Sunday, November 30, 2003


That'll teach me. One of the things I was too busy to do lately was get my annual flu shot. Last year I did, and went all winter with nary a sniffle. This year I didn't, and what I thought was a cold at the beginning of the week turned out to be a knock-down, drag-out, shivering-under-five-blankets case of the flu. I still got around--I made the 60-mile round trip to my sister's house three of the four days of the weekend--but I was a mess (well, more than usual) the whole time until now (Sunday night) when I finally feel vaguely human again. I normally don't go more than a day without updating the blog.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

I've been pretty miserable the last two days. I've had a nagging cold and I've been running around like a madman doing various things. Monday and Tuesday i was alone at the store; Monday I went to an auction that night for four hours after work, and Tuesday I was at the store for 12 hours. Today I was in Media, then Phoenixville, then Abington, then back home, which was like a 125-mile round trip. I am so glad I have tomorrow to relax and try to feel like a human again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Now I understand that a major part of the appeal of the show 24 is its daffy audacity. The show relentlessly piles one improbability upon another, playing with the audience's willing suspension of disbelief. Those are the show's ground rules.

But tonight's show was even more over the top than usual. We are expected to believe that a rioting mob of prisoners will take a time-out from a chance for some good, satisfying, wanton destruction...to set up a game of Russian Roulette with other prisoners? Huh?

I say again...Huh?

Didn't they ever see The Deer Hunter? (Since, clearly, the writers of this silly ep, apparently requiring some cheap dramatic tension as filler, did). It was such a hollow, phony moment that I couldn't even take any pleasure in watching the guy who played the annoying Forrest character from Season 4 of Buffy shoot himself.

Meanwhile, the show's heroic Democratic President is debating a cartoon Republican who, like all Republicans, is only interested in investigating people's private lives. This moment brought a sigh of relief out of me; apparently, the bizarreness was over, and the show was, reassuringly, back to normal.

Monday, November 24, 2003

So I actually used to admire Curt Schilling, even if I thought his games are boring. But he always seemed like an honorable guy. Take, for example, his interview with the Inky two weeks ago, where he made several declarations of principle:

He would accept a trade to two teams - the Phillies and the New York Yankees.

"I've said it before: If it's impossible for me to finish my career with them, I'd like to do it in Philadelphia."

"As it stands right now, there are only two phone calls that would interest me," he said. "One would be [Phillies general manager] Ed Wade saying, 'We have 72 hours to strike a deal.' The other would be [Yankees GM] Brian Cashman saying the same thing."

What about Boston? Reports have said Schilling would consider accepting a trade to the Red Sox.

"I'm not going to Boston," he said adamantly. "I never said that. I never mentioned Boston. I'm a righthanded fly-ball pitcher. In Fenway Park, that's not a tremendous mix."

So of course comes the news today that Schilling is about to sign with the Red Sox, because of (according to WFAN in New York) a $30 million contract extension they are offering.

All I can say is: Hey Curt, your games still suck.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Got up early and went to an auction thanks to the invention of the snooze button or I wouldn't have gotten up until 11). I spent more money than I planned to but I did pick up six vintage Tsukuda resin model kits for an average of $11 each; I think we will make very good money from them. I also got some other stuff I couldn't resist, like original animation cels from various Japanese anime for $8 each.

The auction was on Ontario Avenue in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, literally around the corner from the house where I spent every Saturday of my childhood when we visited my grandmother. It's always nostalgic for me to visit there, even though each time I see it, it resembles the world of my childhood less and less.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Master and Commander is wonderful. My anachronism alarm bells went off only once (did people really talk about the "rain forest" in 1805?), which is remarkable for a period film made by current Hollywood. Russell Crowe is excellent, and the battle against the perfidious French made me proud to be British even if I'm not British. This is one of Peter Weir's best movies, and that's saying something.

Edited to add: A query from my brother prompted me to look it up: It seems the term "rain forest" (or more precisely Regenwald) was first used by the German naturalist Alfred Schimper in 1898, over ninety years after the events of the film.

Edited to add again: My friend Don Howard found this letter from Charles Darwin to his sister Catherine in 1832:

Yet in all of this beauty, one thing remains disturbing. Here on Bahia, on the Northeastern coast of Brasil—chiseled into the delirious greenness of rainforest—man holds man captive. Nothing plays enchanting in blood mixing with sweat on the whip-cuts of the negroes. Nothing enchanting in the deep brown skin chained with iron coils.

Grrr. Another demonstration of how conventional wisdom becomes conventional: People keep repeating it over and over because the internet tells them so. Anyway, I am glad the movie isn't anachronistic.

Friday, November 21, 2003

We will be seeing more and more of nonsense like this in years to come as religion becomes politics becomes religion.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Fleeing network television because of that ubiquitous, incredibly unpleasant mug shot of Michael Jackson, I happened on the film version of From Hell on HBO. I had forgotten how much I hated it when I saw it in the theater. It was possibly the worst period film I've ever seen. It's not just Heather Graham's Victorian-prostitute-with-perfect-skin-and-teeth, it's not just the screaming anachronisms one after the other, it's not just the wild and seemingly random rearrangement of historical fact, it's not just the obvious looks of embarrassment on the faces of the real actors in the cast like Robbie Coltrane and Ian Holm.

More than any of its awful components, the problems of From Hell are fundamental: Every single brain cell associated with this project--and I am speaking of the original graphic novel written by Alan Moore--has been ruthlessly exterminated.

Part of the reason why I didn't mind the silly film version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was that Moore wrote that original story as an entertainment in the Graham Greene sense, a fun, unserious project. But From Hell was about as serious as you can get: Moore put an enormous amount of research into it--the endnotes take up dozens of pages in the collected edition--and came up with an audacious conspiracy story of Masonic intrigue that I didn't believe a word of but was completely captivated by, and which the film script can't even begin to understand. This is one of those rare films that it's painful to watch, not for its disturbing images, but for its total failure of intellect.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The transcript of my favorite GWB speech ever. "The British people are the sort of partners you want when serious work needs doing."

Edward Jay Epstein has the best single article on Mohamed Atta's meetings with Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Al-Ani in 2000 and 2001.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Commerce is commerce, after all. Paul Krugman's new book has the following staid, dignified cover in the USA:

But in the anti-American heartland of Europe, Krugman's book uses the following lovely little image:

With the above as Exhibit A, the amount of hate generated by the Left towards the current occupant of the White House is really off the charts. My favorite of late has been the hysterical raving of the Mayor of London, who tells us that "Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen. The policies he is initiating will doom us to extinction."

Sunday, November 16, 2003


Just flipping the channels, I saw the following crawl at the bottom of the screen on CCN today:


Did the SUV shoot the guy? Damn, I knew they were evil.

Seriously, what does the fact that the killers drove an SUV have to do with anything? How is it relevant, except as an indicator of what the people at CNN think of them?

Saturday, November 15, 2003


How can Cornel West get more lines than Monica Bellucci?

Friday, November 14, 2003

I have avoided reading about the horrible suicide bombing that killed all those Italian soldiers in Iraq the other day. It was oddly personal to me in a way that even the deaths of Americans are not. The Americans there are all volunteers and are doing exactly what they signed up for, and I am so proud of them, and so saddened when some of them die because they represent the absolute best of America, in a way that I can barely express. They are professional warriors, the best in the world, and the risk is part of the job.

But the Italian Army is a conscript army; true, anyone who wants can choose alternate service like working in a hospital as my friend Luigi did. But most young men go into the military when drafted. And I think of those guys as the people who worked in the warehouse with me at Giovanni's company who one day would disappear and you'd find out they'd gone into the army as required. When I heard about the atrocity in Nasiriya I felt like I knew them, and I get choked up when I think of them. God bless them, and rest their souls.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

I can't help it, they make me laugh.

And happy birthday to my sister Suzanne today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I just read a wonderful opinion piece from the Archbishop of Denver about a number of things, one of which is the ADL's charge of antisemitism re: Mel Gibson's upcoming movie The Passion of Christ. I'm continually fascinated by the desperate need, in a world where even respected Muslim political leaders essentially quote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for liberal Jews to find danger in...conservative Christians.

It's baffling on the surface. From the Islamic world we hear more and more out-and-out Nazi exterminationist rhetoric, but the Jewish left seems only to fear the Christian Right. The bizarre comments from George Soros the other day are typical, absolving the Muslims of blame:

"There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, and it is of concern to me," he said. "The policies followed by the Bush administration and the Sharon administration contribute to that."

The best explanation I can come up with is that people like Soros and Abraham Foxman take exactly the wrong message from the Holocaust: The real lesson of the Holocaust is not that right-wingers are dangerous, it's that when people say that they hate others and demand the right to exterminate them, it's best to take them at their word.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Can I rant very briefly about media that demand the right to show American coffins returning from Iraq, and which never miss a chance to emphasize Allied deaths in Iraq, often in the most gruesome manner, but which at the same time refuse to show 9/11 footage because it's, you know, inflammatory.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Stolen from Jennie:

On The Edge
On the Edge: You've done a few bad things in your
life, but hasnt everyone? You see it this way:
you do what you have to in order to survive.
You are so precariously close to becoming
something evil all it would take is one shove
in the wrong direction to make you loose it.

Your soul is starting to blacken around the edges
and if you should happen to fall, redemption
will be a long ways away. Hope is fleeting and
all too far away.

How Wyrm Tainted Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Saturday, November 08, 2003

There is a good, balanced article on the subject of American "exceptionalism" in the current Economist that is worthwhile on its own, but also contains some graphs that fascinated me. I think they illustrate some of the reasons for America's enormous power and prosperity:

A brief visit tonight to Zern's farmer's market/flea market in Gilbertsville, way out in the sticks, for the first time in three years. This is the kind of place where--and I am not making this up--they serve battered deep-fried Twinkies. Another stand there specializes in deep-fried chicken organ meats (the new innovation, a nod to the changing demographics in Berks County, is the signs in both English and Spanish telling us what the disgusting internal organs were: I now know that "gizzard" is molleja in Spanish). Yes, deep-frying is a recurring theme at Zern's.

But it was still a wonderful trip, because there was another stand where we found six copies of the old Wizards of the Coast game The Great Dalmuti for $2.00 each. The game ebays for $20-25.

*Does the dance of capitalist superiority*

Thursday, November 06, 2003

A brief real-life Grrrr moment. So we discovered today that the guy who has been organizing Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments in our store has been charging people $5 apiece to play.

Payable to him.

On our free tables.

Besides being illegal--the guy is running a business enterprise and pocketing money without a sales tax license--it's incredibly sleazy. He's using our facilties on our private property that we pay rent and tax on to make money at our expense. Without even asking.

I have been gritting my teeth about this since I found out. I got it out of my system by writing up a code of conduct for the use of our tables that we'll post--which Bob or I should have done long ago--that includes no money changing hands. But really, the next time this guy comes into the store we will have words.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Samuel Huntington's controversial "Clash of Civilizations" thesis is in its tenth year. Briefly stated, it goes like this:

CIVILIZATION IDENTITY will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization. The most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another.

A lot of people kind of clucked at the Huntington thesis during the Nineties--this was the age of Bill Clinton's absurd line that "no missiles are pointed at American children."--but 9/11 made everyone take notice.

For the last two years, phrase "clash of civilizations" has been thrown about indiscriminately. But of course we are not really seeing such a thing, not really. As blogger Armed Liberal bluntly puts it,

A real war of civilizations, as I have pointed out over and over again, only has one result. We'll be here, they won't.

In fact, the entire Iraq war and aftermath is nothing less than an elaborate attempt to head off a real CoC. And if the worldwide Left gets its wish and the Iraq experiment fails completely and the Americans get driven out, the remaining responses to the Islamic threat to the West narrow to two: Surrender (the preferred continental European option) and a real, nasty, profoundly ugly clash of civilizations.

If you want to know what the real Clash of Civilizations looks like, you have to look at places like Bosnia/Kosovo, Chechnya, and India. A recent article in Dissent by Martha Nussbaum describes the early 2002 Gujarat massacres in India:

...more than two thousand Muslims were killed in a few
days, many by being burned alive in or near their homes. Nobody was spared:
young children were immolated along with their families. Particularly striking were the mass rapes and mutilations of women.

And this is the alternative that we are trying to avoid.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The lowest life forms on planet earth, says the writer, and I sure can't disagree.

Andrew Sullivan linked this group of worst album covers ever.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Running this morning at the Heinz NWR on the most spectacular Indian Summer November day that I can remember, with all the leaves still on the trees and full of color, with the air warm and sunny, and as I'm running down the Impoundment trail nearing the Observation Tower, I see this big black trashbag in the distance before me. I come up to it and it's not a trashbag, it's the biggest damn turtle I have ever seen in my life. It was a Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina), but I had never seen one that large. The shell was about 18" long and 12" wide, and counting the head and tail it was over two feet long. By the time I went back to get my camera, he had finished sunning himself and was gone.

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