Mildly Malevolent

"So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information." --George Orwell

"Anbody can make history. Only a great man can write it."--Oscar Wilde

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Thursday, May 22, 2003

Twelve years ago today, I was eliminated from the National Geography Bee on the last of thirteen tie-breaker questions. (One more correct answer and I'd have been in the top ten!) I've been superstitious ever since...

Well, that last part's not really true. (I'm no more superstitious now than I was in 1991, though I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether I've always been superstitious or if I've always been skeptical of such things.) I still enjoy hearing about the results of the competition, though.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

If I'm not mistaken, the new Harry Potter book will be published one month from today. I'd be eagerly looking forward to the big day if I weren't spending most of my time trying to come up with a dissertation topic.

One of these days, if the dissertation search doesn't drain away too much of my time, I may offer a theory about one of the major plot-lines in the series. The short version: sometime soon (perhaps in the next book), Rowling will reveal that the event that sent the Potters into hiding was a spy report--sent to Dumbledore by Severus Snape - that Voldemort was hot on their trail. (Peter Pettigrew, we know, told Voldemort where the Potters were hiding soon after they slipped away.) This would help explain Snape's conflicted feelings about Harry--after all, we already know that Snape hated James Potter, hates Harry Potter, and wants to see Harry fail, but owes a debt to Harry because the elder Potter saved his life. If, as I suspect, Harry is an orphan in part because Snape failed in his attempt to save his parents' life, then Snape's bitterness and anger are even easier to understand: Harry is a constant reminder that he failed to save James Potter's life so many years ago. It may even be Snape left Voldemort's service and became a spy for Dumbledore because he had an obligation to save James Potter's life. (I'm not sure I like this last theory, but it wouldn't surprise me. After all, Rowling has made quite a few hints about the importance of having a wizard in your debt.)

I hope that you won't hold me to my theories about the Harry Potter universe - after all, it's easy to look like an idiot when discussing the series.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Historians (and history grad students) are usually leery of making counter-factual arguments about history. It's even harder to ask speculative questions about how history might have turned out differently if you're looking at the Kennedy administration, which our culture has at times romanticized beyond all recognition. But here's a persuasive counter-factual analysis of how JFK might have handled the crisis in Vietnam,

Monday, May 19, 2003

Everyone who cares about good government in this country now has reason to rejoice! (For why, check out this article from The New Republic.)

Sunday, May 18, 2003

I should be hard at work right now, but I feel a burning need to bolster my geek credentials. (After all, random musings on mutants just aren't enough!) Yesterday, when I was browsing the web, I realized that we were exactly seven months away from the next Lord of the Rings movie and discovered that the movie website has posted a bunch of pictures from The Return of the King.

The pictures didn't wow me. I thought that Denethor looked wrong, though at least I now have half a year to get used to Peter Jackson's portrayal of him. (Then again, maybe I shouldn't have expected to like the way Denethor turned out, since my biggest criticism of The Two Towers was that Jackson tranformed Faramir from one of the most sympathetic characters in the trilogy into an underwhelming Boromir Lite. Maybe PJ just doesn't like Denethor's family...) The other photos were okay, but weren't especially revealing or interesting. My main concern about the next movie has to do with the rumored Aragorn-Sauron fight scene, but I'll just have to wait until December to find out if that will appear in the film.

(When I write that the photos on the website "weren't especially revealing," I'm not, of course, expressing a desire to see pictures of scantily clad hobbits, charming as that would be. It just seems that the pictures never really show anything that we haven't seen before. The photo of Frodo in Shelob's Lair could just as easily have been captioned "Frodo in a dark scary place," for example, and the photo of Legolas and Aragorn entering the Paths of the Dead could have had the label "Legolas and Aragorn looking really determined." It would have been nice if we could have seen something new or unexpected, though I can't say I'm terribly surprised by the website's approach.)