Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just Wow

I don't even want to try to describe what is on this site. 100% work safe and incredibly gorgeous:

Student Flotsom and Origami Jetsam

I can't even fold a letter neatly to stick into an envelope...


Wednesday, August 22, 2007


In my search for goofy things online, I came across this YouTube video of a wide variety of African fauna having a good time consuming a particular bit of African flora.

Party Tree

I could do without the background music, but the whole is a mild chuckle.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rituals of Justice

Monday and Tuesday, I was called up for jury duty. I was called to a criminal trial, a rather minor one that did not involve violence, as far as I can tell. I didn't get seated, but it was an interesting experience, as it took two days to select the jury. There seems to be some dress code in the legal profession that dictates all female court officials wear a minimum 2" high heel. Every piece of furniture in the courtroom is barcoded, even the ancient wooden stenographer's desk, and there are more computers than I remember from my last stint.

The formality and rituals of the courtroom are fascinating. Jurors can only enter a courtroom when directed to do so. The prosecutor's table is always to the left of the judge, the defendent's always to the right. The attorneys rise and face the jury when we enter or depart, standing just so. There is a great deal of standing just so - rise as the judge enters, stand and face the flag, use only your right hand for an oath, move from one seat to another upon direction, face a certain direction when answering. The questions asked bear no resemblance to TV shows. They are stated calmly, slowly, and (at least for the selection) in the same way. Everyone is Mr. and Ms. , Your Honor and Juror, the People and the Defense. It is reassuring, this structure.

Where else in public life can one find this level of order as a normal matter of daily action? Legislatures, I suspect, places of worship and militaries. Ritual gives form and meaning - it is done this way for the sake of something. In this case, it is for the sake of justice. It is easy to be cynical and deride what you see as nothing more than a sham, window dressing on a fundamentally economically and racially biased system. Cynicism, however, is too easy. It takes nothing to refuse to imbue ritual with meaning, to "go through the motions." It takes little more to imagine the ritual to be the meaning.

What is missing from either stance is the possibility that ritual can draw us outside of ourselves and create the space in which something abstract (justice, equality, liberty) is made concrete and is able to withstand the rush of impermanence. It not only provides form, it provides persistence. Even in conditions where the ritual is hollowed out, as in show trials, the existence of the rituals stands as a rebuke to their misuse.

I suppose there is a point at which the rituals are so fragile that they can no longer serve even that small function, but I think that you are then dealing with a wholly corrupt situation and refoundation is the only cure. Even so, I am glad for the just-so acts of the court. Where else in the passage of human affairs can things like justice find a stable home?


Saturday, August 04, 2007

It's All About the Audience

Mark Kleiman is busy making an idiot of himself in public trying to convince the blogosphere that Obama is offering something different and new in foreign policy compared to Hillary Clinton. Kevin Drum points out that he can't really discern any difference, and that, to be kind, Kleiman is projecting. Anyone who reads Kleiman's blog knows he has a deep, visceral hatred of the Clintons and will basically grab at (or invent) any straw to support his position. Supporting a good candidate (Obama) does not make his attacks on Hillary any less incoherent. It is going to be amusing (or appalling) to watch what he does next year when she is the Democratic nominee.

Even so, I think there is a difference between Hillary and Barack on foreign policy, and it is not in the substance of their positions. It is in the audience they are addressing. Targeting your audience is very important in my line of work (Web development) because you can't communicate effectively if you don't know who you are talking to.

In her foreign policy statements, Hillary is addressing the international community and other heads of state. She already speaks like the president. Foreign policy is aimed at the actors within that realm, and is done with diplomacy. She is looking at the long term needs of the nation to repair and restore normal relations after the BushCo disater. I'm not sure she cares if this plays well in Peoria - or Yearly Kos.

In his policy statements, Barack is addressing potential voters. He speaks like a candidate. It is rhetoric intended to gain votes, and does not give much attention to the long term needs. He has calculated that extreme statements now, which raise the ire of other countries, are necessary to secure domestic support, and can be moderated afterwards. It is campaign strategy, not foreign policy. His actual policy, as far as I can suss out, is nearly identical to Hillary's. Please note that nothing I've said here is meant as a criticism. I don't think he can afford to address any other audience at the moment.

What Barack reminds me of at the moment is nothing so much as Bill Clinton in 1992, saying things to please the voters and create a point of distinction between himself and other candidates. Remember Bill's pronouncements about China vs. what actually happened? If Barack is elected (which is an outcome I'm happy with, no matter my criticisms of his campaign), he, too, will walk back his rhetoric. For example, the nuclear option is back on the table simply because it is *always* on the table where the US is concerned.

In short, what we are seeing is the difference between someone who has been immersed in foreign relations for years and someone who has not. Their basic stances are the same, both are obvious improvements over the current Republican insanity, and the people they would call on to run the State Department would probably overlap. Hillary is a stronger candidate than Barack in this area because she has more exposure to foreign policy from a presidential perspective. Only the Big Dog himself and Al Gore can claim more.


No More HotK

(Edited to be less whiny)

With the most recent chapter, Due, I'm done with public posting of Hands of the King.

I've completed my writing, which is a good feeling. I have put in five years of work on this novel; researching Tolkien, interrogating conventions of fanon, trying to think with and against Tolkien's own meta-narrative of politics, religion, and society, developing plot and characterization, and going over and over the work to catch inconsistencies and errors. I think I've managed to do this and write an engaging tale. What I wanted to get from that endeavor, I have received.

I know I have readers on this story. I get between 600 and 800 page views a week on average. However, aside from my two friends Agape and Fergus, HotK readers have basically stopped providing any substantive responses. Only four people besides Agape and Fergus have posted a comment or sent an author email since January this year, and many of those have been private "You have a typo" in nature. The lack of substantive response aggravates me after having done all of that work. It may not be a reasonable reaction, but it is how I feel.

Maybe the story just isn't as good or engaging as it used to be. Whatever the reason, readers don't want to comment, I can't make readers comment, and I have deal with my frustration over that situation. My way to deal with it is to stop creating the situation in the first place. I have said myself in times past that the author's satisfaction with the work has to be with the work itself, and not done for the sake of squees. I'm happy with the story I have written and I'm not going to blackmail for comments.