Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Friday's Burst of Weirdness

Continuing my new tradition (launched last week) of posting here the strangest thing I've found in the intervening six days, I proudly call your attention to the strangest "extreme sport" I've yet seen. Combining "extreme outdoor activity" with "the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt", we have....

(I swear I am not making this up)

EXTREME IRONING!

And check out the galleries. It's a world gone mad!

"In Longhand" (a short fiction excerpt)

Peter Bernstein put down his fountain pen and stared at the words he had just spent four hours writing. He had resisted the feeling at first, but it had come with increasing certainty until he could no longer deny it: he couldn’t finish this story, either. He carefully screwed the cap back onto his pen and placed it in the cup with the rest of his pen collection, and then he put the story in a drawer with all the other ones that he couldn’t finish. It was never a case of not knowing how the story should end; it wasn’t uncertainty as to what to write next. It was the certainty that what he was writing wasn’t any good. Surely he could do better than this. Surely he could write something better than a mere bodice-ripper. But maybe not. How many months since he had finished a story? And how long since that wondrous first sale, which had never been followed by a second?

He glanced at the index card taped on the wall with his credo written on it with his broad-nib Parker Duofold: Nulla dies sine linea. Never a day without lines. But his lines, his writing, never amounted to anything at all. How ironic that he had become a pen collector to have writing instruments equal to his prose – and now the prose was hardly fit for a disposable ball-point.

***

Early the next morning Peter got up and went to work. His classes were scheduled so that his teaching day was always done by two thirty, which gave him ample time for office hours and his various other duties. On Tuesdays his first class was at ten thirty, so he looked through a pile of papers from his freshman comp classes. When his mind began to wander, after the third time he read some teenager’s outrage that his or her tax dollars were going to keep murderers alive, he got up and walked to the Humanities Lounge to get some coffee. Sitting in the lounge, as always, was Professor Lawrence Tatum of the History Department.

"Peter!" Tatum yelled. He said everything in a near yell. "Find anything over the weekend?" A very large man with a great shock of red hair, Tatum had his day’s work spread across one of the lounge tables; the common joke was that his office might just as well be converted to a broom closet

"Nope," Peter replied. "I actually didn’t do any shopping this weekend."

Professor Tatum tsked. "You should always be on the lookout, Peter! For all you know, some stranger found a pen that was destined for your pocket."

Peter laughed. Professor Tatum was a voracious collector of antiques of all types, and he had amassed a very valuable collection over the years. He was planning to open his own shop when he retired. In fact, Tatum could have probably opened a shop now; he had some items of great value indeed that would fetch a high price at any auction. He only delayed because he still loved teaching history. Peter had actually met Professor Tatum at one of the local antique dealers, when Peter had been looking at vintage pens. Tatum knew of Peter’s pen mania, and he occasionally would acquire an item that would pique his friend’s interest.

"Never a day without shopping, young man!" Tatum said with a laugh as he gathered his papers and headed off to class.

He knew that Peter was a writer of sorts, and found Peter’s credo amusing.

On his way home that afternoon Peter walked through part of downtown, which he did a few times a week; he liked the variety of it, and he liked to observe people to incorporate into his stories. He walked through Chinatown, which was just a two block area with three Chinese restaurants, a Japanese place, and a couple of Asian gift shops. He loved this particular area, and he ate there at least twice a week. Today he stopped with interest at a formerly vacant storefront that had just acquired a new tenant; they had removed the tarpaulins covering the storefront just that morning. To his surprise, it was an antique shop. The front door, one of those heavy wooden doors that rattled threateningly when opened and closed, bore fresh gold lettering that read "Karl Strassheim, Antiquarian." Below these words was a picture of Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian god of death, and below that, written in smaller lettering: "By appointment only." Peter peered through the glass in the storefront and saw that this Strassheim dealt in very fine antiques. Peter doubted very much that a place like this would ever be in the price range of an English professor.

***

Later that evening Peter went to Queequeg’s, a coffeehouse in his neighborhood. The owner was a freak for nautical decor, and her favorite novel was, as one might expect, Moby Dick. The walls and ceilings were covered with sea charts, fish nets, lobster cages, harpoons, old photographs of fishermen, and the like. Peter ordered his usual, the "Captain Bligh" (double mocha cappuccino topped with nutmeg) and then took over a booth. He loved to write here, and he pulled out some paper and the fountain pen he was using that week. Since he was currently "between stories", he wrote character sketches of the denizens of the coffeehouse. Most were younger than he, and some were even his students. He wrote about a number of these, describing physical characteristics first and then creating life stories for these people. And then a new arrival, someone he hadn’t seen before, caught his eye.

This man was elderly, possibly in his eighties. His thinning white hair was perfectly combed. A pair of rimless spectacles was perched on his slightly red and bulbous nose. He wore a white silk dress shirt under a black pinstriped jacket with a red silk handkerchief folded into the breast pocket. Peter watched the way the man very precisely measured three spoonfuls of cream into his coffee. Then he opened three sugar packets, one at a time, by flipping each one three times before tearing along a crease he folded in the top of each packet. After three sips of coffee, the man produced a leather-backed journal and began to write in it using a pen that Peter recognized even twenty feet away.

He had seem pictures of it in his pen collector’s books. It was a Pelikan M-900 Toledo. The black acrylic barrel was encased in a series of engravings in twenty-four karat gold. The manufacture of this pen, by the makers in Hamburg, required almost one hundred steps. Suddenly the vintage Sheaffer in Peter’s hand felt very inadequate. Peter was still staring at the gentleman when the gentleman looked up and met Peter’s gaze.

Peter shuddered. The man put him in mind of his Uncle Saul, who had traumatized Peter when he’d been a boy and his parents had taken him for monthly visits. Uncle Saul had been a stern man, a cold banker whose home had smelled of antiseptic and was full of things that little boys dare not touch lest they be locked in the cellar with the Beast Beneath the Stairs. Peter had no idea why a complete stranger should remind him of Uncle Saul. He gave a quick smile and then dropped his eyes back to the page again. He put his left hand across his brow, blocking his upward gaze with his fingers as he tried to refocus his attention on his writing and give off the impression of uninterruptible intensity of work. Let’s see, where was I….he took a slip of scratch paper and scribbled to restore the flow of ink to his pen.

"Here, try mine," a voice said. The voice was foreign – Northern European. Not French. Peter looked up and found himself face-to-face with the gentleman from across the room. He was holding out the Pelikan Toledo. He nodded and smiled genially. "You may find the nib to your liking, I think." Not Swedish or Norwegian, either….

"Thanks," Peter stammered as he accepted the pen. It was fairly lightweight, and when he unscrewed the cap and posted it on the opposite end the balance was almost perfect. He touched the silver and gold nib to the paper and wrote a few lines in his miniscule script. The pen left behind a smooth, thin line in sapphire ink. "I prefer black," he said as the man took the seat across from him.

"Chacun a son gout," he replied. He picked up Peter’s pen and looked it over. "Very nice," he began, peering at it as a jeweler would a diamond. "The Balance, made by the W.A. Sheaffer Company. Gold and palladium nib. Well preserved indeed; this pen has seen a number of caring owners. But look here: a few hairline cracks in the cap, where the clip is fastened." Age had not diminished this man’s visual acuity at all.

"You know fountain pens?" Peter asked as he handed the Pelikan back to its owner and recovered his Sheaffer.

"I know many old things," the man said, waving a hand of dismissal. "There is much business to be done in things that are old."

German! Peter realized. "You’re the new antique dealer in town," he said.

"Indeed." The man nodded slightly. "Karl Strassheim. I am new here in town; I lived in the South for a long while, but I regret that my life has come to the point where I need the cold. It reminds me I’m alive. I could not bear to take refuge from the world behind the gates of a sterile community in the bosom of the Tropics. Don’t you agree?" He smiled throughout, saying all this in a single unbroken breath.

"Yes," Peter said, momentarily taken aback. He did in fact prefer the colder climes.

"I thought so," Strassheim said. "May I have your name?"

"Peter Bernstein."

"Ah, Bernstein! Any relation to Leonard?" Peter shook his head. "Pity. I have one of the Maestro’s earliest batons in my shop. Tell me, Mr. Bernstein – may I call you Peter? I do like some informality – tell me: are you a practicing Jew, or do you merely carry the name?"

Peter’s eyes narrowed as he tried to judge this man. "I’m not what you would call religious," he finally said.

"Not many are," Strassheim said. He reached into his jacket, drew out a small brass case, and pulled a business card from the case. He placed the card on the table and wrote something on the back with the Pelikan Toledo. His fingers were long and fine-boned. "I may be able to help you, Mr. Bernstein."

"With faith?" Peter stared at him.

Strassheim raised his eyebrow. "With pens." He handed Peter the card, tipped his hat, and left the coffeehouse. Peter looked at the card. On the left was a gold-ink Anubis, the same design that Peter had seen on the door to Strassheim’s shop. Next to Anubis was Strassheim’s name and his shop’s address in raised purple ink. At the bottom, in red: "We know not for what we seek." Peter turned the card over, to where Strassheim had written: "Monday, precisely 4:00 p.m." His penmanship was perfect and patrician.

[Enter Keanu Reeves, doing ninja-battle with Hugo Weaving]

(I wrote this story a few years ago. It's the first horror story I ever wrote, so I'm putting up a piece of it today -- Halloween -- even though the horrific stuff doesn't come until later on. I suspect that the "Guy with writer's block" thing is something of a cliche; in fact, that was cited as a reason for one of this story's rejections. This was not meant as any kind of roman a clef; the writer in the story is not based on me, except in one detail: his fascination with fountain pens, which leads to the other stand0by horror cliche I used here: the "Mysterious Antiques Dealer", who actually is based on someone from real life, one of the very few times I've drawn inspiration from real people.)

Hmmm....can a blogger be "Uplifted"?

A common meme in SF these days, beginning (I think) in the work of David Brin, is "uplift", wherein life evolves to a certain point but must then be acted-upon by an outside source to achieve sentience. And since Morat is dismayed at his slide in the Ecosystem, I'll toss out a cluster of links here intended to uplift him! (Yeah, it's a slow blogging day.)

His wife was in a car accident. She's banged-up but OK, apparently; sadly, her bosses at her retail job were less than sympathetic. He also picks on Gregg Easterbrook's belief in Intelligent Design; offers a take on Donald Luskin (actually, two takes); thinks that Wesley Clark's campaign has a few problems of the "viability" variety; and finally points to a partial quoting of something funny Jon Stewart said about our President.

Silver (the Quick variety)

I haven't read Quicksilver yet, although my copy is sitting on my shelf, staring at me. (I have a number of things that need to be cleared from the deck first.) But I've noticed a couple of "in-progress" takes on the book: Morat seems to be enjoying the book, and Kevin Drum isn't. So we'll see.

A Public Notice, from a former pizzeria manager.

When I worked in the wonderful pizza business, even though I was a manager I had to join our delivery drivers on the streets on really busy nights, like Halloween. So, if you order a pizza for delivery tonight, keep the following in mind:

1. It's Halloween, and it's a Friday night. This means pizza places will be very busy, so don't get upset when it takes longer than 30 minutes.

2. Likewise, everybody else will have the same idea as you: that by ordering between 4:00 and 5:00, you'll avoid the crowds. Forget it. Dinner rushes on Halloween tend to hit very early. Your best bet, actually, is to order late.

3. Not only should you expect longer delivery times because of the sheer amount of business, but you should expect that delivery drivers will be going a lot slower due to all the kids out and about.

4. If you're not offering candy to kids, and thus you're leaving all your outside lights off so as to avoid having armies of people knocking on your door, please reconsider ordering your pizza for delivery. Consider ordering carry-out and going to get it yourself. It's a tremendous pain to locate the houses whose lights are shut off (because then the numbers on the door aren't legible), which means it'll just take that much longer for the thing to get to you. And in some areas, drivers might actually be trained to not deliver at all to houses with no lights on. (Or, maybe you could turn on the light while you're waiting for the pizza and stick a sign on your door saying that you're not offering candy.)

5. TIP YOUR DELIVERY DRIVER !!! Really, you should be doing this anyway, but Halloween is probably the most stressful night of the year for people who make their living schlepping pizzas around. They're under pressure to deliver hot food to people quickly, and not run over small children while they do it. So if your pizza is $10.50, don't just give the person $11 and tell them to keep the change. And don't think for one second they'll consider candy in lieu of a tip. (Well, if they're good at their job, they'll accept the candy and act happy about it. But it's really not a nice thing to do.)

6. Even better, consider actually going to eat in the dining room at the pizza place. In my experience, our dining room was always dead-as-a-doornail on Halloween nights, when Halloween fell on a Friday or Saturday.

Another Grand Master Passes

Science fiction author Hal Clement has died. He was an SFWA Grand Master in 1999, and memorials can be read here. I don't recall if I've read anything by him, but it's always sad to see the old masters pass on.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





'Young Woman on a Bridge at Llangollen' by Peter Edwards (oils).

I was noodling about a site of Welsh culture and art, and I found this lovely painting, which I reproduce here solely because the young woman pictured herein looks very much the way I picture the heroine in the novel I'm writing. That's all. This is the first time I've ever seen a painting that looks like my heroine, although I've seen a number of real people who do look like characters of mine. (And one blogger.)

Good Lord, what an ailment....

Two different bloggers have posts that have me feeling a bit glum about the future of reading today.

First is this news item, cited by John Scalzi. It seems that kids just aren't used to handling books for long periods of time, and thus are getting headaches from the physical effort of reading...Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That's all we need: a medical reason not to read. (Yeah, I'm taking this too seriously. Sue me.)

And if that doesn't make you give up all hope, this missive from one of the Blowhardic Duo might. There's a lot here, so read the whole thing, but the sad gist of it is Michael's belief that reading in-and-of-itself, in the form of sitting down with a book and just reading it, is going to continue to regress into its own little niche. Ugh.

Poor Donald....

I didn't learn about the whole Donald Luskin-taking-legal-action-against-Atrios thing until late last night, and I didn't feel much like posting about it then, so I'll just chime in with my predictable view here that Luskin is always dumb and a stalker, but now he's just plain insane.

Anyway, it's funny how those who continually beat Democrats over the head for having trial lawyers as one of their big constituencies don't seem all that hesitant when it comes to having their own trial lawyers sue people who insult them.

And by the way folks, how can Luskin have any kind of claim against Paul Krugman for the whole "stalker" thing if Charles Johnson apparently doesn't have a strong claim against IndyMedia for the whole "child molester" thing? Anyone?

A Late Day....

Yes, I am late in producing new material here today, because we decided to vacate the home for a while. In fact, we vacated the city: we trekked to Rochester, NY and visited the Strong Museum, which is a museum whose main exhibits are designed for children. There's an antique carousel, a small train, craft tables, and all manner of other stuff. Right now they are housing an exhibit centered around Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which allowed me to follow up a bit on the strong similarities between that story and Hayao Miyazaki's great film Spirited Away.

There is also a large Sesame Street exhibit, with walk-throughs designed to actually look like you are walking through Sesame Street. That was pretty cool. One thing I did not expect was a room with profiles of all the major cast members through the years on the walls, along with video monitors which play clips related to each member. I pressed the button for Mr. Hooper, and the video clip that played was the terribly sad scene where the cast has to explain to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper has died. They should have put a warning on that.

Anyway, a good time was had by all. The Strong Museum is a really fun place. Buffalo should have one.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Up is Down! Black is White! Cats are Dogs!

[This post contains 100% political snarking.]

Digby's got the goods on the Bush re-election strategy. Since a period in which we've seen two major wars is going to be marketed as "Peace", I can't wait to see how a recession, a busted treasury, and two million jobs lost is offered as "Prosperity".

Yeesh.

Et tu, Jane?

I just read a post by Megan McArdle in which she takes Democrats to task for stonewalling President Bush's judicial nominees because (and I can't believe she wrote this in all apparent seriousness) the judges in question, while being minority judges, are not liberal minority candidates.

Now, I'm not entirely sure why Megan would completely disregard the actual reasons stated for why a relative handful of judges are being opposed; nor am I certain shy Megan apparently thinks that Democrats actually expect the President to nominate "the same judges Al Gore would have nominated"; nor am I certain why Megan is of the apparent belief that it's their minority status that is riling the Democrats (that Charles Pickering fellow -- in what minority does he fall?).

And then, one of the commenters on the thread, in just the fifth comment, provides some factual data that pretty much completely disproves Megan's post. I can only assume that she has the flu and composed this post an hour after drinking half a bottle of NyQuil, because it makes so little sense that I had to check three times to make sure I was even on her blog in the first place. While I don't find it uncommon to disagree with her, I do find it highly uncommon to actually think she's being intellectually dishonest.

You put the red one on the black terminal, right?

In another attempt to jump-start Collaboratory, I posted a couple of items there for discussion.

BTW, last year we tried to get a Collaboratory book club going, but we got a bit too ambitious and ended up getting crushed beneath the weight of The Brothers Karamazov. We're thinking of taking another crack at a book club, this time with I Claudius, I think. If there's abiding interest, leave a message there under the appropriate thread.

Our man in San Diego

SDB thinks he's safe from the fires, for the most part, and he also provides a handy map that shows where the fires are (or were, at the time of the map).

He also provides a brief explanation of the numbering system for the Interstate Highway system: odd-numbered interstates are mainly north-south routes, while even-numbered interstates are east-west routes. I'd also add that when a relatively short "spur" or "loop" is added, a third digit is added to the front of the number, with the last two remaining the same as the "mainline" highway with which the spur or loop is associated. Thus, by way of example, in Buffalo we have the following:

I-90: This is the mainline Interstate that traverses the Buffalo region.

I-190: This is the spur that branches off I-90 and leads downtown and then to Niagara Falls.

I-290: This is a loop that branches off I-90 and curves around the northern suburbs of the city (Williamsville, Amherst, Tonawanda).

I-990: This is a spur that branches off I-290 and leads to the University at Buffalo's North Campus and a couple of miles beyond.

So, a "spur" will usually have an odd first digit while a "loop" will have an even first digit. (Strangely, this isn't the case in Syracuse, where I-690 is, despite its even first digit, a "spur" and not a "loop". I-490, though, is indeed a "loop".)

And if you find all this just incredibly fascinating -- and why wouldn't you? -- then you'll just love this page, which has more than you'll ever want to know about the Interstate Highway System, of which Charles Kuralt once said: "Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything."

As if the seafood wasn't reason enough....

Jessa Crispin points out that there may soon be a very compelling reason to move to Massachusetts.

A Modern Parable

Well, not really a "parable", but a reflection. Or a meditation. Or a thought. Or....[head explodes]

Anyway, yesterday the wife and I had the wonderful occasion to foist the kid off on the grandparents for a few hours, during which we went shopping without the four-year-old in tow -- a one-time normal thing that has been elevated to luxury status since the coming of the kid. We went to a couple of consignment shops, to Barnes&Noble, and a few other places. We were early in getting to the restaurant where we were meeting the grandparents for dinner, so we passed a few moments by going into Clayton's, which is the Buffalo area's nicest toy store. This is where you go in Buffalo if you're looking for real toys: dollhouse furniture, the biggest selection of Playmobile stuff I've ever seen, kid's crafts, fine dolls (both porcelain and Russian matryoshkas), fine model railroad supplies, et cetera. In other words, everything you won't find on the shelves at Toys-R-Us or Wal-Mart.

What was amazing was that we've been looking, to no avail, for a couple of things in other toy places. I've been looking for wind-up bath toys for the daughter, like boats or whatnot. The wife has been looking for "sewing cards", apparently cardboard or felt cutouts in different shapes that come with yarn and have holes punched in them to let the kid lace the yarn through the holes, an item which I guess shows kids the concept of sewing. (I'd never seen these before, so if my description is weird, sorry.) We could not find either of these simple items in any big store -- not Wal-Mart, not Target, and not even Toys-R-Us. But we found both within five minutes of walking into Clayton's.

It amazes me that simple things like these have been eclipsed into the realm of "specialty toys". I walk through toy sections in the big-box stores and my attitude is, "God, let's find what we want and get the hell out of here". But I walk through a place like Clayton's, and I start to actually think back to my own childhood, and I spot the things I used to play with, and a strange mixture of happiness and sadness sets in. I'm happy that I can still find these things and get them for my kid, but I'm sad because I wonder how many parents never even consider going to a place like Clayton's, and thus have kids who will never play with a single toy that Wal-Mart has decided not to stock?

Folks, if you have kids, don't do all your Christmas toy shopping at the big places. Find those small toy stores and get them something they'll never see at those big places. And spread the word.

Link Clearance! Old Links at Low Prices!

Here some science related articles I've had sitting in my bookmarks waiting to be unleashed on my unsuspecting readers at just the right time. Tremble, pitiful mortals! Mwwoooo-hoooo-haaa-ha-ha-ha-ha!!

:: Alien hunters get new respect. After years of being seen by many as a "fringe" activity, SETI research is finally emerging as legitimate scientific inquiry. Where is Dr. Sagan when we really need him?

Someday I hope to see the new Allen Telescope Array, once it's built. When I was in second grade and my family lived in West Virginia, we once drove by the radio observatory at Green Bank (back before they built the new Robert Byrd telescope). I find something beautiful, in a ghostly way, about large radio telescopes -- these giant lattices of steel and mesh through which we have deepened our knowledge of the Universe.

:: Archaeologists recently uncovered evidence that the Amazon basin may not have been an unexplored and pristine jungle before the arrival of the Europeans after all. Evidence shows that the natives of that region were far from stone-age savages, working the region into a network of villages and even building roads.



:: If you like whiskey, you're in pretty good company -- no less a personage than George Washington, hero of the Revolutionary War and First President of these United States, drank the hard stuff now and then. In fact, Washington had his own distillery at Mt. Vernon, and a group of whiskey makers recently used the distillery to recreate General Washington's own whiskey recipe (although, contrary to Washington's likely practice, they're going to age the stuff to make it taste better).



:: Here's a new theory as to why ships disappear at sea without trace or reason: they are swamped, unawares, by giant methane bubbles rising from the ocean floor. What happens is that the pressure at the ocean bottom causes methane to form ice-like structures, like the orange blob in this picture:



But these structures can break off and head for the surface, and as they "thaw", the methane reverts to gaseous form, making a huge bubble that can swamp an ocean-going vessel on the surface if it breaches at just the right spot relative to the unfortunate ship. If this turns out to be true, I wonder if the Bermuda Triangle is merely a region whose sea-bed produces a lot of methane.

:: If you plan to make an Egyptian-style mummy in the future, you'll be happy to know that the secret ingredient in mummification that allows preservation on the millennial time frame has at last been identified: an extract from the cedar tree. (To this day, my favorite bit of the mummification process is when they use a really long needle to pull the cadaver's brain out through the nose. Yeah, I'm warped.)

:: I'm not sure what the environmental implications are, especially for biodiversity, but an ongoing process to take a "census" of the oceans is revealing three new fish species a week, such as this new variety of scorpionfish:



Representatives of Red Lobster could not be reached for comment.

:: Applying Pat Robertson logic, maybe our abandonment of Sun-worship wasn't such a good idea....

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Look out Joe, here comes Jerry!

Yup, it's Tuesday, which mean the Buffalo News (which, being a major metropolitan newspaper, really should be able to afford a website that actually loads more than 60% of the time) runs Jerry Sullivan's football column. Today, he wants to fire Bills head coach Gregg Williams.

Now, I actually (somewhat) agree with that sentiment. I don't think the team is playing on a level commensurate with its talent, and that -- plus the lack of discipline evident after eight games -- seems to me to reflect mostly on the coaching staff. I don't think Williams has worked out, and I now doubt the Bills can make the playoffs. Assuming that at least ten wins are needed to make the postseason (unless one happens to play in the AFC North, a division which can be taken with an 8-8 record), the Bills would have to go 6-2 the rest of the way to make it in. I don't see that happening, not with games left against good teams like Dallas, Indianapolis, New England (as much as it pains me to admit it), the Giants, and the Dolphins (who I still expect to swoon, but you never know). With two-and-a-half years under his belt, and with an upgrading of personnel each year, Williams has yet to really achieve.

But Jerry's not content to can Williams when the current, lost year is over. Jerry wants him toasted right now. Firing a coach in mid-season should, to anyone familiar with football and its regimented, system-dependent nature, pretty much concede that the season is lost. But Jerry goes so far as to opine that such a move might not doom the Bills' season, citing -- of all things -- the Florida Marlins. You see, the Marlins entered the 2003 season with Jeff Torborg as their manager, but they fired him about a month and a half into the season (when they were ten games under .500) and brought in Jack McKeon, who proceeded to steer them to the best record in baseball after that point and the eventual World Series championship. Yeah, that was inspirational and all, but come on, Jerry. Are you really suggesting that a baseball franchise firing its manager one-fourth of the way through a 162-game regular season is comparable to an NFL franchise unloading its head coach at the halfway point in a 16-game season?

(Yes, he's really suggesting that.)

Jerry's column is peppered with all manner of stupidities. Sure, Jerry, the University at Buffalo Bulls are the more respected football team in Buffalo right now. Sure, Jerry, the Bills are "the national joke". Sure, Jerry, "Williams isn't a lame duck, he's a roast duck" is just the cleverest metaphor! And ultimately, Jerry doesn't even answer the question of, What would be the point of canning the guy right now? If you're only going to name an interim coach to play out the string -- which Jerry tacitly concedes would probably be the case -- how is that any less "giving up on the season" than just keeping Williams in place until the year's over and the whole thing can be handled in a manner that wouldn't be a mid-season distraction?

Jerry doesn't have an answer for that, but then, the column isn't about answers. It's about Jerry going, "Look how just darn MAD I am! Wheeeee!"

Worst...columnist...ever.

Wow....

Via Atrios I found this rather stunning image of San Diego fire damage:



How did the flames manage to completely destroy nearly everything manmade, but leave the trees relatively unsinged, just fifty feet away? Was this due to the efforts of firefighters, or did it have more to do with the way the fires spread?

Breaking the Theismannic Membrane

Nefarious Neddie observed my expression of disdain for ESPN football commentator Joe Theismann the other day, and points out a Theismann gem I didn't even know. After my expression of disbelief, Neddie instructed me to Google "Theismann Dumb Quotes", wherein I discovered this wondrous collection of idiotic sports utterances. Amazing beyond belief.

I'm off to seek lions in the Scottish Highlands....

Matthew Yglesias points out a person whose NYC apartment search is likely to take quite some time. My suggestion for this person is: Move to Buffalo.

From Chimpan-A to Chimpan-zee....

Lynn Sislo has answers to a A-Z Quiz, which I figure I'll answer in an attempt to further my goal of content-free blogging.

A: Actor. Harrison Ford, I suppose. Although his recent work has been lacking, in my opinion.

B: Boyhood Idols. Yeah, that would definitely be Harrison Ford.

C: Chore You Hate. Cleaning cat boxes. Ugh.

D: Dad's Name. Harry.

E: Essential Video In Collection. The Star Wars films. All of them.

F: Favorite Actress. There are so many that I like…just dig through the archives for my "Move Over Britney!" series.

G: Gold or Silver. Silver.

H: Hometown. Pittsburgh by birth, Buffalo by emotional attachment.

I: Instruments Played. Trumpet well, piano not so well.

J: Job Title. Writer/Blogger/Unemployed Schlub.

K: Kids. One.

L: Living Arrangements. Two bedroom apartment in suburban complex.

M: Mom's Name. Theresa.

N: Number People Slept With. I'm not answering this one.

O: Overnight Hospital Stays. None. Wife's had two.

P: Phobia. Hmmm….I recoil fiercely if you even mimic pulling back a rubber band and aiming it at me.

Q: Quote You Like. "If it's not baroque, don't fix it!" (From Beauty and the Beast. More quotes in my sidebar.)

R: Religious Affiliation. None whatsoever. I'm pretty militant in my reluctance to endorse any religious doctrine at all, because I think nearly every religion has something true and transcendent to say about the human condition, and at the same time every religion has something idiotic and bogus to say about the human condition.

S: Siblings. One older sister.

T: Time You Wake Up. These days, sometime between 7:00 and 8:00. If I'm really exhausted, I might sleep until 9:00, and it's not uncommon for me to wake up at 6:00 and just get out of bed under the assumption that it's useless to try to sleep any more than that.

U: Unique Habit. I'm not sure exactly what this means - - unique as in, I'm the only one in the world who does it? Or that I'm the only one I know who does it? Anyway, aside from people online, I don't know any film music collectors personally.

V: Vegetable You Refuse To Eat. Broccoli. President Bush the Elder's revelation that he also detests broccoli nearly had me changing my political affiliation. Luckily for me, there was all that policy stuff that allowed me to remain a Democrat with good conscience.

W: Worst Habit. My sweet-tooth knows no bounds.

X: X-rays Taken. Once when I broke my collarbone in seventh grade, and routine ones during dental visits. (The first dental hygienist who attempted to do this with me discovered my incredibly powerful gag reflex when she made no attempt to describe what she was doing with that little piece of X-ray film they stick in your mouth and simply starting sticking her fingers in my mouth. Heh.)

Y: Yummy Food You Make. Pastitsio (a Greek forerunner of Lasagna). I even posted a recipe for it here a few months back; sometime I'll look for the link.

Z: Zodiac Sign. Given my strong belief that astrology is a lot of hooey and that people who believe in it are boobs, I probably shouldn't know my sign. Sadly, I do. It's Libra.

Can't they assign a GOOD movie?!

For some strange reason, I'm getting a lot of search engine hits recently from people looking for study guides and such for the film Dead Poets Society. I'm hoping against hope that teachers are assigning this movie under a "Here's how to make a bad movie about poetry" teaching plan, but somehow I doubt it. Anyway, I maintain a link to the article in question in the sidebar, if anyone really wants to know why the movie bugs me. Look under "Notable Dispatches".

Monday, October 27, 2003

Ummm....a lot of 'em do that, John.

John Scalzi is shocked! shocked! to learn that his cat drinks from the toilet. Well, not all cats do this, but this right now may be the only time in my life when I haven't lived with a cat who drinks from the toilet. It's not universal, but it's not uncommon, either. Cats like cold water, which is what attracts them to toilet water: it's always cold, by virtue of being insulated by as much as two inches of porcelain. If you think your cats aren't quite drinking enough water, especially in summer months, try putting ice in their water dish when you fill it. This has often worked for our cats.

Suckiest Sucks, Revisited....

I wasn't going to babble more about the Bills' blowout loss last night, but I notice now that since I wrote the post last night in which I mentioned Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan's constant harping that the Bills do not have an elite defense, he went and wrote his entire column in this morning's paper on the non-elite defense.

Now, I'm not about to claim that the Bills played a good game last night on defense, because they didn't. Their pass-rush, which I'm complaining about on a weekly basis, was abyssmal last night, failing to apply pressure to Trent Green even when they sent seven men across the line. They gave up 38 points and 375 yards, they had no sacks and they created no turnovers. That's bad. But Sullivan seems to want to put the entire blame on the defensive unit. As he writes:

But you can't blame the offense for this one. The Bills moved the ball well at times. Travis Henry ran for 124 yards on 22 carries. He might actually have scored a TD if Gilbride had the sense to run on second-and-goal from the 2. Henry ran for 87 yards after halftime. Too bad the game was already decided.

The Bills had to follow a simple blueprint to win. Run and stop the run. They ran OK. The only thing they stopped was any talk that Buffalo has one of the NFL's top defenses.

I can't blame the offense for this one? Really? The offense that scored three points in the entire game, with the team's other two points coming on a blocked punt in the end zone for a safety? The offense that, despite averaging 5.1 yards per carry against a team that everyone knew was susceptible to the run, only ran 26 times? The offense that only handed off to its Pro-Bowl running back, Travis Henry, nine times in the first half? The offense that turned the ball over seven times, with three of the resulting Kansas City drives resulting in points scored? The offense that went pass-wacky at all the wrong times, just as it has so often in this season? I can't blame that offense for this game, Jerry? Please.

This game as a total-team effort. The Bills blew this game in all phases. Let's not pretend it was a defensive melt-down, because it wasn't.

Boring Traffic Stuff

Today I reached 25,000 total hits, and yesterday, October officially became my best traffic month yet, and there are five more days to go (including today). This also means that three of the last five months have been record-setting months here at Byzantium's Shores, and I've done it the old-fashioned way, with not an Instalanche in sight. (Well, I did have a couple of Den Bestelanches in June. But not an Instalanche.)

Yippee and Huzzah!

Writing Update

The current word count is just over 67,000, which in terms of a mass-market paperback is roughly between 140 and 180 pages. The story is moving into the second act, and the problem now is that I have a lot of balls in the air here; I have to keep stopping and reminding myself of things like, "You haven't shown this character in four chapters, and we really need to know what he's up to before the next big battle scene because, you know, he sets that up."

I don't revise as I go, unless it's to go back and stick something in to foreshadow something that's going on right now -- the old rule being that if you have a gun going off in the third act, you'd better have that gun on the mantelpiece in the first act. (The greatest example of that rule in action I've ever encountered is the film The Shawshank Redemption, in which director Frank Darabont has every major plot device right out in the open in the film's first half-hour, and you don't even realize it until the end.) I haven't had to do as much of this lately, but in the early going of this particular book I had to a lot of "plot retrofitting". You might think that outlines might solve this problem, but I don't use outlines. Outlines are for the weak. Heh!

(Of course, it could well be that outlines are essential and that writers who don't use them are the kinds of whackos who ride motorcycles without helmets after drinking nine beers in thirty minutes....but we won't plumb those depths right now.)

Anyhoo, onward and upward!

The suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked!

OK, I've pretty much given up on the Bills' offensive coaching staff now. I'm writing this during the third quarter, when the Bills are down 28-5. Even if they come back and win it, I'm giving up. These guys - - including Gregg Williams - - have no idea what they're doing. Williams and Gilbride need to go, as soon as this season is over. I've heard all the stuff about how Drew Bledsoe can't win the big ones, and yeah, he sure looked awful last night -- three interceptions, two fumbles, one lost, yada yada yada -- but the game plan never seems designed to fit his strengths, the team is always undisciplined, et cetera and so on. When these guys are making the same mistakes in Week Eight that they made early in the season, that's the coaching. For me it boils down to this: Would this same group of players have a 4-4 record, with two of those losses being blowouts, if Bill Parcells or Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy or Jeff Fisher were coaching?

What also gets me now is the way a lot of the radio and print commentators here gripe about the Bills' defense for not being as good as it can be, but hell, when these guys are constantly on the field, what does anyone expect? This is a common complaint for Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan, who is constantly saying, "This is an elite defense?" Well, no, it's not an elite defense. They don't get enough pressure on the QB, their pass-coverage often has holes in it, et cetera...but it's a good defense that would really look better if they weren't in the position of having to pitch a shutout each week. To win with an offense this bad, your defense has to be not just good, not just great, but one of the best defenses of all time. The Bills just don't have it. That's all.

:: Note to ESPN: Joe Theismann is a blithering idiot. The guy is just one dumb comment after another. For instance, just after the second play of the game: "I really like the way Drew Bledsoe is managing his offensive line tonight!" Or this, when the Chiefs took the ball for the first time: "I'll bet Dick Vermiel has his offense throw a long bomb right here!" (They ran the ball off the right side for five or six yards.) "There's no way the Bills kick to Dante Hall in this situation!" (They kicked to Dante Hall.) When the Bills were down 28-5 with two minutes left in the third quarter: "Bledsoe can still bring this team back!" Sure he can, Joe. God, the guy is a nitwit, and he never shuts up. John Madden may be annoying, but he's not stupid. Theismann is.

Of belts, and the hitting below them

According to SDB, the weirdo-site IndyMedia has libeled the guy who runs the weirdo-site Little Green Footballs. Now, I personally think LGF is one of the most putrid sites out there, but IndyMedia's stunt here is just dumb and very likely libelous. Come on, guys.

UPDATE: Michael Lopez rains on the "It's libel!" parade by being so crass as to actually cite some case law. Geez, talk about a killjoy! (Mmmmm....Blended Puppy Soup....)

The "Job-is-worthless" Recovery

According to economic journalist Jim Jubak, the economy is finally creating jobs. Problem is, the jobs suck. Woo-hoo.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Lily Rules!

I turned on NPR yesterday morning and caught the last few minutes of an interview with one of my favorite people in the world, Lily Tomlin. I first encountered Tomlin when I was in second grade; for that one year only my family subscribed to HBO, and one month there was an hour-long comedy special of hers, which I recall enjoying immensely - - I watched in several times - - even though I didn't entirely understand the jokes. Some of her films are still favorite comedies of mine, like Nine to Five and All Of Me. And of course there's her work on The West Wing, which I love.

The NPR site has links to the actual interview as well as video clips of Tomlin's work over the years. The occasion of the interview is Tomlin's reception of the Mark Twain Prize for Achievement in Humor.

Mr. President, a Mr. Falwell to see you.

Via Matthew Yglesias I see this Washington Post article, which seems to indicate a long suspicion of mine: Sooner or later, the Evangelical Christian Right, which is overwhelmingly Republican, is going to decide that it's been moderately silent long enough. In other words, President Bush's debts are going to be called in, which should make for some pretty interesting political theater. It's like they're saying, "Fine, we were quiet after our open-mike night at the 1992 Republican Convention, but we want the mike again." I'm reminded of that recent Steven Den Beste post in which SDB maintained that the Christian Right has been marginalized in Republican politics, an idea which struck me as being, well, totally wrong.

But what strikes me in this article is the opening graf:

Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are making plans to turn gay marriage into a major issue in next year's elections, with some Christian groups saying that banning same-sex unions is a higher immediate priority for them than restricting abortion.

Presumably, these are many of the same folks who believe that human life begins at conception. The logical result, then, of their belief that same-sex marriage outweighs abortion is this: "We hate gays more than we value human life, and we are prepared to reflect that belief in our activism." That's a pretty breathtaking statement of values, isn't it?

Is this what they mean by "Posthuman"?

OK, I know that I'm not as well-read in science fiction yet as I'd like to be, mainly because I pretty much abandoned the genre between the ages of 16 and 26. So, I'm not totally up on the concept of "Posthumans", and I need someone to explain it to me. Specifically, are "posthumans" the types of folks who can survive being swept over Niagara Falls with no protective gear and the types of folks who can kill a shark with their bare hands? Is that what the whole thing is about?

By the way, I've been to Niagara Falls dozens of times, and the Canadian side - - the side the guy went over - - is always incredibly packed with tourists snapping photos. How did nobody get a shot of him just as he went over? I don't care about pictures of him waving in triumph after crawling onto a rock at the bottom! I want a shot of him just as he hits the brink, what I call the "Holy Shit!" moment. Come on, somebody's gotta have that picture!

And also by the way, if the guy who went over the Falls is telling the truth and it really was a suicide attempt, then he's got to be the most colossal screw-up in human history. Imagine picking the single most sure-to-be-successful manner of killing oneself that probably exists, and still surviving with only a few scratches. Oy.

(second link via He of All Things Horrific.)

Reruns, we've got reruns!

Question: When David Letterman takes a week off, why are the re-runs always episodes from about six weeks before? I mean, we just saw these! (As I write this, for posting Sunday morning, Dave is cracking jokes about Rush Limbaugh's comments about Donovan McNabb.) Can't they rebroadcast some really old episodes, from 1995 or so? I'd love to see an old interview of, say, Samuel L. Jackson promoting Pulp Fiction or some such thing.

This book left me sweaty around the edges.

A month or so ago, I saw a post by Michael, one-half of the 2 Blowhards, about a crime novel titled Mobtown by an author named Jack Kelly. Michael's review caught my notice not because he really liked the book, although his review did pique my interest in the book on that basis, but because of the book's setting: Rochester, New York, circa 1959. That's just sixty miles down the road from Buffalo. I'm quite familiar with Rochester -- it's a nice town that, like just about every other city in New York whose name isn't actually "New York", has fallen on some seriously hard times in recent decades. (Yeah, I know, NYC pretty much fell on the ultimate in hard times in a single day two years ago. That's not what I'm talking about.)

I don't tend to read too many mysteries. For some reason, I almost always find that the last third of a mystery, when things start getting revealed, is dramatically less interesting than the "mystery" part of the story, and to some extent I found that was the case here, as well -- one of those "The journey's more interesting than the destination" things. But it's a really fun journey here, especially because these are locales I know, to some extent. Some of the book's action takes place at a theme park called "Gleeland", which I take to be the park now called "Seabreeze", which was named "Dreamland" during the years in which the novel is set. I've been to Seabreeze, and I've ridden the Jackrabbit roller coaster. I've seen the Genesee River Gorge as it cuts right through downtown Rochester. The Red Wings still play minor league ball there. It's a real pleasure to see these kinds of locales worked into a novel like this. And it's a pleasure seeing a noir story taking place outside of New York or LA or San Francisco.

Parts of the novel left me a bit cold -- as I note, the climax didn't really grab me, and some of the standard private-eye novel cliches show up: the femme fatales, the action at the local boxing ring, the divorced private-eye who promises his kid he'll make the birthday party only to be detained by the local cops until well after the party is over. Still, it was a fun read, mainly for the locales and for Kelly's knack for the language of these types of stories. Michael quotes this bit of description, quite aptly:

Her lipstick had worn off, her hair was all over the place, and she was sweaty around the edges. But, man, could she dance.

A lot of the book reads like that. I hope Kelly writes a similar book for Buffalo. Thanks to Michael for the pointer.

New at GMR

My newest review for Green Man Review is up: the novel The Disappearance of Sherlock Holmes by Larry Millett, which is a novel about an English detective around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries who apparently takes a lot of opium and hangs out with a guy named Watson. The game's afoot....

Searching for Amazons

I see that Amazon now allows one to search not only titles and whatnot, but the entire texts of the books in its database. A lot of folks are thinking this is surpassingly nifty, but I'm not really sure. And quite frankly, I'm not even sure that it really works. I tested it out with two distinctive phrases from the last paragraphs of the chapter "The Siege of Gondor" from The Return of the King, which I would think would be one of the books in Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" database. (The phrases were "recking nothing of wizardry or war" and "great horns of the north wildly blowing".) The book was not listed among the results. Then I tried "Mindolluin", the name of a mountain also mentioned in the same paragraph, and still Return of the King failed to come up. Maybe I'm not understanding how this is supposed to work?

Also, it wasn't immediately obvious to me how to use the new feature, until I realized that it's hardwired into Amazon's search function. So any time you search, your search term results using "Inside the Book" are automatically returned, whether you want them or not. That could be a giant pain, could it not? I'm not saying this is a bad feature, but it seems to me the customer should be able to disable it.

(Just after I finished writing this, I saw that Jessa Crispin had almost the exact same thoughts, and two days before I did, to boot. Terry Teachout had the same thoughts. Geez, I'm getting slow on the draw.)

That guy dancing in the street -- isn't that Marlin Fitzwater, former White House Press Secretary?



Congratulations to the Florida Marlins on winning the World Series. For the second year in a row, the team I was rooting for was defeated by a team I don't mind seeing win. You know the baseball gods are smiling upon you when your starting pitcher not only nails down the series with a complete-game shutout, but makes the final put-out himself when he fields a slow grounder up the first baseline.

Something that confuses me slightly about the outcome this year is how it reflects baseball's economics. I've long believed that baseball desperately needs to institute some real form of revenue sharing and probably a salary cap system, similar to the one the NFL has in place, which would level the playing field for the small-market teams like my own Pirates. But, the Marlins' title, as well as the recent competitive teams fielded by Oakland, Minnesota, Kansas City, and so on seem to demonstrate that small-market teams can compete. What they can't do is field a juggernaut like the Yankees or Braves; but they can make up for that with good scouting, competent player development, and proper management of the farm system. That's why the Marlins have been able to bounce back from losing something like 105 games in 1998 (one year after their first title and the fire-sale that they held the day after they won it), and that's why my Pirates are now entering their third rebuilding phase since 1992 (their last postseason appearance), even though they haven't had a winning season since that same 1992 season. I still think that baseball needs to get better revenue sharing in place, but this pretty much proves that bad franchises can't blame it all on economics.

I wonder if Cubs fans watched the Yankees' lackluster play in this Series and are now thinking, "My God, our boys coulda taken these guys...."

Finally, two small complaints to the FOX television people: when a team records the final out in a World Series victory, show the entire pile-up of celebrating players on the mound, will you? Last night's coverage cut to the glum faces on the Yankees' bench way too soon. I know, you have to show them, but let the celebration be seen first. Then you can show the losing team wondering what might have been. And the other complaint is more general about TV sports: does every large sporting event have to serve double duty as a promotion for that network's TV shows? I mean, I love That 70s Show, but do I really gotta see the cast shivering in the Yankee Stadium stands? Yeesh.

O for a thousand eyes, that I might roll them at once....

That can mean only one thing: another gathering of those weirdos on AICN for a roundtable discussion of Star Wars and everything that is wrong with the Universe! Yep, you can read parts one and two today, with a promise of a third installment in another day or two.

Actually, it isn't nearly as bad this time as in previous installments (which set me to a lot of mouth-foaming, here, here and here). A big reason, I think, is that some guy named Carl Cunningham, who is apparently a fairly prominent Star Wars fan on the Net, is participating, and he seems to be both articulate and a guy who hasn't sipped the "George Lucas is a money-grubbing hack who has totally lost it" Kool-Aid. So, a lot of the discussion this time actually revolves around fannish speculation on the plot of Episode III: just when Anakin turns, how it might tie in with the other Episodes, et cetera. Not too bad, although some of the mental gymnastics the group performs get a bit weird -- especially in Part Two, when they start in on when the Original Trilogy will show up on DVD and what kind of filmmaker George Lucas really is and whatnot.

Moriarty's insistence on proceeding from the default assumption that every rumor is true until it is directly contradicted gets a bit annoying, but hey, at least no one mentions Greedo shooting first. Particularly refreshing is the afore-mentioned Carl guy, who immediately responds to the first whiff of "Lucas is out for our money" with something I've long maintained: If all he wanted was the fans' money, he'd have crappy DVDs of the Original Trilogy in stores already. And a bit later on, when someone mentions some interview that Gary Kurtz once gave, this Carl fellow actually points out that maybe, just maybe, Gary Kurtz (the producer of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back) doesn't know what he's talking about. Huzzah. (Kurtz's name is often invoked by fans who hate the Prequels as the real reason the first two films in the Original Trilogy are so good, as part of the "They're good in spite of George Lucas" argument that I reject completely.)

So, it's not as bad as the previous incarnations of the AICN Jedi Council. (I expect that the TalkBacks will, in due course, get flooded with all the annoying idiots who hate Star Wars because it's not The Matrix.)

Friday, October 24, 2003

Move Over Britney!

Yep, it's time for another installment in my ongoing exploration of Notable Women Whose Dogs Britney Is Unfit To Follow With A Poop-Scooper! This time, we have Mary-Louise Parker.





OK: long-time readers will recall that I expressed some lack of fondness for Ms. Parker's work on The West Wing in previous seasons. Why the change of heart now? Well, basically: I'm changing my mind. I can do that, you know. I've liked her each time she's showed up this year on The West Wing, which baffled me slightly, so I checked her IMDB listing.

Basically, I had forgotten about a lot of good work she has done: Grand Canyon, Fried Green Tomatoes, and more. Thinking, then, about why I haven't been turned off by her on TWW this year when I was quite turned off by her the last two years, I realized that it's Aaron Sorkin's fault. But not in a bad way.

Ms. Parker has a fairly low voice, and her vocal delivery is pretty low-key, without a lot of enunciation (and sometimes she outright drawls). She's what I call an "expression actor", in that she can do more with her eyes and facial expressions than she can with her vocal delivery of dialogue. This, I think, put her at something of a disadvantage on The West Wing when she was required to partake in Aaron Sorkin's rapid-fire dialogue; it simply didn't suit her well and I always found her speaking parts on the show to have an almost monotone-buzzing quality.

But now that Sorkin is gone, the dialogue on TWW has been slowed down a bit (although, quite honestly, it's still been pretty good), and the show has actually explored silence once in a while, which plays to Ms. Parker's strengths as an actress. Anyway, that's my theory. It came to me when I realized that I liked her most in roles where she doesn't say a whole hell of a lot.

And that is more than anyone really wanted to know....

Friday's Burst of Weirdness

This is an experiment that I might keep up with: a weekly posting, each Friday, of the weirdest thing I've encountered on the Net during the week.

This week is a very odd bit of animation, with music, called We Like the Moon.

(via Particles, a subdivision of Making Light.)

Digital Distribution in Art (a repost)

(I don't normally do reposts -- in fact, this might be my first repost ever -- but the topic has come up lately, and rather than just rehash it all I can just repost. I wrote this back on February 9, 2003.)

I've been thinking a bit about the "digital distribution revolution" that is unfolding in the music world, and is beginning to bud in the film world -- the uploading and downloading of songs on P2P networks, the various copyright issues, and such. While I grant that the industry attempts to stuff the genie back into the bottle are equal parts laughable, draconian and dumb, I also have to admit a certain suspicion of the motives of many who are allied against the RIAA and MPAA. For all the high-sounding rhetoric about "freeing Mickey" (with which I generally agree; copyright was surely never intended to last for periods measured in decades) and "progress" and "the evil record companies" (with which, again, there really can be no dispute, since the RIAA's typical view of talent is not-that-distinguishable from indentured servitude), it seems to me that the bedrock motive always comes back to money. The RIAA does not want its golden goose killed, and the file-swappers are under the impression that a fabulous new day is dawning when paying for music and movies and whatever else is a thing of the past. "Information wants to be free" has always struck me as a ludicrous idea, especially since the conduct and quick anger of those who insist such never fails to convey the actual message of "I want my information to be free".

Some other thoughts, largely unrefined, have been stirring about in my brain for a bit, so I'll just throw some things at the wall. If anyone has answers or thoughts of their own, feel free to comment.

:: The means of distribution affects art in many ways. For instance, every article I read about filesharing and its related issues discusses the shared content in terms of songs. I see this in the Apple tagline, "Rip. Mix. Burn." I see this every month in WIRED, when some celebrity or important person is asked to list their current playlist, and it's always a selection of ten or twelve completely different songs. When WIRED recently compared a group of music-download sites, they used a single song as the test case. My point? While I do often speak of individual songs, I've always preferred to think of the song as something atomic, with the larger work -- the album -- as the actual work of art. I may be one of a minority in this regard -- I haven't done any research here -- but I wonder if something isn't being lost when our attention turns from albums to individual songs. I worry that the idea of a great album -- say, Brothers In Arms or Led Zeppelin IV or The Wall or Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely -- may die out as our focus shifts to finding those songs that we like.

A great album isn't merely a collection of songs. A great album has an entire character on its own that is defined by the way its constituent songs work alongside one another; how the mood of one song leads into the mood of the next; the ebb-and-flow of the tempi and style of the songs. What place, then, for an album in a world where the song is the standard of exchange?

:: I've thought of getting an MP3 player, once in a while, but I'm not at all certain how much mileage I would get out of it. This is because I tend to listen to entire albums, as noted above; but also for another reason: I just plain like CDs. When I read comments in WIRED that imply that the CD has become uncool and square, I really wonder how on earth this can be. I've never found CDs to be anything other than marvelous and wonderful. They are convenient; their sound is frankly better than an MP3; and I actually like things like cover-art and liner notes and whatnot. And I don't like the idea of my entire musical collection existing as nothing more than ones-and-zeroes on a hard-drive, subject to the various problems that affect hard-drives now and again. I like the physical reality of my CDs. Thumbing through my music collection and finding old gems that I haven't heard in a long while is always a pleasure; although admittedly I haven't tried, I can't quite believe that scrolling through a collection of folders and files on my PC would have the same cachet.

:: If the digital realm is really the future of content -- music and books and film and whatever else -- then I worry even more about the "digital divide", where so many people in our society are unable to join the online world, whether because of cost or disability or whatever. The Digital Divide is real, and it is large; and it seems to me that if we're going to transfer a significant part of our cultural expression to the digital realm, then we'd better make damned sure the Divide is reduced to almost nothing, if not eliminated entirely.

There are many people in this world who cannot afford a computer and whose only opportunity to go online is to use a public terminal at a library, if they can even do that. But a person who might not be able to spend $600 on a computer may still be able to scrape together $30 for a bargain-basement CD player. They need not be shut out of our culture entirely, which is what I fear may happen to an uncomfortably large segment of our society as we become more and more digital.

Digital media are wonderful and have stunning potential. But I'm unconvinced that the infrastructure exists to make our digital world a reality for all people, and if we can't bring the digital to all people, then I am not prepared to allow those people to fall by the wayside, thus creating a caste of Untouchables -- perhaps we would call them "the Unconnected" -- who are not only divorced from the Internet, but divorced from our culture itself even as they walk amongst us.

Yeah, but did Resphigi compose a tone poem about them?

Kevin Drum decides that for this week's installment of Friday Cat Blogging he'll eschew new pics of his own cats in favor of some pics of the cats of Rome.

The Diaspora Continues....

Slipping the surly bonds of BlogSpot today is John Lagado's Laputan Logic. Get thee hence:

www.laputanlogic.com

You folks who haven't visited this blog, which is a one-man-band blog version of The Discover Channel, need to check him out now, and often afterwards.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





The Concorde, coming in for landing at London's Heathrow Airport.

The Concorde jet, which travels at supersonic speeds, will cease to do so after tomorrow's last departure from JFK Airport in New York, and nothing is replacing it, mainly because companies that make and use such planes now believe no such plane can recoup its costs. The era of the Concorde is over.

The picture links to an MSC article by Michael Moran, who wonders: "Have we humans peaked as a species?" He writes:

Slave galleys, paddlewheels, stagecoaches, ocean liners and trans-continental rail service all had their day. Yet in none of those cases did humanity settle for something less when their day had past. In that, Concorde’s retirement may be unique.

In my more cynical moments, I tend to agree with George Carlin in that we were once a promising species, but now we're basically playing out the string. This isn't quite what Moran's getting at here, but I think this way too, more often than I should. I see science fiction authors and aficionadoes turning their back on space travel, at the very most consenting to robotic probes but that's it. I see us basically throwing up our hands and consenting to being screwed with our pants on, simply because "the market" and "the bottom line" demand it. And so on.

Most of all, though, I think we've lost our sense of wonder. That's a hell of a thing to lose, and I want it back.



It sure beats a puttering mo-ped!

Aaron's wife, Krista, finally has a vehicle that befits her profession, which involves whacking on things with sticks. (She's a percussionist.)

Knowing it when one sees it

Lynn Sislo is ruminating on an eternal question: What is art?

I've tossed that one around quite a bit in my life, and often I see the attempts at definition which sooner or later arrive at the altar of opinion, usually in a derisive tone: "Rap music isn't music." "Science fiction is fun, but it certainly isn't literature." And so on. A lot of times it seems to me that any such definition is basically fence-building, with the definition serving as the fence to keep the undesirable stuff away from the "good stuff".

In his book Understanding Comics, author Scott McCloud comes up with a really inclusive definition of art: "Art, as I see it, is any human activity that doesn't grow out of either of our species two basic instincts: survival and reproduction." Now, this definition strikes me as unsatisfactory, but I'm sympathetic to it because it is inclusive. It's not a definition designed to set up borders and filters that will insulate us from the bad and allow in only the good. So even if that definition doesn't quite work -- and McCloud later admits it doesn't, in his follow-up book, Reinventing Comics -- I think he's on a right track.

My personal definition of art is also inclusive: "Art is any activity whose primary purpose is to stimulate the senses in such a way as to provoke an emotional response, a set of emotional responses, or a set of reflections." Art, to me, depends not just on result but also on intent. And that's why cooking, in my opinion, is every bit as much an art as is painting, composing, and writing. Cooking requires craft, to be sure, but a lot of times I see commentary on cooking-as-art overly dependent on the idea of craft. (I take "craft" to be "attention to the details inherent in any particular artistic medium".)

These thoughts are, of course, half-baked and in need of fleshing out; what I've done here is stick my flag in the ground and stake my claim. I'll worry about what I build there later.

Change Your Bookmarks

Scott Secrest has left BlogSpot for greener pastures:

www.archipelapogo.net

Go have a look. Any redesign plans, Scott?

Digital Music

Andrew Cory, who has tried repeatedly to drink the Apple Kool-aid but evidently keeps picking up plain ice water, talks about the new iTunes for Windows thing. I have very little interest in downloading music, and I don't expect that to change until we reach a point when a significant amount of music I want is only available by download, which I suspect will be quite some time. For all the complaining about the price of CDs -- and I do think they need to come down in price -- they're still closer to being an egalitarian means of music distribution than downloading, which assumes a certain level of affluence. Plus, I just plain like having my music collection in a physical, tangible form. I have thought about ripping some of my CDs so I can listen to them while I'm at the computer, but that would be primarily a novelty, since the computer is in the same room as my stereo in the first place.

A Potential Warning!

A few minutes ago I checked my Technorati Link Cosmos, and found a new site linking to Byzantium's Shores that is, shall we say, a tad surprising. (As of this writing, it's the Number Two site listed there. Not Safe For Work!) Upon further investigation, it appears to be a porn site that's specifically designed to look like a blog. Scrolling downward, I found a very long list of links which I assume is where the link here is located; I also see that this site has 125 referrals already from Technorati, so I assume I'm far from the only one making this discovery this morning.

I don't know, maybe this is all harmless and maybe it's really just someone using blog format for a bit of "High Kinkiness", but in the wake of last week's "Comments Spam" attacks that infected many Movable Type blogs out there with porn links in the comment threads, my "suspicion meter" is set on "High". So, any of my readers with blogs of their own might want to be on the lookout. I'm not sure really what happens next here, but vigilance is always wise.

And this strikes me as a good time to reiterate my own Comments Spam policy: I will ban any IP addresses that attempt to do any such thing on my comments and I will report such behaviors to the appropriate ISPs.

UPDATE: And just like that, Teresa Nielsen Hayden has already found the exact same site. Somehow I suspect that the names "Woody" and "Peaches" are about to become quite infamous in Blogistan....

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Hmmmm....

Last week, NBC postponed the new episode of The West Wing that was to air Wednesday night, presumably because of the ongoing baseball playoffs (both the NLCS and ALCS had gone to sixth and seventh games, and both series involved a long-suffering franchise). Via The Modulator, I see that another theory for the pre-emption, which involves the episode's North Korea-related plotline. (The episode is now supposed to air tonight.)

I doubt that's the case, though, because NBC also put reruns in place of its Thursday night schedule the same week (up against ALCS Game Seven), and CBS likewise postponed a new episode of CSI Thursday night. (I don't watch anything on ABC, so I have no idea if they had to similarly postpone new episodes that week.)

I was surprised that the networks had anything new scheduled at all last week, but maybe they simply assumed that baseball's playoff ratings would continue to be less than the bonanza they used to be, only to be caught unawares by the drama of watching the Cubs and Red Sox come oh, so close.

The TITANIC, the Administration, and Other Things That Leak

Darth Swank reports on a Defense Department memo, reported in the USA Today, which doesn't quite back up the "Everything's comin' up roses!" view of the War on Terror. Glenn Reynolds, of course, is incensed at the leak (this from the guy who kept maintaining that the Valerie Plame affair was "too confusing"), which is unfortunate because it's not clear that this is a leak at all, and anyway, the Department of Defense has put the memo up on their website. Now, I'm far from an expert here, so let me know if I'm wrong. But it doesn't seem to me that memos intended to be confidential get posted to the Web, even if they get leaked.

I sometimes get the feeling that if Reynolds were the Captain of an English ocean liner on its maiden voyage, his reaction to being handed a note informing him that a very large icefield lies ahead would be to light all the boilers and go full steam ahead.

A Service Notice

Posting here may be a bit more sporadic than usual next week, as the Amazonian Queen Wife will be on vacation, which will mean setting aside my usual routines in favor of day-trips and whatnot. And Halloween is coming up, which means...well, I'm not sure what that means, except that I remember that my daughter is perhaps old enough to discover the joys of Milk Duds.

(I'm being facetious there. I hate Milk Duds, the most godawful candy in existence. Any candy that requires presoaking in lye just to render it chewable is not a candy I want on any kind of regular basis, even if it is only yearly.)

Oh, and check out John Scalzi's kid's costume. Apparently she likes to play with things before annihilation. Our kid's going to be Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz. Except she's blond. Go figure.

A Minor World Series Note

Mike of Mike's Baseball Rants, who doesn't think too highly of Joe Morgan as a baseball pundit, might appreciate this: I was driving last night when the game started, and heard the first two innings on the radio. Very early on, Joe Morgan (the color-commentator on the official radio broadcast) says something like, "The Marlins will benefit defensively as the night goes on and the field dries out." I thought that odd enough to begin with, since the game was at night and presumably there wouldn't be a whole lot of evaporation going on.

But then, after I was home for a while and checked in on the game in the sixth inning, it was raining. So much for Joe's prediction.

(I actually like Joe Morgan a lot, but Mike's commentaries on him are usually very funny.)

Google giveth, and Google taketh away

In an amazing twist of blogging fate, the guys over at Dead Parrots somehow ended up, for a time, with a post of their being Google's Number One site for "Steve Bartman" -- the Cubs fan who went for that infamous foul ball. The resulting traffic to their blog was, shall we say, staggering.

In that single day, they picked up about half as many hits as I've had in the entire time I've been writing this blog. Wow.

I'm not useless! Really!

Earlier this morning I was flipping past channels, heading for PBS so the kid could watch Sesame Street, when I just happened to catch about five seconds of Alan Colmes, the "liberal" who occupies the seat next to Sean Hannity on FOX News's "fair and balanced" show (in which Colmes always sits meekly by while Hannity foams at the mouth, shouts, interrupts, and generally behaves like Bill O'Reilly). Colmes's appearance this morning was on (I am not making this up) The 700 Club. I didn't watch any more than what I happened to see, so for all I know, Colmes got into a flaming debate with Pat Robertson and struck a blow for liberal decency and all that. (I doubt that.)

I did catch Colmes apparently defending himself against accusation that he serves no useful purpose on the show, by saying "I am not a potted plant!" That made me laugh. From what little I've seen of the Hannity and Colmes show (not much, admittedly), maybe Colmes is right: he's not a potted plant. He's that clump of dead root-bound soil that you discard from an old pot before refilling it for use with a new plant.

Don't let McCoy get anywhere near it!

Still stealing stuff from Warren Ellis, a nifty new gizmo might be unveiled in Britain next year:

A window between cities that allows people hundreds or even thousands of miles apart to meet and talk in real time could make its debut in Britain next year. Tholos, named after a type of circular ancient Greek temple, consists of a large round screen nearly 10ft high and 23ft wide.

I assume this description will put any fan of the original Star Trek in mind of the Guardian of Forever, from "The City on the Edge of Forever" (incidentally, the greatest single episode of Star Trek ever, in any series):



Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Literally.

It seems that the Powers-That-Be in Bangkok want to avoid President Bush and other luminaries being exposed to their city's riverside slums, so their solution is to put up a giant curtain, obscuring the view of the slum.

Talk about "Out of sight, out of mind" as a policy regarding the poor....

(Via Warren Ellis.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A Public Statement of Enormous Gratitude.

The UPS man dropped off a package for me, which was sent in my direction at the behest of one of my regular readers. Thank you, Michelle!

(And don't think for one second that I've abandoned my efforts at coercing you into Blogistan on your own….)

I hope there's some gratuitous raping and pillaging....

Time for some Guy Gavriel Kay stuff. This time, we have early cover art (which is very tentative and subject to change) for the new novel, The Last Light of the Sun. On the left is the Canadian cover art, and on the left is the American version.



And that reminds me, I really need to watch the DVD of this movie one of these days. I bought it really cheap at Target just a day or two after coincidentally finding some enthusiastic reviews about it online. Also, my current plan after reading The Iliad and The Odyssey is to read my copy of The Sagas of the Icelanders. I've basically decided lately to start reinforcing my background in reading all the really old stuff.

(UPDATE: An alert reader -- a little too alert, if you ask me, harumph! -- points out that my above description of which cover is Canadian and which is American is in violation of at least one Law of Physics. Thus, the one on the right is the American cover, tentatively. Those responsible for the error will be sacked later today.)

Best Guest Appearance EVER!

Hyper-reclusive author Thomas Pynchon, of whom there are no pictures in existence, will "appear" on The Simpsons. Wow. You gotta love the literary chops of The Simpsons.

(via Jessa Crispin.)

Scary Movie Scenes

Fun stuff, since Halloween's coming up: a couple of countdowns, here and here (second one "in progress", check back each day). I'll probably chime in with some of my favorites, but for now, this is a placeholder.

Man, that guy's a heel!*

Maybe someone who's already read The Iliad can set me straight on something here: am I supposed to like or root for Achilles or something? Because quite frankly, he's striking me as a complete ass. "I don't care if all my countrymen get butchered by Hector, I'm mad at Agamemnon so I'm just gonna take my boats and go home." And I'm thinking, "Shut up and fight, you inveterate pansy!"

(I already know, of course, that Hector ends up dying in the end, by the way.)

*Get it? Achilles? Heel? Ha ha ha haaaaa!

Ugly Stadiums and the Football Fans Who Love Them

As I write this (for posting on Tuesday), I'm watching a bit of the Monday Night Football game, and I'm struck by two things about football in Oakland. First, the Raiders are probably the most amazing example of a football team's cumulative age finally catching up to it in NFL history; and second, the Oakland stadium is one of the dumbest looking football stadiums in existence. To get the full effect you have to look at the aerial shots. Formerly called the Oakland Coliseum (renamed Network Associates Coliseum), it houses the A's and the Raiders, as it did back before 1983 or so before the Raiders went to Los Angeles for ten years or so. But when the Raiders returned to Oakland, it was with the insistence by owner Al Davis that the stadium's capacity be increased for football from its original seating for 45,000 (very low by NFL standards). So, they took the roughly circular stadium with former low-sitting bleachers in the baseball outfield and basically removed the bleachers and erected a giant three-tier seating area that basically makes the whole stadium look like a half-assed cross of two entirely different stadiums. Ugh.

(And the Raiders have just lost, failing to make the end zone to tie the game as time expired by a single yard. Wow.)

Epidemic Laziness

I may have commented on this before - - I've discovered that self-repetition is a fate to which longtime bloggers are probably doomed - - but it happened again, so I'll mention it again. I had a search-engine hit from someone looking for Cliff Notes on a Stephen King book, this time the novel Thinner. Now, I haven't read Thinner, but it seems to me that it either says something really cool about Stephen King that people expect there to be Cliff Notes about him (something about High Literary Worth or some such), or it says something really bad about our readers.

(I like King; when he's on, his work is superb. He's dreadful when he's off, though.)

Memo to David Blaine:

A month in a box? Pagh! Standing on a pole for many days on end? I scoff at you!

Now that is a stunt! Don't try this one at home, kids. Or here, for that matter.

(ADDENDUM: I should note that police here aren't yet convinced, as of this writing, that it wasn't some kind of hoax -- like maybe the guy dressed a blow-up doll in identical clothes and then hung out down below the falls for the appropriate moment to climb out.)

Monday, October 20, 2003

Addendum to today's Football Post

I forgot to mention that yesterday's Bills game was something of a Bills reunion day. Not only was Bruce Smith in town with the Redskins (the Bills didn't allow him any sacks, but he came close and man, is he still quick and muscular), not to mention Rob Johnson (as I noted before), but the big event was the halftime Wall of Fame enshrinement of Darryl Talley, the great former Buffalo linebacker. Talley was the heart-and-soul of the Bills' defense during the Super Bowl years, as well as being a fierce competitor and tenacious tackler. Talley was also known for wearing Spiderman spandex under his regular uniform. Also present for Talley's ceremony were other luminaries from the Super Bowl teams: coach Marv Levy, quarterback Jim Kelly, and running back Thurman Thomas.

44 Days in a Box....sounds like the average call-center employee

David Blaine came out of the box. Think he actually spent the entire 44 days inside there? This guy doesn't.

Hey Sheila! Check this out!

S.L. Viehl, who (among other things) writes science fiction and makes quilts, will appreciate this recent NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day:



Some of the panels are originals; others are based on actual Hubble photos (linked at APOD). Wow!

The Descent Into Depravity Continues....

Donald Luskin is mad that Paul Krugman thinks he's a cyber-stalker. Well, gee whiz, Donald: all you ever write about is how monstrously evil Krugman is (and that's not a mischaracterization of Luskin's writings), and it's rather hard to buy into your current description of your attendance of a Krugman lecture and book-signing as a harmless little lark when you went on to describe it in a blog post thusly:

I have looked evil in the face. I've been in the same room with it. I don't know how else to describe my feelings now except to say that I feel unclean, and I'm having to fight being afraid.

I know you're all hot-and-bothered about Krugman and all, and I know that "you demand an immediate retraction". But really, Donald, after you actually called Krugman "evil", why shouldn't the only response to you be "If you can't stand the heat, then stay the hell out of the kitchen"? You reap what you sow in this life, Mr. Luskin. Get used to it.

(via TBogg.)

Howzabout a side trip to Dayton?

Happy Birthday to Kevin Drum, who turned 45 and gets to celebrate by taking a trip to Cincinnati. He wants to know what there is to do in Cincy, and I don't really know. He could just drive across a steel-deck bridge and hum at the pitch his tires make, I guess, and then repeat "97-X, bammmm, the Future of Rock and Roll!" over and over, I suppose.

(The road trip in Rain Man did start in Cincinnati, didn't it?)