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

Friday, September 30, 2005

Ewwwwwww!

OK. So I have a well-documented predilection for "workwear chic", if such a thing can be said to exist.

But I am not going to go this far. Even I have my boundaries.

(via LC Scotty)

The Taming of the Screw

I'm sure Sean will kick himself for not thinking of this title for his post, but anyway, he links a fascinating article about a guy who's been on a kick re-engineering the lowly screw so it works better. This caught my eye because, while I'm unfamiliar (as of now) with the Sammy Super Screw, I do use the Tapcon masonry screw constantly at The Store. I recommend them highly. These are what I use to mount all manner of stuff to our brick and concrete walls: signage, shelving, and even the brackets for the US flags we have on the outside of our building. You just use the Tapcon drill bit (enclosed in the large pack of screws) to pre-drill your hole, and then the screw just goes right in and doesn't work its way back out again. (Just use a good drill, though. Nothing sucks more than trying to drill holes in masonry with a crappy drill.)

My first-ever Bleg!

Yup, this is an occasion: I am actually going to bleg for the first time ever in this space. (I think. I'm sure I have some eagle-eyed, elephant-memoried reader who will recall sometime when I've blegged in the past.)

Anyway, if anyone out there owns the soundtrack CD to the film Cousins, and would be possessed of kindness sufficient to make me a copy of it (or even e-mail me the tracks), I'd be eternally grateful. I recently watched the film again for the first time in years, and I'd forgotten how gorgeous Angelo Badalamenti's score is; also, I'd like to include one or two tracks from it in a film music compilation CD I'm planning to make as a Christmas gift for a friend or two.

I need the address of a Chicago alderman....

....because I want to lobby for a one-hundred percent budget decrease for County Hospital.

That's right: I'm done with ER. I've made no secret that I've been bored for some time with the show. For God's sake, Nurse Sam and her brat kid are the least interesting characters in the entire history of series television, and I say that as someone who as a kid actually watched that spin-off show about Enos from The Dukes of Hazzard. Watching Dr. Kovac pine for this self-absorbed train wreck of a woman is just mind-numbingly dull, and I'm finally tired of the show's fourth or fifth iteration of bringing in a bunch of new med students who will be taught by the current batch of docs who were the new med students three seasons ago, before those docs left for other hospitals (and their actors for other shows). As much as I love Maura Tierney and Parminder Nagra, I'm just not interested in watching them learn the same life lessons about being an ER doc that Drs. Pratt, Carter, and all the others already learned.

But that was all the mounting sense of boredom. Last night's episode of ER actually made me angry, and angry's not something I need in great supply right now.

Without going into gory detail, the episode's main medical storyline involved a woman who was carrying a baby as a surrogate mother for a couple who have been unable to conceive. The pregnant woman, already in labor, wants very much to have the baby vaginally, but the infant turns out to have moved into a breech-birth position. At this point, everybody and their brother -- including the annoying "young gun" doctor played by Shane West (a very talented actor who was far better served by the infinitely superior scripts of Once and Again) -- starts lobbying this woman to have a Caesarian section, to the point where the father-to-be is making noises about getting a court order to force the surrogate mom to have the C-section.

Well, she doesn't have the C-section, and in the course of labor and delivery the infant's umbilical cord is compressed, resulting in oxygen deprivation. Upon delivery, the infant has to be intubated and is whisked off to the NICU, since it's established as being basically brain-dead. The father and mother depart without their child, and the surrogate mom apparently doesn't want the child either.

Alert readers may sense that this subject matter was, for me, uncomfortably close to what played out when Little Quinn was born. But that's the problem: many of the events depicted in the episode stand in absolute contrast to what our real-life experience actually was, to the extent that the ER show struck me as being almost dishonest. To wit:

:: There seems to be a perception today -- tacitly endorsed by last night's ER -- that a C-section is a fairly benign procedure which should be invoked at any sign of difficulty at all. The fact is, a C-section is an invasive surgical procedure that is not the cure-all that ER implied it was. The episode's constant implication that if only this stupid woman had consented to the Caesarian, her baby would have been born healthy is simply not true.

:: The episode was billed in previews as a "turning point" for the Shane West character (who's so unmemorable that I can't even remember the character's name), which strikes me as odd since the Shane West character had a "turning point" last year when he was on the scene of an accident at a party when an overloaded balcony collapsed. But he had one moment that was so stunningly awful that I can't believe any doctor would behave that way: after the baby is delivered and placed in the bassinet for intubation, the surrogate mother asks how he is, and Shane West snaps at her, "He's not breathing and he has no pulse. What does that tell you?" This was absolutely disgusting.

:: And quite frankly, I find the whole "Stupid woman ignoring the Knowledgable Male Doctor to her detriment" subtext of the episode unsettling.

:: After Little Quinn was born to quite similar circumstances as the baby on the show, it took more than a week before it was conclusively determined that he was brain damaged, and even then, there was no way of telling just how severe the resultant disabilities would be (or even what those disabilities were). On ER, the docs made their conclusive diagnosis of hopeless brain damage within hours. Little Quinn was on a ventilator for over a week before he was strong enough to breathe on his own; ER made it sound like a hopeless defeat that the hours-old newborn was still on the machine.

I could go on, but I won't. Suffice it to say that this show, whose long decline from unmissable staple of my Thursday nights to a boring shell of what it once was, is over for me. For my medical-TV fix, I'll still have House and, when it returns in mid-season, Scrubs.

So long, ER. It was a good nine years or so.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Answers to the Quiz

The answers to my quiz from the other day are now available here. If you still want to try the quiz, go ahead -- the answers are on a different post entirely, so as not to spoil it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Short Takes

Kinda busy today, so just some random bullet stuff:

:: Darth Swank is heralding a return to blogging. Hoo-ray.

:: I am now addicted to the FOX medical drama House, which views like if Scrubs were a drama and not a sitcom with Dr. Cox as its main character. House may end up replacing ER as my main fix for medical drama.

:: New definition of Chutzpah: Getting shown the back door at your managerial job for gross incompetence, and then getting hired on again at the exact same place as a consultant for just how bad things got at that job because of your gross incompetence. (Of course, you don't actually admit your gross incompetence. You find the nearest convenient person from the opposing political party and throw them under the bus, because that's what the talking points tell you to do.)

:: Official complaint about the New England Stupid Patriots, NFL Week Three, 2005 Season: Don't tell me that the StuPats aren't regular recipients of unbelievably good luck. (Yeah, yeah, they also had two major injuries in the same game. I'm not interested in debating the StuPats; only in bitching about them.)

:: Random NFL complaint: this crap about keeping information about player injuries as secret as possible is just getting absurd. Here's the latest example, which I think makes Bill Belichick look like an ass (not that this, in my opinion, takes much). But he's not alone: just try getting any member of the Bills' coaching staff or front office to come clean as to just what Roscoe Parrish's wrist injury actually is.

:: Distressed Jeans? Huh?! I always thought that the attraction of denim was that the stuff takes years to get that lived-in look and feel, and then retains that feel for years more. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

:: Via Alan (he of the "three or four readers", who must have each voted an awful lot of times in the Artvoice thing), I see that one possible design for a signature bridge to replace the Peace Bridge (the bridge from Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ontario) has been unveiled, here. (PDF). Always helpful on my end, though, here are the two pictures from the New Millennium Group document. First is the bridge leading into Buffalo; second is the bridge leading into Fort Erie. I assume they'll commission an actual artist to do better mockups, but for now these will suffice:

New Peace Bridge into Buffalo
New Peace Bridge into Fort Erie

Of course, any new bridge is contingent upon getting the US Customs people to actually staff the damned inspection booths on our side. In fact, I'd kind of like to see how the existing Peace Bridge traffic flow goes on a busy day when the US Customs side is fully staffed.

:: Don't forget about my quiz on cultural stuff, wherein I get to define what counts as being "cultured", here. In fact, this would be a fun game to pass around Blogistan -- everybody should make up their own quizzes along this line, sinc everybody has a different set of cultural stuff they call "home". (Yes, I know that this is a really badly-done metaphor. I don't feel like cooking up a new one.) Instead of everybody answering the same quizzes, everybody would answer everybody else's quiz, and everybody would have their own quiz answered. Or something like that.

:: Oh yeah, as of yesterday, my age equals Thurman Thomas's uniform number. Good old Squirmin' Thurman!

See you all tomorrow, I hope. I may find something better to do than blogging, you know. (Perish the thought....)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Where's William Shatner when you need him....

A while back I pointed to this FilmScoreMonthly message boards thread, in which a really angry fan of the original Battlestar Galactica show is flinging feces in every possible direction in an effort to smear the current Battlestar Galactica show. Well, ten days later, the thread is still going strong, with Mr. Paddon still fighting the good fight...and now providing the helpful information that he's been actively writing fanfic for a website called GalaticaFanfic.com. Well, I'm always one to follow the linkie thingies wherever they go, and here's what I found at that sight:

:: A story, described by its author thusly: "A Battlestar Galactica/Dune/Lost in Space/Dracula/Clan of the Cave Bear/Fabulous World of Krypton Crossover Fanfic".

:: A poem called "There Are Those...Who Believe", which opens with this amazing stanza:

Journeying through the naked stars, we be
A rag tag fleet surviving the whims of villainy
Forced by betrayal, our homes to flee
Needs must we seek out Earth, the 13th Colony.


:: A Christmas song, called "Muffy the Red-Nosed Daggit".

:: A song called "You Are My Viper" (sung to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine").

I'm inevitably thinking of the immortal tagline from Wayne's World: "You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll hurl."

The worst work of great music ever...or is it the greatest work of bad music ever?

One piece of classical music that I listen to fairly regularly, playing it every six months or so, is Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1, which is probably one of the most-performed works in all of classical music. And listening to it, I can certainly understand why: it's got the kind of grand epic Romantic sweep that audiences love, it's got one wonderful melody after another (including one of the most famous classical melodies ever), it showcases both the full orchestra in all its glory and the virtuoso piano in all its pyrotechnic glory. Yup, I love the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1.

And I also hate it.

That may seem strong, but every time I hear it, I come away convinced that only the wonderful melodies (well, some of the wonderful melodies) and the work's inherent, in-your-face drama are what keeps it around. Musically, the piece is a structural nightmare.

Consider the concerto's very first melody, which is -- as mentioned above -- one of the most famous melodies in all of classical music. There's a brief intro by the horns, and then the piano starts banging those big chords as the strings sound The Melody. Then, after the strings are done, the piano itself plays The Melody. Then there's some virtuosic stuff, and then a big tutti section in which the whole orchestra sounds The Melody. And then, after a fairly awkward transition, the movement's meter and tempo change -- and The Melody is never heard again. So we've just spent five or six minutes becoming intimately familiar with a theme that Tchaikovsky just tosses aside.

There's still good stuff to be heard, but the transitions are always awkward in the Concerto Number One, with Tchaikovsky constantly seeming to build toward a certain kind of idea but then inexplicably breaking off and doing something completely different (in the middle of the first movement, there's a "building" passage that simply stops and then the timpani gives a loud roll, and we're on to something completely different).

The second movement combines both the traditional slow movement with a bit of scherzo material that does nothing for me, and again, the two distinct "voices" of the movement don't do more than simply exist side-by-side. As for the last movement, it's probably the most successful of the three. Its structure is, at least, competent.

I'm generally not bothered as much by structural faults in music; but the overall mood of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 is one of excess. In the entire forty-five minutes of the work, there isn't a single subtle gesture to be found. This concerto is a monument to musical wallowing. It's almost like Peter Ilich, in writing this piece, said to himself: "Dammit, I'm going to indulge every musical instinct I have for this thing. Piss on holding back: if the idea occurs to me, it's going in."

So why do I still listen to it? Probably because it appeals to the part of my classical music loving soul that's analogue to the part of me that likes to just grab a pizza and eat as much of it as I humanly can in one sitting.

Crappiest. Football. Day. Ever.

Man, yesterday sucked to watch football. It started with me watching the Buffalo Bills basically roll over for the Atlanta Falcons (a quite good, but quite beatable team), and then I watched the Pittsburgh Steelers fail to stop the New England Stupid Patriots, who once again did their patented "We're just good enough to not lose" schtick that has people all a-quiver over just how dreamy they are. It all made me want to vomit.

So, what of the Bills? Well, I'm still not giving up on J.P. Losman, despite his incredibly bad performance yesterday. It's still the case that the mistakes he's making are ones that experience will (hopefully) correct. He's still not seeing the whole field, he's still failing to pick up blitzers, and he's still hesitating on his throws and telegraphing when exactly he's about to throw the ball. I listened to one caller to a Buffalo sports-talk radio show call Losman a "bust", only to hear the hosts make the points that I've been making on Monday mornings at The Store: Peyton Manning as a rookie set the record for interceptions thrown in a season; the Bills were 4-12 in Jim Kelly's first year as starter. This is going to take time.

The lack of patience, of course, stems from the fact that the Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999, coupled with the fact that in today's NFL teams can go from cellar-dwellers to title contenders in a much shorter time than it's apparently taking the Bills. But with a new guy like Losman, the results we're seeing right now are inevitable, no matter when you start him; if the Bills had kept Drew Bledsoe around and then given Losman the reins in 2006, then we'd see what we're seeing now in 2006. So I say, get it out of the way now. If there are lumps to be taken, take them now.

But that doesn't mean that the Bills have to feed the kid to the lions every week. Here's some stuff that's annoying me:

:: The lack of a really decent tight end to work the middle of the field, short-to-medium yardage, and give Losman a big target safety-valve. I don't care if Mark Campbell gets open on the sideline patterns; that's not the kind of safety-valve thing that Losman needs. He has to have a reliable big target on whom he can dump the ball when he's in trouble.

:: The lack of pass protection. Longtime readers know that I'm constantly bitching about the Bills' offensive line, but the line hasn't been any better than average in years -- probably since the end of the Super Bowl run in 1993. And while I think you can get to the Super Bowl, and win it, with an average defense, nobody's getting to the Super Bowl with an average offensive line. Trey Teague is simply not a good center. I lost count yesterday of the number of plays in which he snapped the ball, squared to meet his defender -- and then turned to see what his defender was doing, since the guy was already in the backfield. Without a good offensive line, the Bills will not be able to control the clock, establish rhythm, control the line of scrimmage, or give J.P. Losman time to study the field and apply the things he learns from watching game film.

:: Is Losman incapable of passing from a snap under center, with a four-receiver set? It seems that every time the Bills call a passing play, Losman sets up in the shotgun. Geez, you might as well have Crash Davis tell the batter it's gonna be a fastball. They need to vary the look somewhat on passing downs. It's easy for opponents to defend the Bills' passing game when the passing game is so blindingly obvious.

And then there's the defense -- the magnificent, "We wanna be the '85 Bears or the '00 Ravens" defense.

Well, I'm not going to go digging through the records, but I very much doubt that either the '85 Bears or the '00 Ravens ever allowed a team to come into their home stadium and run for over two hundred yards against them. I also very much doubt that any of those historic defenses had to rely on constant blitzing to get pressure on the opposing quarterback, and I very much doubt that any of those historic defenses would have approached a guy like Michael Vick -- who's at his best when he's running for his life -- with a defensive scheme designed specifically to make him run for his life.

I see no reason, at this juncture, to alter my original projection for the Bills. Losman will struggle for quite a while (if he's still playing this badly in November, I'll start to worry a bit), and the defense just isn't good enough to carry the Bills to the playoffs. So, to the extent that this season is playing out the way I expected, I'm not disappointed, exactly. But it still sucks to be a Bills fan and constantly feel like the team is just a year or two away from making a run.

Stupid Patriots...hate them so much...Stupid Brady....

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Ah, so THAT's why I'm not paid to do this.

A short while ago, I engaged very briefly in debate with PJ of Reading, Writing and Ranting about namecalling on the right versus the left. My position was that rhetoric on many left-wing blogs is no more or less obnoxious than rhetoric on many right-wing blogs, but I didn't make my point terribly well and, for lack of figuring out a better way to say what I was trying to say, I dropped the subject.

Well, I've just discovered that Matthew Yglesias made the exact point I was groping around for back in June, here. I missed it at the time because I thought that Matthew's TypePad blog was going inactive when he moved over to Josh Marshall's TPM Cafe thing, but now I see that Matthew's been blogging in both places, as well as producing content for TAPped. Busy guy, that Yglesias fellow. Anyway, here's what he had to say:

I'm less certain that this is really true, but I think you see different kinds of viciousness from the left and the right. Your rightwingers are much more likely to say something substantively scummy about someone else -- flinging around casual accusations of treason and so forth. Your leftwingers, by contrast, are much more likely to engage in workaday meanness -- name-calling and so forth. This stems, I think, from the stylistic dichotomy between Atrios and Instapundit. Glenn's a really master of the artfully worded slander -- "they're not anti-war, they're on the other side" and so forth -- while Duncan has a much blunter approach -- "InstaHack," etc.


Of course, it's not at all hard to find the same kind of thing in Right Blogistan -- just check out Emperor Misha, Kim Du Toit and the like for regular examples of that sort of thing -- but anyway, there you go. In any case, I find it hard to differentiate between strongly implying that people on the Left are traitors (or to state it outright) and calling Barbara Bush a "bitch". Maybe that's my own personal failing, but I don't think so. (Especially when Mrs. Bush once referred to Geraldine Ferraro, then Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States, as being something that "rhymes with rich". I wonder what word she was groping for, there....)

:: In another vein, I wrote again last week about right-wing blogs blocking left-wing blog referral traffic (along with a way to get around it!), noting that I've never yet heard of a liberal blog blocking referrals from a right-wing blog. In comments to that post, Lynn Sislo noted:

I've haven't mentioned this before because I've been trying to remember the name of the blog in question. I definitely remember two or more years ago there was a far Left wing blogger who started blocking incoming referrals. I remember it well because the Right wing blogoshpere was all in a tizzy about it at the time.


Well, I've been around a while, and I don't quite remember anything like that. But I did get my memory jogged earlier today, and I recall way back in November of 2002, James Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review did something that I suspect is what Lynn's remembering: he announced a new policy regarding his blogroll. In short, he would no longer allow on his blogroll any blog that maintained a blogroll link of its own to Little Green Footballs. This really did have the right-wing up in arms at the time (witness this Steven Den Beste post on the subject, and scroll down to all the follow-ups, including one to Lynn's old BlogSpot blog!), and in all honesty, I even agreed that this was a goofy thing for James Capozzola to do.

Of course, in retrospect it's clearly even less important than it was at the time; with the rise of RSS aggregators and services like BlogLines, blogrolls have become a lot less important over time. I almost never surf other bloggers' blogrolls, and when I find new blogs to read, it's mainly by following links from the many blogs that I read already (like Lynn's) or by doing searches on Technorati or Google's new BlogSearch for posts about stuff that interests me. In fact, as of this writing, I couldn't tell you if a single blogger on my blogroll had LGF on its blogroll or not. If a major blogger, right or left, made such an announcement today, the response would probably be a big yawn -- especially since, when you get right down to it, Capozzola merely announced publicly the type of thing that we all practice tacitly anyway (while I don't specifically look at blogrolls, the possibility that a blog written by someone who would blogroll LGF would hold my attention is probably pretty low). But at the time, it actually was a fairly big deal.

The major difference between what James Capozzola did back in 2002 and what some right-wing blogs do now is in the direction it goes. For all the bluster directed at Capozzola at the time, there's a substantial difference between deciding whom you, as a blogger, are going to link and whom you, as a blogger, are going to allow to link to you. So while I wasn't wild about what Capozzola did, I don't think it's equivalent to referral-blocking.

The first rule of the Federal Budget is, Don't talk about the Federal Budget

Once upon a time, Your Federal Government, under the auspices of the President of the United States, published an annual document called the Citizen's Guide to the Federal Budget, which is exactly what it sounds like: a publication that makes it somewhat easier for citizens to look at what the government's doing with their taxes, among other things.

I say "Once upon a time", because President Bush's White House has decided that publishing the Citizen's Guide to the Federal Budget just isn't that important. Of course, citizens can still read through the actual Federal budget, but no more nice help understanding it all from our wonderful, open, respectful-of-access-to-information Administration.

"We'll provide only the information we're required by law to provide, and you gotta figure it out yourself. And even in those cases, we'll be working to change the law about what we gotta provide you, or we'll use those handy Executive Orders to bottle up information we don't want you to have in the first place." Yup, the grown-ups sure are in charge -- the grown-ups who were always kicking the kids outside or going into the den and locking the door when it came time to balance the family checkbook.

(via Incurable Insomniac; post not permalinked.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Sometimes, you can dispense with the introductory cleverness and just give the link, and this is one of those times.

Mice on surfboards.

Apparently there's video available, but I didn't feel like trying it out on my dialup connection.

Sentential Links #18

Time for our usual dose of context-free, clickable goodness. Cheerio!

:: Dear Catholic Church,

Please consider this my official resignation. I am done with you.


:: This is a danger with people who don't have money: it's never enough for them, because they really have no idea of how money works. (Permalinks here rarely work; if not, scroll down to the post dated September 24.)

:: So often I’ve wanted to just sit on the roof alone with my thoughts and an old fashioned telescope, the big unwieldy kind with all kinds of lenses and mechanical gears. Someday when I am eccentric and rich, I’ll have a whole house decorated with the theme of “Alice In Wonderland”. There will be old-fashioned astronomy equipment mounted on the roof. I’ll have an unwieldy old telescope and I’ll gaze at the stars. It will have gears and lenses I can turn and adjust. I’ll make notations of my observations in big dusty books. Eventually, the telescope and I will turn inward upon ourselves so many times, we’ll just disappear. For years the children and old people will talk about the lady up the street who spent her fortune on this big crazy house, and then one day she just disappeared… and the only thing missing was the telescope. (I hope Warren Ellis doesn't mind me quoting this in its entirety. I read it, found it just a wonderful passage, and was saddened to learn that its author died last week.)

:: Houses interest me. Not so much as aesthetic objects, though I am hardly immune to the pleasures of architecture—to grandeur, stark geometry, homeliness, or charm—but more as, well, containers of human life. In the hands of a good writer, setting serves as a virtual character.

:: There's been an unfortunate tendency among a small segment of the anti-war left to confuse the badness of the American invasion with the idea that the insurgency in Iraq has any morally redeeming qualities. There's also been an unfortunate tendency among a far broader swathe of the commentariat to confuse the badness of the Sunni insurgency with the idea that the people on the other are necessarily charming and admirable. The reality is far grimmer.

:: So, we've seen "The Young Indiana Jones." Sean Patrick Flannery was an early crush of mine. But what about the slightly older Indy? He got a PhD, right? What about the adventures of Indiana Jones, grad student? (Do read this. It's really funny.)

:: I have missed the gentle caress of the moon and stars, and the smell of late summer night jasmine on the wind. This month's moon is so bright it is almost day outside. Moon shadows everywhere. I am in love with life.

:: How sad that American Christianity seems to be shifting towards a straightforward apocalyptic death cult. How worrisome that it's possibly the most dynamic strain of Christianity in the developed world.

:: I made it through fine. Neither I nor my Dad lost power, and other than cleaning up some broken branches, no damage at my father's. My house has a single large branch down over my back fence, but the fence is fine so I only need to drag it out to the curb. No damage there either. (Wow. I forgot that Morat lived in Houston. I'm glad things are OK for him, as well as everyone else who came through better than expected.)

:: Not to take anything away from any of the other women I’ve known in my life, but to me, my wife is the single most attractive woman I’ve ever known. She’s inspired feelings in me I haven’t had since I was a teenager and some I've never felt before. I never tire of looking at her, and still after 6 years of living together, I can still be aroused by her simply walking across the room in a pair of overalls. (I know what he means, as long-time readers know. I just found this blog a couple of days ago -- I love the pun inherent in its title.)

:: I have been lucky that in all the competitions and masterclasses and jollies I have done, the juries have been charming and helpful and encouraging. (You have to like a post with lots of redacted swear-words.)

:: It brought on a brutally tender memory of Judy Garland. My father loved her deeply as a friend, and as her agent near the end of her life. They had marvelous, hilarious times together. (This is why I love blogging: it's the only aspect of my life in which encountering someone who knew Judy Garland is a real possibility.)

The end, for this week. Tune back in next Sunday for more sentential goodness.

A ruthless demonstration of my ignorance

Via Will Duquette, I find this quiz. Ugh. I didn't do very well. (My answers are colored so as to make them much less legible; highlight them if you wish to read them.)

1. Tell, within a dozen, how many books P. G. Wodehouse wrote. Shoot, make it within thirty...

Crap. I know that Wodehouse was quite prolific, so I'll wildly guess one hundred.

2. Name the song playing on the radio when Duke’s Samoan attorney threw the grapefruit into the bathtub.

Huh?!

3. Fill in the blank, "I love the smell of _____________ in the morning."

Napalm.

4. Tell what machine Toad fell in love with after being thrown from his caravan.

No idea.

5. Name the Who’s original drummer.

No idea.

6. Describe the procedure for trapping a heffalump.

Oh, dammit!

7. Name the Black Panther Party member who went from exile in Cuba to preaching at Wheaton Bible Church before designing and selling codpiece-equipped pants.

This is getting embarrassing.

8. Name the artist who played harmonica on Keith Green’s 1980 "So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt" LP.

I don't even know who Keith Green is. Shit.

9. Tell who said, "The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder."

Now, this sounds familiar. But still, no idea.

10. Name the movie: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room."

Dr. Strangelove

11. Name the Beatle with the bare feet.

Huh?

12. Name the now-dead newspaper columnist who often quoted his friend Slats Grobnik.

Mike Royko

13. Tell what color and model car O.J. Simpson was being driven down the Santa Monica freeway in.

A white Chevy Ford Bronco. I once heard a joke, actually: "Hey, did you hear that John Elway is going to star in a movie about OJ Simpson? He's gonna play the slow white Bronco!" (rimshot)

14. Name the Chicago Bears defensive tackle who scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XX.

William "Refrigerator" Perry

15. Finish the sentence from "Cool Hand Luke": "What we have here is a failure to _____________ ."

Communicate.

16. Name the movie this line comes from: "It's just a flesh wound! Come back and I'll bite your kneecaps off!"

Well, the quote's not entirely accurate, but the general idea's from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

17. Name the song that ends with the drummer shouting, "I’ve got blisters on my fingers!"

Geez....

18. Name the lead guitarist on the Beatles’ "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

OK, I know they revolutionized popular music and all that, but I think I can lead a perfectly cultured life without knowing anything about the Beatles. End rant.

19. Name the Tom Wolfe book originally serialized in Rolling Stone magazine.

Just a guess, but is it Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?

20. Name the television series modeled on the work of a New Yorker cartoonist.

Well, there was that one episode of Seinfeld....

My oh my, that was a freaking diaster. I'm embarrassed. So what's a blogger to do, but reassert his superiority by amending the quiz to add ten more questions to which I do know the answers? Ha!

11. Only two baseball players have ended the World Series by hitting a walk-off home-run. Name them.
12. Roger Ebert wrote a screenplay many years ago. Name the director of the resulting film.
13. Name the two ingredients in a roux. (There's some wiggle-room here, actually.)
14. Leonard Bernstein wrote a symphony based on what poem by W.H. Auden?
15. Harold Arlen, Vincent Gallo, Orel Hershiser, Ani DiFranco, and Christine Baranski all have this in common.
16. Give the real names of Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.
17. Johannes Brahms wrote ____ symphonies. (For extra credit, Brahms wrote ____ of his ____ symphonies in major keys.)
18. In the 23rd century, the United Federation of Planets maintains only one crime that still carries a death penalty. Name that crime.
19. Name Wolverine's mutant superpower.
20. On what planet did Luke Skywalker learn the truth of his parentage? (There are two possible answers here, actually.)

Heck, this is fun, so here are ten more. Heh!

21. In the opening passage of Neuromancer, what color is the sky?
22. In the James Bond films, what is Q's name?
23. What hardly happens in Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire?
24. What composer fell madly in love at first sight with actress Harriet Smithson? (For extra credit, what role was she playing at the time?)
25. Give the last names of the two Brians in 1988's "Battle of the Brians".
26. Four NFL coaches have lost four Super Bowls. Name the one who is NOT in the Hall of Fame.
27. What nineteenth century English writer is also known for introducing a certain style of postal box?
28. Everybody knows who shot J.R. Ewing. But who shot Bobby Ewing?
29. Who said "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca?
30. Mabel Normand is credited with being the originator of what?

OK, that's enough for now. Feel free to answer and add questions of your own, bloggers!

UPDATE: In comments, Aaron corrects my make of car in one of the original questions. So what do I know about cars? Also, he wonders why my additional questions start at number 11. This is, of course, an error, but it also suggests another question: Name the object whose settings end at '11'.

UPDATE II: The answers are available here.

Something I'll never read

Here's a brief excerpt from a book that I'll never get to read, because the book doesn't exist:

Rock yawned. "Gotta get moving," Rock said. A couple of hundred million years went by. A rock is always slow to take action. A rock watches an oak grow from a sapling to a towering tree, and it's a flash and a dazzle in the mind of a rock. What was that? Rock thinks. Or maybe, Huh?


The excerpt is from a children's book called Zod Wallop, which only exists as excerpts in the horror novel of the same name by William Browning Spencer. It's a good book, my copy of which I unearthed yesterday in the course of digging through my stacks of old stuff (for eventual trundling off to the library as a donation to their book sale).

I remember enjoying Zod Wallop a great deal when I read it seven or eight years ago. I also remember wishing that I could read Zod Wallop. Confused? Yeah, me too.

There's a reason why we don't have to dial "911748596327485964" in case of emergency!

Here's an annoying trend that I've discovered recently. We're all aware, I assume, of "phishing" scams, and I'm often reading stuff in the news or in WIRED or wherever about how ubiquitous these types of scams are. That being the case, I try to be very diligent in reporting phishing e-mails to the appropriate companies every time I receive one.

The problem is, lots of companies make it entirely too difficult to do this. If phishing scams are that big of a problem for consumers and that big of an annoyance for companies, then it seems to me a simple link, right on the front page, saying something like "Report suspicious e-mails here" would be in order. But, in order to track down the phishing report e-mail address for Amazon, I first had to click "Contact Us" way at the bottom of the front page; then I had to read through the linked page for the link to their Security page; and then there was yet another link to a page about phishing scams. That's where I found the address, buried deep in the middle of the page and not even in bold text to stand out. Ugh. And there are other companies for whom I've received phishing e-mails (many of which I don't even do business with in the first place) where I was unable to find any kind of spoof-reporting instructions at all.

Encouraging people like me to do the right thing works better, folks, if you make it easier for people like me to do the right thing.

(Oh, and if any of my readers are receiving Amazon spoof e-mails, forward them to stop-spoofing@amazon.com.)

Is this thing on?

Sorry about the lack of posting the last couple of days, but on Friday I enjoyed some "family time" -- you know, when you do stuff with that peck of weirdos who hang around in your home all day -- and yesterday was my weekly Day of Domestication, in which I did the laundry, went food shopping, started cleaning up my office area (again), as well as doing some very overdue backing up of important files from the computer and downloading OpenOffice.

As regards OpenOffice, the total amount of time I've spent doing anything with it at this point is roughly ten minutes, but so far I like what I see. Just the fact that I can finally use my mouse's scroll-wheel in conjunction with a word-processing program is a major point in favor of making the switch permanent. (I've been using MSOffice for Windows 95, which dates from the hazy eons before the invention of the scroll-wheel.)

Now, here's a techie-question for OpenOffice users: during the install, the OpenOffice program couldn't locate my "Java Runtime Environment", which I'm pretty sure does exist on this computer -- I mean, it would have to, wouldn't it, for me to be able to properly surf Java-enhanced web pages? -- so, can anyone suggest how I (a) locate the Java Runtime Environment on my computer, and then (b) configure OpenOffice to run with it? (In truth, I'm not even sure how important this is. The vast majority of stuff I'll be doing with OpenOffice will be on the "Word" program, with a smattering of spreadsheet stuff. I'll almost never use "Draw" or the presentations program, since the only time I ever used PowerPoint is if someone had a presentation they wanted me to watch. I'm generally a member of the "Does EVERY major management presentation HAVE to be on PowerPoint? Can't you people just write a damn speech anymore?" camp.

Anyhow, expect some regular posting to begin again today.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bloggin' the Donald

OK, I'm not live-blogging the Donald Trump edition of The Apprentice, mainly because the show ended fifteen minutes ago. (The fact that I'm blogging right at this moment tells you how compelling I'm finding the season premiere of ER, in progress. This show's long slide from weekly thrill ride with great characters to "meh" show with boring characters is really sad to behold. It's been downhill ever since that helicopter landed on Dr. Romano's head, and God almighty, I could not conceivably care less than I do now about Sam and her kid.)

Anyway, I liked how, after rolling out the first assignment to the teams, Trump then made them engage in a footrace across his country club to his helicopter. That was pretty funny, watching these business-types in their nice clothes running across a golf course like it's the Olympics. Since it's so early in the season, I don't have a favorite "candidate" yet. But really, the main reason I watch The Apprentice is slowly becoming clear: Carolyn Kepcher is just freaking beautiful:



And she's apparently smart as a whip, with an exceedingly well-honed BS detector. Yeah, she'd kick my ass within ten minutes of meeting me. But I can dream, can't I?

UPDATE: My God, this episode of ER is a steaming bowl of rancid sewage. If this is going to be the tone of the whole season, that new FBI-profiling show on CBS is gonna have itself a viewer. And do the producers really need to make it seem like everything between Chicago and Denver is fifteen hundred miles of hick wilderness? According to ER, Davenport, Iowa is a ho-hum town with a hospital the size of a large McDonald's. The reality is a city of just under 100,000 people. I know they can't just send a camera crew to Davenport for a location shoot, but they can at least try to be convincing with the locations they do use. (But then, TV producers are constantly screwing up Iowa. I remember an episode of The X-Files that tried passing off a mountain lake in British Columbia as Lake Okoboji. Now, Iowa's not totally flat, but it ain't surrounded by mountains covered with magnificent pines, either.)

A query for the most intelligent readers in Blogistan....

Yup, that's you, folks. Because you read this blog, of course!

Anyway, does anyone out there have experience with OpenOffice.org? I've been considering giving their office package a try, since I'm still using Microsoft Office for Windows 95, and I want to upgrade without sending more money Bill Gates's way. (But no, I'm not switching to Linux. I'm not that opposed to giving Bill Gates money.)

I assume that with OpenOffice I'd still be able to work with all of the files I've created with MSOffice over the years. If anyone has experience with OpenOffice, good or bad, let me know either in comments or e-mail. Thanks in advance, folks!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Music, food...what's not to like?

Lynn Sislo appears to have food on the brain today. First, she seems surprised that someone suggests putting sauerkraut in chili, but that's nothing, really: when I went to college in Iowa, the local Pizza Hut offered kraut as a pizza topping. Ewwwww. (Strangely, while I don't like sauerkraut itself and won't eat it, I think that a nice piece of meat, like a beef roast or a nice thick section of Polish sausage, simmered until tender in a big pot of sauerkraut is just heavenly.)

More interestingly, Lynn solicits suggestions for musical food metaphors, taking this as a starting point:

If Johann Strauss II is the musical equivalent of whipped cream, Richard Strauss’s waltzes from the Rosenkavalier are whipped cream with a pound of sugar and half a dozen egg yolks.


Hmmmm...Strauss and whipped cream...never tried that before...hmmmmm....

OK, sorry about that. How about some other musical metaphors?

Mahler is a giant stack of buckwheat pancakes: wonderfully nourishing and filling, but he sits in your stomach forever.

Berlioz? He's Chicago-style deep dish pizza: beloved by some, not understood by many.

I'd better give this up right now. Not only am I making myself hungry, but the whipped cream thing is...um, excuse me....

Alas, poor Sean....

In the midst of this post, Sean complains thusly:

I keep watching for that last high in the 90s day in the 7 day outtlook and it keeps pushing back. Back to friday now. I'm melting...


Heh. Not to rub it in or anything, but as of this writing, six of the next ten days on the Ten Day Forecast upon which I rely predict highs in the upper 60s.

I'm telling you, folks, if you like the number of seasons your locale experiences to be greater than two, Buffalo's the place to live.

Huh-whuh?

I've seen a couple of instances lately, in reference to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where folks on the right either imply or state outright that the "mainstream media" predicted over 10,000 dead in New Orleans, which then leads to the mindboggling charge that now the "MSM" is disappointed that the actual death toll came in much lower than that. Setting aside the obvious perversity in assuming that an entire industry would actively root for over 10,000 people to die in a natural calamity, I'm wondering just how this can be pinned on the "MSM" at all, when it was perfectly clear that the "MSM" was merely reporting what various government officials, like a Republican US Senator, were predicting all along. The causal chain appears to be this:

1. Various people, some of them Republicans, say something;
2. Media outlets report what these various people, some of them Republicans, say;
3. Various Republicans then take that bit of reportage as some kind of evidence for the media outlets making up what was said by various people, some of them Republicans, in the first place.

It's really very head-spinning, the way the "MSM" manages to get blamed for stuff. I wonder why the "MSM" just doesn't collectively realize that they're damned if they report and damned if they don't report, they might as well just report anyway and be damned for what they really are. Of course, that won't happen.

Heroes

We all have our own heroes, people on whose behalf we would shout from all the mountaintops of all the world if we could.

Dave Thomas's hero, his grandfather, is in very bad shape. My deepest condolences to him. Watching the long-term suffering of a loved one is probably the worst thing about being human.

Oh, dear Martha....

I've never been a big fan of Martha Stewart, but I do think she handled the situation surrounding her conviction and prison sentence with as much grace as could be expected. And, of course, longtime readers know that one of my two 'reality TV' vices is The Apprentice (the other being American Idol). So yeah, I'm watching Martha Stewart's version of the show.

It's about five minutes into the show, so I don't have anything to say about it yet, except to note that I think the Eurythmic's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" as the theme song is a nifty touch.

UPDATE: OK, this is a first for me: I'm going to live-blog this damned thing. Some folks live-blog major speeches by the President of the United States; I live-blog episodes of The Apprentice. I'm sure there's a statement in there, somewhere....

1. Some male contestant whose name I forgot already: "You don't control my actions. I control your actions. Let's get that straight." Haven't people watched enough reality shows by now to know that when you say something like that on national television, you only look like a complete ass?

2. The contestants have named their companies "Matchstick" (staffed by "creative types") and "Primarius" (staffed by "corporate" types). God, those are horrible names. One sounds like a company that makes toys from balsa wood, and the other sounds like the bad guy in an old episode of The Transformers.

3. The companies' first task: to create a children's book based on a fairy tale they select, using a designer and illustrator. And then they'll have to read their children's book to actual children. And they're all nodding and grinning, because you know, creating a good children's book is just that easy. Yee-haw.

4. They're in the Random House building, where one conference room is apparently called the "Rudyard Kipling Room". The other team's in the "Dr. Seuss Room". Ick.

5. Some woman whose background is in publishing is the obvious choice to write a children's book. Well, duh.

6. "Hansel and Gretel" in an urban setting could really work. I can think of a thousand ways this could work. Neil Gaiman could do wonders with that; so could Charles de Lint. (Hell, for all I know, de Lint's already done this story, as prolific as he is.) These folks? I doubt it. All of the contestants are whining that it's too dark a story, which tells me that these folks don't know shit about fairy tales or children's lit, which can be very dark stuff indeed.

7. OK, I've just now decided that this "Jeff" guy (tall, bald, glasses) needs to be beaten with a large stick.

8. Everyone's saying "Kids aren't gonna understand this." Assuming the stupidity of kids is never the path to creating a good children's book.

9. Awww, Martha doesn't use "You're fired". She said, "You just don't fit in. Goodbye." But now she's writing a personal letter to the loser? "It sucks that you had to leave. But somebody had to go, and it was you." Wow...rub it in a bit. And according to the next-week-preview, she's writing letters to each loser.

OK, interesting premiere. I'll probably watch the damn thing every week. It's my curse.

This one looks harmless....

Via PZ Myers, I find this bit of instructions that I shall now execute, even though they seem to exist for no reason whatsoever:

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

Wow. My 23rd post was over three years ago, here. Unfortunately, that post is only four sentences long! Here, then, is that last sentence:

I've already bought it and it has shot to the top of my "To Read" list.


The book in question is Patience and Fortitude, by Nicholas A. Basbanes. (A wonderful book, by the way.)

A shameful admission.

This week, I have done something that goes against every instinct of my being.

I've used Hamburger Helper for the first time.

I know. Using some kind of boxed mix to whip up a half-assed meal that's in all likelihood loaded with enough sodium to halve the speed with which my blood arcs through my vessels. Indulging in food that's everything Lloyd Dobler would despise: bought, sold, and processed. Consuming a product whose label might as well read, "May contain meat-like substance."

The worst thing is that I'll probably keep a box or two of this stuff on hand. Like Ramen Noodles, it's an extremely easy quick meal for when I need something that's easy and quick.

Man oh man.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Is this frequency in use?

For a few weeks, I've been getting a "403-Permission Denied" error when I tried visiting SFSignal, but that appears to have ended. I'm not sure what the problem was, but I'm glad the site's back up. It had become one of my favorite SF-related reads.

Good stories: what I look for (a repost)

I haven't reposted anything in a while -- or, at least I think I haven't, hmmmmm -- so here's the meat of a post I first wrote back in February of 2004. It's about my "rules" for good fiction, as a reader.

1. Don't depress me. This is big: I don't like stories that are just depressing. But this does not rule out sad endings, because "sad" does not equal "depressing". Likewise, "dark" (or "gothic" or "downbeat") also do not equal "depressing". Schindler's List is a terribly sad movie; Seven is a depressing one. I guess the difference is that sadness can still seem to serve a purpose, whereas depression is without purpose: it's just there. I don't want a story in which characters are subjected to just one damn thing after another, with no hope at all for a respite or even a good lesson learned beyond "Life sucks". If I want "Life sucks", well, I'll just look at, you know, life.

2. Engage my emotions. This goes hand-in-hand with "Don't depress me". Even though I don't want to feel depression after reading or viewing a story, I do want to feel something. A story that is the emotional equivalent of an unsalted saltine cracker is not a story for me.

3. Tie up your loose ends. Unless you don't want to. I tried coming up with a better way to say this, but I can't. I love both kinds of stories I'm talking about here, really: I love it when everything ties up into a neat little package, and I also love it when a story lets some things stay open, as if to suggest that the story was really just a segment of someone's life that we've just watched. Guy Gavriel Kay does the latter a lot; John Bellairs does the former. Either works.

4. But if you're gonna tie up your loose ends, be careful about it. Too often, a "no loose ends" book or movie starts to feel like one: about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through, you start to notice a relentless pace at which one thread is tied up every few pages or minutes or so. And then there's Neal Stephenson, who leaves everything in the air until the last ten pages, and then whammo! It's all bundled up with duct tape and baling wire. That's not satisfying, really.

5. Great stuff along the way will make me forgive a crappy ending. But the stuff along the way had better be really great.

6. Beware the surprise ending, or the shocking revelation. I love being surprised in stories, but the surprises have to arise logically out of the content of the story, so even if I didn't see it coming, I can still reexamine the story and see the clues and note the construction by which the surprise or revelation comes. A great example of how not to handle this is the movie Basic Instinct, whose final shot reveals whether or not a certain character is the murderer. The way the story has been constructed, it could have gone either way and made equal sense. That's bad storytelling.

7. Show me something new along the way. Discovery is cool. And it doesn't have to even be something totally new; it can just be a new way of looking at something really familiar. Don't be ordinary.

8. The word "said" should comprise at least 97% of your dialogue attributions. And for the love of God, please don't use "ejaculated" as a verb of dialogue attribution. I can't read about someone "ejaculating" a sentence without thinking of that one scene in There's Something About Mary.

Finally, I can probably distill all this into a single, three-part rule: Don't bore me, don't make me feel bad for having been told your story, and don't do anything that breaks the spell you're trying to weave.

I could probably come up with lots more, but you probably get the idea. You probably also get the idea that I'm a pretty permissive reader. That I am, and I've never made any bones about it: I tend to like lots of stories, of different kinds, told in different ways.


I was just thinking if I should revise or extend these remarks, and I'm thinking, "Nahhh." They still reflect what I look for in a story, as a reader.

An illustration of delusionality in action

The other day I linked a thread on the FSM boards in which a raging fan of the original Battlestar Galactica show is frothing at the mouth about the current re-working of the concept on the SciFi Network (and that thread is still active, by the way, despite a call for peace by none other than Stu Philips, the composer who wrote the music for the original show back in 1978). In mentioning that thread, I noted that the BSG fan in question actually is not the most lunatic regular poster on the FSM boards; that honor, longtime readers will know, goes to a guy named Dan who is a raging Objectivist and whose fealty to the music of Jerry Goldsmith knows absolutely no bounds (we're talking about a guy who seriously believes that Goldsmith's score to US Marshalls -- no, I never saw that movie either -- is superior to John Williams's score to Star Wars).

Anyway, if you want to see what Our Objectivist Hero is like in action, here's a thread from the FSM "Off-topic" board, on the general subject of Hurricane Katrina. It's a pretty political thread, by necessity, but you get a good sense of the guy's inate creepiness. (Or, if you want to read him droning on about film music, here's a representative thread.)

Good news, bad news

The good news is that Byzantium's Shores is, as of this writing, the Number One result for this search. Yay, me!

The bad news is that...well, that the Buffalo Bills also looked like pansies yesterday. But then, the Bills almost always look bad when they play in Tampa. Whether they're playing the Bucs or the Giants in a Super Bowl.

Anyhow, last Friday I was talking to a guy at The Store about my thoughts on the (then) upcoming game. I pegged it as a likely loss for the Bills, reasoning that the defense would play OK at first, but that the offense would struggle to the point of going three-and-out a lot and probably turning the ball over a bit, and that the defense would therefore be on the field for entirely too long and eventually succumb to the Bucs' running game.

Well, aside from the turnovers -- somehow, the Bills didn't turn it over all day (although they would have if the Bucs' defensive backs had held onto the ball) -- but everything else happened exactly as so. Three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out. A defense that looked a bit flat at the outset only got flatter, and the Bills lost a 19-3 ballgame that wasn't even that close. The defense was a disappointment: they seem to be able to bring all kinds of pressure when they're nursing a lead, but when they're playing behind, they seem almost tentative. And Jerry Gray's supposed genius for making halftime adjustments sure wasn't in evidence, either. In short, I was amazed at how flat the Bills' D looked yesterday.

J.P. Losman's play was nowhere near as good as it was in Week One; he kept missing receivers and forcing balls and, in one very costly moment, tried to throw the ball away from his own end zone -- but after he'd lost track of where he was and stepped out of bounds for the safety. Ouch. However, the things that Losman did wrong are things that, as he gains experience, he'll theoretically do wrong less often. He'll learn how to put the right touch on a ball that he's throwing to a receiver who's not blanketed, but who still isn't wide-open. He'll learn how to look off defenders and how to account for that one guy he consistently fails to account for. And so on. This was the type of game everybody knew they'd see sooner or later from Losman, and I'm kind of glad we're seeing it sooner. We learn in large part by screwing up, so if he's gotta learn, I say, let him screw it up right now.

I also tend to get grumpy about the Bills' offensive line, but even though the running game stunk yesterday, I was surprised that the Bills' O-line only surrendered two sacks, and under special circumstances: the first was the safety when the Bills were backed up right to their own goal line and happened because Losman stepped out of bounds before he could throw the ball away, and the second came in the game's waning minute when the outcome was decided and everybody just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge. The Bucs' great pass rusher, Simeon Rice, wasn't much of a factor (he had the second of the Bucs' two sacks), which speaks well of new left tackle (or guard, I can never remember) Mike Gandy.

Receiver Josh Reed seems to be waking up again, after spending the last two years in the doldrums. Reed's got talent, and his re-emergence is a nice thing to see. However, one thing that the Bills have missed for years is a real quality pass-catching tight end. They haven't had one since Pete Metzelaars. I kind of suspect that this deficiency (I don't care, Mark Campbell is average at best) also hampered Drew Bledsoe, who had his best years as a QB in the NFL when he had Ben Coates making those catches over the middle in linebacker territory. There were quite a few moments yesterday when I thought that a really good tight end roaming the middle of the field would be just the safety valve J.P. Losman could use. Sure wish the Bills had one.

And one final note on the Bills: for some reason, Willis McGahee seems to be trying this year to run in the "Squirmin' Thurman" mode, doing a lot of east-and-west running and trying to be elusive. Where's the more Emmitt Smith-like runner from last year, the guy who was barreling north-and-south at full speed and who was knocking defenders aside with a lethal stiff-arm? Come on, Willis -- run it the way you know how. Let's see that burst and that strength again.

That's about all from yesterday (except, of course, hooray and a big thank-you to the Carolina Panthers, who brought the StuPats down to earth). Next up for the Bills: Atlanta's Falcons come to town, maybe with Mike Vick at quarterback. Now that ought to be exciting....

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ending one journey, and beginning another

There's always something both sad and exciting about reaching the end of one journey, because it usually means you're simply at the starting point of another.

Or, at least I hope there's something exciting about that, because that's the situation our heroine, Gwynwhyfar, faces in Chapter Eighteen of The Promised King, Book One, which has just been posted and is available wherever blogs are read.

Enjoy, and as always, links to the previous chapters are available in the sidebar over there.

(Remember, by the magic of TimeStamp Technology (TM), this post is anchored at the top of this page. Newer content will appear throughout Sunday, so keep scrolling down.)

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

Chinese Erhu

A Chinese erhu, in playing position.

I've been listening to a lot of Chinese and Japanese classical music over the last couple of years, as I've noted previously. I've come to love the different sounds of the Asian ethnic instruments, particularly their percussion and strings. Today I was listening to a disc of erhu concertos -- this disc, actually -- and I found myself once again entranced by the different sound of the erhu, which I first heard in college when the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra came to play in our auditorium.

The erhu, as seen above, is held rather like a cello, in a sitting position. Its bow is fitted between its two strings, and the resonator at the bottom is covered by a skin, rather like the head of a drum, that gives the instrument its distinct muted sound. Its pitch is similar to a violin's, but the skin over the resonator makes its sound somehow both muted and yet more piercing than the Western violin. Here is a sound sample, and some more information on the playing of the erhu can be found here and here.

Image from here.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

For some reason, Mr. Sun dropped off my radar until...just now. And he's still funny. Here's some stuff I liked a lot from his current front page:

:: Dick Cheney's about to have surgery, and here's how he may come out: The Cheneybot 2005!

:: OK, so this is a cheap shot. So what. I laughed.

:: Mr. Sun links a laser-guided slingshot. Man, that would make the David-and-Goliath story read a bit differently.

:: Follow the money.

:: The little piggies went to market, updated post-Katrina.

He's on the juice!

Yup, we've started Little Quinn on the juice. We figure that if The Juice could turn a cancer-survivor into an unstoppable Tour de France juggernaut, it could do wonders for our cerebral palsy-afflicted son!

OK, I'm kidding. We all know that Lance Armstrong isn't doping, and neither is Little Quinn. But we have begun incorporating real food into his feedings, in the form of fruit and vegetable juice.

We recently acquired a juicing machine from my sister-in-law (it was a duplicate wedding gift, I think), after we (well, mainly The Wife, but I support the idea) had done research on the feasibility of using juice in some or all of Little Quinn's feedings. Basically, the idea is that it's probably better for his digestive system, and maybe his body entirely, if he actually gets some food that isn't in the form of a powder formula that's manufactured in a plant via some kind of chemical process that involves real food at some early point in production.

On the advice of a chiropractor/nutritionist to whom we've been taking Little Quinn since shortly after we first brought him home from the hospital, we've been making a couple of his feedings a day from a certain amount of juice blended with a protein powder, a couple of vitamin supplements, and flax seed oil. It tends to be kind of nasty-looking stuff -- the carrot-juice potion is an unpleasant orange, and I'm not looking forward to seeing how the spinach stuff ends up looking. Ick.

So far Little Quinn has enjoyed this concoction based on the juice of carrots, grapes, and peaches, with nectarines, apples, and spinach waiting in the wings. Aside from some fairly large "fillings of the diaper" after the grapes, he seems to have had no problems digesting this stuff -- in fact, it seems that he's digesting it all easier than the manufactured formula, since when I go to vent his stomach for the next feeding after a juice-based feeding, his stomach turns out to be much emptier than usual. Also, his skin complexion seems better and he seems more energetic, spending less hours in deep slumber during the day (today being an exception to this; he's friggin' zonked right now).

Of course, if he's going to be a real Buffalo baby, I gotta figure out how to puree some chicken wings and cram them through his G-tube. I'll find a way. The wing, after all, has a lot of natural gelatin, which is why properly cooked chicken wings are so wonderfully juicy. Stay tuned....

Spotting beauty elsewhere....

Over at 2Blowhards, Michael has a neat post up about French actress Sophie Marceau, who happens to also be a Move Over Britney! Designate.

On a more substantive note, Michael also links a fascinating interview with author Blair Tindall, who has written a book about the inner "business" of the classical music world, and not in the "financial" sense of "business" (the title of her book is Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music). Well, after spending long hours as a kid reading about the lives of the great composers (in books like, appropriately enough, Harold Schonberg's The Lives of the Great Composers), I would certainly hope that today's classical music world involves a bit of sex and drugs. Today's musicians owe it to their forebears, don't they?

Anyway, from the brief interview -- and you'd better believe I'll read Tindall's book -- I liked this quote a lot:

Many in today’s society are introspective, and yes, some of them are musicians. People in diverse fields can be as intensely spiritual as the most accomplished artists. Musicians are human beings who experience life in unique ways just like everyone else; and fortunately, the ability to enjoy music is more universal than many realize.


That's something that I wish more classical music lovers would realize: the ability to enjoy music is more universal than many realize. There are ways of venerating music that don't involve putting it on some kind of pedestal and behaving in its presence the way we do if we're in a cathedral and the Bishop has just walked in to perform the sacraments.

I read the discussion thread in the comments to this blog post, in which Lynn Sislo is participating avidly, and I have to say that I really truly don't like the "reverent" approach to music -- any music, really, but especially classical music. It's been my experience all too often that the people who insist on propping up some kind of artificial requirement of decorum before one can even come to classical music's table and sup on its delights are, in a real way, implying that the music is something separate, something outside of us. The atmosphere in classical music tends to be one of rigidly enforced reverence, and all that does is create an atmosphere where real internalization of the music is, if not impossible, made pretty damned hard. And that's a shame.

Sentential Links #17

It's that time again. Here is the customary roundup of usual sentences.

:: Oh they broke into our house
And they beat my dad with logs,
They raped my little sister,
And killed my dear old dog.

Everybody!

Limey scum, Limey scum!
I kills them all and still they come...
(I've been Googling that set of lyrics forever, to no avail. Blogistan rules!)

:: She got her chair obsession psychoanalyzed and says it has something to do with communities - with homes, with talking - with how the Tunisian Jews would always sit around and talk to each other.

:: I've even had a cartoon face become my mental image of a blogger. Am I the only one with this problem? (Man, I hope she's not talking about me....)

:: Five pet peeves about eating out with Ayn Rand (OK, that's the title to a list. Funny blog-like site with nothing but humorous five-item lists. Via Lynn, of course.)

:: This sort of intolerant, brainwash garbage makes Neha angry enough to talk about herself in third person. (Ahhh, Neha's just discovered the gooey insanity of Chick Tracts! And here's me, without my popcorn....)

:: I have discovered that catfish doesn't do so well in the nuker. (Whew. Here's an all-important culinary tip, folks: if you want to re-heat food such that it actually has texture when you eat it, use your conventional oven and not your nuker. Yes, it will take ten or fifteen minutes versus two for the nuker, but the short investment is time is well worth it when you eat hot food that isn't rubbery.)

:: I'm not sure why I thought of that, but now you have a story about me in 1989. (OK, here's a story about me in 1989: after my high school graduation ceremony, I left immediately out the back door, drove home, and went out for a bike ride. Without telling my parents. Who were waiting on the school's front lawn for the post-grad school front-lawn crap. Oops.)

:: If Wyle E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that ACME crap, why didn't he just buy dinner? (Hmmmm. Personally, I've always wondered why Wile E. stuck with a company whose level of customer satisfaction would make Wal-Mart look like Pa's Corner Grocery down on the corner, but this is a good question, too.)

:: Why is it that police don't seem to follow the rules of the road... well at least speed limits. (Years ago I watched one of those Current Affair programs or some such thing that did a feature on just this topic. They followed speeding cops to locations like their dentists, their laundromats, and the like. When they confronted one cop with a video, the cop tried to claim that a license is required to have a radar gun for checking drivers' speeds. Nice try, Officer Krupke.)

:: A German inventor says he's found a way to make cheap diesel fuel out of dead cats. (Gee, why not really get some bang for our buck, and use dead humans?)

:: It appears that Angela Merkel has been elected Chancellor of Germany. Which means, among other things, that once again Germany will be run by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Wagner-lover. (Alex then provides an extract from a lengthy interview on Wagner -- and nothing but Wagner -- that Merkel recently gave. I wonder when the last time was that we elected a President here in the US who even came close to knowing this much about classical music? Not, of course, that I would advance this as a reason for electing Condi Rice in 2008.)

:: I can't really add anything to it, except to say that all of those issues get amplified with decreasing size of the institution, and liberal arts colleges do tend to be smaller and more personal. (Isn't that the truth. I went to college at a small school in a small town in Iowa, and I was constantly seeing my profs at the grocery store, at the local watering holes, even in the malls in the bigger town twenty miles south.)

:: The first time I took my son to the office to introduce him to everybody, a few weeks after he was born, H said, "Isn't it just amazing when they're this age? It's like they got one toe here on earth and the other 9 still up in heaven. Say hello to God for me, OK?" (Wow, is that a beautiful thought.)

It was a good week for Blogistan. Let's keep it up, folks! It's a jungle out there.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I've hit the big time! (and a useful tip for liberal bloggers)

Wow, folks -- I feel that in the last day or so I've kind-of "broken in" to Liberal Blogistan: I've been linked by both Shakespeare's Sister and Sisyphus Shrugged, linkage which is immensely appreciated. But the even greater badge of honor came when I logged into my YACCS comments control board and found a comment left on an old post, on the subject of right-wing bloggers blocking referral traffic from liberal blogs (a practice which, I continue to note, is limited exclusively to right-wing blogs). In a move that fills me with glee, Jane Galt (the blogger in question on the commented post) blocked my referral! Imagine: the libertarian genius whose blog traffic dwarfs mine (as of this writing, according to the counter on her main page her total number of hits exceeds mine by over 2,400,000 hits) feels the need to add me to her list of blocked referrals. Looks like a victory for Mighty Mouse!

(Yes, I'm Mighty Mouse in this scenario.)

However, Ms. Galt appears to have not really mastered the fine art of referral-blocking; maybe she should bone up on the Instruction Manual that the LGF guy wrote when he pioneered the trick. The links from the individual post-pages (I also linked that Galt post here) are blocked, but they're not blocked from the monthly archive page, here -- scroll down to the posts (Saturday, September 5) and see. As of this writing (about 10:30 p.m. Eastern time) the links still work from the monthly archive. Whoops.

But anyway, it doesn't matter, because there's an easy way for us liberal bloggers to get around this, and as a service to my fine liberal brethren, here's how it works. Instead of using the URL to the right-wing blog post in question when creating your link, first take this string:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=D&q=

Then, you simply append the post URL to the end, immediately after the equal-sign. So, if you're going to link Byzantium's Shores, instead of linking this URL:

http://byzantiumshores.blogspot.com

...you'll actually link this URL:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=D&q=http://byzantiumshores.blogspot.com

What you've just done is create a redirect through Google, which according to my brief experimentation with SiteMeter and this blog, shows up as a hit but one with an unknown referring URL. Likewise, I doubt Technorati would pick it up as a link. And besides, no blogger is going to be insane enough as to block referrals from Google, right?

So there you go, liberal bloggers -- break free of the traffic-blocking shackles! Link whomever you desire!

Move Over Britney!

She may not be a "fat lady", but she's certainly singing -- something Britney knows next to nothing about. Meet Russian opera star, soprano Anna Netrebko.

Anna Netrebko

I've been listening to this compilation disc, and very much enjoying it; Netrebko's singing is refined but passionate, and for me, when it comes to music, passion is everything.

Anna Netrebko

Netrebko also does the elegant thing wonderfully, I think...and that smile! I wish more women would realize how fundamentally beautiful the smile really is, and to what degree a smile is more beautiful than a pout.

Anna Netrebko

Hey, it's not just Greek mythology figures. Thor shrugged too!

Welcome aboard, Sisyphus Shrugged readers! Comments are open (although I've recently clarified my comments policy); some links to favorite posts of mine can be found in the sidebar section labeled "Notable Dispatches". Feel free to stay a while and come back repeatedly. My content isn't usually as political as it's been lately, but let's just say that Katrina pissed me off. (Or, rather, our President pissed me off. Not the first time, of course, but....) My general topics tend to lean toward life in Buffalo, NY; music (mainly classical, Celtic, and filmscores); the challenges of raising two kids when the younger of them happens to be an infant with cerebral palsy; blatherings on fantasy and science fiction (I'm an unrepentant Star Wars fanboy); and whatever else leaps to mind. I generally have no resistance to those blog-quiz meme things that flit around Blogistan every so often, and by some weird compulsion I tend to answer every one of them that I come across (the more general ones, and not usually the "Which one of the insufferable Camdens from Seventh Heaven are you?" type quizzes). My politics are unabashedly liberal, but that sort of thing usually constitutes around twenty percent of my content here. (Although I have the feeling that might change somewhat in the future.)

Cheers!

Motivation in the dugout

If you, like everyone else who works for corporate overlords who put those posters around the office with the beautiful photograph captioned with something "motivational", ever wondered what such posters would be like if tailored for Major League Baseball teams, wonder no more.

For the Pirates one, I might have shown a photo of Brian Giles and captioned it something like, "PERFORMANCE: Keep working hard, because you're only a year or two away from the next fire sale."

A minor query....

Right now the Daughter is watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the teevee (via one of them deeveedee's), and as I'm sitting here munching on a turkey sandwich and reading blogs, some of the movie is seeping into my head via osmosis, and really, it's a lot better movie than I remember it being. I recall not being terribly excited by it when I was a kid, but she's enjoying it muchly, and I'm finding the production impressive, the songs and music good, the acting fun in that "scenery-chewing kids' movie" kind of way, and I'm even finding Dick Van Dyke (whom I normally don't grok) enjoyable. So why isn't Chitty Chitty Bang Bang more of a classic family movie?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday Grab-Bag o'Stuff

Sorry for the very recent silence, but there's been family stuff of the "normal, but time-consuming" variety. Yesterday was Open House at The Daughter's school. Man, have first-grade classrooms evolved. (And so, apparently, have first-grade teachers, but that's one of those topics I probably should avoid for now.) And since we didn't really feel like cooking dinner after the Open House, we opted instead to eat at our favorite streetside-grill joint (Taffy's on Southwestern Boulevard and Orchard Park Road, for those locals who wonder about such things).

I've realized lately that I'm kind of a low-brow foodie. I like to call myself a "foodie", but judging by other foodies, I'm really not one. I appreciate the gourmet thing, and I do enjoy those meals when I can get them, but really, my prefered mode of eating out is those little local joints at the streetcorners that serve burgers, hot dogs, Italian sausages, and all manner of other items deep-fried or cooked on a grill. I also like those little local pizza joints (I happen to think that Buffalo has lots of great pizza, having not succumbed to those weird cultists who think that the only places you can get real pizza exist on the even-numbered blocks in Manhattan).

And you know what else I like? That big watering hole/restaurant, usually called the "Something or such-and-such Hotel", that occupies one of the biggest buildings along the main drag of every small town in Western New York. True, the food in these types of places is rarely "remarkable", but there's just something about the atmosphere of those places that makes the food better than it probably is.

And I like Chinese take-out places. No, their food is not even close to the amazing stuff I adore when I go to Toronto's Chinatown, but it's comforting, you know? I'm all about the comfort food these days. I like the occasional adventure in food, but by and large, I want my food to be nourishing and comforting. (Which probably explains my waistline, but that's another story.)

Anyway, here's some random linkage:

:: I guarantee I'll have more to say about this in November, but for now, here's a press release: the complete score to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will be released in a 3-CD/1 DVD set on November 22.

This historic release contains over 180 minutes of music on three CDs, comprising the full score of the 2001 film, composed by Howard Shore. "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Complete Recordings" marks the first edition of the three complete recording releases of the film trilogy whose score has been honored with three Academy Awards, four Grammy Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards. This deluxe set also includes exclusive new artwork, packaging, and extensive liner notes culled from "The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films," to be published in 2006. Enya's song "May It Be," which received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song and which she performed at the Academy Awards ceremony, is contained on "The Complete Recordings" within all-new selection titles that reflect the complete score being released in its entirety for the first time.


Commence the saving of the pennies!

(Similar packages of the scores to The Two Towers and The Return of the King are in the works, but I don't know what their frequency of release will be. If they're a year apart, I will be, shall we say, a bit unhappy.)

:: Want to see a deranged sci-fi fanboy in action? Check out this thread on the FSM boards, where lots of people speak up in favor of the current Battlestar Galactica show while the FSM boards' resident die-hard fan (and I do mean, die-hard) charges once more unto the breach to defend the honor of the nineteen episodes of BSG that ran back in 1978. Believe me, they just don't get any more deranged than Mr. Paddon. (Well, actually, they do: he's not the weirdo Objectivist over there.)

:: Via Atrios I see a spectacularly nauseating op-ed piece written for a college student newspaper that got its writer fired, and with good reason, when you read the tripe. I just note an interesting contrast in one of her opening sentences, versus one of her closing ones:

I want all Arabs to be stripped naked and cavity-searched if they get within 100 yards of an airport.


And:

I have enough confidence in my country’s imperfect but steadfast law enforcement systems to carry out such profiling the way it should be done: in a professional and thorough manner, without going down the slippery slope of pointless and disrespectful encroachment on the livelihood or decorum of everyday Arabs and Arab Americans.


I'm trying to wonder just what this writer's definition of "pointless and disrespectful encroachment on livelihood or decorum" would be. For some reason, I'm envisioning something that might take place in a Quentin Tarantino movie: "Bring out the Gimp!"

Oh, and there's this gem:

I don’t care if they’re being inconvenienced. I don’t care if it seems as though their rights are being violated.


You see, there's the difference between the left and the right: this right-wing girl is making her case about whether it seems as though rights are being violated, while we liberals are concerned about if rights actually are being violated. That's a distinction completely lost on the right these days, it sometimes seems.

(I'm also troubled by the apparent belief that "We can set aside rights for a while, because just as soon as we kill all the terrorists, we can get 'em back again." Because, you know, getting back what's been willingly -- and, seemingly, cheerfully -- given up is just that easy.)

:: Longtime readers know that I like funny photographs involving Presidents of the United States in un-Presidential moments, regardless of party. So I think that Bush's note about having a bathroom break is just comedy gold, man. It'd be even funnier if it turned out that the President had consumed four burritos for lunch that day. (This still doesn't beat out Bush falling off the Segway, though, for this current President; and my favorite goofy Presidential photo of all time had President Clinton at some kind of economic summit or something in a tropical country somewhere, and he and all the people there with him had to wear these horrible shirts made of shiny gold fabric that hung down almost to their knees. Clinton looked ridiculous in that get-up.)

:: And finally: welcome aboard, Shakespeare's Sister readers! Feel free to look around a while. I don't blog politics all that much, but lately the Prez has been annoying me more than usual (you know, bungling a major disaster will do that). Mostly, though, I drone on about life in the Buffalo area; the challenges of raising an infant with cerebral palsy; thoughts on classical, film and Celtic music; favorite TV shows; Star Wars; and women whom I find to be far more worthy of fawning media attention than Britney. Check out the "Notable Dispatches" linked in my sidebar, and enjoy -- just don't tell me that I look like an axe murderer, because I don't. Sheesh!