an in-between move

Cool kids read The Bellman.


Don't read this blog!

I mean, thanks for dropping by my little corner of the blogospheric backwaters, but the blog you should be reading is The Bellman. The stuff I post there is much, much less likely to be imbued with dormitive powers.


[German, from zwischen, intermediate + zug, move

Literally an "in-between move". A move in a tactical sequence is called a zwischenzug* when it does not relate directly to the tactical motif in operation. |source|

image copyright TWIC

From this position, black played a zwischenzug: 19…d5
(Linares 2002, 1-0)


about your blogger

David Rowland studies philosophy at the University of Illinois - Urbana / Champaign, where he's an active member of the Graduate Employees Organization. He used to play a lot of chess, but wasn't all that good. He has a blog. And email.


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$zwichenzug$ sell-out zone





Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under
a Creative Commons License.

Union Label

Direct Action
Gets the Goods!


some folks I know

Mark Dilley
a daily dose of architecture
Safety Neal
January Girl
mimi jingcha
Hop, Skip, Jump
ambivalent imbroglio
Brooke & Lian


some blogs I read

strip mining for whimsy
It's Matt's World
School of Blog
Fall of the State
Dru Blood
Echidne of the Snakes
Colossal Waste of Bandwidth
Running from the Thought Police
Bionic Octopus


some philosoblogs

Fake Barn Country
Freiheit und Wissen


some labor blogs

Confined Space
Working Life
Dispatches From the Trenches
Labor Blog
Eric Lee


some A-list blogs

This Modern World
Matthew Yglesias
Andrew Sullivan
Political Animal
The Volokh Conspiracy


some other links

Rule 33
This Week in Chess
War Nerd
National Priorities Project
Bible Gateway
Internet Archive
A Weekly Dose of Architecture
Orsinal: Morning Sunshine
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Safety Sign Builder
Get Your War On


some philosoblogging

Six views about reasons
Seidman on reflection and rationality
And another thing
Tiffany's argument for strong internalism
Internalism v. Externalism
What do internalists believe anyway?
Rationalism and internalism
The experimental method in philosophy
Advertising to children
On moral skepticism
A linguistic argument
More on Williams
Williams on reasons
General and particular
Normativity and morality
Political intuitions
What it is, what it was, and what it shall be
Objectivity and morality
Thinking revolution
Abortion and coercion
Moore on torture
On the phenomenology of deliberation
Even more Deliberation Day
more Deliberation Day
Deliberation Day run-down
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge, cont.
He made a porch for the throne where he might judge
Every shepherd is an abomination
Droppin' H-bombs
ad hominem

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


In other news

Blogger seems not to work with Safari anymore. I spent three days trying to publish that last post before it occurred to me to load up IE and give it a try. Anybody had any similar issues?


Housekeeping and some random stuff

First off, heartfelt thanks to Tony for keeping the page going while I was on the road. A lot of guest bloggers will disrupt the tone of a site, but I think you'll agree that Tony's light touch guaranteed that the blog kept a zwichenzuggy feel.

Blogging, both here and Bellmanwards, will probably be light for awhile. I can't abide dial-up, and haven't yet been able to reliably find time to hang out in wireless hotspots. Also, the best wireless access point in my pops' neighborhood is a Panera Bread franchise which charges nearly $4 for an americano.[1]

In Zwichenzug Culture Watch news, Grind is not nearly as good a skateboard movie as Lords of Dogtown. It's not even as good as a bootleg copy of The Search for Animal Chin with messed up sound. On the other hand, The Third Man is funnier than you'd expect and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, while terrible, isn't as bad as its reviews. Also, I'm not sure how I managed to avoid hearing it all these years, but Solo Monk is a great record with a sound I haven't heard from Monk before.

I like Amtrak well enough, but the delays can get to you. My train rolled into San Antonio at about 11 pm Thursday, just as the Spurs were winning the NBA championship at the arena next to the train station. My connection was supposed to leave the station at 1 am Friday, but didn't arrive until nearly 8 am, and then didn't leave the station for another two hours. The upshot was that I sort of slept on a wooden bench in the train station, which would have been fine except that one woman decided that she didn't want to sleep in the train station and stayed awake by encouraging her three year old daughter to shout and carry on all night long.

Another thing about Amtrak is that you see the ass end of America out the windows. Rusted out factories, the poorest quarter of every town, all kinds of garbage, and junkyards full to bursting with empty shells that used to be mobile homes.

During my layover in Chicago, I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt that read, "January 1995: IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl" which I thought was pretty funny. I also thought it was pretty funny when I heard a media critic say, "Bias? I don't need to pay for it."

Last but not least, new book meme entries are up at This Dark Qualm, funferal, and Bionic Octopus. I seem to recall that Safety Neal said he was going to do an entry, but it hasn't made it up yet.

1 For reasons I can't fathom, the menu doesn't have an americano on it. So if you order one they charge you for a super-duper latte. It blows.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Travlin' man

Last time I took Amtrak the train hit a truck just north of Austin. All the same, I'll be taking the train to Houston tomorrow.

I understand that these days it's proper to employ a guest blogger, so I've contracted the services of my unreliable friend Tony. He'll be taking care of things for the rest of the week.

Take it away, Tony!


Missed one

I also picked up Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier at the Salvation Army store.

Monday, June 20, 2005



A rare bearlike mammal (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) of the mountains of China and Tibet, which has woolly fur with distinctive black and white markings and which eats shoots and leaves.


Dumb joke blogging, love your dictionary edition

One day a panda walked into a resaurant and ordered a five course meal. After the dessert and coffee the waiter brought the check. Rather than paying, the panda took out a revolver and fired six quick shots into the ceiling. Then he got out of his chair and ambled toward the exit.

"Hey!" the waiter cried after him. "Why did you do that?"

"Look it up," was all the panda said in reply.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Book meme

Saheli tagged me with this book meme. It's my first meme tag, so I hope I don't blow it.

Number of books I own: This is tough. Eight or nine hundred, probably.

Last book I bought: This is easy. A few weeks ago I dropped three bucks on small stack of used books at the Salvation Army store. They were: The Green Berets by Robin Moore, Presumed Innocent by Scott Thurow, The Summer Game by Roger Angell, Flight of the Old Dog by Dale Brown, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre, and After the Plague and other stories by T. Coraghessan Boyle.

Last book I read: The Green Berets

Books that mean a lot to me: Er, I'm not exactly sure how to answer this. Here's a short list:

1066 by Franklin Hamilton.

Sources of Normativity by Christine Korsgaard, Reconstruction in Philosophy by John Dewey, and What We Owe to Each Other by Thomas Scanlon are all central to my dissertation.

Rights, Restitution, and Risk, a collection of Judith Jarvis Thomson's papers, is probably the book that got me into philosophy.

Kriegie is a book my dad owns that I used to reread whenever I visited him.

Schrodinger's Cat by Robert Anton Wilson and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace probably belong in my list of important books.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe had everything to do with convincing me, at nineteen, that psychopharmacological experimentation was a good idea.

Then, of course, there's my dictionary.

Tag: The meme rule is that I'm supposed to ask five more people to complete this. Hmmm. Let's say Washburn, Andrew, Matt, Hannah, and Safety Neal, though just between you and me I'd also really like to see how Dru Blood, Bionic Octopus, and Joshua Norton would answer.



...is the first history book I ever read.[1] I think I got it at a garage sale when I was in third grade, along with a book of gypsy spells that I also still have. Looking at the book today, I found a scrap of paper with this text:
  • 1066 p. 122 & 123
  • Wizard of Oz 156 & 157
  • Narcotics Pamphlet
  • Self Mastery Secrets
  • It's Academic 201, 116, 101, &194.
  • Book of Spells 116, 121, 118
I don't really have any idea what all that means, but p. 122 & 123 of 1066 has a line drawing with the caption "The Normans ride to Battle" illustrating the following anecdote:
"The Normans are good fighters," Harold told his troops, "valiant on foot and on horseback, and well used to battle. All is lost if they once penetrate our ranks."

Across the valley now came the Normans in their thousands, an awesome sight. Sunlight flashed from their armor, that Saturday morning in October. High above the Norman ranks fluttered the banner of the pope, as though telling the English that God Himself came to fight against them today.

In Wace's account:
As soon as the two armies were in full view of each other, great noise and tumult arose. You might hear the sounds of many trumpets, of bugles, and of horns; and then you might see men ranging themselves in line, lifting their shields, raising their lances, bending their bows, handling their arrows, ready for assault and defense.

The English stood ready to their post, the Normans still moved on; and when they drew near, the English were to be seen stirring to and fro; were going and coming; troops ranging themselves in order; some with their color rising, others turning pale; some making ready their arms, others raising their shields; the brave man rousing himself to fight, the coward trembling at the approach of danger.

In the midst of the Norman host rode Taillefer, the minstrel, poet to the Norman court, Taillefer "who sang right well, riding mounted on a swift horse, before the Duke, singing of Charlemagne and of Roland, of Olivier and the peers who died in Roncevalles." In the tense moment just before the start of the battle that would change English history, Taillefer the minstrel approached his master Duke William.

"A boon, sire!" he cried. "I have long served you, and you owe me for all such service. Today, so please you, you shall repay it. I ask and beseech you earnestly, allow me to strike the first blow in the battle!"

"I grant it, Duke William answered.

So, to the astonishment of the English, a minstrel rode out of the Norman ranks, singing lustily, tossing his sword high in the air and catching it again with a juggler's skill. He spurred his horse to a gallop, up the steep hill toward the English line, and struck an Englishman dead with the first thrust of his lance.

Then he drew his sword back and struck another, crying out, "Come on, come on! What do ye, sirs, lay on, lay on!"

An instant later Taillefer disappeared beneath the blows of English battle-axes and was seen alive no more. The battle had been joined!

1 Excepting, of course, children's books and biographies.

Friday, June 17, 2005


It's all fun and games until Lord Whorfin pokes your eye out

Last night I went to the Harvest Moon Drive-In with four carloads of friends to see The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D. Based on my experience, I feel confident in predicting that Batman Begins will have a huge opening weekend.[1]

Word on the street is that 3-D technology has really come of age. If this report is to be believed then James Cameron has pledged to film in 3-D from now on and George Lucas has committed to re-releasing all six Star Wars films in 3-D.

On the off chance that you happen to be a home 3-D hobbiest interested in creating your own ViewMaster reels, you should probably begin by purchasing a stereo camera. Once you've taken some pictures, this company will do the rest.

1 We arrived at the Harvest Moon to discover that the distributor had earlier in the day taken back TAoSaLi3D and replaced it with Batman. Which was fine, I guess, except that it wasn't in 3-D.

Thursday, June 16, 2005



[Modern Latin, from 'fissus', to split, combined with 'parere', to bring forth; incorrectly on analogy of viviparus]

1. Reproducing by biological fission.
2. Tending to break up into parts or break away from a main body; factious.



[French, from Old French 'fricons', pl. of 'fricon', a trembling, from Vulgar Latin 'frictio', from Latin 'frigere', to be cold]

An almost pleasurable sensation of fright.


Zwichenzug culture watch, reader challenge edition

Locate three (3) articles published in Slate which (a) are about film; and, (b) do not use the term 'frisson.'

BONUS CHALLENGE: Find three (3) articles published in Slate which use the term 'frisson' correctly.


Stercoraceous news blogging, mountain edition

The unsanitary conditions created by piles of human feces on Mount McKinley can cause diarrhea among climbers, which can lead to widespread problems when combined with the physical stress of a mountain expedition, according to the report in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

Of 132 climbers interviewed on the 20,320-foot (6,200-meter) peak in the summer of 2002, more than a quarter reported having trouble with diarrhea, said the report, which was conducted by officials with the Alaska Division of Public Health. [source]

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Memo to the Canadian Philosophical Association

When your organization is invited to appear on As It Happens to talk about your first annual philosophical joke contest, it'd be a good idea to send a representative who knows how to tell a joke. Also, the representative should have a few jokes ready.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Summer reading update

I finished the novel that blasted the war wide open today. I'm pleased to report that things are really looking up in Vietnam and that, as Robin Moore writes in the author's afterword, "the Luc-Luong Dac-Biet is steadily improving the quality of its officers, which makes their American counterparts' advice more effective in fighting the Viet Cong."



Number six below should read "Daniel Boone Day." Savvy readers will be aware that Daniel Boone is already dead.


Flag Day

Looking for a Flag Day resource to get you through this special day? You can't beat The National Flag Day Foundation, Inc.

Today is also Pop Goes the Weasel Day.

For what it's worth, here's my list of the top 15 June holidays:
  1. Juneteenth - June 19
  2. National Yo-Yo Day - June 10
  3. Iceland Independence Day - June 17
  4. World Environment Day - June 5
  5. Race Unity Day - June 9
  6. Daniel Boone Die - June 7
  7. Paul Bunyan Day - June 28
  8. U.F.O. Day - June 24
  9. Father's Day - Third Sunday in June
  10. West Virginia Admission Day - June 20
  11. International Picnic Day - June 18
  12. Pop Goes the Weasel Day - June 14
  13. Doughnut Day - June 1
  14. Fly a Kite Day - June 15
  15. National Lobster Day - June 13
Others receiving votes: Camera Day (June 29), Magic Day (June 12), National Jelly-Filled Doughnut Day (June 8), Flag Day (June 14), Egg Day ( June 3), Power of a Smile Day (June 15), International Young Eagles Day (June 9), Fudge Day (June 16), National Chocolate Pudding Day (June 26), Bald Eagle Day (June 20), Stand for Children Day (June 1), Meteor Day (June 30)

Monday, June 13, 2005


Summer reading, books my roommate left in the bathroom edition

From Special Effects: A Guide for Super-8 Filmmakers (1980):
Van der Veer believes we're in an age of growing interest in science fiction films. Because of this trend, he is working on a new kind of optical printer that will take a film image, change it into an electronic signal for handling and processing, and then translate it back into film. He sees these technical advances as a way of projecting "the science of today into the science fiction of tomorrow."



[Italian carnevale, from Old Italian carnelevare, Shrovetide : carne, meat (from Latin caro, carn-) + levare, to remove (from Latin levre, to raise)]

1. A festival marked by merrymaking and processions.
2. A frenetic disorganized (and often comic) disturbance suggestive of a circus or carnival.
3. A traveling show; having sideshows and rides and games of skill etc.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Zwichenzug culture watch, creeping immaturity edition

The local NPR affiliate rebroadcasted Kid Cool, an episode of To the Best of Our Knowledge, this evening. The blurb:
Being a kid has never been cooler. In fact, it's SO cool, it's not just for the twelve and under set anymore. These days more adults watch the Cartoon Network than CNN, Care Bears are making a comeback, and Scoobie-Doo underpants come in grown-up sizes. In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge, born-again kids. Also, why being forever young might be robbing society of some of its best virtues – like wisdom and maturity.

So, anyway, I just wanted to mention that the small party we had at my place last week featured kites, model rockets, and dodgeball.


Six views about reasons

In What do internalists believe anyway? I distinguished between two varieties of internalism and attempted to articulate the differences between them. In this post I want to map out the logical space in which those two views are located.

First, let me assert a common distinction and introduce a terminological convention in order to deal with it. In everyday talk when we provide explanations in terms of reasons there are two apparently different things that we might mean. On the one hand, we might be providing what I will henceforth call an explanation. An explanation is an account of an event which, if successful, provides a true description of the event. So, if someone were to say, "The reason you hear thunder after you see the lightning is that light travels faster than sound" then this would be a successful explanation. On the other hand, we might instead be making a normative claim or a claim about an agent's motivations. So, for example, we might say "The reason that John left is that he was offended." I'm going to limit the use of the term reason to apply to cases of this second sort.

Another terminological convention will be to refer to whatever is a candidate for being a reason as a consideration.

The basic distinction between internal and external reasons has to do with whether a consideration's status as a reason is tied to the possibility that the consideration might have motivational force for a given agent. To say that some consideration is an internal reason for an agent is to say that the consideration is capable of motivating that agent to act. To say that some consideration is an external reason for an agent is to say that it counts in favor of some action even if there is no possibility that the agent could be motivated by the consideration.

In mapping out the logical possibilities below, the hope is to say what conditions must hold in order for some consideration to be a reason proper. For the purposes of the list it is assumed that both the notion of an internal reason and that of an external reason are coherent and that it is conceivable that a consideration may count as either without being a reason proper.

Six views about reasons:
  • Pure Internalism[1]
    That the consideration is an internal reason is always necessary and sufficient, but that it is an external reason is never necessary or sufficient.

  • Weak Internalism
    That the consideration is an internal reason is always necessary and sometimes but not always sufficient, while that it is an external reason is sometimes necessary but never sufficient.

  • Strong Ecuminicism
    That the consideration is both an internal and an external reason is always necessary, hence its being either is never sufficient on its own.

  • Weak Ecuminicism
    Both that the consideration is an internal reason and that it is an external reason is sometimes necessary and sometimes sufficent.

  • Weak Externalism
    That the consideration is an external reason is always necessary and sometimes but not always sufficient, while that it is an internal reason is sometimes necessary but never sufficient.

  • Pure Externalism
    That the consideration is an external reason is always necessary and sufficient, but that it is an internal reason is never necessary or sufficient.
I'm not going to attempt to adjudicate fully between these views, but here is one preliminary thought. Note that there seem to be two major purposes served by engaging in talk about reasons. There is, first, the project of providing advice to one another, and second, the project of explaining the actions of particular agents. Much of the support for internalism comes from the seeming fact that neither of these projects can be accomplished unless the purported reasons are, at the very least, the sorts of considerations which might figure in the motivations of the agent in question. On the other hand, the projects of giving advice and providing explanations additionally require that the purported reasons be rationally intelligible to us, and this seems to indicate that a consideration's status as a reason depends on its conformity to evaluative standards that are independent of any particular agent's idiosyncratic psychology. Given these demands, I am inclined to think that both Pure Externalism and Pure Internalism are inadequate.

1 This is the view I have previously called strong internalism. The expression pure internalism is Tiffany's and now seems to me to be a better fit.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Name that disease

Infected men, suggests one new study, tend to become more aggressive, scruffy, antisocial and are less attractive. Women, on the other hand, appear to exhibit the “sex kitten” effect, becoming less trustworthy, more desirable, fun- loving and possibly more promiscuous.


(from Washburn)

Thursday, June 09, 2005



[from Latin baculum, rod]

A slender bone reinforcing the penis in many mammals.


Lords of Dogtown...

...is a pretty good movie, and you should go see it. I suspect that familiarity with Dogtown and Z-Boys is necessary to make the film fully understandable, but it's hard to say for sure.

Also, you should watch High Noon.


The answer, and one other thing

First, the other thing. In comments, Bellman asked, "You remember that metal cover band "appoggiatura?" You betchum. Back in the day I was the stage manager for the Opus Band Compettition and they were one of the entrants. I asked what 'appoggiatura' meant and they ridiculed me for my ignorance. On the upside, I knew how to spell the winning word at this year's National Spelling Bee, which just goes to show that the embarrassments of youth are opportunities for personal growth.

Regarding yesterday's dumb joke:
  1. Heisenberg's middle name was Karl, not Von.
  2. You can't get stopped for speeding on the autobahn.
  3. 'the error' denotes a single error, but there are actually three errors.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Dumb joke blogging, 'can you spot the error in this dumb joke?' edition

Werner Von Heisenberg is driving down the autobahn one day and when he's pulled over by a policeman. The cop says, "Do you know how fast you were going?" Heisenberg replies, "No, but I know precisely where I was."



I've never had major surgery, but this passage from Michael Bérubé's narrative of his recent emergency appendectomy sure struck a chord.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, I lay in bed wide awake but without moving a muscle for about half an hour, eyes closed, breathing slowly and deeply. Suddenly I felt a cool rushing sensation in my left arm, as if a wave had rolled over it, or more precisely through it. Alarmed, I opened my eyes and looked over at my IV machine—and found that the mefloxin (antibiotic) drip had run its course and that I was now getting straight saline. Holy shit, I thought, I felt the switchover. The rushing sensation no doubt had to do with the rate of the drip—the mefloxin was set to 100 ml/hr, the saline to 175—but the feeling of being “watered” was distinct.

Back when I was a debauched undergraduate my friends and I would donate plasma a couple times a week to raise money for bouts of binge drinking and the occasional peanut butter sandwich. From my point of view the only enjoyable thing about laying on a couch watching Pretty Woman for the umpteempth time with a huge needle in my arm was the sensation of having my desiccated blood pumped back into my veins. A coolness would slowly work its way up my arm and into my shoulder. When it finally got to my heart there would be a sudden, sharp all over chill and then it would be over and there'd be nothing except a dull pain in my arm and the hope that Julia Roberts and Richard Gere could somehow make it all work.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Writing is hard

I can't seem to write a coherent paragraph today, at least not one that tries to express anything even moderately complex.

See? That sentence up there was supposed to be a whole dang paragraph, and I had a further point I wanted to make but I just couldn't do it.



Notes on lexicograblogging

  • Several readers have requested that the lexicograblogging entries be expanded to include a pronunciation key. I don't do this mostly because I don't have the slightest idea how to render phonetic symbols on a webpage. While I could probably figure it out (see my fancy new bullets?), marking up the html seems like more trouble than it's worth.

  • I always tell my students that one of the best ways to improve their chances of getting a good score on standardized tests like the G.R.E. is to look up lots of words, even words that they think they know.

  • I use a number of sources, but my first stop online is most often dictionary.com. Their definitions are usually clear, and the site is fast and simple. Merriam-Webster is fancier and a little more powerful, but for equivalent definitions I generally prefer dictionary.com's phrasing. Depending on the word, I might or might not check the O.E.D. online. It's an awesome dictionary, but using it requires signing on to the university library's proxy server and that's kind of a pain in the ass.

  • My main physical dictionary is a beaten up Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language. It's the deluxe color edition of the second college edition. Back in the day I used it as a tripping dictionary, so it's got all kinds of odd stuff tucked among the pages. I've also got a Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary for the bedroom and a paperback Webster's that I sometimes carry around.

  • Lexicograblogging is a direct outgrowth of an argument I lost about ten years ago. My position was that I was smart enough to figure out the meaning of words from context. My interlocutor's position was that thinking something like that showed how stupid I really was.

  • One of the reasons that vocabularies are philosophically interesting is that our ability to conceptualize the world is dependent on the symbolic resources at our disposal. Right now I'm listening to a Dexter Gordon record, but because I lack a technical musical vocabulary I can't tell you much about it. Moreover, my lack of an adequate vocabulary means that my experience of the music doesn't include a lot of the complexity that would be available to me if I could do things like identify appoggiaturas.

  • The word lexicography is derived from two greek roots, lexikos meaning of or concerned with words and graphia, a verb meaning to write. Strictly speaking, then, I really ought to call the practice lexicoblogging (or maybe lexicographoblogging), but I think you'll agree that lexicograblogging sounds better. Something similar could be said about philosoblogging.

Monday, June 06, 2005



[Of uncertain origin]

A person, usually a woman, whose dress and appearance are devoid of smartness and brightness.



[Obsolete French douagière, from douage, dower, from douer, to endow, from Latin dotare, dowry]

A widow who holds a title or property derived from her deceased husband.
2. An elderly woman of high social station.


The novel that blasted the war wide open!

Early summer is the only time, most years, when I can read whatever I want without feeling that I really should be reading something else. My tastes run to non-fiction, so usually I end up reading history or anthropology or some such. For reasons I don't completely understand, this year I've been reading trashy pulp fiction. Right now I'm about 2/3 of the way through The Green Berets, the cover of which declares it to be, "ROBIN MOORE'S FLAMING BLOCKBUSTER ABOUT A NEW KIND OF SOLDIER IN A NEW KIND OF WAR" and "AMERICA'S #1 BEST SELLER!"

The book was published in 1965, and most of it is set in 1963. It's kind of creepy.

The vignette I'm reading right now involves a guy by the name of Major Arklin whose job is to secretly train Meo tribesman in Laos in case the Pathet Lao (like the Americans) break the treaty that ended the Laotian civil war. In the chapter just ended, Major Arklin got in career threatening trouble when a 'straight-leg colonel' showed up at the Meo village for a surpise inspection. The colonel was upset because Arklin and the Meo were drinking the day before a (possibly suicidal) mission. Major Arklin tried to explain that the Meo are superstitious people and won't listen to him if he doesn't join them in their primitive rituals, but the colonel wouldn't have any of it. Apparently, drinking before battle is something that Americans are too civilized to do.

A lot of the book is like that, explicitly drawing a contrast between sophisticated virtuous American soldiers and dissolute barely civilized asians who would be helpless in the face of the godless communists if it weren't for the presence of a few dedicated green berets.

The most striking example occurs early in the novel, when it's discoverd that the Viet Cong has infiltrated a strike force advised by the green berets. There's a grotesque scene in which the Vietnamese intelligence officer Sergeant Ngoc -- acting under the approving eyes of his American advisors who praise Ngoc as "more refined than most" -- tortures a suspected VC by driving a needle underneath the suspect's thumbnail with a hammer. A few pages later the Americans bring in their own interrogators to finish the job:
"Good enough." Farnham turned to his sergeant. "Stitch here is an expert with the polygraph. If anybody can find the answers for you, he's the man."

Lieutenant Cau opened the door and three guards shoved a tiger-suited striker into the room. He looked around fearfully and then saw the ominous-looking equipment on the table and recoiled. He was shoved roughly into the chair.

Stitch walked over to the frightened striker and said a few words in Vietnamese. The prisoner looked up, swallowed, and nodded. Farham leaned toward me. "The only Vietnamese Stitch knows is how to say, 'We want to ask you some questions. If you tell the truth you won't be hurt.'"

The intelligence officer chuckled. "But the Vietnamese think he understands every word they say even though he uses an interpreter."

The reassuring words did little to erase the fear written on the suspect's face, and when Stitch started attaching electrodes to the striker's wrists and then wrapped the blood-pressure tubes around his biceps and started to inflate them, terror shone from his eyes.

Stitch flicked a switch and made some adjustments on the machine. A needle began to oscillate. Then, through the interpreter, Stitch began to ask questions. Ngoc was fascinated with the machine and stared at the needle. It quivered as the interrogation proceeded, and then even before the translator put the question into Vietnamese it vibrated noticeably. Stitch had said "VC."

The prisoner denied he was a VC. The needle jumped.

Ngoc grasped the significance of the box at once and in an instant was on the prisoner, cuffing him sharply on the ears. The prisoner let out a startled yelp and gave Stitch a betrayed look.

"Tell him I said he won't get hurt if he tells the truth," Stitch said. "Tell him every time he lies the box tells me." Stitch went back to casual questions, forming a pattern of needle oscillation when the striker told the truth. Ngoc watched the needle intently.

"Do you know of any other VC who have infiltrated the strike force?" Stitch asked. The question was translated. The striker shook his head and said no.

The needle jumped and once again Ngoc was upon the prisoner, backhanding him across the temples.

Stitch waved Ngoc away. He turned the dials and a humming noise came from the box. He pumped more air into the rubber tubes around the prisoner's biceps. "Now," Stitch said to the interpreter, "you tell this man that if he lies to me again the machine will blow his arm off."

From the look of terror on the striker's face there was no doubt he believed the infernal machine was quite capable of blowing his arm off or perpetrating any other form of fiendishness.


New digs

Tell me if anything blew up in your browser. And, if you happen to know a trick that forces text to be rendered the same size regardless of browser, I'd like to know it. The trick that I thought worked doesn't.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Speaking of ethics

Here's another question. Over Bellmanward I do a dumb game blogging entry (almost) every Friday. During the two months or so that I've been doing the feature I've put together a pretty good set of resources for finding dumb games, one of which is a really cool blog that does just about nothing except review the latest Flash games. Standard blogging etiquette dictates that when I find a game through that blog I should provide a hat tip link, but doing so would seem to pull back the curtain on the magic that is dumb game blogging.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Greedy Babylon

Here's a poem I considered using over at The Bellman as part of my Memorial Day poetry blogging post. It didn't seem appropriate.

The Canzoniere, poem 137
Francesco Petrarch

Greedy Babylon has crammed the bag
with God's anger, wicked fare, and deeds,
almost to bursting, and has made its deities
not Jupiter and Pallas, but Venus and Bacchus.

Waiting for justice wearies and consumes me:
but I foresee a new sultan among them,
who will establish one seat, not soon enough
for me, and that will be in Baghdad.

Babylon's idols will be scattered on the ground,
and her proud towers, threatening heaven,
and her guards burned as they burn within.

Beautiful souls and friends of virtue
will rule the world: and we'll see it turned
all to gold, and filled with ancient works.


A practical ethical dilemma

While watching Bullitt[1] the other day, a friend of mine bet me a lottery ticket[2] that Norman Fell, the actor playing the role of Captain Baker in the movie, had also played Mr. Furley, the landlord on Three's Company. It turns out that Fell did play a landlord on Three's Company, but didn't play Mr. Furley.[3] Instead, Fell played Stanley Roper, the landlord in the first two seasons, then moved on to play the same role in an ill-fated spin off. Who won the bet?

1 I can't decide whether Bullitt is a good movie. I mean, I know it's cool and if I were the sort of person who wanted a car I'd want Steve McQueen's Mustang, but I don't know how to evaluate the film as, you know, art. The whole last half hour seems tacked on to me, as if the filmmakers finished up with the first set of crooks without managing to work in the big airport shoot out scene that they'd budgeted for, and I had a whole lot of trouble caring. On the other hand, right near the beginning of the final sequence of scenes Cathy, Jaqueline Bisset's character, confronts McQueen's Frank Bullitt saying that she doesn't think she really knows him because nothing ever touches him and how can you really know someone who's never touched by anything, so maybe the idea is to create some kind of empathy by alienating the viewer from the film in a way analagous to Bullitt's alienation from his own life. Also, as bad as the last half hour was, at least it didn't feature Denzell Washington chasing John Lithgow around an oversized jungle gym.

2 Which could have been worth up to $92 million dollars had we settled up promptly, and which may now be worth as much as $106 million.

3 While I clearly remembered Ralph Furley as distinctly Don Knotts-ish in appearance, Norman Fell is more of a William Demarest type.