Saturday, April 30, 2005
Anyway, here's another Buffalo location: Kleinhans Music Hall, home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. It's a pretty striking building from above, and its location is one of my favorite spots in Buffalo, called "Symphony Circle". Strangely, the "Circle" isn't as immediately apparent when you're on the ground as it is here.
You Know You're From Buffalo When...
When speaking "the" precedes the number or name of any highway (The Scajaquada,
The 33, The 290)
Snow tires come standard on your car.
You can identify an "Alden" accent.
You have gotton frost bitten and sunburned in the same weekend
"Down south" means Gowanda
You bake with "soda" and drink "pop".
Stop/Slow/Yield Signs..are suggestions.
You can hold an entire conversation on the best place to go for wings, a fishfry or pizza.
You see nothing wrong with watching fireworks downtown on July 2nd.
You not only know what the terms "snowbelt" and "lake effect" mean - you use them on a daily basis.
You save the Genny Cream Ale for special occasions.
You live within 1 mile of a bowling alley.
Not only do you know what it is... but you look forward to "Dingus Day"
You never put your winter jacket away for the summer.
You like to order beef on "weck" and are always surprised when someone doesn't know what "weck" is.
You drive over 70mph on the Thruway and pass on the right.
You leave your ski lift tickets on your jacket year round.
You know how to pronouce, Scajaquada, Cheektowaga and Depew.
The rest of the country is snowbound in the worst blizzard of the century, but you still have to walk your kids to the corner to catch the school bus.
You think nothing of crossing an international border for Chinese Food.
The acid rain is clearer than your drinking water.
When you stop and ask for directions ... you expect to get them.
You don't think Canada is to the north ... you know it's to the West.
You keep the snowplow on the front of the truck year round.
You have a favorite Greek restaurant.
When someone says they are from "the City" - you ask "Which one?"
You think Jimmy Griffin is a "real" politician
You can compute a wind chill "factor"
You eat Orange Chocolate.
You don't have to attend the Friendship Festival to hear it!
You know the difference between imported and real Canadian beer.
You have not been on the "Maid of the Mist" - unless you had out of town company.
You've dined at "Theodore's on the Lake".
You immediatley change the channel when you hear "Hi! this is Goldie Gardner...".
The winter carnival gets rained out.
You call them "Pilot Field" and the "Aud" - no matter what the signs say.
You define summer as three months of bed sledding.
Your kids have watched Sesame Street - in French and Spanish.
You don't get a coughing fit from one sip of Vernors.
"Gridlock" means driving home from a football game.
You wince when someone uses the abbreviation "OJ".
"Rapid Transit" means hitting all the green lights.
You actually get these jokes and pass them on to other friends from Buffalo.
OK then. Much of this is very spot-on, believe it or not. Especially the one about frostbite and sunburn on the same day.
(I know, I know. Believe me, I just felt a grave disturbance in the Force, as if millions of Blogistan eyes suddenly rolled, and then were suddenly silenced. Well, I refer you all to yesterday's disclaimer.)
First up is the Westgate Theater, in Beaverton, OR. This is where I first saw both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. I remember the main auditorium of the Westgate being very, very large, but I suspect that my memories may be skewed a bit. I'm not sure how old Google's satellite photos are, but I am surprised that the Westgate was apparently still standing at least within the last couple of years.
I can't show you the theater where I first saw Return of the Jedi, because it's definitely not there anymore. But it was here, in the Center Mall in Olean, NY. See that obvious addition on the mall's southern side, nearest the street (and not facing the creek)? That's a JC Penney, occupying the spot once held by the mall theater. That's where Return of the Jedi opened, when I was eleven. I saw it the second night it was out. What a freaking amazing experience that was. (The company that operated that theater later built a multiplex elsewhere in Olean, where I saw all three Original Trilogy films when their Special Editions came out in 1997.)
Fast-forward sixteen years, to the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999. I saw that film at the Regal Cinemas outside Orchard Park, NY. This, coincidentally, was the first theater where I encountered the marvel that is stadium seating. Coincidentally, the Daughter was born exactly one month after The Phantom Menace opened. Judging by the complete absence of cars in front of the multiplex, contrasted with the large number of cars in front of the Target next door, I assume this photo was taken in the morning. This, incidentally, is where I'll be seeing Revenge of the Sith in less than three weeks. (We've got a group of six guys from The Store going.)
Finally, I saw Attack of the Clones at the Flix Cinema in Lancaster, NY, which is about a ten minute drive from where I live right now. I don't recall exactly why I went to this theater for that opening day, midnight showing as opposed to the Regal Cinema, since Flix does not have stadium seating; but Flix does have one amenity that I've never seen anywhere else: they let you put the butter on your popcorn yourself. Oh, my arteries took a beating that night.
(Boy -- movie theaters aren't much to look at from the air, are they? Just flat rooftops punctuated by large HVAC units. Ah, well. It's still cool.)
Friday, April 29, 2005
So, it of course stands to reason that Bills GM Tom Donahoe, as has been his history, did neither. In the draft's opening day, when the Bills did not pick until late in the second round (remember, they traded this year's first-rounder away last year to grab J.P. Losman), and then used their two, and only two, opening-day picks to take a wide receiver and a tight end.
I don't get this. I really, truly don't. The Bills spent their first pick last year on a WR (Lee Evans, who had an excellent rookie year), and they have two tight ends right now who, although getting over injuries, are apparently quite promising. What the Bills also have is a second-year quarterback who is stepping into the starting job behind an offensive line that really hasn't been all that good in quite a while, and which lost one of its stalwart veterans to free agency this year (Jonas Jennings). The idea, I guess, is to surround Losman with weapons; I guess they're not going for a "have the rookie hand it off a whole lot" approach, and that makes sense to a point, but I'm generally of the belief that football games are won or lost by the big guys you have in the trenches, and as far as I can see, the Bills are taking entirely too much of a risk in doing so little to replace the two huge guys on their lines (the other being defensive lineman Pat Williams, now a Viking via free agency).
Tell me, Steelers fans – were Tom Donahoe's drafts for you guys as completely flummoxing?
So, I laughed to behold as Matthew Yglesias discovered the CoinStar machine.
Personally, I love the CoinStar machine. Most of the grocery stores around here have them (including, yes, The Store), and I now use it fairly regularly. I've never really liked spending change, for some reason; I just don't want to stand at the checkout and dig through my pockets to see if I can come up with three quarters, a dime, and two pennies. I'd rather just hand over whole bills, get out of there, and then dump the day's accumulation of change into a bowl when I get home. I've done this for years, and when the bowl would get full enough, then I'd go to the trouble of rolling it up and cashing it in somewhere.
Enter the CoinStar machine, which lets me dump the contents of the bowl into a hopper and wait as the machine counts it out and gives me a receipt for the total (minus a nine-cent-per-dollar transaction fee, which I'm more than happy to pay to get out of spending large amounts of time counting and rolling coins - - I'm often more than happy to exchange a bit of money if it saves me a bit of time). Back in the fall, I used my accumulated change to buy our digital camera, and just the other day I used my most recent accumulation of change (over $160 by the time the bowl was full) to splurge on some DVDs I've been wanting*. The next accumulation will likely go to helping fund a trip we're taking in July.
* For those interested, my DVD collection now includes all three Lord of the Rings films in their extended editions (I'd already owned The Two Towers, but still needed Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King); the tenth anniversary edition of The Shawshank Redemption; the special two-disc issue of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; a two-disc set of The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (the versions from the 1970s, directed by Richard Lester); the five-disc Errol Flynn Special Collection (actually, I bought that on Amazon); and Braveheart. And there are a few more that I still want to grab - - The Clone Wars, Cousins, and (I'm almost embarrassed to admit this) two Clint Eastwood movies that I like immensely as guilty pleasures, Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can. (Don't laugh. Those movies rule. You've got bare-knuckle fighting, an incompetent motorcycle gang, an orangutan, old-style country music from before the "rockabilly" types took over, and a foul-mouthed Ruth Gordon. Those two movies have it all!)
I'd point out that Flynn's three greatest films (Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Sea Hawk) have one more thing in common than Flynn as leading man and Michael Curtiz as director. All three boast scores by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
(Funny story: when I was fifteen, I went to the video store and rented an Errol Flynn picture I hadn't seen, The Charge of the Light Brigade, figuring that Flynn as a British army captain couldn't be bad. My sister, though - - English Lit grad student that she was - - took one look at the title and said something like, "Geez, you had to pick a sad movie?" TO which I sagely replied, "Huh?" She then asked: "You do know what happened to the Light Brigade, don't you?" To which I again sagely replied, "Huh?"
So she dug out a copy of Tennyson's poem and had me read it. Oh well. I still liked the movie, even though it was certainly a downer of an ending.
And now that I think of it, that might well have been the first time I ever read anything by Tennyson - - which means that I owe my love of Tennyson to my sister. So she made me love Star Wars and Tennyson. Shit, I should send her a "Thank You" card...)
(Not that anyone has either commented to that effect, or e-mailed me to that effect, or anything else. But I believe in being proactive!)
That said, go look at the life-size X-Wing fighter.
Via Nefarious Neddie.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Oh well. Cute kid, though!
The lucky lady is one of my coworkers at The Store, and on the off chance that she happens upon this blog, congratulations, Stephanie!
The growth of spam as a marketing tool is not news, obviously, but it's still a bit depressing to see the spammers so blase about it.
Lynn Sislo was nice enough to link me today, but in comments to her post I find someone (not Lynn, who is always reasonable, even when I disagree with her) saying this:
You've hit at the core of the difference between lefties and righties. Lefties believe people who disagree with them are bad people and are hopelessly "lost", both morally and intellectually. This is why you hear so little of conservative views on NPR and the like-it's a kind of snobbery, as Tom Wolfe pointed out years ago. Righties think people who disagree with them are wrong but are not any better or worse, as people than anyone else, since we're all sinners. Lefties don't believe in sin but they sure as heck believe in poor taste!
Is that right. Well, you'd never know it to look though examples of "Righty" tolerance like this. The Left, so far as I can tell, has nothing on the Right in either the department of intolerance or that of self-delusion.
(BTW, Pandagon is back up and running.)
(Also BTW, another of Lynn's commenters reports this convention for deciding whether to leave a comment on someone else's blog or to post to his own blog, with a link back:
I have what I call the "3 paragraph rule". If a comment I'm writing stretches more than 3 paragraphs, I'll generally take the whole thing back to my place & use it as a post (with a link back, of course).
I think that's exactly right. I tend to do a lot more commenting-via-posting here than commenting directly on other blogs.)
The exchange in question consists of just two lines, and they come just before Han Solo is lowered into the carbon freezing chamber in a diabolical test ordered by Darth Vader in order to ascertain whether or not carbon freezing is a good idea for living humans. As the "test" is about to begin, Princess Leia, whose feelings for Solo have been changing throughout the film, suddenly exclaims:
PRINCESS LEIA: I love you.
To which Han Solo replies simply:
HAN SOLO: I know.
This line is almost always interpreted as being part of Solo's general cockiness, but I've never really viewed it that way, because of Harrison Ford's delivery: he says the line in a tone that is very, very different from the way he delivers his lines when he's in full-cocky Solo mode. There's a softness and sadness in his voice and in his eyes that makes me think of the line not being cockiness at all. The "I know" line, by its simplicity, in no way detracts from the gut-wrenching nature of the carbon-freezing sequence. (And yes, for an eight year old for whom TESB was the first real look into storytelling where the good guys don't win, that sequence really was gut-wrenching.)
What's particular interesting about that simple, five-word exchange is that it wasn't even written in the original screenplay. The written exchange went something like this:
PRINCESS LEIA: I love you.
HAN SOLO: Remember that, because I'll be back.
That's not nearly as catchy, is it? It's clunky, dull, and it actually is cocky, which would have stood out like a sore thumb in the course of the scene. And it wasn't working in the course of filming, so it was finally Harrison Ford himself who suggested "I know" as a response to Leia's simple "I love you". (Many accounts have Ford finally just saying "I know!" in exasperation after hearing Carrie Fisher say "I love you" a whole bunch of times over the course of a large number of takes of the exchange, but according to the book Once Upon a Galaxy: The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, Ford actually suggested the line not during an actual take but rather in between takes, while director Irvin Kershner was struggling with changing some of the dialogue. At one point, Kershner actually wondered if Darth Vader even needed to be present for the entire carbon-freezing sequence, suggesting that Vader just walk on at the end. Luckily, someone else told him that wouldn't work.)
That exact exchange is repeated, by the way, in Return of the Jedi, but with the speakers reversed. That's one of my favorite "small moments" in Star Wars.
(And while we're on the subject, don't tell me that filibustering judges is unprecedented and that the Republicans are somehow still on the high ground since they didn't try to filibuster Clinton's judges. First of all, they did try to filibuster at least one of Clinton's judges; second of all, they also seemed OK with filibustering non-judicial Clinton nominees; and third of all, the Republicans were the majority party for three-quarters of Clinton's time as President, and thus they never really had to filibuster Clinton's judges. They simply bottled them up in committee, using fairly arcane rules that Republicans then dismantled as soon as it became a Republican's judges who were at question.)
There are two things worth remembering about the whole judicial-nominee nonsense, which are really at the root of my "Oh, boo hoo, guys" reaction to Republican complaining. First, look at this: it turns out that George W. Bush has seen a greater percentage of his nominees achieve confirmation than any of the three Presidents who preceded him, including Saint Ronald himself, who also had a Senate majority at his back for the first six of his eight years in office. And then there's this, by Matthew Yglesias:
It's not as if Democrats have been filibustering all of Bush's nominees -- they've confirmed over 200 and blocked about ten. Nor is it as if the other 200 judges were nice, squishy liberals and the Democrats are filibustering the only real rightwingers in the bunch. So going nuclear takes us from a position where Bush has packed the district and circuit courts with rightwingers, to one in which the district and circuit courts are slightly more packed with rightwingers.
So next time Bill First or Tom DeLay or anyone else tells me that we have to get all of Bush's judges seated on the bench, or else the entire conservative agenda will fail, my reaction will be – once again – a skyward rolling of my eyes.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
It doesn't have to be very often (the hiatus I'm just concluding is my first since last August), but it's really a good idea. Like anything, it's generally helpful to step back once in a while and let the batteries recharge. Make the hiatus long enough to be restful to you, but not so long that it appears instead that you've abandoned the blog. Whenever I decide that a hiatus is called for, I decide a month or so in advance when I'm going to do it, and then I post a notice to that effect in the sidebar. That way it's not a shock to your readers, and that way they know when to expect your return.
And what do you do while you're on hiatus? Whatever you do when you're not blogging, only more of it. This can actually be a good time to execute Sheila's Suggestion #6 - - just type up posts like normal, but save them in Word or whatever as opposed to publishing them to the blog. Then, on Hiatus Return day, just cut-and-paste them and publish them, and go on your way. Or don't write anything at all, or write something completely un-blog related. I've gone both ways. But read new stuff – books, blogs you haven't seen, et cetera. Catch up on movies you've been meaning to see. Go for walks. Whatever. Just don't post to the blog.
How do you know when it's time for a hiatus? Well, you pretty much know it when you feel the creeping sense that you have nothing to say, day in and day out. At least that's how I know. I also try to time my hiatuses (hiati?) with vacations or times when the Wife is going to be off. But I've taken a few breaks just because, for no real reason. But if you find yourself posting out of habit or a sense of grudging obligation, or if you find yourself writing posts that start off with some variant of "Geez, has it really been four days since I posted last?", it's probably time to take a break.
:: In other metablogging news, I have made some new additions to the blogroll (mostly cultural or music blogs, but a couple of left-leaning political ones as well), and updated some overdue URL changes. Specifically, All Things Jennifer and Mike's Baseball Rants have changed locations; Michael Brooke is blogging again; and Alan of BuffaloPundit has a new location and new design (but same old URL).
Oh, and if you want to sponsor something, sponsor Michelle, if only to shame her into posting more regularly! (I'm still waiting to see what you thought of Last Light of the Sun, Michelle!)
UPDATE: Erin has a new address as well. Pretty soon, Byzantium's Shores will be the only Buffalo blog at its original URL. But that's OK, seeing as how Byzantium's Shores is the one, true Buffalo blog.
Short of wearing a t-shirt with it printed across the breast, coupled with a baseball cap with the same thing printed on the forehead, I don't think you could more effectively announce to all the world "I AM A COMPLETE ASSHOLE!" than by setting up a website like this.
(Cho Chang, for those unfamiliar with the Harry Potter books, is a girl at Hogwarts School in whom Harry becomes, well, romantically interested in the series's fourth book, which is currently being made into the fourth movie.)
Dear Rebecca: Grow the fuck up. Love, me.
(Link via a Google search inspired by an article linked in this BookSlut post. BTW, here's a site for Ms. Leung that's more positive, although its design literally hurts my eyes. And here's what Ms. Leung looks like. What the hell is wrong with her? I mean, really – what the hell is wrong with her? Nothing that I can see. Why are people deciding they hate her for no apparent fucking reason?!)
And I further learn that the model pictured on that album cover has her own website, www.whippedcreamlady.com. She appeared on some other album covers, but the whipped cream one is clearly the best. And that's because whipped cream rules. Even if it's probably shaving cream in the photo, a substance which doesn't rule nearly as much as whipped cream.
(But only the real thing, whipped up in a very cold bowl from heavy cream, or Cool Whip in a pinch. That aeresol can stuff sucks, except for use on top of coffee or hot chocolate.)
GUY #1: Whoa! Sebulba's in the lead!
GUY #2: What a comeback!
GUY #1: Here comes the finish! Here it is…any second now….
(Very loud metallic BONK, and the screen suddenly goes all snowy)
GUY #1: NNOOOOO!!!
GUY #2: Yeah, man! And I spilled my beer! Who's flying this ship, anyway!
And a few minutes later, when the MF and Wedge arrive at the Death Star's reactor, I suddenly wondered what must have gone through the head of the poor slob who was piloting that single TIE fighter that made it there with them. I guess he'd be relieved that alone of all his buddies he didn't end up as a grease spot on the walls of the shaft. He's probably breathing huge sighs of relief, and wiping sweat from his brow – until he realizes that Wedge and Lando are blowing up the reactor, and he needs to get his ass out of there, pronto. So he whips around and follows the Rebels out, figuring, "OK, you did this once, you can do it again…." And he almost does. He's just so close, he can probably see the exit, when the flames catch him from behind.
What would be pretty funny is if that TIE pilot turned out to be Sebulba, the cheating pod-racer from The Phantom Menace. As he blows up, he could yell "Poo-doo!" one last time. (Yeah, I know, George Lucas would get roasted alive by the fans if he ever did this. But I'd find it slightly amusing.)
Simon could not achieve the popularity he'd have liked with his mysteries partly because he could not give in to readers' expectations of blood, gore, sex, and violence. He had too much artistic integrity.
But now as a blogger he's become what he steadily resisted being as a novelist.
In the same post, Lance also provides this wonderful paragraph:
The other problem Simon has had in breaking into the top tier is taste---he has too much of it. Tact, too. He can't be vulgar enough. He holds back on the kinky sex and graphic violence. But he's not writing Agatha Christie style Murder Among Nice, Staid Dull People Living in Cozy Little Villages Where Just the Mention of Sex Causes Grown Men to Blush and Women to Feel a Little Faint Who Done Its. He's writing Tough Guy Working the Mean Streets and Getting Laid A Lot When They're Not Getting Beaten to A Pulp pulp style murder mysteries/thrillers. There are rules, and Simon doesn't follow them.
Full disclosure: I've never read a Roger L. Simon novel, and I only read his blog when some other blogger that I do read links him, and that's not that often. I just found this post pretty well constructed.
(And it occurs to me that if you just change a few of Lance's phrasings around to alter the genres from mysteries to Science Fiction, it could be about Orson Scott Card. But I suspect that Card's a better SF writer than Simon is a mystery writer.)
Sandow has been suggesting that classical music writing in the media should, at least occasionally, focus on the background details of the musicmaking. He provided an example a while back, and solicited e-mail responses. He quotes mine in the most recent post, but here's what I wrote in full:
I just read your blog entry that mentions conductor Semyon Bychkov, whom I have admired for quite some time. I have a local reason, however: I live in Buffalo, and in the late 80s Bychkov was music director of our Philharmonic. His tenure here saw the BPO undertake a European tour and several well-received concerts at Carnegie Hall, and he displayed an affinity for Shostakovich even then – the Fifth Symphony was a staple of BPO repertoire of the time (and it was the first piece Bychkov recorded, with the Berlin PO).
I actually met Bychkov once when, while still in high school, I attended a BPO concert which included Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. The second movement was played wondrously, but the performance was marred by the most horrible outbreak of audience coughing and throat-lozenge unwrapping I have ever heard. It was so bad that Bychkov actually addressed the audience after the movement was done, scolding them on their lack of decorum and then saying, "For those of you who missed that movement the first time, we will now play it again."
I mention that anecdote because it actually plays into your post's theme about the "Behind the scenes" stuff appearing in reviews. In this case, I remember an article in the Buffalo News mentioning Bychkov's repeat of the movement, noting that doing this required the orchestra musicians to be paid overtime for going over by twelve minutes or whatever. I personally found that fascinating.
I don't get the attitude you encountered about "behind the scenes" stuff. In addition to classical music, I'm also a sports fan, and sports fans are in my experience always fascinated by the "back room" details -- things like how trades get done, why this player is drafted instead of that one, why this play is called instead of that play, why the defense lines up in one formation instead of another, et cetera. I can't imagine why the classical music press would assume that all classical music lovers are interested in is the music itself, and not interested at all in the mechanics of bringing it to fruition. One of the most fascinating books I've ever read is on precisely the "behind the scenes" stuff in a symphony orchestra: "Season With Solti" (the author's name escapes me). The book is thirty years old by now, so I assume the picture it paints of a big-city symphony is no longer anything close to the way things actually are, but it's still amazing to me, and I can't imagine that classical music lovers wouldn't be equally fascinated by this kind of thing.
I once pitched a freelance article - - not commissioned, alas - - to a local magazine that would have been "Behind the Scenes" at the BPO. I wanted to profile what the orchestra librarian does. I wanted to see how program notes are compiled, and how rehearsals are held, and so on. I even envisioned a series of such articles, going behind the scenes at other art locales - - art galleries (ever wonder about the guy who actually has to physically hang the paintings?), theaters (what's the life of the costume maker like?) and so on.
Of course, that's not what ACD decides to address at all – he instead decides to make fun of the Entertainment Weekly readership, as if Sandow is suggesting that classical music needs to appeal to that crowd or some such thing. He's not. It's not about the classical music version of "celebrity gossip"; Greg Sandow isn't hankering after which conductor is sleeping with which pianist or whatever. It's about things like Helen Radice's posts about the day-to-day concerns of a harpist. Or Forrest Covington's recent adventures with getting a simple thing like a copy of a CD with his own music on it. Or Scott Spiegelberg's thoughts on teaching the next generation of musicians. Or Fred Himebaugh's writings about the concerns of a composer of choral music. Or Ilka Talvi's postings about the operations of a symphony orchestra. In fact, that last is probably the perfect example of what Greg Sandow is getting at.
Either ACD knows this, and he's just being pissy for the sake of being pissy, or he doesn't know that, in which case he has completely missed the point. In either case, it's advantage: Sandow. As near as I can tell, ACD simply skimmed Sandow's post, saw the words "Entertainment Weekly", and fired off his post without devoting one more second of thought to it than that.
Last week in Niagara Falls, two teenagers decided to hold up a pizza delivery guy. Their potential windfall, however, turned to spectacular bad luck when it turned out that this particular delivery guy was carrying a gun (for which he had all the necessary permits). The pizza guy fired, killing one of the assailants.
I later saw on the news that one of those creepy impromptu memorials had been created at the scene. I generally don't like these types of memorials to begin with, but erecting one in the honor of a person who was killed while committing a crime makes it clear to me that maybe we ought to be spending our memorial-constructing time a bit more constructively.
I have little sympathy, really, for the kid who got killed. People who commit crimes run the risk of dying violently, and I see no reason to erect a memorial for it.
(Actually, it's not just inner-city crimes, either. Not far from my home there's a makeshift roadside memorial for three teenage guys who were killed in a car crash that was later found to have at least partially resulted from the driver of the car engaging in road-rage. That accident was nearly four years ago, and the makeshift memorial is still tended with all the regularity of a shrine to a Catholic saint. And then of course there is "Custer's Last Stand", the site of which is now referred to as the Battle of the Little Big Horn, probably for reasons of political correctness, but again it's a shift I don't have a problem with, because honoring a general who got his men completely routed because he basically made one idiot move after another for about a week doesn't seem right to me.)
Here's his thesis:
Public libraries might be an example of an institution designed for an earlier time that doesn't make as much sense now as then. It's perhaps just another luxury we've grown accustomed to. We're used to its being free -- the knee-jerk response is why should I pay for something that the government will give me. Maybe it shouldn't.
Let me be blunt here: as much as I adore the Buffalo area, if this community decided to do away with its libraries entirely, that would be my official last straw. I'd leave as soon as humanly possible.
What a society values, a society is willing to pay for. The fact that we're still willing, albeit less so and more grudgingly lately, to pay for free access to books, periodicals, government documents, films, and music recordings says to me that we still value those things and view their widespread availability as a good thing. There would, I think, be a very big fundamental difference between a society that views reading as sufficiently important and universal a right to pay for libraries and one which takes the view that your reading should be limited to only those books you can afford.
It's easy to say things like "Look at all the books available for free on the Web!" and "Look how cheap you can buy just about any book on Amazon!" But really, that's not at all the same thing. To take the first claim: sure, there are sites like Project Gutenberg that make the texts of many public domain books available online. But they're not free, not really: I still have to pay for my computer, and I still have to pay for the Internet access I use to access Project Gutenberg. That's not free - - at least, it's not in the same sense "free" for me to read Anna Karenina on Gutenberg that it would be "free" for me to walk down to the library and check the book out with my library card. And as ubiquitous as the Web seems to those of us who get to use it every day, the cost of being able to go online is a very real cost indeed. I know people who simply can't afford Internet access.
(And this is to say nothing of the fact that there are nowhere near the same number of books available for free online as there are at my own local library branch, much less the entirety of, say, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system.)
As for books being cheap on Amazon or other online sources, well, that's a troubling thing to say, in my opinion. I don't make enough money to buy every book I want to read. That's a simple fact of life: I will probably never make enough to buy a copy of every book I want to read. So, when it comes to buying books, I have to be pretty selective. (The high price of graphic novels is a real sticking point with me - - those damn things are absurdly overpriced, in my opinion, which annoys me because there are a lot of them that I would like to read.) But that's just buying books. When it comes to reading books, I don't have to be so selective, because there's the library. My personal reading life would be severely hampered if I had to limit myself to reading only those books which I could afford to buy. And I'm not even that badly off: I have a roof over my head, and I can still get to Borders every now and again. But I don't buy nearly as many books as I used to, because I have other things to buy: food, drugs for Little Quinn, diapers, cat litter, et cetera. Because of the library, though, I don't have to limit my reading. That's a big thing to me: the fact that I don't need to own every book I read opens up huge vistas of reading to me.
Frankly, I'm always astonished when people tell me that they never go to the library because they like to own every book they read. That attitude completely baffles me. If there's a service that can provide you, free of charge, with access to more books than you could ever read in a lifetime, why rigidly insist upon owning every book you want to read? Just from the standpoint of not having paid for every book I've checked out and not liked, I think I end up ahead. I hate buying a book that turns out to be a stinker.
Here is what it boils down to: I view reading as probably the most fundamental right that exists, beyond the "biggies" of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Free access to books is, as far as I am concerned, an essential part of a democratic society, and it's absolutely essential to a society that maintains its belief that anyone can accomplish anything as long as they work hard at it. The day we decide that reading is something that must be paid for by each individual reader is, to me, the day we decide that we're no longer a democratic society. There are people out there, many of them, real people, who don't have enough extra pennies in their budget per month to afford more than a single mass-market paperback novel. The idea that these folks can still go to their library and check out a hardback copy of, well, any book at all signifies to me a big part of the greatness of this country.
Maybe America will eventually decide that libraries are, as Craig suggests, a mere luxury. But it would be heartbreaking to me to learn that my country had decided that reading is a mere luxury. And make no mistake: that's what it would mean if we collectively decided "No books, unless you can pay for each one." This is a tough country we got here, folks - - we've built a nation around a mix of egalitarianism and libertarianism, which is not always the best of mixes. But as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to reading, the more egalitarian, the better, and free libraries are the best way to accomplish this that I know.
(Now, the issue of whether the B&ECPL system is too bloated is an entirely different one. I think it probably is. But shutting them entirely? To me, that's pure insanity.)
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
And if anyone has any posting suggestions for when I return, by all means, leave 'em in comments. I have some ideas, but it's always fun to solicit ideas from the thronging hoards. If you have any questions you're dying to ask, or stuff you're dying to see me drone on endlessly about, plop 'em in comments and I'll cull through them upon my return.
Now, obviously you can't feasibly tax every monetary exchange that exists, or else we'd have an IRS agent present at every garage sale. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm not swayed, either, by the idea of "double taxation", because it's not the money that is taxed, but the people earning it. I have no problem with person A deciding that they want person B to have all their money after they die. Fine. But the idea that person B has some reasonable right to get all of that money tax-free seems totally bizarre to me.
End of rant.
In comments to this post, Michelle expresses an interest in joining the proud ranks of fountain pen users. I should probably do a longer post on fountain pens one of these days -- maybe after the hiatus -- but for now I'll just mention a couple of decent fountain pens that aren't terribly pricey that are good for a first-time fountain pen user.
(By "not terribly pricey", I mean, "they can be bought for under $50.00". It may seem ridiculous to spend that much on a pen, but consider: with proper care, a fountain pen can last pretty much forever. If you write a lot, the thing will pay for itself many times over. And besides, they just look so much cooler than boring pens from aisle six at Office Max.)
First, there's the Sheaffer Prelude, which is one of my favorites. It has nice weight (I like my pens to have a bit of heft), and the grip is nicely done. The Waterman Phileas is also nice, and a bit lighter. And a really nice value is the Rotring CORE, which looks really bulky but balances and handles very nicely.
Of course, if you start using these, you run the risk of becoming a fountain pen collector, which is a seriously bad thing to become. Really. It's horrible. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. (Well, I would. But only on real meanies.)
One thing that I've seen mentioned in a number of places about Benedict XVI is that he apparently had some role in the Catholic Church's less-than-forceful response to the sex scandals that have afflicted its Priests in recent years. I too find it a tad difficult to take seriously the pronouncements against "moral relativism" of a Church whose position on such matters seems to be grounded in "practical relativism", but -- well, he's not my anointed spiritual leader, so there it is. (By the way, like Matthew Yglesias, I'm a bit tired of the whole business of decrying seemingly every non-conservative Christian position on any issue as "moral relativism".)
The announcement of the Pope's election came while I was at lunch at The Store yesterday. The TV in the cafe was turned way up so we could hear it, and to be quite honest, I found it hard not to be caught up in the emotion of the event. For one thing, this is the first coronation of a Pope during my lifetime that I'm really aware of, since John Paul II was elected when I was five or six (I'm not bothering to look it up). Of course, given the new Pope's age, I suspect we'll be seeing this spectacle a lot sooner than it took for this one. And one thing I've always wanted to do is to just be in some large European city when all the church bells are ringing. I wonder what it must be like, to be in Rome, waiting for the word to come. I imagine sitting in some cafe somewhere, sipping espresso, reading and talking and doing whatever, and hearing first the shouts -- "The smoke is white!" -- followed by the ringing of all those bells. If I'm ever rich, maybe I'll go to Rome during a Papal conclave just to see it happen. You don't need to be a believer to see the beauty of the event.
(But then, I also have to admit a certain bit of perversion -- at one point during the festivities, the TV displayed a shot taken from behind the new Pope as he waved down at his flock, and I briefly thought of the scene in The Two Towers when Saruman sent his orc armies off to war against Rohan. "A new power is rising--!")
(link via PZ Myers, who's on the list.)
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.
Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.
We're talking about lost writings by men named Sophocles, Hesiod, Euripides...and maybe some lost Christian Gospels. Now that ought to be interesting stuff.
I like this next just because I really like her smile:
Bring on X-Men 3!
Monday, April 18, 2005
I wanna hang a map of the world in my house. Then I'm gonna put pins into all the locations that I've travelled to. But first, I'm gonna have to travel to the top two corners of the map so that it will not fall down.
This product that was on TV was available for four easy payments of $19.95. I would like a product that was available for three easy payments and one f--king complicated payment. We can't tell you which payment it is, but one of these payments is going to be a bitch. The mailman will get shot to death, the envelope will not seal, and the stamp will be in the wrong denomination. Good luck f--ker. The last payment must be made in wampum.
That made me laugh something fierce. Read the whole thing.
I've never heard of Mark Poloncarz before, but as I'm honestly not sure how the job of comptroller could be done worse than it's been done here (maybe if we hired Butch Cassidy to do it), I figure he's our guy for now.
(link via Alan)
I think the 'G' in LGF should stand for 'Gutless'.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
So go read Chapter Eight. This is the last chapter of the book's opening act; things start getting hairy for our heroes Gwynwhyfar, Sir Baigent, Brother Llyad, and Estren the Bard in Chapter Nine.
(I am keeping this post at the top of this page for a while, by the way, so if you check back later, you will probably find new content beneath this one. Scrolling is our friend!)
Next week brings the most significant event in the National Football League in the offseason (the period between the Super Bowl and the opening of training camps). This event is, of course, the annual College Draft, when NFL teams pick their players of the future from the ranks of colleges throughout the US. For the football junkie, Draft Day is the main event of April (except for Easter, most of the time).
Anyway, here's a good guide to what each team is looking for in this year's Draft. The Buffalo Bills currently do not have a pick in the first round, having traded this year's first-rounder to Dallas so they could grab quarterback-of-the-future J.P. Losman last year. I never had a problem with this: only a Super Bowl appearance, frankly, could have kept Drew Bledsoe around after last year, and I figured that if the Bills were going to get a QB of the future at some point, better to do it while Bledsoe was still around so the new guy could ride the bench and learn the NFL game a bit before getting the starting job. Of course, Losman would be better off if he hadn't broken his leg in last year's training camp, which kept him totally off the field until mid-season, but at least he's been around a year. The Bills won't be breaking in a complete rookie.
In my opinion, they have to draft for the offensive line this year. I'd like to see them take at least two OL's by the time the fourth round is over. O-line is the one area that the Bills have not significantly upgraded in years (with the exception of drafting Mike Williams fourth overall four years ago, and he has yet to really live up to his potential, although he started showing real signs of doing just that last year). They need a shot of talent up there.
The Bills are also rumored to be still considering trading running back Travis Henry to Arizona for OL L.J. Shelton, thus filling a need for both teams, but Bills GM Tom Donahoe apparently still thinks he can get some kind of draft pick for Henry, an often-injury plagued back who lost his starting job a year ago to Willis McGahee. We'll see. I don't really see the Bills moving up in the Draft, unless they trade another future pick, which I would hate to see them do. Mortgaging the future is always dangerous.
Anyway, go Bills.
Man Passes Driving Test on 272nd Attempt
Relax, folks. Unless you live in South Korea. And that's just the written test. He hasn't tried the road test yet!
[Insert work here] is like ironing the farts out of a dozen pairs of old trousers, sucking them into a bottle and then trying to sell it as a new perfume. This is such an arse-burgling zombie horror of a thing that I don’t even want you to steal it.
What's he actually talking about? Find out here.
We haven't lost any pets since we had two cats die within four months of each other, two years ago, when The Daughter was just three, and she didn't really know what was going on at the time. She did experience something of the sort a month or so ago, when she went to the Grandparents' house to spend the night and learned that their oldest cat, a calico that managed to chug along for twenty years, had passed. That calico was a very friendly animal and had slept with The Daughter on her last couple of overnights to the Grandparents, so she was very sad to learn of the calico's passing. But it wasn't nearly as traumatic as if either of our own cats was to pass on.
It actually hasn't been a very good few weeks for pets in Blogistan. David Trowbridge and Wil Wheaton both had to bid farewell to long-lived, and long-loved, cats. As well-written as both tributes are, I have no doubt whatsoever that both Dave and Wil would trade a thousand finely-honed blog posts for their cats back, in the prime of their lives.
:: I hope things are OK with Jen, who has gone very minimalistic. (At least she has a white background now, though -- the black one was really making me worry.)
:: Arkitrave confronts a minimalistic painting, and comes away baffled. I think I would too, judging by the picture.
:: Craig went walking about town, and has some pictures. He has some interesting thoughts on that necessary evil of urban settings: parking garages. I'm always reminded of Toronto, where many if not all of the parking garages not only feature retail at street level, but also don't even look like parking garages. You don't really encounter those giant, gray concrete tombs that suck the life out of a city block.
:: Balgar admires Andrea Dworkin. I, myself, don't know the first thing about Andrea Dworkin except that she is now dead.
:: Mark is incredulous at the amount of sheer ineptitude on display by the Erie County Comptroller, with said incredulousness being intensified by the fact that had a few hundred votes changed hands, the Comptroller who seems to be professing ignorance of the budget process every time she's in front of a microphone these days would now be representing us in Congress. (I wonder if, when she finally conceded defeat, if her thinking was along the lines of, "Dammit, now I'll still be Comptroller when they find out what a bad one I've been.")
:: "Fix Buffalo" documents a Buffalo building's slow decay. Well, he'll never lack for posting material in these parts....
:: Craig of Buffalog has an interesting post on the NRA logo. (Not that NRA, though. Which one? Click through.)
:: BuffaloPundit is still on his week-long hiatus, ten days after it began. Harumph.
:: Erin ate sushi, and then she had a job interview. Talk about packing lots of adventure into one week! (I like sushi, even though I haven't had much of it and I've never been to an actual sushi bar.)
:: The Goober Queen points out a web-thingie where you can make your own Egyptian cartouche. Gotta try this later.
:: The Grey Bird, before. And the Grey Bird, after. Wow. Not a bad new look, even if I do disagree with the idea that long hair is mainly a thing for the young. (And if anyone's wondering if I have any plans to follow suit: NO!)
:: Julia calls it the "Concert of the Year". What is it? Go find out. I'm not sure I'd call it the concert of the year, but that does sound like a fun one.
:: A Slightly Mad Housewife recently started posting again.
:: Bill Altreuter went to hear Bob Dylan, and then takes the the Buffalo News's rock critic to task for panning the show. I'm not the biggest Dylan fan, but this sounds like another good show. (When it comes to live music, I'm really very inexperienced. I haven't even been to hear the Buffalo Philharmonic in an absurdly long time.)
:: Prince Ali posts one of those heart-warming parables that show up in e-mail from time to time. I hadn't seen this one before, though. (And I have to admit that the "demented writer" part of me got to the point where the gold box is noticed missing, and my imagination started going elsewhere....)
:: Jennifer has some thoughts about grocery stores, including the nail in my heart that she won't shop at The Store because it's too far from her house. Fair enough, I guess...but geez...that playroom makes it worth the eight-mile drive, wouldn't it? And aren't those eight miles just down Transit Road? Come on! Come over to the Good Side of the Force! At least we're not owned by a Dutch conglomerate with accounting troubles! You know you want to! (We're going to squash Martin's like a bug, I tell you.)
That's all for this week....
And besides, I'm once again noting that the lunatics of the Right get to be on the cover of TIME, host nationally-syndicated radio shows, and hold posts like, say, Majority Leader of either house of the United States Congress, whereas the lunatics of the Left make the occasional documentary movie or hold such lofty posts as literature prof at some college in Colorado and only become household names when the "MSM" (itself the most laughable concept since phlogiston) obeys its corporate masters and starts parroting the talking points handed down from the RNC.
(Link via Craig of the North Coast, who owes me some money for the giant hole that TIME cover burned in my retinas.)
Saturday, April 16, 2005
What I actually found funniest about the whole thing was this: if you watch the video, look not at the fan scuffling with Sheffield, but the one standing a row back and to the left of the incident -- this person is wearing a light brown jacket and a hooded sweatshirt. This guy's reaction cracks me up: first he's excited that a play is unfolding just inches away, then he visibly goes "WHOOAAA!" when he sees Sheffield swing at the player, and then he starts clapping in giddy glee that an obvious SportsCenter moment has just happened, again, inches away. I just know the guy sprinted home to fire up the VCR so he could tape himself and show it to his buddies. "Hey, Fred-o, watch ESPN tonight! I'm on it!"
But so be it: I am an unrepentent American Idol fan, even if this season's failue to see the increasingly nauseating Scott Savol survive from week to week. (That guy doesn't even have the "incredibly nice guy" vibe that John Stevens had last year when he survived way longer than he should have -- Scott Savol is just plain annoying, and his singing is Godawful.)
Never fear, though, dear Readers: I won't be writing much about AI in this space. I'm confining my own debate-slash-bitching on all-things-Idol to this thread on the FSM boards. And I'm excited to learn that Michele of A Small Victory has a side-blog devoted to AI, Idol Tongues.
So, go, Bo Bice!
(Constantine's OK, but I'm tired of that "let me smolder a bit while the camera lingers on me" thing he does.)
And wouldn't you know it. Now I gotta have one myself. It will be mine -- oh yes, it will be mine.
(Although I think that Michelle needs to ditch the mass-produced Uni-Ball pen and get herself a fountain pen. Fountain pens are wondrous objects.)
That was until earlier this year when one listener complained about a word heard during the reading of Tom Wolfe's new novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons."
Even though such fare was read only after 10 p.m., Channel 7 officials -- fearing the prospect, the expense, the ordeal or the uncertainty of an FCC indecency investigation -- dropped the service. Several weeks later, according to The Buffalo News, limited service returned -- but no programming at all between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
This is something that I've noticed for a while, but haven't thought about how to put into words, and I'm still not entirely sure about it -- but it seems to me that we have, in some way, allowed a single complaint to outweigh the satisfaction of far more people who are satisfied. This manifested all the time when I was working in the restaurant business. At my Pizza Hut, we had a family of regular "customers" who would come in oh, once a month or so, and they were unbelievably disruptive when they did. Their three young children -- all of apparent ages within two years of each other -- would scream incessantly; they would literally complain about everything about their experience from start to finish; and so on. And yet, we couldn't ask them to not come in any more, because the corporate mindset was that a customer complaint is to be avoided at all costs. (Never mind the complaints from the other customers whose experiences were disrupted by these people.) Losing the business of this family was considered unacceptable.
What does this have to do with the blind-reading service above? It seems to me that the "One complaint is all it takes" attitude has been adopted by those who would see censorship take hold:
It is the censor's perfect formula: One word plus one complaint plus one calculation equals millions of words for an audience of thousands wiped from existence.
One person was offended by a single word, and therefore blind people in range of Channel 7's audio feed are deprived of a valuable service. And in this case, it didn't even require government intervention: Channel 7 pulled its own plug. I'd call that de facto censorship, in a time when the FCC is basically casting itself as the mobster: "Nice little TV station ya's got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it."
In the article linked above, I also see a pretty stunning quote from one of our elected representatives. It seems that Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), recently had this to say to cable executives on the subject of promoting "decency" on the airwaves:
I'd prefer using the criminal process rather than the regulatory process.
Say what we don't want you to say, and you'll go to jail. That's a powerful Congressman's take on "decency".
Kidding aside, what he's actually done is dig into his own pocketbook and get his own domain name and set up an entirely new blog, so welcome America's North Coast to the mix. (BTW, he's not just a Buffalonian -- if you're after right-of-center commentary that doesn't froth at the mouth, Craig's got the goods. He's a daily read of mine, and for someone with whom I agree politically maybe twenty percent of the time, that's saying something.)
Now for the headache: I don't have to delete the "BUFFALOg" link in the Buffalo section of the blogroll, because it turned out that there's another Buffalo-based blog called "Buffalog", and it's also run by a guy named Craig. So, Craig has a new URL, but that's OK, because I can just change the link for the old Craig to a link for the new Craig and give the old Craig a new link.
Oy. Blogging is hard work.
(I wonder if there's a blog called "Istanbul's Beaches" or "Constantinople's Waterfront" or something like that? I'd better not try to find out. It might just be my evil twin brother Ed.)
In our household, the "Amelia Bedelia" books are always a hit with The Daughter, although I have a hard time reading them aloud because about the eighth time I have to say "Amelia Bedelia", my tongue starts to trip on the name -- and the name generally occurs at least once per page in each 60-page book. But they are funny -- the earlier ones, anyway. The more recent ones -- and it's blindingly obvious which ones these are -- are less so.
The Baranstain Bears are always a hit, too. Even the ones that deal with a "message" are decent, because they tend to do it without being annoyingly condescending. Curious George is also a good bet most of the time -- especially the alphabet one, because I'll bet that's the only children's book that uses the word "dromedary". And we also like Rosemary Wells's Max books a lot.
Of course, for ongoing recommendations on children's books, Will Duquette is the place to go. It's pretty funny when Will encounters a book he doesn't like; his verdict is always some variant of "They can read it when they grow up if they want to, but I am sure not reading that book ever again!" That kind of says it all, doesn't it?
Seriously, that has to be the goofiest looking car on the road today.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
And when Americal Idol was over (How on Earth does a crappy singer like Scott Savol keep surviving?!), I turned it over to Eyes, which is one of the most entertaining shows I've seen in a long time. If you've seen the movie Sneakers, that's sort of what Eyes is like. It thrills me that somebody's trying to make a crime show that's fun and entertaining in the way that Magnum, PI and The Rockford Files were, as opposed to the constant dourness of the Law and Order franchise. (CSI is a different animal -- the original's got lots of black humor, which the New York incarnation has been adding in as well, while the Miami edition has sun, surf, and Emily Procter.)
Anyway, give Eyes a try, folks.
(Lord, I feel like I'm back playing basketball in junior high again...except I was the guy who was so bad at basketball that I didn't want the ball. I later learned, during my college years, from an eye doctor that my depth perception is very poor, and reflecting on that, I realized that I am bad at estimating distances, which may well be what makes me such a spectacularly bad shot in basketball.)
Errr...back to the show.
Monday, April 11, 2005
I'd call Horowitz a hack, except that would be an insult to hacks.
(Link via Dr. Myers.)
(I'm amazed that Mr. Covington didn't respond that he could just tune the black keys, thus saving the pianist even more money if he would switch to playing nothing but pentatonic music!)
EDIT: Link fixed.
Actually, I find this whole thing partly fascinating, and partly of the "Wake me when it's over" variety. I think it would be funny, actually, if they just had a big "rock-paper-scissors" competition, with the winner being made Pope.
And I think it would be cool if the next Pope took the name "Gigantor". Just because the world needs a Pope Gigantor the First. (And, in all likelihood, the same guy would be Pope Gigantor the Last.)
Now that Little Quinn is nearing the eight-month-old mark, I'm feeling slightly reflective. That eight-month span has, in some ways, seemed terribly short, and there are times when I genuinely feel like it was just a week ago that our second attempt to have a child came this close to ending perfectly before it all went wrong. But then there are times when that night seems like it was a lifetime ago, considering all of the things we have learned and fought and struggled against and come to terms with since that day. I imagine it will come as no small surprise to anyone who knew me in college to learn that, among other changes to my lifestyle, Little Quinn has turned me into both a morning person and a regular church-goer. (That second, though, is admittedly less for religious reasons of my own than for family reasons.)
Anyhow, with all of the medical struggles we've faced with him, by far the greatest single day-to-day challenge to raising Little Quinn has been feeding him. It's a lengthy process that on one level strikes me as a kind of medical miracle, and on another strikes me as a horrible perversion of nature. I'm happy that we've developed this method of feeding an infant who is unable to reliably take food by mouth, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone or their child.
After Quinn's initial set of health problems stabilized, the next problem was determining to what extent the brain damage he suffered at birth would affect his day-to-day necessary tasks. Swallowing, it turns out, is a fairly advanced bit of coordinated activity in the mouth and throat, as is sucking; and without the ability to reliably do either, Little Quinn faced serious problems with feeding. It was determined that he was able to swallow, but not all that strongly, and his gag reflex is very underdeveloped. And this, in turn, meant that in the event that he regurgitated -- a dead certainty with infants -- he would have serious difficulty in protecting his own airway. That's one of the huge "design flaws" in the human body: we take air and food through the same passage. (Note to God: When you get around to designing Homo sapiens v. 2.0, I'd put this bug at the top of the list of things to fix.)
So, because Little Quinn had some ability to swallow and clear his mouth of secretions, the doctors determined that at that time he did not require a tracheotomy. But because his oral function wasn't up to taking food, he did require surgery to put something called a G-tube in his stomach, through which we would give him food through a syringe and an extender tube. At the same time, his esophagus was "looped around" at the bottom, a procedure which would still allow him to take food by mouth later in life but would render him incapable of spitting up (and, we shall see later on, burping). A G-tube is basically a little "port" in the stomach, held fairly loosely in place by a couple of saline-filled balloons on the inside and with a little plastic flap that closes the opening when not in use.
And this, in a photo that I took just an hour or so ago, is what Little Quinn's G-tube looks like.
Here it is, closer:
What's really creepy about that little thing, at first, is that it's not anchored in place. It actually spins freely, and it can apparently be pulled right out of the stomach with little effort. And in the event that that happens, we're instructed to stick it back in there and whisk Little Quinn off to the ER for "reinstallation", because the incision in which that thing is rooted apparently can close extremely quickly. Like, within an hour. No, this has not happened to us yet.
So, obviously the idea is to simply pour liquid nourishment right into Little Quinn's stomach through that thing. One doctor, sensing our trepidation about the whole thing, described it to me in precisely that way, even going so far as to say that "A G-tube is nothing," in one of those doctor's remarks that immediately makes me want to respond, "How healthy are your damned kids?" (Luckily, my inner sense of tact prevailed. The doc was genuinely trying to put me at ease, and there is a sense in which he's right. It's amazing what you can make part of your daily life when you have no choice.)
The reality of the tube in action, though, was quite a bit different.
As I noted above, the looping of Little Quinn's esophagus made him incapable of burping, which anyone who's ever been around a baby will know is absolutely necessary. In Little Quinn's case, the only way we have to get gas out of his system is to hook up his tube and prod his stomach until the bubbles pop out. This was by far the most difficult part of the whole operation in the first months. A baby with a belly-ache is bad, but a baby with a belly-ache and a G-tube is an inhuman nightmare. Patting a baby's back until he lets the gas out through his or her mouth is one thing; literally squeezing the gas out of his stomach through a man-made hole that shouldn't be there in the first place is something else.
The more recent development is that we've had to switch almost entirely to using infant formula for Little Quinn's feedings. This is a disappointment, but it was unavoidable. Since he has never nursed, The Wife has been unable in the end to artifically pump enough breastmilk to keep his caloric intake at adequate levels. We started off having to mix formula into the breastmilk, and now Little Quinn is being fed formula almost exclusively. We take solace in that we got him through his first winter almost entirely on breastmilk.
(I'm pretty militant in my views on infant formula: so far as I am concerned, the stuff should be available by prescription only. It's a food of convenience, and I see little to be gained in giving people "fast food" as soon as they are out of the womb. The topic came up at work recently, and a co-worker sagely pointed out that "Breastfeeding isn't for everybody", as though it's a mere lifestyle choice. My reply was that breastfeeding is for everybody; that's why women have them. Few things make me crazier than to hear a new mother say that she tried breastfeeding but it just "didn't take", and when I ask her how long she did it for, hearing a response of, "Oh, a day or two". This is one of very few topics on which I am pretty militant.)
So, how does a tube-feeding work? What's it look like? Well, here is Little Quinn's afternoon feeding from today, in pictures. It starts off like just about any other time you feed a baby: with the kid in your arms.
But you don't stick the bottle in his mouth, nor do you slide your nipple in there, if you're the mother and you're breastfeeding. Instead, you unbutton his outfit (by the way, the presence of the G-tube makes baby clothes that button in back totally impractical) and hook up the G-tube to the extender tube and syringe. Here's what the whole "device" looks like when fastened.
That white clamp in the middle of the tube is the key to the whole affair. It pinches off the tube, so that the fluid inside cannot run. (And by the way, that little tube -- it's no more than a foot in length, and narrower than a standard USB cable -- costs over one hundred dollars. Imagine trying to afford that if you had no health insurance, considering that those tubes wear out very quickly since you're using them six times a day, every day. We've been going through two a month.)
Now, you can't just start puring breastmilk or formula right in there, because if you did that, the flowing liquid would force the air that's already in the tube into Little Quinn's stomach. What happens first is that we hook up the empty tube, and then open the clamp and gently massage Little Quinn's tummy until whatever's in there comes out:
Hopefully, it's mostly gas, and this will actually explode out and make a pretty funny "burping" noise, but often we'll get bubbly remnants of his last meal. And if we're really scraping the bottom of an empty tummy, we'll actually get stomach acid in the tube. Did you know that stomach acid is the same color as Mello Yello or Mountain Dew? I don't drink either anymore.
After we're done with the "venting", we fill the tube and syringe with food. This means clamping the tube, unhooking him, rinsing it clear, pouring milk or formula into the syringe, and then unclamping the tube, allowing the contents of the syringe to run free. (Obviously, we stick the "exit" end of the tube into the bottle so it runs right back into there.) Then, while it's flowing, we re-clamp the tube. If done properly, this results in the tube containing nothing but milk (i.e., no bubbles). Then, we hook Little Quinn up again, and unclamp the tube, holding it up so that the contents of the syringe flow into his stomach:
Thie feeding method is called "bolus feeding", and it employs gravity: by holding the syringe above the level of Little Quinn's stomach, the milk drains downward into his tummy. However, the rate of feeding can be altered by lowering the syringe to slow it down, and if we actually hold the syringe below the level of his tummy, the milk will actually run out of his stomach and back into the syringe. When doing this, the milk will actually pulsate along with the rhythm of Little Quinn's stomach contractions; and sometimes, if he has to cough or sneeze or has a stronger reflux, his stomach will actually force the milk out at a surprising rate. It will actually form a spout in the syringe, which is one of many fascinating things I'd give anything to have never seen at all.
Due to some principle of physics, I assume, we can never get every drop of food into his stomach, but we can get it so the tube is empty except for a segment close to his tummy, like this close-up of the tube in mid-feed after the syringe has been emptied the first time:
This is where time becomes a factor. A feeding is generally four ounces, but we can't just pour four ounces into Little Quinn at once. We have to do it a little bit at a time (for comparison, that large syringe has a capacity of two ounces, so he gets two of those in a full feeding). We give him a bit of food, and then we clamp the tube and allow him to "rest" for a bit. Then, we unclamp him and again massage his tummy a bit, because bubbles can form in his stomach that quickly. Here's what the bubbles look like in the tube, as we squeeze them out:
That's what burps look like, people.
Now, if Little Quinn is feeling "under the weather", he might cry a lot during a feeding and resist it and even push it back into the syringe while we're trying to get his food into him. Unfortunately, there is little we can do in such cases except wait him out because eventually has no choice but to digest what we put into him. These feedings are very difficult, however, because in addition to having a screaming baby in our lap for what seems like eternity, the milk becomes thicker and thicker as it comes in and out of his stomach. That means it gets harder and harder to get it through that skinny tube. This was true of breastmilk, and it's even more true of infant formula. Little Quinn's feedings used to be like that all the time, but over the last couple of months as he's finally started putting on weight and getting stronger, the "rejection of the feeding" has happened far less frequently. The reaction we like to see is this one:
That's a yawn, not a cry. (It was hard getting the photo to snap at the unmistakable instant of "yawniness".)
It takes about half an hour, if everything goes smoothly, to get a feeding into Little Quinn so that he isn't uncomfortable afterwards. But after the feeding is done, the wrap-up is simple: we disconnect the extender tube, close up the "port", button up his clothes, and then do what parents always do with freshly-fed babies. We rock them to sleep.
And if we've done our job well, this is the reward that awaits us for a completed feeding:
That's a reward worth waiting for, n'est-ce pas?
UPDATE: An update of this post, detailing our use of an electric feeding pump for Little Quinn's G-tube feedings, can be found here.
UPDATE, 30 November 2005: For those who are finding this post via search engine requests for information on the realities of g-tube feeding, I wrote this post to serve as an aid of sorts for parents who find themselves in a similar position to ours, and who might be looking for an actual parental perspective as opposed to the clinical perspective the doctors can give. Doctors can be wonderful, but while they can tell you what to do and how to do it, they generally can't convey what it is like to incorporate the realities of medical procedures into one's daily life. It was in that spirit that I wrote this post, and I am more than willing to answer questions about it via e-mail.
Sadly, I should also report that Little Quinn's story came to an end on November 28, 2005. The details thereof can be found here.