Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cat Herding, a'la Conventions...

Way back, oh, last year, I would watch Angela in action at SilCon 2006 meetings, and it was like watching a cat and dog fight...if she didn't get what she wanted, it was a Pain In The Ass...and I had to make it, somehow, work out right.

This year, I'm in charge of SilCon 2007's Staff Feed. And...the stress level is half that of SC2006.

Need to get chafing dishes instead of crock pots in place? Done.

The menu that has both a veggie and a meat option for three lunches and three dinners? Done.

Bringing up the three-body cooler for storing stuff? Done.

No stress. No drama. No "oh, I'm going to make it an issue to get my drama quotient up"...just professionals getting a job done.

Great times, and there will be some well-fed people.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

If I Were A Terrorist, I Wouldn't Post At The New York Times

(Tho, considering some of the bone-headed things the NYT has done lately, I wouldn't be surprised...thanks to Michelle Malkin for finding this.)

Steven Levitt posted in his New York Times blog that he wanted people to make suggestions on how to attack the country. And, of course, he intended this as a purely thought exercise so that "we could defend against it". Of course, he covers his own ass with all sorts of statements that he intends for all of these thoughts to be used to build better defenses...

My God, is this stupid or what? You play the whole game of "oh, let's think up some ideas", in a public forum and people might look into it...and use them.

Hell, I could probably cripple a good bit of the economy with six panel trucks, enough ANFO, and five "willing martyrs". Of course, I'm not going to tell people HOW, especially in public.

Of course, the New York Times has done some seriously bone-headed things, turning the paper of record into a paper with a record-and a bad one that's getting worse. The Old Grey Lady may not be around much longer...and that might be a good thing.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Long Review Of "Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows"

I promised a longer review, and with the availability of the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, I'm just going to concentrate on the highlights and the things that bothered the hell out of me about the series.

I've said before, and I'll say it again-of the seven books, Deathly Hollows was about second or third to the worst of the series (it depends upon if I count the second worse book-Order of the Phoenix-as a whole or only about a half or so of the book, with Chamber of Secrets being the worse). One of the biggest issues of the book is that the build up of Voldermort as the big villain, and that the response of the Ministry of Magic was so ineffective. My issues? There's a list, so you have been warned-
  • After the last War with the Dark Lord, I would have been shocked if there hadn't been hordes of researchers trying to develop a way to detect if somebody was under the Imperious Curse-even if it was just the Aurtor's office and even if it kept giving back whole loads of false positive results to be investigated. We know-from at least from Half-Blooded Prince-that memory modifications can be detected and a powerful wizard can find the original memories. That Voldermort's minions went directly for the head of the Ministry of Magical Enforcement prior to the head of the Ministry itself was a brilliant move in one respects-but another that could have been a failure, as the department should have been primed for keeping an eye on people in their own section that would have acted improperly.

    Hell, considering how important the job is and how much of a threat it would be if the head of the Ministry of Magical Enforcement fell under somebody else's control, they would have done something like James Bond's "M"-there are all sorts of details that nobody knows or "everybody knows" that is wrong; all as a concealment for the real man (or woman) behind the curtain.
  • That the head of the Ministry of Magic was assassinated was another one of those "brilliant moves" that could and would have backfired. Ignore the change in the Wizarding World that happened after the Minister's death...yes, probably there was a deep prejudice against non-pureblood wizards in the magical world, but to have a change and to see it happen so fast pushes the point too hard. Especially as probably many pure-blood families have at least one half-blood or "foundling" Muggle in their family tree, and probably recently. In addition, many would have found the sudden and total shifts in authority rules in the Ministry to have engendered a huge amount of hate in the various members of the Ministry that wern't willing to follow-and there would have been all sorts of passive resistance, "Ooops, sorry Miss Umbridge, the paperwork you requested was misfiled somewhere, should find it by the end of the month, sorry!"

    Once again, this falls into the level of "believability" in the plot. More interesting would have been splitting up this aspect of the plot between the last three books-the first having the Minister of Magic sacked and the new Minister seeming to be "effective" and dropping all sorts of new rules. By Half Blooded Prince, many suspect that he is at least sympathetic to Voldermort's aims, but has put himself in such a position of the old saw that "if this is the cure, give me the disease" is applicable. In Deathly Hallows, the new Minister of Magic can enforce his aims, which are for the "purification" of the Wizarding race.
  • Oh, and don't tell me that if the Ministry of Magic in the UK had gone this bad, other Wizarding organizations wouldn't have started to pay attention-and planned on how to "clean up the mess" in Jolly Old England. The United States, at least, would have been planning something...
Another big issues is the Deathly Hallows themselves. For three of the most powerful magical items in existence, and one of them owned by the a Dark wizard whom was only second to Voldermort because he didn't have enough time to get really evil, there should have been many, many, many more hints scattered throughout the books. So, from my perspective, the hints could have been dropped like this-
  • Hermione learns about the book of fairly tales during her research into the Sorcerer's Stone, thinking that the Resurrection Stone was another name or hint about the Sorcerer's Stone.
  • In the second book, Gilderoy Lockhart would have been looking for anything to polish up his magical reputation, and a real Deathly Hallow in the form of Potter's invisibility cloak would have done wonders. Which would have dropped hints along the lines of "why are people so interested in this cloak?".
  • By the third book, the first real seeds of the nature of the Deathly Hallows should have shown up when in an act of desperation, Harry uses the Invisibilty Cloak against the Dementors, even warned that they wouldn't be fooled by it...and they pass by without seeing him.
  • Fourth book, we get to the wand. A small throw-away scene when Ollivander asks to look at Dumbledore's wand, and looks at the wand and Dumbedore in mixed amazement and lust and horror would have been very suitable indeed...
  • Fifth, good question. We bring back the stone (in the form of the first hints of the Horacrux) and the duel between Dumbledore and Voldermort, we get hints that Dumbledore is getting older and not as good, but his skills aren't slipping as fast as they should...
  • Sixth book is where we get a serious hint about the nature of at least one Deathly Hallow-why would Dumbledore even think about wearing such a powerful and dangerous cursed magical artifact? Unless there was another power behind it...that Dumbedore wanted to use.
  • Finally, the seventh book is where all the items are brought together with each other.
I wonder, seriously, if the series is "as planned" out as Rowling has claimed it was. Oh, an author should be allowed some spontaneity in their plots, and occasionally a character can get away from the author...but, you don't just drop a powerful "gun" in the last part of a book, it feels too much like a deus ex machine. And, I still think that Harry should have kept the Elder Wand-after everything he faced, after everything he stood for, he earned the right to that wand.

Third problem is one of the characters that falls in the category of "love to hate" in the form of Serverus Snape-I kept thinking of him prior to Deathly Hallows in the same form as Kerr Avon, a character that has his own agenda and his own plans. That the question of "who is he loyal to", I've always held that the question of Snape's loyalty is simple-that he's loyal to Serverus Snape without exception. His working with Dumbledore to stop Voldermort is intended for the sole purpose of having both of them kill each other, so that Snape is on the top. Snape has demonstrated on several occasions that he is a highly competent wizard with a multitude of skills and ambition.

This version of Snape, the one that we see at the end of Deathly Hallows is one that bothers me because...hell, we should have gotten more hints about his lust/obsession/"I'm your greatest fan" aspect of the relationship between him and Lily Potter. That his sole reason for abandoning the Dark Lord was that he found out that Lily would have been killed by Voldermort. And, his hatred of Harry was based upon how much of James Potter was in Harry, but his defense of Harry out of his unrequited love of Lily lessens him. I could see seriously that he hated Harry because of him, Voldemort killed Lily, but he sees Harry as the tool to finally achieve his goals-of ending Voldermort after Voldermort takes out Dumbledore. And, quite frankly...after seeing most of the representations of James as a teenager, I wonder seriously how much of Snape's hate of James was justified, on the same plain as the hate of a goth nerd to the head of the football team that everybody liked because he knew who to suck up to and who to blow-and stole the love of his life from him.

Now, we get to Dumbledore-whom I have said was pulling off a pretty intricate Xanatos Roulette throughout the books-and this gets back to the "plotting and planning" of Rowling thing that I wonder she did. That Harry's only real father figure planned-from the start to the end-planned to feed into the meat grinder of Voldemort's war and have him killed so that Voldemort would finally be vulnerable to another, while all the time he was leading Harry to believe that he was the one that would stop Voldermort. And, Dumbledore's history-a nice counterpoint to Voldermort-would have been another thing to have all sorts of hints dropped into his life, rather than at the end. You knock a character like he was off of his pedestal carefully, or you crush a whole lot of plots-and he was just thrown off the pedestal really, really hard.

The last bit of my dislike of the series was that, to be frank, how much did Harry Potter change through the books? With the exception of a patch in Order of the Phoenix (which I see as kind of justified-throughout most of the book he was treated like a mushroom by most of his authority figures), Harry has always been a pretty decent, pretty good person. And, he has never been tempted by some of the deeper aspects of power in the Wizarding World...not even once. The nearest he has been tempted has been the Mirror of Erised to find the childhood that he wanted. Even when confronted with the last two of the Deathly Hallows, he chose to get rid of one of them-the one that the entire book seemed primed to give Harry in the form of the Elder Wand. Despite stories to the contrary, the Elder Wand is not the One Ring and Harry Potter has shown that he possessed strength of character to have held onto it. Of course, you have to wonder where that strength of character came from-inside himself, or the enchantment on his house that kept him safe from harm--which had to have included mental harm, as his treatment by the Dursleys damn near bordered on child abuse and would have made him a perfect Muggle hater.

It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't a good book, and we were all primed for a good book. Tho, at the very least, it meant that people are reading more...and that is never a bad thing. I don't regret buying it, I don't regret reading it, I just regret it wasn't a better book.