Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Great Hunt

I just finished The Great Hunt, book two in The Wheel of Time series. My thoughts on the first book are here. Again, I am going to try to avoid spoilers; but if something crops up, don't say I didn't warn you.

TWoT really takes off with this book. We get to see much more of the world and we have more POV characters, too. One of Jordan's strengths with these books are the numerous mysteries he sprinkles about - character motivations, bits of prophecy, murders. It really engages the reader as you try to figure out what is going on. In fact, there is a whole website setup for discussing theories.

Another of Jordan's big strengths is battle scenes. The epic finale here is excellent and it's not even close to being his best one (that would be at the end of book six). He has a great way of detailing them at small and large detail that far from bores (as some authors do with battles), but makes them very vivid and exciting. I especially love the evocative names he gives to the sword techniques that the characters use.

So, as much as I enjoy the first book I think this is where the series really starts to shine.

Quote of the Day

From Ken Jennings' story of battling Watson on Jeopardy!.

Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It's very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman.

More seriously, this is a fascinating development in computer technology.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wacky Pro-Lifers

Stuff like this is why I have problems with so many people in the pro-life movement.

Anti-choicers are really on the march lately, but even I was shocked by this latest news: South Dakota legislators are trying to amend some changes to the “justifiable homicide” definition to include killing someone to prevent the killing of a fetus. This proposed change is one of the best exposures of the beliefs about gender that are lurking underneath the maudlin fetus stuff, because the bill doesn’t allow anyone to play a white knight killing an abortion provider.....just a family member of the woman getting the abortion. And, it seems that it might include allowing the killing of the woman, too, though it’s tough to say. If a woman tells her husband she’s getting an abortion whether he likes it or not, and he kills her to stop it, he also kills the fetus, but he did act in accordance with the law in the sense of motivation. Lawyers in the house?


If this bill passes into law, a wife beater whose wife is trying to abort for the entirely sensible reason that you don’t want babies with a batterer could walk into a clinic, shoot the doctor to prevent the abortion, and plead justifiable homicide, with the blessing of the South Dakota legislature and presumably the anti-choice movement that lobbied them.

Look, I completely understand not liking abortion. I don't like it, either, and wish it didn't happen. But how does anyone think a law like this is going to make things better. In fact, I'm pretty sure that this is an issue where it's not much going to matter what sorts of laws are in place. Enough people support abortions and enough doctors are willing to provide them that the legal status of abortions is not going to stop them. Prohibition certainly didn't stop alcohol consumption.

I think that if people who don't support abortions really want to do something about it, they will support making contraceptives cheaper and more easily accessible, support better eduction to teenagers, support making adoption easier, and above all display a little compassion and humility. Crazy, I know, but I think that would be much more effective than this ridiculous law.

The Average Person is Confused or Ignorant

Matt Yglesias highlights an incredible bit of polling data.

This is the reason I always shake my head at polls showing what voters want or politicians talk about giving the voters what they want. The fact is that most people have no clue what they are talking about when it comes to things like this because they are big and complicated and they are more focused on their day to day life. They have some politician from a political party that they sorta listen to and go along with but they don't really understand what they are going along with.

This is, of course, why it's so easy for politicians to manipulate voters. They can spout banal red meat for the base who lap it up while not paying much attention to what is really going on. The problem is amplified by journalists who don't feel it's their job to call a lie a lie.

If we want better government, we have to have a better understanding of our policies and what our government is doing. Ignorance is not bliss.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You Can't Explain That

Bill O'Reilly's bizarre rant has become a meme. Here's my contribution.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Don't Take Offense at My Innuendo

This is a fascinating discussion on language and why we have innuendo even when both people know exactly what is actually meant.

And, of course, this is a perfect time to link to Queen's song, "Innuendo."

Annals of Bad Ideas

Upsetting Google, a company that could make or break you, by attempting to scam their search results. Not that it's going to scare people off. The benefits are too great.

The Eye of the World

I recently started rereading The Wheel of Time, a series of books that I've been reading for going on twenty years now. The first book, The Eye of the World came out in 1990. I started reading it a couple of years later after getting the second book as a gift from a friend. Even though I ended up reading it first because I didn't know it was the second book, I fell in love. I have read and reread the series numerous times since even though it's not done, yet.

Robert Jordan, the author, passed away from a rare blood disease after the 11th book came out. He had planned one more book to bring the story to a conclusion. His wife and editor, Harriet, hired Brandon Sanderson to finish the final novel. He decided that the book would be too big and it would need to be split into three books to do it justice. The never-ending series was getting longer.

It is true that Jordan started to get lost in the wilderness as the story went along. Some think it happened as early as books three or four. I'm more forgiving and tend to peg it more at book eight. Despite the epic story getting adrift somewhere along the way, I have not lost my passion for it and have been looking forward to this reread for awhile especially since I have not read either of the Sanderson penned books that have come out so far.

Part of Jordan's genius is taking well-worn tropes and giving them a fresh coat so they don't seem so (over)used. Tell me if this sounds familiar.

A wise, older wizard finds some young kids in a tiny backward village and tells them that one of them is the Chosen One who must battle Ulimate Evil to prevent the End of the World.

Gee, that's like every epic story ever told. However Jordan blends the monomyth with Arthurian legends, Norse myth, Asian myth, Christian symbolism, and more so well that it doesn't come across as just another rehash. Jordan creates a rich, vibrant world that feels real.

The Eye of the World sets the stage very well. Magic feels real and dangerous. The bad guys are suitably creepy and monstrous. The naive youths seem genuine as they bumble around after being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Hints of the world's rich history are easily dropped giving the world real depth.

The book does end rather too abruptly and, especially with hindsight, it's easy to see how the story was already growing bigger then Jordan anticipated. He said a number of times that he had long known exactly how the series would end; he just didn't know how it would get there. The enormous popularity of the books ensured that he would be given as much space as he needed to finish them. Unfortunately, between that and the fact that his wife was his editor, it seems Jordan's leash was probably a bit too long. A stronger editor (not that his wife isn't a good editor, but she is a touch, you know, biased) could possibly have reined him in and tightened everything up.

Still, though, I think the whole thing is worth your time. I'll be posting more thoughts as I finish each book and I'll try to avoid spoilers.

Don't Worry. I'm Still Here

Most of the time beyond some mild side effects (fatigue, sensitivity to cold temps), I don't really have anything indicating that I have multiple sclerosis. In fact, the biggest reminder is probably when I feel the side effects stemming from the weekly injection of Avonex that I take. Every Sunday I feel like I've been roughed up by a gang of jocks. That's why I don't recommend anyone take this drug. It's not pleasant.

Anyway, I got a more serious reminder on Friday at work. I was walking down a flight of stair and in mid-step I felt a wave of dizziness and numbness on my right side. I'm glad no one was around to see me suddenly grab the handrail and waver there for a second like a neurotic dancer until the feeling passed. It's strange to me how scary this feels, but losing control of your body like this even for a few seconds is terrifying. I'm not sure if this was a one-time deal or if I'm on the verge of a relapse.

Either way, I suppose my MS was feeling bored and forgotten and wanted to remind that it's still lurking around ready to torment me.

Debut Trailer for X-Men: First Class

Here it is.

I'm nervous about this one after X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins, but I'm still anxious to see it. I think McAvoy is an excellent choice to play a young Professor X and there's certainly enough drama within the escapades of the younger Xavier and Magneto to tell a great story. I hope it actually delivers.