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

Monday, May 31, 2004

Never Forgotten

Below are the names of soldiers from the Western New York region who will forevermore be among those we honor on Memorial Day. I never knew any of them; I can only thank them and honor them in some small way here.

Army Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Peter P. Tycz II, 32, Tonawanda

Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Orlowski, 26, Depew

Marine Lance Cpl. Tomorio D. Burkett, 21, Buffalo

Army Pvt. David Evans Jr., 18, Buffalo

Army National Guard Sgt. Heath A. McMillin, 29, Canandaigua

Army National Guard Spc. Michael Williams, 46, Buffalo

Army Spc. Charles E. "Chuck" Bush Jr., 34, Buffalo

Staff Sgt. Shawn M. Clemens, 28, Allegany

Army Sgt. David M. McKeever, 25, Buffalo

Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, 22, Scio

Army Sgt. Philip L. Witkowski, 24, Fredonia

(names via The Buffalo News)

Sunday, May 30, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Carpets spread on the floor of an Iraqi mosque.

I actually found this picture in the back of the current issue of National Geographic when I read it at the library last week; NI now has a feature called "Final Edit" in which they print a photograph not used in the article for which it was intended, but which is too striking to simply be left in some file archive on the off chance that someone might appreciate it later. As the NI editors note, this is a perspective of a place of worship almost never seen in the West.

(By the way, the Image of the Week will now appear on Sundays.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Occasionally I get to thinking that I may have said too much here about my personal life, but then, by the standards here, I'm probably pretty tame in that regard. I've got nothing on these folks in the "intermittent self-loathing" department. Wow.

(via I Love Everything)

Oh my God, I may be on the right track after all....

Lynn Sislo links a Ray Bradbury piece about censorship -- not government-sponsored censorship, but the more insidious kind of censorship that arises from the closing of the mind and the increasingly paralyzing fear of taking (and giving) offense. It's an excellent article (it's by Bradbury, duh!), but what caught me eye was this graf, toward the end:

For, let's face it, digression is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet's father's ghost and what stays is dry bones. Laurence Sterne said it once: Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer - he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.


Whoa! Do you know what this means? I am the very model of a writer who digresses. I digress constantly. I could almost say that I've structured my life around the entire idea of digression.

Which reminds me of something else...but I digress.

A Very Public Service Announcement

OK, folks. When picking a movie to watch, you really need to take stock of a few things. Don't pick a movie that will remind you of the problems you're trying to escape for two hours.

For instance, suppose you're a high school senior on the cusp of graduation and you've just been uncermoniously dumped by a girl and you just want a movie to take your mind off that particular package of angst. That being the case, do not watch Say Anything.

Likewise, if you find that in your current job you nearly always work by yourself, and you nearly always end up eating lunch alone, and well over ninety percent of your conversations with other people at work consist of nothing more than them asking you to do stuff, and your work schedule is reversed from your spouse's such that you barely see that person five days a week, do not -- please oh please -- pass a Saturday night after putting the kid to bed by watching The Bridges of Madison County.

I only have your sanity and emotional well-being at heart, Gentle Readers.

Exploring the CD Collection

Here's something I've been meaning to do for a while: just a sporadic series of posts in which I give a few brief thoughts about some CD or other in my collection*. Today's disc is James Horner's score to Braveheart.

James Horner is a very problematic figure in film music circles, because he has a very long history of relying on a limited set of musical ideas and stylistic quirks over and over again, in score after score after score. (I wrote at length about "the Horner problem" here.) That old saw about Antonio Vivaldi, that he wrote the same concerto five hundred times, can with some validity be reworked to James Horner. Horner is, very basically, a very talented composer who takes almost no risks in his scores, which is highly frustrating to film music fans who want him to live up to his potential and less so to fans who are perfectly happy to have him exercise his unquestionable strengths (melody and the shaping of longer score cues to fit a scene).

So, what to say about Horner's Braveheart music? Well, of all of Horner's scores, this is the one to which I return the most often. It is more mature and more meditative than the Horner scores that are more commonly beloved by filmscore fans (Star Trek II, Willow). This score springs from what was probably Horner's highest point of creativity, when in the course of about a year he produced three remarkable scores -- Legends of the Fall, Braveheart, and Apollo 13. (His greatest commercial success, the score to Titanic, was to come two years later. Even though I was not enamored of the Titanic music, I didn't begrudge Horner the Oscar he won for it because of the work he did in 1994 and 1995 on those three earlier films.)

In Braveheart, Horner makes some rather odd instrumental decisions. He uses the Japanese shakuhachi flute mostly for atmospheric effect in certain scenes (when Wallace leads the attack on the English lord who has killed his wife, for example), even though the Japanese flute wouldn't seem to have a single thing to do with the film's Scottish setting; ditto his use of a South American kena flute and Uilleann pipes in the score as opposed to traditional Scottish bagpipes. And the "Horner Bag of Tricks" pops up again and again, right down to my very favorite Hornerism, what I call the "James Horner Rolling Chord of Melodic Punctuation", which is given prominent place in the "Sons of Scotland" track (at about the 4:40 mark).

And yet...I still return to this CD, again and again, because of the first ten tracks (which comprise the music up to and including Wallace's victory at Stirling). In the film, Mel Gibson strove for a very dreamy atmosphere, in which gestures are slowed down, dialogue is spoken at a measured pace, and characters hold one another's eyes. The emotional core of the film comes early, in those scenes of quiet courtship between Wallace and Murron (Catherine McCormack), when love is expressed by a quick and private smile or a shared glance as they pass each other within a crowd. This is where Horner's score shines.

The two tracks to listen to here are "Wallace Courts Murron" and "The Secret Wedding", both of which are long and quiet, and yet, surprisingly complex. The only rhythm in these two tracks is provided by a harp that is so distantly placed one is at first not even certain if it is even there. The melody Horner creates for these two lovers is a very long one indeed, and he varies it slightly each time it is heard -- first in the violins, then in the wavering tones of the kena flute (played with thick vibrato) and finally, most memorably, in a long line for solo oboe that is as heartbreaking a passage of music as I have ever heard.

There is very little bombast in this score, with full tutti passages ending fairly quickly when they arrive. Even during the battle scenes, Horner maintains a measured pace with lots of repetition of sonic effects, which is a marked shift from his more common approach to action sequences. (This is no small point. I doubt that even Horner's staunchest defenders would list restraint amongst his gifts.) The score does lose some energy in its second half, much as the film itself does, but it is regained at the end, in the music for the execution scene and the end credits suite.

James Horner is far from my favorite film composer, but the first ten tracks on this CD constitute some of the finest film music in my collection.

There is a second CD available, More Music from Braveheart, which is just that: additional cues from the film, this time including dialogue extracts (a practice that inflames most film music fans, although I admit that it rarely bothers me that much), and some traditional bagpipe music not from the film. I don't listen to the supplemental CD all that often at all.

(*This series is intended, obviously, to give me a never-ending wellspring of material, since I acquire at least one new CD per month, and if I stopped new acquisitions right now and did not start up until I posted about every disc in my collection, at the rate of one such post per day it would be over a year-and-a-half, and probably closer to two years, before I started acquiring again. These will not be in-depth reviews of the discs, just a few random thoughts as to why I like or dislike them so much.)

So often ahead of the curve, am I....

For some reason I'm seeing a lot of mentions of "Extreme Ironing" in blogs and in those "quirky" little features on the TV news the last week or two. So, how could I do anything other than narcissistically point out that I was onto Extreme Ironing almost seven months ago?

Great Quotes

I swear I could read Terry Teachout's About Last Night for the "Almanac" quotes alone. This is a regular feature of Terry's, wherein he shares brief parcels of wisdom from things he's read along the way, and they are almost always fascinating -- they invariably make me think a bit, and despair a little more at the possibility of ever being able to capture any kind of such insight in so few words.

Anyway, three have caught my eye particularly this week: this by composer Bernard Herrmann, this by Anthony Powell, and this by Phillip Caputo.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

An "OH!" moment

There's a bit of humor in the movie A Fish Called Wanda that always struck me as pretty funny, although I've just discovered that I didn't even realize what the actual joke was.

In the movie, there's a brief scene where Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) comes out to the car, where Otto is sitting in the driver's seat, all scrunched-up into something resembling the lotus position. When Wanda asks what he's doing, he replies that he's engaged in a form of Buddhist meditation, noting that "the monks used to do it before they went into battle". I always thought that the joke was the mere incongruity of a bunch of peacefully-meditating Buddhist monks charging into battle.

But then Wanda says, "What kind of Buddhists are these, Otto?" And Otto replies, "It's an early Tantric form of meditation," before lurching on to some other topic.

Well, upon reading this Michael Blowhard post, I discover that Tantra is in large part about eroticism and sexuality from the standpoint of Eastern mysticism. So now, I learn that Otto is apparently using a form of Buddhism that is focused on sexual mysticism to focus his agressive energies "before battle". Now the joke is funnier, with added levels of meaning -- in what is a throwaway moment that nobody would ever list among the actual funniest moments of the film.

Hey! Do we even have a highlight reel anymore?

It appears that this year's most memorable moment for the Pittsburgh Pirates came last night, when Rob Mackowiak hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, just hours after his wife gave birth to their first child. Quite a day, that -- although I do wonder about the conversation that must have taken place, something along the lines of, "Oh my God, honey, he is so beautiful, and I love you so much, and....damn, I'm gonna be late for batting practice!"

Speaking of baseball stuff, one of the more baseball-knowledgable fellows I knew in college (as well as a hell of a bass player), Mark Cuthbertson, has launched a separate LiveJournal just for his baseball musings, Stat Ninja. Hopefully at some point Mark will explain why he is seemingly a Royals fan, and yet sports the old Minnesota Twins insignia in the sidebar of his main journal. (Mark was always a complex fellow.)

On behalf of all of us in Buffalo, I apologize.

This guy is not representative of what we are really like up here in Buffalo. Really. Don't turn us over to Canada yet.

(via The Man of Much Modulation)

Time for a rousing game of "Follow the Links"!

Something I've noticed about Instapundit is his careful construction of his posts to reflect the fact that not that many people are actually going to follow all of his links to see if he's actually being accurate. A case in point: following a link in this Matthew Yglesias post to this Insty one, I see that Reynolds says this:

"Yglesias omits any mention of journalistic admissions (some collected or linked here) of delight at problems in Iraq, or even hope for a U.S. defeat."

Even though I very rarely read Insty, I figured, Hey, why not follow the links? That link leads to a second Insty post, which in turn presents a lengthy quote from a London Spectator article (that I couldn't in turn read, because I'm not registered with them), in which the correspondent reports a discussion with an unnamed "American magazine journalist of serious accomplishment and impeccable liberal credentials". Well, OK, I'm no journalist myself, but I realized in seventh grade that "someone said something mean about you but I can't tell you who said it" is pretty much a waste of time.

But anyway, soldiering on in that same Insty post, I see that he provides yet another link to yet another older post in which he promises "other admissions of that sort" -- i.e., journalists hoping that the US gets defeated in Iraq. Finally, we get some actual quotes, first one by Salon editor Gary Kamiya, whose article really isn't the type of "I hope we lose!" thing that Reynolds is trying to decry in all this linking. (Reynolds actually admits as much, so as to make me wonder why he bothered linking it in the first place.) But notice! In the paragraph in which Reynolds leads into his already cherry-picked Kamiya quote, he derides ANSWER as "the essential core of the anti-war movement" -- a claim which is not only false, but also clearly intended by its placement here as to imply that Kamiya has some connection with ANSWER. (Maybe he is, but a Google search of the ANSWER site turned up nothing with Kamiya's name on it.)

Then Reynolds provides links to an article written by everybody's favorite left-winger, Ted Rall; some article that novelist Tom Robbins wrote (and not even an article, just a short statement); and to something that rock singer Chrissie Hynde said. (Oh, wait, he doesn't even link the Hynde quote, he just presents someone's account of it.) So, what started out above referring to "journalistic admissions of delight in problems in Iraq" boils down to not much at all, really.

All that link following, and so little payoff. Which is why I've never bothered with Instapundit.

Time for an Intermittent Quiz

I mean to say, my taking of the quiz is what's intermittent. Not that the quiz itself is intermittent. Or something.

Character
You're a Dialogue/Character Writer!


What kind of writer are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

I don't know that I agree with that, but there it is. I guess I'm not a "plot" writer in the sense that I rarely have much of the plotline worked out before I dig into a project. My attitude on outlines is, "Sure, I outline: but only once, and in such detail that the finished book/story is the outline." I also don't generate extensive character sketches for the main characters, because it seems to me that I'd rather get to know them in the course of the book the same way the reader would.

I also don't want to give the idea that I prize dialogue above all other facets of writing. I love good dialogue, and I would rather listen to good dialogue than bad or indifferent dialogue (as much as I love Star Wars, that love sure ain't focused on the dialogue, which is usually indifferent and occasionally downright bad), I've always found that a story can still captivate me even if its dialogue isn't all that great.

So what's my point here? That I guess I'm a writer who tries to pay as little attention to process as possible. Of course, this may well explain why I'm unpublished and just now trying to emerge from a lengthy stalled period. Go figure.

(quiz via Jay Blalock)

Friday, May 28, 2004

Oh, Harry, Harry, Harry....

Harry Knowles of AICN wrote a review of the new Harry Potter movie the other day. I was skimming along, until I got to the graf in which he talks a bit about John Williams's score for the film, a graf which closes with this sentence:

"This is the source inspiration for some great Williams’ phrasings and my favorite score of his since Catch Me If You Can."

This would be high praise were it not for the fact that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is Williams's first score since Catch Me If You Can. Way to go, Harry.

(edited to repair some broken grammar)

Time to lower the expectations, folks.

I've been doing some rethinking of some priorities lately, and I've reluctantly concluded that blogging has been ranked a bit higher than it should be. So that's about to change.

Firstly, I am not closing up shop here. I've invested a lot of time doing this, and I'm pleased with a lot of what has resulted. I've met people, made friendships, and deepened others; I've read books, heard music, and seen films I'd likely have not encountered otherwise. I don't want to lose that by shutting down Byzantium's Shores, and more to the point, I know myself well enough to know that I'm simply too accustomed to having my very own forum to say what I want to say, whether anyone cares or not. That's why I started this blog, and that's why I'll keep it.

But I've noticed -- only gradually -- that blogging has, since I started working at The Store, taken up time that I should be dedicating to the writing that used to be my reason for being but has since been on the back burner for far too long. While I was unemployed (and, before that, working at a job that I couldn't stand), blogging was a tonic of sorts for other issues in my life. Those issues no longer apply, though, and thus where blogging used to be something fun I did to take a breather from cranking out chapters in The Promised King or short stories or the all-too-infrequent essay, since I've returned to work blogging has become the Unquenchable Beast. And almost as bad as my loss of writing time has been the concurrent disappearance of reading time, which is totally unacceptable. The time has come to push the Unquenchable Beast into a cage and impose upon it a strict feeding regimen.

Of course, my longtime readers (and, perhaps, even the newer ones) will know that for me, the highest level of strictness is something along the lines of "kinda-sorta". Basically, I'll be posting here when I feel like it. I assume that I am still likely to "feel like it" fairly often (maybe four or five days a week), but I'm not going to force anything, nor will I allow myself any feelings of guilt if I miss consecutive days. I expect that my posting habits will shift toward the weekends a bit, with Saturdays and Sundays becoming the best days to find me in old form. But no promises there, either.

Do I think that blogging has value? Yes I do, even if I never come close to being the kind of blogger who can have a "pledge week" and pull in donations roughly equal to six times what I currently make at The Store, and even if I do this for three years without ever once receiving a link from Atrios. (Going on two years now, on that score. I've long-since conceded that I am probably not on the side of the political spectrum that is coducive to Instalanches.) Value doesn't exist in nature; something is valuable because someone values it, and I value blogging and what I've done here. My more recent problem is that there are other things I value as well, and it's time to move them up.

UPDATE: Move Over Britney! is not ending, by the way. Just in case anyone is worried on that score.

UPDATE THE SECOND: In what is becoming a weird, and not a little depressing, bit of ritual, I write something clunky that grapples with something only to see Michael Blowhard say it better just minutes later. (Unless he said it first. I only read his post after I wrote the above.) Anyway, here's how he describes his approach to blogging (and, more generally, to life):

Blogging has primarily become a place to meet and swap notes with other people, and thank heavens for that. More selfishly, though, it also gives me a chance to sort out a bit of what I've lived through, and to pass along some observations and stories, and maybe even a few scraps of knowledge. How amazing that a handful of people occasionally seem willing to pay a little attention...I do my best to slip what oddball personal reflections I happen to be gnawing on into what I hope are amusing and informative discussions about what's happening in the culture world generally...Underneath it all, though, is my real drive, the one small bit of good I feel I may still have it in me to do in the world. What I really want to do is seize passersby -- the nice people, the people like the crowd I grew up with, and emphatically not the egomaniacs who inhabit the world I continue to spend most of my life in -- and scream a little something at them.


Yup, what he said.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Fantasia!

Well, unless you're living under a rock, you know that Fantasia Barrino has won this year's incarnation of American Idol. I occasionally take some flak for my enjoyment of this show, and not undeservedly, since it is something of a monument to the mass-production of pop culture.

But as I noted a year ago, I like the show because alone of all these "Reality" shows, it is not cynical at heart, designed to force people into mean-spirited competition with one another. American Idol showcases talent, like it or not, and it also showcases the incredible amount of hard work required to make talent flower.

Put another way, I think that the winners of American Idol (and I consider a winner to be anyone who reaches the final two) have actually earned something, which is a claim I would never advance on behalf of a winner of Survivor or The Bachelor or whatever. I see winning American Idol as an accomplishment. Fantasia Barrino, Ruben Studdard and Kelly Clarkson (and yes, Clay Aiken) have accomplished something in a fundamental way that Richard Hatch never did.

Now, as for this year's specific result, I think it's just about perfect. It took me a while to warm up to Fantasia, since she chose a string of songs at the start of the season that I don't like. But week in and week out, I found her stage charisma infectious, and I grew to admire her voice a great deal. She always seened authentic to me, whereas runner-up Diana Degarmo always struck me as more of an emulator of more famed singers.

Anyway, yes, I like American Idol. And I'm not embarrassed to say so. So there.

A heads-up

Apparently, if you stick a "www" prefix on the front of the URL for a BlogSpot blog, the URL may not work. So if you have BlogSpot blogs on your bookmarks or blogrolls, make sure to check that the "www" prefix isn't there.

(Kevin Drum pointed this out the other day, and I immediately thought, "A-ha! I wonder if that is why I haven't been able to load Highered Intelligence lately. Sure enough....)

New URL, same old sh**!

The former home of Nefarious Neddie has given way to the new home of Nefarious Neddie. Now he'll have an all-new URL for his once-a-month blogging habit. Zowie!

Anyhoo, Matt (that's his real name -- there's no way I'd associate with anyone actually called "Neddie") proceeds to write about how he hates musicals. I, of course, adore them as any long-time reader will know. And I'm a liberal, too, while Matt/Neddie is a conservative (or some simulacrum thereof). So what's the deal with the fact that I've known him longer than anyone in my life except my immediate family?

Star Wars bridges anything, man.

(UPDATE: It suddenly occurs to me the fundamental difference between Matt and myself. He seriously dislikes musicals and can't even begin to grok them, whereas I don't just love them but I wish I lived in one. I've just listened to "The Heather on the Hill" from the 1992 Angel/EMI re-recording of Brigadoon, and I thought, "Dammit, I really wish I could court a woman the way Tommy does in that show." But of course, I'm the loon who walks the aisles of The Store singing showtunes to myself while I sweep.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Oh, #&$*%&@!!!!

I haven't posted a writing update in some time, because the novel-in-progress has pretty much stalled. It's not that I don't know what happens next; instead I've got the story exactly where it needs to be, but I started suspecting a while back that even so, I had made a serious error someplace. Something just didn't seem right with the most recent transition material, and I couldn't put my finger on it, for the life of me.

I finally hit on what I think may be the solution. Basically, what I need to do is an inversion of the old "Refusal of the Call" step in the Campbellian plot structure. I know that this makes no sense without the context, but basically the idea is that King Arthur must send my heroine on another quest, this one being for "all the marbles", but instead of the heroine refusing the call, it is Arthur who refuses to send her. Or something like that.

Tomorrow I get the fun job of seeing just how much of my manuscript I get to file in the circular drawer. But this time I have an answer in mind. I hope.

Guffaws Galore

Everybody's linking this in Left Blogistan, and I don't want to be left out, so go check it out if you're in the mood for some parody aimed at the biggies of Right Blogistan. I particularly liked the bit about SDB's "bait-and-switch" blogging.

Of course, this makes me wonder if I should resurrect "Chickens In the Mist"....

(via Il Modulatorre)

(EDIT: This time I actually included the link. Dammit.)

Hmmm, that's cool!

It appears that at the same time that I have experienced a blogging funk, Byzantium's Shores recorded its 50,000th visit. So, for the second time today, thanks to everyone who has or continues to drop by. I remember well the days when 24 hits in a day was quite a bit; now, if I could get up to over 200 a day, I'd have it made. Yeah, that'd be the thing. Why, if I had over 200 hits per day...I'd wistfully complain about not having 300 hits per day. So it goes.

How scary is it....

....that I get the joke of this Onion article?

(via MeFi)

What wonderment this world can hold!



Stills from this summer's DVD release of three films by Hayao Miyazaki. Happiness fills the heart.

(via DPS)

Little Things I didn't realize

In the New Blogger interface, if you click "Edit Posts", you get a list of posts you can edit (the last ten, or twenty-five, or whatever). And if you click on the individual post titles, the complete text of the post appears below! That's pretty nifty. This feature, combined with the "Search" feature, seems to make it a lot easier to find a specific post.

And a couple of things that I don't like about Mozilla: First, when clicking "Back", Mozilla never seems to reload the page to which I am returning on its own. I have to click "Refresh" to update the cache. Secondly, Mozilla doesn't seem to recognize when I press the scroll-wheel on my mouse to activate "drag-scrolling", which is my preferred way of zapping up and down lengthy web pages. Small complaints, really. And lastly, for some reason, Mozilla doesn't seem to handle drop-down menus that appear via mouseover very well. Syracuse.com is a good example of this.

No, there's no real point here. Carry on.



"FOX -- they should spell it with a 'U'."

So said Jon Lovitz once while on a Letterman appearance, in reference to FOX's cancellation of his animated show, The Critic (which was a pretty good show, if I recall correctly -- much funnier than the humor-impaired Family Guy). I like to resurrect Lovitz's quip once in a while, though, when I see FOX do something stupid. Like having FOX News start referring to suicide bombings as homicide bombings. This idea is goofy enough already, but it also seems to me that doing something dumb like this partly confirms one of the tacit assumptions of "political correctness", that we can change hearts and minds by changing terminology. I'm not so sure.

Mr. Bauer will take a shower, and then retire to his bower....

So 24 ended last night. What did I think? Well....



(spoilers, by the way)



It was a better ending than last year's, although it was still a bit long on the stuff that didn't make a lot of sense:

:: Are they really trying to reattach Chase's hand? The one that was locked into a refrigerator when the virus-dispersal device went off? Wouldn't the tissues of his hand be infected? "Good news, bad news, Chase: Your hand should recover, but you'll die in three hours because it was infected. Sorry." (Speaking of which, how did they get him into surgery within ten minutes? That's some fast doctorin'!)

:: Still, that was an awfully good moment, when Chase glimpses back to see what it was that caught Jack's eye, sees that it was an axe, and says, "Do it," without hesitation. Pretty heroic, that.

:: No David Palmer next year, then? Well, OK. All he ever does is sit in that glass-walled office and stew over things, anyway. His storyline was really distracting this year.

:: Did no one go through Gael's belongings before giving them to his wife? "Here's his desk calendar, his picture of you, that little bouncing-marble desk toy, his fully loaded pistol, his coffee mug -- yeah, we washed it -- and oh hey, there's Saunders! Hi, Saunders!"

:: The guy who played Saunders sure had a bummer of a TV season. His evil plan on 24 is thwarted by Jack Bauer and he's shot dead by a distraught widow; and on ER, he tried dating Dr. Corday but discovers that she's been dating another guy at the same time. Ouch.

:: If I ever have to build a bomb with a timer attached, I'm using all the same color wiring. Just to piss off the secret agents who try to defuse it.

:: If Palmer doesn't pardon Tony before exiting office, then next year should be Jack hunting him down and beating the crap out of him. I'm surprised Jack didn't ask him to do so directly, especially when Palmer asked Jack's forgiveness for ordering him to kill Ryan Chapelle. Jack should have said, "Sir, that had to be done, but there's no need to lose another good man like Tony Almeida. You need to pardon him, and you need to do it now."

:: The more I think about Kim, the more I think that people are blaming the character for her lousy storylines. She's got this rep for doing dumb things all the time, and yet, I haven't seen her do anything really dumb. It wasn't like she went looking for mountain lions last year, and this year, I had no problem with her character. People should quit griping about Kim. Really.

:: I liked seeing Jack concede the emotional power of everything that had happened.

So, what could happen next year? Who knows? I'll be tuning in come January, though.

The Blogging Avenger strikes again....

Wow. I fall into a blogging funk, and Darth Swank suddenly puts the pedal to the metal (even going so far as to resurrect the real reason I started reading him faithfully: Asian women). That, and he provides his own headshot. Industrious readers who may have compared my own headshot to that of an axe murderer are invited to make comparisons between Gregory's and this. Zing!

Wow, the crickets are loud these days....

No updates yesterday, either. Go figure.

This week I've been scheduled to go in to The Store at 6:30 each morning, for the purpose of watering the plants in the Garden Shop. Problem is, I've been so scheduled during what is apparently the Buffalo version of monsoon season. Three days of 6:30 a.m., and I have yet to so much as touch the hose. Anyway, I've been pretty tired and generally in a bit of a funk lately. I think that my muse has taken one of her not-infrequent vacations.

Basically, I'm pretty tired these days and for some reason I've been more unable than usual to focus my mental energy on writing anything. I'm hoping this wears off soon. Much more of this, and I'll start wondering if this is not so much a funk as the onset of burnout.

Anyway, thanks to all for continuing to check in.

Monday, May 24, 2004

OK, now for Plan B....

A while back I was struggling with a short story involving a kind of hobo who goes from city to city, partaking in this sort-of underground high-stakes poker society that nobody knows about. I mean, this isn't your "penthouse in Vegas" game, but a game played purely by hoboes and homeless men for the sheer purity of the game. Bets are probably made in cigarettes, much like in The Shawshank Redemption. (There was going to be a supernatural element to all this, as well. And I had the perfect title, "Be A Lady, Tonight", although I'm sure that the song this title quotes -- "Luck Be a Lady" -- is under copyright, and I'd have to get permission for use.)

The problem I kept running into was the card-playing scenes. I don't know the first thing about poker, and while I've never been one to really allow my ignorance of a subject to keep me from writing about it, I figured that I should at least try to get some of the details right. Then I read Aaron's latest post, in which he describes how he went looking for a good game of poker the other night, and seeing all the terminology, I realize: I'd rather just make the story about some other card game than do the heavy lifting of making it about poker. I have no idea at all what Aaron is talking about. (He does link a glossary, for those so inclined. I, in a startling display of uncurious mind, was not.)

This might actually make sense, though: maybe an underground secret society arranged around a card game would make more sense if the game wasn't poker, but something a bit less well-known -- say, "500" or Euchre. (I wouldn't do Hearts, since Stephen King already covered Hearts in "Hearts In Atlantis", which is a very fine story in its own right.) Or I could just make up a card game, although that would put things too far into the fantasy realm for the story I have in mind.

Anyway, check out Aaron's post. Poker sounds like it might be fun, were it not for the fact that I am one of the worst card players who ever lived. Aaron could probably tell you all how bad a card player I was in college, if he were so inclined. I was never good at mentally tabulating exactly who had played what card, and how many of what suit had been played, and so on. I can hold my own against my own computer in the version of Hearts that comes with Windows, but that's about it. And I can almost always win Freecell, but that's more of a puzzle-solving thing, since it is believed that all possible deals of Freecell are winnable. I was more of a chess kind of guy. (Not that I was all that good at chess, either, although I would get pretty tenacious now and then. Especially when a certain room-mate would try out some spectacularly unorthodox opening against me, and I just had to figure out how to beat it.)

Can we STAR WARS fans all take over Marin County, then?

Lynn Sislo points out something funny: a group calling itself Christian Exodus is apparently hatching a scheme to move enough evengelical Christians to a single state to force secession from the Union, at which point they'll establish their very own Christian nation. You know, like Texas only with better border patrol. I say, more power to 'em. And I hope that the Christian Exodus plays out like the Hebrew one of two and a half thousand years ago. Like, maybe when President Kerry or whomever calls out the National Guard to put down the secession movement, Pat Robertson will part the Everglades.

Of course, in learning of this scheme I'm immediately reminded of the equally-loony Libertarian version of the idea, which I blogged about a year ago. Sadly, it appears that if both projects reach their full fruition, we won't be able to see the fireworks if both states were next to one another. The Christian Exodus has singled out Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina as its possibilities, while New Hampshire is slated to become the future Realm of Liberatopia. Oh well.

A Tipping of the Hat to a fine, fine blogger

Friedrich von Blowhard, one of the 2 Blowhards, has apparently decided that the time is right for him to step back a bit, if not step down entirely, from his position sharing the helm of one of the best blogs it's been my privelege to read. It's the rare writer who can make you enjoy reading about something you know absolutely nothing about, and the rare blog that sports such a writer. 2 Blowhards sported two such writers. Michael's still there, so it's not like the lights have been totally turned out -- in fact, Michael's own light shines brightly all on its own -- but still, I'm sorry to see Friedrich amble off into semi-retirement. Best wishes to him and to Michael, blogging or not.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Should I try G-mail?

Well, since I'm using new browsers and whatnot, should I give G-mail a whirl? Do any of you fine readers have G-mail accounts? I rather like the idea of 1GB of storage -- I could e-mail my writing to myself, as an out-of-home backup. Let me know, folks!

Happy Anniversary to Darth Swank

The estimable Mr. Harris has been married six years today. I'm pretty sure that in the wedding picture he provides, his new bride is actually whispering something along the lines of, "We are not watching an anime on our wedding night!" But whatever he said seems to have worked. Congratulations to both!

If you're gonna act like an ass, at least learn your terminology!

So this evening I'm out walking along with The Daughter as she rides her bike (for some unknown reason, she actually stayed with me today, as opposed to executing her usual routine of leaving Daddy in the dust), and this big SUV driven by a teenager comes up behind us. Before turning down a side street, Beavis (the kid in the passenger street) leans out his window and shouts some derisive comment about my mullet. As I look to see who this turkey is, I see him leaning out the window, like a human Irish setter, shouting more incoherencies as the SUV hurtles down the side street toward what I can only surmise was the local meeting of the Saved By The Bell Cast Rejects Society.

The thing that got me wasn't that this idiot felt the need to shout something to Joe Blow who's out walking with his kid, since his subsequent behavior made clear that he was just plain going to shout out the window no matter who was there. No, what interested me was that he was apparently too damned stupid to notice that my hair is not a mullet. A mullet, as anyone with a clue is well aware, is short on the top, front and sides, while long in the back, whereas my hair is uniformly long.

I was hoping that Beavis and Screech would drive by again, so I could point out their error, but alas, they apparently reached their destination elsewhere. It's just sad to see so much effort at heckling completely wasted because of simple ignorance. Does no one teach these kids anymore?

(By the way, before writing this post I Google'd "mullet" just to make sure I was right. There are a lot of scary mullet-related sites out there. Just try the search yourselves. It's pretty freaky.)

Aw man, those skeptics are always bringin' me DOWN, man....

The good folks at Snopes.com offer several reasons to be highly skeptical of the "Couple who apparently think that the stork story is true" tale that I linked the other day. I agree with them, but damn, it was pretty funny to consider the possible implications of that story.

OK, you Mozilla-loving Net-warriors!

Here's a question: is there any way to import all of the cookies on my computer from Internet Explorer to Mozilla, so I don't have to go and dig up login information for all the sites I visit that require password-protected registration?

Book FIVE??!!

"Margaret, I hung in there as long as I could, but you've long since passed the point when I stopped caring." --Leo McGarry, The West Wing ("Let Bartlet Be Bartlet")

Somehow, Jostein has managed to make it to the fifth book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series before detecting the onset of excruciating boredom. I, on the other hand, was one of the lucky ones: I nodded off about a hundred pages into book two, put the thing aside, and have never picked it up since. And from what I've heard in other forums, the series only gets worse as the number of extant volumes approaches (and achieves) double digits.

I'd recommend that Jostein read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series instead, but that one appears to be hopelessly stalled after three books (according to this message on GRRM's official site, which has not been changed since it was posted over four months ago). A Storm of Swords came out at least three years ago, and there's been nary a peep out of Martin since. When A Feast for Crows finally does appear, I'll probably have to re-read the first three books just to remind myself what was going on.

Behold the TRUE POWER of the Web!

It often seems to me that the ultimate purpose of the Web may be to archive stuff that nobody in their right mind would ever have thought of archiving, were there not something like the Web to make such archives (a) easy to create and (b) fun to peruse. My current case-in-point is The Writings on the Stall, which is a collection of witticisms found on bathroom walls.

Some of this stuff is exactly what you'd expect, while some of it is not. And there's even one that I'm sure will draw a chuckle from Lynn Sislo.

I'm a bit afraid of what it means about my sense of humor that this site had me chortling wildly.

(via I Love Everything)

Beep-BOOM. Beep-BOOM. Beep-BOOM.

[Mild 24 season three spoilers below]

24 has seriously fallen off in quality, according to the author of this MSN article. While I agree with her on some of the problematic plot points -- Tony back at work just hours after taking a bullet in the neck? Jack's ability to get anywhere in greater Los Angeles in mere minutes? can't Sherry Palmer just go away? -- I disagree that the show has come anywhere near "jumping the shark" [see below]. The show hasn't exhibited any problems this year that weren't also evident last season, so these complaints ring hollow to me. Do some of the subplots falter? No doubt about it. Do some plotlines vanish utterly (what came of last season's assassination attempt on David Palmer?)? Yes. And do I keep tuning in each week, with no plans to stop doing so next year? You bet.

BTW, the other day AICN reported that next season, 24 won't start until January, halfway through the 2004-2005 season. While it'll definitely be hard waiting that long, I think this actually might be a blessing-in-disguise. Such a late start means that most likely the show will play out with a new episode every week, as opposed to disappearing during non-sweeps months as is the current practice. With such concerns gone, the writers may no longer feel the "pinch" of having to structure their season with a big plot twist at the end of each sweeps period (this year it was Nina's return, followed a couple of months later by Nina's death). Being unfettered from the shackles of sweeps periods may just be what the doctor ordered as 24 heads into a fourth season.

(On the jumping of sharks: Now there's a meme that I wish would go away. You can't talk about any series, be it TV, books or movies these days, without encountering people insisting they can pinpoint the exact moment when it stopped being good. I think that all this talk about shark-jumping has, you know, jumped....)

Ooooooooh! Aaaaaaaah!

It's been a while since I shamelessly stole some of the government's bandwidth, so here are three recent Astronomy Pictures of the Day that caught my eye.

First, here is a galaxy I'd never seen before, the Tadpole Galaxy, so named for obvious reasons.



The tail is thought to be the distension caused by a close encounter with another galaxy, whose gravitational pull tugged some of the Tadpole Galaxy's stars out of their normal spiral arms.

Second, we've all heard about the "Face on Mars", right? Well, someone give Richard Hoagland a buzz, because it turns out that there's also a brain on Mars:



I'll be impressed if someone finds a liver on Mars, or maybe a big toe on Mars. Maybe NASA can turn over lots of its Mars photographs to junior-high-school boys throughout the country, so they can look for...no, I'll leave that thought unfinished.

Finally, here's a familiar image of astronaut Steven Smith at work during an EVA, repairing the Hubble Space Telescope in 1999:



What struck me here was a very small detail: you can see Smith's face in profile behind the faceplate of his spacesuit. I'm generally accustomed to the mirrored surfaces of the faceplates obscuring their faces.

So there you go. Thanks, NASA!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Ah, the "Liberal Media"....

According to this MSN article, John Kerry is considering delaying his official acceptance of the Democratic Presidential Nomination for financial reasons. (Once he is officially the nominee, he gets campaign funding from the government and can no longer use money from private donors. His budget would be set at the exact same amount that President Bush will also receive, but since the Democratic National Convention is being held earlier than the Republican National Convention (traditionally, the incumbent party holds it convention second), Kerry would be at a disadvantage because his spending caps would kick in well before the President's.

The article goes on to point out some of the problems with this idea: is Kerry the nominee as soon as he is voted the nominee, or when he officially accepts the nomination? And there's a nice quote from a Bush campaign spokesperson: "Maybe they’ve found a way to manipulate the federal law in such a way as to avoid that, but fundamentally this is about John Kerry thinking the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to him."

Interesting thing, that quote -- since the article makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of the not-insignificant fact that the Republicans are holding their convention not in the traditional middle of August, but over the last two days of August and the first two days of September. Thus, President Bush gets to use private funding until September, and only then will he be faced with the regulations that come with full Federal funding of his campaign.

I can't believe that this wasn't part of the tactical plan when the Republicans scheduled their convention later than any major party convention has ever been held before (the other obvious reason being so they could more easily lay a political claim to the 9-11-01 anniversary nine days after their convention ends). Nope, all the scheming is on Kerry's part, the article suggests. That whacky liberal media.

Evil, thy name is "Bugles"

Today, Target had a sale on Southwestern Ranch Flavored Bugles, for a buck a bag. I snatched one up....and said bag is now utterly empty.

Damned Bugles. There's a reason I almost never buy them....

What song is THAT?

The other day, while working at The Store, I found myself humming along to the pop song that was issuing from the loudspeakers. (Our music selection focuses on inoffensive popular music -- Celine Dion, Elton John, the occasional Jim Croce song.) I actually hummed along with this particular song for a minute or two before I stopped, realizing that I couldn't be humming with it since I had never heard it before. How on Earth could I be humming it, then?

When the song reached its chorus for the second time, I realized what was happening. I wasn't humming along with the song at all; I was humming along with the song's melody, which I know extremely well, since it is from the third movement of one of my absolute favorite works of classical music ever, Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 in E-minor.

Popular song writers have, of course, been mining the classical repertoire for years, almost as long as popular music has existed in the first place. And before that, even classical composers would borrow from one another. As a classical music lover, I really don't find this practice at all offensive. A great song needs a great tune, and a great tune needn't be used exactly once. (However, the use of a great tune in a bad song annoys me. I have no idea if the Rachmaninov-based one that I heard qualifies, since I couldn't make out the lyrics.)

In trying to Google what the song I heard might be, I found this handy listing of pop songs that have drawn from classical music. It's an interesting list -- I had no idea that Neil Diamond's "Song Sung Blue" came from Mozart -- but it doesn't include the song I heard, alas. I will update later if I find it.

Great moments in pop music

Via Sean I see this list of great moments in pop music history. The list doesn't appear to be definitive, just a collection of important moments. Sean has some comments, and solicits discussion, so if you have anything to say, go drop him a comment or two. (He's trying to jump-start his blog after going away for two weeks, I think.)

I don't really have much to say, since I don't really know that much about the history of pop music, but there are a couple of omissions I'd include:

:: "The Day the Music Died" -- Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper die in a plane crash.

:: Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon's release date, whenever that was. Didn't that album stay on the charts for something like 800 weeks?

:: Jerry Garcia dies (1994 or 1995).

You didn't say it would be THIS good!

For some years now, I've been pretty much blowing off all this stuff about singing the praises of Mozilla as the rantings of a bunch of otherwise-mild-mannered Bill Gates-hating maniacs. "Yeah, yeah," I'd say. "Tabbed browsing, who needs it? Stability? PAGH! Go on, don't bother me!"

Except that I am now writing this post on Mozilla in the first hour of using it. (This just in: tabbed browsing rules, and I've had the tabs going for about eight minutes now.) Of course, one hour probably isn't long enough to make a final decision -- I'll give it a week or so -- but I've gotta say, it's looking pretty grim for Internet Explorer in these parts. I don't want to totally disparage IE; it actually served me pretty well, for my purposes, for the last seven years and only reached an unacceptable level of poor performance last week. But if Mozilla continues to impress, well -- so long, IE, and thanks for all the fish.

(I mean, I've just glanced over at Pharyngula, and my immediate thought was, "Holy crap, so that is how that blog is supposed to look! Of course, I also think PZ is still a bit visually-challenged, because I think I even look like less of an axe-murderer in Mozilla. Heh.)

Saturday Burst of Weirdness

Longtime viewers of The West Wing will recall a plotline from the first season in which Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) became involved with a high-priced Washington, DC call-girl named Laurie, which later resulted in some embarrassment for the Bartlet Administration (and likely had real-life Clinton Administration folks saying, "If only...."). Well, if Laurie had a blog, it presumably would read something like this. NOT WORK SAFE!

(Link via Nefarious Neddie, who at last returns to blogging, meaning that his own job must be in a lull-period right now.)

Problems with Graphics

I'm having some really annoying problems lately with graphics loading on my computer when web-browsing. A lot of the time, if I'm using Internet Explorer, suddenly graphics will stop loading entirely. Thus, suddenly this blog will appear plain white with dark text; other sites with graphics will only load in text only versions, et cetera.

I started getting around this by browsing the Web through AOL, but even there all is not perfect. What happens there is that graphics load mostly, but not all the way. I've got the backgrounds and masthead for this blog, for instance, but the Wonder Woman image in this post isn't loading all the way (it looks fuzzy), as are the background images on John Scalzi's Blog Number One and the sidebar graphics on the FilmScoreMonthly site, to name just two examples.

Can anyone offer any suggestions as to what on Earth is going on with my computer?

UPDATE: OK, can anyone confirm whether the afore-mentioned Wonder Woman picture is showing up properly, on any browser?

In comments, the suggestion is made that I scotch IE and switch to Mozilla. I suppose I may give this a try -- it can't hurt, and I can always uninstall the thing if it bugs me -- but I'm still confused as to why all of these graphics-rendering problems would have cropped up in just the last week or so. And it's selectively problematic, too: I can be surfing along, happy as a rat in liverwurst, and then suddenly BAM! there go the graphics. Is there a possibility that some weird bit of adware or viral activity has somehow corrupted the way IE works on my machine? (I use both Ad-Aware 6.0 and McAfee virus software, and both are up-to-date.) And if so, is Mozilla more resistant to that kind of thing?

[tap, tap] Is this on? Check, check....

Yep, folks, I disappeared for a couple of days there. It was one of those weird convergences of times when work at The Store was abnormally demanding, when I had several functions to attend with The Daughter, when I had little to say to begin with, and when I just didn't much feel like reading blogs either. (That last was the killer. I almost always am in the mood to read blogs.)

The deal at The Store was that early in the week we learned that on Friday, the President of our company would be stopping by. This, of course, occasioned the launching of Operation Dog and Pony Show, with a great amount of the cleanup work falling on my shoulders. Now, this wasn't all bad, since it resulted in longer hours for me, for which I didn't even have to volunteer. (My ongoing mission to acquire hours by constantly volunteering for them seems to be paying off, with the managers now assuming that I want them before I ask. It WILL be mine, oh yes....)

Strangely, though, by the time Friday morning rolled around, everyone at The Store had gone so over-the-top in getting everything ready that there was literally nothing more to be done at that point. I spent my hours on the job yesterday mostly wandering around, sweeping this and wiping that. And the ultimate kicker was that my work day ended before the President of the company ever arrived. All that buildup, and no payoff. Kind of like last year's Super Bowl.

I'm still in "recovery" mode, but theoretically, posting should heat up again, at least a bit. I think. You never know. Or do you?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

An explanation, please.

I was reading this MSN article about the sentence received by the first GI tried in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal. According to the article, the GI in question received a year in jail, a reduction in rank, and a discharge.

My question for people better versed than I in things military is this: how can he have a reduction in rank and a discharge? Isn't that like demoting an office manager to janitor and then turning around and firing him? Or is something of rank "kept" by a military person in some capacity, even after they leave the service? Can anyone explain this to me?

Light posting ahead.

Expect a bit of slackening of the pace here over the next few days, folks; the demands of real life are packing my schedule full this week. I'll still be posting, but not as much until the weekend hits (and maybe after).

Is there a reason your nose suddenly got bigger?

Teresa Nielsen Hayden excoriates some guy who wrote an article about how to write cover letters to editors. Most of it is pretty amazingly bad advice -- I like the bit about "Don't tell them the word count, they don't care!", when every thing I've ever seen in my life about the mechanics of submission says, "Tell them the word count". But the most amazing piece of "advice" here, as John Scalzi notes, is this bit of hilarity:

"Tip Four: Still worried? Never published anything? Lie a little. Yes, lie. A cover letter is a persuasive document designed to do one thing: entice an editor or agent to read your manuscript. Say whatever you have to, within reason, to accomplish this. No publication credits? Write the words 'West Coast Fiction Review' on a piece of paper, staple it to one of your stories, and boom, you’ve just been published in West Coast Fiction Review. Is there such a publication? Not that I know of, but it sure sounds impressive. No awards? Ask your best friend—let’s say her name is Martha Green—to give you the 1999 Martha Green Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fiction. What’s the Martha Green Award worth? Not much, unless it entices an editor or agent to read your work."

This is just unreal, and I can't for the life of me believe that whichever editor approved the publication of this article didn't immediately start thinking about the writer, "Hmmmmm, wait a minute...."

What gets me throughout the whole article is the idea that you not only have to "entice" the editor to read your manuscript, but that you even can. True, I don't know any real-life editors (being on TNH's blogroll probably doesn't qualify), and I'm as yet unpublished, but everything I've ever read on this subject suggests that you cannot do anything that will get your manuscript read one second faster than before the editor gets around to it (unless your first name is something like "Stephen" and your last name is something like "King, which rules me out on both counts). That's why all the articles and books and whatnot say things like "Do NOT staple your manuscript pages!", "Do NOT use funky fonts! Courier or Times-New-Roman only!", "Do NOT justify the right-hand margin!", "Do NOT use colored paper or cardstock!", and so on. Any trick you might conceive to get your manuscript looked at sooner may just work, but it won't get it read: just looked at, as it is tossed into the recycle bin.

Look at the sample cover letter John Scalzi provides; that's about what I do, and since I have neither publishing credits nor honors to my name, I omit that entire paragraph. What replaces it? Nothing at all: "Here's my manuscript. It is approximately X words long in Y genre [if I'm submitting to a market that publishes more than one genre]. Here's my SASE, toss the MS. Sincerely, Mr. X."

A cover letter is little more than the writing equivalent of the handshake that opens a sales presentation. That's it. If you put more thought into it than this, you're like the wishy-washy businessman who practices his handshake with someone else ("Was it too limp? Do I hold on too long? Is my hand cold and clammy?"). And you'll probably have about the same level of success with the sale.

How about a bigger version of Candyland for grownups?

I was listening to the Jim Rome Show for a couple of minutes in the car today on the way home, and the listener e-mails were making fun of a concept that struck me as sounding so ludicrous I figured it couldn't be for real. But apparently, it is:

Adult Dodgeball.

You know, folks, there really truly are some things from fifth grade that don't need to be dredged up again. Really.

Drumming in Heaven

Jazz musician Elvin Ray Jones, who played drums for the likes of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington, has died.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Nah, that's OK. We don't need the money here. Really.

Via Pandagon, I see that Ahmed Chalabi has finally seen his Golden Goose -- the United States government -- stop laying eggs.

Gee, if they still want to give out $335,000 a month to someone, I can name a Rust Belt city on the northern end of Lake Erie that could probably find a few good things to do with it. Like, oh, I dunno, schools and firehouses.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Beancounting: the honorable profession!

I'm surprised I haven't seen this story in play more: NASA's budget books are a mess, to the tune of $565,000,000,000. As a Carl Sagan parody artist might say, that's "billions and billions".

My problem is, from reading the article linked, I'm not sure what the error is here. Are they saying that NASA can't account for $565 billion? or that NASA overspent by $565 billion? or that NASA underspent by that amount? What gives?

And if NASA's current budget is $16.2 billion, how many years did it take to rack up $565 billion in errors? I don't really understand this stuff.

(via Paul Riddell)

This CANNOT be for real.

There was an episode of the original Star Trek in which a primitive society is ruthlessly kept primitive by a nefarious computer (whose outward form was a big lizard-head thing). Then Kirk comes along and says, "The hell with this!", and destroys the nefarious computer. (When someone objects that he's breaking the Prime Directive, Kirk replies, "That refers to interfering with developing cultures. This one's not developing, it's stagnating.")

Then, just before the episode ends, it becomes clear that these poor people have absolutely no idea what sex is, and Kirk just kind of smirks and says, "You'll figure that out on your own." But apparently we can't assume that they will, after all:

"A German couple who went to a fertility clinic after eight years of marriage have found out why they are still childless - they weren't having sex."

Via PZ Myers, who wonders what their reaction will be like when they finally realize what they have to do. I personally am really curious about what kind of religious education manages to produce adults who are completely ignorant of "how the plumbing works".

Ooooh, and I was just about to file him under "Vows of Silence", too....

Alex Frantz returns to blogging after nearly a month with a sharp observation:

"Funny how eager the folks who always complain about the 'blame America first' crowd are to do just that, as long as they can blame the right Americans."

Read the post to see who he's talking about.

Pull out the stopper, let's have a whopper, but get me to the church on time!

A bunch of people who are in love with other people will remember May 17, 2004 for the rest of their lives.

I remember a different May 17 -- in 1997, to be precise -- for the exact same reason.

Seven years, four jobs between us, four apartments shared, three Lord of the Rings movies, two Star Wars movies, four cats (though two are now gone), one human being produced, and another in progress. Two lives shared, and not threatened at all by this:



I wish I had something more profound to say about marriage, but I really don't. I can only echo words expressed by young J.D. Dorian on Scrubs: "I don't think we're meant to be alone."

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Best Exam EVER!

This is hysterical.

Funny thing is, some of my philosophy papers read like this guy's answers, only with bigger words.

Meeting Celebrities

Over on By The Way, John Scalzi's been soliciting bloggers (AOL Journalers, mostly, but I figure, why not) to decribe their most memorable brushes with celebrity. Mine came last year -- I'm pretty sure I blogged about it then, but it never hurts to mention it again.

I was in a local party supply store picking up some balloons, plates and whatnot for The Daughter's birthday celebration, and as I was paying for my merchandise, another family came up behind me to likewise pay. I got my change and moved aside to stick the money in my wallet and make sure I had all the balloons secured so they wouldn't blow away, while the next family plunked down their stuff. The woman said something like "Did we get everything, Jim?" And the guy responded, "Yeah, I think so," or something like that. And I, being the good Buffalonian, instantly recognized that voice. Looking back, I confirmed that the father buying party supplies was NFL Hall-of-Famer and former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, with his wife and two daughters. (I assume that his son, Hunter, who is stricken with a very terrible genetic disease, was at home with a nurse.)

It is to my enduring pride that I only glanced long enough to confirm that it was Number Twelve, and then I exited the store. No "Holy crap, it's Jim Kelly! Oh My God!" style lunacy from me. (But you can bet that I didn't make a move to drive out of the parking lot until I watched Number Twelve load his car and drive away himself.)

Generally, my life has been pretty celebrity-free. At a couple of SF conventions I attended as a kid, I met George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca from Star Wars). When I was even younger and living for a year in West Virginia, President Carter appeared in our town's annual summer parade. My wife once delivered a pizza to Kenny Rogers, when he was in town for a show (I recall that his toppings were ham and pineapple). In college, I attended a master class with Wynton Marsalis that wasn't really all that illuminating, since they brought in the local high schools to cram the room full, and Marsalis is really something of an opinionated ass to begin with (or at least, he was on that day), but that was pretty memorable. That's about it. Western New York really isn't the place you want to be, if meeting celebrities on a regular basis is your thing.

When Employees are smarter than the Managers

Jay Blalock reports on how he gets around his job's crackdown on outside reading material.

Jay is that rarest of birds: a person who works in a call center, and seems to actually enjoy it. I find this almost completely mindboggling: I worked in a small call-center for a year and a half and hated it. To this day, that's the only job I've had to which I did not feel the slightest guilt when I called in sick. (Which I didn't do often.)

The rules at my center were pretty much the same: no magazines or novels were allowed, although the site supervisor wasn't totally militant in enforcing this. My center was devoted to placing outgoing sales calls, so it wasn't like we had stretches of time between calls to take up by navel-gazing (Jay's operation is an inbound customer service center), but it could get pretty monotonous just the same, and a magazine or catalog or something often made the boredom palatable.

I worked at that job while I was in my "writing everything longhand" phase, so I tried doing my writing on the job, but it just didn't work well. I couldn't get a train of thought going on the stories or the novel, and if I did, I ended up spending an unacceptable amount of time off the phones. All in all, I'm glad I eventually realized that I am not geared toward a job in which my activity is actually measured in terms of minutes spent doing things, and not on actual things accomplished. I actually have far less chance to read on the job now than I did then, but that's fine with me. In my experience, managers who subscribe to the theory that a minute not spent on company business is a minute wasted are managers who will invent all manner of stupid busywork to fill all those minutes that obviously can't be devoted to generating sales and/or helping customers. Ninety percent of reports I've ever seen fall into this category.


The Posing of Mr. Caruso

I recall that once, years ago during the first season of NYPD Blue, I was watching an episode with my family and my father suddenly exclaimed, "God, doesn't anybody on this show actually look at someone when they're talking to them?" I thought of this while reading Buffalo News critic Jeff Simon's take on David Caruso's acting style in today's paper:

"Caruso's solution to his actor's problem (THOU SHALT NOT 'ACT' may well have been a clause in his contract) is to goose up every line with some of the weirdest and most musical line readings in all of television.

He delivers a good half of them with hands on hips. And with shades on. Or looking to the right or left of the person he's speaking to, as if he can't bear to be seen full-face by a fellow actor delivering the lines he was given to say....He never undermines the show, mind you, but his insistence on overplaying as much as he can get away with makes his performance one of the nuttiest performances you'll see on television on a weekly basis. Imagine Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-0 crossed with William Shatner of the original Star Trek and you've got it."

It's a hilarious article, coming from a guy (Simon) who is rarely if ever hilarious. Check it out. The only glaring omission is that Simon doesn't point out the way Caruso always seems to strike his poses with the position of the Miami sun in mind.

Random Film Music News

Item the First: Eagle-eyed people may have noticed that early trailers and promotional materials for the movie Troy credited the film's music to Gabriel Yared, while the film now in release sports a score by James Horner. What happened is this: Yared spent a year composing a score for the film, and said score was recorded; but then, when the film was shown to test audiences, some negative comments about the score were apparently recorded, and thus Yared's entire year of work was dumped and Horner was brought in at the last minute.

This kind of thing happens fairly often these days, unfortunately. By the time a film reaches the "test audience" stage, there really aren't many things that can be done to address concerns. You can't rewrite and reshoot; all you can do is re-edit and re-score. This is why film music fans are well-acquainted with the "rejected score" scenario: a composer is announced as attached to a certain project, only to have his or her work dumped prior to release. Sometimes these "rejected scores" get CD releases of their own (Jerry Goldsmith's Legend score is a good example), but most of the time these rejected scores either get reworked into later projects or become available as highly-sought-after bootleg recordings.

Gabriel Yared has recently made his rejected score available on his official site. The sound quality is very poor, but it's enough to hear that the score is actually quite good. It's undoubtedly better than whatever James Horner -- a guy who peaked as a composer in 1995 and has been on autopilot ever since -- pasted together in the two weeks he had to work with. What's a real shame here is that Yared has previously been typecast as a composer (The English Patient and Possession are two prominent, and representative, scores of his), and Troy might have been his "breakout" epic work, much as Star Wars was for John Williams and Lord of the Rings was for Howard Shore.

Item the Second: As much as I have always loved John Williams's music, I haven't liked his work for the Harry Potter movies. (Williams did not directly compose the score for HP and the Chamber of Secrets, the second film; composer William Ross did the score based heavily on Williams's themes from the first film.) A lot of Williams's Potter music is, well, "happy", and I've simply never cared for Williams when he's writing "happy" music. (His Home Alone scores are the musical equivalent of eating the world's biggest, gooiest brownie with no glass of milk to wash it down with. By the end, you're screaming, "Stop the sweetness!") I have higher hopes for his score for the upcoming HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, since this is the installment of the series where the books start turning quite a bit darker. AOL has made the score available for listening here. I haven't been able to get it to work yet -- something about security settings -- but I'll check later on and report back.

Item the Third: Unless something happens at the eleventh hour to thwart the release, on Tuesday the expanded CD of John Barry's magnificent score to Dances With Wolves is due to hit stores. I've been waiting for this release for a long time: the original CD was pretty abbreviated, and omitted the film version of the music for the Buffalo Hunt sequence.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Bloodsucking Fiends

Michael of the Blowhards discovers vampire fiction. Or, I should say, vampire fiction that existed before Dracula. Specifically, there is the fairly famous novel Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and there is John Polidori's The Vampire which was in turn based on an idea originally entertained by Byron before he set it aside.

I've loved vampire stuff for years (Alan Ryan's anthology The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories is one of my favorite books), although my interests in vampires don't tend to be very well-served by the vast bulk of vampire literature out there. I tend to think more along the lines of the horror of vampires and the curse inherent in their existence, whereas it seems that most vampire stories either concentrate on the religious aspects of vampirism (often with a healthy dose of Catholicism), or on the erotic nature of vampires (must be all those finely-shaped female necks).

I have written two vampire stories in my "fiction career" (encapsulated in quotes because I'm not sure that producing a body of unpublished work constitutes a career). One was the standard "Boy meets girl, girl is really vampire" tale (and it's available here); the other is quite a bit more horrific. At some point I took it into my head that maybe in Nazi Germany there was a colleague of Dr. Mengele's who wondered if he could create a vampire from scratch, using the poor souls in the concentration camps to perform his experiments. I took several whacks at this story idea before finally completing a version I titled "The Balance in the Blood", and to this date it's still the most horrific thing I've written. I'm still not sure if I like it, although it alone of the stories I've written received the most "friendly" rejections. Go figure.

Vampires are hard to do: their lore is so standardized by now that one must either tick off the standard memes of vampire stories, or at least mention why they don't work along the way. (Witness the bit in Interview with the Vampire, when Louis reveals that vampires aren't particularly afraid of crucifixes, or the hilarious scene in Love at First Bite when the guy who's convinced that George Hamilton is a vampire tries to ward him off with a Star of David.) If you skirt some of these issues, people will become confused as to whether you're writing a vampire story at all; but on the reverse side is the fact that all that vampire lore can end up making a story pretty predictable.

And yet, there they are, those blood-drinking dwellers of the night, captivating the hell out of me. I wonder what it would be like, living in a world where the graveyards lose population at night. I wonder if they'd be unthinking, zombie-like monsters or erudite, suave almost-people whose personas are tinged with profound melancholy. It's no wonder that I keep returning to vampires; it's no wonder that I keep reading about them; and it's no wonder that in my college-geek AD&D years, my favorite player character was my Necromancer whose favorite spell was "Vampiric Touch".

(The title of this post, by the way, is an allusion to a wonderfully funny vampire story by Christopher Moore.)

Bring on the Amazons

Jayme Lynn Blaschke has somehow drawn a particularly nice assignment: he gets to write some entries for an upcoming fantasy and SF encyclopedia, including one on my favorite of the DC Comics superheroes, Wonder Woman. I often think, where the hell is the great Wonder Woman revival? Why isn't there a Wonder Woman movie in the works? Does it seem right that the Phantom got his own movie, but not Wonder Woman? (And I thought The Phantom was a pretty good little costumed-hero flick. Pretty good score, too.) It boggles the mind. I would love to see a Wonder Woman movie. Maybe even more than Spiderman.

And, of course, it's been a while since I posted the following item, so for newer readers, here is my personal choice for the Greatest Single Comic Book Cover of All Time:



Zap! Pow!

(EDIT: Apparently I was spectacularly wrong in assuming Jayme was, er, female, assuming that the picture in Jayme's Technorati profile is actually a picture of Jayme. I, of all people, well know the pitfalls of having a name that obscures gender. Whoops!)

Lefties, Away!

The other day, Steven Den Beste wrote a lengthy post about linguistics, which was mildly interesting (not because he was right or wrong or some degree in between, but because I find linguistics itself only mildly interesting). Then, a day or so later, Matthew Yglesias linked SDB's post, in which he took a couple of mild potshots at SDB for long-windedness and pointing out that Noam Chomsky's work, like that of many philosophers, may be valuable for something other than whether he is right or wrong. (We still read Aristotle, for example, even though nobody except for the Ayn Rand weirdos think he got it all right.) SDB then appended his post with one of his standard updates, saying of Matthew, "Those who can, do; those who can't, sneer."

Well, setting aside the issue of whether Matthew's post can really be construed as a "sneer" – it seems more like a rolling-of-the-eyes to me, but whatever – that's not the end of it. It seems that SDB wasn't content to leave it at that: when I read the comments on Matthew's post, I read that SDB had employed the same kind of referral-block thing that LGF used against Nathan Newman some time back, first setting it up so that if one clicked Matthew's link to SDB's post, one was referred right back to Matthew's blog (I did not see this and cannot directly confirm this), and later changing it so that it led to SDB's 404-message (I have confirmed this). I thought, "No way", but sure enough, it's so: if you cut-and-paste the URL of SDB's post from Matthew's link into your browser, you get the post, but if you directly click Matthew's link, you get the 404. And it's not just this way for that one post: I did a search on Matthew's blog for every time he's mentioned SDB (using "Den Beste" as my search term), and sure enough, this is now the way it is for every time Matthew has linked SDB.

And it's not just Matthew. Just looking through a few of the left-leaning blogs on my blogroll, I see that SDB has similarly blocked referrals from Kevin Drum. (Use this post of Kevin's as a test.) As of now he does not seem to have got round to blocking Atrios or Tbogg, but that's probably because those fellows haven't linked SDB in a while.

I don't know if there's more to the story here than is public, but SDB has never struck me as the kind of ultra-thin-skinned guy he's evidently decided to act like in this manner. At least, he's always cultivated the image of Blogistan's uber-rationalist, the guy who carefully constructs every argument and follows it through to logical conclusion no matter where it leads, the guy who prides himself on engineer-like thinking and who doesn't really care what you or anyone else thinks. (I didn't say that's the way he really is, I said that's the way he presents himself. Big difference.)

But coming from a guy who once went to great lengths to argue the evils of pseudonymity on the Web and who can at the drop of a hat identify at least six informal fallacies in any argument no matter how short, this kind of thing is very disappointing. No doubt SDB has some rationale for doing this – maybe he doesn't want to have to wade through the e-mail crush that must result whenever one of the biggies of Left Blogistan links him, or something like that – but it hardly seems fair for him to block their referrals at the same time he's linking them back. As several of Matthew's commenters point out, SDB has no comments on his blog and he disabled his message board eons ago, so if he's just worried about the onset of liberal trolls, well – that's just sad. And it's not like Matthew or Kevin link him all that often to begin with, so what is SDB afraid of?

For my money, this shows that SDB is lot less willing to let disagreement run off his back than he otherwise implies. "Those who can, do; those who can't, sneer" kind of loses its cachet as a rejoinder when SDB is simultaneously reaching into his bag of tech-tricks to keep people off the scent.

UPDATE: SDB has since appended his post with the explanation that I expected: "There's a difference between criticism of the material presented in an article and mocking disparagement of the author of the article. The former is welcome; the latter is not....I do not need any refer traffic from those who cannot tell the difference between these. That is why blog authors who express their 'disagreement' via ad hominem will be placed into another kind of 'bozo bin', and why direct refers from their sites will be refused by this server. (Their readers can still visit my site directly, but only by going to a small amount of extra effort. Most will not.)"

This rings rather hollow, given the number of ad hominem artists who have at one time or another been featured on SDB's blogroll (Rachel Lucas, for example) or defended by SDB in his blog (LGF, for example). To SDB, apparently leftie namecalling is unacceptable ad hominem while rightie namecalling is "authorial voice". OK, then. Of course, in the Matthew Yglesias post he links back, Matthew (a) doesn't really sneer; (b) openly admits that he is not qualified to delve into merits of the argument; and (c) poses a larger point that SDB completely ignores. Therefore, it seems to me that the combination of summing up Matthew's post as a "sneer", combined with the characterization of Matthew as someone who "cannot tell the difference" between criticism and "mocking disparagement" (as lunatic a characterization of Matthew -- and, incidentally, Kevin Drum -- as I think I'm likely to see), constitute an ad hominem attack all on their own. (Plus, I'd almost bet money that I could find at least one or two examples of "mocking disparagement" somewhere in SDB's body of work.)

But that's not even what really bugs me here. It's that last parenthetical clause of SDB's, where he openly acknowledges that most of their readerships won't go to the small amount of extra effort needed to get around his little firewall. Linkage is really what makes Blogistan work the way it does. Even granting SDB's distinction between "linkers" (bloggers who mostly link other stuff, like Glenn Reynolds) and "thinkers" (bloggers who produce mostly new material, like SDB himself), it's still very rare to see a "thinker" produce something in Blogistan that's without any connection to something else. That's why the vast majority of even SDB's essays kick off with an "On Screen" citation to something on the Web, be it a blog post or a news article somewhere.

By mucking around with the ins-and-outs of linkage in this way, SDB tacitly endorses the much-vaunted, and much-derided, "echo chamber effect" of Blogistan. The three blogs he cites as being so blocked -- Matthew's, Kevin Drum's, and the Daily Kos (which I don't read, and thus cannot comment on its content) -- constitute three of the most heavily trafficked liberal blogs in existence. Thus, in one fell swoop, SDB has seen to it that most of his arguments will never be seen by these readers. And for him to react suchly against three blogs that have linked him a combined four times in the last six months (and with two of those coming yesterday) just seems, well, a bit over-the-top.

(To be fair, the Kos post SDB cites is deserving of at least some indignation, seeing as how it is riddled with spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. That post is a sneer, and a poorly written one, no doubt about it.)

One thing that attracts me about Blogistan is the way controversies (what would on Usenet be called "flamewars") tend to die out fairly quickly, as posts fall off the main pages of those blogs involved. Why SDB felt the need to do this is utterly beyond me, especially since his is one of the most-visited and linked blogs in existence. Ultimately, a person willing to go to such lengths to disrupt the way blogging works, and to thus direct such efforts at two guys who in my experience are really very mild even when they do engage in "mocking disparagement" (Daniel Davies said far worse about SDB back during the whole "bloody shirt waving" fiasco, in which I thought Daniel was in the wrong), and to do so even while linking back to those guys, seems to me a person whose blogging ego has inflated beyond the point where I can no longer take him seriously, and whose trustworthiness as a blogger I now question.

Friday, May 14, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





The H.H. Richardson Complex, Buffalo, NY.

This imposing structure dominates the campus of Buffalo State College. It is a superb example of Buffalo's great architecture from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries -- and it is in very dire need of restoration and even in danger of being lost, even though it is a registered historical landmark building. The usual suspects are, of course, to blame: the City of Buffalo can't afford to do the work, and the state and county refuse to help.

I was reminded of this building when I followed one of Steve of The Modulator's links, this one to Modern Ruins, a set of photographic essays of just that: buildings left to decay, like the Richardson complex (featured on the site here). One doesn't have to go to Greece and walk the Acropolis to see ruins.

More views of both the interior and exterior of the Richardson Complex are available at the site linked by the photo.

Friday Burst of Weirdness

I actually saw quite a bit of weird stuff online this week, but I decided to go with an old formula that I hadn't employed in a while: a two-term Google search, using "Cthulhu" as one of the terms.

So, I started by trying to see if I could find a spoof of Charles Schulz's Peanuts strip by searching under "Cthulhu Peanuts". This led me to Cthulhu Coffee, a site which has some recipes for items you could serve at a Cthulhu-themed party, I suppose. And, flipping through those recipes, I came across a Jell-O recipe that requires the use of a really cool, or really demented, kitchen device: a brain-shaped Jell-o mold.

I'm not sure what the weirdest thing in all that happened to be, but the whole thing was pretty weird, I suppose.

(By the way, if you visit Cthulhu Coffee, make sure to check out their sidebar navigation. It's a hoot.)

The saddest sign of summer

Undoubtedly, the most depressing sign of the onset of summer is the passing of children left buckled in their car-seats in hot weather while parents go off to do whatever. Sure enough, I see my first such instance today -- only this one's different, because a nine-year-old happened to walk by the car and observe the reddened, sweat-drenched infant.

Good God, people. CSI even did an episode that revolved around an infant left in a hot car. How can people not know this yet?

But then, not a day goes by at The Store that I don't observe a parent allowing a child to ride a shopping cart by standing on the front-edge of the bottom rack and hanging on to the front, so that any frontal-impact of that cart against another object will be softened by the child's body. So, I guess either people think it's not going to happen to them, ("I was only going in for just a minute), or they have no real idea of the danger ("I can stop the cart in time and I don't push fast"), or, well, child safety is something that goes away once you get to take the plastic plugs out of all the electrical outlets.

(link via Darth Swank)