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

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Nifty things on the tee-vee!

And lo! there was much rejoicing throughout the land, and the people did dance and make merry and feast upon milk and honey and poppy-seed bagels with garden vegetable cream cheese, for new episodes of Scrubs began to air.

(Heather Graham has joined the cast. I think I can safely say that she'll be receiving the most coveted award in all the world, a Move Over Britney! mention, fairly soon.)

Oh, and I just watched about five minutes of Schwarzenegger's speech at the Republican Convention, just out of curiosity. I always watch less of the Republicans than I do the Democrats, and since I watched about 49 total minutes of the Democrats last month, I think I've reached my quota. Two things strike me about the design of the Republican convention: first, their podium really looks like a pastor's pulpit to me; and second, that swirling-screen background is really distracting. Especially when the background directly behind the speaker is red, but then the network shifts to a side image so it's blue. I'm sure that would make my eyes hurt, except that since it's the Republicans, I won't be seeing much of it. Good thing for that. (I wonder if there's psychological stuff coded into those swirling colors...like a lava lamp....)

Move Over Britney!

Wow, has it really been over three weeks since the last excursion into The Real World, Wherein Britney Is Barely Better Looking Than The Fifteen-year-old Selling Ice Cream At The County Fair? Yeah, I suppose it has. So here's Celtic music singer Kate Rusby.



Ms. Rusby has a wonderful voice, and she sings with more of a folk style than the Enya/Clannad/Loreena McKennitt style. Oh, and she's lovely, too.

Daily dose of "Huh?!"

TBogg links some guy wandering around NYC mocking the folks protesting the Republican Convention. This bit caught my eye:

Perhaps the most popular sign was one that read, “End the Occupation in Iraq.” We did. Two months ago.


Oh, really? What are all those troops of ours still doing there? Checking real estate trends? Enjoying that wonderful Middle Eastern coffee? Changing the name of a condition doesn't change the condition, folks. It's an occupation.

And why the hell does the media even bother reporting stuff like this? I mean, what's next? A headline reading "Pope John Paul disses Satan"?

Stuff I read whilst not posting

Here are some quotes from my journeys around Blogistan whilst following my strict regimen of not posting. These are partial quotes; to get the context, you gotta click through. Which you should. Because to my immense consternation, Blogistan didn't grind to a major halt in my absence. Betrayer most foul, says I!

Er, the quotes...

Alex Ross on Film Music:

The my-time-will-come mindset was especially widespread in the twentieth century, with composers believing that if they invented a new sound or came up with a "big idea" they would win their place in history. The result was a great deal of superficially difficult, emotionally disposable music, whose ultimate historical value is now very much in question. By contrast, it seems certain that in a hundred years people will still be talking about Bernard Herrmann's Vertigo, Goldsmith's Chinatown, Raksin's Laura. They have gone down in history, because they found a way to make their music matter.


Greg Sandow on problems facing classical music:

Why doesn’t classical music get closer to pop?

Yes, some pop is cheap and commercial. But some of it is deeply serious.

And if we don’t understand that, we don’t understand the modern world, and we especially don’t understand the new audience we’re trying to attract. Smart, serious, educated younger people listen to serious pop, and we won’t impress them if we insist we’re the only artistic music around.


Lynn Sislo on fashion:

First of all, why does everyone always pick on the 70's? How were the 70's any worse than the 60's or the 80's? What did people wear in the 80's anyway? I can't remember. Starting around that time, fashion, for me, became nothing but one long, undifferentiated blur of empty trendiness. The latest fashions are always tasteless. The very idea of fashion is tasteless, not to mention, slightly creepy.


Michael Lopez on Wal-Mart:

I boycott Wal-Mart, too. I boycott Wal-Mart because it doesn't represent what is good in America. It represents what is expedient in America. Messy shelves strewn with boxes and bins of cheap trinkets for the purchase at basement prices. Employees who are given a bare subsistence wage and kept just under the legal limits for the provision of benefits. I boycott Wal-Mart because I distrust centralized power, and I don't want to see anyone ultimately win the great economic competition.


(And follow Michael's links to earlier posts in which his co-bloggers had a lively debate about Wal-Mart.)

Bill Altreuter on participating in a mass-nude photograph in Buffalo:

If we were all naked all the time we would all have better posture. If we were all naked all the time, we would all feel more beautiful, I think. Everyone in there looked great.


Kevin Drum on the Swift Boat Veterans:

They were either lying then [when many of them praised John Kerry in years past] or they're lying now [when they've suddenly all recovered their suppressed memories and attacked Kerry]. Take your pick.


Yup.

Your caustic metaphor of the day!

John Scalzi on his decision to abandon political blogs for a while:

Going into a political blog these days is to be transported into a room of people who get off on smelling their own farts; the musty self-pleasuring scent of people too pleased with the result of their digestions to crack a window and let in some air. Well, mazel tov, kids. Have fun and see you after the election.


After the election? You might want to wait until after the Inauguration, seeing as how one of these two sides will be puffed up in all manner of insufferable triumphalism. It'll either be "At last, maybe the Republicans will return to sanity and the world will like us again! Huzzah!" or "See! The Democrats are now doomed to historical failure, like the Whigs! Hooray!"

Yeah, but I get to use a floor-cleaning machine that looks like a little Zamboni.

Mary gets to play with the cool toys. Jealous, am I.

(That's what I get for majoring in Philosophy. There's no big-ass "Truthinator" machine. But come to think of it, why isn't there a big-ass "Truthinator" machine?!)

Hey, yeah! That IS annoying!

Lynn Sislo links this rant about something webmasters do that's really annoying: disabling the right-click. I totally agree. I hate it when people dig into the "bag of tech tricks" to muck around with the way things are supposed to work.

OK, you know what?

Effective immediately, the only way I want to hear about Presidential candidates and their "flip-flops" is if I happen to reading a story about the footwear they bring on a vacation to Myrtle Beach. Otherwise, I don't care. I just logged into AOL and saw a headline, "Bush flip-flops on War on Terror?"

I know, he said something like, "I don't know that we can win the war on terror", which does on first glance seem a fairly odd thing to issue from his lips, but I have an idea of what he was getting at, and it's not that big a deal and I don't think it's exactly a "flip-flop" in the sense that he believed one thing yesterday and now proposes something exactly the opposite. Now, if he'd said something like "I think Bin Laden should get a pardon", that would be a "flip-flop".

So much of all this "flip-flop" crap is all artificial, anyway. It consists of poring over every word and every act in a candidate's public life, looking for any instance when Action A can be interpreted as being at odds with Statement B. Well, you know, we all do this. Nobody is perfectly consistent from one day to the next, and I'm sick of all the stupid political gamesmanship inherent in pretending that our guy is resolute whilst the other guy is an amorphous blob of poll-driven "beliefs".

Besides, sometimes you actually need to flip-flop. If I am resolute in my belief that a ten-pound Thanksgiving turkey should be baked for nine hours at five hundred degrees, well, I'd hope that my family members would be praying to every God, Saint, Eath Mother, and Cosmic Power that might be listening for me to "flip-flop".

I know, a lot of this is just political gamesmanship, like attack ads; but it would be really nice if our media would quit following the bouncing ball so eagerly. Our press corps reminds me of the sheep at the end of Babe, with the winning candidate being whichever one manages to yell "Baa! Ram! Ewe!" the loudest.

Ugh.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Did we get ceded to Canada while I wasn't blogging?

In this post, Alex Ross identifies a place in New York State called the Rodgers Book Barn, which looks like one of the niftiest used-book stores in existence. I gotta get there.

But to pick a brief bone with Mr. Ross, he identifies this bookstore thusly: "...the other chief cultural destination in upstate New York". (The first being, I assume, the Shostakovich Festival to which he refers earlier in the same post. Italics added.)

Given that Buffalo is generally held to be in Upstate New York, I find it distressing that apparently Buffalo doesn't have any cachet as a cultural destination. I mean, we do have our own Philharmonic, our own highly regarded art gallery, and a pretty good theater and music scene. And we manage to have it all in an economy that's still waiting for the George Bush jobs bounce. (George Herbert Walker Bush, that is. I don't know if there's a place in the United States that managed to so completely miss the Clinton Boom the way Buffalo did.)

To invoke an oft-used Usenet expletive, Hurg!

Search Engine Fun!

This came through a while back, actually, but I had to file it away for future reference: I used to be the number one result for this. Now I've been displaced. Fire! Foes! Awake!

As long as I'm on about search engine stuff, I should help out with a Googlebomb: No, John Kerry is not the most liberal senator. I know, Republicans like to claim that he is, but he's not. (I expect this claim will be advanced a lot this week.)

(And heck, might as well remind people who the real Buffalo blog is.)

A/C: Is there any modern wonderment so fine???

Matthew Yglesias wonders, fairly early in the day, why the air conditioning is so aggressive at the Republican National Convention. Later in the day, he gets his answer, which anyone who's worked in restaurants or retail will know: when you pack that many bodies into an enclosed space, heat goes up quite a bit. If you want it to be any semblance of comfortable toward the end of the day, you have to blast the A/C early, or else the system will never catch up to demand.

This effect can really become pronounced in the high heat of summer. I've read that at Walt Disney World, the employees managing the lines at some of the more popular indoor attractions (such as Space Mountain, which has a crowd all day long) will employ something called "line stacking", which involves stopping the lines at one of the entrances, so that the number of people inside the building itself doesn't become so high as to overwhelm the air conditioning. I also recall vividly the scene at Super Bowl XXXI (Packers versus StuPats), at which the NFL did a doubly stupid thing. First they covered the A/C ducts around the middle of the New Orleans Superdome with cloth banners displaying NFL emblems and the like, and then they had indoor pyrotechnics at halftime. The result was that the smoke never really cleared after halftime, and the temperatures on the playing field soared. I remember the TV people showing closeups of the banners "breathing" as the air ducts tried to pass air through them, and John Madden circling the image wildly with his Telestrator and yelping, "There's no air gettin' in here!"

Of course, as a former restaurant manager, I used to employ the A/C to my own nefarious purposes. During the dinner hour, when we were full with a line at the door, we'd have to run the A/C continuously just to keep things moderately comfortable, but then when the place emptied out a bit, the temperature in the dining room would drop significantly and quickly unless we were on top of things. This fact -- the A/C system's ability to very quickly bring the dining room to frigid levels -- coupled with the fact that little old ladies occasionally liked to set up camp in the dining room after closing and not leave, instead demanding refill after refill after refill of coffee allowed me to "encourage" them to leave by blasting the A/C, starting 45 minutes or so after closing. I know, I know, it was mean. But any port in a storm, you know. I'd never do that now. Heh.

Encouragement

I woke up today to the news that little Quinn finally starting urinating last night and continued through the day, requiring a number of diaper changes. This indicates that his kidneys are starting to do what they're supposed to, which is in turn good because now his body should theoretically start to rid itself of the anti-seizure medications he was doped up with shortly after birth.

Better news: he was stable enough that the nurses were able to contrive to allow the Wife to hold him, for the first time.

May the Force be with us.

Returning Burst of Weirdness

This just made my jaw drop when I saw it. I mean, I couldn't believe this was for real. Part of me still expects to see a Snopes item debunking this.

This is a toy that was packaged up, Cracker-Jack style, in bags of candy. (Actual news story here.)

Lord, lord, lord. Just think: for this to happen, there had to be a whole chain of people, not one of whom said anything like, "Hey, do you think this one might not be in the best taste?"

(via DPS)

Sunday, August 29, 2004

An Epistolary Tribute

My friend Robert Guttke, an artist from Minneapolis whose medium is photography, recently decided to utilize the Web to honor his long friendship with mystery author Charlotte MacLeod, which was conducted via the exchange of many letters. Since the letter is a vanishing thing in this age of e-mail and instant messaging, there's something especially poignant about reading these (especially in light of Ms. MacLeod's more recent illness, which has stilled her pen). As Robert notes in his introductory text, he did not want the letters to languish, forgotten, at the bottom of a drawer.

Robert's tribute to Charlotte can be found here. Please check it out. It's very touching, and it certainly has me intending to track down some of MacLeod's works. Robert was kind enough to ask my help in deciphering some of Ms. Macleod's handwriting, a task which I hope I performed with some degree of accuracy.

This is the kind of thing for which the Web was meant.

A Blogistanic Observation

I've noticed in recent months that my tastes in blogs are shifting a bit. Even as the election season nears and the campaigns heat up, I'm tacking away from the purely political blogs -- I still check Drum and Yglesias regularly, and TBogg a few times a day, but the rest seem to get visited by me only once a day or so, and I've increasingly gone two or three days at a time without hitting Eschaton.

At the same time, I'm more keenly interested in the "cultural" blogs, like Lynn Sislo and Scott Spiegelberg and Alex Ross and Terry Teachout. And I'm also becoming more interested in the "daily diary" types of blogs, the ones that just put up ruminations on their bloggers' lives and comment on things like recent dates and gifts their roommates have given them and the like.

No real point here, just the observation. As I note, it's been trending this way for a while now, so this isn't attributable to the problems with Kid Number Two.

Anyway, moving on.

Help! Our football team is made of balsa wood!

In the last week or so, the Buffalo Bills have seen injuries to both backup quarterbacks, Travis Brown and JP Losman. That second one really hurts, because Losman is the 2004 first-round draft pick who's supposed to be Drew Bledsoe's heir-apparent, and now instead of getting reps and learning the pro game, he's on the sidelines until November at the earliest and may actually be put on Injured Reserve (which would keep him out of the 2004 season entirely). And Lawyer Milloy, the starting safety, broke his arm in yesterday's preseason game.

And the offensive line apparently still sucks.

This is gonna be a long year, methinks. Especially if I have to watch another 14-2 campaign by the Stupid Patriots.

That's great TV.

I haven't watched much of the Olympic coverage, for various reasons, most of which are pretty obvious. Generally, though, I echo the complaints about NBC's "Let's go to a volleyball match! And now that you're interested in that, here's a couple of gymnasts! Enough of that, time for the kayakers! And a soccer game! Here's a bit of basketball! Here's ten minutes of the closing ceremonies, and then we'll show some marathon coverage!" Ugh.

But still, they just cut away for a moment to the Women's Beach Volleyball final, which the Americans won. Truth be told, I didn't really care about the outcome, but I kind of dug watching these two very athletic and quite tall American women hugging each other and rolling around in the sand after they won. Sort of made me think of a Bud Light commercial.

UPDATE: Sweet Jesus. Now NBC is showing more coverage of Olympic events, after they've televised the end of the closing ceremonies, right down to the dousing of the Olympic flame (which I for the life of me can't decide if the Big Torch in Athens looks more like a giant marijuana joint or a super-sized Parker 51 fountain pen). What the hell? Is this actual coverage, or are they just digging into archives or something? This telecast is so disjointed it scares me.

But then, NBC is also the same network, if memory serves, that managed to fail to televise the pileup on the pitcher's mound after Atlanta won the 1995 World Series.

No wonder this network lost the NFL.

"Indecision is a bore!"

So sings Gaston in Gigi.

Or, expressing the same sentiment a bit more crudely, my father had a colorful saying he used to employ when teaching me how to drive and I'd suffer a moment of indecision at a particularly bad moment -- say, being in the middle of an intersection trying to turn left when my light turned red. I'd pump the gas and hem and haw a bit, a motorist behind me would honk their horn, and he'd suddenly yell, "Shit, or get off the pot!"

That's what I'm thinking reading SDB's first post in nearly a month. He's thinking about packing in the whole thing because he's tired of getting lots of e-mail. Did he not see this coming? It's really quite the pickle. He's almost like the guy who busts his hump to become a big-league ballplayer, only to discover that Holy crap, the kids all want his autograph and the commentators have opinions on his game.

But what catches my eye is that he's apparently still all hung up on the immense amounts of ridicule he has received from Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias. Now, as near as I can tell, Kevin hasn't linked SDB since April and hasn't even mentioned him since June (and, in fact, Kevin's only mentioned SDB three times in the last twelve months). Matthew's a little harder to check, since his old site went belly-up a couple of months back and thus his searchable archives only go back as far as June 28 of this year. But in just that little span, Matthew has, according to Google's search function, mentioned SDB in the main body of a post only twice (here and here), with neither instance seeming to offer a setting much higher than "pretty tame" on the "ridicule-o-meter".

SDB seems to genuinely be pining for "silent admiration from afar" on the part of his readers, which seems to me to be a pretty unrealistic hope on the Internet.

Status unchanged

They say that "No news is good news", but for the record, "they" are full of shit. Believe me, there really are times when you want news, for good or ill, and when being stuck in the "status unchanged" limbo is about as harrowing as life gets.

When the doctor comes to you within minutes of your child's birth and says "We are deeply concerned about A, B, C and D", it's terrifying enough. But when you reach three days after the birth and the current roster of doctors will say nothing beyond "We are still deeply concerned about A, B, C and D", it's all one can do to keep from screaming unto the Universe.

If all goes according to plan, though, we may actually get to hold our child for the first time tomorrow or, more likely, Tuesday. Of course, being as given to deep cynicism and pessimism as I am, I'm reminded of an exchange near the end of the movie Apollo 13, when the astronauts are about to make their final descent into the atmosphere before splashdown and somebody points out that where they're going to hit the ocean is very close to the predicted path of a Pacific typhoon. The guy says, "Maybe they'll miss the storm", and Flight Director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) grumbles, "Yeah, if their luck changes."

The worst part is sure to be tomorrow afternoon, when I bring my wife home. I took her to the hospital alone. Never did I think we'd leave the same way.

SLIGHT UPDATE: I'd just like to publicly thank everyone who has offered kind words in comments below or via e-mail. The sense of community in Blogistan, contentious as it may be, never ceases to amaze.

Obviously I plan to use the blog as a place for some therapeutic venting, so my content may become quite off-kilter. (And the Republican National Convention happening the same week as my baby son's illness will just do wonderful things for my mood, disposition and blood pressure!) What strikes me as really strange right now is how my thoughts alternate almost effortlessly between the profound and the banal; how I think about my son on his ventilator one moment, and yet minutes later I'm checking TF.N for Episode III updates. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I'd also like to publicly thank (though I'm not sure they'll ever read this) the medical professionals at Sisters of Charity Hospital, who have been immensely caring through all this (and whom I hope will continue to be).

And finally, I strongly recommend that if you or your wife or female significant other are having a child, employ the services of a doula (more info on them here). And it you or your wife or female significant other happen to be having a child in the Buffalo area, employ the services of this doula. Her support was of immense worth on a day that was difficult enough, and only became more so.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Passages

I've been an avid reader of TBogg for quite a while now. I enjoy his schtick of caustic left-wing humor (humor from the left wing, not at the left wing), even if in the course of staying very close to the line between funny and poor taste he very occasionally crosses over it.

But there's another side to TBogg, that produces some really fine writing in a non-snarky tone. This post is probably the best-written thing TBogg's produced so far, which is all the more fitting since it deals beautifully with the sudden passing of hiss father.

Best wishes and condolences to TBogg. And a little admiration for a tribute well-done.

Yup, they've got hats

In "Twenty-five", the last episode of The West Wing of the fourth season as well as the last episode penned by series creator and scribe Aaron Sorkin, the main plot of the kidnapping of President Bartlet's daughter is juxtaposed with the subplot of Toby Ziegler dealing with the fact that on this night when something so awful has happened, his ex-wife has just given birth to his twins.

I cited this episode in my roster of my favorite TWW's, in large part because of a single monologue delivered by Toby as he greets his children for the first time. This monologue is one of the most emotional things I've ever seen on a TV show (aided, not insignificantly, by Richard Schiff's brilliantly understated performance). In the episode, this monologue takes place in the fourth act, after Zoey Bartlet has been kidnapped and her Secret Service agent, a woman named Molly, has been murdered; after Toby has proposed to his ex-wife and been turned down; after the boy twin has been named "Huck" while the girl twin has not yet been named; and after Leo McGarry, having listened to Toby's doubts that he'll be a good father, says, "Of course you're gonna love your kids the way you're supposed to...I'm not talking about other fathers, I'm talking about you, and it's a mortal lock."

Anyway, later on Toby visits the twins at the hospital and says this to them, as he's kneeling beside them both.

I didn't realize babies came with hats. You guys crack me up. You don't have jobs, you can't walk or speak a language, you don't have a dollar in your pockets but you got yourselves a hat so everything's fine.

I don't want to alarm you or anything, but...I'm Dad.

And son, for you, this'll be the last time I pass the buck but I just think it should be clear from the get-go that it was Mom who named you 'Huckleberry'. I guess she was feeling like life doesn't present enough challenges to overcome on its own. And honey, you've got a name now too. Your mom and I named you after an incredibly brave, uh, incredibly brave woman, really not all that much older than you. Your name is Molly.

Huck and Molly.

I know you can't understand me, but it's the deepness of my voice -- I read that the deepness of my voice is appealing -- Did you just smile when I said 'deepness of my voice'?

So what do I do? Well you're gonna need food and clothes and doctors and dentists, so there's that. Also, should you have any questions along the way. And I'll be doing stuff like this, Huck, 'cause you're leaking a little bit out of your mouth there.

[Here Toby dabs at Huck's chin with a cloth -- and Huck takes Toby's finger in his entire hand.]

You holding my finger, son? Molly, your brother's holding my hand, you wanna hold my hand?

This is gonna mean anything to you...but Leo was right. Leo was right.

Yeah, he really was.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

In my absence, Jason Streed observed his blogiversary. As one of the people who diligently bullied him into setting up residence in Blogistan, I'm happy to see him reach this goal. Now he needs to be a bit less "spurty" in his posting habits. Posting (nearly) daily is the key to salvation, folks. (Said the guy who is about to adopt a policy of posting whenever the hell I feel like it.)

Also in my absence, Aaron revealed that his wife (whom I still suspect of being a vampire) is now in the process of gestation. No doubt Aaron believes that his little brood will be a born trombonist or guitarist, but I know better: Krista will have that kid banging on stuff with sticks by the time he's, oh, finished his APGAR testing.

Also in my absence, Darth Swank turned 61 years young. (This figure may be incorrect.) Happy Birthday, after the fact, to him!

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Raining, pouring -- it's all the same.

(This post is being written at around 1:30 am on August 27, but I'm using Blogger's post-date feature to back-date it.)

I don't know if this is going to herald some grand return to blogging on my part. Probably not, since my energies are likely to be focused in another direction for a while.

Our son was born tonight.

But.

I'm not going to go into long details, but there were unforeseen complications toward the very end of the process. The condensed version: he's being kept in the neo-natal ward until his condition is stabilized, and the worst-case scenario involves brain damage. And we may not even know about that for another six months.

But.

I have a son who may turn out perfectly fine (the doctor says he's seen infants in worse shape turn out perfectly fine), to go along with my daughter who's perfectly fine and less than two weeks from entering Kindergarten. For a onetime nihilistic hater of children (who still isn't particularly fond of other people's children), that's quite a thing.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

The Magnificent Seven One

I'm breaking my radio silence ("Situation unchanged, Admiral!") just long enough to note the passing of another film music legend, Elmer Bernstein.



Bernstein's filmography is a good long one. He was one of the composers who bridged the Golden and Silver Ages of film music -- along with Jerry Goldsmith -- and he was active pretty much up until the end, even being nominated for an Oscar two years ago for his score to Far From Heaven. (He lost to Elliot Goldenthal's Frida.)

Bernstein's music was always a veritable fountain of melody and excellent orchestration, and I heard in his work the voice of Aaron Copland and Americana perhaps more than in any other film composer's. I love the scores to The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments, To Kill a Mockingbird, and even Heavy Metal. I don't own nearly enough of his music. (He is far from the only composer for whom this is true, sadly.)

By all accounts, Bernstein was a gregarious and charming individual. I, of course, wouldn't know, but I do recall watching him speaking on a show that American Movie Classics once broadcast about the use of music in film. Specifically discussing the scene in The Ten Commandments when the Hebrews begin the Exodus, he related how he noted that director Cecil B. DeMille had cut the scene so it was very ponderous and slow-moving, and thus Bernstein scored it accordingly. However, when DeMille heard what Bernstein had written, the director said something along the lines of, "No, no, no, that's not right! I screwed this scene up and shot it too slow, so you have to use the music to speed it up!" This Bernstein did. What got me about this TV segment was that Bernstein told this story with a chuckle and a gleam in his eye. (To this day, Bernstein's score is pretty much the only thing I like about The Ten Commandments.)

I could claim sadness at Bernstein's passing, but instead I'd just like to note his amazing legacy of music. Well done, Maestro.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Lazy Linkage (and an announcement)

Here's some stuff gleaned from the blogroll today. I usually only do "Lazy Linkage"-type posts when I'm either busy or sick, both of which apply: this month is going to be very busy for me, and I'm nursing a really annoying cold right now. August is a stupid month to get a cold. December, January -- those are months for colds. But August? When it's sunny out and 78 degrees? That's just wrong on so many levels. And this one must be pretty obvious, since in the course of wandering about The Store in my Dayquil-enhanced stupor today, nearly every coworker I encountered took one look at me and said some variant of, "Geez, are you sick today?" But hey, I got a lot of sympathy. I like sympathy. (But, to put things in a bit of perspective, one of my favorite coworkers had her first day back at The Store today after a lengthy leave-of-absence for medical reasons. It was good to see her back stocking the dairy cases.)

:: Michael Lopez links a piece on the easy access to porn by Naomi Wolf. It's a pretty interesting article, and I agree with quite a bit of it. It bugs me to no end that erotic mysteriousness seems to be an unknown quantity these days. Also check out William Moon's follow-up. (William is Michael's co-blogger.)

:: Sticking with Mr. Lopez, check out his advice for would-be re-enactors of The Paper Chase. I confess that I never, not once, considered going to law school. (And this will probably sound really weird and/or stupid, but I find law libraries really creepy. I don't like it when all of the books on the shelves look the same.)

:: Anne Zook links a piece by Eric Alterman on how on Earth "liberal" became such a dirty word, along with offering her own thoughts along the way. I've wondered this myself a bit. These days, George McGovern is often cited as the ultimate political loser, despite the fact that he got beat by the biggest political crook in American history.

:: TBogg makes a music recommendation, for the new kd lang album. He's the second blogger in a week I've seen recommending that album, so I'll probably be picking it up. Like Tom, I love her voice but her songs themselves usually don't thrill me. I do think she got kind of screwed-over on the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, for which she recorded a very good song that was used on the end credits while a much lesser effort by Sheryl Crow was used for the opening titles.

:: Aaron posts for the first time in a month, to show off his new fence. Next up: the front porch, on which he plans to sit and throw cans at passing kids on bikes while he shouts homilies about "back in the day".

:: Wanna get published, but are tired of the constant pessimism in the whole enterprise? Read this. I hope this is portable from the mystery genre to fantasy and SF. I can't imagine why it wouldn't be. And besides, I don't really have a choice: it's the stories, and me. They jump, I jump. Just like Jack in Titanic. (via The Book Stops Here)

:: Now, the announcement. I alluded above, and in a post a few days ago, that The Wife and I are expecting the imminent arrival of Kid Number Two at some point in the next several weeks. Aside from that, there's enough other stuff going on in August that is going to be occupying my time: stuff like the annual Toy Festival in East Aurora, NY; the Erie County Fair; my company's summer picnic thing; and just general writing stuff. So I've decided to go on hiatus starting now, and I'll return once Kid Number Two has emerged from his/her cloning cylinder/gestation tube/birthing cocoon. Sudden, I know, but I was leaning toward a hiatus anyway, and with The Wife entering her maternity leave this week, the time seems right. (And besides, there's the added incentive to keep visiting: that's the only way my fine readers will know when the latest offspring of Our Alien Overlords is pluck'd from its maternal chamber.)

(I do, of course, reserve the right to post occasionally, if I so desire -- say, if George Lucas brings all of his incomplete footage for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith to my home, or if Peter Jackson asks me to look over his draft for The Hobbit, or if George W. Bush inadvertently endorses John Kerry.)

Here, by the way, is my favorite picture of The Wife and The Daughter. (The original Move Over Britney! women, one might say.) I took this when we were in our "Six months in Syracuse" phase, more than a year and a half ago (wow, that long!), but they haven't changed in my eyes, anyway.



So farewell, readers, and hopefully I'll be back sooner rather than later!

Sunday, August 08, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK (Adolescent Male Edition)





A Wonder Woman montage.

Darth Swank linked this selection of the 50 sexiest cartoon babes, which is a fairly nifty list, although I can't imagine why anyone would put the woman from The Family Guy anywhere near a list like this, much less in front of such "cartoon babes" as Mary Jane Watson. (Speaking of whom, MJ only places fortieth? It looks to me like Peter Parker's not the only one who doesn't know what he's been missing.)

Of course, longtime readers will know what's coming right now, since I post it here every few months. I find the picture above stunningly gorgeous, and I once again renew my wish that someone would make a Wonder Woman movie (and do it well). But that still isn't quite my favorite picture of the beautiful Amazon. That would be this:



And perusing the 50 "cartoon babes" named, I find it odd that apparently nobody has seen the film Heavy Metal; otherwise, surely Taarna would make the cut. I mean, well....



I mean, how on Earth can the woman from The Family Guy hold a candle to that? Much less Betty or Veronica from Archie?! Taarna would cut off all their heads before going off to save the universe from the Loc-Nar. (I know, it sounds dumb. So's the movie.)

(BTW, the image gallery in the Taarna site linked above is NOT safe for work. Unless you work in a comic-book shop, or some other emporium wherein nudity and bondage are par-for-the-course.)

Bloggin' lit

Megan McArdle has decided to harness the power of blogs in order to further the cause of literature. Her efforts begin here.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I've always liked "scientific kookery": those whacko "theories" that are little more than conjectures with little or no evidence behind them, that still somehow to find lots of adherents amongst folks who are to other appearances perfectly reasonable people. I'm talking stuff like UFOlogy, Graham Hancock's ideas about a very ancient technological civilization on Earth (predating the last Ice Age), and "Hollow Earth" theorists who think that the world is, well, "hollow".

That last is a really fun one, and via MeFi I now see that if you have a spare $20,000 lying around, you can join an expedition departing in 2006 for the hole in the Arctic Ocean that leads inside our planet! Now who wouldn't want to do something like that?

Since this expedition seems to draw heavily on Eskimo myths, I can only surmise that these people were too busy munching popcorn in the Indiana Jones movies when Dr. Jones warns his students against folklore and "taking mythology at face value". Or that they missed the episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus in which the guy with double-vision is going to lead an expedition to climb "both peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro".

New at GMR

I have a new music review up this week at GMR, of three CDs by the upstate NY (Albany area) Irish bar band Hair of the Dog. Short version: I like these guys. Long version: here.

Much funniness will ensue.

I've just checked Christopher Moore's official website for the first time in quite a while, and I see that he has a new book coming out this winter, called The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror. He has the first chapter online here, but I think I'll wait.

Scrolling down the front of Moore's front page, I see that all of his previous books have been reissued with consistent cover art. Too bad that consistent cover art is so consistently hideous. I mean, these covers look like they were done by Mrs. Micklethwaite's artistically-challened third grade class. Yeecchhh. (At the opposite end of the spectrum is the cover of the Israeli edition of Bloodsucking Fiends, which would probably make me jump back if the bookstore had it face-out on the shelf.)

(I wrote about Moore's most recent book, Fluke, a year ago, here.)

No wonder my writing keeps getting worse....

Rejection massively reduces IQ!

So all those editors who refuse to buy my work are making me stupid. Well, that's just great.

Actually, I don't think this is the kind of rejection the article is talking about, but hey, anything to make it all not my fault!

(Link via Teresa Nielsen Hayden's latest open thread. TNH's blog has the best comment threads you'll find anywhere.)

Do you take this man? OK, how about THIS man? or THIS one?

Congratulations to Mandalei (I have no idea if that's her real name) on becoming engaged and, more importantly, getting to finally read bridal magazines without pretense.

In a related note, I've decided to address my current reading slump by dipping into The Wife's bookshelf, since nothing on my own really appeals right now. So I'm going to be reading a couple of romance novels and other stuff clearly marketed toward the "wimminfolk": you know, front covers with pictures of glasses of wine and the title in looping cursive script and the like. One thing that always amuses me is that men complain incessantly that they have no understanding of women at all, and yet, there's all this written material out there like magazines and novels that men could surely peruse to gain some insights into women, and yet, they don't. Weird. But then, my general opinion of "maleness" is pretty low to begin with.

Exploring the CD Collection #5

Marine Band Showcase
The United States Marine Band
Colonel John Bourgeois, conductor


Ever since my days in the concert band both in high school and college, I've felt that the concert band (occasionally called the "wind ensemble") tends to be unfairly treated in classical music circles. Many think of it as a symphony orchestra minus the strings, with the woodwinds "beefed up" to take over those parts in transcriptions of symphonic repertoire. The truth of the matter – that the concert band is its own animal, with advantages and disadvantages of its own, and is capable of musical expression to a greater degree than just about any other possible ensemble with the exception of the full symphony orchestra – isn't often granted, and this seems to me a pity. There's a lot more to concert band music than Sousa marches and the music for those wonderful competitive British brass bands. (Not to slight either genre, there, for both are fascinating.)

The "Gold Standard" for wind bands in the United States is the United States Marine Band, which is actually the oldest continuously operating musical ensemble in our nation, having been established by an Act of Congress signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. Often called "The President's Own", it is the Marine Band that provides the music for Presidential Inauguration ceremonies, receptions of foreign dignitaries on the White House South Lawn, state dinners, and more, including public concerts. This is no organization of "second-rate" musicians; performers are selected by an audition process as rigorous as that employed by many professional orchestras, and the members of the Marine Band are career professionals, as well as members of the United States Marine Corps.

The present recording was once available through the Musical Heritage Society, which is how I acquired it, although I have no idea if it is still available as such. According to the Marine Band website, the Band's recordings aren't for sale but are instead distributed to public institutions like libraries and schools (so check your libraries; the Marine Band has a lot of fine recordings.) I actually bought it because it is, to my knowledge, the only recording available on CD of a particular work (more on that in a bit), but as is often the case with CDs I buy for a single work, there's a lot of music on here to treasure aside from the piece I wanted. (Which is, by the way, a big reason why I reject the "Why should I buy an entire CD for one song!" argument in favor of digital distribution.)

There is a Bach transcription here, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, that is the only transcription on the disc. The other seven selections are music specifically written for wind band, and there isn't a single Sousa or K.L. King march in evidence. There is one by Beethoven, the March in D Major, that the great composer wrote for the bands of his day, and there is Percy Grainger's wondrous Children's March: Over the Hills and Far Away, which is one of the most charming pieces of music ever composed. Grainger's Marching Song of Democracy is here, and it's an interesting work in its own right. There is Camille Saint-Saens's work for wind band, Orient et Occident, which is a standard of the band repertoire. And there are several "modern" works, one of which is the reason I sought this disc out. That work is Elegy, by Mark Camphouse, and it is one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever heard.

I was fortunate enough to get to perform this work in my freshman year of college, and I still remember how stunning I found the piece. It opens with a solo flute, sounding a motif that recurs throughout the piece, and very, very gradually the rest of the woodwinds enter. One barely notices when the brass arrive, and the overall texture of the work never really becomes strident except for one section in the middle. The meter changes fairly often, if I recall correctly, and there are many solo passages for the various instruments in the band (including two gorgeous parts for solo trumpet, which I sadly was not lucky enough to get to play, being as I was a freshman behind two better players). The work seems to never really make a full melodic statement, until the very end; instead, melodies come and go, are suggested and toyed with, and each time we think we know where the melody is headed, it goes someplace else – until an amazing climactic section when Camphouse allows the full melody to sing forth before the work fades out, again with the solo flute that started it and a mis-matching note sounded by the bells. The liner notes to the CD include these words:

In addition to being an elegiac tribute to the composer's late father, the work serves as a sincere musical memorial to the heroic sacrifices made by men and women of the armed forces in the defense of freedom.


I've always wondered how my college band director happened onto this piece, which we began rehearsing in fall of 1989, little more than a year after its premiere by the President's Own Marine Band in July of 1988. I'm very glad that he did, though.

One more postscript about Elegy by Mark Camphouse: it was the first piece of music I could bring myself to listen to after the horror of 9-11-01, three days later.

For a limited time, Elegy can be heard here. This is a big file (just under 7 MB), since the work is over fourteen minutes long, and I had to use the lowest compression rate available, so it's not the best sounding file. But I do hope it gets heard a bit. This piece seems to me to deserve better than to simply show up on college wind ensemble programs as the "modern work" of the night. A concert band is capable of far more than martial music.

It's the best, and DOZENS agree with me!

Only in the bizarro-world of film music fandom could you have a message board thread like this one, wherein Jerry Goldsmith's score to King Solomon's Mines, a movie that is remembered by no one except for film music fans, and then only because it's got a Jerry Goldsmith score, is placed alongside John Williams's near-classic score to Raiders of the Lost Ark. The effect is not unlike if a thread raged on some classical music board somewhere, comparing, say, the symphonies of Berwald to those of Brahms.

And for sheer "God, I can't look away!" lunacy from the film music world, there's the guy who wrote this piece about Goldsmith, and the various threads in which he pontificates on the FSM boards (like here -- in which Our Hero reposts his entire front-page article to the message board because a few words he'd meant to be italicized weren't -- and here, in which persons digging deeply enough will find a familiar name mixing it up -- I just chalk it up to something in the water that day -- and there are many more). This guy blends his idolatry of Jerry Goldsmith with his idolatry of Ayn Rand, with all of the humility that lovers of the latter are so often known for.

(In fairness, Dan -- the Objectivist Goldsmithian linked above -- does a pretty interesting job of describing Goldsmith's general approach to scoring. Where he flies completely off the rails is in his insistence that Goldsmith's approach is the only valid approach to film scoring, and that therefore all other film composers are inferior.)

On the off chance that there are any lovers of classical music out there who avoid film music because the fans are so, well, weird, all I can say is, Don't blame the music. It's not the music's fault. Really.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Move Over Britney!

OK, I wasn't planning to dip into the Pool Of Women Who Are Pistols To Britney's Pop-gun quite so soon after just last week, but hey, as long as I'm kvetching about red-haired beauty, I figure I might as well cite one. So here's Lea Thompson, an actress whom I have never disliked in anything. (Well, OK, there is this movie, but that's all I'll grant.)



Ms. Thompson's most recent work that I've seen was on the sadly-cancelled show Ed, as Ed Stevens's ex-wife. Watching her and Julie Bowen on the screen, at the same time -- well, it made me keenly aware of what a fantasyland TV dramas are, when a guy who looks like Thomas Cavanagh can land not one but two stunning women in one lifetime. But then, Ed did have one fine sense of humor.

(BTW, the site from which I acquired this photo of Ms. Thompson is one part of a site devoted to redheads. Apparently the site is no longer actively updated, but there appears to be a generous quantity of photos for perusal, which are apparently "safe for work", though I can not as yet vouch for this.)

New Month, New (belated) Masthead

Somehow, in the crush of other stuff going on, I totally forgot to update the masthead image for August. I have now rectified this, revisiting the tale of the Lady of Shallott.

The Reddening of the Cheeks shall now commence.

Sara Donati -- whose books The Wife really enjoys, and whose blog I really enjoy although I forget about it for weeks at a time -- provides an interesting analysis of a sex scene from another author's novel.

I don't know if this makes me a prude or something, but I simply cannot write stuff like that, and when I encounter sequences like this in books in my own reading, I tend to gloss right by it. There's just something about the sexual act that is, to my mind, searingly private*, and in my own writing, when "the act" occurs, I generally avoid it entirely by leading up to it and then cutting to sometime after it. Sort of like the scene in When Harry Met Sally... when Harry and Sally finally make love: we see them kissing a bit, then more passionately, then we cut to afterwards (with the best cinematic juxtaposition of two entirely different facial expressions that I have ever seen).

I don't really have a point here except to note that I tend to approach eroticism from the standpoint of suggestion than from the standpoint of expression. That's just a matter of taste, though. The passage that Sara illuminates really is well-done, for the reasons Sara gives.

* Invariably, my most embarrassing work-place experiences involve moments when co-workers discover my general discomfort with this kind of thing and proceed to draw much pleasure from the fact that I blush incredibly easily.

UPDATE: Upon further inspection, Sara is spending some time over multiple posts, starting here, examining the forensics of the sex scene. I'll try to quell the voices of my inner Beavis and Butthead as I read her blog for a bit!

How can ye have any pudding if ye don't eat yer meat?!

Oh, boy. Via John Scalzi I see that Roger Waters, once of Pink Floyd fame (and, in my view, the dominant creative force behind Floyd, whose efforts after Waters's departure are really unimpressive), is adapting The Wall for Broadway.

I don't know what to think about this. On the one hand, hey, I'm sure someone once thought something along the lines of "An entire show drawn from T.S. Eliots Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats?! That'll never work!", so there's no a priori reason why a show based on The Wall can't work. But just the same, I can't see how the, shall we say, psychedelic qualities of the album and the film can really be captured on Broadway.

I mean, look at this quote by Waters:

"Great!" said Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters in a statement Thursday. "Now I can write in some laughs, notable by their absence in the movie."


Maybe he's just joking here, but on the off chance that he's serious, well -- the last thing that The Wall needs is laughs. For my money, the only emotional response to The Wall involves sitting back, going all slack-jawed, and saying "Du-uuude!" a lot. (Where the hell would Waters inject some yuks, anyway? Before or after the sequence when the schoolkids are fed into the meat-grinder? Or maybe the sequence when Pink shaves every single hair off his body?)

Which brings me to my real objection. The Wall seems to me to pretty much require an "altered consciousness" upon viewing. Now, I've never sampled marijuana (and I've never even come close to dropping acid), so I don't know, but I have it on good authority that the film The Wall is quite the experience when one is stoned. I have, though, seen it several times while "three sheets to the wind", so to speak (it was college; what did you think I was doing on Saturday nights at three a.m.?), and when I finally watched it again while sober years later, it just wasn't the same. Those incredibly funky animations are merely intriguing when you're sober, but when you're drunk -- well, let's just say that after a sufficient number of beers, all those marching hammers and copulating flowers take on an iconic status that I don't think will translate easily to the staid Broadway stage.

Of course, a Broadway version of The Wall might just constitute a new reason to push for legalizing pot. Now we can say, "Legalize it for art!"

The Reddening of the Hair shall now commence.

I read this Michael Brooke post about a promotional offer by the London Zoo, in honor of the birth of their new monkey, and I learned something new: not about monkeys, but about language, which is all-the-more useful to me. I did not know that the word "ginger" can be used to describe persons (and non-humans) with red hair. This is good news to me, because my store of adjectives to describe red hair has pretty much been limited to "red hair" and also "auburn hair" (along with the occasional metaphorical euphemism, such as, "Her hair was the color of the hills in late September"). So now I have a new option. Cool!

(This is no small thing, since a quick perusal of the Move Over Britney! archives will reveal a predilection on my part for redheads, to the point where the recently-rejected novel's heroine sports long, auburn hair. In fact, a beta-reader of an earlier manuscript actually pointed out that I had no fewer than four "ginger-haired" characters in the thing, a goofy happenstance that I have since rectified by making one of them chestnut-haired, one yellow-haired, and the third one bald. The heroine kept her auburn hair, because she just doesn't look right in my mind's eye with anything else.)

Friday, August 06, 2004

"In this town, I'm the leper with the most fingers"

I made note of this a bit ago but totally forgot to link it: Michael Blowhard offers a fascinating intro to film noir, for those who are interested but don't know where to start. I'm not the biggest noir fan, but I do enjoy a dip into that genre now and then.

And if you'd rather read some noir, grab one or both of the Library of America's noir collections, here and here.

(Speaking of the Library of America, I wonder when on Earth they plan to acknowledge Science Fiction as a genre worthy of its efforts. I love the Library of America volumes, and I wish I could still afford to be a subscriber.)

Passings

A couple of celebrity passings came to my attention today -- one Buffalo-related, one not.

First was today's death of Rick James, the "Superfreak" guy who was a Buffalo native. I didn't really know that much about him at all, but he's from Buffalo, which gets him a mention here.

Second, I learned a bit ago that character actor Eugene Roche passed away recently. Roche had a long career, and if you watched TV or went to many movies in the 70s and 80s, you no doubt saw him. (Filmography here.) I remember him for two roles: first, as the Archbishop and the Archbishop's twin brother in the Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn flick Foul Play (which is still an old favorite of mine, before Chase turned into a giant flake); and second, as Luther H. Gillis, a gumshoe detective he played as a recurring role on Magnum, PI. (Now there's a show I'd love to have on DVD.)

O for a Magic 8-Ball, that I might make sense of the signs around me!

I think that God, or some simulacrum thereof, decided to kibitz me a little in the writing department today. Remember my offhand mention of writing a script drawing on my experiences at The Store? Well, today saw the entry into The Store of both a squirrel and a bird, both of which resulted in scenes of High Farce in Real Life.

I almost think that my Muse, annoyed at my current state of sloth, finally said, "Hey, dumb-ass, here's some material! Now write, dumb-ass!" Yeah, I know, but there's not much you can do when your Muse looks like this guy.

(BTW, the research request I floated in the earlier post linked above is no longer active, since I've decided that by virtue of the replies I received, the scene I had in mind would be highly improbable, for several reasons. Oh well.)

Quizzes and the Bloggers who answer them....

Lynn Sislo always finds interesting quizzes, so hey, why not:

1. I have never voted for a Democrat in my life. False. I am a Democrat. (I have also voted for Republicans, albeit not very often. I believe that my former Congressman, Amory Houghton, is a fine public servant.)

2. I think my taxes are too high. Well -- I'd love to be able to rant and say "Of course they are!" but the fact is, in my current financial situation (i.e., not very good but not disastrous either) taxes are not even close to being the prevailing concern. The fact that I don't make as much as I would like, especially at this point in my life, is a concern.

But generally, I've never complained about my taxes, really. I see taxes as a necessary annoyance. Sure, I'd love to live in that beautiful Libertarian dream world where there are no taxes, but I actually live in the real world and while government is hardly perfect, I don't believe that the Market can do everything better. Here's how John Scalzi once put it:

I like the idea that some of the money I send to my government goes to keep a library open in the little town I live in. I like the idea that somewhere in my little town, a kid who'd otherwise go hungry is eating dinner bought with food stamps that I paid for. I like the idea that a sailor on an aircraft carrier goes on shore leave with money I put in his pocket. I like the idea that people are researching diseases and robots are exploring space with money I chipped in to pay for them. As I mentioned, there are lots of things our government is doing with my money I wish it wouldn't do, but that's the trade-off and overall I think the balance is worth it.


Amen.

3. I supported Bill Clinton's impeachment. No. It was the culmination of years of idiotic, partisan hatred. It didn't come anywhere near what I consider to be a "high crime or misdemeanor". It was "We're gonna get that SOB for something, if we gotta spend eight years and a hundred million dollars to do it."

4. I voted for President Bush in 2000. I have never voted for any member of the Bush clan, in any election. Nor will I.

5. I am a gun owner. No. I have nothing against gun ownership, but personally guns give me the willies.

6. I support school voucher programs. No.

7. I oppose condom distribution in public schools. No.

8. I oppose bilingual education. I confess I'm not sure what's being asked here. Is it teaching kids foreign languages? Or is it conducting classes in Spanish for Hispanic-descended students? I don't favor complete separation, and I think that as a general starting point, we should ensure that kids are all learning English. But I do not support making English the "official language" or prohibiting the use of Spanish in classrooms.

9. I oppose gay marriage. No. I support gay marriage. And gay adoption.

10. I want Social Security privatized. No.

11. I believe racial profiling at airports is common sense. I'm going to duck on this one, simply because from one minute to the next I take either position. I really can see why it's a good idea -- but it's a good idea that I hate. It seems obvious now, but when do we stop profiling? When the ratio of Arabic-initiated terrorist incidents to non-Arabic-initiated terrorists incidents drops below a certain level?

12. I shop at Wal-Mart. I stopped several months ago. There is nothing Wal-Mart has that I can't get somewhere else, and I'll deal with paying a buck or two more. (As a corrolary to the tax question above, it seems to me that someone who genuinely doesn't have the necessity of shopping at Wal-Mart should also not be complaining about their taxes.)

13. I enjoy talk radio. NPR and sports talk shows, yes. Limbaugh/Hannity/O'Reilly/Savage? They make me want to vomit.

14. I am annoyed when news editors substitute the phrase "undocumented person" for "illegal alien." Hmmmm -- I confess it hadn't occurred to me. But "undocumented person" is definitely a clunky, PC-type euphemism.

15. I do not believe the phrase "a chink in the armor" is offensive. Well, until I read this question, I had totally forgotten that "chink" can be a slur for Asian persons. So no, I guess I don't think it's offensive. I don't like it, though, because it's not very specific -- I prefer "hole" or "gap".

16. I eat meat. Yes. I understand the arguments for vegetarianism, but I decided long ago that something never eats that another thing doesn't die. I try to look at it from that "circle of life" perspective. You know, like The Lion King.

17. I believe O.J. Simpson was guilty. Personally, I do, but I don't really know a whole lot about the case.

18. I cheered when I learned that Saddam Hussein had been captured. My first response was, "Holy Crap, really?!", followed by happiness. And at some point I laughed at the fact that the great Saddam turned out to be too much the coward to commit suicide in the face of capture. (Not that I took Saddam's capture to be any kind of great turning point in anything.)

19. I cry when I hear "Proud to be an American" (God Bless the USA) by Lee Greenwood. No. Truth be told, I don't like the song, and it's not because the Republicans have somehow managed to claim it as their anthem. I just don't like it. I don't really care all that much for God Bless America either. But I do like "The Star Spangled Banner", and I love "America the Beautiful". And I think we don't hear "This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land" nearly enough anymore. (And I have to be honest: "O Canada" is such a good song that it always makes me wish I was Canadian, for just a moment.)

20. I don't believe the New York Times. Oh, because it's a liberal paper, right? I don't read it much, actually.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Rejection

I neglected to mention this last week, but Publisher Number One officially passed on The Promised King, Book One: The Welcomer. Thus, I am now in the process of readying it for Publisher Number Two.

I must admit to questioning the whole writing thing in recent weeks and months. There are times when I really want to tell more stories, but there are other times when the thought actually enters my mind: "Does the world really need another storyteller?" And I've also been in a reading slump, which isn't helping. Dry spells come, and dry spells go, but this one's been both dryer and longer than any I can remember.

All this is preamble to this: Expect a hiatus here sometime in the next few weeks, and one that perhaps could last a while. (Especially with another event in the offing sometime this month that is virtually guaranteed to shake things up in my carefully-constructed world. Let's just say that The Wife's weight gain, which has been going on for close to 40 weeks, should be coming to a drastic end fairly soon.)

Child-like Observations

I don't inflict "cuteisms" from The Daughter on my readership, but for those who want a shorter version of what Lileks dishes out, here are two things she said recently that struck me as funny:

:: On the conclusion of a movie on DVD: "You can take the movie out now. You don't hafta rewind it, though, 'cause it's on a DDD." (She calls DVDs "DDDs".)

:: On glimpsing a shot of Cyd Charisse in the movie The Bandwagon, which we watched the other night: "That's a really beautiful woman. If I was a man I'd marry that woman." (This one both amused and disturbed me a little. But I have to admit that The Daughter has an eye for beauty.)

The Triumphant Return of Mozilla

I'm finally back to using Mozilla as my browser, to my immense and eternal relief. After a system restore to a point from six months ago, I ended up re-downloading and re-installing Mozilla, and so far, so good. I still have no idea what the difficulty was.

The green, green grass....

Usually this time of year in Buffalo is marked by lawns that are starting to brown, because our summers aren't all that wet. But this year, it seems to never stop raining. Sure, there are sunny days, but I'm not sure if there's been a string of sunny days longer than, oh, three days yet this year.

So I got really excited when I looked at the Upcoming Week's Forecast in the Buffalo News this past Sunday and saw virtually no rain predicted. Sure enough, there was no rain on Sunday, or Monday. There was a very brief storm yesterday morning that barreled through and out in about half-an-hour, which was followed by a gorgeous warm and sunny day.

And today?

It's rained, all damn day.

Oy.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Wow.

Now that I temporarily have to use Internet Explorer, I can't believe I spent seven years online using nothing but Internet Explorer. Ye Gods, this browser stinks!

Body Language, part II

The other day I offered a few suggestions as to how to tell if he is interested, in terms of "body language". I closed by noting my complete ignorance as to how to tell if she is interested. But in comments, Mary Messall charged in and helped out, which I reproduce here:

Does she laugh at everything you say? And agree to almost anything you suggest? Does she lower her eyes when you look at her? Is her tone confiding -- as if she's telling secrets or confessing sins? Does she apologize a lot? When she's expecting to see you, is she dressed better (or more revealingly) than the other women nearby? Does she hover nearby, even in a crowded room, even if you move?


God help me if I'm ever "out there" again...but then, I'm fairly certain no women ever behaved thus toward me even when I was "out there". (The ultimate mystery, then, is why I'm not still "out there". I've been puzzling over that one for years, myself.)

The scraping of excessively thin skin, in progress

TBogg points out an article by Dennis Prager (how Tom can read crap like Prager is beyond me), in which Prager is terribly upset that some twelve-year-old girl suggested at the Democratic National Convention that Dick Cheney should get a "time out" for his bad language on the floor of the United States Senate.

Interestingly, this is the first I'm even hearing of this girl; but then, I watched far less of this year's convention than any other since I became politically aware. But the fact that Prager can get this upset over an apparent "throwaway" moment at their convention is pretty illustrative, I think.

Two further things strike me from reading Prager. Here's the graf in which Prager really gets hot beneath his collar:

Of course, this girl has accomplished nothing compared to Dick Cheney. She has no wisdom, no humility and no knowledge beyond the leftist platitudes spoon-fed by her parents and schools. She is a mere child, more foolish than most, in that she actually thinks she has earned the right to publicly ridicule the vice president of the United States.


Well, of course she's accomplished nothing compared to a onetime Congressman, Secretary of Defense, White House Chief of Staff, and current Vice President of the United States. Neither have I. Neither has Dennis Prager. This is a sentence of colossal stupidity -- and it's just the lead-off hitter in the stupidest paragraph I have read in quite some time.

Then there's the second sentence. That one's really cute. "She's just spouting off whatever her parents have taught her!" That's quite the revelatory insight there, but I wonder if Prager has ever entertained similar thoughts about this political commentator from the Saved By the Bell set. I bet not. For Prager, the latter's probably a genius, ahead of his time. No spoonfeeding of platitudes for that kid, nosiree, Bob! That boy's got himself a fully-formed, rationally-concluded set of political beliefs!

And then Prager breaks out the big bat: "She thinks she has earned the right to publicly ridicule the Vice President of the United States!" Boy, there's nothing like seeing a nationally-syndicated pundit reduced to pouting-in-print, almost like -- dare I say? -- a twelve-year-old. But in any case, Dennis, obviously she thinks she's earned that right. And do you know why? Because the right to publicly ridicule the Vice President of the United States isn't earned: this girl has that right just by virtue of being an American. I think I read that somewhere in that Constitution thing people are always talking about -- or maybe that piece of paper they read ever July 4. Maybe even both.

Three sentences, each stupider than the next. That's got to be a record unmatched by any piece of writing since the script of the last episode of Three's Company.

EDIT: Link fixed.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Help, Technofolks!

I've had to do three System Restore's in one day, and I'm writing this in Internet Explorer right now because something is haywire my computer such that Mozilla won't even run. Does anyone have any idea what in the hell is going on? Have I possibly picked up some kind of virus or something?

Sunday, August 01, 2004

IMAGE OF THE WEEK





Art for unnamed science fiction novel, circa 1952.

Jayme Lynn Blaschke linked this gallery of SF cover art from a line of what appear to be adventure-packed space operas published in the 1950s, and this image on the gallery's front page especially caught my eye. I couldn't find any information as to what book this particular image hails from, but there it is. This is the essence of the old chestnut that "the Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve".

(These to be precisely the kinds of books that would feature a protagonist named "Jay Manifold", by the way. And PZ Myers agrees with me!)

Everything but the expletives

Poker with Dick Cheney. Hilarious. Heh, indeed, read the whole thing, et cetera.

(via)

Well, check to see if he's breathing first....

....because if he is, he's probably interested.

What am I talking about? Well, I've never heard of the search engine before, but somehow I'm the number one result for this.

Well, I'm no expert, but I'd pay attention to the following: When you talk to him, does he stare you in the eyes when you're talking, but look away when he is talking? Especially if he's talking about himself? Does he carefully clutch something nearby, as if restraining himself from coming closer? If he's walking by and he suddenly spies you, does he suddenly slow down? Does he seem to be facing in your general direction when you see him (an indicator that he's already seen you)? After a conversation with you ends and he's walking away, is there suddenly a little more spring in his step? Does he seem to be always trying to make you laugh? If you listen in to his conversations with others, and he's generally witty and articulate, does he seem to grope for words and get tongue-tied when he talks directly to you?

Those might be good indicators of interest. Years of people-watching pays off, once in a while!

(If you're wondering how to tell if she is interested, well -- I haven't a clue. It's a total mystery.)

Eureka!

A while back I ruminated a bit on candy bars and whatnot, and I remarked that I once had an all-peanut butter peanut butter cup (i.e., no chocolate, just the peanut butter center in a peanut butter shell), but had not been able to find them since.

Well, today I finally found them. These people make them, and this magnificent place sells them. (Along with just about everything else I could possibly want -- like bottles of Sheaffer Skrip Ink for my fountain pens, little candlesticks for my Swedish "spinning angels" Christmas thingie, porcelain dolls for the wife, and toys galore like Wizard of Oz bobble-heads and little model Volkswagen beetles.)

I swear to God, if I ever move away from Buffalo again, it will be for an unavoidable reason. Like, NASA spots a meteor that's about to smack into Buffalo.

O for an icepick, that I might drive it through my eardrums....

Whilst driving earlier this afternoon, I was listening to a regular feature on WNED, where they spend a bit of time on Sunday afternoons -- usually three hours, but sometimes less -- exploring new classical music releases on CD. There's usually something interesting, sometines something less than interesting...and every once in a while there is something completely off-the-rails Godawful.

Such was the case today with an arrangement of Ravel's Bolero, a piece which I hate, done exclusively for percussion. Lots and lots of snare drums, xylophones and marimbas. It was five minutes of sheer hell, and yet I couldn't turn the station -- it was like that guy said on that episode of Seinfeld about Kramer's portrait: "He is a loathsome, offensive brute -- and yet I cannot look away."

When the "piece" was done, the announcer came on and said, "I hope you're all holding your noses, the same way that I am". He proceeded to report that the piece is just one selection on an entire CD of arrangements of Bolero (I wish I was making this up). I can't imagine the sheer, agonizing hell that listening to this CD must bring. God in heaven.

(If you really must hear Bolero, or even worse, own a copy of it, get this set, with Jean Martinon conducting the Orchestre de Paris. I find Martinon's touch with Ravel to be superb, and even though I can't even make it through his Bolero without climbing the walls, I do have to admit that he brings out shading and detail in the orchestration that I haven't heard in other conductors' recordings of the work. Or you could splurge and get the same version on this set, which contains enough French impressionist music to satisfy just about anybody.)

Traffic Babbling

Yup, time for some navel-gazing. Keep scrolling if navel-gazing bores you.

July was my lowest month for total hits since January, which still holds the record for most hits here. I could be unhappy about that, but it would be pointless to be so, because it's really not something I can control, and anyway, I'm happy that Byzantium's Shores is receiving links from an ever-increasing pool within Blogistan, as opposed to receiving traffic from a small number of like-minded blogs. This leads me to believe that while I am by no means a heavily-trafficked blog, the traffic that I do receive is fairly diverse, and thus my general traffic level is likely to be fairly robust. Or so I'd like to believe.

Anyway, that's it for July (except to say, Thanks to my readers both regular and occasional.)

One other traffic-related item: last week or so I noticed a sudden spike in referrals from Punning Pundit, which surprised me because Andrew's linked me before and yet none of those links ever resulted in as many clustered hits as that one did. (I'm talking about thirty or forty hits from Andrew's blog in a single day, and since my average traffic is currently around 130 hits a day, that's a lot.) After some investigation, I discovered what had happened: Dean Esmay, who is one of the heavier-trafficked blogs out there, linked Andrew, and when Mr. Esmay's readers went to Andrew's blog, one of the very first posts they saw was the one in which he had linked me. So I had a sort-of "ripple effect" from Dean Esmay, for which I thank him for his part, even though I'm not sure he's ever read my blog.

Don't bother me! I'm consulting!

Best of luck to Darth Swank as he leaves one consulting gig and goes on to another consulting gig.

I think it would be cool to be a consultant, but then I realize, most of my answers would be variations of "Hell, I dunno -- can't hurt nothin', I s'pose...."

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

A bar in Pennsylvania offers a burger for the low price of $23.95.

Wondering what you get for that much? Have a look.

I'm full just looking at the thing.

Via Mickey, who has more photos of the Burger That Ate Pittsburgh.

Teeing off now, Mr. Ebert

I can't resist the urge to quote the last bit of Roger Ebert's review of The Village, which apparently he hated:

To call it [the "secret"] an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore.

And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we're back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.


I've read some spoiler stuff about this movie, so I already know what the "big twists" are, and I have to admit, they sound really lame. I think that M. Night Shyamalan really needs to try something new. Yeah, I found Signs really effective when I first saw it, but the thing just doesn't stand up to any kind of scrutiny at all.

A Brief Maintenance Note

SiteMeter was down for a chunk of time this morning, which was making the blog load really slowly. So I rejiggered the template slightly, moving the SiteMeter code to the very bottom of the page -- the button no longer appears in the sidebar (formerly, it was right under my second picture) but after the very last post on the front page. This means that even if SiteMeter is not responding, everything else will load the way it's supposed to.

Somehow I pictured him as a Run-DMC fan....

Will Duquette elaborates on his musical tastes, somehow tying it into iTunes, which I know nothing about. He separates out a bunch of categories or genres and discusses a bit of his listening habits therein. Always being one to follow a trend the very second I see one, I guess I'll steal his categories and do the same.

I'm not sure what Will means by citing numbers of tracks -- if this is "tracks available at iTunes", or "tracks Will owns", or what. I personally have purchased no music at all online; I'm a big fan of the compact disc and having a physical object on which my music is stored, so instead of track titles I'll give a rough estimate of the number of CDs I own in any category. For starters, I estimate my CD collection at around 700 CDs. (All of the music I have on my computer is stuff I've ripped from the CDs so I can listen while I write, and I don't do all that much ripping anyway, since I also own two portable CD players which I can plunk right next to the keyboard.)

Blues: Not off to a good start, I'm afraid. I own zero blues recordings. I never listen to the blues. And I'm not really sure why, because it isn't that I don't like the blues; far from it, actually. It's simply a musical genre which I don't seek out, because there are others I love more. (I do have to take slight exception to Will's statement that he doesn't listen to blues because he doesn't like being depressed. I never find the blues depressing -- well, almost never. I generally find that there's a playfulness in the blues, a sort of "We laugh so we don't cry" type of thing. But then, I could just as easily be in the wrong here, since I don't listen to the blues more than once or twice a year and that's on the radio. Speaking of which, WBFO -- Buffalo's NPR station -- does six hours of blues programming on Saturdays and Sundays, and they have a streaming webcast, for those interested in such things.)

Children's: I should get more kids' music, probably. Generally this purpose is filled by stuff from other genres, like Disney soundtracks, showtunes, lighter classical, et cetera. The Daughter also seems to enjoy Celtic music (she never complains on Saturday nights when I insist on listening to Thistle and Shamrock on NPR for two hours). I do need to get a VeggieTales CD or two one of these days, since she loves those guys and really, they're very funny. ("A great big squash just sat upon my hat!") Generally, though, I find that childrens' music tends to be a bit cloying and/or condescending; being borne pretty much of ignorance, though, I'm welcome to having this presupposition challenged.

ASIDE: The Daughter has always enjoyed singing. When we took her to a Christmas Eve worship service at church when she was just six months old, she hooted and howled her way through the hymns, loud as a bell. And in the last few months, she's really showing signs of a developing ear: she can match pitches correctly and once in a great while she'll actually harmonize, singing a third above whatever's playing. This development thrills me greatly.

Classical and Early Music: Regular readers of this blog know where I stand here. Classical is one of two genres that dominate my CD collection, tipping in at over 300 CDs alone. My classical tastes roughly start with the classical period (Haydn, Mozart, early Beethoven) and proceed forward, with a heavy dose of the Romantics. My Baroque tastes don't extend much beyond Bach and Handel (I can't abide Vivaldi), and I own no more than four or five "Early music" CDs that I pretty much dig out once in a great while for novelty's sake.

Over the last year or so, I've been branching out into Asian classical music, of which I have twenty or so CDs. Some of this stuff is light but beautiful; some of it serious and modernistic; all of it is fascinating.

(For those "uninitiated", the word "classical" is problematic. Strictly speaking, it defines a very specific time period -- roughly between the death of Bach in 1750 and the first performance of Beethoven's Third Symphony -- and thus, to refer to, say, Rachmaninov [mostly a twentieth century composer] as a "classical music" guy is wrong. But to explain this each and every time out gets really ponderous, and none of the oft-suggested alternatives to "classical music" really suffices, in my mind. So I call all of it classical music and resort to occasionally referring to the "music of the classical period" if I need to get that specific.)

Comedy/Novelty: A mere smattering here -- ten CDs or so. I love George Carlin and Bill Hicks, and own several CDs of each, but anyone familiar with these guys will understand why they get very little play in this household. I also own Monty Python Sings, which I can attest is a terrible CD to try to put in the portable player one takes on brisk walks. I also own some "Spoken Word" discs, in two boxed sets devoted to great speeches (one focused on Presidential addresses).

Country: Almost nothing. I have a single CD I burned of tracks I downloaded when I experimented with KaZaA for a couple of weeks (the guilt got to me, and I uninstalled the thing). I do own the most recent Dixie Chicks album (which I happened to buy two days before the whole controversy about them erupted), a Johnny Cash "greatest hits" CD that I adore, and two compilations of John Denver. (Don't laugh. John Denver rules.)

My father always listened to large amounts of country back when I was "in my youth", and while I openly mocked it, I silently enjoyed a great deal of it. (I suspect this to be true of the way many of us related to the things our parents loved.) I often mean to pick up some Willie Nelson (I openly admit really liking Willie Nelson), more Johnny Cash, some Waylon Jennings, some Ray Price, et cetera. Kenny Rogers. Early Oak Ridge Boys ("Y'all Come Back Saloon" is a great song.) I really don't care for a lot of this "Rockabilly" stuff nowadays, though -- real "country" music, to me, deals with Western tropes and the trials of rural living and the frontier and the like. You know, songs that start off like "Out in the West Texas town of El Paso".

Easy Listening: Hmmmmm. Not really sure what this is, anymore. Do the great old vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, Jimmy Durante and the like qualify? If so, I have thirty or so CDs of this stuff, and I love it all -- there's truly great music-making there, and some of it is anything but "easy" listening. (There's nothing "easy" about Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, and that's a fact.) But if we're talking about all that syrupy crap like "101 Strings" and Mantovani and the like, then I have none of it. (OK, I have one: a CD by Paul Mauriat, which I bought used because it has "Love Is Blue" on it, and that song fascinates me because it was used in exceedingly haunting fashion in an episode of Millennium.)

New Age/Electronic: Will doesn't list this category, but I do have a bit of it. Twenty or thirty CDs or so, at any rate. Enya and Tangerine Dream figure in here. (I used to be a big TD fan, and I still really dig their music, although I haven't bought a new CD of theirs in quite some time.) I like Techno on a limited basis, but I find too much of it overwhelming -- especially at the "Jet Liner Engine from ten feet away" decibel level that it seems to demand. And I might as well admit it here: I own four Yanni CDs. This dates from my college "New Age" phase, and I'm mostly willing to call Yanni a guilty pleasure -- except that I feel no guilt whatsoever about Live at the Acropolis, a CD whose totality greatly exceeds the sum of its parts, in my eyes. I genuinely believe there is some kind of greatness at work there.

Folk: I own a few CDs of Pete Seeger and the Weavers, and a gorgeous disc of A Tribute to Woody Guthrie, recorded at a Carnegie Hall concert in 1968. (And what a CD this is: performers include Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and narration by Will Geer [the Grandfather from The Waltons].) If we're defining "folk" as American folk, that's it.

But if "folk" is where Celtic music comes in, then my collection explodes. I have around a hundred or so CDs of Celtic music; this is a fascination of mine that has pretty much been in a "slow smolder" for years now, ever since I bought my first Chieftains disc in college. I love Celtic instrumental music, like that of the Chieftains; I love Celtic choral music, like that of Anuna; I love female vocalists like Kate Rusby and male vocalists like Dougie McLean. And I love the "local Celtic bar bands", like Buffalo's own Kilbrannan.

Jazz: Not much. I have about ten jazz CDs: a Chick Corea disc or two; Duke Ellington, a couple of Big Band compilations. I used to try to convince myself that I had a burning passion for jazz, but eventually I admitted that I just didn't have much of an ear for it. (I mean that literally. My efforts at improvisation in college were just horrible. I sucked, sucked, sucked at it, and I finally had to admit, about my junior year, that as far as my trumpet playing went, my model was far more Adolph Herseth than Maynard Ferguson.)

Christian: Zero. None. Nada. Ixnay. Bupkis. Nyet. Niente. Nein. I hate to sound judgmental here, but I had a college roommate who really got into this stuff, and I hated every single note of it that he ever played. I think there were actually nights that I got drunk just to get the Amy Grant out of my system. (In all honesty, I know that there's a lot of this "Contemporary Christian" stuff out there, and Sturgeon's Law would imply that some of it has to be good. I'm just going to have to remain ignorant about it, because I don't think I could withstand the effort of finding it.)

Soundtrack: Once again, regular readers will know where I stand here. Film music constitutes the other "heavy hitter" of my CD collection. At one point it might have actually exceeded classical in sheer numbers, but I'm certain that the pendulum swung back the other way over the last year or so, as my classical CD purchases increased again and my film music purchases decreased. I've said as much many times, but it always bears repeating: film music is, to me, a virtual sub-genre of classical music, and I've never bothered with the argument that it is somehow inferior by virtue of its formal constraints, because formal constraints abound in art, and in any event, the finest film composers find ways around those very formal constraints that are supposedly so limiting.

In terms of composers represented in my film music collection, John Williams takes the prize, with James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Miklos Rozsa and the others coming behind.

Rock (including pop generally): I don't have a very big rock collection -- a hundred CDs or so, including compilations. Favorites here include Pink Floyd (now there is a depressing band), Van Halen, Van Morrison, Sam Cooke, Jim Croce, and Elton John. In recent years I've finally started to regain an ability to listen to Billy Joel (the degree to which Joel was worshipped at my college simply staggered me). I admit a fondness for all that goofy 1980s rock, stuff like "Come On Eileen" and "Who Can That Be Now" and "99 Luftballons" and the like. I still like The Hooters a lot. I never got much into the "alt-rock" stuff of the 90s; I don't own a single Nirvana album, and while I do own two REM CDs, I almost never play them. Lately though -- and I'm talking in the last six months or so -- I'm noticing some of that stuff again in various pop-cultural settings, and I'm sort of liking it. File that away for future reference, I suppose.

And there we have it. Maybe someday I'll do the same thing for my book collection. (Of course, that post would take hours to write.)