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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Man, I need to get some help....

In addition to all my other various neuroses, I have now developed a fixation on homemade macaroni and cheese. Not only have I made it twice in about ten days, I am now offended by that box mix shit.

That's just what I need: another oddball obsession.

What he said

Craig on the Niagara Falls International Airport:

As constantly pointed out by the airport's boosters, Niagara Falls is the only place between Toronto and Rome, NY where the big planes can land. And with Toronto's Pearson Airport ever-closer to high-use gridlock, the Falls facility could stands a chance to emerge as an important cargo hub. While I still can't see much need for passenger 747 service here, developing wide-body freight shipments might really provide some economic spin-offs.


Damn straight! Done right, this could make our region, which has been an economic backwater for too long, a player again. A small player, perhaps, but a player. I'd love to see lots of cargo flights into and out of NFIA; I'd love to see warehousing facilities being built around there and more truck traffic to further disperse those goods. There's a fancy word for stuff like that: commerce.

(Oh, and remember a few years back when the Powers That Be around here wanted to virtually sell that airport to a Spanish company? That deal got scuttled, thankfully. For some reason, that sounds familiar...selling control of a major transport facility, or a potential major transport facility, to a foreign entity...Hmmmm, I'm gonna have to think about that one for a while. I know I've read something like that recently, somewhere....)

Not boding well....

I've just read this post about Bode Miller (via James Wolcott), with some amusement. I'm not sure I buy the analogy between Miller and President Bush, but what strikes me more is the people in the comments thread and, apparently, Tom Watson's e-mail inbox defending Miller.

Like many other folks, I was highly annoyed by Miller's antics at the Torino Games. I have no problem with him not winning. It's the Buffalo Bills fan in me, I suppose, but give me a team or an athlete trying as hard as possible and not winning over a supremely gifted athlete winning with ease, any day. But Miller didn't do either of those things: he's the supremely gifted athlete who just decided that he didn't care enough to even try.

Miller took an opportunity for which many athletes work hard all their lives, and only a few get -- and then said, "I'm good. Getting here was enough. Now I'm just gonna drink."

Here's my take: I hope that, if there is any validity to voodoo at all, then whatever skier would have made the US team if not for Bode Miller is sitting somewhere with a doll of our best skier, a big box of stickpins, and a lit candle. And if the US team decided to kick Miller off, I'd be fine with that, too. As far as I'm concerned, what Miller did is only marginally more acceptable than what the Chicago "Black Sox" or Pete Rose did.

F*** Bode Miller.

Backs, and the Mountains that Broke them

A few weeks ago, Steven Den Beste moved from one city to another, thus taking his server offline for a while. And then he came back, and I wondered how long it would be before he resurrected his weird obsession with Brokeback Mountain (of which I have written before). Sure enough, it came over the weekend (dated 2-25; SDB's current blog has no permalinks):

I think Ebert is wrong. [Ebert predicted that Crash will win Best Picture this year.] This is a year in which Hollywood will speak up defiantly. This year's Best Picture Oscar will be a message. Hollywood is going to preach to the Heartland and try to lead the mouth-breathing peasants in fly-over country back to enlightenment. The choice won't have anything to do with quality, or performance, or writing, or box office, or any of the factors Ebert cites.

This Oscar choice is going to be a political statement. That's why "Brokeback Mountain" is going to win.


I guess that may be true -- I don't have access to SDB's crystal ball, and I am thus lacking his ability to see into the hearts and minds of Academy Award voters -- but even so, if Brokeback Mountain and all its surrounding hoopla comprises a sermon to the lowly "Flyover Country", doesn't it mean something when it turns out that the "mouth-breathing peasants" there actually want to hear the sermon?

(And I can't help but wonder if SDB himself has bothered to see Brokeback Mountain. He's always talked big about not following crouds and being his own thinker, but as far as I can tell, he's doing nothing here but preaching the same right-wing orthodoxy as those with whom he has increasingly allied himself over the years I've been reading him.)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Sentential Links #39

Bits of bloggy goodness, shorn of their intended surroundings! Click for context:

:: Thank you for giving the me an opportunity to rant and lecture about one of my favorite modern gadgets which also, unfortunately, provides other people almost unlimited opportunity to annoy me. (Which gadget? Go check. Lynn's right on -- and her blogging was on fire this week!)

:: Why are the subjective self-image, and the self’s deepest desires, so out of touch with the hard facts of biological reality? This is a profound problem for evolutionary biology. This is the first of my articles that deals with this problem. (I didn't read this whole post -- this is more of a "bookmark" of sorts. Looks interesting.)

:: To quote our daughter Iguana at tonight's dinner table: "Not only would we have an angry Mommy, but we'd have an angry Mommy with a gun!" (Now that can't be good.)

:: AT-AT stands for All-Terrain Armored Transport? Did not know that. (Don't we teach kids anything these days?!)

:: If there's one thing that can distract from the travesty of journalism Meet the Press was today, it's being forced to think about Tim's abs. I wish I knew how to quit that image. (I heart Arianna Huffington. I didn't always, but dammit, I do now.)

:: The great patriot and American hero Ben Shapiro can prepare Buckley’s noose while that brave American warrior Michael Reagan places the hood over his head and those lovers of American values Michelle Malkin and John Hinderaker lead the throngs as they yell "traitor" and "coward" at Buckley while his neck snaps.

:: So how are Raimi and screenwriter Alvin Sargeant going to do? There are just too many new characters involved to jam them into the movie and have a decent story and a running time of under 4 hours, so I'll speculate that they will turn some of the characters' roles (probably Venom, save him for Spidey 4) into extended cameos so they can make another character-based, tight story. Here's hoping. (I have absolutely no idea what to make of this, but I'm starting to worry that Spiderman 3 may be a mess. I wasn't completely sold on the first film, but the second almost hit all the notes perfectly. I hope the third doesn't step backward.)

:: As far as I'm concerned, there are few things as sad-looking as a book that has been under water. (This post was gut-wrenching.)

:: I should be running a TV network. I would crush the opposition. Also, see them driven before me and hear the lamentation of their women. (These last two sentences will enter my daily lexicon, I can tell it already.)

More next week, as ever.

Meta-blogging and Media-blogging

There's an article about the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan in today's Buffalo News. It's a pretty good article about the basics of what blogging is. I was contacted by the writer about potentially being interviewed for the piece, but as it happened, he ended up with enough quotes from others that he actually had to leave stuff out. At least Byzantium's Shores got mentioned in the sidebar of Buffalo Blogs, though; that's something, even if so far today it hasn't translated to any more traffic than I normally get. Oh well.

A few thoughts, though:

:: The sidebar that lists other Buffalo Blogs just gives the blog names and the URLs. No author names, no informational blurbs about what the blogs cover, no nothing. I realize that space is a big concern in newspaper publishing, but just handing out lists of URLs with no contextual comment whatsoever isn't muhc of a help to prospective readers, is it? I swear to God I'm going to put this on a T-shirt: The Internet is made of people. There's a live person behind every blog out there, folks.

:: Shouldn't the article also give the URLs of the blogs belonging to the folks actually quoted in the article? Jennifer and Erin are both quoted, with Erin actually pictured in the accompanying photo -- and their URLs are nowhere to be found. So someone who reads this article and wants to read Jen's and Erin's blogs is sent off to Google for information the News should have provided up front. (CORRECTION: Jen's URL actually does appear in the sidebar. An 'oops' on my part -- but Erin's ain't there, which is still a bigger 'oops' on the News's part.)

:: OK. Blogging has been around for, what, seven or eight years now? I didn't hear of blogging until four years ago, and the real growth of Blogistan didn't start to transpire until a short while after that. But shouldn't the concept of what a blog is be, well, almost old hat by now? Is it really necessary, in 2006, to still have the occasional article like this, in which the word "blog" is defined and the blogger interviews consist of the same things you always read in articles like this? Shouldn't we have moved beyond "Hey, there's these things called 'blogs' and here's what they are and here's why they exist" to actual coverage of Blogistan's Buffalo Prefecture? I hope that this is the beginning of some regular coverage of the Buffalo bloggers -- not just a precis of what we're all posting about, but maybe some mention occasionally of issues that are raised and the like.

:: I've written before about the general mediocrity of the News's web presence, and this article does nothing to dispel that notion. Here's the News still having to explain what blogs are in the first place, while the Syracuse Post-Standard's website actually uses blogs. There's one that focuses exclusively on developments surrounding Destiny USA, and there's another one called Store Front that covers the ins-and-outs of the Syracuse retail scene*, there's one that covers Syracuse Orange basketball, as well as a bunch of others.

:: And look at the Web presentation of today's Buffalo Blogs article. The article reproduces the sidebar with the URLs of Buffalo blogs not mentioned outright in the article, but as is almost always the case with Buffalo News articles on their website that mention stuff on the web, there are no clickable links. Want to read one of the blogs mentioned in the sidebar? You can't click anything -- instead, you have to type the URL into your browser. And adding insult to injury there, you can't even cut-and-paste the URL into your browser, because the sidebar is rendered as a jpeg file!

Come on, guys. You quote bloggers in the article and don't give their URLs, and then in the Web version of the article, you make it impossible to click through to any of the blogs for which you do give the URLs. That's just incompetent Web work. And since the News is paying some other company to do its Website, I end up imagining what the News could do if they took the money they're funneling to some outside company for crappy work and instead employed an in-house Web designer or team thereof.

UPDATE: Looking again at that sidebar, it further strikes my eye that some of the URLs are given using the 'http://' prefix, while others are not. This, again, bespeaks a major lack of familiarity with the Web and how things are done there on the part of the News.

* OK, come to think of it: the Syracuse paper actually has a reporter, Bob Niedt, assigned to covering Syracuse's retail business climate. This guy's main job is to post about retail stores and restaurants that are opening or closing, what businesses are moving into the area or out, what's being developed at Syracuse area shopping malls, and so on. If a new Applebee's opens, or a McDonald's closes, or some little boutique moves to a new location, Bob Niedt writes about it in his column. His column runs three days a week, and now he has a blog on the Post-Standard website. If Syracuse's paper, in a city which is half the size of Buffalo, can accomodate a reporter for this job, why can't Buffalo's paper do the same? Don't they think that consumers and business owners alike would appreciate such news coverage? Word of mouth is good and all, but we're talking about the major metropolitan newspaper here. That alone could help a lot of businesses in a city where businesses tend to need quite a lot of nurturing.

Four more years! Four more years!

Wow -- talk about time flying, or something. A couple of weeks ago, this blog entered its fifth year of existence.

I don't have a whole lot to say about that, specifically -- I blog because it's fun and I enjoy sharing things I know and feel with others, and I enjoy having others share what they know and feel with me, and that's basically what the whole blogging thing is about. Yes, there's also some pure egoboosting in there as well, but I think I can honestly say that every regular reader I gain is one that I've earned, by writing stuff that's either witty, smart, insightful, or touching. Or maybe the readers are here for the occasional photos of women. I'm not picky.

I started this blog when the Salt Lake Winter Olympics of 2002 were just getting underway (or maybe hadn't quite even started yet), when The Daughter was in her Terrible Two's (which weren't that "terrible", really), when I was working a dead-end telesales job, when there were still two Star Wars and two Lord of the Rings movies in the offing, when The X-Files was winding down and when Scrubs and American Idol were just getting going, when 9-11 was a terribly fresh memory (and don't even try claiming that it still is, at least in the same way), and when the political sector of Blogistan had yet to welcome such folks as Atrios and TBogg and Kevin Drum and Lance Mannion and so on.

And I can't help but think of how when I launched this blog, figuring to do it for a few months or maybe a year at most, having a second child was a distant thought that The Wife and I rarely discussed. How things change, eh? Assuming I'm still maintaining Byzantium's Shores when its fifth anniversary rolls around in February 2007, I will have been blogging for more than half the time I've been married. And yet I would trade every post, every sentence, every word, every letter of this blog, without question, if I could have back the son whom this blog outlived. The things that go, the things that stay.

By the way, my current impression is that Byzantium's Shores is one of the oldest Buffalo Blogs in existence. Alex Halavais's blog has sporadic archives dating back to 1994, but the regular archives begin in May of 2002, and I don't know how much of the preceding material can be termed as a "blog" at all (i.e., how much of that was re-cast as blog entries at some later date). Jennifer has been around almost as long as I have, and I'm sure there are others. But four years is a pretty damn long time in Blogistan! That's a lot of books, of movies, of music, of whining about the Bills sucking and the Stupid Patriots not sucking, of wishing the Democrats would get a clue and George W. Bush would just go away, and of writing and meeting cool people. I've gone from maintaining strict pseudonym status to posting tons of photos of myself and attending blog meet-ups. And I've grown about six inches on my hair and added a beard.

Four years in Blogistan. Will there be four more? Who knows? I'd like to think I've got it in me to keep going that long; after all, I don't see anybody else charging in to maintain Blogistan's proper mix of geekdom and workwear. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

And oh yeah, thanks to all of you for reading this stuff!

How about "Crossnowboard"?

Here's Get Fuzzy from today:



Bucky's final shot of sarcasm notwithstanding, Rob certainly isn't alone: the Tensor thinks about this stuff, too!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

Remember at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, when the Enterprise and the Excelsior both fly off after saving the Federation from disaster, and Excelsior dwarfed the grand old Enterprise? That's what I thought of when I saw the third photo in Craig's post on the Queen Mary II's first voyage to the West Coast.

Great stuff. Go look.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

This was a good week for Weirdness online -- I saw a lot of strange stuff out there! But via Lynn, here's Origami Underground. Yes, you too can fold paper into...erotica. No more boring cranes and bears and other traditional animals! Yay!

(Not safe for work, obviously.)

ROWR!

Ever the one to stay current on my pop-culture stuff, I just recently discovered Firefly.

OK, yeah, I'm really current there. Hoo-boy. After all, Firefly's original run on FOX came back when I lived in Syracuse, three years ago. In my defense, the timeslot FOX gave Firefly was a really bad one for me, and I later learned that not only did FOX not air all of the episodes that the show had in the can, but FOX aired the episodes it did air out of order, sticking the show's two-part pilot at the end of its broadcast run. Nice work, FOX.

Anyway, a friend of mine recently fell in love with the series and dubbed a copy of the DVDs for me; and then, on the basis of that pilot episode, I went out this weekend and bought the DVD set myself. (It was on sale at Target. I got the last copy when I kick James Lileks in the shins and took it from him. Oh, and I stole Gnat's lollypop.*)

OK. I'll have more to say about Firefly in a later post, after I've watched more of the episodes. For now, this is a ROWR! post, so let's get onto today's Realization Of Womanly Radiance (of which Firefly is almost certain to provide at least two entries). First up is the perky young mechanic for the good ship Serenity, Jewel Staite.



Playing a mechanic, her character's wardrobe seems to consist of tight shirts worn underneath a mechanic's coveralls -- which is fine by me, of course. Women in workwear? ROWR, indeed!

(I should mention a very brief scene in the Firefly pilot in which Ms. Staite takes a bite out of a strawberry. Sigh....)

But I do like the traditional beauty thing, too:



These next two photos have nothing to do with Firefly at all, but I happened upon them purely by luck in the course of doing "research" for this post. Since they fit my longstanding theme for this blog, here they are:



And:



Yeah, she sure has challenged my view that the engineers of spacefaring vessels should either be Scotsmen or guys with cybernetic optical implants!

* OK, none of that happened. They had plenty of copies left, and Lileks was nowhere in sight, which makes sense seeing as how I'm in Buffalo and he lives in Minneapolis.

Responses...we got responses here....

A couple of folks have responded on their own blogs to the meme things I did the other day, and I wanted to highlight the responses:

:: Will Duquette virtually orders me to read the next Miles Vorkosigan book (which is actually the first Miles Vorkosigan book, as the two Miles Vorkosigan books I've already read aren't actually Miles Vorkosigan books -- confused? Yeah, me too...). And since I've had the Young Miles compendium volume on my shelves for quite a while, and since I've been hankering for some space opera goodness lately, I suppose that's what I'll read as soon as I'm done with Fionavar.

(By the way, frequently garish cover art aside, I have to note that Baen Books -- Lois MacMaster Bujold's publisher -- seems to really have its act together, in that they really seem to produce product with the readers in mind.)

:: Kevin at BFLOBlog takes on the actor thing from the other day, but puts a unique twist on it. My only quibble with his cool post is in his identification of a memorable line from The Shawshank Redemption: I think his version of the quote is incomplete. My canonical version isn't when Andy says it, but when Red echoes it a little while later, adding on a second bit: " 'Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'.' That is God-damned right."

Rage, rage!

It is being reported that SF author Octavia Butler has died. Shit.

And Don Knotts? Double shit.

And Darin McGavin? Triple shit.

I'm going to bed.

Stupid world.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Birthdays

Today is The Wife's birthday. I'd reveal her age in this space, but I prefer to continue walking the World of the Living for a while longer, and while I do so, I further prefer that my ass remain both attached to my body and devoid of scar tissue from lots of kicking, so we'll leave the number out of it, OK?

Anyway, we're off to have dinner with The Parents in a short while. For gifts, I presented The Wife with a pair of earrings made of peridot (Little Quinn's birthstone), as well as this DVD set, which just may be the greatest DVD set ever (and that's coming from a guy who views the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVD sets as cultural artifacts of the highest magnitude). You'd better bet I'll be getting Volumes Two and Three in the future!

The major gift was an afghan throw blanket. We already have quite a few of these, but apparently it's now possible to have a throw blanket woven with a photographic image of one's choosing. The photo I used is this one. Little Quinn always had the warmest body -- that kid radiated heat once we got him home, which is strange since he had to be under a warmer for weeks after his birth -- so now, in a way, he'll always be able to keep his Mommy warm.

This isn't really a "happy" birthday, especially since the day after her birthday marks the halfway point between Little Quinn's birthday of August 26, and three days after that marks the third month of his death. But we can still strive for "bittersweet" over "just plain sad".

(By the way, The Wife has created a webpage on the CaringBridge site as a memorial to Little Quinn; you can see her efforts here. This is her effort entirely; I'm not posting anything there. CaringBridge is a site where people can create online tributes to loved ones who have died. One interesting thing is that CaringBridge's sites are not indexed in search engines, and there is no search function on the main CaringBridge site, so one can't just "surf" around the tribute pages. That's a neat way of maintaining privacy. I realize that, by posting this here, I'm kind of giving up the game in that regard, so I hope anyone visiting Little Quinn's memorial there will behave accordingly.)

Quick! Before he goes back into hiding!

The Indestructible Mr. Jones has been blogging up a storm lately, so much so that he even got himself an updated template thingymabob. He's also got a head shot up, if anyone's ever wondered what he looks like. He actually looks not much at all the way I remember him from high school (aside from that pose he's striking, which looks exactly the way I remember him from high school), and he appears to have taken the exact opposite approach to hair management from mine.

I point this out for no reason at all, really. Just go visit him, and maybe he'll note the increase in traffic and not lapse into one of his months-long posting droughts.

Whoa....

One thing I've noticed since I've used Firefox is that, by using multiple tabs to read multiple blogs, if I have two blogs open at once that happen to have the same template, I'll sometimes mistake one blog for the other. That's always weird. Case in point: just now I have Unclaimed Territory and Et al. open in adjacent tabs. Both Glenn Greenwald and Dorcasina are using the same template, and I thought I was reading Unclaimed while actually reading Et al.

Not a big deal (and I'm certainly not complaining or saying that every blogger should have a unique site design), but this does point out something interesting to me: the way personality figures into blogging. It's often claimed that it's just the writing and the arguments that count, but I find myself trying to place the current top post at Et al. in the context of what I generally read at Unclaimed. So instead of attending to Dorcasina's actual points about sex and gender issues (the subject of her top post), I'm skimming it and thinking, "Why the hell is Glenn Greenwald writing about this stuff?" It took me a minute to realize my error, whereupon I "recalibrated" and read Dorcasina's post for what it was actually saying.

Has anyone else encountered this phenomenon? What should we call it? How about "blog-template induced dyslexia"?

Meme-licious, part the second

The ever-tosy John has created this one, in which he tosses out a long list of actors and simply asks for favorite performances by each one. Easy enough. (For extra fun, I'm going to try hard to avoid duplicating John's answers -- mainly because he's right on an awful lot of 'em, and I don't want to spend an entire post here going "Ditto".)

Tom Hanks: Apollo 13.

Now that it's been quite a while since Tom Hanks finally graduated to the "A" list of actors, it's hard to remember how he good he really was. (EDIT: By this, I mean just how surprisingly good he was in those first highly-regarded films of his after ten-plus years of lame comedies. I'm not suggesting that Hanks stopped being good, or that he's dead, or whatever.) He's never been a "chameleon" type of actor, like, say, Daniel Day Lewis, who looks different every time he's in a movie. But when you consider that Hanks basically looks the same in A League of Their Own (minus the stubble), Philadelphia (minus the makeup scars when his character's disease got bad), Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, and Castaway (aside from, well, the long-ass hair during the "four years later" sequence), and then you realize that never once does one of these characters seem like one of the others, you realize how subtle Hanks's acting chops really are. I love him in Apollo 13 because of the way he manages to play an intelligent and confident man in a very understated way. I think that Apollo 13 is one of the best movies of the last fifteen years, and Hanks is a big reason why.

(By the way, if any of my readers are "corporate trainer" types who occasionally have to run those annoying "teamwork seminar" things wherein employees are all gathered into a large room and then subjected to lectures on teamwork followed by invariably stupid games that are supposed to reinforce teamwork but instead to the employees just feel like condescending "Romper Room" kinds of activities, you might consider just bringing them all into a room and screening Apollo 13 for them. You'll never see a more vivid dramatization of real teamwork in all your life.)

Robert DeNiro : Heat.

I love his character's weariness in this movie, the way he does what he does because it's what he is and what he knows, and he seems to constantly be aware that one day his time will run out.

Al Pacino: Heat, again.

Truth is, I haven't seen Pacino in much. I suppose I ought to watch the Godfather movies all the way through one of these days, but Mob stories just don't interest me all that much.

Dustin Hoffman: Hook.

OK, I'm being half-facetious here. But I did like him in the movie.

Harrison Ford: Ooooh, tough one! I'll go with Witness.

Ford used to be able to do what I cited Tom Hanks above as being able to do: look the same from movie to movie, and yet subtlely play completely different characters. At some point he stopped doing this (the last Ford role I really bought was his Dr. Richard Kimball in The Fugitive), and it's a real shame. John Book, from Witness, was a fine bit of acting. I wish Ford could get that kind of role again. (Or, that when presented the opportunity, he'd actually do it, seeing as how he backed out of the eventual Michael Douglas role in Traffic.)

Robin Williams: Dead Again.

He's not even credited with this cameo role (he only has about ten minutes of screen time), and he just plays a bitterly cynical guy who has some good advice for Kenneth Branagh's private eye. The script doesn't give Williams any opportunity to do any schtick whatsoever.

Morgan Freeman: Deep Impact.

Damn you, John, for picking The Shawshank Redemption! I think that this movie might be able to work with someone other than Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, but there is zero chance of it working without Freeman as Red. But since I'm trying not to double up, I'll just say this about Deep Impact: I've been watching movie Presidents for years, but Freeman's President in Deep Impact is the only one I bought as President at first sight. I don't know how the hell he did that.

Bill Murray: Oh, dammit, I have to double up John's answer now. Groundhog Day it is.

I love the way Murray's character takes advantages of the opportunities his character's plight affords him: first he cold-cocks an annoying guy on the street, then he gets more daring and tries a very violent death, and then ultimately he works on winning some woman's heart. (Incidentally, this is the only movie I ever really liked Andie MacDowell in.)

Tom Cruise: Rain Man.

Dustin Hoffman's thing wouldn't work without a perfect straight man, which Cruise provided. There's some great comic timing at work in this movie, too.

Russell Crowe: I haven't seen enough Crowe to really have an opinion. He was superb in LA Confidential, however.

Johnny Depp: Finding Neverland.

I love what this movie had to say about the magic of storytelling, and it couldn't possibly work without Depp's work as the master storyteller.

Gene Wilder: Gotta double up again. Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is an absolute icon.

Jeff Bridges: Starman.

Every actor of note tries a role like this, sooner or later. Bridges's has stuck in my mind for years, though.

Jim Carrey: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

If you'd told me I'd eventually claim that Jim Carrey is a f***ing genius when Ace Ventura came out, I'd have called you crazy. And yet: Jim Carrey is a f***ing genius.

John Travolta: Face Off.

He just seems to be having so damn much fun chewing the scenery in this movie.

Jodie Foster: Contact.

One of the most underrated films I know. I love the way Foster makes clear that despite her character's constant claims to the contrary, her passions go deeper than just mere science, and that at times her outward hostility is meant as a defense mechanism than as genuine hostility.

Nicole Kidman: Malice.

Not a very good movie, but I've always remembered her in it.

Julianne Moore: OK, I don't really have an opinion here. But she was about the only thing I liked about The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Gweneth Paltrow: Possession.

Half of this film is a literary detective story, with Paltrow one of the detectives. As a cinematic romance, I think this film fell through some cracks, sadly.

Kate Winslet: Titanic.

Bite me. I still like the movie. And Winslett's curvy goodness...ummm, I gotta go....

Julia Roberts: Mystic Pizza.

Here's another underrated movie. Watch it, and pick a bad performance or an unconvincing storyline. I dare you. Roberts is just outstanding here, with her blend of cynicism and intelligence and, at the end, wisdom.

Kathy Bates: Dolores Claiborne.

Another Stephen King adaptation, made on the heels of Misery -- but Bates basically has to play two characters here, a present-day woman and the same woman in flashback, twenty years before. In doing so, I never doubt for one second that the present-day Dolores is the result of the decades-past Dolores.

Wow, that was fun. We should do it again, with different actors.

Meme-licious, part the first

Via Erin:

A book that made you cry: The Darkest Road, Guy Gavriel Kay (the third book in the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, which I am currently re-reading)

A book that scared you: The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs

A book that made you laugh: Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore

A book in High School that you loved: Just like Erin, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I plan to re-read this sometime this year.

A book in High School that you hated: Man, there were a bunch of 'em that I hated. Some, like David Copperfield, I'm willing to grant that I may have missed the boat having been too young to understand what was good about them. (Which raises, in my mind, the question of why we insist on forcing literature on kids who aren't ready for it -- "You're in Ninth Grade now, by God, you're reading Shakespeare and you're gonna like it!" -- but I'll save that for another day.) Another few I'm just not going to admit any such thing, however. For the purposes of this quiz: The Yearling, by Rawlings. Godawful crap. Interminable. Boring. Shitty life lesson.

A book that challenged your imagination: 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

A book that challenged your morals: The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. I got over that one right quick. Boy howdy.

A book that challenged your identity: Naming and Necessity, by Saul Kripke. (Not sure that's exactly what they mean by "identity", but I don't get what they do mean, so we'll go with the philosophy text on language and names and rigid designators.)

A book series that you love: Hmmmm. I'm trying to think of an example that might not be familiar to regular readers of this space. I'll cheat slightly, then, and name Bujold's "Miles Vorkosigan" books, of which I've only read the first two (the ones that don't even feature Miles Vorkosigan). But I really had fun reading those, which makes me wonder why the hell I haven't read farther into that series yet. Hmmmmm.

Your favorite Horror Novel: The Stand, Stephen King. I just loved this book's epic scope.

Your favorite Science Fiction Novel: Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson.

Your favorite Fantasy Novel: Again trying to avoid the obvious answer here (LOTR, duh!), I'll name John Bellairs's The Face in the Frost.

Your favorite Romance Novel: I haven't read any, really (although I plan to). I loved Jane Eyre, though. Does that count?

Your favorite "Coming-of-Age" Novel: Hmmmm...I find that "coming of age" is so pervasive a theme that I'm hard-pressed to name a book that isn't a "coming of age" story in some way or other. I seem to recall One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte as a "coming of age" story, in a way, and I recall that one very well. (BTW, go read some of the Amazon reviews -- sample quote: "I dont like this book because there is no action stuff in it." Wow. Maybe there should be age limits on the Information Superhighway!) Also, Mr. Scalzi's Old Man's War could also be termed a "coming of age" story. I mean, the question doesn't specify which age, right?

Your favorite book not listed previously: Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. God, I miss Sagan and wish he could be around now both for the onward march of pseudoscience and antiscience, as well as for the nearly miraculous epoch of planetary astronomy we are now enjoying.

Favorite Book of Poems: I have a rotation of favorite poetry books, so I'll just pick one at random: the Library of America's complete works of Walt Whitman.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hard to Port!

I may as well admit it: my instinct to oppose the Dubai port thing is because I simply don't trust George W. Bush. The man and his administration have yet, in my view, to author a single policy that isn't a colossal cock-up in one way or another, and based on past results, I see no reason to give the guy the benefit of the doubt on this one. Kevin Drum isn't sure the whole thing is that big a deal, and maybe he's right. But I just don't know.

I do know some things, however. I do know that it doesn't augur well that the President knew nothing about the deal until he read about it in the papers -- that is the picture of an engaged President with a keen interest in policy, I tell you. And I do know that after that, the President went true-to-form and basically said, "Respect mah authori-tah". I do know that it's kind of enjoyable watching Congressional Republicans struggle once again with the fact that this Administration just doesn't view Congress as being that important at all. And I know that the Republican talking point that opposition to this deal amounts to "Democratic racism" is utterly laughable. First, since there's quite a bit of Republican opposition to this deal, it raises the question as to whether those folks are racists too; and second, well -- I, for one, am not going to listen to lectures on racism from the party that makes Ann Coulter a featured speaker at its functions and regularly lauds the work of Michelle Malkin.

Snarfle!

Funny.

(Oh, just click. It's really short. Via Dr. Myers).

On plugs and the pulling thereof

John had a post singing the praises of an episode of ER, and a brief debate ensued in the comments there. He gives a good summary of the episode (a star turn for James Woods, in a rare series TV appearance), and expresses his admiration that ER is still capable of an episode that good. I expressed my disagreement in comments:

It was a decent episode (yeah, I saw it), and the high point was, of course, the complex relationship between Woods and the Ally Walker character. I didn't really find his "Richard Feynman-esque" teaching all that convincing, and while the episode was decent in itself, it still felt like "old hat" to me -- ER does one of these "Bring in a noted older guest star to play a person at the end of significant health problems" tales every year, and we've even seen the "one of the current docs cares for his/her mentor" thing before. So even when the show happens to be good (which I still maintain is very infrequently), it does so by recycling its old ideas.


John disagreed:

I think you're setting the bar awfully high. For a single-setting show like ER that must revolve around the hopsital, the notion that after ten years they shouldn't be "recycling old ideas" is pretty limiting. It almost sounds like you are saying that *no* show ER-like show should go on past, say, six seasons or so, given the inevitable recycling that sets in. While we may have seen other mentors, and other famous-people-playing-terminally-ill-patients, I have never been moved by an episode of ER as much as I was moved by this episode. And to be able to say that 10+ seasons in is impressive, no matter how you slice, dice, or puree it.


I further noted that I just wasn't moved, because the episode, while very well done, was severely undermined by the fact that ER has done this kind of story many, many times in the past. The question then arose about whether TV series should go off the air in sixth or seventh years, as opposed to chugging along into eleven years, simply by virtue of running out of stories to tell.

The answer is, of course, yes. And no.

For me, ER isn't even close to being fresh anymore. I've written about this before, so no sense dragging it out, but the show is fraught with boring characters, boring stories, predictable outcomes, nothing new by way of production design or values, no sense of invention or innovation. Even the James Woods episode, while told in compelling flashback style, is undermined because we've seen these "Big Guest Star suffers from illness" tales before. James Woods, Ray Liotta, Bob Newhart, James Cromwell, Sally Field, and Alan Alda are just a few of the Big Actors who have come through the ER with their various maladies. It's an incredibly predictable ratings stunt for ER every year. (And that's not including the other bits of stunt casting involving ER docs and nurses.) And then there are the romantic entanglements: in just half of this season, Dr. Kovacs has gone from being deeply involved with Nurse Sam (incidentally, the most irritating character on this show since Dr. Finch) to having a baby with Abby Lockhart, with whom he was already romantically involved several seasons back.

Has ER jumped the shark? For me, it most definitely has. (In fact, I think there have been two shark-jumping moments: the jaw-droppingly awful death of Dr. Romano, and the equally horrible resolution to the Reese Benton custody fight.) But does this mean that a show should go off the air while it's still fresh? Probably. I'm hard pressed to think of a single show that's lasted that long that hasn't become boring. ER? Yup. The X-Files? We just discussed that the other day on this blog. Happy Days? MASH? Yup. Even I have to admit that my beloved Friends stuck around a year or two too long, and Seinfeld couldn't have lived another minute, as far as I can see. Frasier suffered in its last couple of seasons, even though its last handful of episodes were wonderfully done. I suppose some would mention Law and Order as an exception, but I've never found L&O particularly compelling, and anyway, that show's relentless formula is a major reason it has stuck round this long. I'm actually glad that The West Wing is departing (and, in fact, I think that Aaron Sorkin's freshness itself started to slip in years three and four), and if Scrubs dies this year, I'll be fine with the brilliance we've had.

Thing is, though, ER doesn't have to be so ditch-dull. There are plenty of stories that can be told in hospitals. Grey's Anatomy is, frankly, a lot more fresh now than ER. And there will be hospital shows even after ER goes away. So why is ER dead in the water, at least for me? As I noted above: it's not just recycling story ideas, but it's recycling a tiny number of story ideas. It's relying on the same tricks, year in and year out. The soap opera stuff too often feels like flailing. And in an ensemble drama, so much depends on the characters -- of which there are few compelling examples now.

Taggin, taggin', taggin'....

Lynn tagged me with these questions, which are better questions than normal, so here goes. (Thank God she tagged me, actually, since I'm sitting here looking at a blank Blogger window thinking, "Geez, I got nothin' to say!")

1: Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?

I have no real answer to this. Casablanca is as unthinkable to me in color as Star Wars is in black-and-white.

2: What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?

I suppose I have to grant the possibility that many subjects I've found dull were simply being administered by boring teachers, but fact is, while I'm not proud of my lack of knowledge of economics, I'm not sufficiently shamed by my ignorance of it to rectify that by attempting any real study of the stuff.

3: MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium for prerecorded music?

I think that the CD is a friggin' miracle, and it pains me that the thing will probably be gone in a few years because we have this fetish for digitizing stuff. Give me a physical medium any day.

4: You are handed one first class trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going ... Ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?

Leave my family? Screw that. (And I already live in Buffalo, anyway.)

5: Seriously, what do you consider the world's most pressing issue now?

Global warming/climate change.

6: How would you rectify the world's most pressing issue?

I'd funnel money into developing non-fossil fuel energy technology. (And I would not rule out nuclear energy.)

7: You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?

I had the opportunity to interview at The Store over five years ago, but I turned it down because I had already accepted another job. I turned out to suck at that job. Oops.

8: You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?

So many obvious answers (like Lynn's, which I was about to put here until I saw that she'd used it already), so I would either go snarky and make the Florida election in 2000 come out the way everybody knows it really came out, or I'd put a bug in the ear of whatever person rejected Adolf Hitler's art-school application that he might want to reconsider.

9: A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole' Opry --Which do you choose?

Again, it depends: what's playing at each locale? It seems like a slam dunk for a classical music lover like myself to pick the opera, but if there's some early and boring Bellini opera versus, say, Willie Nelson, I'm going to the Opry.

10: What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you'd like to solve?

One? I can't decide between the two, so I'll cheat and name them both. I'd like to know who Jack the Ripper really was, and I'd like to know who, if anyone, was behind the fence on the grassy knoll.

11: One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?

The problem here is that I would almost certainly feel like an idiot in the presence of just about any author. John Scalzi could come over if he wants, but if he mentions his Amazon ranking, he's doing the dishes. Or Stephen King. I'd serve some kind of baked pasta dish, because I can't get enough of baked pasta dishes.

12: You discover that John Lennon was right, that there is no hell below us, and above us there is only sky -- what's the first immoral thing you might do to celebrate this fact?

Sorry. I just don't like the idea of morality being a function of one getting us into Heaven whilst the other gets us into Hell. I've never been convinced about God as moral guarantor. So...I wouldn't do anything specifically immoral, on purpose, because of this. (BTW, I think that "Imagine" may be the most overrated song in the entire history of human musical expression.)

I'm not tagging anyone. Just grab-and-go, folks.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Does anyone READ the man's speeches anymore?

President Bush today, speaking on the subject of energy:

"Roof makers will one day be able to make a solar roof that protects you from the elements and at the same time, powers your house," Bush said. "The vision is this — that technology will become so efficient that you'll become a little power generator in your home, and if you don't use the energy you generate you'll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid."


Just imagine the President's shock were he to learn that such technology existed on the roof of the very house in which he now resides -- before Saint Reagan had that technology removed twenty-five years ago.

Jee-bus.

Next, President Bush will discover that they have the Internet on computers now.

(via)

Funr with Flickr

I haven't tried any of these Flickr toys yet, but they look kind of fun. I'll save them for a rainy/snowy/windy/generically crappy day. (Which, since it's February in Buffalo, will probably be tomorrow.)

(via)

Sentential Links #38

Click for the context, folks:

:: The endgame to this pregnancy isn't playing out like the previous two, at all. (Man, this is making me nervous. This better end well, or The Guy Upstairs and I will be having a frank chat about things.)

:: It’s gorgeous. But they do need to put more ice in the Pina Coladas. And there’s this abhorrent concoction they make that involves beer, lime juice, and a salt rimmed glass. It tastes like sea water. (Ewwwww!)

:: I decided to show you all what a grumpy Jen(nifer) looks like. (Wow. I'm glad that I didn't meet that version at the Buffalo blogger meet-up!)

:: If the reports of Mr. Williams failing another drug test are indeed true, all of his teammates on the Miami Dolphins should publicly state their disappointment in him. (Screw the Dolphins. They welcomed this guy back with open arms when they were coming off a 3-13 season.)

:: Somehow this career as a privileged screw-up has won him a reputation as an authentic and self-made man.

:: If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee.

:: Do you have a dangerous idea? (Hmmmm. I'm sure I can come up with one, someday....)

:: One thing that strikes me as interesting about Akira--both versions--is that I don't see the future here. If anything, without the information revolution--personal computers, the Internet, text messaging, the works--Akira's future feels decidedly retro, like the Japan of the 1980s.

:: I really don’t know what to say, when I said a puppet government; people get angry and say it’s an elected government. Well, I apologize for using such a word "puppet" describing the Iraqi government; actually I should say a "prostitute's government" and the occupation are their pimps.

:: What makes me wonder is that these are actually federal laws which make it illegal for you to declare publically that you believe the holocaust never happened. I can count at least 5 other genocides in the past century that don’t get the same recognition; starting with Sabra and Shatilla, to Deir Yassin to Rwanda to Armenia. (These last two via Rambling Taoist.)

:: Sort of (but not exactly) stealing an idea from Byzantium's Shores... (Huh-whuh?! I call shenanigans!)

OK, all for now. Join us next week for...more clicking.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

More of a link to images than an image here, really, but in my long-standing adoration of the Astronomy Picture of the Day, I'd completely forgotten that there is also an Earth Science Picture of the Day.

Here's a pretty stunning sunset (click through to the large version; it's amazing). Lots of nifty science photography here, and just about all of it from the confines of our own planet. Go wander through their archives!

WTF?!

Remember what a horrible, horrible thing it was when President Carter agreed to turn the Panama Canal back over to Panama? I mean, judging by some of the things I've read about that deal over the years, you'd think that Carter had turned control of the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia to a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates.

But Carter didn't do that, of course -- George W. Bush did.

Oy.

A suggestion....

Over at this MeFi thread, on the topic of a proposal in Houston, TX to put video cameras all over the place in an effort to "help the cops do their jobs", there's a bit of discussion (woven in and amongst other discussions) on what kind of snappy response should be made to the "If you're doing nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide" canard. (As in, "Don't worry about having your civil liberties violated, because if you're behaving in a law-abiding manner, it won't matter.")

Well, my response would simply be this: "If I'm doing nothing wrong, then what I am doing is none of the Government's damned business."

Does that work?

Pie Thag o'Rus

I've seen mention here and there of an article by syndicated columnist Richard Cohen arguing that algebra just isn't a necessary subject. Lots of people are ganging up to describe the degree to which Cohen's "argument" is wrong-headed, of which I've linked the two best versions of that view that I've seen, so I'll leave it at that, at least on that score. I just have a couple of unrelated thoughts here:

:: You can always find someone, somewhere, who will insist that their life constitutes evidence that certain subjects should not be required ones in school. Lance notes the business majors who resent learning English Lit; I had to listen to music majors speaking angrily about the rudimentary Philosophy of Science class that was required of every person on campus; and so on. The problem with this is that sooner or later you get a "critical mass" of people who agree that a given subject just isn't that important, and then, bam! That subject becomes a mere "elective", and then its support erodes and erodes and erodes until it finds itself looking back wistfully on the days when it was a vibrant thing that everybody learned, even as the budget axe descends upon its funding and its teachers find themselves looking for scarce positions in richer districts. Art and music today, algebra tomorrow? Ugh.

:: As my readers surely know, I work in a grocery store, where among other things I clean bathrooms, sweep floors, and hang signs. But here's the thing about hanging signs: I don't just slap 'em up on the wall. I have to center them and make them look right, and that becomes more involved when there are multiple signs going up on a single wall. Then I start measuring things and dividing the length and height of the wall by the length and height of the signs and so on. That involves math, which in turn involves albegraic-type thinking. And yet I went to college to study first music, and then Philosophy. So whenever any student-type teeny-bopper makes the "I'm never gonna need to know this stuff" argument, my main response is, "Great, and while you've got your crystal ball out, tell me what next week's lottery numbers are."

(On a tangential note, this is why I always get angry when the scientifically ignorant scoff at the things that research scientists study. This is always framed as "Look what your tax dollars are supporting!" But if you read just two or three books on the history of science, you'll be astonished at the frequency with which something that somebody studied years, decades, or even centuries before turns out to be really useful information somehow, someday.)

:: As for Cohen: I'd just like to note how much it pisses me off when somebody stupid makes far more money in the course of being stupid than I do in the course of being smart. I'm very happy with what I'm doing, but it still galls me to see someone being very successful by virtue of giving Stupidity a big, sloppy, wet kiss.

End of rant.

Conductors: the last refuge of true sarcasm

Sarah has a brief but funny collection of quotes, some pithy and some not, from the conductor of the choir in which she sings. I've always been fascinated with conductors, and the best ones seem to offer the most wonderful quotes, none moreso, I think, than Sir Thomas Beecham. Here are some Beecham faves I've culled from the Interweb (just about all of which I've seen before in books). They're not all pithy and sarcastic, by the way.

A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it.

All the arts in America are a gigantic racket run by unscrupulous men for unhealthy women.

Composers should write tunes that chauffeurs and errand boys can whistle.

Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty. Magical music never leaves the memory.

I didn't know he'd been knighted. I knew he'd been doctored.

I have just been all round the world and have formed a very poor opinion of it.

Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands, and all you can do is scratch it! [spoken to a cellist]

Most of them sound like they live on seaweed.

Movie music is noise... even more painful than my sciatica. [Grrrrr!]

No operatic star has yet died soon enough for me.

The English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes.

There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn't give a damn what goes on in between.

Try everything once except folk dancing and incest.

If an opera cannot be played by an organ grinder, it's not going to achieve immortality.

If I were a dictator I should make it compulsory for every member of the population between the ages of four and eighty to listen to Mozart for at least a quarter of an hour daily for the coming five years.

The sound of the harpsichord resembles that of a bird-cage played with toasting-forks. [I have to admit: I've never much enjoyed listening to the harpsichord. Purism be damned; I'll take my Bach on a piano.]

Like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof. [Again referring to the harpsichord. Now I wouldn't go THIS far.]

They are quite hopeless – drooling, driveling, doleful, depressing, dropsical drips. [On the subject of music critics]

I think I trod in some the other day. [On being asked his opinion of Stockhausen]

As a violinist he has a certain defect: He can't play the violin. [I have no idea to whom this is in reference.]

We do not expect you to follow us all the time, but if you would have the goodness to keep up with us occasionally... [Addressing an orchestral musician whose attention span was not up to Sir Beecham's standard]

[An exchange with a Wagnerian tenor]
Sir Thomas: Have you ever made love?
The Tenor: Yes, Sir Thomas.
Sir Thomas: Do you consider yours a suitable way of making love to Eva?
The Tenor: Well, there are different ways of making love.
Sir Thomas: Observing your grave, deliberate motions, I was reminded of that estimable quadruped, the hedgehog.

Are you producing as much sound as possible from that quaint and antique drainage system you are applying to your face? [To a trombone player]

The English people are not educated enough to appreciate opera. They are the most commonplace, uncultured race in Europe.


I own several of Beecham's recordings. I adore my two-disc set of him conducting the music of Frederick Delius (music with which Beecham is said to have had a strong affinity), and I also love his version of Handel's Messiah, even though it's a recording that would probably cause second-degree burns on the fingers of a musical purist were they to accidently touch it. Beyond that, though, I'm only familiar with Beecham in passing, through hearing his recordings on the radio or occasionally borrowing one from the library. I should really investigate his Berlioz some day; as George Bernard Shaw once said, "Call no conductor sensitive in the highest degree to musical impressions until you have heard him in Berlioz and Mozart."

Coverage, schmoverage

Here's an earth-shaking revelation: I can't stand NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics.

These are hardly new complaints, of course. The coverage focuses almost exclusively on the American athletes, and pays as little attention as humanly possible to the athletes of other countries. Sports in which Americans have almost no hope of medaling are used as "filler" to occupy the airtime between those sports in which Americans do have a chance of medaling, and they can't ever broadcast the entirety of an event at once. For instance, in last night's short track speed skating 1000M event, NBC aired the semifinals and then cut away to bobsledding or something else for a while before finally returning for the short track final, which pitted American Apolo Anton Ohno against not one, but two, of his biggest rivals from South Korea.

Now, of course, they figure that with the results already being online and readily available well before airtime, people might tune in just to watch that event and switch off the other stuff, so NBC breaks up events so as to maximize the extent to which people are willing to sit around through other stuff waiting. This is annoying, of course, but I can understand the logic behind it.

But here's what really annoyed me last night. In the run-up to the afore-mentioned short track final, the NBC people -- Bob Costas, the guy who sits beside Bob Costas, the short track event announcers, everybody -- made the point of how big a deal short track speed skating is in Korea. Costas went so far as to say that the final, with two Korean skaters against their arch-nemesis Ohno, was for South Korea equivalent to the Super Bowl or the World Series, and pointing out that even though that final race took place at 6:00 a.m. Korean time, that whole country would be turned out to watch it unfold live.

OK, I get that. So here's my question: why didn't NBC bother to have footage of all those Koreans watching the race? That would have made for some compelling TV -- but all we got was Bob Costas sitting in a sterile-looking studio set.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oh my! This is classic weirdness, folks. Seriously. If weirdness were wine, this would be one of those French reds that James Bond can identify upon the tiniest taste. If weirdness were coffee, this would be that hyper-expensive Kona coffee. If weirdness were spice, this would be a pound of pure Spanish saffron. With the arrival of this item, which I find via Julia who's In Java, I think that the Interweb has finally come of age.

All together, now: "Mahna Mahna"!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Light posting ahead

Yeah, posting's been light already for the last few days, but it will become even lighter over the next few days. The Wife starts a week of much-needed vacation tomorrow (her last period away from work was precipitated by Little Quinn's passing), and we have a dear friend from college -- and the maid of honor at our wedding -- coming in for a visit this weekend. It's time to recharge the batteries a little bit. I'm not going on a full-fledged hiatus, but a slow-down for a short while. Before that, a few notes:

:: Little Quinn's autopsy report came in the mail yesterday. Without going into specifics, the cause of death was ruled as a natural consequence of his cerebral palsy and his long-standing respiratory issues. We already knew in our hearts that nothing we did brought about his death, but now we have the Iron Rule of Science saying so as well. So that's something. (But reading about the actual autopsy procedure itself was beyond creepy -- especially when I got to the part about the brain examination. That's all I'll say about that.)

:: I put up some new photos on Flickr -- some random stuff I had sitting around, plus some newer items involving the two new cats and a couple of shots of Little Quinn's grave. Link in the sidebar.

:: Watching the high weirdness surrounding the Dick Cheney shooting incident, in which the whole damn thing would have been over almost immediately if Cheney had made a public statement as soon as possible after it happened, I'm reminded of something Teresa Nielsen Hayden once said: "I deeply resent the way this Administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist."

:: The Indestrusctible Mr. Jones reports that Frank Miller will do a comic wherein Batman takes on Al-Qaeda. On the one hand, I think that idea is staggeringly goofy. On the other hand, I am supremely jealous of people like Miller and Stephen King and Orson Scott Card who get to the point where they can just write any damn thing they want to.

:: Last month when I attended a Buffalo Blogger meet-up, I got to hear Kevin and Val deliver the "short version" of their wedding story. Now, Kevin posts the tale in full. Go read; it's cool.

:: Do you have a website whose content you enjoy, but which annoys you because it is updated too infrequently? So it is with me and Lard Biscuit, whose site I found a few years back by Googling the phrase "I love The Phantom Menace". He does love TPM (and well he should!), and he's got some newer stuff. Of course, what I'm waiting for is his gigantic summation of Revenge of the Sith, but I'll make do with his "Year's Best" for 2005, the "Lardies", in which he makes a statement of brief criticism of RotS that I've actually come to share since I watched the film on DVD. I need to think about it some more.

:: This may be the earliest year I've picked my "horse" on American Idol: I'm pulling for Taylor Hicks, the gray-haired blues singer. In all honesty, I don't think he's got a chance, but you never know.

:: I meant to link this in Sentential Links a few weeks ago and forgot, so here it is now: I now present my Tripartite List of Abuses of PowerPoint That Drive Me to Homicidal Fury.. Nifty post; check it out (and make sure to check out the links he gives to some awful Web "design".

:: I am now prepared to declare Mankind's eternal search for the perfect snack food concluded, beyond all shadow of possible doubt. Behold.

OK, that's all for now, unless something really weird or amazing happens between now and Sunday.

Would Jabari Greer have a Johari Window?

I've seen this "Johari Window" thing mentioned on a few blogs, so I got one. I don't understand what it does, really, but you can see it here, or choose adjectives here. Or something like that. Judging by my complete lack of knowledge on this matter, I think my trend toward lemming-like tendencies is becoming clear....

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

ROWR!

I'm sure the pace will drop off fairly soon, but for now, let's keep the pedal to the metal! Here's another Realization Of Womanly Radiance (ROWR!), Sarah Chalke from Scrubs.



Her hairstyle tends to vacillate a lot on the show; right now she has this shorter bob thing. But it still looks fine -- and Chalke's sense of comic timing is always part of what makes the show so good, especially when she so often has to act out the really weird stuff in John Dorian's fantasy sequences.

Here's how she looks in 'real' life, all dolled-up for some awards ceremony:



(BTW, is anybody else having trouble lately with Blogger's photo-loading thing?)

I get to use a favorite quip!

"FOX. They should spell it with a 'U'." --John Lovitz, appearing on Letterman within days of his show, The Critic, being cancelled.

The occasion here is that Aaron apparently liked Arrested Development a good deal, but he somehow completely managed to miss FOX's airing of all four final episodes on a single night. Now, I know that a lot of the citizens of the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan are AD fans, so if any of you have those episodes on tape and are willing to help out one of your own (albeit one who lives in Minneapolis), go give him a hand, wouldja?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fight The Future

In comments to yesterday's Sentential Links, Jayme takes issue with my opinion on when The X-Files started to make an airborn maneuver over shark-infested waters. Here's what I said:

The X-Files felt, to me, like its mytharc was heading in a single direction for most of the show's run; it didn't lose steam, for me, until the fate of Fox Mulder's sister was finally revealed in Season Seven, two years before the show ended. That was a mistake, since Mulder's search for his sister had been the underlying personal reason for his quest; after that, things really seemed to deflate. [It should be noted that the individual episode in which Mulder found his sister was one of the most moving of the entire series.] TXF did go on longer than it should have, and like all such things, it started taking on the tone of being made up as it was going along. But it wasn't that way for the majority of its run.


And here's Jayme's comment:

Oh no no no no NO! Mulder's sister episode was the one that got me to stop X-Files, cold turkey. It was NOT the most moving, unless you count throwing things at the screen moving. It so grossly contradicted so much established series continuity that I felt physically betrayed and violated by Chris Carter--not only was he making it up as he went along, he just didn't care. Look, if he were going to go with a non-alien abduction resolution to Samantha's disappearance, then that creepy child abductor/murderer from season 4? Season 5? That would've been the way to go. THAT was a chilling episode. But really, "She's in a better place"? Seven years of buildup for "She's in a better place"? Gimme a freakin' break.

As far as jumping the shark goes, X-Files did it when they wiped out the entire conspiracy at the end of season... 5 was it? Then the beginning of the following season the conspiracy picked right up where it left off, even though everyone "In the know" was supposedly dead (everyone--aside from Cancer Man--might not have been killed, but they never even tried to establish this). Bad, sloppy, careless writing.

And don't even get me started on the loose thread of Mulder's being infected with the black oil. Chris Carter promised in interview after interview that it would be revisited and have a "profound impact" on the series. Then he promptly forgot all about it. Sheesh.

Yeah, I love me some X-Files, but I hates me some X-Files in equal measure.


It seems that we're both in agreement, in a way: we both agree that the resolution to Mulder's quest for the truth about his sister was mishandled. I just happen to think that its mishandling happened in an otherwise decent episode, while Jayme...doesn't. Fair enough.

I don't much agree with the rest of his complaints, though. I found the execution of the entire Syndicate, minus the CSM (who was most definitely shown escaping, as though he'd known beforehand what was about to happen), an inspired plot development. (It was toward the end of Season Six, by the way.) The "Conspiracy" didn't just pick up and keep going; it -- or what was left of it -- had to suddenly retool and reconfigure. This thrust Krycek into the forefront, and made the CSM more of an outlaw (remember, he'd been an actual government official in the pilot, so his descent is quite the journey). I enjoyed seeing "the conspiracy" itself reduced to "making it up as it went along", and as the series went on, it became the mysterious aliens who were setting the agenda, not "the conspiracy". I liked that.

As for Mulder's being infected with the Black Oil, I assume Jayme is referring to the two-part episode "Tunguska/Terma", in which Mulder is subjected to forced infection in a series of experiments by Russians who are attempting to create a vaccine to the black oil. I always assumed that the vaccine was successful, thus keeping Mulder from being "taken" by the Black Oil (which also explains the existence of the vaccine two years later, when Scully is infected in the TXF movie, as well as another plotline later on when Marita Covarrubias is subjected to experiments designed to refine the vaccine). I've seen fan speculation that the presence of the vaccine in Mulder's and Scully's blood somehow alters their DNA such that Scully's baby, born in Season Eight, is a very special baby indeed.

Here's a really good summation of the TXF mytharc. What's neat is that it all works, as far as I can tell, but quite a bit of it is the result of reading between the lines. TXF would have suffered greatly, I think, if the show had ever just stopped to give lots of answers. The answers were always suggested, never stated outright, and as that summation shows, there was more than enough info given to piece things together.

Now, did Chris Carter and his cohorts at Ten Thirteen Productions plan all this from the get-go? Undoubtedly not -- but really, who cares? TXF was always about the journey, anyway.

What ever happened to Lyman, anyway?

I used to find Garfield really funny, but that was quite a few years ago. Now it's amusing once in a while, but generally it's the Wonder Bread of comic strips: not awful, but just kind of there. I keep reading it because, well, what am I gonna do with that sixteen seconds of my life, anyway? Read Day By Day? Not on your life!

But it turns out that Garfield actually could be funny again -- even hilarious. How? Go here to find out. (Then read this wonderful essay about what's going on here, and then surf around the website where the essay resides for lots more comics goodness.)

(Garfield link via Sarah)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Where's Dan Kaffee when you need him?

Remember this exchange from an early scene of A Few Good Men?

SPRADLING (some lawyer): I'm gonna charge him with possession and being under the influence while on duty. Plead guilty and I'll recommend 30 days in the brig with loss of rank and pay.

KAFFEE (the Tom Cruise character): It was oregano, Dave, it was ten dollars worth of oregano.

SPRADLING: Yeah, well your client thought it was marijuana.

KAFFEE: My client's a moron, that's not against the law.

...

SPRADLING: I've got people to answer to just like you, I'm gonna charge him.

KAFFEE: With what, possession of a condiment?


Of course, Aaron Sorkin wrote that nearly fifteen years ago; otherwise, Kaffee's client here could apparently be charged with possession of a look-alike drug.

Go read that. You won't believe your eyes. Apparently it is now a crime to possess something that bears a resemblance to a drug. Are we going freaking insane as a country, or what?

(via Craig)

Good old Shosty

The US pairs figure skating team of Inoue and Baldwin didn't come anywhere near to winning a medal, which is no surprise, since the US is basically the Chicago Cubs when it comes to pairs skating. I mean, we're not even competitive in Pairs.

But it was really cool that this duo performed their long program to music of Dimitri Shostakovich, who "celebrates" his 100th birthday this year. ("Celebrates" is in quotes because, well, Shostakovich is dead.)

Sentential Links #37

This week's items shorn of their context, for which you must click:

:: Top Ten new slogans to replace Verizon's "Making Progress Everyday": (OK, that's not even a sentence. Oh well. Still a funny post.)

:: The one good thing about getting the cops called on you -- and it's happened to me dozens of times, including the very last time I was out observing -- is that you can show them exactly what you're doing, and they'll not only understand but enjoy the experience.

:: I was thrilled to watch Shaun White win his first gold medal in the half-pipe at the age of 19 last night. (I watched this too, and I dig this guy for the same reason Mr. Jones does. I also got a kick out of that speed skater from Texas, "The Exception", who'd never even speed-skated until just three years ago.)

:: If it doesn’t involve a clock, a ball or puck, or a firearm I find it hard to take it seriously. Don’t the people who follow figure skating already know who is going to win assuming nobody falls? All right then, let’s leave this one to the soccer moms and the wussy husbands who don’t have the balls to turn the channel and move on. (Crikey -- I'm a wuss! Ben, why didn't you tell me! Obi Wan, there's no place like home!)

:: If you really, really want to use some catchy acronym let me give you one to make your own. For you, I’m thinking “ISH” (“I’m Super Hot”), “IRWRN” (“I’m Really Wet Right Now”), or “ILAMNITM” (“I’m Looking At Myself Naked In The Mirror”). It would be even better if your entire post was actually just those three things strung together, as in; ILAMNITM and IRWRN because ISH. If you included pictures of you and your sister it would be even hotter. (Yeah, two "Sentential Links" to the same blog. But this blog has two bloggers, and the links are to posts written by each, and this post had me ROTFLMAO*.)

:: Not every science fiction show needs to be as precisely plotted as was Babylon 5, with not just the basic show mythology and long term plot planned in advance but also the major plot arcs of every character. And, even an elaborately plotted show is going to have some "filler episodes" which do little or nothing to advance the plot. However the opposite approach means that you end up with a show like the X-files which they really did just make everything up as they went along. (I gotta disagree here. The X-Files felt, to me, like its mytharc was heading in a single direction for most of the show's run; it didn't lose steam, for me, until the fate of Fox Mulder's sister was finally revealed in Season Seven, two years before the show ended. That was a mistake, since Mulder's search for his sister had been the underlying personal reason for his quest; after that, things really seemed to deflate. [It should be noted that the individual episode in which Mulder found his sister was one of the most moving of the entire series.] TXF did go on longer than it should have, and like all such things, it started taking on the tone of being made up as it was going along. But it wasn't that way for the majority of its run.)

:: I live in the part of New York city that's very warm - right over Grand Central station among all the downtown buildings. It sort of feels like the city's internal organs... so warm in their metabolism that they are melting off a lot of the snow. (What a great metaphor!)

:: Say what you will about the Space Shuttle, it was never brought down by a software failure.

:: It's such a crushing blow when the body doesn't DO what it's supposedly DESIGNED to do. It's like a cosmic joke on me.

:: Huh???? All this common sense tough love and then this kind of crap???? I didn't even BOTHER reading anymore. The end. (Jennifer's putting herself through the hell of reading self-help romance books, "so you don't have to". Talk about doing yeoman duty -- wow!)

OK, that's all for this week. Enjoy them all!

* I promise to never use this acronym again on this blog.

Kid-lit

Swiping a meme-thing from Mental Multivitamin:

Name three favorite children's series.

1. The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. My first encounter with multi-volume epic fantasy. I still re-read this series every four or five years -- and heck, I think I'm due. Come to think of it, 2006 marks twenty-five years since I first read The Book of Three, which was -- as were many books I read as a kid -- given me to read by my mother when I did something naughty enough to warrant having my TV priveleges revoked for a time. She knew what she was doing, too:

MOM: Did you like The Book of Three?

ME: It was great!

MOM: So you want to read the second book?

ME: There's a second book?

MOM: There are five, actually. Plus a few short stories and illustrated books.

ME: Whoa!

2. The "Lewis Barnavelt", "Johnny Dixon", and "Anthony Monday" books by John Bellairs.

I'm lumping these together because they're all kind of similar, although they're all distinct as well. Each features a young kid who isn't terribly athletic and doesn't fit in very well (yeah, I could relate) who forms a friendship with a kind and caring adult just before they go into adventures against supernatural-type stuff. Some of Bellairs's earlier books get pretty creepy, and The Letter, the Witch and the Ring is downright unnerving.

3. The Encyclopedia Brown books. You know, maybe it was my love of these that kept me from hating Wesley Crusher as much as everybody else did on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

(I'd also like to mention the Choose Your Own Adventure books, which were just the coolest damn thing in fourth grade. I remember how all of my classmates were united in their opinion that Space and Beyond, the fourth book, was shit. That was pretty funny. And once in a while I still go on Google to see if anyone ever figured out how to get to Planet Ultima in Inside UFO 54-50. These weren't a "series" in the sense of using the same characters or telling one story, but they were a lot of fun for a while.)

Name three favorite non-series children's books.

Hmmmm. Thinking back, a lot of the stuff I remember was from a series. Odd. Anyway:

1. Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry. For "One person at sea" stories, I've always preferred this to The Old Man and the Sea.

2. Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes. I should really re-read this book! It was a school assignment, as I recall, and I found it wonderful.

3. Danny, the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. I re-read this one every few years, too. Why this hasn't been made into a wonderful movie is beyond me. (I seem to recall there was a BBC production of some sort, but that doesn't count.) This book packs more sheer delight into its brief length than just about any other book I know.

(And there's one book that my mother had me read that I remember adoring, but I can't remember the title for the life of me. It involved a young girl who goes to spend a summer in a very old mansion, maybe Civil War era, and she begins investigating some kind of mystery regarding the house with the help of her young boy relative, who may or may not have been a cousin or something. Does this ring a bell with anyone?)

Name three favorite children's book characters.

1. Professor Roderick P. Childermass (from John Bellairs's "Johnny Dixon" books). Childermass is your stereotypical cranky professor of literature, who suffers fools with about as much verve as Indiana Jones suffers snakes. Still, underneath his crank exterior is real warmth and strength. He's extremely memorable.

2. Prince Rhun (from The Prydain Chronicles). A bumbling nitwit who later found his reserves of internal strength.

3. Templeton, from Charlotte's Web. In a way, the Gollum character here, whose actions of self-interest nevertheless end up "having some part to play".

Sensawunda

When it comes to science fiction, I have a tough time finding things to read because while I tend to like large-scale epics involving wars spanning galaxies and lots of alien races and ancient artifacts and the like (gee, if only they'd make a set of movies on a milieu like that!), I don't much like what's become "Military SF", and it's hard sometimes to figure out what's "Big-Ass Space Opera" and what's "Military SF".

Actually, this isn't even totally fair: I've read some Mil-SF that I've liked a bit, some that I've liked a good deal, and some that I thought was total crap. The crap stuff always strikes me as "war-porn", where we're into violence for the sake of violence, where the battles stretch on for scores of pages, where the action takes major precedence over anything resembling "issues" (or where the "issues" are swept aside by simply posing a "them or us" scenario, where "them" is typically some kind of alien race that subsists by killing all in their way).

It's not totally impossible to tell the "neat Mil-SF" from the "war-porn". Baen Books, for example, makes it fairly easy. If the cover depicts a ship captain standing on the bridge of a starship, jaw thrust out in confidence as explosions flare outside the windows and tactical screens depict the proximity of enemy vessels, that book's probably straight Mil-SF. However, if the book depicts some soldier standing on a rocky planetscape garbed in a giant metal suit that gleams with more chrome than you'd find on the hood of a dozen 1950s-era Fords and he's toting a raygun-like weapon that's roughly the size of a cannon on one of Cortez's ships, well, there's your war-porn.

Which brings me to John Scalzi's Old Man's War, which I read last week.

(Actually, that line of argument up there doesn't really bring me to Old Man's War at all. I'm just making a hasty transition.)

OMW is definitely Mil-SF, because it is set almost entirely in and around a military concern. But it's not war-porn, because it most definitely describes war as a capricious, violent, and often senseless process. And it's really quite good: a breezy, fast-paced and fairly easy read that nevertheless contains some of that "idea" stuff that sticks with you a bit afterwards.

The story is basically that a man named John Perry turns 75 and joins the Colonial Defense Forces, an interstellar military that only recruits the elderly. (Their reasons for this are explained in the book.) Perry undergoes lots of military training, has some "body modification" done (that's all I'll say about that, to keep one of the book's niftier passages as surprising as possible), and then he's off to war.

Funny thing is, the CDF isn't involved in any single, longstanding war; it's involved in many wars at once, against many alien species that are competing with humans for habitable planets. This device allows Scalzi to not get bogged down in having all the battles seem the same, and it also allows him to give his military recruits some very creative deaths (Thomas's death was particularly nasty).

Toward the end, a bit of plot emerges from the novel, as one alien race develops an advantage that by rights it shouldn't have, and as John Perry meets someone who may or may not be his dead wife. I found this last story thread to be the least convincing element in the book, but it's not that unconvincing. And I did have some lingering questions about Scalzi's universe, which may or may not be answered, I suppose, in future novels placed in the same setting (the first of which, The Ghost Brigades, is coming out real soon): how is it that Earth just sits there, peaceful as can be? If there are that many alien races cavorting around for the same planets we are, why haven't they pounded Earth yet? How is it that Earth seems to have at least some of the same geopolitics then as it does now (so much so that one of the book's recruits is a former Democratic US Senator)? And does the CDF answer to anyone at all? Who is in charge of all this?

(I should also note that one sequence, involving a drill sergeant, reminded me of the army training of Forrest Gump, and of a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Phil Hartman played a drill sergeant who had a unique way of speaking -- "I will be like everyone to you! It will seem like all the people who are normally around you are me!" But then, that's not Scalzi's fault; I suspect that for the rest of my life every drill sergeant scene I ever encounter will remind me of those things.)

Old Man's War is one of the more entertaining reads I've had lately, and I recommend it on that basis alone -- but it really seems to be scratching a more complex surface. I hope we get more than The Ghost Brigades and whatever the third novel in this universe is going to be.

(And as per Mr. Scalzi's instructions on his own blog, I did not read the excerpt of TGB that's printed at the back of the OMW trade paperback. Apparently that passage spoils a plot point that Mr. Scalzi would rather not be spoiled.)

(Oh, and by the way, I give Scalzi thirteen bucks of my money to buy his book, and Sprint just ups and gives him their nifty new cellphone thingamabob. I call shenanigans! Looks like it's the public library for the rest of my Scalzi reading, since he obviously doesn't need my thirteen bucks. I coulda bought a pizza with that....)