Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Your Arteries Will Clog Just From You Reading This Next Sentence
In France, says Christophe, a substance may not legally be labeled "ice cream" until it contains eight egg yolks per quart.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Go Read Slacktivist on Left Behind The Slacktivist continues his series tearing apart the Left Behind books. The latest installment features not only a great paragraph, but several great comments. The paragraph [plus]:

[...] L&J haven't given even a cursory second thought to what it means for every child under the age of 12 to disappear.

Whatever the precise figure of the disappeared, however, we can safely assume that it included hundred of thousands, if not millions of young, attractive white women. Buck is watching CNN. Think of it: Millions of missing white women, all at the same time. What would CNN do? Would they cover them all? Or maybe just the blonde ones?

The comments: First, from Buhallin:

A brief look at the new "prequel" in the store reveals that Carpathia is actually the result of genetic engineering. Sometimes, the blatant pandering is so transparent it boggles my mind that anyone can buy this tripe. I mean, come on... The Antichrist will arise from genetic engineering?? They should have had him grow from an aborted fetus following the GE, that way we could have worked abortion into it too!

Followed by this clarification from McArdle (presumably not Jane Galt):

Ah, but you leave out the best part. Carpathia is the result of genetic engineering combining the DNA of two homosexuals! So now we've got three of the four G's: God, Genetic engineering, and Gay marriage. You don't suppose they'll find a way to work Gun control into the mix too, do you?

Mark follows with, among other things:

Why would Satan construct his minion by a method that practically guarantees that he'll be sterile? Didn't he see "The Devil's Advocate"? If I were Satan, I'd watch every movie ever made about me, both to see how I get defeated and because I'd have a huge ego.

And in another branch of the thread, about which real-life events had the highest death toll, this I-didn't-know-that from Sandals:

As a side note, Slaughterhouse Five cites wildly played-up casualty counts for Dresden based on the work of David Irving. (Yes, that David Irving.)

So much joy in one posting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Stranger-Danger Fear Turns Out To Be A Danger
BOUNTIFUL, Utah --The 11-year-old boy lost for four days in a mountain wilderness did just what he had been taught, his parents said Wednesday: He stayed on his trail and avoided strangers, even though they were searching for him.[...]

They described the boy as social immature, but not mentally disabled.

The parents said Brennan had seen people searching for him on horse and ATV, but avoided them because of what he had been taught.

"He stayed on the trail, he avoided strangers," Jody Hawkins said. "His biggest fear, he told me, was that someone would steal him."
Just a reminder that inordinate fear, even of things that really do happen, has costs.
Saturday, June 18, 2005
Shit and Auschwitz

"I think they would have been very happy to be allowed to defecate on themselves." -- Chris Wallace, Fox News, via Clever Peasantry, via several.

"Would have been"?

There's a reason Steven Spielberg put this shot in Schindler's List:

From "Women Before Hell's Gate: Survivors of the Holocaust and their Memoirs"
Another of the most common types of torture described by all of these writers is that of excremental assault. According to Harold Kaplan, the purpose of excremental assault was to produce a sense of self-disgust in the victims and thereby diminish their will to survive.18 Lucie Begov vividly describes the "Scheißkommando" as an example of this excremental assault. While imprisoned in Auschwitz, she was forced to empty large wagons filled with human excrement from latrines all over camp. The purpose of this exercise was to humiliate and degrade her and weaken her resistance to the deathly forces around her.

When Ruth Klüger and her mother were transported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, they were bombarded with another form of excremental assault. They were transported in crowded cattle cars without food, water, or any form of sanitation: "Bald stank der Wagen nach Urin und Kot, man mußte dafür Gefäße von Mitgebrachten finden, und es gab nur eine Luke um diese zu leeren." ["The wagon soon stank from urine and excrement; one had to find containers for it from the things that one had brought with, and there was only one hatch through which they could be emptied."]
From Terrence Des Pres' The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps, which introduced that term "excremental assault" [about 1/3 of the way down that page]:
It began in the trains, in the locked boxcars -- eighty to a hundred people per car --crossing Europe to the camps in Poland:

The temperature started to rise, as the freight car was enclosed and body heat had no outlet...The only place to urinate was through a slot in the skylight, though whoever tried, usually missed, spilling urine on the floor...When dawn finally rose...we were all quite ill and shattered, crushed not only by the weight of fatigue but by the stifling, moist atmosphere and the foul odor of excrement....There was no latrine, no provision....On top of everything else, a lot of people had vomited on the floor. We were to live for days on end breathing those foul smells, and soon we lived in the foulness itself (Kessel, 50-51).

Everybody in the block had came to Belsen Bergen in its most violent, most painful, deadliest form. The diarrhea caused by it became uncontrollable. It flooded the bottom of the cages, dripping through the cracks into the faces of the women lying in the cages below, and mixed with blood, pus and urine, formed a slimy, fetid mud on the floor of the barracks (Perl, 171).

The latrines were a spectacle unto themselves:

There was one latrine for thirty to thirty two thousand women and we were permitted to use it only at certain hours of the day. We stood in line to get into this tiny building knee-deep in human excrement. As we all suffered from dysentery, we could rarely wait until our turn came, and soiled our ragged clothes, which never came off our bodies, thus adding to the horror of our existence by the terrible smell which surrounded us like a cloud. The latrine consisted of a deep ditch with planks thrown across it at certain intervals. We squatted on these planks like birds perched on a telegraph wire, so close together that we could not help soiling one another (Perl, 33).

Prisoners lucky enough to work in one of the camp hospitals, therefore able to enjoy some measure of privacy, were not thereby exempt from the latrine's special horror:

"I had to step into human excreta, into urine soaked with blood, into stools of patients suffering from highly contagious diseases. Only then could one reach the hole, surrounded by the most inexpressible dirt" (Weiss,69). The new prisoner's initiation into camp life was complete when he "realized that there was no toilet paper"---

The fact is that prisoners were systematically subjected to filth They were the deliberate target of excremental assault. Defilement was a constant threat, a condition of life from day to day, and at any moment it was liable to take abruptly vicious and sometimes fatal forms. The favorite pastime of one Kapo was to stop prisoners just before they reached the latrine. He would force an inmate to stand at attention for questioning; them make him "squat in deep knee-bends until the poor man could no longer control his sphincter and "exploded", then beat him; and only then, "covered with his own excrement, the victim would be allowed to drag himself to the latrine" (Donat, 178). In another instance, prisoners were forced to lie in rows on the ground, and each man, when he was finally allowed to get up, "had to urinate across the heads of the others"; and there was "one night when they refined their treatment by making each man urinate into another's mouth" (Wells, 91.)

In Birkenau, soup bowls were periodically taken from the prisoners and thrown into the latrine, from which they had to be retrieved: "When you put it to your lips for the first time, you smell nothing suspicious. Other pairs of hands trembling with impatience wait for it, they seize it the moment you have finished drinking: Only later, much later, does a repelling odor hit your nostrils."
(Szmaglewska 154)
There's some more at the link, and now I see there are more examples in the comments of the Clever Peasantry blog posting. Good work indeed, Chris Wallace.

Friday, June 17, 2005
Two Spams

Second, more enthusiastic, and wittier:
Ïðèâåò!!. :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Batman Will Be Beginning Now

I look forward especially to the dramatic scene where Bruce Wayne, dismembered and horribly burned, is sealed into his terrifying new costume by Alfred, who has been plotting his rise to power for decades.

Also, I hear Shark Boy is good in this one.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
I'm Sorry, I Can't Stop Laughing

WorldnetDaily, via Drudge:

Abortionist accused
of eating fetuses

This is an ongoing case in Kansas City; the doctor is accused of appalling conditions in his clinic. I can't tell whether the case is being driven by anti-abortion forces, or they're just the ones who are the most thrilled. But doesn't some Godwin-like consideration take effect when we get to literal accusations of baby-eating?

(Oh, also on Drudge:



The Koran, Piss Christ and Flag-Burning

The Koran-excretia issue has gone off in a couple of different directions. One is "What about Piss Christ?" (Random link to start: Henley.) Another, more relevant response has been, "What kind of nuts riot over a book?"


According to Anthony Romero, posting at TPMCafe, the anti-flag-burning amendment is back, and might come up for a vote soon. Let's see what the cooler heads around think about the physical desecration (!) of an American flag -- maybe a visit to Free Republic is in order:

Commenter Sterco:
For those who would consider burning the red white and blue. I would not recommend coming into Nebraska, Wyoming, or Colorado and doing the same. It will get your ass kicked real bad. Even the anti-gay protesters in Laramie Wyo. were not in trouble until they burned a flag. I suspect that they will never come back. I also suspect that they left stuff behind in their hurry to get the hell out of town.
In Texas deadly force is justifiable if used to prevent commission of arson, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual assault and other crimes.

That said don't mess with TX or my flag liberal dirtbags.
Bommer [look, I didn't give them these names]:
If its there right to burn the flag, then its your right to have a super soaker full of gasoline to douse them with when they attempt to light it. Its your right ot protect the country from all enemys foreign and DOMESTIC.
Burning the flag is the ultimate free speech but I'd like to beat anyone who does it with a baseball bat !
Well said all! But whatever you do, don't get violent over a book. That's just stupid.

Interestingly, Free Republic also has an entire thread where the posters are almost universally opposed to the amendment. Others in that community just think that our priorities should be adjusted:
Tell me why we're wasting time on this issue when thousands and thousands of Mexicans will illegally immigrate into America in the next year?
But Netizen ties it all together for us:
Maybe we are going at it all wrong. How about we start burning the Mexican flag? When an uproar over that ensues, and people try to stop that, and protect the Mexican flag, then we protect the US flag as well.

Monday, June 13, 2005
Unexpected Company

Dammit, I knew I should have vacuumed.

Greetings to the Evanier-directed visitors (and thanks again to Mark for the link). In answer to the question "Hey, this is mostly quit hits that barely rise to the level of 'blog'-- isn't there anything substantial here?", well, yes, it mostly is, but there are a few high points.
This is a story about Margaret Thatcher in 1971 that I guarantee you haven't read anywhere. This is my previously most-linked-to piece, thanks to Avedon Carol's link (warning: if you get upset just remembering October 2004 and thinking that Kerry might win, skip it). This is the first of series of posts from the Democratic Convention, which are probably readable even if you can't stand to think about the election. (I meet Samantha Bee! I get in the background of a Letterman remote bit with Biff Henderson and Michael Moore, which ends up not getting aired!)

And if you'd like to read stuff by a real writer, go
here, and then buy the book and/or follow the link to the archives.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
The Value of Video Game Voice Acting

And since I was talking about Looking Glass...

Mark Evanier flags and discusses an article about the recent avoidance of a strike by video game voice actors, and has a particular response to a couple of points, one of which is this:
Game producers had balked at providing residuals, arguing that people don't buy games because of the actors who appear in them.
To which Mark replies:
Obviously, the actors are a factor in the sales of a game. If not, the employers would just grab a delivery boy, give him fifty dollars and stick him in front of a microphone. That they pay to get accomplished actors is proof that it does make a difference.
And on this point, the Thief series, which began at Looking Glass and was completed at Ion Storm after the LG shutdown, is, by a country mile, the best example. (Let me repeat first that although I was lucky enough to work at LG, I had pretty close to nothing to do with any published Thief game.) Thief contains first-person voice-over narration from the title character, Garrett, who was voiced in all three Thief games by Stephen Russell. You can hear a sample of Russell's performance in the trailer for Thief: Deadly Shadows, available here; it's a version of the hard-boiled detective narration that Harrison Ford channeled in the theatrical release of Blade Runner. Here are some views on the importance of Russell's voice-over, all from reviews of T:DS:
Stephen Russell's gravelly, snide voice catches the mood impeccably. And at this juncture in my symposium, I have to give mad props to Mr. Russell. He has voiced Garrett since the beginning, and has also lent his talents to Arx Fatalis and Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. More game companies should focus on actors who truly understand the subtleties of voice acting, as Stephen Russell does. His Garrett is the perfect blend of the somewhat bored and detached film noir voiceover and the world-weary drone of Bogie from The Big Sleep. There'’s something about his intonations that unswervingly put you into the Thief world. It'’s a shame it took me five minutes reading the credits of people who probably brought coffee to the guy who brings the bagels before I got to the voice credits. I know this is probably a sore subject with a lot of production professionals, but as important as they are, I think voice talent should be given priority in the credits. Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds and Jenna Jameson were plugged (no pun intended in Ms. Jameson'’s instance) prominently in the press releases for GTA: Vice City, but who (besides critics like me who take the time to read the full credits of a game) has ever heard of Stephen Russell? After all, who would go to see Terminator 4: Set Design by Melvin Schkleckner? I get the marketing gist, but, c'’mon guys, let'’s give the nod to the people whose work is more intimate with the players'’ experience than the (albeit) genius who made Garrett's skin look so amazingly supple.
Specifically, the voice acting is far and away Deadly Shadow's high point in regards to sound. For the most part, all of the game's voice acting is top notch, highly believable, and extremely fitting to the setting and atmosphere. Fans will no doubt immediately recognize Stephen Russell's voice, who returns to play the role of Garret in the way only he could, and most supporting characters play their roles superbly.
And with you through it all is the reassuringly cocky voice of our hero, Garrett, given life by Stephen Russell. In addition to the previous Thief entries, Russell's voice can be found in the classics like System Shock 2 and Arx Fatalis, and more recently in the Neverwinter Nights expansion, Shadows of Undrentide.
From Gamespy:
Special mention must be made of the voices -- all of them are brilliant, especially Stephen Russell, whose voice so embodies world-weary character of Garrett that it's virtually impossible to imagine anybody else in the role.
From Gamespot:
Fans of the series will instantly recognize Stephen Russell, who returns to provide the unmistakable voice of Garrett. Additionally, a number of other voice actors from previous Thief games again put in excellent performances. On the other hand, some of the voice-over, such as that used for some of the civilians who are walking the streets of The City, isn't nearly up to the same level of quality.
So that oughtta make that point...well, just one more, from (really) "Four Fat Chicks":
Actor Stephen Russell plays Garrett—and about nine million other tiny roles in the Thief games—and he's so good that you simply couldn't imagine the character sounding like anyone else. It goes without saying by this point that Garrett is a complicated fellow, and a lot of his personality must be conveyed in how he says things. Sarcastic, dry, slightly amused, but with a sharp edge warning of a capability for shocking violence, Russell's portrayal of Garrett is spot-on. Listening to actors like [Terri] Brosius and Russell leaves limited sympathy for developers that cut costs by stuffing janitors and interns in the sound studio and handing them a script.
I should also mention here that the overall sound design of all the Looking Glass games, including the System Shock series as well as the Thief games, is the work of Eric Brosius, whose sound work is as crucial to the emotional effect of these games as is the sound in modern motion pictures. (As you might have guessed, he's also the husband of writer/designer/voice performer Terri Brosius, mentioned in the last review snippet above.) Since we're giving credit where credit is due today.

Finally, there's this in the AP report:
The agreement also calls for pay provisions for actors whose performances are used in promotional films longer than 12 minutes...
Call me cynical, but I bet this turns out to be the answer to the trivia question of the future: "Why are there so many 11-minute promo films for video games?"
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
St. John Paul: What's the Hurry?

The Vatican has begun the process of getting Pope John Paul II declared a saint, going so far as to (as everybody mundanely describes this) "fast-track" it.

Benedict announced May 13 that he had decided to put John Paul on a fast track for possible sainthood. While Mother Teresa was put on a similar fast-track, her cause didn't begin until a year after her death, whereas the process began six weeks after John Paul died.

During John Paul's April 8 funeral, mourners interrupted the Mass by chanting "Santo! Santo!" and carried banners exclaiming "Santo Subito!" or "Sainthood Immediately!"

("Through a bizarre typographical error, he was declared 'St. Immediately' and now functions as the patron saint of procrastinators.")

Yes, but: why? Is sainthood a change in status of JP's immortal soul, such that the few years it would take otherwise to get him there represent an infinite loss for him? Does the Church claim to hold that much spiritual power? If not that, is there anything to this beyond Church politics and a worldwide popularity contest? That is, does JP becoming a saint quickly, even within the premise of Catholicism, make any difference?

(By the way, for anti-beatification arguments -- including, ironically, the earlier beatification of Mother Teresa -- see this blog-or-whatever that I've never heard of before.)

UPDATE: First thing I didn't know is that "beatification" is not sainthood:
Beatification places virtuous Roman Catholics halfway toward full sainthood

The Surprising Result of a Series of Marginal Decisions

-- For a few years I worked at Looking Glass, a computer game company. (The company is now dead, but their fan site remains at Through The Looking Glass.)
-- When LG published Thief II, I was credited with "Additional Programming". I'm not sure that a single keystroke of mine actually caused anything that's in Thief II.
-- A lot of game voice-over credits have been entered into IMDB.
-- Somebody has taken this to extremes, and started entering all the game credits they could find into IMDB.
-- So here I am.

Maybe I should submit a photo.
Jokes I Got, Oh, Forty Years Later (A Continuing Series)

The comic strip "Andy Capp" is supposed to sound like the word "handicap". For years I was distracted by a) Mr. Capp's...cap, and b) the similarity of the character name to that of Al Capp, creator of L'il Abner.

An earlier entry in this embarrassing series is
Friday, June 03, 2005
Narnia Trailer Subtlety

I just saw a trailer for the new film version of C. S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. During the setup of the Professor's house, where the children find the Wardrobe, these words appear alone on the screen:


This is a near-quotation of John 14:2, which is rendered in more than one translation as "In my Father's house there are many rooms" (although "...many mansions" may be more familiar, as it's in the KJV). To the extent that this refers to there being many ways to come to God, it perfectly mirrors Lewis's own intent in creating Aslan the lion as Jesus incarnated for Narnia. A nice touch.

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