn't know what else to do; I felt horrible for the wretched thing. So I panicked and found a heavy tree bough, a small log actually. I shooed the dog away, and I brought the bough down heavily on the rabbit's head.

When I lifted it up, I saw that the rabbit had not been killed by the blow; it was violently convulsing. Donna began to cry. I was seized by horror. I could only think of that pathetic, utterly terrified, utterly despairing animal consciousness, submerged first in appalling bodily pain followed by a nuclear explosion of kinetic energy. Oh God, I thought, furious with myself for my incompetence and weakness, what must this poor thing be feeling? So I instantly brought up the club again, and slammed it down with all my strength.

The rabbit didn't move any more.

I just needed to tell that story today, as I am feeling lots of rabbit empathy.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Today I just drove and drove. Went as far south as Baltimore, stopped at the Towson Mall to assuage my guilt for doing nothing work-related today by checking out the pathetic Game Keeper store there, came back up via Route 1, crossed the swollen Susquehanna at the Conowingo Dam, and drove all over Chester County, ended up at Baldwin's Book Barn in West Chester, where I bought books upon books and felt better.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

"On Monday the Daily Telegraph gave a big chunk of its comment-page real estate to Mr Will Day of something called Care International. I’ve never heard of it myself but doubtless that’s because I’m a fully paid-up member of Don’t Care Unilateral."
--Mark Steyn

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Quotes of the day:

"Eric Bana comes from the Josh Hartnett school of acting, which does not have advanced placement courses, trust me."
--from Roger Friedman's review of The Incredible Hulk film at foxnews.com.

"The weapons-hyping charge is nothing more than...a way for opponents of the war -- deeply embarrassed by the mass graves,
torture chambers and grotesque palaces discovered after the war -- to change the subject and relieve themselves of the shame of having opposed the liberation of 25 million people."
--Charles Krauthammer

A conversation with Lance today about a party he's giving the same weekend as GenCon got me thinking about my schedule this summer. This is the first year GenCon is in Indianapolis after being in Milwaukee forever, and I was (very much) looking forward to the shorter drive. It's impossible to drive to Milwaukee from the east without going through that awful Chicago traffic, and I was so looking forward to never doing that again.

But now, with my job situation being so precarious, I am starting to think I won't go to GC. The trip ends up costing me about a grand each year, and I would rather spend the money on other things. Plus, Historicon is the same weekend as GenCon this year, and is only in Lancaster, PA, so it's a show I can drive to for the day and enjoy without spending a fortune.

So the only big national show I will be attending this year is Origins in Columbus, OH. That's next weekend, the last weekend in June. This year, unfortunately, they seem to have a bunch of media guests from fandoms I don't particularly care for (Babylon 5 especially), but nevertheless Origins is always a good show, with an excellent balance of historical/military gaming and fantasy gaming. Origins is the one show where I end up playing lots of games at rather than simply chatting with people and buying stuff.

And the best part of all this scheduling and figuring was that I was reminded of one of my favorite Giovanni stories.

In the course of looking up one of these convention sites, I noticed a mention of a company owned by a person who some time ago worked at one of Giovanni's American business partners. One night at his apartment in Milan, he was telling the story of meeting her and thinking her a nice person, but finding her a little...unusual. He just couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something odd about her. He felt a little sad for her, because she was nice, but there was just, just something...she was not a very feminine woman and he felt sorry for her a little, and was a little ashamed of some of the remarks he'd made to Silvio about her. She was an unusual person in a way he couldn't quite...

"Oh," I said, "You mean you didn't know that she used to be a man? You didn't know she had a sex change operation a couple of years ago?"

I will never forget the look on his face: if you can imagine a mixture of shame and horror for not figuring it out himself, and proud vindication for sensing that something was up with her.

He never tired of telling that story.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003


My friend Lance Kandler sends out a daily quote along with a clue, usually the name of one of the actors in the film, and we have to guess which movie it's from . If you know Lance, you can figure that most of the time his choices will be either a) something from his beloved 1980s, b) a Bond film, or c) a political movie that reflects his unfortunate pinko poltitical sensibilities. ("Pathetic war-mongering life wasting elitist corporate puppet as*!" is one of my favorite Lance phrases). Despite the advantage (?) of knowing him well, I rarely get his movie quotes correct, a deficiency that I attribute to my stubborn refusal to look the damn things up on imdb, which would be cheating.

Anyway, every Tuesday, as an extra, Lance includes a trivia question. But his trivia questions are always exactly the kind of trivia questions that I hate. Here is the one he used today:

How long after activation does the Genesis device Detonate?

Now, geek that I am, I of course knew that this was a reference to events in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But really. There is no possible way to answer this question unless you look it up or have the entire film memorized. Both alternatives are pretty terrifying, but that's beside the point. There really is no point to trivia questions so specific that the successful answerer could not have any possible life beyond the compulsive watching of the film. When he gives a trivia question like

How many TIE Fighters engage the Millennium Falcon as they escape from the Death Star?

there is no way that anyone who hasn't memorized the film can know the answer, and that is annoying. It's just wrong. And speaking of wrong, I fully dispute the following, from Quizilla's Which kind of personality disorder do you have?


Sunday, June 15, 2003

Possibly the least surprising quiz answer in the history of quizzes: What Kind of Grammar Whore Are You?

Saturday, June 14, 2003

In the movie Black Widow, there is a scene where a geologist character tries to impress Debra Winger by taking her to the top of an active volcano and showing off his expertise. "This," he says of the lava flow leaking out in rivulets and puddling in the rocks beneath them, "Is the newest place on earth."

I thought of that line this week looking at the uprisings in Iran that the networks are working so hard to ignore. After several days Reuters assured us that things, thank goodness, were calming down, and the students were finally coming to their senses and going back to hating America as they rightfully should. However, the Iranian demonstrators have disagreed with this particular spin and continue to misbehave.

Intellectually, Iran is the newest place on earth.

It's the first place in the world where we can see what post-fundamentalism looks like. Iran has experienced life under jihadism and is in the process of vomiting it up. The implications of the ongoing revolution in Iran on other non-Arab Islamic countries like Pakistan and Indonesia are going to be interesting to watch. The Arab world, I think, will continue to be a basket case for a long time in any case--many of the militiamen engaged in beating the Iranian students are volunteers from Saudi Arabia and Palestine--but the non-Arab Muslim word may have a chance to forestall the marching morons of Islamic fundamentalism.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Another somnolent Friday at work where morale can't get any lower and people leave at 3 just because. Today we heard that the tasks of our entire server farm could be outsourced to HP in Boston. That would clear out the entire other building. It would also give those of us who keep track of servers, um, a lot more free time. A whole lot more free time.

On the other hand, I keep getting emailed every day by people who have nowhere else to go to find information. I seem to be the last hope of everyone in the company who wants to find out stuff about old leases and POs. So maybe they will keep me on just for my researching abilities. I really don't know. I'm not optimistic, though.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I have to rant politically today. One of my favorites is at it again.

Senator John McCain was around today, undulating for the press like an extra from Showgirls, demanding Senate hearings on the failure to produce WMDs in Iraq. "It's entirely appropriate to do so," he said, no doubt winking seductively at his beloved media fans while poised with one hand tautly on an outstretched hip. All that was missing was the pole.

This is the same guy who was demanding military intervention in Iraq for YEARS. Listen to the language of just one press release from October 2, 2002 :

Saddam Hussein is in patent violation of the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire and 16 United Nations Security Council resolutions. He has deployed chemical and biological weapons and is aggressively developing nuclear weapons. He holds the perverse distinction of having used weapons of mass destruction against both his own people and his enemies – the only dictator on Earth who has done so.

On January 27, 2003, McCain was even more direct on the subject: "Does anyone, anywhere, sincerely have confidence that Iraq has fully disarmed? Not even our German and French friends have expressed such faint hope."

October 10, 2002: "Opponents of this resolution offer many questions that are designed to persuade the President to wait before moving against Saddam Hussein. They have every right to do so. But there is one question I don't want to be asked in the months and years ahead: "Why did you give Saddam Hussein time to harm us?"

February 13, 2003: "I believe Iraq is a threat of the first order, and only a change of regime will make Iraq a state that does not threaten us and others."

January 17, 2003: "In 1998, when the inspectors left, were forced out, there was ample evidence that he had these weapons, and there's been no authentication of any kind that he may have destroyed them."

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

One of the things I talked about with Catherine on Sunday was my doing a blog at all--isn't it too personal? Isn't it odd to talk about your business in front of the world? It's funny, because I have also been told that my blog is not personal enough, that I spend too much time putting up impersonal lists of stuff.

For me, it's not being revelatory that bothers me as much as being boring. Seriously, I would be horrified at the thought of ever subjecting anyone to reading about how many times I went to the bathroom and what color underwear I had on and how long it took me to rewind a videotape day after day after day. I would want to reward the people who came to read me by being interesting, and recounting the details of my incredibly boring life is not very interesting.

Which brings me to yet another impersonal list

I mostly listen to music on my overlong commute, but I still find myself sampling talk radio, hence my new list of TEN THINGS I HATE WHEN TALK RADIO HOSTS DO THEM:

1. Eating on the air. Eww. Really, there are other times in the day to do that.
2. Teasing a story multiple times through multiple commercial breaks before actually talking about it. Annoying in the extreme.
3. Taunting the audience to get them to call. "Well, I guess absolutely no one in the entire metropolitan Philadelphia area hates the Cowboys anymore. A shame, really. Oh well." If you're so boring that you can't entertain an audience without cheap stunts like that, I suggest finding another line of work.
4. Talking politics with no substance behind what you're saying. A mindless "rah, rah, I hate Bush/Clinton/Hillary/Ashcroft, don't you agree?" is not at all interesting, and if I don't agree, I'm gone instantly.
5. Having no clue about people you interview. "So Mr. Geldof. I hear you've been to Africa. See any cool animals?" Yes, I know Larry King became a multimillionaire that way, be quiet.
6. Deliberately leading a really stupid caller on. "Why yes, your idea of trading Keith Van Horn for Kobe Bryant is brilliant, tell me more." It's petty, uninvolving torture, like watching someone pull the wings off a fly. Not entertaining.
7. Holding grudges against some anyonymous goofball who ticked you off three callers ago. "Remember that guy three callers ago? Wasn't he a jerk?" Who cares? Move on.
8. Drooling on the air over women in the studio, asking intimate questions, etc. When anyone but Howard Stern does this, it comes off sounding like The Ted Bundy Show.
9. Crossing the very fine line from opinionated to haughty. Not wanting to debate legitimate points with callers makes you look like a phony.
10. Ignorance as a defense. Talking extensively about subjects that you know absolutely nothing about. The basic "I don't know a blessed thing about chaos theory, but I'll offer my opinion on it anyway because that's the kind of stand-up guy I am" statement. Whenever I hear anyone on radio use the phrase, "All I know is..." my hand is immediately on the dial. If that's all you know, then why should I ever listen to you again for any reason?

Monday, June 09, 2003

What song reminds you of your father? Of your mother?

My father was possibly the single most unmusical person ever to have lived on Earth, but I always associate my mother with silly songs from the thirties and forties that she sang to embarrass us:

I like the neck of the chicken
How did I ever get you?

What song reminds you of your sibling(s)?

Hmmm....I always associate late-50s folk music with my brother (though he would prefer that I use something from Wagner, I'm sure). When he got out of the Navy and moved back into the house when he went to college, I remember hearing these Kingston Trio and Brothers Four records constantly. I am reminded of my sister Suzanne when I hear certain music from the early 70s, which is when she and Tom had moved back to Pennsylvania from San Francisco and I stayed with them a lot. I'm thinking especially of Cat Stevens. For my other sister, it depends on what I'm feeling about her at the moment. If I am thinking positive thoughts about her, the earliest Beatles songs, which she played over and over, remind me of her.

What song reminds you of elementary school?

Certain church music.

What song reminds you of high school?

Crappy early 70s rock ("All Right Now" by Free, especially), and that monstrous creation, the Tapestry album by Carole King.

What song reminds you of college?

The standard mid-to-late 70s pop catalog: Boz Skaggs, Hall and Oates, Orleans.

What song reminds you of the happiest time of your life?

Believe it or not, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" (shudder), which was played constantly in Italy when I lived there.

What CD are you currently listening to, or did you last listen to? Is it from a genre you listened to as a teenager?

Cinema Choral Classics, and my younger self would have been appalled.

What CD in your collection would your teenage/younger self laugh at?

Most of them.

What CD/artist did you love when you were younger that you now cringe at?

Most of them.

Bonus question: what band most deserves a tribute album? What current artists should cover their songs?

Obscure 70s British pop-rock acts, many so obscure that I don't know if any of these have actually had tribute albums: BeBop Deluxe, T-Rex. I would especially commit mayhem for a Sensational Alex Harvey Band tribute album featuring a U2 version of "The Faith Healer." And Billy Idol's first band, Generation X, which gave us an overfamiliar catchphrase and a ton of great now-forgotten songs. I would also be thrilled by a rock version of Marty Robbins's Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs .

Sunday, June 08, 2003

I went to my first Baha'i event in a while, a Race Unity picnic in Glassboro, NJ. Catherine had brought it to my attention, and I hadn't seen any of those people in a while, so I went.

I've always enjoyed Baha'i gatherings of more than a few people, because they are so--more than any mixed grouping of people I've ever been with in my life--genuinely free of race-consciousness: Everyone checks their prejudices and resentments at the door. And I love that. It was all the things I like about the Baha'i Faith, and none of what I have problems with.

My estrangement from the Baha'i Faith grew out of the Faith's overall growing politicization and its inexplicable faith in corrupt international organizations like the UN. But that's a rant for another day.

Tonight I ran one continuous mile for the first time in five years. Whoo-hoo!

And the most unintentionally hilarious news story of the year award goes to this twitching slab of goat cheese published in tomorrow's Independent. It is a multileveled masterpiece beyond measure of sheer cluelessness.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

I don't have anything to say today that could top my latest fave Christopher Hitchens quote, which was given in the middle of a tirade he launched upon being asked about a certain country-music act:

"Each day they dig up dead bodies in personal death camps run by a Caligula dictator and I'm being asked to worry about these fucking fat slags - do me a favour!"

Friday, June 06, 2003

This is from an interesting article in the English version of the increasingly Islamist Al-Ahram about Palestinians displaced from Iraq after the recent war. This is from a piece designed to make us feel sorry for this one particular Palestinian who was fighting for Saddam. And I had to point out these two extremely heartwarming paragraphs among all the manipulative whining. (although it's sort of hard to work up sympathy for a fanatic who loots his friend's bloody corpse. But I digress). He's talking about the battle for the Baghdad airport around April 2-3.

The first strike on the airport by the coalition forces left thousands of soldiers dead. "I went to the site where my friend Ziad was stationed and found it full of corpses." At this point Abu Khaled's eyes filled with tears, "this is his watch," he said as he waved his hand towards me, while wearing Ziad's black sports watch.

The second strike was even more devastating, according to Abu Khaled. "There was a division 50 metres away from me, after the strike I saw nothing -- they were erased."

Now really, what more could I add to that?

I felt fine today, but--and I really should have known better--didn't reckon with my favorite place in the world, the glorious city of Philadelphia.

So I was driving to the forced-volunteerism place, fighting my way through rush hour on City Line Avenue, and, finally, I made it off Roosevelt Boulevard, at the point where I needed to use the directions they gave me. Fine. Wayne Avenue/Germantown Avenue exit. Marked incredibly badly, but, found it. Check.

Turn left on Greene. Check. Then right on Penn, and look for--hey!

There's a big friggin' hole in the middle of Greene Street. I don't mean a pothole. A massive, twenty-foot-wide trench. With a lovely "road closed" sign in front of it. There is nothing I can do but make a right, given that everything is one-way.

And then I was out of there. Did I perhaps drive around looking for an alternate route? Sadly, no. Did I stop and ask directions at one of the sure-to-be-friendly halal markets on Germantown Avenue? I confess not.

I just left.

The concept of forced volunteerism bothers me on so many levels, especially when the people organizing it can't be bothered to give up to date directions. So I just drove over to the store and ate crummy fried chicken with Bob and yelled at Games Workshop for sending junk mail to the store in the name of "Sue Erkes" and watched Bob throw this kid out of the store just for being annoying. A lot more fun, I'd say, than trying to look earnest and responsible all day in the name of a company that is hanging its employees out to dry.

And does it bother me that The Germantown Boys And Girls Club didn't get its free day of labor from me?

Not a bit.

Every day my seed money and my labor helps give Bob and Sheila and twelve-year-old Megan a livelihood. It helps keep open a store that's a safe place for kids to learn reading and social interaction and friendly competition and dedication to a project. I make no apologies. None.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Feeling physically lousy today, and my mood is not helped by having to do the annual forced-volunteerism thing tomorrow. I picked a place in Germantown so I can hop over to the store after I get out of there. I am *not* looking forward to this nonsense, and neither does anyone else in the company I've talked to: when you don't know how much longer you'll be keeping your job, how can you be enthusiastic being an "ambassador" for the people you work for? Anyway, I will have an excuse if I want to leave early.

Going through the AFI's top 50 heroes and villains list:

The hero list is very annoying. I will grant that it does a good job listing many of the major heroes that come to mind. But there are way too many pious lefty hagiographic snoozefests on this list for my taste. And with all the silly ideologically-motivated bogus entries here, there was NO room to include, to name just two, Max Von Sydow's or Jeffrey Hunter's Jesus? They put a DOG before Moses, and don't include Jesus at all? Grrrr....

1. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck ), "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Nice one, but...the greatest hero in cinema history? No.
2. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford ), "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
3. James Bond (Sean Connery ), "Dr. No."
4. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart ), "Casablanca."
Should have been higher.
5. Will Kane (Gary Cooper ), "High Noon."
One of my favorites, but why do I think it's so high on the list because Bill Clinton said HN was his favorite movie of all time?
6. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster ), "The Silence of the Lambs."
I loved everything about this film except Foster, who I have always thought grossly overrated.
7. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone ), "Rocky."
People forget what a revolutionary film it was at the time. Sure, it's crude and ugly, but its unabashed and unambiguous heroism made audience love it at a time when Hollywood was giving us almost nothing but sneering, cynical protagonists who were only marginally better than the bad guys they were chasing.
8. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver ), "Aliens."
9. George Bailey (James Stewart ), "It's a Wonderful Life."
10. T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole ), "Lawrence of Arabia."
11. Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
12. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda ), "The Grapes of Wrath."
Another iconic lefty role. I guess I shouldn't mention that this was also Hitler's favorite movie.
13. Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson ), "Schindler's List."
Should be MUCH, MUCH higher on the list.
14. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), "Star Wars."
15. Norma Rae Webster (Sally Field ), "Norma Rae."
Predictable that a lefty union movie that NOBODY saw makes the top 100 heroes ahead of Terry Molloy in On the Waterfront, one of the great movies of all time. Disgraceful, too.
16. Shane (Alan Ladd), "Shane."
17. Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood ), "Dirty Harry."
18. Robin Hood (Errol Flynn ), "The Adventures of Robin Hood."
19. Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier ), "In the Heat of the Night."
Figures that the ONLY black actor in their entire damn list was from this crappy movie about evil Southerners. I found Poitier's character in, to name one film, Lilies of the Field, far more heroic.
20. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, (Paul Newman and Robert Redford ), "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
Seeing this one, I start to wonder why Micky and Mallory from Natural Born Killers aren't on this list.
21. Mahatma Gandhi (Ben Kingsley ), "Gandhi."
Ho hum. Yet another lefty icon.
22. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas ), "Spartacus."
And another.
23. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando ), "On the Waterfront."
Well, it's about damn time.
24. Thelma Dickinson and Louise Sawyer (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon ), "Thelma and Louise."
PUH-LEASE. Why not the cannibal couple from Eating Raoul while we're at it?
25. Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper), "The Pride of the Yankees."
26. Superman (Christopher Reeve ), "Superman."
27. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman ), "All the President's Men."
28. Juror No. 8 (Henry Fonda), "12 Angry Men."
It's one lefty icon after another.
29. Gen. George Patton (George C. Scott ), "Patton."
Throwing us right-wingers a bone with this one.
30. Luke Jackson (Paul Newman), "Cool Hand Luke."
I love this one in spite of my general hatred for late-sixties anti-establishment films.
31. Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts ), "Erin Brockovich."
Hurl. Retch. Shudder.
32. Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart), "The Big Sleep."
33. Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand ), "Fargo."
It's funny with this one. A lot of silly people I know loved the movie and this performance in particular because it seemed to goof on Midwestern people, and they thought of this film as a condescending parody of life in the great dimwitted expanses of flyover country. But the film really doesn't play that way--I found it gently appreciative of a culture that is as foreign to most Hollywood aesthetes as something from central New Guinea.
34. Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller ), "Tarzan the Ape Man."
35. Alvin York (Gary Cooper), "Sergeant York."
36. Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne ), "True Grit."
Bleh. Of all the JW characters, they picked this unpleasant, dislikable slob? No. I want Ethan Edwards from The Searchers or Sean Thornton from The Quiet Man or John Chance from Rio Bravo. To name three.
37. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness ), "Star Wars."
38. The Tramp (Charles Chaplin), "City Lights."
Sorry, the Chaplin Tramp persona was never a hero.
39. Lassie (Pal the dog), "Lassie Come Home."
No comment.
40. Frank Serpico (Al Pacino ), "Serpico."
41. Arthur Chipping (Robert Donat), "Goodbye, Mr. Chips."
42. Father Edward Flanagan (Spencer Tracy ), "Boys Town."
43. Moses (Charlton Heston ), "The Ten Commandments."
44. Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman ), "The French Connection."
Loved it at the time, but I quickly got sick of 60s/70s antiheroes, and I have really grown to despise pretty much every American studio film made between 1968 and 1975.
45. Zorro (Tyrone Power ), "The Mark of Zorro."
46. Batman (Michael Keaton ), "Batman."
Visually great fun, but Keaton is the weak link.
47. Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep ), "Silkwood."
No, it's not the radiation sickness that's making me vomit, it's the film.
48. The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger ), "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
49. Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks ), "Philadelphia."
My gag reflex is broken beyond repair by this point.
50. Maximus (Russell Crowe ), "Gladiator."

My additions, besides the ones noted above:

William Wallace (Mel Gibson), "Braveheart"
Sidney Carton (Ronald Colman), "A Tale of Two Cities."
Max (Mel Gibson), "The Road Warrior."
Judith Traherne (Bette Davis), "Dark Victory"
Ash (Bruce Campbell), "Army of Darkness"
Major John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), "Glory"
Henry V (Kenneth Branagh), "Henry V"


The Villain list is much better. Whereas the choice of heroes is strongly informed by the usual Hollywood lefty sensibilities, the villain list is surprisingly mostly free of the evil right wing strawmen who have populated American cinema for the last several decades. But I must quibble. Not even ONE Gary Oldman performance? Are they serious? And I don't even want to go into the list's painful neglect of horror movie villains.No Jason? No Michael Myers? No Leatherface? For shame.

1. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins ), "The Silence of the Lambs."
2. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins ), "Psycho."
3. Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones ), "The Empire Strikes Back."
4. The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), "The Wizard of Oz."
5. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher ), "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
6. Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore ), "It's a Wonderful Life."
7. Alex Forrest (Glenn Close ), "Fatal Attraction."
8. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck ), "Double Indemnity."
9. Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair ), "The Exorcist."
10. The Queen (voiced by Lucille LaVerne), "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
11. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), "The Godfather Part II."
12. Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell ), "A Clockwork Orange."
13. HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), "2001: A Space Odyssey."
14. The Alien (Bolaji Badejo), "Alien."
15. Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes ), "Schindler's List."
16. Noah Cross (John Huston ), "Chinatown."
17. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates ), "Misery."
18. The Shark, "Jaws."
19. Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton ), "Mutiny on the Bounty."
20. Man, "Bambi."
Oh, please. For a cartoon villain, I would go with Jeremy Irons from The Lion King.
21. Mrs. John Iselin (Angela Lansbury ), "The Manchurian Candidate."
22. The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), "The Terminator."
23. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter ), "All About Eve."
24. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas ), "Wall Street."
25. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson ), "The Shining."
26. Cody Jarrett (James Cagney ), "White Heat."
27. The Martians, "War of the Worlds."
28. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum ), "Cape Fear."
29. Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), "The Night of the Hunter."
30. Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro ), "Taxi Driver."
31. Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), "Rebecca."
32. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker (Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway), "Bonnie and Clyde."
33. Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi ), "Dracula."
34. Dr. Szell (Laurence Olivier ), "Marathon Man."
35. J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster ), "Sweet Smell of Success."
36. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper ), "Blue Velvet."
37. Harry Lime (Orson Welles ), "The Third Man."
38. Rico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson ), "Little Caesar."
39. Cruella De Vil (voiced by Betty Lou Gerson), "One Hundred and One Dalmatians."
40. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund ), "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
41. Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway), "Mommie Dearest."
42. Tom Powers (James Cagney), "The Public Enemy."
43. Regina Giddens (Bette Davis ), "The Little Foxes."
44. Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis), "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
45. The Joker (Jack Nicholson), "Batman."
46. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman ), "Die Hard."
47. Tony Camonte (Paul Muni), "Scarface."
48. Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey ), "The Usual Suspects."
49. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), "Goldfinger."
50. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington ), "Training Day."

My additions, besides those above:

Oliver Lang (Tim Robbins) "Arlington Road."
John Doe (Kevin Spacey), "Seven"
Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), "Leon"
Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) "The Untouchables"
Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), "Mad Max"
Wez (Vernon Wells) "The Road Warrior"
Calvera (Eli Wallach) "The Magnificent Seven"
Count Orlock (Max Schreck), "Nosferatu"
Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), "Rear Window"
Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth), "Rob Roy"

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

What a job I have. Morale is so low that everyone just left early today, cause they felt like it. Including me.

Anyway, it gave me time to finish my column, so I can stop using it as an excuse for being antisocial. It fought me quite a bit, and came out longer than I thought.


The ants were indeed mighty, but not so mighty as the boss. Let them come!
--Carl Stephenson, “Leiningen Versus the Ants”

Somehow, every once in a while, among all the painfully-bland fiction my high school English teachers would assign us—raise your hands if you hated Catcher in the Rye too—they would slip and actually let us read something interesting. I remember in our Short Story class the day I first read Carl Stephenson’s classic adventure “Leiningen versus the Ants.” I was twelve years old, but I remember the story vividly today.

For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a very simple 9000-word tale of a Brazilian
plantation owner who, unlike his neighbors, refuses to run away from a terrifying horde
of army ants advancing toward his farm. Instead, he fights them with every possible means—diverted river water, gasoline, folk medicine—and eventually he prevails. There is one description that I always remember, from a passage describing how the ants were drowning themselves in a water-filled trench just to allow other ants to cross over on their bodies:

Many thousands were already drowning in the sluggish creeping flow, but they were followed by troop after troop, who clambered over their sinking comrades, and then themselves served as dying bridges to the reserves hurrying on in their rear.

That passage came to mind when I was reading about the final assault on Dienbienphu on May 6, 1954, where the Vietminh launched their largest human wave attack against the French line. “That night,” it is recounted, “as the valley lay wreathed in explosions and smoke, Vietminh troops swamped the remaining French positions, using the bodies of their dead comrades to cross the French wire.” Almost exactly like Leiningen’s ants.

The comparison of human beings to hive insects doesn’t come pleasantly, but it simply is not avoidable when people make up their minds to emulate ant warfare. In fact, the human wave is a horribly inefficient method of attacking. What won Dienbienphu for the Vietminh, far more than the human wave, was General Giap’s stunning and completely unexpected ability to portage heavy artillery pieces across roadless mountains. Unfortunately, Dienbienphu had a tendency to give the HW tactic a cachet of success. Korea may have been nothing more than a hideous meatgrinder for the Chinese human waves, but Giap’s successes with the tactic romanticized it all over again.

Modern wars of attrition and their inevitable corollary, the human wave assault, have a (necessarily morbid) fascination for me. My interest is purely in the psychology and the ethics behind them, because from a tactical point of view, the straight-on HW attack is not very interesting at all. It doesn't (to my mind) simulate very well on the board, and one could probably express it best with some sort of brute-force dicerolling mechanic a la Risk or even the "dice tower" contraption that the German boardgame Wallenstein uses.

The specific phrase “human wave” goes back in popular usage to the massive Chinese attacks during the Korean War, though the concept is obviously far older. In a broader sense you can say that any direct assault that seeks to overwhelm the enemy with numbers is a human wave. Many direct sieges—Malta and Rorke’s Drift come to mind—were technically human wave attacks.

In modern usage, however, the term has come to connote attackers (often but not always overcoming technological inferiority) using numerical superiority to try to swarm over better-armed defensive emplacements. Stalin's famous adage "quantity has a quality all its own" could easily be its motto.

Essentially the modern HW idea dates to the trenches of World War One. There, the masses of eighteen-year-olds armed only with bayonets running toward entrenched machine gun positions changed the way the West thought about war. Afterwards, it became culturally unthinkable for most Europeans—even the Nazis—to waste their own men that way.

These days, the HW assault is pretty much the exclusive property of the tankless and the desperate and the fanatical. But in World War Two the Japanese and the Soviets both used it often.

To be completely fair, I have to admit that sometimes these attacks are successful. In particular the Ataka zhivoy volnoy (the term’s Russian literal translation) on the Eastern Front was brutally effective at times, especially when German air and armor support was lacking. There is a remarkable description of one such action on the streets of Budapest in 1945, from Nicholas Nyaradi’s Ringside Seat in Moscow:

There was no crawling, no sniping; a line of Soviet infantrymen simply marched, as though on parade, straight toward the German barricade. Naturally, they were mowed down by German machine guns; all of them dead before they even half reached their objective. But no sooner had they fallen than a second row of Russians began a suicidal march, only to be wiped out. Then a third, a fourth, a fifth-rows of soldiers, marching like automatons to what could only be death. I counted a total of twenty such attacking waves of Soviet infantrymen, each wind-row falling on top of the dead until there was a mountain of bodies. Then the last waves of Russians, charging up the stack of corpses, vaulted the barricades and slaughtered the Germans with savage ferocity.

There are also stories from Afghanistan of masses of lightly-armed Al Qaeda jihadists charging dug-in Soviet, and later Northern Alliance, positions and overrunning them. When I think of successful HW attacks like these, I am drawn to another insect metaphor, the opening scene of Sam Peckinpah’s film The Wild Bunch: Thousands of ants overwhelming and devouring a scorpion.

But of course there are limits. Scorpions don't have AC-130 gunships loitering nearby, the way the Americans did in Afghanistan in 2001 when the jihadist HWs were turned into red gristle every time they tried to attack. If HW assaults are insect-like, it's best to react to them calmly and with discipline—for lack of a better word, like exterminators.

Which brings us to the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88. The conventional wisdom, repeated endlessly by lazy reporters-that the Iraqis needed chemical weapons to stop Iranian HW attacks-is simply wrong. Chemicals are extremely poor defensive weapons. They require favorable wind and weather conditions, meaning that they are only militarily significant, let alone effective, in offensive action. Additionally, mustard agents, a relatively cheap chemical that the Iraqis used often, can require hours to take full effect, making them all but pointless for the defender. In World War I, chemicals had marginal effectiveness at punching holes in defensive fronts, especially where they defenders were unprepared for this tactic-but a primary reliance on chemicals to beat back assaults would be insanity. The Iraqis seem to have used chemicals, in the main, offensively; and to a much lesser extent to enhance kill ratios in combination with other, more lethal defensive tactics.

Post-Korea, the Iranians seem to have employed the HW tactic on the largest scale. Though all human wave attacks are reprehensible, probably the single most appalling variant of the tactic was the Iranian theocracy's use of massed "volunteers," including boys as young as nine, to attack Iraqi positions. The "volunteers" were typically roped together in groups of twenty to prevent desertion. Their numbers were enormous-"tens of thousands," said one journalist who observed a battle in 1984. Smaller groups of girls were used specifically to clear minefields with their bodies.

And to combat them, the Iraqis experimented with various solutions. Chemical weapons proved less effective against the HW than other methods, some of them quite ingenious: Anti-personnel mines dropped from helicopters. Flooding parts of the battlefield to force the Iranians into narrow kill zones. And, most significantly, artillery. The Iraqis found that nothing dealt with masses of oncoming attackers like massed artillery.

This was a lesson the Americans had learned in Vietnam, where they had far greater success against the HW than the French did: Tactical artillery, plus available close air support, turns the tactic into certain suicide. A Vietnam veteran friend of mine described for me the effect of the M102 105mm towed howitzer gun, modified to use "beehive" flechette rounds like an enormous shotgun, on an advancing Vietcong HW. He watched as the gun fired and a score of guerillas fell down instantly, dying in unison as if choreographed, as did each successive wave.

But we still see the HW if the combatants are ruthless and desperate enough. Both sides in the recent Ethiopia-Eritrea war claimed that the other was using the tactic, though there is far more evidence that the Ethiopians were. Human Rights Watch has reported that the Ethiopian HW attacks were organized by ethnicity, with the ruling Tigre tribal group forcing the rival Omoros to serve as HW fodder, including their children. This is yet another permutation in the tactic: The human wave as deliberate ethnic cleanser.

But of course this is only fitting. The maddening act of HW warfare is in and of itself an abrogation of humanity and a surrender to the values of the insect world. Worse, from a strictly military viewpoint, is the unforgivable tactical laziness, the switch-off of the brain at every level of command.

Which is why I am such a Leiningen fan. “With me,” he says, preparing to wipe out the attacking ants, “the brain isn't a second blindgut; I know what it's there for.”

Monday, June 02, 2003

Lovely visit with my family yesterday. It has been only in the last few years that I realized how much I loved them. In the past, there were always specters that darkened my feelings toward the family in general. *coughcrazysisteralcoholicfathercough* I grew up horribly ashamed of my family and the idea of my family--in spite of my constant affection for my brother and sister. Now, only much later, when I look at how likeable they are, do I start to feel the sort of filial comfort that a lot of fortunate people feel.

Joe also shared a truly horrifying story of the time he visited my nutty Turkish girlfriend in Germany, and she read him her memorized list of my faults--which I knew was true because she had told me that she had numbered them and carried them around with her for reference--and told him, can you please address these with your brother? I am serious. She had assigned ordinal numbers to everything about me that pissed her off. "Sixth. His shoes. I hate them. They won't do." I think the list got into the thirties.

One of the great miracles of my life, for which I never thank God enough, is that I never married that person. It was one of those things where you never realize how gloriously Divine Mercy showered upon you until later.

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