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

Monday, July 31, 2006

On Mel

I have to note that I don't feel a great deal of sympathy for Mel Gibson after his drunken tirade. I'm glad he apologized, but I hope he's smart enough to realize that this apology really isn't enough. On another message board, I saw someone claim that he isn't an anti-Semite because "I've seen what booze can do", but I have never yet seen booze make someone believe something they don't really believe deep down. That is what booze can do. The beliefs that Gibson is willing to openly admit to holding tend to be pretty odious in themselves, so I have no doubt that the ones he'll only let out when falling-down drunk are really foul.

That said, I'm not going to boycott Gibson's work as a filmmaker or an actor. I just don't see the point. (Of course, I'm the guy who last week noted that I won't be reading Orson Scott Card any time soon in part because his views bug me. I'm a puzzle.)

So, anyway, Mel Gibson's a lunatic and if he makes good movies I'll see them anyway. It just occurs to me that maybe in the first Lethal Weapon movie, when Martin Riggs is really a screwed-up guy, that psycho gleam in Gibson's eyes might not have totally been "acting".

Sentential Links #59

It's that time again. I'm doing something new this time out: none of the blogs linked below have ever been linked by me before. In fact, few of them have ever been seen by me before. I'm just doing some Googling and linking, in an effort to shake things up a little. Some of this will be exceedingly weird; some of it will be perfectly normal. And you won't know until you click which are the weird ones! Ha!

:: THE PLANES USED IN THE ATTACKS ON THE TWIN TOWERS WERE PILOTED BY REMOTE CONTROL. (Well, you can probably tell whether this one's weird or not without clicking through. But it's pretty trippy, anyway.)

:: Second week of my wild foods class...learning about all the edible weeds growing around is like meeting new friends.

:: I should say something pithy: hmmm. Maybe do a "what I learned" rant or something. Well, what I learned: some people in the field of UFO studies are idiots.

:: We listened as speakers at Penn State were shouting their opposition to a war in Iraq, but what they failed to understand is that this is the most important area of the world right now. The Controllers - architects for the New World Order - have pinpointed the Middle East and Eurasia as the most valuable real estate on the globe because of its oil and raw materials. If the United States doesn't take this land - or, should we say the "Controllers" - somebody else IS going to. It won't sit there forever unclaimed. (There's probably niftier stuff in there, but this blog's color scheme is very hard on the eyes.)

:: And when I drive back into San Francisco from the airport, it will no longer be the city I share with Trousers. It'll be a different place, minus one absolutely unique, amazing, precious person and a little bloody chunk of my heart. (Not safe for work.)

:: That’s what I love about David Gemmell; you’ll never see a hero like Aragorn, only Boromir. You’ll never read of King Peter, only Edmund. And that’s exactly what real life is: deeply flawed people sometimes rising to the heroic. (David Gemmell died the other day. I've never read him. I will make a point of doing so.)

:: I know those who hail from the Northern Hemisphere are melting in a heatwave, but down South, things are rather cool and grey. Very dull.

All for this week. Remember, I've never read a one of these before, and I didn't "vet" them by digging into their archives either, so your mileage may vary!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Can I have a green ray instead?

I've been observing the introduction of HD-DVD and Blu-ray with some befuddlement, because I just can't convince myself that a new format is needed. Of course, I'm not a technodweeb kind of guy: as I noted recently, I have the same Sony Discman I've been using for over a decade, and I still have the same shelf stereo that I've been using for a year less than the Discman. I didn't get a DVD player until 2003. I'm not afraid of technology, but I never get this sense of urgency about it.

Anyway, here's an interesting article about HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Its tone is very skeptical.

Another Answer....

Here's a quick answer to another question from Ask Me Anything!:

How did you and The Wife meet?

We were in the band together in college. She played the oboe; I played the trumpet. It's not like we sat next to each other in the band or anything, but I didn't "meet" her in the sense of thinking, "Hmmmm, I should ask her out" until halfway through my sophomore year. We were both good friends with a third party, who went with my roommate and I to the local bar to celebrate his birthday that year. (This was February 1991.) The Future Wife came along for the ride. After a few hours of drinks and bar food, everyone else went to the dance floor. Not being a dance floor type, I stayed at the table to continue my assault on a pitcher of Bud Light. And the Future Wife stayed as well, to my surprise.

A few days later, I asked her out. Our first date was to go see Edward Scissorhands. We talked a bit beforehand, liked the movie, talked a bit afterward, went on our way. We didn't hold hands or kiss or anything like that. I wanted there to be a second date, but I wasn't sure she felt the same way. Turned out she did; another mutual friend (later the Maid of Honor at our wedding) told me so. We somehow ended up hanging out together the next night. And the night after. And the night after that.

Other stuff about our early relationship? Let's see -- she turned 21 just a few days after we started dating, so I had a steady source of alcohol until I turned 21 myself a year and a half later. When she met me, she had never seen a single Star Wars movie. Having grown up in a family of farmers (though she didn't grow up on an actual farm, I think), she knew a lot of stuff that I had no idea whatsoever about, and she used to derive great amusement from my inability to distinguish chickens from turkeys. (I got better.) She drove herself to New York to spend a week with me that subsequent summer. When we'd been dating about a year and a half, I bought her her first pair of overalls. (God, she looked cute that night.) She stayed in Iowa when I graduated, while I moved home. We were apart for nine months. That sucked. She moved to New York in 1994, with the help of myself and my parents in getting her stuff out of Iowa. We continued to date. And date. And date. Many nights spent at a bar called the Bird Cage, drinking and eating chicken wings. In 1996 -- I can't remember the date -- she proposed to me, but in my defense, had JCPenney actually had the damn ring in the right size the day before instead of having to special order it which took an extra two weeks, I would have proposed to her. When I went to pick up the ring, somehow JCPenney misplaced the paperwork, and some poor clerk spent his entire lunch hour looking for it. And I've just now realized that I never wrote a letter to thank the guy. Shit.

Anyway, that's how we started dating. I'm not sure when, or even if, we actually "met". Do we ever actually remember meeting the most important people in our lives?

Beat your children! It's legal!

That was the solicitation shouted out, in an overly-thick British accent, by the attendant at the pillow-fight game at the Sterling Renaissance Festival yesterday. I'm happy to report that on balance, a wonderful time was had by all, even though our day at the Festival was cut short by a persistent rain that set in about 5:00 pm. We stuck around for the 6:00 joust, watching from beneath the eaves of the waxworker's shop, although we passed on dinner at the Festival. Life affords fewer finer pleasures than sitting in the grass as the sun dips behind the hills and dining on street food prepared "Renaissance style" while guys in armor on horseback tilt at one another on the field before you, but the sad fact is that street food stinks in the rain. Oh well. We arrived at the Festival shortly before 11:00 am, so we had a good seven hours there. Good for us. Next year, we hope to go in costume. I'll try to have pictures up sometime next week, after the film gets back.

Random thoughts on our day at the Festival and our drive there and back again (now, what does that remind me of?):

:: We drove most of the way to the Festival on the New York State Thruway. We drove back on regular, toll-free roads. I like the toll-free roads better.

:: I have to note that driving through towns in Upstate NY gets more and more depressing every year. Every town has a "business district" that consists of a bunch of empty buildings. It's really pretty sad. I was especially saddened to note that, on our drive home, we found ourselves at the very foot of Irondequoit Bay. There's a building there that once housed a restaurant, but now houses nothing. That restaurant would have had one of the most gorgeous views in New York State, and it's closed. So here in New York we've managed to create a business climate that actually refutes the longstanding notion that "location is everything".

:: If you're going to go to a Renaissance Festival in costume, great! But you gotta make some effort, folks. No, you don't have to go all-out super-elaborate, like the guy in the full-bore Knights Templar armor, but you do have to not spoil the illusion. That means being in costume from head to toe. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and then throwing a velvet cape on over the top of this, doesn't cut it.

:: And I would be remiss if I didn't admit that I've rarely wanted to punch a complete stranger more than the two doofuses who showed up to a Renaissance Faire dressed as Superman and Spiderman.

:: God sure likes to send mixed messages, doesn't he? He gives us this faulty, violent world -- and he also gives us Renaissance Festivals frequented by busty young women in corsets.

:: OK, folks, I know that it's one of the greatest examples of the comedic art, in any form. I know that it's absolutely hilarious and magnificent, and I know that the temptation to quote from it can be hard enough to resist in real life*, much less in a setting like a Renaissance Festival, when that temptation can become overwhelming. I get it, folks.

So it's with nothing but love and heartfelt concern that I inform you that walking around shouting quotes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail like "I'm bein' repressed!" and "Ni!" is the Renaissance Festival equivalent of shouting "Freebird!" at a rock concert. Don't do this, folks. Wandering through a Renaissance Festival with your friends, pretending to debate the airspeed of an unladen swallow, is just shooting fish in a barrel. Don't do it.

* A litmus test I sometimes use at The Store is, when I'm pushing around this big gray cart that I use to collect full trash bags from our trash cans, to intone "Bring out your dead!" If you laugh, you're golden.

:: I didn't buy as much stuff as I'd kind of hoped. Much, if not all, of the merchandise is hand-made, and is all very beautiful. I'd love to own a pewter tankard from which I'd quaff my ales, but I can't yet justify $75 for such a thing. I was planning to get back to one earthenware maker's shop whose wares I'd liked the look of the first time through, but the rain at the end of the day pretty much put that thought out of my mind. Oh well. There's always next year. I did buy The Wife a stoneware mug for coffee, and The Daughter got a princess hat and a woven pouch to wear around her neck and a couple other trinkets. I bought a few notecards from this artist. This is what I love most about the Renaissance Festival scene: in a world where everybody's buying the same mass-produced stuff at Target and Wal-Mart, what a fine pleasure it is to buy something that someone made, and to hand my money for the item to the person who made it.

:: If you want to see grace, craftsmanship, and artistry on display all at one time, find a master glassblower and watch him or her in action. It's truly amazing. Would that I had been able to afford his wares!

And so ended our day at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. Folks, I can't recommend this event highly enough, if you have any kind of Romance in you at all. Maybe we can even make it a BloggerCon next year! (OK, that was a goofy thought. But still, it's a wonderful place to go.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

OK, I think that the Snakes on a Plane hype fever may have now jumped the shark. I know that it's gonna be a camp classic and all, but who on Earth is going to buy this? Oy!

(A non-reader friend e-mailed me this one.)

Ahhh....time for some restful blogging....

It's been a few days since I posted something, mainly because it's been a very busy few days here at Casa Jaquandor Jaquandor's Cafe Americain Moe's Tavern. Friday was a very busy day at The Store (it kind of harshes the bakery department's mellow when their oven door breaks halfway through the morning baking), followed by lots of preparations for a busy weekend. Yesterday was the Sterling Renaissance Festival (more on that a bit later), which involved lots of driving and getting caught in the rain. Today was church, followed by a quick round of grocery shopping, followed by a return to the church for the church picnic. Then there were two loads of laundry, dinner for The Daughter, and falling asleep on the floor for about twenty minutes. Now it's 8:00 p.m. and I'm blogging for the first time since whenever the last time I blogged was.

So, in short, why yes, I would like some cheese with my whine.

I'll now be back to my regularly scheduled irregular posting in this space. In fact, I may be posting more through the first three days of this week, since we're on the cusp of a series of days on which the high temperatures are forecasted to be such that I may well work up some heat exhaustion just from the exertion of applying my right foot to the gas pedal for the drive into work.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Five Things

I'm stealing this from Paul. It's just "five things..."

...in my refrigerator.

1. Strawberries.
2. Blueberries.
3. A 2.5 gallon jug of spring water, the kind with the spigot.
4. Several bottles of Yuengling's.
5. A very old bottle of huckleberry syrup -- wonder if that stuff's still any good!

...in my closet.

1. All of my uniform shirts from The Store.
2. All of my overalls.
3. All of my tie-dyed stuff.
4. A number of pairs of shoes.
5. My telescope. Gotta get it out again one of these years.

...in my purse.

Errr...let's change that one, actually:

...in my toolbox.

1. A set of Klein screwdrivers and nut drivers.
2. A carpenter's square.
3. A whole bunch of drill bits, including four different size countersink bits, five sizes masonry bits, four sizes of glass/ceramic tile bits, and a whole bunch of different size driver heads for my quick-change system.
4. A small Mag-light flashlight.
5. A bunch of pairs of pliers.

...in my vehicle.

1. Two boxes of books for the next library book sale.
2. About thirty granola bar wrappers. (I eat them on the way to work in the morning, stuff them in a plastic grocery bag when I'm done, and toss the bag when it's full.)
3. A spare tire.
4. The ribbon from a birthday gift a friend gave me.
5. A couple of empty water bottles.

I guess I might as well add a few more categories:

...on my desk.

1. Three different candle-holders that use tealights.
2. Two cups full of pens: one holds fountain pens, the other ballpoints, rollerballs, Sharpies, and highlighters.
3. Two die-cast Millennium Falcons. Yup, I have two of 'em now. Wanna make something of it?
4. A box of 3.5 inch floppy disks. Wonder if there's still anything important on those....
5. My eleven-year-old Sony Discman. Paid $200 for it back in 1995; still going strong. Yeah, the same player would cost about $40 today, but so what? It still works.

...on my walls.

1. A Phantom Menace poster.
2. A map of the world from National Geographic.
3. A Casablanca poster.
4. A Celtic wall-hanging.
5. A wooden shelf laden with knick-knacks.

...on my bookshelves (other than books).

1. Three chess sets: a Mayan set that I got at the Fair last year, an Isle of Lewis set The Wife bought me years ago, and a set that my sister bought for me also years ago. Can't wait until The Daughter learns chess.
2. A clone-trooper action figure, posed standing with a tripod-mounted blaster rifle.
3. An early manuscript of The Promised King, written before I realized that a hundred-page infodump wasn't a good thing.
4. A fake gargoyle.
5. A multicolored candle that was also a gift from a friend. I probably won't burn it because it's a memento.

...in my head.

1. "God, our President is a pinhead."
2. "Two days to training camp! Woo-hoo!"
3. "Two days to training camp. Man, are they gonna suck...."
4. "I could go for some pie."
5. "The mist of May is in the gloamin',
There's lazy music in the rill;
So take my hand and let's go roamin'
Through the heather on the hill!"

...I want to do in the next few years.

1. Learn carpentry.
2. Read as much space opera as possible.
3. Finish The Promised King.
4. Attend the Sterling Renaissance Festival in costume. (We're going this weekend, in boring modern wear.)
5. Read. Think. Learn. (Thanks, M-Mv!)

Ranting about the TeeVee

I'm on record as being a hopeless addict of American Idol. Having stipulated my hopeless love of that show, I have to note that I'm getting sick of the idea that every damn reality show now has to be a competition of some sort.

I'm getting a big kick this summer of watching all of the acts on America's Got Talent, from the somewhat normal (acrobats) to the bizarre (a guy who balanced a running lawnmower on his chin and then had assistants toss heads of lettuce into it). But the "competition" aspect of the show is utterly annoying.

I could not conceivably care one whit less what David F***ing Hasselhoff thinks of jugglers, nor could I possibly be less interested in what some woman named "Brandy" thinks of a ventriloquist, and I absolutely could live my whole life without knowing what some pompous-assed Brit named "Piers" thinks the problem is with the act he's just watched.

So you know what, TV networks? How about just bringing back the good old variety show, and tell these celebrity judges to get bent and just go back to wherever it is they came from so they can keep living off the residuals from Knight Rider and Baywatch? Let's just have Regis introducing whacky, fun acts for an hour. Maybe have the audience vote on a favorite each week, and give that favorite act some kind of small prize, like a thousand bucks or something. Lots of folks in this world will happily develop their mad unicycling skills or whatever for a shot at a thousand bucks and five minutes of TV time.

(Oh, and Piers? The problem I have with you is that you think the fact that your accent makes it sound like you know what you're talking about actually means that you know what you're talking about. Wanker.)

UPDATE: OK, here's an example of how full of shit this Piers guy is. The way the show works, at this point, is that fifteen acts are sitting in the audience, waiting to see if they are called to the stage to perform in one of ten slots. So, five acts never make it to the stage, and they don't know their fate until the last act is called. OK? So the very last act on tonight's show is a group of people who do an intricate dance routine on stilts, with lots of very athletic activity. And in the course of doing their performance, one of them fell and then had to get back up and recover.

So in his comments, Piers the Twit Who Thinks He Knows WTF He Is Talking About pronouces that the act is unworthy, because "at this level in the competition, if you fall in your act, you don't deserve to move on".

One of the troupe's members, though, points out what should be really obvious: their stilt-dancing act is a highly athletic one, and athletic acts would never sit still in their chairs for two-plus hours before performing with no notice at all. Before any performance, an athletic performer will be warming up, stretching, and getting ready. Hell, it isn't even any athletic performance -- all performers have to warm up and get ready to be on stage. Does Piers imagine that NFL players arrive at the stadium at 12:45 p.m. for a 1:00 game, toss on their pads, and run out onto the field? or that the musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic just toss on their tuxes or gowns at 7:30 for an 8:00 concert, walk out onstage, and put their bows to the strings or their lips to their instruments only on the conductor's first downbeat of the performance?

Piers is the worst kind of idiot: a guy who makes his idiocy sound reasonable by virtue of good diction and a British accent. Wanker.

Circumventing the Link-Blocking

Ahhh, I see that Glenn Greenwald has attained the position of being a sufficient nuisance to right-wing blogs that the more odious of them are doing the good old "linkage blocking" trick. In this case, Greenwald wades into the cesspool that is Little Green Footballs, and apparently has his link redirected. Well, as I posted last September, there's a simple enough way around that, if liberal bloggers really want to link something in the fetid swampland of Far Right Blogistan:

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

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

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

http://byzantiumshores.blogspot.com

...you'll actually link this URL:

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

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

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


Never hurts to revisit the basic techniques, folks.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More Answers

Time to give a few more answers to questions posed in Ask Me Anything!. In no particular order:

You once called "The Stackhouse Filibuster" the first bad episode of the West Wing. As it happens, it's my favorite. Why do you think it's bad?

I actually outlined my reasons for disliking that episode in the post on my favorite TWW episodes, but for the sake of simplicity I'll just excerpt the relevant portion here:

Why do I seriously dislike "Stackhouse"? Well, I do like the framing device of the episode a lot: each act is told from the point-of-view of a different character, with that character narrating from a letter to a loved one. But that's about all that I like in this episode. The main story is that some health care bill that's a slam-dunk to pass is suddenly filibustered by some elderly Senator, and this sends everyone into a massive tizzy as they try to figure out what's going on. This all grinds on and on, until finally Donna raises her hand and makes a simple suggestion that turns out to be exactly what the doctor ordered, the filibuster ends, and everyone goes home happy. That sounds good, except that it's a classic example of "the idiot plot". An "idiot plot" is a story where the characters are kept precisely as dumb as they need to be, at all times, in order to keep the story moving until the right time. (For further examples of the "idiot plot" in action, watch just about any episode of Three's Company or Seventh Heaven.)

"The Stackhouse Filibuster" also sports the single most cringe-worthy scene in the show's entire run, a horrible, horrible moment in which Sam is taken to task by some lowly intern because he is singling out annual government reports for cancellation. This scene is bad on so many levels it's hard to sort them out. First, the intern is just plain snotty, and I can't believe for one second that Sam (or any White House senior staff member) would not only put up with that kind of behavior, but praise it; and worse, this was at least the third or fourth example of a meme that Aaron Sorkin wisely quashed after its completion, namely, "A plucky intelligent woman gives Sam food for thought". After his conversations with Leo's daughter, Laurie the call-girl law student, and Republican lawyer Ainsley Hayes, the idea that Sam could be rendered speechless by some intern just made my skin itch. Bad, bad scene.


So there it is. I couldn't believe that the White House staff would just sit around during a filibuster and never once wonder if maybe the guy who'd specifically met with Josh to have funding for a specific ailment added to a healthcare bill and who'd been pissed off by Josh's refusal to do anything about it just might have a personal reason for caring deeply enough about that particular ailment to filibuster the bill, I couldn't believe that nobody in the entire White House senior staff knew anything about Senate floor debate rules excepting Donna (surely Josh, having been a senior aide to Senator John Hoynes, would have known something about it), and I couldn't believe that an intern would speak to Sam in the way that Winifrid did. (Thank God that Winifrid didn't become a recurring character.)

If you could change one thing that you did in your past, what would it be? Do you think it would have made your life better or worse?

I've probably noted this in the past, but when we first moved to Buffalo from the Southern Tier in late 2000, I applied for a bunch of jobs, including my first application with The Store (another location, but same company). I also interviewed with the telesales company I've mentioned in the past, and got hired there. So when The Store called me after the telesales company had already offered me a position, I never returned their call. Eighteen months later, the telesales company showed me the door (frankly, I don't blame them, because my sales skills were such that had I been Dr. Faust, Mephistopheles would have walked away from the deal, and I would have left them a month or so later anyway when The Wife's transfer to Syracuse came through). It took until early 2004, and six more applications, before I finally got on with The Store. Persistence pays off, yes, but so does actually listening to those nagging doubts.

Would my life have been better if I'd joined The Store in January 2001 as opposed to three years later? My, yes. I wouldn't have struggled through six months of unemployment in Syracuse followed by another eight months of it back in Buffalo between June '02 and January '04, for one thing. And certain people whom I have come to love dearly would have been in my life that much earlier.

Robert Frost's poem aside, sometimes you do get to revisit old forks in the path of life. They might be a little more overgrown, a little more grassy and in want of wear, but they're the same forks. And as Mr. Berra said, when you come to fork in the road, take it!

What was the first album you ever purchased and why?

With my own money? The soundtrack album to The Empire Strikes Back. It was a double LP, with a gatefold cover. Inside was a booklet that told the tale of the film with big pictures, and there were pretty good liner notes, too. I played that album so much over the years that, when I last played it during the summer before college, the pops and scratches in the LP surface made the music nearly unrecognizable in spots. I bought that album with my own allowance money. For the first few months I owned it, I didn't even own a record player of my own (this was 1980, and I was eight years old), so I had to listen to it in my parents' bedroom where they kept their record player. I'd get my own record player later that following Christmas, and the first record I played on it was that very copy of TESB.

On many film music albums, even to this day, the music is often re-edited out of the order in which the cues are heard in the film and into kinds of "suites" designed to make for better sit-down listening, and that original release of the TESB score was no exception. One track, for example, was titled "The Heroics of Luke and Han", and began with music from Luke's escape from the Wampa creature's cave, which was followed by some action stuff that wasn't even used in the film (but was intended for portions of Luke's peril in the Hoth landscape all alone and Han's search for him), and then concluded with the final moments of music from the Battle of Hoth sequence -- "Imperial troops have entered the base!", the Millennium Falcon's escape, and finally Luke's departure from Hoth for Dagobah. This is standard procedure for many film music albums; what you hear on the disc isn't the exact same thing as what you hear in the film.

Years later, in 1993, the soundtrack albums from all three original trilogy Star Wars films appeared on a box set, which was the first time most of that music was on CD at all. (The original CD release of TESB was a travesty.) But on that CD, the music was resequenced out of the original album order into the order the tracks are heard in the film. And four years after that, the definitive version of this score was issued on a 2-disc set in conjunction with the Special Editions. For four years I listened to the 1993 box set TESB disc, and since 1997, I've listened many a time to the 2-disc SE set. And even still my ears want to fill in the music as I learned it, from the RSO double LP, over twenty-five years ago.

All for now, more to come!

I read it on the Internet!

A few weeks ago, some extremely pro-life blogger read a satire piece about abortion in The Onion, responded to it as though it were real, and instantly became the object of derision throughout all Blogistan.

Well, now something similar happens again, although this time not quite on so inflammatory a subject as abortion: Ken Jennings has a blog now, and a few days ago he wrote a post in which he poked fun at Jeopardy!, the show that made Ken Jennings, you know, Ken Jennings. Written from the ostensible standpoint that Jeopardy! needs to shake things up a bit to stay fresh after something like, oh, forever with the same basic format, Jennings says things like this:

On Price Is Right, Bob Barker ends every show with a plug for his personal favorite cause. "Spay or neuter your pet!" or whatever. Something like this would humanize Trebek. I propose a new sign-off, along the lines of, "Can our returning champion do it again on tomorrow's show? Tune in and find out, everybody. Legalize cannabis. Good night."


Now, I found that incredibly funny. In fact, the entire piece is hilarious, and you'd figure that it's unmistakably a humor piece. But then along comes an entertainment writer for the New York Post:

In a snarky "Dear Jeopardy!" letter posted on his Web site, ken-jennings.com, the winningest contestant ever needles the game show for being out of step and out of date.

He calls the show's categories "effete, left-coast crap nobody's heard of" and even snipes at show host Alex Trebek.


Man. Wait until this guy finds about Celebrity Jeopardy!. "Suck it, Trebek!"

Monday, July 24, 2006

Now what does that remind me of?

A reader e-mails me this item:

Like Romans, Athenians and residents of other great historic cities, the people of Istanbul can hardly put a shovel in the ground without digging up something important.

But the ancient port uncovered last November in the Yenikapi neighborhood is of a different scale: It has grown into the largest archaeological dig in Istanbul's history, and the port's extent is only now being revealed.

Archaeologists call it the "Port of Theodosius," after the emperor of Rome and Byzantium who died in A.D. 395. They expect to gain insights into ancient commercial life in the city, once called Constantinople, that was the capital of the eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.


Hmmmmm...an old seaport discovered in what was once Constantinople...archaeological wonders found on the shores of...nah, that can't be it.

I'm working on it. Honest.

No, I haven't forgotten that a bunch of questions from my recent go-round of "Ask me Anything!" are still waiting in the wings. They'll be up in the next day or two. Really.

(Or not. Heh.)

Sentential Links #58

Here we go again. Failure to click these links will be noted on your PERMANENT RECORD.

:: Thank God Hell's Kitchen returned last night. Two weeks with nary an expletive use of the word "DONKEY!" and I nearly passed out from the shakes. I'm addicted, I tell you. I'm addicted! (Me too, I gotta admit. I wouldn't mind getting a DVD of this show sometime, so I could hear Ramsay's unbleeped kitchen bellowings. Personally, I think "You f***ing DONKEY!" should be the next phrase to sweep the nation.)

:: Poor Warren Spahn. It’s like you're in a best-looking dude contest and you find out George Clooney is entered. (Yeah, I hate when that happens!)

:: And so I end my reign of being the last human being on Earth who hasn’t seen Jaws. (My God! That's like not having seen Star Wars.)

:: We were trying to think of much better ways to determine the winner of Miss Universe:

-Make them answer geography questions.
-Make them play Risk.
-Make them fight each other with the traditional weapons of their country.


:: Ok, this whole blog thing is getting too inbred. Arrive at blog A. Follow link to B. Follow link to C. Then follow a link and find yourself back at A. Too many closed circles. I’m as guilty as anyone of perpetuating this. (Fair enough:)

:: I am a geek. I have rehearsed world domination monologues while shaving my legs. I have finely tuned plans for what I will do if I fall into a vat of radioactive waste and emerge with superstrength. And I am just as entitled to my self-indulgent adolescent power fantasies as any male comic book nerd.

:: Here’s McCarty Glacier in Alaska, as photographed by Ulysses Sherman Grant in 1909 (black-and-white) and by Bruce F. Molnia in 2004 (color): (Wow.)

:: Going to college is pretty much like going to kindergarten, but with less structure and discipline.

And finally:

:: My friends, of course, the ones I've made and the ones I've kept over these years, are my biggest accomplishment. (A happy belated birthday to the Indestructible Mr. Jones, whom I have known longer than anyone currently in my life save my immediate family.)

Onward and upward....

Sunday Burst of Weirdness (Monday Edition)

Yesterday was the kind of day that we get once in a while, plopped into the middle of an otherwise hot and humid July, when the temperatures only hover around the mid-70s and the humidity is way down and it's just generally refreshing after day after day after day of staying inside with the A/C running until 9:00 pm or so. Those kinds of days don't come round all that often in July, and when they do, they are short-lived, so it behooves one to take proper advantage.

Proper advantage doesn't mean blogging. So that's why the Sunday Burst never showed up yesterday.

Anyhow, here's a fairly creepy story about something that apparently can happen in real life:

She bounds along on all fours through long grass, panting towards water with her tongue hanging out. When she reaches the tap she paws at the ground with her forefeet, drinks noisily with her jaws wide and lets the water cascade over her head.
Oxana Malaya

Up to this point, you think the girl could be acting - but the moment she shakes her head and neck free of droplets, exactly like a dog when it emerges from a swim, you get a creepy sense that this is something beyond imitation. Then, she barks.

The furious sound she makes is not like a human being pretending to be a dog. It is a proper, chilling, canine burst of aggression and it is coming from the mouth of a young woman, dressed in T-shirt and shorts.

This is 23-year-old Oxana Malaya reverting to behaviour she learnt as a young child when she was brought up by a pack of dogs on a rundown farm in the village of Novaya Blagoveschenka, in the Ukraine. When she showed her boyfriend what she once was and what she could still do - the barking, the whining, the four-footed running - he took fright. It was a party trick too far and the relationship ended.


It doesn't just happen in an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, apparently....

(via)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Continuing the Answers: space opera

Here are a couple more answers to Ask Me Anything!. These ones are all related, so I'll print them all first and then reply:

I want a space-opera-reading update: Have you read any yet? Are there any of the suggestions that you received that you refuse to read? In what order are you going to read the space opera books that you do read? Have you read any that you're sorry you've read? Or that you're really glad you've read?

For newer readers (hey, I can have newer readers!), this is in reference to the long-term project I announced here. I want to read lots and lots of space opera.

Now, my plan was never to spend months reading nothing but space opera, so I hope it won't serve as a disappointment that I've so far read exactly one space opera book since I solicited titles. That book is Poul Anderson's Ensign Flandry, of which I'm not going to say much in this space because I read it for review in GMR. I'm writing and submitting that review early next week, and then it'll run at some point thereafter; I'll link it when it appears. (But I can at least note that I liked the book a good deal.)

My aims on reading space opera is to make this basically an "over the next few years" kind of thing, and maybe even beyond. I'm the type of reader who rarely reads books of the same genre back-to-back, and who also jumps about from one book to the next, based sometimes on whim and other times on recommendation and other times on certain authors having new books out and other times on seeing some book mentioned on some blog or some such place. So I'm unlikely to plow through four or five consecutive space opera novels; it's just not how I do things.

But what I have done is acquired quite a bit of the stuff through eBay booksellers and the like, and I've also rejoined the Science Fiction Book Club. Titles include The Man Who Wanted Stars, The Enchanted Planet, The Starmen of Llyrdis, Neverness, Assault on the Gods, and so on. I'm not just interested in the well-known names of SF, but also the lesser-known lights who may have left little veins of ore in those mountains for me to find. (God, what an awful metaphor....)

And I swear the SFBC is tailoring things specifically toward me as I rejoin them, and they're scheming to have me part with as much of my money as they can get. (Well, duh!) I opened my latest mailing from them this morning, to find three omnibus editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs's "Barsoom" novels. I'll probably get the first one to start with -- if memory serves, A Princess of Mars is Burroughs's first Barsoom tale -- and then pick up the other two at a later time. And in addition to the Barsoom books, there's a big full-page advert for this collection from David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, who happen to be two of the best anthologists you'll ever find. Sigh. Just what I need: more space opera to read!

(Oh, wait -- that actually is just what I need! Bless you, SFBC!)

A commenter recommended H. Beam Piper in response to the earlier post; I'm keeping an eye on eBay for his work. I'd also love to read some space opera comics or manga, if anyone can suggest any. In terms of how I pick the books to read, well, I tend to kind of go at random. I briefly considered a chronological approach, but what if I missed something? Ditto a "reverse" chronological approach, as well -- so I settled on what my usual modus operandi: no approach at all. I'll just grab a space opera and read away. Some I'll finish, some I will bounce off. The ones I bounce off, I will attempt again one day. (I tend to give books two chances to impress me, because I've too often had the experience of hating a book at first and then loving it when I returned to it a while later. But I am an experienced enough reader by now to be able to distinguish between bouncing off a book and just plain hating it. Case in point: I'm not ever going to return to The Celestine Prophecy on the off chance I may like it, because I'm willing to bet that I won't.)

Finally, is there any book or author I refuse to read? Well, not so strongly as that, but I can say this: while I know that as long as Ender's Game sits unread on my shelf there's a hole in my SF-reading background, and eventually I'll probably get tired of that hole and read the book in order to fill that hole in, it'll be a good long while before I do. Maybe his books are just wonderful, but Orson Scott Card's politics make me want to vomit. A strange position to stake, I know, coming from a guy who loves the music of Wagner despite that fact that had Wagner lived fifty years later he would have been happily composing scores to Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda films, but there it is. I'm large and I contain multitudes and yada yada yada.

So when do I plan to do some serious space opera reading? Soon, after I get a couple more GMR review books swept aside. I'll be ready for a good dose of spaceships and action by then.

(BTW, if you were a commenter on that earlier thread, rest assured that I saved all the recommendations there before I removed the old commenting system.)

It's not like they come with an instruction manual or anything....

I got a hit today from a Google search for, of all things, how to wear overalls. Well, I guess they can appear confusing, so here's how it goes:

1. Put right leg into right leg of overalls.
2. Put left leg into left leg of overalls.
3. Depending on your handedness, pull one of the straps over your shoulder.
4. Fasten strap to bib.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the other strap.
6. Tuck in shirt and button up side buttons as desired.
7. Adjust bib.

Off you go. What's so hard about that?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Answers, part the first

Time to start catching up on the answers to the First Round of Ask Me Anything!. (The second round will come maybe a few months from now, when I get bored again or something.) I'm answering these in fairly randomized order. Well, OK, there's nothing random about it; I'm taking the ones that lend themselves to "short answers" first.

:: Have you read any of Star Wars On Trial? What do you think of it.

I have, in fact, not read it. In fact, I don't know what it is! So off to Google I go...

[insert whirring sound of Google in action here]

OK, apparently Star Wars on Trial is a book in which David Brin (who is known to hate Star Wars) and Matthew Stover (who wrote one of the novelizations and maybe some other stuff) debate some points about Star Wars, such as "Science Fiction Filmmaking Has Been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas". Maybe I'll seek this book out sometime, but I have to admit that at the outset it sounds like something that would piss me off at least half the time. I mean, just to that one "issue" I cite above (and not even granting the premise that Star Wars is badly written), it's not as if SF filmmaking was exactly a font of well-written movies before George Lucas came along. And so on.

So David Brin can bite me. Harumph!

Why is Dave Letterman so mean to Paul?

Huh. I confess that I've never found Letterman particularly "mean" to Paul -- he ribs the guy a lot, but to me Letterman always shows a great deal of respect for Paul and his talents. Now, Dave's certainly mean to Alan Kalter on occasion, but I suspect that's mostly schtick, anyway.

What did you think of V for Vendetta (the movie)?

Haven't seen it, and I haven't really decided if I want to or not. I dunno. I'm not that big a fan of the Wachowski's, liking The Matrix less every time I watch it and having fallen asleep in the first half hour of The Matrix Reloaded. The comic, though, was brilliant, although I haven't read it since 1989 or so.

Superpower: flying or invisibility?

Invisibility all the way. I could do a lot of good if I were invisible. Yeah...good...heh heh heh....

Who's your favorite Wilbury, and why?

Assuming we're talking about the Traveling Wilbury's, my fave is Roy Orbison.

If you could, scratch that, make it HAD TO - change one, at least fairly major, thing about the Star Wars prequels, what would it be?

Hmmmm...a tough one! I've never hated Jake Lloyd's performance in The Phantom Menace, but given how important the kid is to that movie and the skill he's shown with directing kids in the past, if Steven Spielberg was ever going to direct a Star Wars movie, that would have been the one.

(Other possible answers include having Frank Darabont do the scripts based on Lucas's story outlines, and to make a change to the actual storylines, having an attempt on Padme's life take place on Naboo in Attack of the Clones.)

And here are a few related ones:

What sort of carrot would it take to pull a Sampson & Delilah on that hair of yours, and what further impetus would be needed to shave the mug?

I had long hair in the mid and late 90s, but got it whacked when I left Pizza Hut to go work for Bob Evans, a company that had a strict hair-length policy for men. At the time I was grossly unhappy working for Pizza Hut, so leaving them for a company that was going to pay me more and treat me more professionally was worth losing the hair.

I eventually left Bob's when I decided that I just didn't want to be a restaurant manager (nothing against Bob's at all), and aside from going to Fantastic Sam's every so often to get the ends trimmed up, I've never had a haircut since. That was in January of 2000.

So there are circumstances under which I'd get the hair whacked. Right now, though, I can't imagine what they'd be. It'd have to be a job I really want at a place that genuinely forbids long hair.

Along other lines, having to undergo chemo or some other medical procedure that requires hair-cutting or results in hair loss would he endured if they came along.

With the beard, roughly the same answers apply. I just like this look. So if anyone's looking to entice me with some kind of bet, like "If the Bills win, I'll shave my head, but if the Jets win, you shave yourhead!", you'll need to find some other kind of bet-losing penalty!

In a question that echoes Buffalogeek's #3, what would it take to get you to lose the overalls?

An act of God.

Under threat of losing your right thumb and pinky toes, would you shave the beard, cut the hair, AND lose the overalls?

OK...I'm sensing a bit of distaste for my fashion choices from the citizens of Blogistan....

I don't have a question question; I just wanted to say I like the hair, the beard and the overalls.

Ha!

and the tie dye too.

Hooray!

More answers tomorrow or the day after, folks. Thanks to all who posed queries! This turns out to be a pretty fun exercise.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

(Geez...thought I was done)

Yeah, I say I'm not going to post for a day or two, and then I find two things to post about. Yeesh.

:: The guy who posted the MP3 of his phone call to AOL to cancel his account is back in the news, because someone has "leaked" the AOL training manual for the employees who handle the cancellation calls. The major revelation here is the idea that a cancellation call is viewed as a sales opportunity by AOL.

And here's what I wrote over a month ago on this:

Now, this particular operator most certainly does go way over the line in dealing with a customer -- we can all agree on that -- but what interests me isn't so much that this call shows how far customer service has fallen in today's business world, but rather what today's business world thinks customer service is.

For companies, it boils down to one simple rule: Service equals sales. Seriously, that's how companies view service today. Customer service is indistinguishable from sales, and every interaction with the customer is to be approached as an opportunity to sell.


I was a month ahead of some guy who writes for the New York Times. Heh! But really, for anyone who's ever worked in any kind of sales environment, there is absolutely nothing shocking about AOL's "retention guide".

:: Sean e-mailed this to me a week or so ago, and I promptly forgot about it until he linked it himself today: Forbes's 150 cheap places to live rich. Buffalo's on the list, and here's what they have to say:

Don't let Buffalo's reputation as a frigid Lake Erie town fool you. There's plenty of heat here—particularly in the arts. Keep your toes tappin' at one of the major concert venues in Buffalo, which routinely bring jazz, chamber music, rock, blues, and bluegrass sounds to town. For more urbane fare, take in a touring Broadway show at Shea's Performing Arts Center, a restored 1926 movie palace. And Buffalo isn't the year-round icebox you think. The "snowbelt" actually lies south of the city.


OK, but who gives a shit about the snow belt? Why not point out that we have awesome winter sports, our winters aren't as cold or windily unpleasant as, say, Chicago's, our summers have never once tipped 100 degrees in all the time they've been keeping records, and our autumns are utterly stunning? Oh well. Good press for Buffalo is always welcome.

:: OK, that's it. Don't forget to Ask Me Anything!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ask Me Anything!

Always one to follow a meme-thing, here's one via Paul and Simon: you all get to ask me, well, anything. Just hop into comments and ask me something. In a few days when I've gathered enough questions, I'll come up with some answers. Some of them may even be honest!

So ask some questions. Weird stuff, not weird stuff, opinions, "Have you ever...", you name it. If I deem a question too outrageous, I'll just answer it in a mocking fashion. Bring it on.

UPDATE: Some good queries so far, so keep them coming! We're talking "anything" here, folks.

I have some reviews to catch up on for GMR, so I won't be posting Tuesday or Wednesday, and possibly not even Thursday. My plan is to start answering these queries over this coming weekend, so keep on posing questions! Note that there's no rule limiting commenters to one question, here.

Something. On television.

Like everybody else, I have my favorite TV series; but within each favorite series of mine there are the standout episodes. These are the episodes that I tend to think of whenever I think back fondly on a show. Here are some of those individual episodes that confirmed my love of these particular series. First we'll just get the obvious Star Trek stuff out of the way:

:: "The City on the Edge of Forever", from Star Trek. Might as well get this out of the way -- it's the high point of Trek's remarkable first season, and when I watched it on a VHS tape I got from the library a year ago, the ending was as gut-wrenching as ever.

:: "Yesterday's Enterprise", from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wow, what an episode. If only any of the TNG movies had been as good as the forty-six minutes of this particular episode (although First Contact came pretty damn close). What was it about time travel that brought out the best in Trek writers?

:: "Tribbles and Tribulations", from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This episode just made me grin like a fanboy idiot from the first shot to the last.

(To this day, I still haven't seen the DS9 episode "The Visitor", which I've heard is brilliant. Gotta track that one down....)

OK, here are standout episodes from other series I've loved. I'm only naming one episode from each series, which makes things tough -- if I did this list again tomorrow using the exact same list of shows, I'd probably list a bunch of different episodes.

:: "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen", from The West Wing. See the post about my favorite TWW episodes, linked over there in the sidebar, for more on this one. Aaron Sorkin often came close afterward, but he never quite reached the high level of writing he achieved with this one again.

:: "Daphne Returns", from Frasier. This episode exists because of some pure chance: Jane Leeves, who played Daphne, happened to get pregnant at the exact time the writers finally decided to move Niles's love for Daphne into the open. So, rather than "work around" the pregnancy by always having Daphne standing behind stuff or shooting her in closeup, the writers wrote her weight gain into the storyline, making it a defense mechanism of hers in response to her fears about not being able to live up to Niles's near worship of her. When it came time for Leeves to give birth, the writers sent Daphne off to a fitness clinic for therapy, and when she returned, she was trim again -- but Niles was still wildly conflicted about the fact that he was finally in a relationship with the woman he'd always worshipped as some kind of Platonic ideal. In this episode, it fell to Frasier to prod Niles into realizing that he wasn't so much in love with Daphne as with a romantic ideal of her, and the show used the dreaded "clip show" trick with surprising effectiveness to get the point across.

:: "Hell and High Water", from ER. This second-season episode featured Doug Ross rescuing a kid who'd been trapped in a drainage culvert. It's one of the most riveting hours of television I've ever seen, and probably the most riveting hour of television I've seen that didn't involve Keifer Sutherland. And speaking of Keifer Sutherland:

:: "Day 3: 6:00 am to 7:00 am", from 24. Well, I guess that's how one differentiates episodes of 24. The ending of this one astonished me; I couldn't believe the writers had the guts to put Jack Bauer in that situation and follow through with it. (I'm leaving it vague, because even three years later, it's a pretty big spoiler for that particular season.)

:: "Movie", from Barney Miller. Here's a show you never hear about anymore, even though I always thought it was as funny as any of the "great" sitcoms of yesteryear. It was a great ensemble show, and this episode stands out in my memory -- for some kind of sting operation against pornographers, Detective Harris (Ron Glass, more recently seen on Firefly as the preacher) is asked to make his own movie. Fancying himself the filmmaker, Harris ends up making a serious movie instead (screening it, Captain Miller keeps asking, "Harris, where's the sex?"). I used to watch this on reruns every day after school. (By the way, as of this writing, Abe Vigoda is still alive.)

:: "The Lord is my Shepherd", from Little House on the Prairie. OK, OK, OK -- it's pure sap, and this is probably the sappiest episode of the sappiest show in television history. I mean, you could make a passingly decent condiment for pancakes from the sap that exudes from this show. But I'm a total sucker for this episode, because little Laura runs away from home (after wishing for the death of her newborn brother, a wish that comes true -- come to think of it, I could do without that particular bit of subtext), climbs a mountain, and meets an angel who's played by Ernest Borgnine. You just can't beat that. (And lest anyone think I'm making fun of Ernest Borgnine, perish the thought! I love the guy, and man, he's got some range as an actor. Here he's an angel, but a couple decades before, he'd done From Here to Eternity and played one of the worst guys I've ever seen in a movie.)

:: "So-Called Angels", from My So-Called Life. Damn the ABC execs for cancelling this brilliant show after just one nineteen-episode season. But if the show went on, would the same producers have gone on to do Once and Again? But damn the ABC execs for cancelling Once after three seasons -- but had it been renewed, would the same producers have ended up as the team now developing Guy Gavriel Kay's novel The Lions of Al-Rassan for the silver screen? Ach, who knows. Anyway, this show was just one brilliant episode after another, but this particular episode dealt with a particularly dark underside of Christmas and the holiday season.

:: "The Post-Modern Prometheus", from The X-Files. A strange episode (weren't they all?), shot in black and white. And not involved with the show's mytharc. So why am I picking it? Because...well, I don't know. I just loved this episode. (More of my favorite TXF's here.)

:: "There Be Dragons", from Once and Again. I just watched this episode again the other day. It's an absolutely extraordinary depiction of the effect of divorce on a young girl. The final scene, a conversation between Jessie and Rick Sammler, in which Rick has to finally come out and tell Jessie that their old family life can never exist again, is as good a bit of dialogue as I've ever seen executed.

:: "My Screw Up", from Scrubs. I can't say enough about this episode, except that its twenty-two minutes are more powerful than many two-hour movies. Plot-wise, I shouldn't say more than that.

And as long as this post has become, I could list episodes from twenty more TV shows. Do I watch too much TV? Hmmmm....

Sentential Links #57

Well, here we go again. As a bit of insurance against the computer locking up on me while I'm writing this post, I'm composing it not on Blogger but on Writely, which automatically saves the document once every minute or so, so even if I do lock up, I'll be able to get back the post minus whatever I'd written in the last minute once I've completed the cold boot. Not that my problem was Blogger-related, by the way. Blogger was an innocent bystander in last week's meltdown.

(Writely, by the way, rules. I'm toying with the idea of not even having a word processor on my next computer and just using Writely -- but I know I'll chicken out. The next computer, though, will not have Microsoft Office anywhere near it. It'll be Open Office all the way!)


And to folks who were about to be linked in last week's post before disaster strike, I apologize. Even though you have no way of knowing who you were, there's still that Karma thing. Anyhow, here are this week's links. Click through, for these folks deserve it!

:: Folks were raving about the pork loin, but being my own toughest critic I thought it was a tad dry. For those interested, here's how it was done. (Go get this recipe, folks. The pork loin was amazing. And Scott, if that was a tad dry, I'd hate to see what you call 'juicy'! You'd need to have a half-inch deep pool of meat juice remaining after the last bite! And you know, food blogs aren't unheard of -- and as for the concern you voiced on Saturday about your cooking knowledge being cribbed from elsewhere, so what? As Sam Seaborn once said on The West Wing: "Good writers borrow from other good writers. Great writers steal from them outright.")


:: Have you ever noticed that no matter what age we are, we're always the perfect age? (I get Lynn's meaning, but I'm a tad neurotic, so I tend to think that no matter what age I am, I'm still five years away from no longer being completely full of hot gas.)

:: New points on crayons, unblemished pads, fragrant pencil blossoms -- these remind me of teachers I loved and those who loved me back.

:: Look: Fight Club was okay. It was just okay. But some people -- especially some of you freaky internet people -- worship this film. Worship it. Like, you think if you can quote enough lines, you'll actually get to join Brad Pitt's anarchy gang or something. Well, I'm here to tell you: you can't. Get over it. (I don't hate Fight Club, but I admit that I've never understood the fuss over it. It just wasn't my cup of tea. And I think I should get credit for personal growth in linking a post that openly disses my beloved Star Wars: it's the best f***ing movie ever, dammit! This is a really fun-looking blog, by the way -- he has a feature called "the weekly object of his affection", who this week happens to be my most recent ROWR! Designate.)

:: In short, I’m enjoying a bunch of books I had no intention of reading. (Isn't that the way of it! How often do I have three or four books going at once, none of which is on my "Read Soon" list.)

:: Unfortunately, more and more people are walking around with Ipods and handless cell phones strapped to their heads, missing opportunities to relate with fellow humans and looking like so many Borg.

:: Baseball is a game of yards in which all the important measurements are done with centimeters.

:: And then, finally, there will be peace -- the peace of a graveyard.

:: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all these years of writing professionally, it’s that you need to go with the flow. I’d be a fool to ignore a story that was writing itself.

:: The thing is, Jim, I believe the great unraveling is not happening from the top down, but from the bottom up. I see a great unraveling taking place in the bottom right now. Most people just don't want to look down. They are too busy whistling in the dark. (Well, I can't end on a bummer note like that...)

:: For the rest of the story, where do I begin? In the gutter, of course.

I know -- the "May I Help You?" Riff!

The one hundredth item on this list of 100 things we know now that we didn't know last year:

Musical instrument shops [in Britain, presumably] must pay an annual royalty to cover shoppers who perform a recognisable riff before they buy, thereby making a "public performance".


I knew a few of them, actually -- heh! But it's a fun article. Check it out.

(via Lynn)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

So did Merlin build NYC, too?

I was just digging through the Astronomy Picture of the Day, and I found this image of Stonehenge on the Summer Solstice:



I also found this image of Manhattan on July 12, one of two dates of the year on which the city's streets align with the setting sun:



I find it strangely comforting, in a way, to find reminders like this of the fact that even in the face of thousands of years of human history, the mechanics of our Universe still work the same way.

Or, put another way, "Whoooaaaa...."

Thud. Thud. Thud.

And there goes my head against the tabletop:

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says America is in World War III and President Bush should say so.


Yeah, because the problem is what we're calling it, since all that "Crusades against the heathens" talk didn't go over so well. And now we get to tap into what's looking more and more to me like a fetishization of World Wars I and II: we get to save the world again!

And then:

Gingrich said in an interview Saturday that Bush should call a joint session of Congress the first week of September and talk about global military conflicts in much starker terms than have been heard from the president.


Well, why wait? If it's a dire problem now, why wait until September? If this war is of such paramount moral importance that it is to be cast as a worldwide conflict, why the extra two months? To give Michael Gerson's successor time to write the speech and cram it full with a sufficient number of Churchillism's?

Of course, the "Why wait 'til September" question has a pretty obvious answer, doesn't it? It's so obvious that Gingrich, somewhat refreshingly I must admit, lays it right out on the table:

Gingrich said he is "very worried" about Republicans facing fall elections and says the party must have the "nerve" to nationalize the elections and make the 2006 campaigns about a liberal Democratic agenda rather than about President Bush's record.


Yup, it's an electoral ploy, pure and simple. It's about the getting of votes and the protection of majorities. It has nothing to do with winning any war other than the one being fought on the first Tuesday in November.

(And dig that open admission that President Bush's record isn't something they wish to run on.)

On a parallel note, I enjoyed this post by James Wolcott, in which he strikes down an irritating example of pro-war rhetoric being couched in cinematic terms:

First of all, it's embarrassing for a historian of any stature to seal his arguments with Hollywood citations. Alan Ladd's Shane and Gary Cooper's marshall in High Noon were fictional heroes whose success in the final showdowns were preordained in the script; their relevance to the policy decisions of a prime minister or president is nil. George Bush didn't strap on six guns and swaggered bow-legged into Baghdad, much as Hanson and Howard Fineman might want to fantasize; he sent the country's uniformed men and women to do the fighting, thousands of whom have returned home in flag-draped coffins, thousands more seriously wounded and left to contend the rest of their lives with being blinded, deafened, deprived of the use of all their limbs, psychologically traumatized. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest personally risked nothing; they will enjoy prosperous retirements, and be free to pen memoirs primping their place in history.


Indeed. Paraphrasing a line from Sleepless in Seattle, these guys don't want to be in a war; they want to be in a war in a movie.

Even the Rainbow Changes

(A Rumination on the change in a favorite candy, written in the style of Mary Kunz Goldman.)



One of several little birdies told us that a number of Internet bloggers were going to be taking a break from their cellar-dwelling commentating to have a picnic at Chestnut Ridge. A picnic! For Internet bloggers! Don't Internet bloggers recoil at the mere touch of sunlight? Apparently that's a myth. Who knew! Since I myself, along with other local news personalities, have been the occasional subject of scorn (one actually scores everything I write with a "Mockability Score"! How droll!), I decided, why not go and actually meet these fine people?

But first things first: what do I bring? It was apparently to be a potluck affair, but what dish should I bring? This was tough. A peace offering of sorts was called for, but what? I decided to go to a grocery store and look for ideas. After walking the aisles -- wheat thins? a relish tray? gourmet potato salad, with mustard and hord boiled eggs? that traditional baked ziti dish that is served at every Western New York buffet event? -- I found myself in the Bulk Food section, and my eyes fell on my favorite candy.

Skittles.

Yes, Skittles! Those wonderful little round bursts of fruity goodness, with their wonderful commercials where Skittles fall from the sky and a whispering voice tells us to "taste the rainbow". What better metaphor could there be for those Internet bloggers coming out of their basements to greet the world? What better way to show them a world of color than these rainbow-colored candies! I filled a bag with three pounds of Skittles, and headed off for Chestnut Ridge, trying to chuckle off my trepidation. Surely they'd like me! Who could dislike a person bearing a three-pound bag of Skittles!

My trepidation increased, however, when I exited the Thruway onto Route 219. There's something about the 219 that feels strange somehow, like you've entered some kind of parallel universe. It looks like an Interstate, but it's not an Interstate! And driving a road like that, at 60 with the window down, you feel like driving across the country -- but alas, one knows that the 219 ends in Springville, forcing the rich Canadians of winter onto two-lane roads all the way to Ellicotville. Every minute took me one more mile away from Buffalo. More than once I wished that I was an asthmatic, just so I could pull over for a dose from the inhaler.

I was even more nervous as I exited the 219 onto a road that went up to Chestnut Ridge Park. This road also had four lanes, but its intersections were marked by traffic lights (who knew Orchard Park had that much traffic!) and it was lined with houses whose driveways came right down to the road. How do they back out? Reaching Chestnut Ridge Park itself felt better, because it's like an actual exit from the Thruway, at first; but then it's terribly bumpy and ill-maintained. Curse you, Red Budget! Even we pickup-truck driving Republicans like a smooth road! But now to find the Internet Bloggers.

Alas, it was not to be. I drove around Chestnut Ridge for hours, passing buildings that look like darling replicas of the kinds of structures they used to build during the Works Progress Administration, encountering many picnic shelters housing what appeared to be family reunions and church groups and the like. But no Internet bloggers! No shelter filled with untanned folk tapping away on laptops. One time I thought I'd found them, but the folks at that shelter said no, they weren't the bloggers, but hey, would I like a large carton of fruit salad? Alas, I had to pass. We don't eat food from cartons in the City.

Eventually I had to give up. Perhaps it had all been a ruse to lure me so far south of the City. Perhaps they were all still in their basements, having a laugh at my expense. I was tired, and hurt, and angry. But I still had three pounds of Skittles. So I parked my car and walked over to a large hill that I bet would be wonderful for sled riding. And as I sat down in the grass at the top of that big hill, my heart lept, for there in the distance was the HSBC Tower! And the Ralph! And the other buildings of downtown! And even the Central Terminal! I could still see home! All was not lost! I rejoiced to see my hometown again. I hadn't left at all! And I popped a handful of Skittles into my mouth.

And then everything changed.

The Skittles weren't right. They didn't taste the way they usually do. What was wrong? I took another handful, and again they tasted wrong. Close, but wrong. What had happened? I stared at the bag, and the answer became obvious. The red Skittles weren't there. They'd been replaced by pink ones that tasted not of cherry, but of...something else. What fruit is pink? And what kind of rainbow is this? As children, the nuns taught us "ROY G BIV", not "POY G BIV".

You can't change the rainbow, darn it! You can close our libraries and shutter our Catholic parishes and equip every new car with a subwoofer, but you can't just change the rainbow!

We now live in a world with pink Skittles instead of red ones. When did it all go wrong?

(Editor's note: the preceding is parody, although the Editor did actually get some Skittles today that had pink ones in place of the red ones. He called shenanigans at the time, and rightly so. The Editor has no idea whatsoever if Mary Kunz Goldman likes Skittles, although he admits that she's always struck him as a "sort the M&Ms by color and discard the brown ones because they have unpleasant associations" kind of person.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

My whole life, I've never yet met a person who thought Marmaduke was funny. Not one. I know people who look forward to Doonesbury, Boondocks, and Blondie. It strikes me as one of the Universe's cosmic injustices that Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side are distant memories, but Marmaduke keeps chugging along.

Well, here's a fellow who makes Marmaduke funny. How does he do it? By simply explaining each daily morsel of insipidness:

Marmaduke is preventing a charity organization from aiding the needy simply because he is hungry, and also powerful enough to stop a car with his front legs.


This is so wonderfully funny and weird -- it's a quintessential Burst of Weirdness!

Bloggers in the Park News!

At the outset of yesterday's BloggerCon Episode IV, a reporter and photographer from the Buffalo News showed up to do some coverage of the event, and the resulting article can be read here. Yes, I am quoted in the article, albeit extremely briefly (fine by me!) and, in the Dead Tree Edition, in the continuation of the article on the inner pages of the City and Region section, so I doubt I'll see any kind of traffic jump from my mention therein. No big deal, though. I'm fine with being a smaller fish in the blog pool these days.

After they left, there was some speculation that the resulting piece would be yet another "Hey, there are these things called 'blogs' and here's what they are and stuff" pieces that typically constitutes the News's awareness of the existence of Blogistan, but I'm glad to see that this wasn't the case: the thrust of the piece isn't the existence of blogs, but the existence of the Buffalo blogging community. The Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan is a real thing, folks! It was a good thrust for this article; any coverage of Blogistan that undermines the stereotype of bloggers as pasty-skinned folks who sit around and bang away on keyboards, bereft of real human contact outside of the pizza delivery guy, can only be a good thing.

(And yes, while the article itself is well done -- kudos to Stephen Watson! -- I have to once again throw some rocks at the News's Web operation. Assuming that this isn't some kind of problem Firefox is having with rendering the News's website, as of this writing the online version of the article presents the text as one giant and unbroken paragraph. It's not that way in the Dead Tree Edition of the paper, of course -- but here's a paper that doesn't care enough about its Web operation to present an article in the way that the reporter wrote it. Come on, folks at the News! Whatever company you're paying to slap your Website together is doing a job that makes you guys look like idiots. Ditch them and get some real Web developers whose knowledge of the Web didn't stop growing in March of 1998.)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Harold en Italie

So I'm driving home from Target earlier today, before the picnic, and I tune into WNED (our local classical station) to hear the final movement of Berlioz's second symphony, Harold en Italie. This movement, called the "Dance of the Brigands", is one of my favorite movements from any symphony.

It begins with a device straight out of Beethoven's Ninth: brief quotations from the previous three movements are interrupted by orchestral bursts before we go into the main part of the movement, the Dance. What struck me today, even though I've heard this piece any number of times, is something that I've always known about Berlioz but never really commented on: his rhythms. Berlioz had a way with rhythm that was occasionally a seventy to a hundred years ahead of his time, and that aspect of his composing really stands out in this movement.

His melodies don't always line up in the typical "symmetrical" fashion we expect from melodies of an arch-Romanticist, and he's always willing to put the rhythmic emphasis on an off-beat. Those things I knew, but what I really heard for the first time today was that there are times in Berlioz when the bar line completely disappears, and the listener is totally at sea with respect to the "one-two-three-four" aspect of the music before the tempo reasserts itself. His rhythms are always non-standard, but sometimes they are so unusual that they approach the kind of rhythmic writing of a Stravinsky or an Aaron Copland. That's part of what makes Berlioz always sound fresh in my ears, even though there's barely a note of his that I haven't heard many times.

Fun with Fruit and Mayonnaise!

Well, The Daughter and I have just returned to our nicely climate-controlled apartment following BloggerCon Episode IV: Bloggers in the Park.

(Actually, I wasn't going to post at all tonight, but now that there's possibility of this blog being mentioned in the Buffalo News tomorrow, I'd rather shove that "Hey, the City Mattress guy looks like Clark Kent! Yuk yuk yuk!" post below down the chain a bit.)

The picnic went about as perfectly as a picnic can go, with one notable exception that I'll get to in a minute. It was a very hot day in these parts, but there was a nice breeze moving through Chestnut Ridge, we had a shelter, and our area was in a nicely secluded part of the park with lots of trees around.

Who all was there? Well, let's see:

:: Scott was there, along with his wife. I got some instruction in the finer points of grilling from Scott; he did up a nine-pound brisket that was well-worth the three-hour wait. He should be running his own barbecue-themed restaurant -- or, failing that, blogging about food. It was a great pleasure meeting him under pleasant circumstances. (The only previous time I'd met him was at Little Quinn's wake.)

:: Jennifer was there, of course, and she was delightful as always, full of fun stories about, well, all things Jennifer. Her boyfriend Mark was also there; already ahead of the game by virtue of having moved to Buffalo (because, well, who does that?), he turned out to be a good guy. Thus begins another fine Buffalo couple!

:: Jennifer 14221 was not there. Disappointment reigned.

:: Erin was not there. More disappointment.

:: Kevin and Mark were not there! O the crushing disappointment!

:: Alan was there, however, and thus we had the makings of a party, for he is a Party Person. I got to meet his wife and two daughters, the second of whom is something like thirteen days old. Beautiful baby, fine family. Apparently Alan isn't running for office. Also apparently Alan's stomach isn't as strong as Scott's; Alan spit out the taste of Highly Questionable Fruit Salad Food Product he sampled, whereas Scott swallowed his and pronounced it, "Meh". (Of course, Scott served in the military, so his gastrointestinal fortitude is probably stronger than our Lawyer from Clarence's.)

:: Let's see, who else? Kevin and Val were there. What a terrific couple they are. I already knew they were great people, but it was still wonderful to learn that there are people out there who share my hypothesis about some of the stranger Looney Tunes cartoons (i.e., Chuck Jones was friggin' stoned when he did some of those).

:: Red was there. He was surprisingly down to earth and fairly calm. (I say "surprisingly" because after years of watching That 70s Show, I expect people named Red to be surly folk who bark "Dumb ass!" a lot.) He also has a lovely family, with a baby who nicely slept through one chunk of the picnic (and nicely screamed through another).

:: Ummmm...crap. BuffaloGeek was there. But I've forgotten his real name. Curse me for a poor memory! See, folks, there's a reason why I gravitate toward jobs where the wearing of nametags is required: because I'm horribly bad with names. Anyhow, he's a great guy too.

:: Ditto the In Da Buff guy. Shit, can't remember his name, either. Help me out, fellas.

:: Derek and Amanda from punaro.com. I'd never heard of punaro.com until I read their matching shirts. Now I have. They are bookmarked for an upcoming revision of the blogroll -- until then, we really enjoyed Hillbilly Horseshoes (although I frankly didn't care for the other name this game apparently goes by). And I'm glad to see that I am not the first person to blog about the picnic, as their post predates mine! This makes me feel slightly less geeky.

:: Mark of WNYMedia.net, who nicely reiterated his standing offer of hosting services for Buffalo bloggers. I'm thus far doing fine on Blogger, but you never know what the future might bring.

Some other folks dropped by from another function that was up the hill at the next shelter site, this one hosted by SpeakUpWNY. I'm very unfamiliar with these folks, but the ones who dropped by seemed nice. (They were the source of the five-pound carton of Highly Questionable Fruit Salad Food Product mentioned above, it should be noted.)

Conversation topics during the event ran the gamut: the dangers of standing between Brian Higgins and a camera; the future fortunes of the Buffalo Bills (they'll suck in 2006); the future fortunes of the Sabres (that logo makes our eyes bleed); movies; how to light charcoal without using half a bottle of lighter fluid; George Bush the Boy Wonder; the surprising popularity of Frisbee Golf in Chestnut Ridge Park (our shelter area was quite near one of "the fairways"); the wisdom (or lack thereof) inherent in turning off the A/C when leaving the home (for a room-unit, it probably makes no difference, but for central air, leaving it on is the way to go); and how Buffalo should build a waterfront shrine to George Lucas. (OK, we didn't discuss that last one. But the others came up!) I did have one nice moment of geekness, when Val mentioned that she does horseback therapy at a place called Rivendell, and I pointed out that The Wife does volunteer work at a horseback therapy place called Lothlorien, and sagely pointed out that both names come from The Lord of the Rings. Cue the ensuing silence filled by the chirping of crickets. Criminy.

Meeting the faces behind the blogs is always worthwhile, because as I've noted continually, "The Internet is made of people". If you have a BloggerCon in your town, try and go sometime. You'll be glad you did.

OK, Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan: when's the next one, and where?

(BTW, I hope it's clear that I'm genuinely disappointed that those named above who were not in attendance couldn't be there. The Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan is loaded with fine, fine folks, and I've genuinely liked every one of them I've met. Well, except for that guy. Because nobody wants to be that guy.)

UPDATE: Since my brain is basically a giant trap for all kinds of cultural stuff, and since I'm constantly making connections between my real life and stuff that I see on TV or movies or read about, here's the association I made for the Highly Questionable Fruit Salad Food Product: the Friends episode where Monica takes a job developing recipes for another Highly Questionable Food Product:

MONICA: So, Mr. Rastatter, what exactly does this job entail? The ad wasn't too clear.

RASTATTER: Mockolate.

MONICA: I'm sorry?

RASTATTER: Mockolate. It's a completely synthetic chocolate substitute.

MONICA: Ohh.

[He pulls out a piece of Mockolate.]

RASTATTER: Go ahead. Try a piece. Yeah, we think that Mockolate is even better than chocolate.

MONICA: All right. Mmm-mmm.

[She tastes it, and obviously hates it.]

RASTATTER: Yeah?

MONICA: [disgusted, trying not to show it] I love how it crumbles. Now see, your chocolate doesn't do that.

RASTATTER: No, ma'am. Well, anyhoo, we should be getting our F.D.A. approval any day now, hopefully, in time for Thanksgiving. See, the way we look at it, chocolate already dominates most of your major food-preparation holidays: Easter, Christmas, what have you.

MONICA: [still chewing] Mmm-mmm.

RASTATTER: But, we're thinking, given the right marketing, we can make Thanksgiving the Mockolate holiday.

MONICA: Wow.

RASTATTER: Aren't you going to swallow that?

MONICA: Just waiting for it to stop bubbling.

RASTATTER: Yeah, isn't that great?

MONICA: [with false enthusiasm] Mmm.

RASTATTER: Well, anyhoo, um, we are looking for a couple of chefs who can create some Thanksgiving-themed recipes. You think you might be interested?

MONICA: Abso...[swallows hard]...lutely. See, I love creating new recipes. I love Thanksgiving. And, well, now, I love Mockolate.

RASTATTER: Really?

MONICA: Especially the after taste, you know, I'll tell ya, that'll last ya till Christmas!

(via)


Yeah, good old Mockolate!

UPDATE II: I was remiss in noting that Craig wasn't there, either. I hope he didn't feel "politically unwelcome" -- in fact, one of the WNY Media guys said that they really need some Republican bloggers for their burgeoning Empire.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

BloggerCon Episode IV: Bloggers in the Park

(This post will remain at the top of this blog for the remainder of the week.)

All Buffalo Bloggers take notice: this Saturday is the appointed date for the fourth installment of BloggerCon, which will take place at Chestnut Ridge Park south of Orchard Park. Jen and Scotty have details. We're doing a potluck picnic of sorts, so everybody make sure that unless you're just doing a "driveby" of the event, please bring food! You don't have to break the bank here; one box of burgers or one pack of hot dogs or something similar should be fine. I assume we'll also need things like buns and condiments, so consider those as well.

I'm committing to bringing:

100 or so paper plates
100 or so plastic drinking cups
Dining Utensils of the Plastic Variety
Napkins

Also: Polish Sausage (I'm not sure how much I have in the freezer; I think it's around 2 lbs. I'm bringing it all.)
Two packs hot dog buns
A big tub of potato salad
A couple bags of chips
A cooler filled with two twelve-packs of pop and ice.


I've only been to a single one of these BloggerCon's, but that one was a wonderful time. And that one wasn't even outside with food!

It should also be made clear that you don't have to really have your own blog to attend. If you read us and comment, or if you just read us and wonder what kind of people are drawn to this medium, feel free to show up. (And if you're a columnist with the local daily paper who wants to meet the folks who regularly savage your columns, well, feel free as well!)

(And I feel that a warning of sorts may be in order: before the last BloggerCon, Jen 14221 said in a comments thread somewhere that she'd cry if I showed up not wearing my trademark overalls. Well, the weather this weekend is supposed to be friggin' hot, which for me is not overalls weather. So if you're expecting to see me decked out in workwear, you're in for a disappointment: it'll be shorts and a t-shirt for me!)

GGK

Here is the cover art for the American edition of Guy Gavriel Kay's next novel, Ysabel, which will come out early next year:



I like this cover a lot. You can also see the Canadian edition here, as well as read a journal that Mr. Kay is keeping as Ysabel wends its way toward publication, here.

I, for one, cannot wait!

The passing of milestones, in progress

The relevant info has since scrolled off the SiteMeter screen, but at some point today Byzantium's Shores recorded its 200,000th hit. My traffic has been trending downward for a while now, so thanks to those who are sticking around.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sentential Links #56 (the "GAHHHH!!!" edition)

ARRGGGHHHH!!!

I had this week's Sentential Links post almost done -- and then my f***ing computer locked up, forcing me to cold boot the machine and scuttle the post in the process. Damnation and hellfire! Consternation and uproar!

So, I'm just going to provide one of the links that I had and call it a night.

:: So I feel that I am starting over, in ways I desperately don't want to. The people (the ones I cared most about) for whom my husband was a living, breathing, joking, loving entity are all gone away. (Anyone who thinks that blogs are an inferior medium for expression need to read this blog.)

Well, that's it. I don't feel like digging out the links I was going to present all over again, so maybe I'll do a "special edition" Sentential Links later in the week. But maybe not. You never know.

(OK, a side point: on a message board I look in on now and then, there's a fellow who seems quite proud of the fact that he reads e-books exclusively now. All I can say to that is that in the history of the human species, no paper book has ever crashed and had to be cold-booted, causing the text to completely disappear. Until the e-book can boast a similar level of dependability, I shall think of it as a lesser medium than paper.)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hmmmm....

Here's something probably only my Buffalo readers will get, but I think that when Superman takes a rest, he gets to sleep in Super Comfort. And why?

Well, take a look!

Here's Superman.



And here's the City Mattress guy.



No wonder Lois seemed so well-rested after her Fortress of Solitude excursion with the Big Blue Wonder!