Wednesday, September 29, 2004
(via Scott Spiegelberg)
Anyway, I'm off to put two strips of masking tape in the shape of the letter "X" on my window....
Now, of course, I'd have been happier if it hadn't been FOX News, and thus I wouldn't have had to put up with news anchor commentary like "Of course, John Kerry has flipflopped on space flight", "This wouldn't be possible if the President hadn't taken the fight to the terrorists", and "Imagine how far behind the rich fellows behind SpaceShipOne would be if they hadn't received that well-timed tax cut". But hey, you gotta take the good with the bad, right?
It seems that Alex Ross, who only started blogging a few months ago, has reached the 100,000 hit milestone. I, too, am closing in on 100,000 hits -- just a little more than 36,000 hits to go, and after two and a half years, to boot! Woo-hoo!
Here we go:
01. Bought everyone in the pub a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain (I'm being liberal in my definition of "Mountain".)
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula.
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said 'I love you' and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Done a striptease
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea (I was on land, the storm was at sea. I think that's what it means.)
14. Stayed up all night long, and watch the sun rise
15. Seen the Northern Lights
16. Gone to a huge sports game
17. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
18. Grown and eaten your own vegetables (I'm counting potted herbs here; I've never had room for an actual garden.)
19. Touched an iceberg
20. Slept under the stars
21. Changed a baby's diaper
22. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
23. Watched a meteor shower
24. Gotten drunk on champagne
25. Given more than you can afford to charity
26. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
27. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
28. Had a food fight
29. Bet on a winning horse
30. Taken a sick day when you're not ill
31. Asked out a stranger
32. Had a snowball fight
33. Photocopied your bottom on the office photocopier
34. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
35. Held a lamb
36. Enacted a favorite fantasy
37. Taken a midnight skinny dip
38. Taken an ice cold bath
39. Had a meaningful conversation with a beggar
40. Seen a total eclipse (I'm counting an annular eclipse here, actually.)
41. Ridden a roller coaster
42. Hit a home run
43. Fit three weeks miraculously into three days (Not entirely sure what this means, but I think I've done it)
44. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
45. Adopted an accent for an entire day
46. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
47. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment (Ahhhh, the halcyon days of 1994....)
48. Had two hard drives for your computer
49. Visited all 50 states
50. Loved your job for all accounts
51. Taken care of someone who was shit faced (And then gone back to her apartment to do it again after she got up and went to the mini-mart down the street, damn her!)
52. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
53. Had amazing friends
54. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
55. Watched wild whales
56. Stolen a sign
57. Backpacked in Europe
58. Taken a road-trip (My honeymoon counts.)
59. Rock climbing
60. Lied to foreign government's official in that country to avoid notice
61. Midnight walk on the beach
62. Sky diving
63. Visited Ireland
64. Been heartbroken longer then you were actually in love
65. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger's table and had a meal with them
66. Visited Japan
67. Benchpressed your own weight (It hurt for days, afterward)
68. Milked a cow
69. Alphabetized your records
70. Pretended to be a superhero
71. Sung karaoke
72. Lounged around in bed all day
73. Posed nude in front of strangers
74. Scuba diving
75. Got it on to "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye
76. Kissed in the rain
77. Played in the mud
78. Played in the rain
79. Gone to a drive-in theater
80. Done something you should regret, but don't regret it (I do something along these lines nearly every day!)
81. Visited the Great Wall of China
82. Discovered that someone who's not supposed to have known about your blog has discovered your blog
83. Dropped Windows in favor of something better
84. Started a business
85. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
86. Toured ancient sites (Native American medicine wheels count)
87. Taken a martial arts class
88. Swordfought for the honor of a woman (Actually, no, I haven't, but I'm the type who would.)
89. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
90. Gotten married
91. Been in a movie
92. Crashed a party
93. Loved someone you shouldn't have
94. Kissed someone so passionately it made them dizzy
95. Gotten divorced
96. Had sex at the office
97. Gone without food for 5 days
98. Made cookies from scratch
99. Won first prize in a costume contest
100. Ridden a gondola in Venice
101. Gotten a tattoo
102. Found that the texture of some materials can turn you on
103. Rafted the Snake River (Actually, no, but I've kayaked the Youghiogheny in Pennsylvania, so I'm counting it.)
104. Been on television news programs as an "expert"
105. Got flowers for no reason
106. Masturbated in a public place
107. Got so drunk you don't remember anything
108. Been addicted to some form of illegal drug
109. Performed on stage
110. Been to Las Vegas (I was only seven, and it was over twenty years ago, but I was there)
111. Recorded music
112. Eaten shark
113. Had a one-night stand
114. Gone to Thailand
115. Seen Siouxsie live
116. Bought a house
117. Been in a combat zone
118. Buried one/both of your parents
119. Shaved or waxed your pubic hair off
120. Been on a cruise ship
121. Spoken more than one language fluently
122. Gotten into a fight while attempting to defend someone
123. Bounced a check
124. Performed in Rocky Horror
125. Read - and understood - your credit report
126. Raised children (Not sure how this can ever be past-tense)
127. Recently bought and played with a favorite childhood toy (In the guise of buying it for the Daughter)
128. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
129. Created and named your own constellation of stars
130. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
131. Found out something significant that your ancestors did
132. Called or written your Congress person
133. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
134. ...more than once? - More than thrice?
135. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
136. Sang loudly in the car, and didn't stop when you knew someone was looking
137. Had an abortion or your female partner did
138. Had plastic surgery
139. Survived an accident that you shouldn't have survived.
140. Wrote articles for a large publication
141. Lost over 100 pounds
142. Held someone while they were having a flashback
143. Piloted an airplane
144. Petted a stingray
145. Broken someone's heart (not sure how she took it, actually)
146. Helped an animal give birth
147. Been fired or laid off from a job (God, I hated that job)
148. Won money on a T.V. game show
149. Broken a bone
150. Killed a human being (Is ANYBODY going to admit this in a blog post?!)
151. Gone on an African photo safari
152. Ridden a motorcycle
153. Driven any land vehicle at a speed of greater than 100mph
154. Had a body part of yours below the neck pierced
155. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
156. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
157. Ridden a horse
158. Had major surgery
159. Had sex on a moving train
160. Had a snake as a pet
161. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
162. Slept through an entire flight: takeoff, flight, and landing
163. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
164. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
165. Visited all 7 continents
166. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
167. Eaten kangaroo meat
168. Fallen in love at an ancient Mayan burial ground
169. Been a sperm or egg donor
170. Eaten sushi
171. Had your picture in the newspaper
172. Had 2 (or more) healthy romantic relationships for over a year in your lifetime
173. Changed someone's mind about something you care deeply about
174. Gotten someone fired for their actions
175. Gone back to school
177. Changed your name
178. Petted a cockroach
179. Eaten fried green tomatoes
180. Read The Iliad (I even blogged about it!)
181. Selected one "important" author who you missed in school, and read
182. Dined in a restaurant and stolen silverware, plates, cups because your apartment needed them
183. ...and gotten 86'ed from the restaurant because you did it so many times, they figured out it was you
184. Taught yourself an art from scratch (Writing counts.)
185. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
186. Apologized to someone years after inflicting the hurt
187. Skipped all your school reunions
188. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
189. Been elected to public office
190. Written your own computer language
191. Thought to yourself that you're living your dream
192. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
193. Built your own PC from parts
194. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn't know you
195. Had a booth at a street fair
196: Dyed your hair
197: Been a DJ (I had a classical show for one semester on the college radio station)
198: Found out someone was going to dump you via LiveJournal
199: Written your own role playing game
200: Been arrested
I'm not very interesting, apparently.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
I'd rate his chances about as good as that guy's who jumped into Niagara Falls last year. Of course, that guy survived, but the lightning doesn't strike twice, right?
(But if we're really interested in prognosticating, my suspicion is that Kerry will struggle a bit to hit his stride, which will somehow be interpreted as a clear win for Bush in the debates. Bush, of course, will have his "Aw shucks" routine down pat, along with every simplistic answer he has in his arsenal. Afterwards, there will be much media babbling scrutinizing Kerry's performance in the debates, as opposed to scrutinizing things like Kerry's actual positions.)
But hey, it also means that The Apprentice is on a day earlier, which is fine by me. If any of my readers are watching it, does anyone else think that the producers took Caroline (one of Trump's right-hand people who oversees the show) aside after last year and told her to speak up more? She would go entire boardroom's last year without moving a muscle, and now this year, she's shooting with both barrels.
1. I know that budgets are tight at hospitals, what with our whole "capitalism in health care is just the perfect system!" approach, but still, my wife and I are going to be incurring some pretty massive medical bills over Quinn's lifetime, and I can accept that. Do we really have to be required to pay for parking at the damn hospital? Would it kill them to provide free parking for parents of infants in the NICU?
2. Anesthesiologists, take note: if you're looking for an icebreaker with the parents who are awaiting their infant's entry into surgery, "OK, I think we've got the right baby" is not it. Trust me on this.
3. Is it some weird facet of hospital architecture these days that every hospital must have something like forty-seven elevators, but a single stairwell that also happens to be impossible to find?
Monday, September 27, 2004
Anyway, this is a pure "eye candy" movie, and I mean that: just about every important piece of plot is conveyed visually, and the film's design is pretty amazing. The script was OK, even if it ticked off nearly every cliche of the globe-trotting adventure flick that exists. I had a great time watching this movie.
And this is the first movie I've seen in a long time that had me cursing the fact that I didn't have enough cash in my wallet to go buy the score CD on the spot. I haven't been overly impressed with Edward Shearmur's work until now, but on the basis of what I heard in the film, he hit this one right out of the ballpark.
Sunday, September 26, 2004
There probably won't be much posting today, since we plan to be out and about for much of the time. Part of my time today has been spent dipping into this book, which was bequeathed upon my person by my parents at dinner last night. I'm almost certain to love a book that carries an endorsement on the back cover by Ayn Rand: "This is similar to my works in that anyone who reads it is sure to be an asshole for at least a month afterward". Of course, I managed to read Rand with no ill effects (probably something to do with the string of garlic I wore around my neck whilst reading her), so I'm sure I'll be able to read this one with similar lack of injury.
The Wife, of course, correctly interpreted all of my incredibly subtle hints (along the lines of "Buy this! Buy this! Please please please!") and provided me with this. And thus was all made right in the world. Or at least the Buffalo Niagara region.
Friday, September 24, 2004
In a way, Jim Morrison's life and death could be written off as simply one of the more pathetic episodes in the history of the star system, or that offensive myth we all persist in believing which holds that artists are somehow a race apart and thus entitled to piss on my wife, throw you out the window, smash up the joint, and generally do whatever they want. I've seen a lot of this over the years, and what's most ironic is that it always goes under the assumption that to deny them these outbursts would somehow be curbing their creativity, when the reality, as far as I can see, is that it's exactly such insane tolerance of another insanity that also contributes to them drying up as artists. Because how can you finally create anything real or beautiful when you have absolutely zero input from the real world, because everyone around you is catering to and sheltering you? You can't, and this system is I'd submit why we've seen almost all our rock 'n' roll heroes who, unlike Morrison, did manage to survive the Sixties, end up having nothing to say.
The problem is, scores can be hard to track down, except for the few you might find at Borders or Barnes&Noble in the sheet music section (and the number of these has declined over the years, I've noticed). Well, Elibron seems to be a good source of music scores. I haven't bought anything from them (yet), and thus can't totally recommend them from a service standpoint, but it seems like a site worth exploring.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
So, working it all out for me, here are the results for various search terms:
"Byzantium's Shores": 15,700 hits.
"Byzantium Shores": 16,500 hits. Lots of people leave off the possessive suffix on "Byzantium" when referring to me. (No, this doesn't bug me one whit; I've just noticed it off and on.) Since I assume that this result also includes the 15,700 hits for "Byzantium's Shores", I'll just call this 800 total unique hits.
"Jaquandor": 1,690 hits.
My real name: 102 hits. (Look it up yourself.) I expect that since I've pretty much abandoned my strict pseudonymity, this number will gradually go up.
Total: 18,292 hits, for a Brooksie value (using Kevin's result for a Brooksie value of 1.00 as being 127,000 hits) of .144. So I'm not very well-known, apparently.
Ah, but wait! It seems to me that since we're talking Internet fame, and not just Blogistan fame, I should also include my figures from my years of Usenet activity. Searching Google Groups, I come up with an extra 12,080 hits for "Jaquandor" and for my real name, thus bumping my total hits to 30,372, for a final Brooksie value of .239.
Pagh. I'm still "small potatoes".
I would, though, like to note that I assumed that since the show was airing at 8:00 pm, it wouldn't be totally inappropriate for The Daughter. While I'm generally more loose with what I allow her to watch than many other parents, I found this show entirely too grim, violent and intense for her eyes. Thankfully we got her out of the room before the final ten minutes played out, and before one character met a grisly fate that was spelled out in harsh visual fashion at the show's end. To my surprise, the show carried no "Violent Content" warning, like ABC always sticks at the beginning of episodes of NYPD Blue, so this really caught us unawares. In the future, I think we'll tape the show and watch it after she's in bed.
(In other TV series premiere notes, it seems that what the Law&Order franchise is to many, the CSI franchise is to the wife and I. We watched CSI: New York, and I liked what I saw, although this premiere episode was incredibly dour and downbeat. Its feel was more like Millennium than the original CSI, which still seems to be the only incarnation of CSI that actually allows for humor, albeit black humor, once in a while.)
But then, maybe it's just my inner geezer speaking. "Why, back in my day, ya wanted to break up with a girl, you told her to her face and that's how it was and we liked it!"
(via John Scalzi)
UPDATE: Well, don't click the link, because the guy in question apparently doesn't like it being seen and thus replaced it with something fairly nasty.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
I'm one of the most generally optimistic Bills fans around, but even I admit that right now, the Bills aren't in a "silver lining" kind of place. They're in a "trash can liner" kind of place. It would be nice to hear one of their coaches say so once in a while, and get animated while doing it.
OK, this post should serve to demolish any credibility I have gained as a music lover in past writings here, but I don't care. I will certainly not maintain that the music contained on Live at the Acropolis -- or on any Yanni disc, for that matter -- constitutes "artistic greatness". If I had to make a food metaphor, I'd compare Yanni to the chocolate-chip cookies one can get at the cookie joint at the food court in the local mall. They're gooey and fun, they're better than Chips Ahoy! or the other brands in the bags at the supermarket, but they're still not as good as home-made, even if Mom simply does nothing more than follow the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag.
Yanni does the "pleasant New Age" thing, and he probably does it better than anybody else. This isn't demanding music; the harmonies aren't challenging at all, the rhythms are extremely straightforward, and the whole exercise can basically be described as "melody for melody's sake". Sometimes you're just in the mood for something like Yanni -- it's "turn down the lights and let it wash over you" music par excellence.
What happens in Live at the Acropolis, though, is, I think, something special. There seems to have been some kind of electricity in the air the night this thing was recorded (it was a live concert that's been a staple of PBS Pledge Weeks for a decade now), and the same tracks that are serviceable and pleasant on the original studio recordings (yes, I own three of them, sue me) take on new life in their live incarnations. There's a liveliness to the proceedings here that I find infectious as hell.
So if you want to wallow in sentiment and not feel totally dirty about it afterwards, Live at the Acropolis is for you. And the first track, "Santorini", is actually one of the best long tracks for driving purposes I've ever heard. Really. Put this in the car stereo, crank up the bass, and that's some good drivin'. Which isn't the worst reason I've ever heard to buy a CD, in any case.
By the way, someone at Amazon has offered the following review of Live at the Acropolis, which I reproduce in its entirety, because if you know the kind of thing Yanni does, this review is absolutely side-splitting:
Yanni, the originator of Grindcore, returns to his Death Metal roots with his second studio album (it's not really live : these are the DEMONS CHANTING AND CLAPPING WHILE PRAISING THE DARK OVERLORD !). This album is PURE EVIL FOR THE UNGODLIEST SOULS !
The music presented here is fast and loud, with demonic keyboards (containing subliminal messages, as always) exploding in this wall of BR00TAL NOISE !!! This is the soundtrack to depravity, sickness and AGONY ! Yanni's demonic symphony for satanic keyboards (he ONLY uses the satanic ones) is too heavy to bear for the normal ears ! You HAVE to be grim or kvlt (or both for extra caution) to appreciate this masterpiece !
HAIL LUCIFER !
This almost makes me feel guilty for liking this disc. Almost.
I find that too many conductors take too leisurely a pace with the first and third movements, and that they likewise tend to compensate by barreling through the last movement, often blasting right past the miraculous passage in which everything builds to a spectacular brass cadence before the chorale theme (the movement's second subject) is sounded for the last time. Jansons, a conductor with whom I'm generally unfamiliar, has a wonderful touch with this repertoire, and his orchestra plays with as much fire as I've heard in these two Russian symphonies where fire is an absolute must.
Here are links:
Symphony No. 1 in D-minor; Isle of the Dead
Symphony No. 2 in E-minor; Scherzo in D-minor; Vocalise (Op. 34, No. 14)
Symphony No. 3 in A-minor; Symphonic Dances
(Note: It may strike non-classical listeners, or classical "newbies", as strange to own multiple recordings of the same piece, but for in-depth exploration of classical music, it's almost essential to do so. Different conductors bring out different details in the works, emphasize different facets of the music, and generally form different emotional and artistic interpretations. If you come to love a work very deeply and to know it very well through a single recording, hearing another can open one's eyes to things in the same piece that one never knew were there. This is what makes classical music so exciting: you really can, in a very real sense, hear familiar works again for the first time.)
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Cities can't be saved with "silver bullet" projects.
What bugs me more about TVs is that they're everywhere nowadays; it seems that nearly every place of business has to have one, and the eyes just naturally gravitate toward it, no matter what. The damn thing is freaking seductive, and there have been more times than I care to admit when I've been sitting in a waiting room of some office or business somewhere with a book in one hand that I'm really enjoying and a TV on the wall showing some show that I don't like, and damned if I don't find myself staring slack-jawed at the damn "glass teat", as Stephen King likes to call it.
In a truly disturbing development at The Store, a TV has been installed in our cafe section. This is my favorite part of the store, a place with tables where one can eat whatever one gets from the pizza bar or the salad bar or the sub shop or whatever and "people watch". I eat my lunch there just about every day. But now there's a TV hanging from the ceiling, and it's tuned to the normal crap: news (FOX, which adds insult to injury), morning talk shows, and so on. I don't know what's worse: that Tony Danza has a daytime talk show, or that we actually had it on in The Store yesterday morning. (Presumably, he would have been on this morning too, had not ABC News intervened by televising the President of the United States addressing the UN. Talk about the blind leading the blind...but I digress.)
And then there's the computer, which is in its own way a "glass teat": I now do all my writing on the computer, including my stories and my novel and my reviews and my blog posts. Writing stuff and reading stuff on the computer, shows and movies on the teevee -- life seems, at times, to be a variant of "Musical Chairs", centered on a different glowing box. Maybe this is why I hope and pray that the compact disc doesn't die a horrible death of obselescence as we charge full-bore into getting all of our entertainment over our phone lines or broadband connections: because I'd like it if at least one essential facet of my life, my music, wasn't dependent upon a glowing box for its existence.
And Left Coast Dementia has also pulled the plug, so I guess I have some blogroll maintenance to do in the near future.
Monday, September 20, 2004
The breathtaking profanity of Mozart’s letters—“Whoever doesn’t believe me may lick me, world without end,” and so on—has led one British researcher to conclude recently that the composer had Tourette’s syndrome. What’s interesting about this theory, which has become the goofball classical-music news item of the season, is that anyone would actually need a far-fetched medical explanation for the fact that a young male with healthy appetites swore a lot and liked to talk about sex.
Hmmmmm. It seems odd, maybe, to think that some of the greatest music of all time was composed by an overgrown adolescent, but then, it also seems odd to think that some of the greatest fusions of music and drama of all time -- the operas of Wagner -- were composed by an egomaniac anti-Semite.
This team stinks, and I see no real prospects for significant improvement, until Tom Donahoe stops wheeling and dealing for future draft picks and spending this year's picks on guys who won't be ready for two years, and brings in some guys who can help now, starting with the offensive line. Football games are won or lost by the big guys up front, and yet, Donahoe's regime has done utterly nothing (with the exception of drafting Mike Williams) to improve it.
I didn't pay attention to any other football action yesterday, but Sean has some thoughts.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
A saffron crocus in bloom.
Saffron, as any cook knows, is the world's most expensive spice, costing as much as several thousand dollars a pound. In the spice section at your local market, saffron is almost always sold by the pinch, which is a good thing because that's really all you ever need to use in any one recipe that calls for it, anyway.
Saffron's expensive nature is because of the manner in which the spice is collected. The spice actually consists of just the dried stamens of the saffron crocus, which are those three long read "filaments" extending from the center of the flower. These are gathered by hand and dried to form the spice. Since each crocus only produces three stamens, it takes literally thousands of saffron crocuses just to produce enough stamens to yield a single kilogram of saffron spice.
Obviously, saffron is not a regularly-used ingredient in my kitchen.
There lies the crumpled, broken body of a Journalist. How small he looks. How weak, how antiquated. Did he believe, in the end, that his pretense at so-called objectivity would save him from the unpitying edge of the knife?
There find the scattered parts of the Publisher, hacked to pieces by the twin honed blades of Truth and Reason. Listen to me, you dead old dinosaur: You do not tell me what to think! You do not tell me what is important news or what opinions I should have! Not anymore! That's the Blogosphere's job now, bucko!
Ah, there, in the midst of it all, the limbless trunk of the TV Anchorman mounted atop a stake, there to be devoured by worms and carrion birds. A new age dawns! You are useless now. Sink into shadow, Rather! Fade into obscurity, Donaldson! Up and die already, Cronkite! The Age of the Blog is at hand. One day there will be a University of Higher Blogging named after Glenn Reynolds. One day a prestigious award for excellence in bloviating will be named after Michael J. Totten. One day Andrew Sullivan's head will be on the quarter. One day children will learn how to use the Trackback feature before they can walk.
Oh, and scroll down a bit to see Yar's man-on-the-street interviews with some people that, well, make me wonder just what the hell kind of street Yar lives on.
AC Douglas is embarking on a blogging exploration of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen (all posts handily grouped here), which should make for interesting reading. I'm sure there will be a lot to agree and disagree with, as is the case with Douglas's writing (here's a case of the former, and here a case of the latter), but hey, that's Blogistan for you.
Buying classical music there, however, is always an adventure. You just never know.
I've never asked them why, but there's only one classical section there, and it's in the "Used" section of the store. I'm not sure if that means that their entire classical selection is made up of Used CDs, but given some of the stuff I find there, I think this is slightly unlikely. But even so, every disc there is priced as a Used item, and some very interesting things show up there on occasion. Today I picked up this recording of George Crumb's Makrokosmos for seven bucks. According to Amazon, this is a full-price release. Yay for me.
I'm honestly not sure if some classical collector or group of collectors are weeding their collections at this store, or if the staff there orders classical music without knowing a thing about it and therefore ends up with a wide variety of stuff in the midst of which can be occasionally found the nifty item, or what. It's maddening to shop there, because one literally has to rifle through every classical bin (and for a store clearly geared toward rock and alt-rock and the like, the number of classical bins is surprisingly high). Sometimes, I find treasures; other times, I don't. But the search is always enjoyable, and sometimes exciting. There are times when I want a specific recording of a piece, and I'd never set foot in this store if that were the case. (At least, not for classical. Other stuff, sure.) This is a place for browsing.
And the doubly nice thing is that since classical music doesn't move all that fast, if I see something I might like today, the odds that it will still be there in a week -- after the next paycheck -- are pretty good. Which means that that set of Rachmaninov symphonies conducted by Mariss Jansons will soon be mine. Oh yes.
(Oh, and I also picked up the recording that Terry Teachout's been raving about, Madeleine Peyroux's Careless Love. I've listened to half of it, and it really is that good. My interest had actually been piqued a week or so earlier, when Jeff Simon wrote about the album in The Buffalo News, but Terry sealed the deal. It's a really good album. I'll try to write more about it at a later time, but suffice it to say that I never expected to hear the towns of San Francisco and Ashtabula, OH mentioned in the same song lyric.)
Saturday, September 18, 2004
Also via the Blowhards -- Michael this time -- I spot this graphic, which shows that the rate of Federal spending has increased at a greater rate under President Bush and his Republican Congress than at any time since Gerald Ford left office. And yet, there are still folks who won't vote for Kerry because Bush is the "small government" guy. Give me a break.
(And from the text underlying the same graphic, I learn that George W. Bush is on track to become the first President in quite some time to serve an entire four-year term without vetoing a single bill sent to his desk. How much time, you ask? The last President to serve four years without reaching for the veto pen was also the last President whose father had also previously served as President: John Quincy Adams.)
This is why.
One thinks that maybe it would save the security folks some trouble if they came up with a list of the thirty-seven possible items that exist with which it would be impossible to use as a weapon for a hijacking. Then we could all just pack those in our carryon bags.
"Do servers prefer that we add a tip to the bill and pay via credit card or do they like cash?"
I can't speak for every situation out there, because I presume that this nation's thousands of restaurants have a different way of handling this, but in general, my experience in the two restaurants where I worked were that servers generally preferred the cash on the table to the tip added to the credit card. The preference wasn't a strong one, but it was there. In both cases, our computer system would keep a running tally for each server of how much money they had coming in tips from credit cards, and at the end of their shift they would print out a copy of their report, present it to the cashier, and simply be handed that amount from the register. So, in terms of the amount of tip money in their pocket with which the server walked out of the restaurant at the end of the day, it didn't make a whole lot of difference, and one clear advantage was that it did cut down on the amount of tips left as jingly change they had to lug around.
So why would they prefer tips left on the table? One word: Taxes.
One of the unmentioned secrets that never seems to get mentioned whenever I see an online discussion of the merits of tipping is that a large portion of tip income is never taxed. This is because it is up to the servers themselves to declare their tip income on a regular basis -- at the end of each shift, at the end of a week, whatever. The idea is that if their total tips are $100, they'll dutifully tell Uncle Sam that they took home $100, and their withholdings and W2's and whatnot will be adjusted accordingly.
It doesn't take a genius, though, to recognize that short of having managers or IRS employees actually frisk each server at the end of each shift, there's not much of a way to keep them totally honest about this. Sure, we had ways of ensuring that they claim as much as we could theoretically expect them to claim (and the IRS itself has something called "tip allocations" that really took a bite out of more than a few servers who tried to underclaim their tips to a ridiculous extreme), but the fact is that tip earnings are not taxed to the extent that, say, a line cook's hourly wage is taxed, because the earnings are never recorded accurately.
The big exception here, though, are tips left on credit cards, because these are entered right into the computer. If you pay with credit card and add a $20.00 tip to your bill on your credit card slip, yes, the server gets your $20.00 just the same as if you'd left a 20-spot on the table. But that $20.00 of income is reported to the IRS, whereas the server might only report, say, $10.00 of the 20-spot to the IRS. So it boils down to this: the greater percentage of a server's tips that are left as an addition to a credit card bill, the greater percentage of that server's income is actually taxed. So there's the answer.
Two additional points: First, this really only applies to restaurants where each servers keeps whatever money is left on his or her table. I suspect this is quite different in restaurants that "pool" the tips by piling every single tip into a bucket and then giving every server an equal share of whatever's in the bucket at the end of the night. And second, remember: this is really a minor thing. It's a preference, but not a strong one, and I guarantee that any intelligent server will prefer a larger tip on a credit card than a smaller one left as cash on the table. Plus, to be perfectly honest here, this is a topic on which I never really felt a good deal of sympathy for the servers. Once in a while one of them would complain about the unfairness of the way credit card tips are claimed in their entirety, to which my response was always some variant of, "Oh, shut up. You probably make more than I do, and you absolutely pay less in taxes on making more than I do. Boo-hoo. Go take Table 9 some more coffee and biscuits."
So, if you want to pay with credit card, go for it.
(I wrote more about tipping quite a while back, by the way.)
So here's a list of the 50 weirdest world records, courtesy MeFi. Some of these, really, are just freaking bizarre -- why would anyone want to be the world's champion at sniffing feet, for example? How many people are there who probably could pop their eyeballs out farther than that woman who can pop hers out to 11mm? (Here's what it looks like.)
Well, anyway, there's some weird records there. (And it's not even "Burst of Weirdness" time, because I've got something even freakier in reserve. Good week for weirdness, this was.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
In no particular order:
Rachmaninov, Symphony No. 2 in E-minor. Last time I listened to this work, I was in tears by the end. If you're not of Romantic leaning, the end of this symphony will probably sound like unending bombast. If you are, though -- your heart will nearly explode from your chest.
Berlioz, Romeo et Juliet. This symphony flirts with opera all the way through, but at the end it becomes almost entirely operatic as Friar Laurence swears the Montagues and the Capulets to eternal friendship.
Brahms, Symphony No. 2 in D-Major. The trumpet and trombone sections get a big payoff at the end here.
Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending. When I heard this piece at a concert, it somehow felt wrong to clap when it was done, since a contented sigh was all the expression called for.
Kalinnikov, Symphony No. 1. Another big, brassy end to a big, brassy and lyrical Russian symphony. Kallinikov is a little-known composer who was only beginning to show promise when he died.
Hanson, Symphony No. 2. Hmmmm...I wonder what it is about second symphonies having wonderful endings....
Wagner, Tristan und Isolde. Rivers of ink have been spilled about this one. But there's a reason why.
OK, that's enough for now (especially since Lynn only listed five, and as usual, I exceeded the parameters of the assignment).
It seems that a group of senior US intelligence analysts are pessimistic about the situation in Iraq. I'm sure this will come as a galloping shock to the "But we painted the schools!" crowd, but this is pretty much exactly what made me so wary about going to war in Iraq in the first place. According to these analysts, at best we can expect that the situation will continue to be "tenuous in terms of stability", while at worst there are "trend lines that would point to a civil war."
The all-important metric in Iraq, for way too many people, has been the removal of Saddam Hussein and nothing else. I fail to see how the possibility of civil war within a few years over there is a substantial improvement over a brutal tyrant, but that's just me. I wanted things in Iraq to get better, not just crappy in a different way. (And I certainly didn't want the latter if that "different way" meant substantially more headaches for US security, as I suspect is likely to happen.)
Here's a particularly chilling graf:
The intelligence estimate, which was prepared for President Bush, considered the window of time between July and the end of 2005. But the official noted that the document, which spans roughly 50 pages, draws on intelligence community assessments from January 2003, before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deteriorating security situation there.
So our government now pretty much admits that things haven't been getting better in Iraq. Our government, that is, except the folks who work in the West Wing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
(Of course, it would also be heartening if Senator Kerry would start trying to elucidate just how he might alleviate this problem. I have no problem voting against President Bush on the basis of his incredibly crappy results, but I'd also like to be able to vote for something.)
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
But now the stories are starting to percolate again. The Promised King, Book Two beckons, saying, "Finish Chapter 14! Put it out of its misery!" My script idea for a hard-on-his-luck guy who tries to start reconstructing his life after he hits rock bottom by getting a job at a supermarket is taking shape in my head. I had another idea for a story, obviously inspired by what's going on in my life, that's pretty macabre, involving as it does a cleaning lady who discovers certain supernatural powers she has while mopping the floor of a hospital's NICU.
I want to write again.
So I will.
More heartening is the main doctor's suspicion that he may be swallowing. This is the next major hurdle we have to cross: it will be the difference between Quinn being able to take feedings, or being sent for surgery to have a tracheotomy and a G-tube.
For those who don't recall them or didn't see them, they were a kind of "interactive" fiction, in which each page presents a choice for the reader, and then you flip to a certain other page based on the choice you make, and so on, until you reach an ending. (The books usually had at least 25 possible endings.) I recall these fondly, although I'd cheat a lot: I'd flip through to endings and then try to reconstruct how to reach that particular ending, or I'd keep a finger on one page while I made a choice and followed it, just in case I had to backtrack. Trouble was, in the course of following a series of choices thusly, I'd end up with my fingers in a contorted position as I tried to "bookmark" six or seven consecutive choices. But these books were quite a bit of fun. Even if I never did figure out the "secret way to the planet Ultima" from the twelfth book in the series.
Also via MeFi (and via Sean) I see that author Stephen R. Donaldson is returning to the works that launched his career, and following up the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant with the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Details are available at Donaldson's official website. The Covenant books are old favorites of mine, even if Donaldson's prose is a bit uneven (he has beautiful passages, like the one I quoted here, juxtaposed with some amazingly clunky ones) and the fact that the protagonist, Thomas Covenant, is about the most boorish person you'll ever find at the center of an epic fantasy.
I re-read the first book in the series last year (Lord Foul's Bane), and now I suppose I need to re-read the whole thing. What struck me upon my re-read of just the first book was that some very obvious stuff is cribbed from Tolkien, while there's other stuff that bears no resemblance at all to any of the Tolkienesque tropes of fantasy.
Monday, September 13, 2004
I'm thinking a bit about the symbolism here, but I'm not coming up with anything. Does anyone have any ideas? The painter, Arthur Hughes, lived in the Romantic era (1823-1904).
(Larger version of the painting here.)
In my own experience, I hated the fact that first, my restaurants didn't have such a policy, and that second, when the company finally decided to put such a policy right on the menu, our district manager (who had the brains of a flea) refused to allow us to enforce it.
The simple fact is this: while most people who tip in small parties assume that large parties result in larger tips for the server, this simply is not borne out by my experience. It was the rule, rather than the exception, for large parties to undertip, often less than ten percent of the final bill. I once had a server knock herself out waiting on a children's birthday party that was in the restaurant for two hours, during which she played games with the kids, kept the drinks full, served the food and the cake, and took no other tables in the process. Total bill: $120.00. These folks left her two dollars.
Yes, that's an extreme case, certainly the worst one I ever saw, but the fact remains that my servers made less money for waiting on large tables, and that it was this way in both restaurants I managed. Additionally, large parties tend to remain in the restaurant much longer than smaller ones, which gives the server a double-whammy because now his or her section isn't turning over as quickly. Someone in the thread says that a party of eight can't take any longer than two parties of four, but this is false, because there's a special dynamic that exists with a party of eight. In almost all cases, a party of eight involves people meeting at a restaurant for some manner of special occasion, which is rarely true of smaller parties. Ergo, these larger parties always take longer in the restaurant. (The only exceptions were large parties that would come in after the dinner hour for dessert and coffee, and even these could be there quite a while.)
Somewhere along the line in the MeFi thread, by the way, someone makes the point that there are other minimum wage jobs out there, so no one has to wait tables. This is nonsense. The fact is that in a well-run restaurant with good servers, the wait staff make significantly more than the minimum wage. In fact, there were servers at the family restaurant where I worked who, because they were very good and therefore worked on each of our very busiest meal periods, actually made more than I did, as a salaried manager. People don't wait tables because the restaurant was fully-staffed on bus-boys; people wait tables because it is good money, and the hours are conducive to doing other things with one's life (such as going to school, writing novels, auditioning for shows, et cetera).
I do think that tipping, as it has evolved in the United States, is a damned goofy system. But I also think that there is nothing I can do to change that system that doesn't involve stiffing servers in the process, and I have worked with too many servers who were good people with kids and families and worries of their own to do this. Yeah, the system sucks, but it's a system that affects real live people, and in my mind, the needs of people tend to outweigh my desire to buck a system.
UPDATE: More here.
I hope they use the recording Sir Colin Davis made with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Losing on the last play of the game sucked, of course, because that always sucks. What also sucks is the NFL's insistence that if you score a touchdown to take the lead as time expires, so the other team has no chance at all to win, you still have to attempt the extra point. This is stupid. The Jags snapped the ball, time ran out, the play ended with the touchdown with 0:00 on the clock. That should have been the game, with the Jags winning, 12-10. Requiring an extra point is just stupid. So that's all from the Bills game.
The rest of the NFL was fun to behold -- especially the beginning of a slow sweat build-up under Dave Wannstedt's collar. Heh, heh, heh. I don't get too wrapped up in Week One, because really, it's Week One. Some teams look bad that are really good, some teams look bad that are really good, and the Bills look like the Bills. On to Week Two (Bills visit Oakland).
UPDATE: Readers familiar with my football diatribes from seasons past will remember that I like to make Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan my own personal whipping boy, because he usually says something pretty dumb. So it is to my immense surprise that I pretty much agree with his entire take on yesterday's game: the game was encouraging, but there was still a lot of "Huh-whuh?!" stuff there.
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Exterior of Shea's Center for the Performing Arts, Buffalo, NY.
Opened in 1926 and recently the object of a major renovation and restoration effort, Shea's Center for the Performing Arts is the jewel in Buffalo's theater and performing arts crown. The recent restoration was completed last week when the giant sign pictured here, reading "Shea's Buffalo", was installed and lit for the first time. The original sign was missing from the front of Shea's for many years, and in fact, the lighting of the new sign marked the first such lighting in over half a century.
That's Buffalo for you: we may be coming back slow, and we may be coming back one lightbulb at a time, but we're coming back.
I subscribed to EW for quite a while in the 90s, but while I generally enjoyed its content, I generally hated its critics, whom I always thought were trying to one-up each other on the "Pauline Kael's heir-apparent wannabe" totem pole. I detest pretentious criticism of the type that permeates that magazine, and I also detest the way the magazine often seems to have an editorial policy regarding some subjects that those subjects are never to be mentioned unless said mention is somehow caustic and jaded. Wil Wheaton, apparently, is one of those subjects, which is a shame.
I allowed my initial subscription to lapse, but somehow I ended up resubscribing when I bought some CDs at the local Media Play, which was running some kind of free EW subscription promotional thing, and they were able to simply sign me up on the spot because Media Play, at the time, had my address in their computers because I was a member of their buyer's club (whatever they called it at the time). The freebie subscription was for something like twenty issues, and I didn't protest, because I figured the magazine could make nice bathroom reading.
I ended up canceling, however, halfway through. Regular readers of that mag will know the TV section, in which upcoming shows and specials during the week ahead are listed with little blurbs about them. These blurbs are often really stupid, just more of that insipid "Oh, aren't we just the lovable corral of jaded little hipsters!" nonsense that fills EW's pages these days. But this was the week before New Year's, and the TV section offered not one but two little blurbs about the traditional classical music concerts PBS offers on New Year's, one at the New York Philharmonic and the other at the Vienna Philharmonic. For the former, the ever-so-cute writer said something like, "Gee, now I know how my grandmother spends New Year's"; for the latter, the blurb was along the lines of "And now my hangover comes back."
I cancelled my subscription on the spot, sending the editors a (for me) nasty e-mail to the effect that as a lover of classical music, I was not going to allow a magazine that makes fun of me on that basis to spend one more second so much as touching the inside of my mailbox.
Oh, and then there was the time Ty Burr wandered into rec.music.movies to lecture us all on what a bunch of elitist pigs we all were, or some such thing, when their list of "Greatest Soundtracks Ever" or some such thing included mostly pop-song compilations. That really built up the good will toward EW, at least from my end.
(Geez, I appear to be bitchy. Maybe I shouldn't post stuff after a Bills loss.)
Johannsen. Of these three, the only one with which I am familiar is Ms. Garner, and I have by no means ruled her out**. The other two are lovely, and they probably do deserve further, ahem, "inspection" from me***.
But I must note that I am the only person in Blogistan in whom the powers of MOB!-hood are vested. In other words, if you haven't been declared an MOB! woman by me, well then, you ain't one yet. Harumph. So I take these as apocryphal suggestions for future consideration. And none of this, of course, should be taken to mean that I am adverse to such suggestion, because then that would mean that I'm adverse to looking at pictures of beautiful women. And I'd rather have it said of me that I am a Republican than that I don't enjoy beautiful women.
* Dave's LiveJournal username is a spatially-reduced version of "Beggar So's Hat", which is some kind of reference to Asian martial arts movies, if memory serves. Dave's an expert on that stuff. But for the longest time after I found his LJ, I interpreted "beggarsoshat" as "Beggars o' Shat", which sounded to me like some kind of Irish phenomenon that you might have found during the potato famine. Funny how the brain works.
** About Jennifer Garner: One thing I've noticed, over the years, is that whenever some new woman pops into the public consciousness who isn't really the kind of "drop dead gorgeous super-model type", the phrase most-often invoked is "the girl next door". I have also heard this about Jennifer Garner, and what gets me is this: of all the women I've ever seen described as "the girl next door", Jennifer Garner may be the one who, to me, most looks like "the girl next door". I don't mean this in any kind of negative way, either, because I've long believed that too often do we overlook the beauty that is around us every day. There are women I work with at The Store at whom I would rather gaze than Britney, if you take my meaning. As for Ms. Garner specifically, I wish I liked Alias more than I do.
*** There is neither rhyme nor reason to my selection process for MOB! status. It pretty much consists of either someone leaping out at me in an obvious way, or in me saying, "Hmmmm, I haven't done an MOB! post in a while", and then mulling over possible candidates. The only "rule" is that I have to have some familiarity with the candidate's work, so I cannot convey MOB! status upon any actress, for example, no matter how stunning she may be if I have never seen her acting. Ditto singers, classical music performers, contortion artists, et cetera. Also, as a general guideline, I try to steer away from the biggest names out there, so it's unlikely that I'll ever name Julia Roberts, for example, as an MOB! woman.
This combination of a blog and an internet radio station strikes me as really potent. Before, all I could do was harangue you - “Why the hell don’t you already know about all this wonderful music I listen to?!” Or, “Go buy this CD, and then you’ll know what I’m talking about!” Now, the music’s there if you want to listen to it (and, admittedly, if you have a cable modem connection; my willing friends with only dial-ups have been regrettably out of luck), and I can keep up a running commentary. In fact, it aids the fantasy I have of myself as the Harry Tuttle of music criticism - get in, get out, don’t wait for the ponderously slow commercial system to bring talent to light, but suddenly expose people to some wonderful music they would never in a million years have heard otherwise, then retreat for the next strike. You have to subvert and bypass all our social structures to make anything good happen today, because society’s arteries are clogged with the poison of money.
This is the type of thing I've been trying to do with my "Exploring the CD Collection" series of posts, in which I describe a CD I own and usually provide an MP3 of some representative track. It looks like Mr. Gann has the same idea, but executed much more exhaustively. So remember, folks: Just because Bach, Beethoven and Brahms are dead doesn't mean that classical music itself is dead.
(By the way, I'm on dialup and I'm able to play the music, although it occasionally "hiccups" when I try to navigate the Web. I suspect this problem wouldn't happen so much if I was writing in Word, or doing something unrelated to browsing, at the same time. Link via Scott Spiegelberg)
(Also by the way, I've left the MP3 of the most recent work I've focused on for "Exploring the CD Collection" available for a little while longer, here. Read the post to see why, and listen to the piece, if you can spare fourteen minutes.)
I'm generally forgiving of most of the alterations George Lucas has made, on the basis that they all seem to fall into one of two categories: effects enhancements, in which the visuals Lucas intended back in 1977 (or 1980 or 1983, depending) simply weren't possible either for technological or financial reasons. A number of the effects shots -- not that many, strikingly, but a number of them -- simply did not age well, and I have no problem with their replacement, especially since in most cases the new effects are, to my eyes, done tastefully and still in keeping with the general "look" of each film. I'm thinking of some of the individual shots during the final attack on the Death Star, for example.
The other type of revision Lucas is after can be called story enhancements. These are dicier, and I admit that not all of them work quite correctly. But what Lucas seems to be doing is trying to "retrofit" the original films so that their story more closely matches the story begun in the Prequel trilogy. In short, Lucas is trying to make sure that the entire film series tells a single story, and I really don't fault him for this, even if I may on occasion fault the results.
More interesting to me is the idea that many fans (and non-fans alike, to judge by the vehemence of the online griping and bitching) that a film is like a painting or a sculpture, and that "finishing" a film should be like the moment when an painter lays down the brush for the last time or the sculptor sets aside his chisel. In a number of discussion board threads I've followed on the subject, this analogy is brought up again and again, and I'm not sure it holds, for this reason: film is a plastic medium, not a static one. Film bears more resemblance to music or literature than it does to static arts like painting, sculpture and photography. And when I look at the history of literature and music, I find that artists revising their work -- sometimes many times over many years -- is not without precedent.
Many classical composers revisited, and revised, their earlier works over the years. Berlioz did this, as did Wagner, whose opera Tannhauser actually exists in two distinct versions. Anton Bruckner's music was so often heavily cut and revised and stitched back together that his scores present scholarship issues. And in literature, revision often occurs: consider how many versions of Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman produced, for example. I'm simply not convinced that the idea of a single, canonical version of a given work, be it a film, a symphony, a novel, a poem, or whatever else is an idea that has as much basis in reality as many seem to believe.
UPDATE: It's brought to my attention, by a blogger I respect, that I have perhaps wandered into a bit of mean-spiritedness here, and looking things over, I have to plead, mea culpa. Part of it is that I genuinely don't know what "cosplay" is, and therefore greatly misinterpreted what was going on here. I had assumed something, well, sexual in nature; it turns out that's not really it. (Turns out that "cosplay" is sort of like when people go to Renaissance Faires dressed up in costume, but instead they dress as anime characters.) But that's not really an excuse. I do try, as a general rule, to avoid mean-spirited mocking; unfortunately, like everyone, my efforts aren't always successful.
I'm leaving the original post above, since I don't believe in redacting my mistakes and deleting posts as if they never happened (it's always bugged me how members of the US Congress can have stupid things they say stricken from the Congressional Record), but apologies around -- especially to the young woman whose picture I obliquely reference above.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Images of the Week, 9-11-03
My story, The City of Dead Works (It's pretty short, by far the shortest story I've ever written.)
Losing 9-11-01 to History
Another fictional work for 9-11-01, by James Morrow (Way better than my own effort)
That's about it. Rememberances, and the continuation of the lives that remain. That's what there always is, right?
Friday, September 10, 2004
But then there's this guy, who seems to think the idea of spending time in places like Buffalo and Cleveland for a vacation is laughable. One would think that having one's nose in the air to that extent would leave one subject to nosebleeds.
Buffalo does have a lot of culture to offer, and has made a lot of cultural contributions. Maybe this blogger (of whom I've never heard) could take time to educate himself about them. (Maybe he could start by boning up on his grammar.)
The DVD boxed set of the original trilogy comes out in a couple of weeks, but to the chagrin of many fans, these are the "Special Editions", not the actual versions released in 1977, 1980 and 1983 respectively. Personally, I'm fine with this. But that's not all: the films have been tweaked yet again, and here's a rundown of the changes.
Most involve touching up special effects and whatnot, and won't really be noticeable, with the exception of one shot: the end of Return of the Jedi, when Anakin Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, and Yoda all appear in their "spectral forms" to smile upon Luke after the Rebel victory. Back in the original film, actor Sebastian Shaw -- who played Anakin/Vader in the "removal of the breath mask" scene -- was filmed for the "spectral form", but now, Hayden Christensen (who plays Anakin/Vader in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) is being inserted into that shot. I'm not sure if I like this. It seems needless, and I suppose that the idea is that a Jedi's "spectral form" doesn't change from the second of a Jedi's death. This would therefore reinforce Obi Wan's notion that at the moment Anakin became Vader, Anakin actually ceased to exist.
The difficulty, though, is that at the end, when Vader turns back to the good side, wouldn't Vader therefore likewise cease to exist, and be replaced by Anakin? By this logic, shouldn't the "spectral form" of Anakin still look like Sebastian Shaw?
Anyway, it's a tiny point. And if the screenshots in the linked article are accurate, after three different versions of the original Star Wars trilogy, those weird "black blobs" are still visible on the Emperor's temples in Return of the Jedi. Now that's weird.
You know what, folks? I've managed to find enough reason not to vote for George W. Bush just by watching the stuff he's done as President, so I'm just not that interested in stuff he did thirty years ago when he was probably too drunk to know who was the President.
So stop the boat. I want to get off.
Yup, the return of football season, which means it's time for my annual prognostications on the impending NFL year, which will be, as always, both verbose and wrong.
:: So it came to pass that in the year 2004, a new and untested head coach took the reins of the NFL's proudest franchise, the Buffalo Bills. Mike Mularkey comes here by way of the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was offensive coordinator, and he brings a slew of offensive coaching talent that is probably the single best reason for any Bills fan to be optimistic about the 2004 campaign. After three years of watching Gregg Williams either mismanage himself, or more often, watch someone else mismanage the team's offense, it's hoped that this new staff will be able to do things like, oh, actually establish the running game that's been the staple of many a pregame Bills press conference but never a staple of an actual Bills game.
And yet, for all that, I'm not particularly optimistic that the 2004 campaign will be much different from the Bills' 2003 season, which was a 6-10 melange of good defense hampered by bad offense and horrible coaching. The Bills could make a run at the playoffs, and maybe even win 10 or 11 games, but a lot of stuff has to break in their favor for that to happen, and I just don't see it all happening that way.
Here's a partial rundown on what the Bills need to happen if they're to have a good season:
1. Their offensive line, which saw no significant addition of talent (Ruben Brown left, replaced by some guy named Chris Villarial) and has rarely been more than adequate in recent years (and frequently abyssmal), has to suddenly start pass-blocking well enough to keep Drew Bledsoe from getting sacked constantly.
2. Drew Bledsoe, in turn, needs to find his football heart again, play like a competitor, stop looking like he's just awoken from a coma, and most of all, stop making terrible decisions with the ball.
3. The defensive line, which in the offseason saw no addition of talent, needs to generate more pressure than it has in recent years, which will help in the turnover department.
4. The running back situation here, in which proven starter Travis Henry is apparently splitting duty with former first-round pick Willis McGahee in a textbook case of "This town ain't big enough for the two of us", needs to never become a major distraction.
5. The defensive backs, now led by newcomer Troy Vincent, actually need to start intercepting the ball, a performance area in which they have been pretty woeful over the last several years.
6. The receivers need to show more ability to get open, something at which they were not particularly good last year. Granted, Eric Moulds was never at a hundred percent due to groin injuries and somehow people expected Josh Reed to become the second coming of Andre Reed in just his second year, so I think we might be a bit more optimistic on this category.
7. Somebody from the tight-ends group needs to step up and become a productive tight end. The Bills have not been impressive at tight end since Pete Metzelaars retired. (Incidentally, Drew Bledsoe's best years in the NFL -- his first five or six years with the StuPats -- coincide with the fact that those are the years he had one of the NFL's best tight ends, Ben Coates, as a safety valve.)
And there's more, but those are the biggies. I think that all of those things have to break the Bills' way for the team to be good this year, and I think that's too much to ask.
Finally, a note about general manager Tom Donahoe, who has been receiving more and more criticism from fans and media here with each consecutive non-playoff season. I've generally been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since I could see the logic behind a lot of the moves he has made, even the ones that haven't panned out well. It's easy to say "Geez, we coulda drafted Bryant McKinnie insteada Mike Williams", but a lot of people would have made the exact same pick Donahoe did. And while it's easy to criticize the selection of Gregg Williams as head coach in 2001 now, the fact is that back then, he was one of the highest-regarded defensive coordinators in the game. Somebody was going to make Williams a head coach; that somebody was the Bills. That it didn't work out isn't totally Donahoe's fault.
But I'm noticing something odd with Donahoe's general approach. When the Bills were rebuilding after the salary cap purge in 2001, it made sense to me that they drafted "for the future" -- in other words, they brought in solid athletes who would need a lot of seasoning. And it made a bit of sense, although I was understandably puzzled, for Donahoe to gamble on Willis McGahee, since if he turns out to be a great player and you had a shot at him, you don't want to have a bunch of "coulda beens" on your plate. But here the Bills are, three years into Donahoe's administration, and still, this year the Bills drafted for the future. Lee Evans? Sure, everybody thinks he'll be a fine receiver, but nobody thinks he's going to be as good right now as Peerless Price was when he left (and that was when Price himself was in his fourth year), to say nothing of being a Randy Moss or Marvin Harrison. J.P. Losman? Yep, the Bills have their QB of the future (even though he's injured now). But again, there's a guy who won't be ready to play for real until next year (rare is the QB who can step right into the NFL from the college game without some sidelines duty first), and then it'll probably be a few years until he's seasoned enough to make his own run.
What it comes down to with Donahoe is this: even when he was with the Steelers, he always seems to be thinking to two seasons from now. That's great if you're rebuilding, but if you're just a handful of players away from being a real contender, as his Steelers often were, that's when you don't want to be thinking two seasons down the road. Donahoe, it seems, always makes moves that seem to improve his teams' long-range prospects, but that's frustrating when you need to improve this year's team. This is a subtle point, but it's one that I'll wager the GM in New England understands.
So, after all that, what's my prediction for the Bills? I think that a smarter offensive coaching staff is good enough for one or two extra wins, by themselves. So I'll pencil the Bills in for an 8-8 season. No playoffs, but maybe hope for 2005. As far as placement in the division, I think they could be anywhere from second to fourth, depending on just how big of a mess the Dolphins are. As for the Jets, well, they're the Jets and sometimes they catch enough breaks to be third and other times they don't and wind up fourth. We'll see.
:: The rest of the league? Here's my rundown of how I expect the divisions to play out. I should note that I haven't done my usual homework of studying the NFL rosters, so I'm not entirely sure who has gone where. But based on my feeling from last year or what little I know of the offseason, this is how I expect things to end up.
AFC East: New England Stupid Patriots
AFC North: Cincinnati
AFC South: Tennessee
AFC West: Denver
AFC wildcards: Indianapolis, Baltimore
NFC East: Philadelphia
NFC North: Minnesota
NFC South: Carolina
NFC West: Seattle
NFC wildcards: Dallas, Washington
I don't really have a good reason for picking Washington to make the playoffs, except that I always liked Mark Brunell and that Gibbs guy who is said to be something of a decent coach. But there are my predictions for the divisions; having laid them out, I expect at least five of them to be wrong.
:: And now the part I've been dreading writing, because there's no way around it. Who do I think will win the Super Bowl? Given that neither of the teams I have picked to win the Super Bowl have even made it to the big game in the two previous years I've outlined predictions on Byzantium's Shores, maybe just the act of writing this will doom these guys. But probably not. Anyway, here it is:
The New England Stupid Patriots will defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
There, I said it. Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh.