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

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bring on 2006!

This will be the final post for 2005; I'm going to take the next few days off. I'll return to posting either Sunday, January 1, or Monday, January 2. Monday's more likely, but Sunday might happen. You never know.

Our New Year's rituals basically involve the DVD player and a lot of finger food -- higher quality finger food, to be sure, but finger food nonetheless, and on New Year's Night we shall be watching the New Year's From Vienna concert on PBS. We're pretty low-key about New Year's.

But for all my readers -- regular and occasional, new and old, liberal and conservative, men and women, young and old -- I wish you all the happiest of New Years and the very best for happiness and peace in 2006.

Here's a health to one and all,
To the big and to the small;
To the rich and poor alike and foe and friends!
And when I return again,
May our foes have turned to friends;
And may peace and joy be with you until then!


Happy New Year, everyone!

Best of 2005

What follows is basically a bunch of links to posts from 2005 that I particularly liked. I realize that picking my own best posts is kind of like the fact that Dexy's Midnight Runners actually had a Greatest Hits album, but for newer readers, this may constitute a good way of seeing what's gone before. (I also recommend the posts linked under "Notable Dispatches" in the sidebar; those are the posts of mine that I like the most. I won't be linking any of those in this post. And if anyone's interested, my Best of 2004 can be found here.)

Onward, grouping the links by the month in which they appeared, starting with January:

The Writer's Tool Kit
Heavy Metal and the Dudes Who Write About It

His Final Gift (fiction)
Search Engine Follies
I Heart Audrey Hepburn
Ten Things I've Done
Clapping between the movements: bring it on!
Thoughts on Pizza
Karl Popper Hearts Evolution
The Niagara Frontier: A panorama

The Year's Best Sports Photo
I Heart George Lucas
I Heart George Lucas, and prove it by taking a Star Wars poll
Wonder Woman (the greatest comic book images ever)
Torture: why are we even debating this?!
A Blog Quiz
I Heart George Lucas, and prove it by buying a long-coveted toy
Lying about my fellow bloggers

I Heart George Lucas, and prove it by speculating on a customer service phone call in a Galaxy far, far away....
I Heart Doing Blog Quizzes
I Heart Libraries and think that America Would Suck Without Them
Best Album Cover Ever

I Heart George Lucas, and I don't care who knows it!
Popular stuff that I just don't get
I Heart my Neti Pot
I still Heart Blog Quizzes (this one's about music)
How to Kill a Vampire
Sentential Links #1 (where it all began!)
I Heart George Lucas, yet again
I Heart George Lucas, and defend him from goofy right-wingers
I Heart George Lucas, and come up lacking for words after seeing his latest movie
I Heart George Lucas, and name my favorite visual moments from his movies
I Heart George Lucas, and find the words to say about his latest movie

I wanted to Heart Spanglish, but didn't
NFL Stadiums from space, part one
NFL Stadiums from space, part two
NFL Stadiums from space, part three
NFL Stadiums from space, part four
Sammy vs DLR
My favorite X-Files episodes (outside the mytharc)

I also heart Cameron Crowe
Overrated Songs
Warp speed, Mr. Doohan.
Notes on re-reading The Lions of Al-Rassam
Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I Heart Superhero Movies

Favorite action sequences in movies
My Geek Credentials
Go long, Hunter Kelly
Men with stupid opinions about women
Photos from the Fair
Reconnecting
My quirks
Brahms's Symphony No. 1
The "Seven Things" Quiz

How to create a Google redirect (a useful tip for getting around referral-blocking)
Katrina
Lifeboats (Katrina revisited)
Displaying a lack of intellectual curiosity
Katrina revisted, revisited
A quiz I came up with
Answers to the Quiz

Skiffy Movies

I still Heart George Lucas
Suicides rethought
All your hippies are belong to us!
The AOL Journals diaspora

The Brothers K, so far
The "War on Christmas"
Christmas Ornaments, one
Christmas Ornaments, two
Christmas Ornaments, three
Fifteen Things about Books
Fifteen Things about Writing
Fifteen Things about Music
Thoughts on the Canon

So there it is: 2005 on Byzantium's Shores. And there was a lot of other stuff, too, so feel free to surf the archives a bit.

2005: A year in the books

Well, this year is almost over, and any effort I expend trying to decide if the year was a good one or not inevitably ends in frustration. Part of me feels like this should have been the worst damn year of my life, but for some reason, I just don't feel that way overall -- and then part of me says, no, it really was crappy, and you just don't realize it.

So I guess 2005 has to be held "in abeyance". It's the kind of year whose import will be better known to me far, far down the road. I just don't know right now how to think of 2005, but I do know that it's likely to be the most important year I've experienced since probably 1999 (when I first became a parent), or 1997 (when I was married), or 1993 (when I graduated college). I do know that years hence, when my face is lined and my hair is gray, some of those lines and some of those hairs will have 2005 stamped upon them.

At the end of 2004, I answered a bunch of questions in a meme-thing, and I'm going to repeat the questions here, with the answers adjusted for inflation. It's as good a way to sum up the past year as I can think.

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I made no resolutions at all, in the traditional sense of the word. I always intend to listen to more music, read more books, see more movies. I know I failed on the movies score, but as for the others, I'm not sure.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

Oh, yes -- three good friends at The Store had babies, and a couple more who are the "friendly co-workers" also gave birth. Additionally, Aaron welcomed Little Elsa into his family.

Did anyone close to you die?

Oy. I sometimes feel like that poor kid died a thousand deaths, before the last one that actually kept.

What countries did you visit?

Coruscant, Mustafar, Naboo, Tatooine, Utapau, Kashyyyk, Al-Rassan. And many others, if only in my mind. Oh, and Canada.

What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?

A peaceful heart.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

To be honest, I don't really feel like I accomplished much of anything this year. I didn't get published, I barely wrote anything aside from blog posts...I don't know. I still didn't get The Promised King finished, which means that soon I will have been writing that book for ten damn years. Jee-bus.

But you know, I've occasionally thought that maybe we overvalue "accomplishment". Seriously -- isn't living enough, sometimes? I read some good books, heard a lot of wonderful music, saw Revenge of the Sith with one friend and cried onto the shoulders of another.

For 2005, I lived. That's accomplishment enough.

What was your biggest failure?

Not finishing The Promised King, Book Two. (Same answer as last year.)

What was the best thing you bought?

The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring complete score box set; a new DVD player; the first two seasons of The West Wing, Millennium, and Once and Again; a cross pendant for The Daughter; a pair of birthstone necklaces for The Wife (birthstones for both children); a little frog-shaped pin for a friend who loves frogs; cups of coffee for many people at The Store.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

The Daughter, who has been an amazingly kind and curious big sister to her baby brother. (Same answer as last year. That little boy could not possibly have had a better big sister. Perhaps one day she'll have the chance to play that role again.)

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I'm not sure I'd say "appalled" or "depressed", but I definitely don't approve of much of what the President of the United States has done. (Same answer as last year, except that I'd add in his entire batch of cronies.)

Where did most of your money go?

Food, coffee, diapers, books, DVDs, CDs. (Exact same answer as last year.)

What did you get really excited about?

The opening of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith; the start of the Bills' season. One of those turned out well; the other, not so much.

What song will always remind you of 2005?

"I Can Only Imagine" (lyrics here); "Forever" (lyrics here). Both were performed at Little Quinn's funeral.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Well, right now this seems like a really stupid question, doesn't it? But what's different now is that while the answer is definitely "sadder", it's a lot easier to see my way back to happiness now than it was last year at this time. That's one good thing about death, I suppose -- it tends to clarify the hell out of things.

Thinner or fatter?

Probably fatter, although not by a whole lot. The overalls are a bit more snug, but I'm not having to lengthen the shoulder straps or undo the side buttons at all yet. I am planning to go back to eating healthier once I'm past New Year's. I'm not willing to officially "resolve" to lose weight, but it is a goal of mine.

Richer or poorer?

I have no idea, really, and I care now even less than I cared last year. I have a roof, a computer, blank paper, pens, books, music, and movies. I'm good. Let the other nitwits have their Lexuses.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Reading, writing, and holding Little Quinn.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

Endlessly blogsurfing.

How will you be spending Christmas?

I guess this quiz is intended to be answered before Christmas, not after. Oh well. I spend it with the family, watching The Daughter play with her new toys and making dinner and generally resting and reflecting.

Did you fall in love in 2005?

I fall in love on a daily basis. (Who ever said that you can only fall in love with someone once?)

How many one-night stands?

Now, aren't all stands "one-night" stands? I mean, the only way you could have a two-night stand is to never leave the person's bed for thirty-six hours straight, right? (Same answer as last year. I'm married, I intend to stay that way, and I'm happy to stay that way. So unless we're including The Wife, the real answer is "Zero". And if we are including The Wife, the real answer is...none of yer damn bizness!)

What was your favorite TV program?

Scrubs and American Idol. I didn't watch season four of 24, because FOX packed something like four episodes into two consecutive nights when the season started, and that screwed me up. I thought The Apprentice: Martha Stewart actually started up OK, but just became duller and duller as the season went on. That 70s Show finally lost me. I gave up on ER, and discovered House. Gray's Anatomy didn't light my fire when it started, but it's grown on me every week since then. I really liked the caper show Eyes that aired on ABC last spring, but it tanked and vanished after five or six episodes.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I don't like to hate people. That said, there's the Objectivist weirdo on the FSM message boards, but he doesn't even count for this year, so there it is. (Same answer as last year, incidentally. If anything, I'm trying to hate even fewer people than before. It's just such a useless damned emotion. Not giving a shit is a lot more productive.)

What was the best book you read?

I re-read The Lions of Al-Rassan.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

I recently listened to the Second and Fifth Symphonies by Sir Arnold Bax, and I loved his soundworld. The film music of Jan A.P. Kaczmarek hit me between the eyes this year, hard.

What did you want and get?

A tie-dye kit.

What did you want and not get?

A year with my son.

What were your favorite films of this year?

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

What did you do on your birthday?

I honestly don't remember. I think The Wife had to work, so we probably did something together a few days later.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005?

The same as last year's: "Workwear Chic". Overalls galore, solid-colored shirts and sweaters, denim shirts, hiking boots. I discovered the magic of layers. (Yeah, I'm slow to the party.) I took note of all the people who told me that pleated pants make me look fat, and I duly ignored them. I grew the hair ever longer. I added tie-dye into the mix and will be making more of those in the next few weeks. (I got a nifty kit for Christmas, and I learned that The Store sells a line of fabric dyes too. I briefly considered tracking down a white pair of overalls to tie-dye, but I figured that would look goofy even by my standards.)

What kept you sane?

The Wife; music; wonderful people at our church and The Store and in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Watching episodes of Once and Again after having not seen the show at all since its 2002 cancellation brought me to once again realize how gorgeous Sela Ward is. (I started watching House before I discovered that Ms. Ward is on that program.) And all respect to Eva Longoria and Teri Hatcher, my favorite Desperate Housewife is Felicity Huffman.

What political issue stirred you the most?

"Brownie, you're doin' a heck of a job."

"Poor Trent lost his house. Well, we're gonna rebuild it and I'm gonna sit on his porch."

Sorry, right-leaning readers of mine, but I will not be dissuaded from my belief that the Bush Administration's handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath constituted anything other than a colossal dropping of the ball, an initial refusal to admit that the ball had been dropped, a blaming of others for the ball's dropping once it could no longer be denied that the ball was on the ground, and an attempt to seize credit when someone finally picked the damn ball back up.

Who did you miss?

I have very good friends who live beyond the "800-miles from Buffalo" line. I also got to see my sister for a day. (Same answer as last year, with one gigantic addition that I'm not even going to name because it's so blindingly obvious.)

Who was the best new person you met?

I really don't know. There were lots of people I met in 2004 but didn't get to know well until 2005, and I expect this will be the same for next year.

Although I suppose one could say that I made the acquaintance of this Jesus fellow, even though I'm not at all sure what I think of him yet. This one will take a while.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005:

A few, really: Stop being so damned reserved and afraid of publicly emoting. It's amazing what you can do when you have no other choice. When in doubt, put some music on. "Read. Think. Learn." (Thanks to M-Mv for that last.) The best things in life to share are love, books, music, and pizza (but not necessarily in that order). Aeresol whipped cream doesn't stick very well. Let people lean on you, because one day you'll need to lean on them. Not all tears are an evil. Don't punt when you're in your opponent's territory, and don't blitz if there are more than six yards to go. No object fits in your hand so perfectly as your wife's hand, and no object fits so perfectly on your shoulder as your child's head. The Internet is made of people. (Thanks to Warren Ellis for that one.) "Hope is a good thing; maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies."

And as we head into 2006: "Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning."

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more


Hailing frequencies closed, 2005.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Roller coasters (a metaphor)

I like roller coasters, but only to a point.

For one thing, I don't like to be flipped upside-down, which rules out most if not all of the niftiest coasters that come online these days. I like a fast ride that twists and turns, but I'm not into wild shifts in G-forces, and I'm not interested much in one-point-nine seconds of apparent weightlessness. I'm more excited by speed than by being whipped around. In terms of materials, I like both wood and steel. And if there's one thing I like less than being flipped upside-down, it's coasters that take place indoors, in the dark.

I don't like Space Mountain, for example. I don't care that as coasters go, its maximum speed is incredibly tame and that the exact same ride in broad daylight would be dull as ditchwater. I don't like not being able to see where I'm going, I don't like not knowing when the dips are going to come or whether I'm going to be tossed to the left or the right or even when the ride is going to end.

What am I gabbing about here? Well, I've come of late to thinking of our emotional lives as being a roller coaster of sorts. Sometimes we're tossed upwards, sometimes we lurch left, other times we lurch right, and sadly, sometimes the bottom drops out and we plummet.

But if life's a roller coaster, sometimes I think it's of the Space Mountain variety, in that we never know if and when the drops and twists are coming. Now, as much as I dislike that in a theme park ride, I don't mind it so much as a metaphor for life. What makes me hate the ride at Disney World is precisely what makes life itself worthwhile.

But I wonder if some people don't much like that feeling in life, either. I'm wondering if some people out there hate the idea that they can just suddenly find their emotions plummeting, and they hate that it happens, and they hate that they have no way of knowing when it's going to happen. And I wonder if these people are screaming just to have the ride be stopped so they can get off. I wonder if this is why some people commit suicide.

Over the last few weeks, I've been thinking about the series of articles I blogged about a while back, about suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge. One thing I recall is the notion that lots of times, people who commit suicide aren't obviously suffering existential depression, and sometimes, the act of suicide is as impulsive as the act of grabbing a bottle of chocolate milk on my way out of The Store at the end of my shift. I wonder if they just hate those sudden, unseen drops, and if they just one day decide to do the one thing they can do to stop the ride so they can get off.

Anyway, sorry for the downer of a post, but it's been one month today. Here's where Little Quinn now resides:

The Gravesite

We were there on Christmas day. There were a handful of other people in the cemetery, but it was all very quiet and peaceful, as it should be.

His grave is right about where all those footprints are, behind the two gravestones to the right. As of yet, he has no marker. I'm not sure when that will happen. He's in a row of graves occupied by infants, and that roster of gravestones might constitute the saddest thing I've ever read. Several stones give only a single date, clearly for babies whose lives were over within the march of one day if they lived at all; all but one of these gave full names for the babies buried there. That one exception simply read "Baby Boy" and then the surname. This poor child never even had a name. There's another stone for a child who died just six days shy of reaching her first birthday.

One month.

The tears still come, but they come by surprise. There are no consistent triggers; there are no subjects that if brought up in casual conversation cause the breakdowns. No, they just happen. Kind of like the drops on Space Mountain, and I hate them for the same reason. What keeps me going, though, is the knowledge that every coaster has to climb, too.

One month.

We often refer to the snow around here as a "blanket". That metaphor is also terribly apt, right now. Little Quinn has a cold blanket -- but I hope that wherever he really is, it's warm enough that he doesn't need one.

Where life and art collide....

OK, folks: if any of you watch ER, or have watched it enough over its run to know who some of the minor players on the show are (I'm looking at you, John), doesn't the guy pictured in this post of Alan's (who recently said something really stupid in an Amherst, NY town board meeting) look quite a bit familiar? Especially when you consider what it is he said, and who on ER he looks like?

God, am I a nerd or what....

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Deluded Hollywood

Over the past year or so, I've seen the generalization creeping around that ticket sales for movies are down, and that therefore the movie business is in trouble. The movie industry seems to like to blame computer downloading, which seems odd to me although I'm not wild about downloading myself; others -- particularly those on the cultural Right -- blame the moviemakers. The most common refrain is: "Well, Hollywood, if you want to have your ticket sales go up again, make movies that people want to see!" Here's a variant of it, as posted by Steven Den Beste a while back (navigate to post dated 12-15-05):

When will Hollywood get the message that if you want to sell a lot of tickets, you have to give the audience something it's willing to pay to see? Especially all those neanderthal Christians (ugh!) in fly-over country?


The idea is that at long, long last American moviegoers have decided to vote with their dollars, and anti-Christian movies just aren't going to be supported anymore. That's why The Chronicles of Narnia is a success, according to SDB: it's a Christian allegory and people really want Christian movies, while Brokeback Mountain is a gay-themed movie, and "Peoria and Nashville and Des Moines just aren't interested in LGBT-themed films".

And earlier than that, on SDB had opined thusly: "What I'd love to see, and quite frankly what I expect, is that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will make a fortune at the box office and Brokeback Mountain will turn out to be a dud. Wouldn't that be nice?" One wonders why he's so emotionally invested in this. The answer is, of course, a kind of bizarre tribalism at work in which Brokeback Mountain is not being touted because it's a good movie -- despite the near unanimity of critics saying that it is -- but because anything pro-gay coming from Hollywood is, apparently, some kind of example of political correctness at work. This would be a lot more convincing if Brokeback Mountain hadn't spent almost a decade in development hell, bouncing from studio to studio, facing such hurdles as lining up actors who were actually willing to play the leads. You'd think that Hollywood's intention to cram LGBT stuff down "Flyover Country"'s throats would operate more efficiently.

Equally ludicrous is the idea that the Narnia film constitutes an example of what can be done if the Christian movie-going public is taken seriously. Does anyone really think that Narnia got made because of its Christian allegorical street cred? Or did it get made because Disney looked around and saw Fox making money with the Star Wars prequels and New Line making tons of money with The Lord of the Rings and Warners making tons of money with Harry Potter, and said, "Hmmmm, what we need is a franchise, boys. And here's a beloved series of fantasy novels just waiting for big-screen, epic CGI effects treatment, just like all those other franchises."

(And while we're on the subject, is it really fair to say that The Passion of the Christ never found a studio because it was a Christian movie, and that's it? Does that make sense? Imagine you're a studio exec, in charge of picking up projects, and in walks a director with two credits to his name -- one of which won lots of awards but did unremarkable domestic box office, and the other of which also did unremarkable box office despite some critical acclaim -- who tells you he wants to make an extremely graphic and violent film about the final hours of Jesus's life, and he wants all the dialogue in this movie of his to be in Aramaic, and at the time, he's even kicking around the idea of not having subtitles at all. Do you greenlight this project? Well, if you say "No", history has already proven you wrong -- but then, you're in good company, along with all the guys who thought that a mythology-driven space opera wouldn't have any kind of audience in 1977 or that a movie about a Civil War officer who goes out to the prairie and "finds himself" with the Indians would amount to nothing in 1990 or the dude who thought that of course another Julie Andrews musical after Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music would be box office gold.)

"Why doesn't Hollywood just make movies that people want to see?"

Well, there are two answers to that. One is very simple: Hollywood does make movies that people want to see. Maybe ticket sales are down, but buying a ticket isn't the only way to see a movie anymore, and it may be that what we're witnessing isn't so much a slump on the part of the makers of filmed entertainment but the movie theater losing its lustre as the preferred means of enjoying filmed entertainment. I probably see as many movies per year as I did ten years ago, but the huge difference is that I see far fewer of them in the theater. Ask yourself this simple question: How often do you see new movies come out and, as you're reading the reviews in the paper, make a mental note to keep an eye out for it on DVD? Theater going nowadays constitutes a much greater investment of time and money than it did ten years ago, between ticket prices and concessions being way up on the money end and the twenty minutes plus of preliminary stuff that's tacked onto movies on the time end. It used to be that a date of dinner and a movie could start at 5:30 and end around 9:30. Nowadays, dinner and a movie has to start closer to 5:00 or even earlier, and ends much closer to 11:00.

But I'm seeing DVDs for sale everywhere, and every time I go into Blockbuster and the video section at The Store, all the big-name new releases are always out of stock. Anecdotal, yes, but if Hollywood isn't making movies that people want to see, how is it that everybody I know has seen the latest movies? I often hear people say, "I never go to the movies anymore", but that doesn't mean that they're not seeing movies.

The second answer is a bit more complicated: it's that Hollywood is making movies that people want to see, but it does so haphazardly, almost accidentally. Returning to The Passion of the Christ: would anyone have been surprised if it had flopped? Probably not -- and many, if not most, of the biggest hits in film history have been surprise hits. As William Goldman wrote in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade:

The "go" decision is the ultimate importance of the studio executive. They are responsible for what gets up there on the silver screen. Compounding their problem of no job security in the decision-making process is the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.


Nobody knows what's going to be a hit, and nobody knows what's going to be a flop, and since that's the case, it's kind of hard to justify the idea that the movie companies would be rolling in the money if only they'd just look at what was popular the year before and make more movies just like that.

For one thing, movie making takes time: Narnia and Brokeback Mountain were both almost certainly in preproduction already when Passion of the Christ was still in theaters. Even if there's some great lesson to be learned from that film's success, it would take at least two or three years to show up in the types of films being put out by the studios. That Narnia was marketed by Disney to the churchgoing public is a consequence of The Passion's success, but the fact that it got made at all is not. (And besides, we're talking Disney here -- behind that wholesome mouse lurks one of the most cynical corporations of all time, when it comes to marketing.)

For another, too often the lessons are contradictory. Sure, Passion made a ton of money. But how did other recent Christian movies do? I didn't know that Luther had been made until my church held a screening. Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie flopped. The Omega Code never enjoyed any kind of widespread release -- but wouldn't the evangelicals flocking to it have been noticed? Not if they never flocked to it to begin with. The animated film The Prince of Egypt, which told the tale of Moses and the Exodus (and told it well -- I did see that one in the theater) did pretty well, but its results weren't that dramatic.

I'm always confused when people insist that there's some great, untapped market out there -- whether it's for Christian films, or good "family" films, or whatever. I'm always confused because there are almost always films available that would appeal to these particular untapped markets, and these movies always slip away, unnoticed. It took video for The Iron Giant to become beloved, just to cite one example. (And going beyond just family or Christian movies, think of The Shawshank Redemption. I'm not sure if I know a single person who hasn't seen it, and yet, it tanked horribly at the box office.)

In Hollywood, nobody knows anything. There's no guarantee that making a bunch of Christian-themed movies, in the vein of The Passion of the Christ, is going to elevate ticket sales at all. It's a pleasant notion for those who like to take the "Them versus Us" approach to cultural debates, but it's a notion that's sadly lacking in evidence supporting it.

I note that the other day, Roger Ebert handled this exact issue in his "Answer Man" column. I quote Mr. Ebert:

Q. If this was such a great year for movies, why are box-office receipts so far down from last year, even though admission prices are at an all-time high? Do you feel that there is such a growing disconnect between Hollywood and America that Hollywood had better wake up or face serious consequences? (Cal Ford, Corsicana, Texas)

A (Ebert): No, I don't, because the "box-office slump" is an urban myth that has been tiresomely created by news media recycling one another. By mid-December, according to the Hollywood Reporter, receipts were down between 4 percent and 5 percent from 2004, a record year when the totals were boosted by Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which grossed $370 million. Many of those tickets were sold to people who rarely go to the movies. 2005 will eventually be the second or third best year in box-office history. Industry analyst David Poland at moviecitynews.com has been consistently right about this non-story.


And finally, here's an article by a religion reporter arguing that, contra atheist SDB, Hollywood actually does not despise Christianity.

Late to the party, as usual!

It's always fun to see when some prominent blogger or other online writer notes something that Little Old Me blogged about a while back. In this case, in today's TMQ column, Gregg Easterbrook discovers old-time candy, and notes in particular the existence of Mallo Cups, made by the Boyer company:

This year for Christmas, we filled the kids' stockings with 1960s candy ordered from Hometown Favorites, explaining they were getting the candy that mom and dad got in their stockings as children. When the box from Hometown Favorites arrived, immediately I bit into my first Mallo Cup in 35 years. Turns out Boyer Candies, founded by Bill, Bob and Emily Boyer during the Depression as a door-to-door candy sales firm operated from the family kitchen, still makes Mallo Cups and Smoothies in Altoona, Pennsylvania. They even still have the little paper coin inside! The paper coins even still bear the cryptic instruction, STICK ON TAPE TO AVOID DELAY. Save 500 Mallo Cup points and send them to Altoona to receive a dollar bill: a transaction that was only attractive when Mallo Cups cost a dime and a first-class stamp was four cents.


Of course, longtime readers will remember when I touted the fine Boyer products myself, here and here. And the best part? I don't have to go online to order old-time candies -- I can just hop in the car and go to Vidler's in East Aurora. Not only can I consume the candy that Easterbrook and others ate as kids, I can buy it in the same type of place they bought it!

(That online candy store sure looks cool, though, and old-time candy would be the perfect stocking stuffer, eh?)

Monday, December 26, 2005

An oldie but goodie

I suspect that we all have websites that we follow for a time, and then forget about for a time, and then suddenly remember for no real reason and check out again with either delight or dismay. One such case is James Howard Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month, which could be updated weekly as far as I'm concerned. Each month the site presents a photo of some unfortunate bit of architecture or urban planning or suburban catatonia, complete with pithy comment. Case in point is this selection, in which a typically hideous Frank Gehry building* is described thusly:

If your dog had a tumor like this the vets would just shake their heads and put him to sleep. The design follows the logic of cancer: invade and overwhelm the host organism.


The current (as of this writing; sometime in January it will be archived) Eyesore is actually a bit of positive comment on the downtown core in Troy, NY. We here in Buffalo might consider such.

* On Gehry: the first time I saw photos of a Gehry building, I thought it was really cool. Next time, still cool but obviously recycling the idea of the last one. And so on, until now I wonder if the guy has any ideas at all beyond the "crumpled tin foil ball" thing.

Wine, wine, whine!

According to Professor Bainbridge, the time has come for the cork to be replaced by the screw-cap for wine. I suppose that ultimately the quality of the wine is the ultimate concern, but there's just a romance to pulling a cork, a sense of history about it: when I drive the worm of my corkscrew into the cork, I always feel a bit like I'm still doing something that people were doing two hundred years ago and more, even in this tech-driven world. But then, I'm little more than a rank novice when it comes to wine, and I doubt I'll ever get farther than this, since I've never bought wine by the case and since my preferred method of wine shopping, aside from picking up a few standby favorites like Cockburn's Ruby Port, is to wander the aisles at the local wine emporium (two of which are within two miles of my home!) and go, "Hey, that one there's got the coolest label and it's less than ten bucks!" Yeah, some conaisseur.

Anyhow, if wine goes the way of the screwcap, that's fine with me, I suppose. But I have a couple of questions:

1. Is this more a drive for continued refinement of the quality control aspect of the vintner's craft, or has cork-making itself suffered as a craft in recent years? In other words, are corks becoming more faulty these days, or is this just a case of a better way being found?

2. If, as I've read in the wine-reading I've done, the true enemies of wine are light and air, why is there so little love for the box? Is there something inherently inferior about the nonreactive bag in the heavy cardboard box to darkened glass? Is the box so good at preserving wine that the effects of aging are therefore nullified? Just curious.

For those who care about such things, my most valuable bottle of wine is undoubtedly a 375-ml (not sure what the specific term for that bottle size is) of Sauternes, bottled in 1989. I took a look at it the other day, and it has, as Wine for Dummies promised, aged to a gorgeous deep gold, not unlike a very old gold coin. When I bought that bottle, close to ten years ago, I decided that I'd open it when I sold my first novel. Lucky for me that Sauternes apparently ages very well.

As for the rest of my wine "collection", I have something like fifteen or so bottles at this moment. A few reds, a few whites (I have three New York State Rieslings that I've got to try), and two bottles each of Port and Sherry. (I love Port and Sherry.) I also have two bottles of sparkling wine, a bottle of Sake, and a bottle of mead that I just bought today. Yup, I'm a rank beginner, and fine with it. After all, one of my reds on hand is something called "Red Ipocras", which is a spiced wine. I imagine that if I tried serving that to James Bond, I'd be on the business end of his Walther PPK right quick.

(Original link via 2Blowhards. I also see that Professor Bainbridge, in addition to his regular blog that I don't read that often for reasons passing understanding, has a blog devoted to wine. I may check that one out more often, even though I'm pretty much of a "Ooooooh, pretty!" guy when it comes to wine.)

Sentential Links #30 ("What I Got for Christmas" Edition)

Yup, this will be a roundup of sentential stuff pertaining to how various bloggers spent their Christmases, and what they got, and what they still want, and what they got their significant others, and why George W. Bush is bad President. (Yeah, that last has nothing to do with Christmas, really -- but what else am I gonna do with all those political bloggers I read who don't blog about what they got for Christmas?)

:: I loved it! I've been in the *I want to join the Peace Corps* mood lately and I think this book helped to nurture my sense of adventure. (And do go check out Jen's newest template, which may be the cutest damn thing I've ever seen. And that's saying something, given that my college graduation present from my parents was a fuzzy Persian kitten.)

:: So, today I cooked 3 racks of babybacks and a 10 pound brisket. (Well, I made some yummy peanut and almond clusters last week, and in the great game of "Rock Paper Scissors" of the food world, chocolate beats meat.

Well, OK, no, it doesn't. Shut up and pass the steak.)

:: Rain and fog is decidedly not my idea of a Buffalo Christmas. (Yeah, what was up with that?)

:: So just when we thought things were looking bleak for finding homes for the pets, we had our little Christmas miracle.

:: What is a Christmas book? (Damned if I know....)

:: Instead I was absolutely fascinated with polar explorers like Roald Amundsen and many others. I read up every book I could find on them in the library and wished very much I could have taken part in a polar expedition myself. Even today I am dreaming about spending in year on Spitzbergen. (It seems that The Gray Monk has a co-blogger aboard. I have got to stop forgetting about this blog.)

:: (There are no low-fat Hannukah treats as far as I know. The Hannukah miracle = lots of oil.) (Wow, I have got to try this recipe sometime.)

:: You know what you see when you go out on Christmas day? Very few white people. Very few black people. Many Vietnamese people at the Eden Center. And (later) at the Mall, Hispanic people. (You also see, if you've run out of milk, the clerk at the local 7-11 whose facial expression says, "Yeah, I drew the short straw, and I'm greetin' every customer with a frown and a grunt. Suck it.")

:: More than this, it’s the feeling of forced merriment that annoys me about Christmas songs. This false cheer floats freely in the air and, if you’re American at least, there’s not much you can do about it unless you want to head to the woods with a rifle, buckskin coat, and a dog-eared copy of How to Shit in the Woods. And I’ve no interest in becoming the Unabomber.

:: I just got off the phone with my girlfriend Miller, who is just one of my absolute favorite people on the planet, and just had her second run-in with obnoxious retailers in as many weeks. (This crap doesn't happen where I work. I'm just sayin'.)

:: I don't need a Ghost of Christmas Past to revisit the good old days. I still remember well one of the best Christmases ever, way way back when I was 11. But then, Christmas is always at its best when you are young enough to revel in it, and old enough to spend a month anticipating it.

:: Whenever the Bush Administration wants to ramp up its fear-mongering in order to scare people into complying with its agenda, it always turns to its buzzing ace in the hole – the radiological bomb.

:: The Gospel According to Scrooge ignores this, because the churches that put the play on reject the idea that good works are what get you into heaven.

You'd think that a typically slow week in Blogistan would result in me having to dig around more for Sentential Goodness, but as usual, it wasn't that hard. More next week, as we head into 2006.

(BTW, I'll be updating the blogroll sometime this week, doing a little pruning and a lot of adding, so keep an eye on that. Or not.)

Huh?!

On pretty much of a whim I took one of those blog-quiz things a few minutes ago, called "What are the keys to your heart?". I'm not going to post my results here, because they weren't encouraging, really -- this is the first Net quiz thingie that's ever pegged me as an adulterer-in-waiting, which bugs the living hell out of me, frankly. But I am mentioning the quiz because in my experience, I can usually pick out what the result's going to be based on my answers (and even on the choices given), but this particular quiz makes less than zero sense to me. The questions are literally all things like "God's gonna destroy the world, but you can save one animal species. Which one do you save?" I have no clue whatever how my answers map onto the quiz results. Is this some kind of "shamanism" thing?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Peace be with you....

A couple of notes before I shut down the Blogging Brain for the celebration of Christmas or Hannukah or Life Day or the Solstice or Festivus or whatever:

:: As I stated here, I'm soliciting questions on stuff -- mainly, suggestions for posts -- from readers, probably for use next week. Leave them in comments there, if anything leaps to mind. Anything at all.

:: Next week, by the way, I'll be posting my selections for my "Best Posts of 2005". Just a heads-up.

:: A small preview rant about the Bills: Nice game, guys -- way to get that first road win, in the fifteenth game of the season, and way to show your pride when you're 4-10 and in the running for a top eight draft pick. Ptooie!

:: For various reasons, I've halted my participation in the FSM Message Boards and have moved over to the brand-new Intrada Forums. Intrada is the "grizzled veteran" of specialty record labels focusing on film music, and I wish the forum well.

Time to close down the blog for a couple of days. I'll return on Monday, the day after Christmas. Until then, be well and cool at heart; and may your Christmases be filled with peace, joy, music, love, tables abundant and glasses overflowing.

"Noel: Christmas Eve 1913", by Robert Bridges (1844-1930).

A frosty Christmas Eve when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields and marvelling could not tell
Whether it were angels or the bright stars singing.
Now blessed be the towers that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders (said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ in the belfries tonight
With arms lifted to clutch the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above and the mad romping din.
But to me heard afar it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderley to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect of th’ eternal silence.



Peace

(And wouldn't you know it -- in the course of writing this very post, I've just had a really nifty story idea occur to me. And it's too late to write it for Christmas! Oh well, there's always next year.)

Sunday Christmas Burst of Weirdness

I'm not posting tomorrow at all, so the Burst shall happen today. And it shall be multiple in its Bursting. Cool!

:: Want to start a football or basketball team, and name it for one of the books of the Bible? Look no further: Christian Throwback Jerseys. I don't really have anything against this, but it just seems odd, like the football players who always drop to their knees and pray after scoring a touchdown. George Carlin, pointing out the weirdness of this practice, once noted that the losing team never says things like, "The Good Lord tripped me up behind the line of scrimmage." (Link via TBogg.)

:: Paul Riddell has an interesting consequence of a certain front of the "culture wars": you never see atheists barge into churches on Sunday morning and start denouncing the believers. You do, however, see Creationists barge into Natural History museums and act disruptive in front of evolution displays, so much so that now the museums are finding themselves having to give their employees special training on how to deal with disruptive Creationists. (By the way, you'll notice that I never use "Creationist" and "Christian" interchangeably. It's my belief that Christianity and evolution are perfectly compatible.)

:: Boy, I hope they get GQ in the mountains of the Afghan-Pakistani border. Assuming that that is where Osama Bin Laden is hiding, the appearance of this woman in a photo shoot for GQ is surely going to make that little vein in his forehead strain with pressure to the point of nearly popping:



That's Bin Laden's niece..

God Bless the Weirdness!

Get your nerd on!

Via MeFi I see the 50 Greatest Gadgets of All Time. Of course, since the list comes from PCWorld, it's more of a greatest tech gadgets of all time. For all-purpose gadgetry, I'd certainly include things like the drip coffeemaker (I'm always genuinely surprised that percolators are even made anymore, since their resulting coffee tastes like crap), the phonograph, and the astrolabe. (Yeah, it's a gadget. Just because it was invented in something like 1200 AD doesn't render it a non-gadget!)

Dangly Sparkly Things

Continuing to post photos of some favorite Christmas ornaments -- begun here and here -- I'll finish up the theme today. We do have many more wonderful ornaments, of course, but I'm not going to post any more than these for one highly practical reason: I need to save some for posting next year, right?

I bought this one in a little store in the Pittsburgh Airport some years back, on my way home from a corporate training session for the company I was working for at the time. It was a store devoted exclusively to cutesy stuff relating to cats and dogs. Of course, anyone who actually spends time in the company of cats knows that this characterization of them is wholly inaccurate:



I love cats and always have and I can't imagine not having at least two around, but a halo? Come on. This next one is far more accurate:



This is a much better depiction of the "lazy freeloader" aspect of Feline-dom, I think.

Next is yet another set of ornaments from that Past Times company. (Wow, I bought a lot of ornaments from them over the years!) It's a six-piece set of painted glass ornaments forming a Nativity, right there on the tree. Here we have the baby Jesus and Joseph:



And here is Mary:



The set does include the three Magi, which are also on the tree. Now, when hanging these, we don't really try to group them all together so the entire "Tree Nativity" is visible from one spot. (Of course, if we were being really accurate in observing the doctrine, we wouldn't hang the Wise Men until after Christmas Day. But that's quibbling, isn't it?)

Finally, there is this, which is one of my absolute favorite ornaments ever. I bought this at a wonderful mall chain store, now closed, called The Museum Company. This store specialized in fairly high-quality reproductions and keepsake items inspired by the fine arts, and one year they had a selection of nautically-themed items: they had things like that whistle they'd use to signal the Captain's arrival on deck, or a spyglass, and the like. And they had some really neat ships-in-bottles, including this wonderful ornament:



That's all for this year. Tune in next year for more ornamenty goodness! (And tune in before that, of course, for non ornamenty goodness, of course.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My productivity is positively UNLEASHED!

I don't know why I suddenly remembered this earlier today, but I saw it a while back and, if I recall correctly, I might have even bookmarked it before I lost my bookmarks in a browser mishap. Anyhow, here's how I envision myself as a South Park character, after using this fun gizmo:



Yup, that's how I've spent quite a bit of the last hour. At one point I had a Viking helmet, a battle-ax, and an eye patch. At least this is more realistic -- and I can keep my coffee hot by stirring it with my lightsaber!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Awwwwww!

I'm positively blushing.

And I was about to actually link a recent thread over on the FSM boards in which I exhibited maybe a teeny bit of malice (toward the Objectivist Weirdo, as you might expect), but the thread apparently got too malignant -- and I wasn't even that active on it -- and got deleted by the Moderators, so my reputation as established by Sir Shandy is still unsullied.

Hoo-ray!

Hark! The canons are firing!

A few days ago, Will Duquette said this:

Of course, I've been touting the virtues of genre over "literary" fiction for years.


And I agree, entirely. All of the fancy literary tricks of "literary fiction", whatever that is, are late-comers to the game; what existed in the first place was story. Story speaks to something older, something wiser, about our species. Story is noble. Story puts us on the same footing as our earliest ancestors. Story has power. So give me story.

Lynn then follows up with this:

I don't know anything about modern "literary fiction"; I don't even know what people are talking about when they say "literary fiction" but it seems to me that the problem with today's artsy-fartsy academics in general, whether the subject is literature, music or visual art, is that they are trying to control history in a way that past masters never would have dreamed of. They want absolute control of what ends up in The Canon instead of just letting history follow its natural course.


And again, I agree.

Then there's this, written in a comment to this post:

What's different today is that so little of pop culture has any lasting value. It's aways been true that the bulk of pop culture was crap; today the crap to quality ratio grows higher by the minute. Can you imagine a musical (just to name one musical genre) as good as "West Side Story" or for that matter (closer to Dustbury) "Oklahoma" getting made today? Yet people, for good reason, still love those musicals. Will anyone be listening to Fifty Cent fourty years from now? Taste aside, it used to take real talent to be a musical star; talent today it's almost a hindrance. And visual art is no better-Rockwell, who in fact was a damn good illustrator, was another Picasso compared with the likes of a Thomas Kinkade.

Probably the only field where talent still equals stardom is in movie acting; in fact arguably there are fewer stars today who are as poor at their craft as, for example, Joan Crawford or Clark Gable.

I disagree with Lynn's comments about the literary canon-somebody has to decide what belongs and what doesn't. I hope it's somebody with taste and, yes, a little elitism in his heart. Otherwise Harold Robbins and Danielle Steele will be "taught" because that's what people like. Or Oprah (God bless her) will decide.


I couldn't possibly disagree more with this.

As a matter of historical perspective, the denizens of any particular epoch have never been particularly good at predicting what of their art is going to last and what's going to slide into obscurity. This is something that has always struck me: the pure capriciousness of it all. There are artists whose work is popular at the time of creation and pretty much stays popular forevermore (Dickens, Beethoven); there are artists whose work is tremendously popular at the time of creation but falls away into obscurity as time passes (Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Antonio Salieri); there are artists whose work isn't terribly well received at the time of creation but resurges later on (Bach, Mozart, Berlioz); there even are artists who are popular at the time of creation, and then fade for a bit, and then resurge again (witness the attention Raymond Chandler has received in recent years). And none of this is predictable.

The commenter above starts off with a colossal error: "What's different today is that so little of pop culture has any lasting value." The problem is easy to see: No one can possibly say this yet. The only way to judge what lasts is to wait and see what actually lasts. To say that nothing today has any lasting value is a mere statement of opinion, and nothing more.

Anyone can list specific artists that one doesn't like and say, "Will anyone be listening/reading/watching/admiring this in fifty years?" Yes, I've done it many a time myself -- it's too handy a rhetorical device. But even if it's inconceivable that readers fifty years hence will be perusing Danielle Steele, it's far less so that they might be reading King, Kay, Chabon, Oates, or...I could go on.

Too often it's tempting to romanticize the periods gone by -- especially the periods that are well within memory, which is what trips up movie buffs: there are plenty of folks around who remember going to the theater to see Casablanca and Singin' in the Rain in their first runs. But they probably don't remember going to see any of the many forgettable -- or just plain bad -- films that I used to see on AMC, back when I had cable. I'd see these movies and think, "My God, people used to see crap like this?" Yes, they did -- and some of those bad movies were hits. We tend to remember the hits and forget the misses -- but it takes time for us to forget the misses. Right now, the misses are too easily remembered. I will remember seeing Godzilla and I will be angry that it got made. But culture at large will not. That's important.

The way a canon is made isn't for some one person, or small group of persons, to sit in an enclave and declare what gets in and what does not. Canon-making is messy. Canon-making is ugly. Canon-making takes time. So who gets to make the Canon?

I do.

And so do you. And so does Lynn, and Will, and Alex Ross, and Kevin Drum, and PZ Myers, and Warren Ellis, and John Scalzi, and everyone else. A canon is made as individual readers/viewers/listeners choose the works that matter to them, advocate for those works, study them, and canonize them. Some works will be venerated by many, and some by a few; some will be venerated by many now but few later; some will be venerated by few now but many later; some will be venerated by few now and fewer still later until they're almost completely forgotten.

Nobody gets to decide what gets into the Canon and what gets left out.

Everybody does.

FOUR!

I've seen this in several places (here and here, frex), so here's a little "Four things..." quiz:

Four jobs you've had in your life: Technical services assistant in a university library; pizza restaurant shift manager; pharmaceutical telesales; grocery store maintenance guy.

Four movies you could watch over and over: Star Wars (all six -- cheating a bit there); The Lord of the Rings (all of it -- still cheating); Casablanca; Dial M for Murder (I just bought in on DVD this very day! Joy!)

Four places you've lived: Buffalo, NY; Syracuse, NY; Portland, OR; LaCrosse, WI.

Four TV shows you love to watch: Of shows still airing, House; Scrubs; CSI; Nova. Of shows no longer airing, Once and Again; Seinfeld; Millennium; Star Trek: TOS.

Four places you've been on vacation: Pittsburgh, PA; Orlando, FL; Cape Cod, MA; Coeur d'Alene, ID.

Four websites you visit daily: Most of the websites I frequent daily now are blogs, but the non-blogs I visit daily are FSM, AICN, Bright Weavings, and Flickr.

Four of your favorite foods: Sausage; Chocolate; Ice Cream; Pizza.

Four places you'd rather be: I dunno -- I love it right here. For visits, I'd like to have a week in Chicago, Vancouver, Toronto, and Great Britain.

Let there be no more doubt!

In contemporary political parlance, the phrase "activist judge" actually means, "judge who rules against the Right".

I'm glad we're clear on that much, at last.

Bravo to the judge in the Dover case, who recognized Intelligent Design for what it is -- watered down Creationism -- and thus decreed its deserved removal from the science classroom.

As one might expect, Dr. Myers has all the linky goodness. Just go to his main page and scroll around. Science and rationalism won a victory today.

Jay-walking

As far as late-night TV goes, I'm a Letterman guy through and through, with one notable exception: I am hopelessly addicted to Jey Leno's "Headlines", which takes place during each Monday's show. For those who haven't seen this feature, it's when Leno displays a series of goof-ups that appear in print publications throughout the country that either represent Freudian slips upon reading, or just plain stupidity in action. I always find this feature hilarious.

However, last night Leno had a first: a "Headline" that wasn't really a "Headline". It was a program for a Christmas hymn sing or something like that, with the first hymn up was "The First Nowell". Leno parodied this obvious misspelling of "Noel", pronouncing it in exaggerated fashion "No weellllll." However, the word is not misspelled; "Nowell" is merely the old English way of spelling the word, before "Noel" became standard. Many older hymnals, psalters, and other songbooks list the carol as "The First Nowell".

So Jay Leno really dropped the ball on that one. Good thing that was the very first Headline, and the rest of the bit worked fine.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Call For Questions?

I've tried this in the past without much result, but my traffic's been up a lot lately (and it was already trending upward before it exploded on November 28), so I figure there may be more newer readers who'd like to toss out questions for me to answer -- what I think of certain stuff, why I do certain things, the like. There's an open mike in the comments, there.

So, anybody want to pose a query or two?

Ornamental Goodness

Last week I posted a few photos of favorite Christmas ornaments. Here are a couple more:



This is a neat one, although the effect isn't as pronounced in the photo. It's a kind of chiseled glass globe, hollowed out and inset with a little Nativity scene in brass. What makes it really cool is that there's a hole in the bottom, through which a single bulb from one of the light strands is inserted; the bulb's light is then scattered throughout the ornament, prism-like, by the glass. It's very striking.



This one is also from the Past Times company. It's one of a set of three little crowns, based -- according to the catalog, anyway -- on the crowns of England's Plantagenet Kings. I have no idea if that's true or not, but I love the way these look.



Yeah...I know.

Buffalo's Return?

Craig responds to a series of articles that the Buffalo News has run all year, under the umbrella title "Why Not Buffalo?", as in, "Other cities are doing OK. Why not us?"

Lots of answers have been explored in the series, and a lot of optimistic developments have been cited, as well as a lot of creative new directions for a city that's often seen as old and decrepit. But as Craig notes:

Local opinion is still focused on building the trappings of a successful city and not on the underlying reasons for our lack of progress (poverty and population loss.) Chief among those reasons is our local and state governments' crushing tax burden that makes businesses here uncompetitive and dissuades outside companies from locating here. Area development crusaders do want governmental reform, but what they're calling for is reform of the process -- how can we get government to deliver all the services we have now more efficiently?

The majority of them rarely if ever, mention those taxes and regulations. Now, it is true that recently we've seen some recognition here that small business -- entrepreneurialism -- could play a key part of Buffalo's economic future.


That's right. There is a lot of good stuff going on, but a true Buffalo resurgence can only happen if New York State in general adopts a more business-friendly attitude. There's no getting around it: entrepreneurship isn't going to "play a key part". It's the ball game. Now, we can look at this as either New York making it too hard for businesses to start up and stay in business, or we can look at it as other states making it easier for businesses to start up and stay in business, but what really matters is that the businesses are starting up someplace else, and there's a reason for that.

The real answers to "Why not Buffalo?" can be found by going to business owners all over the country and simply posing that very question.

Now, I'm no faithful Capitalist -- I do believe in regulation of business and progressive taxation and government services and all the rest of that. But it's got to be clear that the scale has tipped too far toward government in this state. People don't live in a place because of government. They live in a place because they can live there. Too many people don't believe they can live here.

As I pointed out on Craig's comments, I think that the series of articles in the News actually did provide a valuable service: they've played a part in rekindling some optimism around here. If anyone's going to take on Albany and get the business climate in Upstate NY changed, they're going to have to be optimistic first.

Sentential Links #29

Last month, before my attentions were consumed by sadder events, I was providing a bit of blogger uplift to the folks who left AOL Journals for other blogging venues after AOL forced ad-banners on their already-paying customers' journals. I meant to collate all of the links to former AOLers in Blogistan in one post, but I never got around to it. So that's what I'm doing in this Very Special Edition of Sentential Links! Check all of these out. Lots of good stuff out there.

:: This morning, like most mornings in the fall and winter, I hear crows just outside my window.

:: None of this is original, but it helps me to remember that great joy can come to the ugliest, lowest and darkest of places.

:: The drumming was inspiring and achingly beautiful in its complexity...... and there were somehow far more drummers than the fifteen to twenty women and two wonderful teens in that room. The drumming very much feels prayerful and sacred and I wish that you all could experience this at least once in your lifetime.

:: That means boys, if your woman is listening to Alanis Morissette a lot, you better get on your best behavior, and pronto.... lest you find yourself the object of some divine whiplashing words.

:: Every year around this time, I write a letter to my dear friend Kristin to let her in on the happenings in my life since I saw her last.

:: I wonder now if selective memory for everyone is a good idea. By that I mean would it not be better to lay out all your memories side by side and decide which ones to keep and which ones to erase?

:: I like to eat my Skittles (and other multi-colored candies) in color order. First all the orange. Then all the green and yellow, in pairs, to make lemon-lime. Then purple. Then red. My husband thinks this is odd (he just chows on them by the rainbow handful). I like to savor the individual flavors.

:: Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if she had had one of those back alley abortions. Would my soul have found another way to come to her? Were our destinies always planned as mother and daughter? Why so young? Why did my Dad have to be murdered in 1979?

:: My grandmother is nearing 100 this winter, nearly blind and deaf, fretting away her final days with only her thoughts to occupy her. I hope she remembers nights like this, when nature's power held sway right off her own back porch.

:: After I left Florida with out saying a word to anyone, my mother put a missing persons report out on me.

:: You’ll never guess what I discovered in one of the filing drawers of my double-wide cubicle.

:: Blame the rhino in my head!

:: My gift to all of you who humored me as I recounted the day Holly was born is to share 18 years of Holly and her Christmas tree.

:: I remember when I first realized I was parenting for everyone else but my children.

:: My "caffeine low" light is flashing.

It's entirely possible that I missed someone who might have sent me their link. If that's the case, and you're still around, either re-send or leave a link in comments.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A finish'd tale

I had scheduled the posting of the Epilogue to The Promised King, Book One for two weeks ago today, but clearly, circumstances being what they were at the time, I pretty much totally forgot about it until just the other day. If anyone out there is just dying to know how the story turned out (well, the first half of it, anyway), here's the Epilogue.

As always, all previous chapters are available over there; just check the sidebar links and enjoy. The Promised King will lay fallow for a time, as Book Two isn't even done yet. I am planning to start attacking it in earnest after the Holidays are over, and my current hope is to start serializing Book Two sometime next summer. (Don't worry -- The Welcomer doesn't end with a cliffhanger; it merely leaves a lot of unresolved threads.)

Anyhow, when I'm ready to start posting Book Two, I'll announce it here, obviously.

(This post will stay at the top of the main page here until Monday afternoon's postings dislodge it, so scroll down for newer content on Sunday.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

This looks familiar, but I can't remember if I've linked it before and I'm too lazy to search right now, so here it is, either for the first time or not: Cthulhu Carols! Perfect sing-along fun for the whole family!

Rudolph the Red Nosed Cultist
had a few insanities
and if you ever saw him
he'll be chanting with great glee
Cthulhu fthagn Ia - aa
He is sleeping 'neath the foam
as he stared out the window
through the bars where he made his home
Then one foggy moon streaked eve
Cthulhu came to say
Rudolph with your mind so brave
won't you be my eternal slave
then all the other cultists
join Rudolph the mighty high priest
has joined Cthulhu in his lair.


I'd like to hear Burl Ives singing that, no?

(via Dr. Myers)

UPDATE: OK, a two-fer this week, since I spotted this goofy timewaster over at Lynn Sislo's Undervisited Blog. You get to -- well, this is odd -- design your own Hell.

Parents who bring squalling brats to R-rated movies
Circle I Limbo

Oakland Raider Fans
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

George Bush
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Osama bin Laden
Circle IV Rolling Weights

PETA Members
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

Scientologists
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Republicans, Libertarians
Circle VII Burning Sands

People who make fun of my overalls
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

Objectivists
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell



This is NOT meant seriously, in any way, shape or form! If you fall into any of the above categories, I am not suggesting that you're really to be condemned to Hell. (Although I'm still reserving judgement on the folks in those bottom two layers...evil ones, they are....)

Bad team. Bad team. Bad. Not good. Icky, in fact.

As expected, last night the Buffalo Bills managed to make the 2005 season their third ten-loss season in the five years that Tom Donahoe's been in charge. I'll echo the general sentiment that it's time for a change at the top, as I argued last week.

Since the Bills will almost certainly be picking in the Top Ten in the NFL draft next April, I will be most displeased if they don't take the best defensive lineman available in the first round and then two offensive linemen with their next two picks, in whatever rounds those end up. If they fail to do this...well, I'll post mean things about them. And we don't want that, do we?

Oh well. I watched a bit of the Redskins-Cowboys matchup, and if I close my eyes, I flash back to Bills seasons past: "Bledsoe...under pressure...down he goes!" And it seemed like the FOX Sports people showed Gregg Williams (a Redskins assistant coach) a lot more than they showed Joe Gibbs (the 'Skins' head coach). I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Williams as a head coach again next year...with the Jets, perhaps?

And now that the Colts have lost, they can rest their starters so they'll be at full strength for if and when the Stupid Patriots show up in the playoffs, because yesterday the StuPats showed their awesome mettle by beating the Buccaneers at home. That's how you prove your dominance: by winning a December game on a cold and wintry day against a team whose lifetime record in games played outdoors in temperatures under 40 degrees is something like 2-60.

Anyway, next week the Bills play the Bengals, who are still in the playoff "hunt". Chalk up loss number eleven.

Fifteen Things About....

....Music!

Yes, I'm swiping the "Fifteen Things" format, from the books and writing ones, and making one about music. This is brand new. I'm breaking totally new territory here. Blazin' a trail, all my own. Whoop!

1. The earliest music I remember hearing is my parents' record player, with stuff like the original cast album of The Music Man, some Neil Diamond and John Denver ("Song Sung Blue" and "Country Roads", to name two songs in particular), the Frank Sinatra album A Man Apart, and some old country stuff.

2. I remember really digging the song "Afternoon Delight", when I was something like two years old. Now that I know what that damn song is about, I can only imagine that my parents found this absolutely hilarious.

3. My sister, who is six years older than me, started listening to classical music at some point, probably while she was taking piano lessons. I don't remember any works, but I remember the sounds of orchestral music from her bedroom. (Coupled, later on, with groups like The Doors.)

4. The first record album I ever bought with my own money was the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back. I wore that old double-LP out over the next seven or eight years. I've never gotten over my love of John Williams.

5. I bought nothing but film score records until I was in high school, when rock and classical took over. Another very early film music purchase was Jerry Goldsmith's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which also led to a lifetime love of that particular composer.

6. As I note here, coming to Hector Berlioz took some work, but I love his music like no other composer now.

7. Beethoven's Symphony #9 and Rachmaninov's Symphony #2 both hit me right between the eyes.

8. My favorite rock band is either Van Halen or Pink Floyd (depending on what day you ask me).

9. My first instrument was the French horn, but I switched a year later to the cornet, and finally made the transition to the trumpet two years later. (The cornet and the trumpet are nearly the same instrument, really, so moving between them is basically a matter of whichever one you happen to pick up at any given moment.) I sucked at the trumpet for about two years, when I then decided that I didn't want to suck at it anymore, and actually started practicing. I got pretty friggin' good after that.

10. I really tried to convince myself that I could play jazz well, but I finally had to admit that I just couldn't. My ear for improv was never more than "slightly better than a rank beginner", and my temperament was far less to "jamming" than to symphonic playing.

11. With all due respect to Haydn and Hummel, my favorite concerto for the trumpet is Arutunian's. Of the works I actually got to perform, my favorite trumpet parts were for the opening movement of the Mahler Symphony #5 (we had an outstanding transcription for wind ensemble in college), Hanson's Symphony #2, Bizet's suites from Carmen, and "The Trumpet Shall Sound" from Handel's Messiah. Of the works I never got to perform, my favorite trumpet parts are in Strauss's Alpensinfonie, Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, Saint-Saens's "Organ" Symphony, Stravinsky's Petrouchka, and the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth.

12. I fell in love with Celtic music during a chance hearing, on NPR, of "Thistle and Shamrock" back in 1990 or so. It really was pure luck.

13. People who look disparagingly at the wind ensemble (or concert band) as a viable music ensemble piss me off. If you're willing to take string quartets or piano sextets or any other combination of players seriously, then the wind ensemble shouldn't be off limits to serious musicmaking, either.

14. People who look down at film music also piss me off. Form isn't the whole ballgame, folks.

15. I hate hate hate hate hate the idea that classical music should be seen as the musical equivalent of caviar, Dom Perignon champagne, or any of the other "finer things" that should only be accessible by the elite who are capable of truly appreciating them. Given the choice between seeing Kleinhans Music Hall half-filled for a Buffalo Philharmonic concert by people in formal wear, and seeing it sold out to people in polo shirts and khakis, I'll take the latter, every time.

OK, that's that.

Fifteen Things About Writing

The other day I tackled a Fifteen Things About Books list-thing, and now here's my take on a supplemental meme offered up by John Scalzi: fifteen things about me and writing. Again, some of this stuff may be familiar to long-term readers of this blog.

(By the way, before I begin, I see that Weirdwriter has collated a bunch of links to posts where other bloggers have completed one or both of these list-memes, here. Check them out. And check out Weirdwriter, too -- looks like interesting stuff there, including his own fifteen things about books. There are too many interesting blogs out there -- we need to thin the herd, folks! [No, he doesn't mean that. -Ed.])

OK, writing stuff:

1. Writing's something I always remember being pretty good at doing, but as a vocational desire, it's been on again-and-off again. Sometimes I really want to write for a living, but more times I just want to write and have some people read it. The more the better, obviously, but a handful of people who really like what I write are better than lots of people going "Meh" at my stuff.

2. That said, I'd love to be a freelance copywriter. I tried doing this once before, when I was unemployed between getting canned from the telesales job and being hired at The Store, but I didn't have enough resources to really get the ball rolling on that.

3. My first ever rejection slip was for my story "Graveyard Waltz", which I wrote back in 1999 or 2000 and eventually posted here after I ran out of markets for it and basically decided that it was too amateurish an effort to be salable anyway. I was actually happy to get that rejection slip, as I took it as a sign that I was "in the game". (Every subsequent rejection slip I've received has pissed me off, except for the very kindly written ones from Black Gate.)

4. In grade school, I tended to love creative writing assignments that allowed lots of latitude and detested ones that were rigidly restricted to a certain theme and subject matter. In recent years, I've come to regret blowing off the "Write a story from the point of view of the Thanksgiving turkey" assignment. I really could have amped up the horror quotient on that.

5. My fifth-grade teacher once grouped our class into four or five groups and had us each write a little Christmas play that we then had to perform/read to the class. My group -- which included The ever-flammable Mr. Jones -- came up with a comedic thing in which Santa is laid out by food poisoning, and thus the delivery of the presents falls to the Elves. The title was, naturally enough, How the Elves Saved Christmas. To this day I'm mystified as to how I avoided getting cast as the fat elf that gets made fun of the whole time. For years after that, I wrote stuff in screenplay format.

6. My writing output during Little Quinn's lifetime was limited to a couple of very short stories, an article that appeared in The Buffalo News, and my postings here. I'm not entirely sure why that is, because I really do not believe for a second that life with Little Quinn, demanding as it was, really caused my "creative juices" to dry up. Things with him were hard, and everyday life with him was draining, but I think the larger factor there might well have been a combination of sloth and a desire to direct my energies elsewhere. I certainly decided that I care a lot less about getting published than I did before he came (hence the blog-serialization of The Promised King). But I did learn one very important lesson during Little Quinn's life: brevity in fiction. Before he came, my shortest story came in at something like 7500 words. Since then, I've written several very short stories, and I have one that I wrote just last week that's under 3000 words. I'm not sure if Little Quinn had any kind of causal relationship to my learning how to write short, but that's when it happened.

7. Yes, I wrote Star Wars fanfic, in the form of screenplays to a series of "films" that took the basic Star Wars story, changed the names and some of the relationships, and told the same tale in the way that I would have told it. I still read that stuff with some affection. (Not so all the cross-over mash-up stuff we'd write in school, wherein James Bond and Indiana Jones would fight side-by-side against some Blofeld-style villain whose plots made no sense at all.)

8. I really do prefer writing fiction in longhand first, before I type it. I type fairly quickly, and longhand really slows the process down so I can think about what I'm writing.

9. Thanks to Stephen King's On Writing, I harbor an irrational hatred of adverbs and I almost never use any verb of dialogue attribution other than "said".

10. I have absolutely no interest in attending something like Clarion or a writing workshop. I have this pigheaded insistence on trusting my own instincts when writing, and not trying to tailor things for a specific audience.

11. I tend to be fairly brutal on my own writing when I'm editing drafts. Here's a photo of two current manuscripts of mine to illustrate. On the left is a page of the current short story, and on the left is a rare attempt at poetry. Note all the red ink -- those are my annotations, edits, and notes for revision.



12. I first heard the words "Show, don't tell" in eleventh grade. I always had a hard time with this, because there's a fine line between giving too much detail and not enough, and besides, sometimes telling is just fine if you can do it artfully enough.

13. Take it from me: grade school teachers tend to be less than receptive to a satirical approach to their writing assignments.

14. When I'm writing at the desk, my time tends to break down as one-third actual writing, one-third daydreaming whilst listening to the music on the headphones, and one-third reading something.

15. I used to be really bothered by people who can't write to save their lives, but more recently I've come to see writing as a skill that people either have or don't have, kind of like carpentry or piano-playing. I can write, but I can't draw to save my life. Some people are the exact opposite. And some people, damn their souls for all Eternity, can do both.

OK, that's it.