Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Anyway, in last night's "contestant banter" segment (when Alex Trebek chats for a moment with the three contestants), Ken revealed that he keeps a "lucky token" in his pocket at all times. It was, to my immense pleasure, a Totoro. (Go here if you don't know what a Totoro is.) I can't root against a guy who keeps a Totoro figure in his pocket.
By the way, I think it would be cool if instead of the prosaic Spiderman 2, they would have given the film one of those over-the-top episode titles, like each issue of the comic book used to have. Something like Spiderman: Into the Web. One gimmick I recall from the comics is in the issue in which Gwen Stacey dies, the "box narration" at the beginning says something portentous like, "We can't tell you the title of this story...yet!", and then at the very end, it says something like, "Now you know why we couldn't tell you the title of this story, because the title is, THE DAY GWEN STACEY DIED!"
(And back in February, the day after the Super Bowl, I noted how odd I found it that these athletes who earn salaries in the millions are awarded cars for being named MVP. It's like if I, having been named "Employee of the Month" at the Store, was given a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Looks like I was right, as I am whenever I whine about the StuPats. [For newer readers, "StuPats" is my abbreviated term for "New England Stupid Patriots". Because I hate the Patriots.])
"Gee, I never knew that my brake pedal went that far down to the floor. Amazing!"
Whoever decided, way back when, that it would be a good idea to saddle every family in America with a two-ton hunk of metal that requires constant feeding and maintenance, and that our economy should be built entirely around the assumption of everyone's ownership of said two-ton hunk of metal, should be retroactively beaten with a very large set of sticks.
But hey, on the bright side, I'm sure that $600 would have gone to boring stuff like food and clothes for the kid and maybe a trip to a movie or something anyway. So spending it on f***ing brakes is probably a good thing, right?
Monday, June 28, 2004
Oh, and those so-inclined should take a gander at this quiz about Spiderman, which is actually fairly challenging. I'm really looking forward to the new movie, the original having come within fifteen minutes of becoming the best superhero movie ever. (That honor, thanks to Spiderman's limp ending, still belongs to Superman.)
Sunday, June 27, 2004
Buffalo's Central Terminal, with the city skyline and Lake Erie in the distance.
Looming in the foreground of this photograph is the imposing structure of Buffalo's Central Terminal, once the arriving point for all of Buffalo's passenger rail travel. The trains stopped coming there over two decades ago, however, and the facility has since fallen into disrepair and neglect. In recent years, volunteer efforts have focused on cleaning and restoring the Terminal, although no one is sure just what use the building would serve. From the image, one can see that the "Central" moniker is a bit of a misnomer, as downtown lies several miles distant. The Terminal actually lies in Buffalo's East Side, which is the city's most impoverished and crime-ridden section. Still, it is a beautiful building that, like so many in this city, deserves a better fate than what it has received.
I was reminded of the Central Terminal by Mandelei, who linked it just the other day. The photo above links to the Central Terminal's current website, which contains a pretty impressive gallery of "Then and Now" pics.
(A story I've been working on, incidentally, uses the Terminal as inspiration for one of its locations within my fictional Great Lakes city of New Mowbray, Michigan. Basically I've created a city wherein I can transport a lot of Buffalo-type stuff without having to actually be accurate about Buffalo. Trivia break: The fictional city of Port Charles, NY, the setting for the soap opera General Hospital, is sometimes said to have been modeled on either Buffalo or Rochester.)
I have to confess that I reacted very strongly against this show for years, because for about five years you couldn't go anywhere without hearing that big, pounding organ theme or the song that every high school baritone in the country had to add to his repertoire, "The Music of the Night". But I finally did actually see the bloody thing in 1999, when a touring production finally came to Buffalo, and I was surprised at how effective the thing was. I hope the film is good, and if successful, that we get a film version of Les Miserables, the show I've managed to not see even though the thing plays in Buffalo almost annually.
Well, in America we have a saying that's constantly on the lips of people who are so optimistic you often want to drop one of Monty Python's 16-ton weights upon them: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!"
(You can probably see where I'm going with this.)
"When life hands you slugs, make slug fritters!"
(Upon perusing the recipe, I have to say that it seems a bit wimpy to me. You mince the slugs before mixing them into a batter? What's with that? It seems to me you should just batter them whole and deep-fry them, if you're really going to do this. Yeesh.)
(which nobody's picked up yet as a blog meme, as of this writing; come
on, people!), my friend Robert (whose patience with me is apparently
unbounded, for many reasons) takes me slightly to task for not listing
anything by Norwegian composer Geirr Tveitt, whom Robert discovered a
year or two ago and then pushed on me, for which I have been enormously
grateful. I could plead the "space excuse", saying that I just didn't
have room for it all, which is true; and also that the list was meant
to capture works that I think casual listeners of classical music are
likely to have heard, which doesn't as yet seem true of Tveitt, a guy
who's only really been on the radar screen in the last couple of years
since his work suddenly started turning up on recordings.
Tveitt was a Norwegian composer, and a strongly nationalistic one,
basing nearly all of his output (so far as I know) heavily on Norwegian
folk song and melody and composing for Norwegian ethnic instruments
such as the Hardanger fiddle. (Incidentally, persons who have seen the Lord of the Rings
films have heard the Hardanger fiddle in action, and likely not
realized it. The solo stringed instrument that often sounds the motif
for Rohan in The Two Towers and The Return of the King is a Hardanger fiddle.) His most accessible works, I have found, are the amazing suites of the Hundred Hardanger Tunes, which are simply orchestral arrangements of Norwegian folk tunes. Tveitt strikes me as a Norwegian version of Percy Grainger, albeit a more serious one whose playful side is more restrained.
Tveitt's work is at once moody, playful, serene, tempestuous, familiar,
and challenging. Tveitt is also a tragic figure in music history,
because of a fire in his home in 1970 that destroyed most of his output
(of 300 works, 90 survived). Exploring Tveitt's unique sound world can
be done fairly cheaply, as there are several discs of his music on the
budget Naxos label; if those are to the listener's liking, I also
recommend the full-price CDs of Tveitt's music on the BIS label --
especially the amazing concertos for Hardanger fiddle.
For a taste of Tveitt, here are two selections from the Hundred Hardanger Tunes Suite No. 2, songs no. 24 ("Do you hear the song in the waterfall's roar?") and no. 25
("Lame Lars, his fairy fiddle tune"). They're very short -- together
they run under three minutes -- but they're very evocative and they
contrast nicely. (I'll be taking them down after a week or two, so
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about classical music
is the staggering amount of riches one can find if one just goes past
the obvious choices. Instead of listening to The Planets
or Beethoven's Seventh again, why not reach for something you've not
only never heard, but never heard of? (Although, in truth I must admit
that this sentiment probably isn't unique to just classical music.)
UPDATE (7-15-04): I have now removed the two MP3's, so those links are now broken.
I mention this because I've had a handful of search-engine hits the last couple of days -- not many, but enough that I feel I should say something -- from people looking for photographs of beheadings. I'm not squeamish at all, and I think that things like the Nick Berg and Kim Sun Il videos should be available so that we can see for ourselves the incredible evil of gutless cowards who put on masks before they murder an innocent person while chanting their own particular religious slogan, but you're not going to find them here.
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Well, here's my thing. When I watch the TV meteorologists, during the summer we hear about the "Heat Index", which is how hot it feels due to the temperature and the added effects of humidity. And if the Heat Index reaches, say, 100 degrees, well yes, that's unpleasant, but I just completely fail to see the attraction of leaving a place where it occasionally feels like a hundred degrees in favor of a place where most times it actually is a hundred degrees. Is there some "reverse Heat Index" whereby in Phoenix, a thermometer reading of 110 only feels like 85 because it's "dry"?
According to this site, at lower temperatures and lower humidities, the temperature can actually feel cooler than it is, but the difference doesn't seem that great (a single degree in most cases), and that is only at lower temps to begin with. Even 105 degrees, at just 30 percent relative humidity, feels like 114 degrees. And then there's that little clause beneath the table: "Exposure to full sunshine can increase HI values by up to 15 degrees F". How often is it cloudy in Phoenix?
I'm not trying to pick on Phoenix here (although I once looked at a street map of the place, and I found its nearly perfectly aligned street grid a bit unnerving). I just find odd the degree to which we've come to worship sun and heat in this country, much to my poor city's detriment. I blame the Beach Boys. Longhaired twits.
I don't have as much against really "out there" kinds of buildings, and I kind of like the way this thing looks from the outside, except to note that I think it belongs more on Coruscant or Starfleet Academy than in Seattle, but the inside is just horrible, to judge by Kunstler's pictures. But then, I'm one of those weird folks what likes to see books someplace in eyeshot upon entering a library.
UPDATE: Here's a more detailed exegesis on how bad it is. It doesn't look like any kind of human element was planned for at all.
Anyway, the G-mail address is jaquandor AT gmail dot com.
(And for some reason, I haven't been given any of those "invitations" yet. I wonder how long until that happens?)
(BTW, apparently Mr. Ellis has received complaints that DPH is not work-safe. Believe me, folks, it isn't. But who needs work-safe stuff all the time, anyway?)
You'd think that such a belief, so wide-spread that even liberal Democrats like myself believed it until about six minutes ago, would find it hard to take root in a land where the media is so lockstep in cadence with the political Left in this country. Weird. That's quite a head-scratcher.
(via Darth Swank)
Friday, June 25, 2004
I remember, incidentally, once watching a Pat Buchanan rally during one of the times he ran for President. He was going on about how horrible "historical revisionism" is, and how when he was a kid, it was called "Custer's Last Stand", but then in the name of "political correctness" it got changed to "The Battle of the Little Big Horn", and by gum when he was President, it would be "Custer's Last Stand" again! And I was thinking, "Wasn't Custer pretty much of a boob whose ineptitude led to disaster? Why would we want to honor that?"
Anyway, if you are ever driving I-90 through Montana, stop at the monument to the Battle. It's not hard to get to -- in fact, it's visible from the Interstate itself -- and it's a very fascinating spot. There is a museum there, a cemetery, and the battlefields themselves, bearing markers erected where Custer and his men each fell.
(I kid, of course! The science stuff fascinates.)
But that's not what annoys SDB. He says this:
The article doesn't contain any acknowledgement that some of the decline might be due to political backlash by ordinary Americans. It is apparently inconceivable that some American wine-drinkers might be consciously boycotting French wine because of France's foreign policy.
Evidently he missed this bit from the article:
Part of the decline can be attributed to the surging euro, which has jumped from 84 cents to a high of USD 1.29 over the past three years, and anti-French sentiment stemming from the fallout over the US-led invasion of Iraq. (Emphasis added)
How SDB missed this is beyond me, since he cites the first clause of this graf (the bit about the euro), and then goes right on to mentioning the branding bit, which seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable approach for the wine producers, given recent shifts in the wine market apart from the political angles.
UPDATE: In the middle of this "grab bag" post, SDB admits either error or the possibility that the clause I highlight above was added after he initially read the article. Fair enough; either could certainly be the case.
I would also add that it wouldn't strike me as odd if the article actually did make no mention whatsoever of any politically-motivated boycotting of French wine, since the article is reporting on the proceedings of a wine merchant's expo. It seems to me that winemakers would very likely conclude that there is very little they can do to overcome any politically-motivated boycotting (what would they do? Invade Iraq on their own?), and thus it seems perfectly reasonable for them to focus on changes they can make to hopefully increase their sales again. In this case, examining American wine-drinking habits and then adjusting their own practices to more closely match them makes sense. They can't do anything about the Euro, and they can't do anything about France being on the "shit-list" of a great deal of Americans. They can do something about their branding. Now, whether that constitutes an example of the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic is a matter for debate, but not this one.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
I've culled the following list from sampling through David Dubal's book The Essential Canon of Classical Music. I was basically looking for pretty representative works that strike me as being works that a person at least moderately attuned to classical music has probably heard. I am not making any claim for the greatness of these works (except for the Berlioz ones, obviously), nor am I implying any lesser stature to the thousands of works I didn't pick. So don't write me any nasty e-mails because I didn't list Max Wienerschnitzel's Concerto Grosso for Eight Cellos and a Glockenspiel, op. 46b. OK? Likewise, don't flame me for including a handful of film scores. Always remember my Rule of Film Music: Good film music must be good music first, and good music by definition can stand alone.
(I do think that this hastily-gathered list would be a good starting point for people interested in classical music, though. Even if it is heavily skewed to orchestral music, which by far constitutes the bulk of my listening. And by the way, this isn't an attempt to make myself seem "well-listened". Thumbing through Dubal's book, I am astonished at the amount of classical music -- much of it quite famous indeed -- that I have never heard.)
And for the purposes of this list, I take "having heard" a work pretty liberally. If I know that I have heard it at some point in the past, whether or not I own a recording of it currently or if I can even hum a tune from it, I bold it.
(And "bold" as a verb seems wrong. Better to say "embolden", I suppose.)
Now, the List, arranged roughly in order of when the composers lived.
1. Handel, Messiah
2. Handel, Water Music
3. J.S. Bach, Brandenburg Concertos (any of them would count, I guess)
4. J.S. Bach, The Passion According to St. Matthew
5. J.S. Bach, Toccata and fugue in D-minor
6. Vivaldi, The Four Seasons (any would count)
7. Pergolesi, Stabat Mater
8. Haydn, Symphony No. 104 in D "London"
9. Haydn, The Creation
10. Mozart, Requiem
11. Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro
12. Mozart, Die Zauberflote
13. Mozart, Symphony No. 40 in G-minor
14. Mozart, Sinfonia concertante for violin, viola and orchestra
15. Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat "Eroica"
16. Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C-minor
17. Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D-minor
18. Beethoven, Piano sonata No. 8 in C-minor "Pathetique"
19. Beethoven, Piano sonata No. 29 in B-flat "Hammerklavier"
20. Rossini, Overture to "Guillaume Tell"
21. Schubert, Symphony no. 9 in C-major "The Great"
22. Schubert, Quintet in A for Piano and Strings "Trout"
23. Weber, Der Freischutz
24. Donizetti, Norma
25. Berlioz, Symphonie fantastique
26. Berlioz, Harold in Italy
27. Berlioz, Romeo et Juliet
28. Berlioz, Grande messe des mortes
29. Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust
30. Mendelssohn, Concerto in E-minor for violin and orchestra
31. Mendelssohn, Symphony no. 4 in A "Italian"
32. Mendelssohn, Symphony no. 5 in D "Reformation"
33. Mendelssohn, Overture and incidental music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
34. Schumann, Concerto in A-minor for piano and orchestra
35. Schumann, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat "Rhenish"
36. Schumann, Symphony No. 4 in D-minor
37. Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
38. Liszt, Les Preludes for orchestra
39. Brahms, Symphony No. 1 in C-minor
40. Brahms, Symphony No. 2 in D
41. Brahms, Academic Festival Overture
42. Brahms, A German Requiem
43. Wagner, Der Ring des Nibelungen (part of it does NOT count!)
44. Wagner, Lohengrin
45. Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg
46. Verdi, La Traviata
47. Verdi, Rigoletto
48. Verdi, Aida
49. Offenbach, The Tales of Hoffman
50. Franck, Symphony in D-minor
51. Smetana, The Moldau (Symphonic poem No. 2 from "Ma Vlast")
52. Bruckner, Symphony No. 4 in E-flat "Romantic"
53. J. Strauss II, Tales of the Vienna Woods
54. J. Strauss II, On the Beautiful Blue Danube
55. Saint-Saens, Symphony No. 3 in C-minor "Organ"
56. Saint-Saens, The Carnival of the Animals
57. Bizet, Carmen
58. Mussorgsky, A Night on Bald Mountain
59. Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition
60. Tchaikovsky, Romeo And Juliet Festival Overture
61. Tchaikovsky, Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor for piano and orchestra
62. Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker (the entire ballet, not the suite)
63. Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5 in E-minor
64. Sullivan, The Mikado
65. Sullivan, HMS Pinafore
66. Dvorak, Symphony No. 9 in E-minor "From the New World"
67. Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade
68. Faure, Requiem
69. Puccini, La Boheme
70. Puccini, Tosca
71. Puccini, Madama Butterfly
72. Mahler, Symphony No. 2 in C-minor "Resurrection"
73. Mahler, Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor
74. Debussy, Prelude on the Afternoon of a Faun
75. Debussy, La Mer
76. Strauss, Death and Transfiguration
77. Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra
78. Strauss, Don Quixote
79. Sibelius, Finlandia
80. Dukas, The Sorceror's Apprentice
81. Scriabin, Symphony No. 4 "La Poeme de l'extase"
82. Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending
83. Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 2 "London"
84. Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 5 in D-Major
85. Holst, The Planets
86. Rachmaninov, Concerto No. 2 in C-minor for piano and orchestra
87. Rachmaninov, Symphony No. 2 in E-minor
88. Rachmaninov, Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini
89. Schoenberg, Transfigured Night
90. Schoenberg, Five pieces for orchestra
91. Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe
92. Ravel, Concerto in D-Major for piano (left hand) and orchestra
93. Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra
94. Respighi, The Pines of Rome
95. Stravinsky, Petrouchka
96. Stravinsky, The Firebird
97. Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring
98. Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms
99. Berg, Wozzeck
100. Berg, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
101. Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet
102. Prokofiev, Symphony No. 5 in B-flat
103. Ives, The Unanswered Question
104. Milhaud, The Creation of the World
105. Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue
106. Gershwin, An American in Paris
107. Copland, A Lincoln Portrait
108. Copland, Appalachian Spring
109. Hanson, Symphony No. 2 "Romantic"
110. Korngold, Concerto in D-Major for violin and orchestra
111. Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 in D-minor
112. Shostakovich, Symphony No. 8 in C-minor
113. Shostakovich, King Lear (film score)
114. Finzi, Concerto in C-minor for clarinet and strings
115. Messiaen, Quartet for the End of Time
116. Messiaen, Turangalila Symphony
117. Williams, Star Wars (film score)
118. Herrmann, Vertigo (film score)
119. Rozsa, Ben Hur (film score)
120. Goldsmith, The Wind and the Lion (film score)
121. Shore, The Lord of the Rings (film score) (all of it)
There you go. Let the meme spread throughout all Blogistan, and let there be milk and bagels throughout all the land!
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
First movie you can remember seeing?
Snow White, at a very young age. It was incredibly vivid: when I saw the film again on a re-release in 1996 or so, for the first time since that first viewing, I remembered some of the visuals.
Last movie you saw that you loved?
Well, I watched Love Actually last week, and I really enjoyed the hell out of it. Before that, probably Return of the King.
First movie you saw on a date?
Three Fugitives, an incredibly forgettable comedy starring Martin Short and Nick Nolte.
Later, in college, I managed to watch The Little Mermaid with not one but two women who dumped me within days of the respective viewings (no, they weren't the same viewing!), and my first date with the woman who is now my wife was to see Edward Scissorhands.
First movie you can remember that you disagreed strongly with the critics/reviews about?
Hmmmm. Tough one, here. I've never understood why Bladerunner is held in such high esteem, I guess. Cool visuals, yeah; boring story.
What movie have you dreamed about?
I have no idea.
A secret thing you did in a darkened theater:
I go to the movies to see movies. I've never made out in a movie theater, "did the dirty", or any other such thing. And I get angry with people who are not of like mind. A theater is not a surrogate living room with a bitchin' bigscreen TV and kickass stereo, it's a theater.
Ever lied about something so you could see a movie?
Not that I recall. But I have proudly requested time off from work for movies -- the premieres of the two extant Star Wars prequels, frex.
The worst movie you ever saw and the best thing about it:
Live and Let Die, I suppose. By far the worst Bond movie ever made, but it has Jane Seymour.
One person you’ve never seen a movie with but would like to sometime:
Shockingly, I don't recall ever seeing a movie with Nefarious Neddie, despite the fact that our tastes intersect with amazing frequency and that we were in grade school together for seven years.
What kind of movie you’d like to see with that person:
Star Wars Episode III.
A movie you’re embarrassed to admit you enjoyed:
I have to admit: I enjoyed How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. The glow of Kate Hudson covered up a lot of bad stuff in that movie. (And there's a brief scene in which she takes a big bite out of a cheeseburger that....um....)
Your favorite movie and the worst thing about it:
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, which really doesn't have very good dialogue.
To understand something about you, people need to see this movie:
Any Star Wars movie, any Lord of the Rings movies, Casablanca, Singin' In the Rain, and My Fair Lady. Watch these and you'll have a pretty good handle on me.
List by title: Saddest/ funniest/ scariest/ overrated/ underrated:
Funniest: A Fish Called Wanda
Scariest: The Exorcist
Overrated: The Usual Suspects
Underrated: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
A movie you haven’t seen yet but you really want to?
Kill Bill both "volumes".
A movie character you could really relate to, or even wish you could be like?
Richard Blaine, even though my eyes aren't really brown.
Movie that the person you got this from reminds you of:
Howard the Duck. (Dave used to defend this movie to the hilt on Usenet. I just ended up shaking my head a lot.)
When I say the word, you say the first movie that comes to mind:
Grease. Because, you know, Grease is the word.
If you were a movie what genre would you be filed under at the video store?
(Oh, and anyone who doesn't like The Phantom Menace is a booger.)
1. Titanic (1997) $600,779,824
2. Star Wars (1977) $460,935,665
3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) $434,949,459
4. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) $431,065,444
5. Spider-Man (2002) $403,706,375
6. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The (2003) $377,019,252
7. Passion of the Christ, The (2004) $370,025,697
8. Jurassic Park (1993) $356,784,000
9. Shrek 2 (2004) $356,211,000
10. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The (2002) $340,478,898
11. Finding Nemo (2003) $339,714,367
12. Forrest Gump (1994) $329,691,196
13. Lion King, The (1994) $328,423,001
14. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) $317,557,891
15. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The (2001) $313,837,577
16. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) $310,675,583
17. Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) $309,125,409
18. Independence Day (1996) $306,124,059
19. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) $305,411,224
20. Sixth Sense, The (1999) $293,501,675
21. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) $290,158,751
22. Home Alone (1990) $285,761,243
23. Matrix Reloaded, The (2003) $281,492,479
24. Shrek (2001) $267,652,016
25. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) $261,970,615
26. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) $260,031,035
27. Jaws (1975) $260,000,000
28. Monsters, Inc. (2001) $255,870,172
29. Batman (1989) $251,188,924
30. Men in Black (1997) $250,147,615
31. Toy Story 2 (1999) $245,823,397
32. Bruce Almighty (2003) $242,589,580
33. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) $242,374,454
34. Twister (1996) $241,700,000
35. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) $241,437,427
36. Ghost Busters (1984) $238,600,000
37. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) $234,760,500
38. Cast Away (2000) $233,630,478
39. Lost World: Jurassic Park, The (1997) $229,074,524
40. Signs (2002) $227,965,690
41. Rush Hour 2 (2001) $226,138,454
42. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) $219,200,000
43. Ghost (1990) $217,631,306
44. Aladdin (1992) $217,350,219
45. Saving Private Ryan (1998) $216,119,491
46. Mission: Impossible II (2000) $215,397,307
47. X2 (2003) $214,948,780
48. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) $213,079,163
49. Back to the Future (1985) $210,609,762
50. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) $205,399,422
51. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) $204,843,350
52. Exorcist, The (1973) $204,565,000
53. Mummy Returns, The (2001) $202,007,640
54. Armageddon (1998) $201,573,391
55. Gone with the Wind (1939) $198,655,278
56. Pearl Harbor (2001) $198,539,855
57. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) $197,171,806
58. Toy Story (1995) $191,800,000
59. Men in Black II (2002) $190,418,803
60. Gladiator (2000) $187,670,866
61. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) $184,925,485
62. Dances with Wolves (1990) $184,208,848
63. Batman Forever (1995) $184,031,112
64. Fugitive, The (1993) $183,875,760
65. Ocean's Eleven (2001) $183,405,771
66. What Women Want (2000) $182,805,123
67. Perfect Storm, The (2000) $182,618,434
68. Liar Liar (1997) $181,395,380
69. Grease (1978) $181,360,000
70. Jurassic Park III (2001) $181,166,115
71. Mission: Impossible (1996) $180,965,237
72. Planet of the Apes (2001) $180,011,740
73. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) $179,870,271
74. Pretty Woman (1990) $178,406,268
75. Tootsie (1982) $177,200,000
76. Top Gun (1986) $176,781,728
77. There's Something About Mary (1998) $176,483,808
78. Ice Age (2002) $176,387,405
79. Crocodile Dundee (1986) $174,635,000
80. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) $173,585,516
81. Elf (2003) $173,381,405
82. Air Force One (1997) $172,888,056
83. Rain Man (1988) $172,825,435
84. Apollo 13 (1995) $172,071,312
85. Matrix, The (1999) $171,383,253
86. Beauty and the Beast (1991) $171,301,428
87. Tarzan (1999) $171,085,177
88. Beautiful Mind, A (2001) $170,708,996
89. Chicago (2002) $170,684,505
90. Three Men and a Baby (1987) $167,780,960
91. Meet the Parents (2000) $166,225,040
92. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)$165,500,000
93. Hannibal (2001) $165,091,464
94. Catch Me If You Can (2002) $164,435,221
95. Big Daddy (1999) $163,479,795
96. Sound of Music, The (1965) $163,214,286
97. Batman Returns (1992) $162,831,698
98. Bug's Life, A (1998) $162,792,677
99. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) $161,963,000
100. Waterboy, The (1998) $161,487,252
It astounds me that some of these movies made as much as they did.
Last week I was watching The McLaughlin Group on PBS, a political show that for some reason I've always liked -- especially the Saturday Night Live parodies of it, in which McLaughlin (played by Dana Carvey) would let his commentators get halfway through a sentence and then bark, "WRONG!" before moving on to the next thing.
But there was a fascinating segment, toward the end of the show, on a problem facing the military. Veterans of World War II and Korea are dying at a pretty brisk clip these days, pushing up the number of funerals with full military honors -- but the military only has something like five hundred buglers worldwide, which makes the playing of "Taps" at each funeral a difficult or impossible proposition. The military's solution is to use an electronic doohickey to sound "Taps" while a member of the military holds up a bugle and, well, fake it. I'm thinking, in the event of a funeral where there can be no actual bugler, why not just have a civilian trumpeter play "Taps"?
I played the trumpet in high school and college -- pretty well, too; I actually majored in it my first two years of college before I switched to philosophy -- and I had the high honor of playing "Taps" for several military funerals while I was in high school. They weren't official military funerals, actually; they were done under the auspices of the American Legion, which I'm sure is a different matter requiring a different protocol. But the men being buried on those occasions were veterans or former servicemen, and I was immensely proud to be able to play "Taps" for their funerals -- a small way for me, as a civilian, to pay tribute to the service they had done for their country. If there aren't enough official buglers around, then I suggest that civilian trumpeters are the way to go. I doubt there is a community anywhere in the country where one trumpet player can't be found, and believe me, playing "Taps" for a funeral is a surprisingly moving experience.
I don't know the first thing about the military regulations for such things, but surely they could be changed so that a civilian could sound the call for a departed veteran. At the very least, it seems to me that having a non-military person actually playing "Taps" is preferable to having a military person who can't play the instrument "acting the part" while the call is sounded electronically.
ADDENDUM: Someone in John's comments thread suggests that "Taps" is really very easy and that someone could be taught to play it in half an hour. Believe me, this is such a wrong-headed suggestion that it's pretty breathtaking. It would probably suffice to reflect what that band sounds like at the very end of The Music Man, the one comprised of kids who have no idea how to play their instruments. The ability to produce a pleasant tone on any wind instrument is the result of lots of practice, and in the case of "Taps", the bugle -- or trumpet -- is required to ascend, with control, into a register that is quite frankly beyond the ability of any beginner. "Taps" may sound easy to play, seeing as how it only uses notes in the C-major arpeggio played very slowly, but believe me, it is not. And I can promise that any family seeing its beloved veteran buried to the strains of "Taps" played by a person who has played the bugle for "half an hour" will not feel honored by the occasion.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Jimi Hendrix, playing on his right-handed Fender Stratocaster.
This past Sunday's edition of The Buffalo News contained an article (linked by the photo) about the fiftieth anniversary of the Fander Stratocaster, the dominant guitar of the rock world which made its debut in 1954. Here is a list of prominent musicians and bands who have played the Stratocaster and used it to bend legions of pliable youngsters -- myself included -- to their will.
Here's to fifty more years of Stratocaster goodness.
"We think dinosaurs were part of the normal Creation and were just big lizards. Noah took some of them on the Ark, probably babies, when the floods came...Throughout history, there are stories of people killing the animals that survived but they called them dragons."
Yup, that's right. Had the Arthur legends played out as Messrs. Lerner and Loewe envisioned, when Lancelot sings about how a Knight of the Table Round should "cleave a dragon in record time", he was talking about a T-Rex. Yup. That's the ticket. But I also envision Noah, telling his charges: "Grab a couple of the baby ones, but don't let their mother see you do it. Big teeth and all."
This also casts a bit of aspersion, not unfairly, in the more common use of Vice Presidential picks to shore up certain areas in which the Presidential nominees see their own credentials as being a bit lacking. As much as many on the right, if not all, admire Dick Cheney, it's frankly very hard to see him as any kind of "future of the Republican Party"; likewise, as a Democrat knowing what I now know about Joe Lieberman, I'm glad I am not faced with the likelihood of him heading up the Democratic ticket in 2008. And for right now, there's yet another reason why I hope that when the final list of names is drawn up in the Kerry HQ, the name "Richard Gephardt" has a big, fat black line drawn through it.
Sunday, June 20, 2004
Anyway, just a quick post here to keep things alive while I entertain -- the blogging equivalent of waking up long enough to stick a log on the campfire. The Burst of Weirdness and the Image of the Week will appear Tuesday instead of today, for those who are hopelessly addicted to my regular features (and who, by being thus addicted, are demonstrably in need of some finer stimulation!). I doubt I'll be posting anything tomorrow at all, but you never know. For now, here's a bit of linkage:
:: Jostein links an interview with director Paul Verhoeven, a guy I'm not big on but who's done a few films I liked a lot.
:: Roger Ebert on Michael Moore:
The pitfall for Moore is not subjectivity, but accuracy. We expect him to hold an opinion and argue it, but we also require his facts to be correct. I was an admirer of his previous doc, the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine," until I discovered that some of his "facts" were wrong, false or fudged....Because I agree with Moore's politics, his inaccuracies pained me, and I wrote about them in my Answer Man column. Moore wrote me that he didn't expect such attacks "from you, of all people." But I cannot ignore flaws simply because I agree with the filmmaker. In hurting his cause, he wounds mine.
I agree wholeheartedly.
:: Dominion celebrates two years of blogging. Actually, I'm a bit late on this one, but still, congrats to him. It's a dirty job, being on all those right-wing mailing lists, but somebody's got to do it....
:: Go SpaceShipOne!!!
:: Would it have killed them to build this in Buffalo?!
:: Oh, and I've just seen via Redwood Dragon that a new post has just appeared on a long-dormant blog I hadn't read before. Here is why Jeff Cooper stopped active blogging, and here is his update on the state of affairs. All my hopes to him and his family that it all works out for the best.
UPDATE: Welcome aboard, Making Light readers, and feel free to stay a while. To paraphrase Willy Wonka, "There's so much time, and so little to read -- wait. Strike that, reverse it."
Saturday, June 19, 2004
The short version: it ain't done yet.
The worse version: it ain't done yet, and it doesn't sound like it's going to be any time in the immediate future.
The testy version: it ain't done yet, and you folks who are sending GRRM mean e-mails about can bugger off.
My speculation: At some point in the crafting of his tale, GRRM suddenly realized he had killed off each major character and had nobody left to write about.
In the "new" "enlightened" approach to history, you don't study historical events in order to learn the consequences and results of certain kinds of decisions and policies. History is a source of lessons, but you don't study history and derive lessons from past events. The lesson comes first. The conclusion is already known. You study history to find justifications for that lesson, but you already know the lesson is right before you begin that study.
If history doesn't actually give you the justification you require, then you modify it as needed so that it does. That may mean you ignore some of it and emphasize other parts, or it may require you to rewrite it so that it happens the way it should have happened. This is a fundamentally teleological approach to history, in which the esthetic beauty of a conclusion, and the fact that we strongly want it to be true, are more important than whether it is empirically correct. If not, then the universe must change, because the mind and the concept are the most fundamental realities of all.
And this is all before SDB ultimately refers, at the very end of the post, to Zinn's writing as "rubbish" and jokes that the act of reading Zinn may be harmful to the brain. Which may certainly be true, if Zinn really is in the habit of ignoring facts and making stuff up when he doesn't know what he's talking about.
Only except that in the paragraph immediately preceding the quote above, SDB says this:
I have not read Zinn's history and have little interest in doing so, but from what I've heard I've come to the conclusion that it bears only a slight resemblance to history as it actually happened.
I wonder if Howard Zinn has ever pontificated at length about a book he hasn't read, basing his pronouncements instead on "from what I've heard"? Having never read Zinn myself, I wouldn't know.
First, I added a link to Buffalo's classical music station, WNED, which has streaming audio available online, so if you're on the prowl for a decent classical station and your neck of the woods doesn't have one, you can give ours a try. A cool thing is that at 11:00 am on weekdays (Eastern time), they run the fine program "Adventures in Good Music". Of course, I'm always working and thus can rarely listen to this show, but I like it a lot. (WNED is part of a triumvirate of broadcasting stations using those call letters, incidentally; WNED FM is the classical station. WNED AM is an all-talk NPR station that carries different content from Buffalo's FM NPR station, WBFO. And Buffalo's PBS television station is also WNED. So that site can get a bit confusing.)
Second is The Shrinking City, which is a site devoted to fostering a sort of "citizens uprising" in Buffalo by which our much-agrieved city might finally pull itself up by its own bootstraps and stop watching as the rest of the country (Pittsburgh excepted) surges into the twenty-first century. I haven't dug much into the content here, but I mean to. The site was launched in conjunction with a series of fine articles advocating Buffalo renewal through small and intense local efforts that have appeared in The Buffalo News over the last year.
Thirdly, Buffalo now has its own entry on Craig's List. There doesn't appear to be much there, but here's hoping this site fills up with nifty things like, oh, job ads for writers. (This one comes to me via The Grey Bird.)
Fourth, this one's not new to my sidebar, but Buffalo's alternate news weekly paper, Artvoice, has recently revamped and relaunched its website. It now sports a lot more bells-and-whistle type stuff than I typically like in a website, but I love Artvoice and read it faithfully, so there it is.
Finally, I'm always on the prowl for new Buffalo blogs, so if you're a Buffalonian and you have a blog, feel free to drop a line or leave me a comment and I'll link you in that section of the sidebar ("Ships flying the flag of Buffalo"). Just as long as no one forgets just what the definitive Buffalo blog really is.
Friday, June 18, 2004
Well, last night, I discovered the ice cream that comes closest yet, although it still isn't quite equal, either. It's Ben&Jerry's Dublin Mudslide. And it's amazing. Get some before they stop making it.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Except that he didn't tell anybody beforehand. He simply pulled the plug.
Comment on this seems to flow in two directions: one, that anyone who uses free services runs this kind of risk, and two, that even if the service provided is free, one still has a moral obligation to fill them in on substantial changes. I fall in the second camp, personally. And I can't really feel that much sympathy at all for Winer. Even with my low level of tech knowledge, I'm aware that hosting gets expensive, and Winer's the one who took on 3000 bloggers. No one may have held a gun to anyone's head to accept his services, but likewise, no one held a gun to Winer's head to offer them.
Of course, anything I have to say in terms of fashion sense might best be taken with a granular quanity of sodium chloride. (Witness the photos of myself here!) Suffice it to say that I decided years ago that "comfort" is the overriding paradigm in what I'll wear, barring stuff specifically required for work, and I make all judgments on that basis. That goes for my "nice" clothes, too: if they're not comfortable, I don't wear them. Hence the fact that I own exactly one necktie.
(Caveat: I have not seen Showgirls.)
I guess that ultimately I just find something fascinating, almost morbidly so, about a guy who not only produces crap but is proud to produce crap, and gets paid huge money to keep right on producing crap.
So I checked his memoir out of the library last week. It's called Hollywood Animal, and I've just finished the first chapter. My reaction?
Wow, what an ass.
There's really nothing I can directly quote to illustrate what I mean; it's more the overall tone that's amazing in its ass-ness. It's the tone of a guy who is supremely confident that what he does is of great worth, and of contempt for those who have not managed to achieve what he's achieved. And there's his sexual fixations, which get to be a little much. At one point he relates an incident where he walks into some restaurant and sees William Goldman with some studio execs, whilst Joe -- our hero -- is with a stunning blonde. Ha! Take that, Goldman or whomever!
I have little intention to finish this book, seeing as how it's way longer than my interest in Eszterhas would likely prove sustainable. (It's 724 pages long. But the paragraphs tend to be very short, rarely more than three sentences.) But I do recommend the first chapter, just from the perspective of someone who can't bear to miss a good slow-motion train wreck when one's unfolding somewhere.
(BTW, here's a bit of evidence that I take film music very seriously. At one point, Joe Eszterhas lists a bunch of native Hungarians who ended up in Hollywood, working in the film industry. He omits the man who is my personal favorite gift of Hungary to Hollywood, composer Miklos Rozsa.)
* They're my in-laws, and they're fine people. No horrible in-laws in this family.
Monday, June 14, 2004
Violinist and conductor Iona Brown has died.
Brown was very closely associated with Sir Neville Marriner and his orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and I have a number of recordings of Brown in action with that very ensemble, including a set of Mozart's violin concertos that I admire greatly. But no recording of Marriner's and Brown's is more prized in my collection than this collection of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a recording which I prize in turn for the presence on it of the finest performance I have ever heard of what I consider to be Vaughan Williams's masterpiece, "The Lark Ascending".
I first heard this work live, at a concert given in Buffalo's Kleinhans Music Hall by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. I don't recall who the violinist was, but the piece struck me a serious blow. I had never before encountered the English pastoral tradition in music to that point, and it was shocking to me. Never had I heard music of such gossamer tranquility, music that seemed to me the musical equivalent of one of those Japanese paintings in which four or five lines in black ink on white paper somehow manage to depict a flower in blossom. And yet, "The Lark Ascending" isn't merely just a fifteen-minute work of tranquility and softness: there is melody and development within it, and Iona Brown's performance on that CD is absolutely captivating.
Incidentally, after reporting Iona Brown's death, WNED played this very recording of "The Lark Ascending" on the air, with the announcer reporting that today is actually the seventy-third anniversary of the work's premiere (in its more-familiar orchestral version).
The CD also includes a lush recording of Vaughan Williams's famous "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis", a fine "Fantasia on 'Greensleeves'", and closes out with "Five Variants of 'Dives and Lazarus'". This CD is as fine a disc as I own, in any musical genre.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY.
I found this nice image of the entire orchestra in action -- they were performing Mahler's Symphony No. 2 (the "Resurrection" Symphony) in 2001, so there's the whole band on the stage at once. Kleinhans is an amazing concert hall, and the site linked by the image -- the home page of Scott Parkinson, the BPO's principal trombone player -- has a nice gallery of Kleinhans-related images. Check out this one, an architectural model of the hall, with roof removed so that both concert venues -- the main hall and the smaller Mary Seaton Room, used for chamber music recitals and the like -- can be seen.
(And you science-minded folks who haven't been reading Laputan Logic need to get with the program. Starting with myself.)
As I read this, I get the feeling that there's quite a bit I disagree with, quite a bit I agree with, and quite a bit that I think sounds good but am unsure if it can really be made to work. I'm pretty sure I disagree with allowing corporal punishment on the part of schoolteachers and officials, for example. Even if, as Emperor Michael would stipulate, said punishment would only be enacted upon a parent's authorization of same.
Maybe I'm just the victim of conflicting impulses. I am constantly appalled by the abject stupidity constantly put on display by our society, and our willingness to embrace dumbness over smartness (a good example being that I just used two words that don't exist), but then, I read some history and I am not at all sure things have ever really been different. I suspect that humanity really does boil down to what George Carlin said -- "a few winners, and a whole lot of losers" -- and that we tend to elevate the past over our own times because we remember the winners and forget the losers.
Anyway, I've just consumed an entire blog post and not really said anything. So go read Michael's post, because he at least says something.
Prisoner of Azkaban is, as many commenters have noted, when the series starts getting a bit darker, and likewise, Williams's music gets darker too, which I find to be a substantial relief. As much as I love John Williams, I've never really been able to reconcile myself to his "happy" music, which dominated the first two films of this series.
On this CD, the first few tracks are pretty scattershot, with a rambunctious pastiche of a classical waltz in the second track ("Aunt Marge's Waltz"), a bizarro bit of swing-band stuff in the third ("The Knight Bus", which actually reminds me of Alan Sylvestri's work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and culminating in a medievally-styled song called "Double Trouble".
Then, finally, we get to the "meat and potatoes" of the score, and it arrives literally with a bang: track #6, "Buckbeak's Flight", opens with a thunderous passage for timpani, and then we're into the kind of string writing Williams is so good at: a lush minor key melody soaring in the violins over a churning harmonic background in the lower strings and rhythmic woodwinds, punctuated by an ascending horn motif. All the Williams trademarks are here, in a way that they have been absent from the first two scores of the Harry Potter series. Later on, though, Williams is called upon to return to the faux-medievalism of "Double Trouble", which makes for a finely varied listening experience on CD.
John Williams does a lot more wholesale borrowing and homage-paying to his classical forebears in the Harry Potter scores than in other scores of his, which irks some but doesn't bother me, really, since a key aspect of the Harry Potter stories in the first place is the way J.K. Rowling freely mines tropes from just about anywhere she can find. I mean, we're talking about what is pretty much a standard "British boarding school" story, mixed with children's horror elements, the good old English ghost story (Rowling has surely read a good deal of M.R. James, or I miss my guess), and even classical mythology and alchemy. Williams's pastiche-approach to scoring these films seems appropriate, seeing as how the stories are pastiche to begin with.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to hearing what Williams comes up with for Goblet of Fire, which is in my opinion the best of the books thus far. I can't wait to hear how Williams scores the scene when Dumbledore tells Harry, "I am your father."
(No, that didn't happen.)
Hey, I think we might have found the currency on which to slap Ronald Reagan's visage!
Saturday, June 12, 2004
First, the creepy one: David Berkowitz, who is the serial killer known as "Son of Sam", is blogging about his jail-cell conversion to Christianity. (MeFi post)
Second, the one that makes me uncomfortable: a guy who, well, isn't receiving remotely enough physical satisfaction from his wife. I sympathize with his difficulties, and even with his attempts to deal with them, but I am once again astounded at the amount of personal baggage some people feel comfortable putting online. (This one is not work safe, and neither are the others of similar bent linked in the MeFi post.)
And thirdly, the one that is in incredibly bad taste. We're talking something that might make Ted Rall a bit queasy here, folks. Here it is. Incredible. (And possibly not work safe either, although for completely different reasons. MeFi post.)
I actually like this idea, and that's as a liberal who thinks very little of Reagan's eight years and the fruits thereof. First of all, it would in one fell swoop accomplish the aim of those people who want to have something with Reagan's visage or name in every county in America. And secondly, it might even be a way to honor Reagan's legacy -- supposed as it may be -- as the "champion of smaller government", since if we'd ever get a dollar coin out there and eliminate the paper dollar at the same time, it would save the US Mint quite a bit of money (coins last far longer than paper currency, and thus have to be minted less frequently).
Or maybe we could keep the Sacagawea dollar coin (I think the design of that coin is very beautiful), ditch the paper dollar, and then have a two dollar coin with Reagan on it. Canada has two-dollar coins, so I think we can assume that a large, modernized country can exist with big coins instead of paper currency for small denominations. And maybe all that resulting weight in the pockets would induce pants manufacturers to stop being so damned stingy with the pocket fabric. I hate flimsy pockets.
(From Reagan to pants pockets, in a single post. Yeesh.)
Bill Clinton: one marriage, still in progress.
When it comes time that I actually want to listen to someone tell me about family values, I think I'll attend to the words of the person who's actually still in a family. I guess I'm just funny that way.
(Permalinks apparently don't work over there -- scroll down to the post about Quicksilver and The Confusion.)
Macon, whom I have encountered via Mr. Meade (and in this specific case, in comments to this post of Sean's), is trying to tempt Sean and I into reading Neal Stephenson's latest two novels (comprising the first two installments of The Baroque Cycle, which is -- I think -- a trilogy with one more volume to come).
I don't really need to be "tempted" here, per se. Reading Quicksilver is something I definitely plan to do, sometime in the next six months, I hope. The sticking point for now is that I want to be able to really clear the decks of other reading projects first, including some material I have that is for review. But Macon's post definitely makes me want to bump the book up in the rotation.
In any event, I want to see if Stephenson has managed to squash his old bugaboo, the "99/100 of a good book, with a crappy ending" phenomenon that has afflicted him in the past. (I actually didn't think that Cryptonomicon's ending was all that bad, but man, does Snow Crash ever just go wham against a brick wall on its last page.)
Anyway, I'm not sure if the neighborhood mentioned in this article is one of those neighborhoods or not, but I have my suspicions. I just find it kind of funny that a neighborhood's manmade lake just drained away in a single night. Mother Nature has so many ways to give us the occasional kick in the ass, doesn't she?
Thursday, June 10, 2004
How come the guy sitting next to you at the stop light with his stereo turned up way too loud is never listening to Puccini?
Well, one reason is that you're not pulling up beside me. Granted, I'm not often playing Puccini, since I no longer have a CD player in my car and am thus constrained by whatever's on the Buffalo classical station.
Anyway, this brings to mind that a couple of weeks ago, when I got off work they were playing one of my favorite "barnburner" types of pieces: "Romanian Rhapsody #1" by Enescu. I turned the volume up quite a ways -- especially for the big middle section, when the whole orchestra plays a raucous folk dance that makes me want to get drunk more than any other classical piece when I hear it -- and as this passage was playing, I slowly turned a streetcorner, passing two teenaged girls who were standing on the sidewalk. And I had my hair down, and my sunglasses on, and Enescu blaring on the stereo as I drove my boxy white sedan with the red interior.
Those girls did turn their heads, but I don't think they had any idea what to make of me. Which is fine. I am large; I contain multitudes.
For some reason, I am incredibly biased against Earth Science. I think it traces to the fact that my high school Earth Science teacher was -- well, he wasn't a bad teacher by any means; he just didn't make the subject interesting. At all. It's weird, really. (Plus, he had Godawful fashion sense and he bore more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon.) Anyway, nearly any discussion of rocks and erosion and the like makes my eyes glaze over.
Oh, what was I looking up? Well, I looked at John Scalzi's "cloud photo", which he likes because he captured what he calls the "God light" -- that scattering of sunlight behind a cloud into rays that seem to diverge from a single point. The technical term for this effect is "crepuscular rays", but the name I've always known them by is the evocative phrase "the Rays of Buddha". I don't recall where I first heard this term, but there you go.
For the first transit, he planned to do his observing from the eastern coast of India, but his ship was blown off course by monsoons and he was stuck at sea on transit day. Deciding to wait the eight years for the second one, he built his own observatory, and in 1769 an entire month of crystal-clear skies led right up to the morning of the transit -- whereupon the skies immediately clouded over for the duration of the transit.
And then, le Gentil's return journey to France was so fraught with hardship that when he finally arrived home, he learned that he had been declared dead and his entire estate dispersed.
Now that is some bad luck.
(Account of Le Gentil's experience drawn from Timothy Ferris's excellent Coming of Age in the Milky Way.)
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
After the conclusion of this past season, I decided that ER, which I have watched faithfully since its second or third episode way back in its first year, is going to have to work pretty damned hard to keep me coming back next year. This season was, in my view, terrible. There were too many overwrought episodes set in Africa that kept making the same points over and over; characters were dragged incessantly through emotional dreck for no reason at all; a favorite character of mine was killed off in as shockingly bad a manner as I can recall; the cast was once again allowed to bloat with all manner of boring newcomers (I may like Parminder Nagra enough as an actress to confer upon her "Move Over Britney!" status, but her character is a dud); the season finale ended with one of the dumbest cliffhangers I have seen since "Why, Bobby, what are you doing in the shower?"; and so on. About the only good thing about this season was that Maura Tierney got to do something other than stand around looking weepy.
Well, apparently the producers have already put themselves in the hole, as far as I am concerned. Alex Kingston, who played Dr. Corday, has been bumped from the show. According to the article, this is so they can keep focusing on "younger" characters (i.e., the ones I don't care one whit about). So off goes a long-established and interesting character so we can watch more of Linda Cardellini playing the single-mom nurse with the stalker husband. Yippee.
I'm referring, of course, to the combover, that hairdo of choice for millions of balding men who somehow allow the fear of baldness to convince them that if they just grow it really long on one side and then plop it over the bald spot in an alignment that is never found by real hair growing in nature on any mammal, no one will ever observe the unusual amount of scalp visible upon their noggins and put two together with two.
And now, apparently the world of the combover has turned out to be rich enough to yield a documentary film (watch the trailer).
I shoulda been a filmmaker.
(Link via DPS. It now occurs to me that I'll have to work hard to come up with an entry for this Sunday's "Burst of Weirdness" that tops this.)
I first encountered Grainger in my very first days of my freshman year in college, where two works by Grainger -- Irish Tune from County Derry (a tune better known as "Danny Boy") and Shepherd's Hey -- were the very first pieces the concert band rehearsed that year. At that time I'd never heard of Grainger, but I was at least partly ready for his sound-world, based as it is on English folk song, by virtue of the fact that in my senior year in high school I had discovered the symphonies of Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose work -- although vastly different from Grainger's -- also drew on Britain's deep well of folk material.
Of course, being seventeen-going-on-eighteen at the time, I wasn't equipped to appreciate Grainger for a while. At first, I thought that the Irish Tune was a pretty thing, pleasantly lyrical and not too demanding. Luckily for me, it didn't take long before I realized that the piece is anything but simple -- the harmonies are constantly shifting and are structured in the ensemble such that one never realizes just how dissonant some of those chords really are. Such a work, I soon realized, cannot be pulled off convincingly if the ensemble attempting it doesn't have rock-solid command of dynamics and intonation. For a young musician with the young musician's tendency to judge a work's difficulty by the tempo and the number of sixteenth notes in the score, the Irish Tune from County Derry eventually made me realize just how hard it can be to play a work that has a very slow tempo and consists of nothing but quarter-notes.
Shepherd's Hey was different. This piece is a folk dance, and it's very brief -- just two minutes long. But in those two minutes, every voice in the band is featured and the dynamic rises from an intimate dance to a raucous reel that feels like a railroad car about to careen off the rails. I've made an MP3 of Shepherd's Hey; play it and listen to what I mean. (But only for a week or so. Then I'll be taking it down.) In particular, pay attention to the piece's ending: the main melody crashes to a loud chord, there is one final whirlwind statement, and then an amazing effect occurs as two lines, one ascending and one descending, cross each other before the final smash. This is the wind-ensemble's emulation of a pianistic effect, that of the "double run", in which the pianist starts one hand at one end of the keyboard, the other at the other end, and then executes an ascending run and a descending one simultaneously. Grainger was a great pianist, and this effect springs right from that part of his imagination. Wonderful stuff.
We dabbled with some other Grainger works over the next two years, the most memorable of which (to me) was the Children's March: Over the Hills and Far Away, and the brilliant Lincolnshire Posy, which is a collection of six short -- but remarkable -- settings of folk songs.
Grainger fascinates me for some of the same reasons that Berlioz fascinates me: he eschews "standard" forms, in favor of rigorously following his own ideas and musical ideals. If you want a fresh listening experience and you've never heard Grainger, go treat yourself.
UPDATE: As of 6-26-04, I have removed the MP3 of "Shepherd's Hey".
Monday, June 07, 2004
I doubt very much if Bin Laden gives a shit who wins the election, and I know for a fact that I don't care what Bin Laden wants about anything. Unless it's a large bullet, delivered at great speed and from short range, into his prefontal lobe.
(I'm writing this in one Mozilla tab as Skeptical Notion is loading in the other, and I see that Morat's thoughts on this are identical to mine.)
(I've really come to love the word "forebears", by the way.)
The books are collectively referred to as The Great Brain books, and the author is John D. Fitzgerald. I actually avoided these books like the plague for several years, after reading the back cover description and figuring that there was no way on Earth that a series of books set in 1890s Mormon Utah could possibly be interesting.
Well, as was my wont as a kid, eventually I committed a blunder serious enough to warrant the immediate revocation of my television privileges. And as in nearly all such cases, the time period set for the return of TV wasn't days or weeks, but simply that my mother handed me the first two Great Brain books and said, "No TV until you've read both of these. And I know these books, and I'll quiz you." (Yup. The problem with having a sharp tack for a mother is that in the event you actually do manage to put one over on her, not only does it work only once, but she makes you regret it greatly when she finally finds out.)
Anyway, the books are indeed set in Mormon Utah (I don't recall if it was just before Utah achieved statehood, or just after -- I could look it up, I guess, but I'm lazy just now) and center on a family named Fitzgerald, who are Irish Catholics living amongst the Mormons in a town called Adenville. (Not that there was a great deal of religious angst in the books. There was a little, but not much at all. Except for one very sad episode involving the town's singular Jew.) "Papa" ran the town's newspaper; "Mamma" ran the household; and the three sons -- Sweyn, Tom, and John -- all did their thing. John is actually the first-person narrator for the books, and the title The Great Brain refers to Tom, who is easily the smartest kid in Adenville but who pretty much refuses to use his powers for good. Instead, he's basically a very slick con-man, constantly coming up with bizarre schemes to swindle his friends out of treasured possessions or money.
This probably sounds a bit mean-spirited, and maybe in a way it is, but Tom also has a way of getting his comeuppance eventually (one very ill-advised scheme, involving a wooden raft and some rapids, nearly gets him and a couple of other kids killed). These books were a lot of fun to read, although one does wish for someone to just look at Tom and say, "God, you are so full of shit!"
Much less well-known is Fitzgerald's "grown-up" book covering some of the same territory, Papa Married a Mormon. I'm not sure how much of the children's books is based directly on Fitzgerald's own life, but for some reason I suspect that Papa Married a Mormon is a bit closer to the truth. This book is more of a history of John Fitzgerald's family, centering on the move west by John's father and uncle, and then focusing on John Sr.'s courtship of the Mormon girl he falls in love with at first sight. It's been a long time since I read this book -- my mother once happened to find a copy at a used book sale -- but I remember liking it very much. Anyone with fond memories of the Great Brain books is urged to track down Papa Married a Mormon, if possible.