To Fuss is Human, To Rant, Divine!!

Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

One of these things is not like the other

So there I was, on Saturday, at the Virginia Scottish Games, when this burly Scot came up to me and rumbled "Oy! Have ye ever tried the caber toss?"

"No," I told him, "although I think I've seen people do it."

"Come with me then, and we'll make ye a man" he said, in a voice that did not allow argument, and led me to a large log which would ultimately be the target of my masculine endeavor. (Boy that sounds wrong - please no one quote me out of context)

I then hefted it, straightened it up, and got ready to heave, not noticing the large splinter that stood out from the bottom of the log, near my left middle finger.

The next thing I knew . . .

Ok that's not what happened. What happened was . . .

There I was, in the living room, playing MVP Baseball 2005. I've been getting thrashed by the Yankees, but in the last two innings I've plated 4 runs to get to within 2.

It's now the top of the ninth, and Mariano Rivera is on to close the game. He gets David Eckstein to pop up. The next batter, Larry Walker, manages a bloop single to shallow left. So with a man on, Albert Pujols strides to the plate, already with two home runs on the day.

I run the count to 2-2, and Mariano unleashes a wicked cutter that runs in on my hands. I swing, and shatter my bat. The ball goes flying out to center, but before I can tell if Bernie Williams can make a play, the rumble in the controller tears the controller out of my hand. I'm so startled, I lurch out of my seat and fall down, not seeing the nail that sometime between now and five minutes ago imbedded itself in the floorboards in front of me. . . .

No no . . . , that wasn't it.

I'm sitting in a Japanese restaurant, sipping some sake critically, when all of a sudden this blonde in a yellow motorcycle suit comes striding in, dragging a woman who I've seen in the restaurant before behind her. It's Sofie, who works for the synidicate that runs the area. The blonde has obviously put quite a beating on Sofie, who stumbles beside the woman and falls down to her knees, eyes level with the business end of a large katana the blonde is wielding in her left hand.

Most of the patrons, knowing trouble when they see it, vacate the premises posthaste. The blonde comes to a full stop right next to me, with Sofie between us.

I sit quietly, not moving, waiting to see what is about to go down. The steel in her left hand glints menacingly.

The gang that runs the restaurant out of the back rooms pours out of the sliding paper doors at the top of the staircase, and in a show of strength, gather at the top of the stairs, brandishing an assortment of weapons and yelling wildly.

The obvious leader of the gang, a woman in an elaborate kimono, walks out calmly to the head of the pack and crosses her arms. In response, the tall blonde flicks the blade, and almost instantaneously, Sofie's arm is severed at the shoulder. She falls in a spray of blood, screaming in incoherent agony.

As I stare at the fountain of blood shooting from what remains of Sofie's arm, I notice that I too am bleeding. The lightning-fast move seems to have sliced open my finger. Reflexively, I staunch the bleeding with my napkin, and watch as woman steps forward to deal with her adversaries. . . .

Ok fine.

I was making guacamole, and when I went to pit the avocado, the knife slipped out of the pit and sliced my middle finger open. I managed to spray some blood on two of the kitchen walls, and it wasn't very pretty. Jen had to drive me to the emergency room, where it took five stiches to close it up. It's still not very pretty.

It's rather embarrassing, since I'm usually the one that has to remonstrate her about proper vegetable cutting technique, and I've expressed incredulity in the past regarding how anyone could possibly mess up guacamole.

But now I can tell people that I know what it's like to have cold steel in me. Perhaps it was not Hattori Hanzo steel, but hey, I'll take what I can get. I'm at least lucky I didn't sever any arteries or cut to the bone, or anything like that. No, I just managed to nearly slice the pad of my left middle finger off.

It's damn inconvenient to type, considering the entire left side of the keyboard has all of a sudden become a chore to operate.

Obviously I should have just ordered pizza.

I was at the Virginia Scottish Games on Saturday though. But I didn't do the caber toss.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

First things first

Someone at needs a swift kick in the junk for this headline -

Cardinals: Prince Albert connects on his 26th long ball

And someone at Yahoo! needs a beating for letting that headline through.

Moving right along, I'd like to take a look at my baseball predictions from a while back:

What I said: 1) It would be so cool if the Washington Nationals, after realizing that they were playing in front of real crowds, turned in a stellar season and got into the playoffs. I mean, it would be poetic justice if they beat the Braves, seeing as how the Expos last contended and were in first place during the 1994 strike season. But even if they don't, I hope the Mets keep building (David Wright, MVP, 2006, you heard it here), the Phillies choke, and Josh Beckett erupts in blisters. The Nationals deserve it. I mean, I know they're millionaires all, but it must be depressing to play in front of empty stadiums all the time.

Maybe they'll draw big crowds and then Jose Vidro will sparkle. And Livan Hernandez will be the horse he is and throw 200 innings again. Maybe Brad Wilkerson will drive in 100 runs when he's not hitting all his home runs out of the leadoff spot. Maybe Vinny Castilla and Christian Guzman won't be one of the worst 5-6 men in the MLB. That last one is kind of the deal-breaker, I suppose.

What has happened: Well, the Nats were the talk of the town for a while, but now it looks like Livan is hurting, or just insane, and the team is sputtering. They're still drawing large crowds too. Chistian Guzman has literally turned in one of the worst seasons by a player not named Tony Womack, too.

What I said: I actually want Jason Giambi to hit 40 homers next year. I know, steroids, blah blah, whatever. They help you heal, prolonging your career while turning you into a mongoloid psycho.

What has happened: Giambi, after a piss-poor start, has come around lately and has found his power again. Who knew?

What I said: I wish the Oakland A's would get to the World Series after stomping the Yankees in the ALCS. I want Zito to throw knee-buckling curves all year. I want Rich Harden to pitch like Mark Prior is supposed to pitch. I want Joe Blanton and Dan Meyer to be rookie of the year candidates, and Jason Kendall to be the man that makes it all happen, a la Pudge 2003. I want all those guys that rip Billy Beane for having the Big Three to be shut up once and for all.

What has happened: After being out of the race early, the A's have ridden Rich Harden and Barry Zito to a great June and July, and are now closing in on the Angels for the division lead. Can they make it hold up? Only time will tell.

What I said: It might be argued that Beltran has more upside since he's the better athlete. But then again, Lee is also a young player with his best years ahead of him. Lee doesn't have the basepath instincts or speed that Beltran does, but 30 steals a year is not worth 10 million dollars.

What has happened: I'm very proud of this one - I wrote on Jan 6 (before he was signed by the Mets) that Beltran wasn't worth the money, and compared him to another Carlos, Carlos Lee. This season, Beltran has hit badly at Shea and been slowed by a quad injury, while Carlos Lee has been an RBI machine.

What I said: ALDS -

Yankees over Texas - Alfonso Soriano goes hitless as Texas gets swept. Chan Ho Park takes a no-hitter into the eighth before allowing 3 runs and blowing the game. New York Post's prematurely printed papers with the headline "Chan Ho No-No" become an instant EBay seller. Along similar lines, after Hideo Nomo's bid for a comeback fails, the pitcher returns to Japan and the New York Post runs the headline "No-mo Nomo".

What has happened: I believe Nomo is gone, but Texas's chances for the playoffs don't look too good. I also said that the Yankees would bow out of the playoffs with their pitching in shambles, but I was only partially correct on that, since the Yankees pitching is already in shambles.

I'll stay away from the rest of my playoff predictions, mostly because they concern the Twins. Oops. I'll also stay away from whatever I may have said about Nomar, JD Drew, and a couple of others. Double Oops.

I'm still standing by my wacky prediction for the World Series though - A's over Braves in 7.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Once Upon a Time in China

My brother is the only one who will probably really get this blog, but here goes anyway.

In "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms," the hero Liu Bei finds his advisor Zhuge Liang in the remote Xiangyang province. Zhuge Liang has made himself a hermit, devoting himself to farming and scholarly activities. Upon Liu Bei's third visit, he decides to join Liu Bei's quest to restore the fallen Han dynasty. Of course, once Liu Bei has Zhuge Liang helping him, the tripodal balance between Wei, Shu and Wu, the Three Kingdoms of the title, starts to solidify.

Everyone in the book and anyone who ever discusses the book always talks about Zhuge Liang's remoteness, his soliditude, and the fact that one can find people of his caliber and potential in the most remote places. A diamond in the rough, to borrow a Western phrase.

But consider that Liu Bei hears from several minor advisors about Zhuge Liang first. He hears stories of the man's greatness, from people who know Zhuge Liang well and those who don't know him as well. He hears rhymes and children's songs about how there is a hidden talent in the Xiangyang province.

If Liu Bei believes he'll find an advisor in Xiangyang, of course he's not going to give up when Zhuge Liang isn't home a couple of times.

To me, it is obvious that while Zhuge Liang's remoteness is a nice and romantic piece of character exposition, the most brilliant thing that Zhuge Liang does in the Three Kingdoms book, more brilliant than Chi Bi, the various fire attacks, the Nanman Campaign, the Zhou Yu thing, and arguing Wang Lang to death, is his marketing strategy.

He markets himself without making it obvious that he is marketing himself. How else can one be a recluse and yet have so many friends, and have such a reputation? Real hermits don't have reputations. Obviously Zhuge Liang had to do something to inspire children's rhymes about his brilliance. Did he teach the kids the rhymes himself?

A good contemporary example of this is J.D. Salinger, whose remoteness and eccentricity has made him a legend in and out of literary circles, even though his contribution to the canon of American literature is debatable (and no, I didn't like Catcher in the Rye. we can argue about that, but I won't entertain arguments that say his other stuff is any good, because it's not).

Someone like Hunter S. Thompson is different, because despite his insanity and reclusive existence, he was still prolific in his own way; beside his books, he was also an excellent journalist.

How do you market yourself like Salinger or Zhuge Liang? How does one market oneself through solitude? Zhuge Liang is well known to everyone, from the local kids to scholars to random advisors to major warlords. He didn't launch an expensive ad campaign, obviously. It wouldn't have been feasible to leaflet all of 100 BC China anyway.

He didn't have his friends walk the streets singing his praises, and yet, that's almost precisely what they do in the book.

To me, this is why the Three Kingdoms is such an immortal piece of literature, despite the misogyny and the biases and the bad translations.

It sets up Cao Cao as a villain, and you can read as much as you want in order to enjoy the battles and stories of families and empires rising and falling, but in the end, there are really no villains or heroes, only Machiavellian power brokers. And the ones that really succeed aren't the ones that win the empire at the end of the book, but the ones that leave the best legacies and reputations.

By the end of the book, the reader doesn't care about the ruling Jing Dynasty. They care about the original characters, especially Zhuge Liang.

The book claims that power is cyclical. Therefore, it is unspoken that with power always changing hands, the only thing that lasts is reputation.

Zhuge Liang is the greatest power broker of them all, going from his reclusive hut to being the Prime Minister of the Shu-Han dynasty, and he does it with the best marketing strategy in history.

The book is aware of this too - it spurns individuals like Yuan Shao and his brother Yuan Shu who build their reputations on their family name. Along similar lines, Zhuge Liang is made more reputable when his sons and grandsons fail to aid their rulers.

The book also rejects individuals like Liu Biao who rules a large province, and is yet ultimately too indecisive to make anything come of it.

The book even casts Liu Bei down, because even though his ability to pick the best advisors sets him up as a hero and ruler of a small kingdom, his personal vendettas ultimately doom his quest to restore the dynasty.

Of Liu Bei's sworn brothers, Zhang Fei is a drunk warrior and Guan Yu is a honorable fighter that doesn't think ahead a whole lot.

Zhou Yu is a hero in his own right, a brilliant schemer who has his ruler's goals in mind, but he doesn't have a marketing plan. He's so concerned with geographical conquest and personal genius that when his schemes don't work out as planned, he ends up looking bad for it. This eventually kills him.

Consider the other great advisors in the book, like Guo Jia and Jia Xu. Both of them are brilliant, but they don't have the entrance that Zhuge Liang does, or the lasting legacy.

Lu Su is a great character because he's the Machiavellian Fox to Zhuge Liang's Machiavellian Lion. Lu Su knows his shortcomings, but is able to take advantage of them, and is ultimately as influential as Zhuge Liang in forming the tripodal balance of states, if not more so.

The book really pinpoints Zhuge Liang's immortality, which is founded in his vast success in a failing enterprise. He balances an unspoken personal ambition with nationalistic ambition to restore the Han.

Very soon after Zhuge Liang joins Liu Bei, someone laments that Zhuge Liang won't succeed. But it is made very clear that Zhuge Liang's reputation is made more immortal and more marketable by the lack of ultimate success - Zhuge Liang is never the one that fails, even though the Shu-Han will.

Consider that on Liu Bei's deathbed, Zhuge Liang refuses to take the Shu-Han throne if Liu Bei's son is an ineffectual ruler, which he is. Now, Zhuge Liang's refusal isn't founded on some unwavering loyalty to a family.

It's because he doesn't want his impeccable reputation to be sullied. Zhuge Liang refuses Liu Bei's command because he would never think of taking the throne anyway.

If he takes over, he ends up being like Sima Yi's family, who usurp the Wei throne after the Cao family gets complacent.

No, Zhuge Liang's reputation is created through his servitude. His position of power as a prime minister is ultimately more influential than if he were the actual ruler, because as good as ruling from the top is, it's cooler to rule from the middle.

Zhuge Liang is a character who knew how to market himself, how to make a grand entrance (both to Liu Bei and to his army's advantage on a battlefield), and how to make a grand exit (which inspires an enemy army's retrat).

Other characters don't have this - someone like Xu You makes a couple of good decisions and a great exit. Yuan Shao's other advisors make good exits.

Even someone like Zhao Yun didn't have the glorious death in battle that he was looking for; which is possibly the only thing that keeps him from being the most marketable character in the book next to Zhuge Liang. He's also too perfect.

On that note, Zhuge Liang isn't perfect either - he makes some bad character judgements (Ma Su), and insists on overseeing everything. But this only makes his caharacter better - he doesn't fail, but other people fail him.

Zhuge Liang does everything, and does it through inaction, at least compared to the martial heroes in the book. He uses his friends, his sources, his empire, and even his enemies in making his marketing strategy succeed and solidifying his immortality.

This is the real message of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and it's a damn fun one to follow.