"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Friday, September 10, 2004

Surfing the web's tsunami

Wrong way Dubya and the big Dick
Good piece in Slate and a great picture of the always lovely and diplomatic Dick Cheney

and my new favorite site to check regularly - Disinfotainment Today - with Paul Krassner columns, hilarious images and harsh political rants.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Tom Tomorrow rules this modern world
Down with the small cute dog!

'Twas Gimli and the slimy orcs Did battle and grumble in the way All flimsy were the Hornburg doors And in the end, they gave. - Lord of the Rings as written by Lewis Carroll -
I do not want your bread and jam. I'm busy being mad at Sam. He likes to sneak. He likes to spy. Ill grind him up for hobbit pie!
FRODO: Oh, do not grind him up for pie! He is a pretty handy guy. He mows my grass. He paints my gate. He is my friend. We both are straight.
- Lord of the Rings as written by Dr. Seuss -

Monday, September 06, 2004

Roots of modern world twine through a gripping adventure
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
The Confusion: Volume Two of the Baroque Cycle
By Neal Stephenson
William Morrow, 815 pp, 27.95 dollars
Fully understanding the history of the 17th and 18th centuries is like trying to pick up a handful of mercury. Like the art of the period, the events of the Baroque Era are extremely complicated, intricate, and often baffling. As such, it is an apt setting for Neal Stephenson's three-volume Baroque Cycle of aptly titled novels: Quicksilver, published earlier this year; The Confusion, recently released; and The System of the World, due out in October.
Quicksilver set the scene and introduced the principal characters: Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, and his soldier brother Sgt. Bob Shaftoe; Eliza, a former Turkish harem slave rescued by Jack who goes on to become a financial prodigy and duchess; natural philosopher Daniel Waterhouse, the son of a puritan firebrand and college roommate and intimate friend of Isaac Newton.
The Confusion spans the years 1689 to 1702 and comprises alternating sections of two novels. The first, "Bonanza," is a swashbuckling caper in which Jack is miraculously cured of the syphilis that was slowly stealing his sanity in Quicksilver and hatches a plot with a multiethnic gang of his fellow galley slaves to steal a shipload of Spanish silver. The second, "Juncto," concerns the political, sexual, and business intrigues of Eliza, Bob Shaftoe's quest for revenge on the Earl of Upnor for enslaving the love of his life, and Waterhouse's various tribulations.
With a fittingly Baroque set of storylines that defy summary, and at times comprehension, Stephenson manages to deftly illuminate the beginnings of modern economics, science, politics, currency, information technology, trade, religion and cryptography. He also packs in more action than the combined works of Alexandre Dumas and Jerry Bruckheimer.
Jack Shaftoe in "Bonanza" circumnavigates the globe, robbing treasure ships on Spanish rivers, fighting marketplace battles in Cairo, buying mercury in Japan, selling his blood to feed insects in Ahmadabad, building ships in Luzon, facing the Inquisition in Mexico, concocting phosphorus for use as a weapon in Hindustan and even spending a few years as the appointed king of a small realm in the Indian hills. Stephenson crams in so much action that many significant events are merely alluded to or mentioned briefly by characters as the smoke of the latest battle clears.
"Juncto" moves at a slightly less breakneck pace, but with infinitely greater complication as Eliza loses and rebuilds her fortune, invents currency speculation as a way of getting revenge on the man who steals her first-born son, gives smallpox to a rapacious German prince and helps polymath Gottfried Leibniz develop his theories on information storage and calculating engines. Daniel Waterhouse is introduced to the bloody world of post-Restoration British politics in which gentlemen members of Parliament bite each others' ears off in coffeehouse brawls, and tries to convince Newton to abandon his alchemical work on atomic physics to take over the Royal Mint.
Much of "Juncto" takes the form of letters between Eliza and various characters ranging from Leibniz to the treasurer of France to legendary French privateer Jean Bart and often requires the reader to exercise a bit of deductive reasoning to read between the lines.
The Confusion, like Quicksilver, often digresses into lengthy explanations of banking systems, aristocratic genealogy and mathematical theory among other things, but Stephenson has a knack for making even the driest topics fascinating while rending the most complex subjects understandable. His attention to detail and relish for providing historical context provide the attentive reader with a liberal education, while his imagination and humor delight.
It is a rare feat to produce an 800-page novel that provides the reader such a feast, yet leaves them starved for more. Stephenson has done it twice and The System of the World is awaited with hungry anticipation.