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

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Love, exciting and new....

This woman loves her husband:

Twenty-two years ago today, Mr. M-mv gave me an engagement ring. I was surprised about how and when he proposed, yes, but the idea of marriage? No surprises there. He had already told me that we would be getting married. He announced this about two weeks after our first date.

Silly boy.


So does this woman:

In our early days together his friends and family were all shaking their heads, figuring my man was going through some sort of middle age crazy to hook up with "that head-in-the clouds hippie girl" and my pals were wondering what in the world I was doing with some straight Republican cowboy with good manners when they knew me to generally have a strong preference for bad boys in leather on motorcycles who never called anyone Mame. Clearly, by most accounts, our being together made absolutely no sense.

But when I'm in the crook of this guy's arm I feel like all the planets have lined up and the universe is smilin' on my soul. After twenty five years of marriage we've learned to compromise and negotiate a plenty. Some of the differences have been quite humorous, and a few have caused frustration, disappointment or outrage. But through it all, there's never been any question that our spirits were meant to fill each other up.


Ahhhh, l'amour!

Answers! (Part Three)

More answers to recent questions posed by Persons Who Reade Thysse Blogge:

:: A couple of queries from Roger:

If you were to live anywhere else, where would you be? What are your favorite 5 or 10 cities?


Call me crazy, but I really like Upstate NY. So I'd be happy in Rochester, and I could probably even live happily in Syracuse. Longtime readers will recall that for a time we did live in Syracuse, from September '02 until April '03. I didn't find that a long enough period living there to really form an impression of the place, but coming from Buffalo Syracuse felt...familiar, and small. Outside of "rush hour", it's possible to drive from one end of the Syracuse "metro area" to the other in less than twenty minutes.

Casting my net wider, I really love the entire Great Lakes region and the Upper Midwest. I could live happily in Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities (not Great Lakes cities, but on the cusp of the region). And if I had to live abroad, I'd be thrilled to dwell in Toronto.

As a kid we lived for a handful of years in Portland, OR, an area which I loved dearly at the time. However, it's close to twenty-six years since I've been back there, so I don't know. My parents used to comment on how it seemed to them that people in that region had some kind of inferiority complex, in that they'd always say things to my parents like, "Aren't you glad you don't live out east anymore?" But I don't know if that's really the way things are anymore. Having become used to the fact that living in Buffalo, we can take daytrips to so many cool places, I suspect the main problem I'd have with living in Portland again would be that in that part of the country, distances are so much greater, and it becomes a day trip just getting to someplace else. But again, I don't know how much that would bother me. I do know that I'd dearly love to see Portland again, and visit some of the places I remember -- the ones that are still there, anyway. And I'd love to walk the sands of Cannon Beach and gaze upon Haystack Rock again.

I guess I'd just like to be able to travel more.

Valentine's Day: a wonderful opportunity to show love and affection or a capitalist ruse?


A bit of both, I suppose. We're pretty low-key with it in our family (it helps that The Wife's birthday is less than two weeks after Valentine's).

(And here's a small rant: it never bothers me much when stores put Christmas merchandise out on display in early October. But what does irritate me is how Valentines stuff starts showing up on December 21, and how they start rolling out the Easter shit on February 10. Who the hell buys Valentines candy eight weeks before Valentines, and then just keeps it around? Don't retailers get that Valentines shopping is of the "Oh crap whatamIgonnagetforher!" variety?)

You know what is a friggin' ruse, though? If you live outside of my part of the country, you may not have heard of Sweetest Day, which was cooked up by a bunch of candymakers decades ago. It's celebrated almost exactly six months after Valentines Day. Every time Sweetest Day rolls around, I end up thinking of the fake greeting card-company created "Love Day" from The Simpsons.

What's bigger, Wyoming or Colorado?


Colorado, by about sixteen thousand square kilometers. But Wyoming feels bigger, because it's got a lot less stuff in it.

("I thought I was dead once. Turns out I was in Nebraska." - Little Bill from Unforgiven)

If you were forced to give up overalls, what would you wear, and would anyone have the faintest idea who you were?


Khakis, I guess. And shorts. I used to be the kind of guy who wears shorts year round, although in recent years my body's thermostat has set itself to "pants in winter". Oy.

I'd hope people would recognize me! People at work, by definition, rarely see me outside of work, so I suspect I'd look stranger to them in overalls than anything else. If I were to cut the hair, though -- and maybe even shave -- then I'd be well-night unrecognizable. I look at photos of my former short-haired, clean-shaven self, and I think, "Jee-bus, I looked like an idiot."

(Oddly, I don't like regular old blue jeans, and I almost never wear them. I only own two pair. I've never found jeans all that comfortable.)

:: Belladonna also had more than one query:

What piece of writing are you most proud of and why?


The obvious answer is my "Twelve Presidents" story that won the Buffalo News contest a few weeks back, but I'm just not sure. There are a number of stories sitting on my hard drive that haven't appeared anywhere of which I am very fond; I suppose both of those will end up in this space at some point. And The Promised King is the largest-scale thing I've done (using a fairly broad definition of "done", of course, since it's not done).

"Graveyard Waltz" is special to me because it's the first story I ever submitted for publication. It was rejected, of course, but the rejection slip -- my first ever -- at least garnered a brief hand-written note from that particular editor, scrawled in the corner of the form letter. That first rejection slip didn't feel bad at all; in fact, it felt kind of good in a weird way, because it meant that I was in the game. Kind of like the young pitcher who gets his first start in the Majors. Sure, he gives up eight earned runs in two innings and gets yanked as soon as he walks the first two batters in the third, but hey, he's in the Majors.

And there are lots of posts here of which I am quite proud, and it's on the behalf of those posts that I'm always a little frustrated that my traffic here so stubbornly remains exactly where it's been for so long now. A representative example here would be "Diary of a Ring". That post was a lot of fun to write, and yet it came and went with little notice at the time. Alas.

If you could meet any one person, living or dead, who would it be?


The most obvious answer here is Jesus, but since I'm all about eschewing the obvious, I would have loved to spend an evening talking music with Leonard Bernstein.

More answers to come. I think I'm almost done.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sentential Links #88

With this installment, there is one Sentential Links post for every key on a standard piano. (But I've got four more to go for one of those extended bass Bosendorfers.)

:: As I think I mentioned here before, I firmly and irrevocably, and with no irony or insincerity of any kind, believe that Kermit the Frog's rendition of "Bein' Green" is one of the greatest vocal performances of the 20th Century.

:: For years homeschooled children have had to rely for all of their information on Wikipedia, which is full of dangerous ideas that homeschooling was supposed to prevent from seeping into the home.

:: Am I the only person who really believes in the Matt/Harriet relationship? (Probably. I think they're the worst couple since Lea Thompson and Howard the Duck.)

:: W. H. Auden's 100th birthday is this week.

:: As the Oscars came to a close Sunday night, my immediate two reactions were "well, they got it just about right" and "man, those dancers, while admirably flexible, were just kinda creepy."

:: It’s the Superbowl of entertainment except when your favorite team wins there’s a big parade in your city, when your favorite movie wins there’s a big party you’re not invited to.

:: Had an aggressive glioblastoma not gobbled his brain in 1991, the late Republican political strategist Lee Atwater would have turned 56 today.

:: However, there are ways to adapt or revive clams even after they start to smell. Ways to extend their usefulness.

:: Watching Joe Quesada and Mark Millar destroy the Marvel universe has been no fun at all. (I haven't read any of this "Civil War" thing, but I also haven't read anything positive about it.)

:: "Speaking of rape, let's discuss your possible boyfriends." (Yeah, what an awful moment that was....)

More next week.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Malazan

A few days ago I finished Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, which is the first book in the fantasy mega-series The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I can't say I loved the book, but I found it highly compelling, and I definitely plan to continue reading the series. Just not for a while.

This is epic fantasy, no doubt about it. Boy howdy, is this book epic. The sense of scale in this book is, to my way of thinking, even more vast than in George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. In fact, Erikson has given himself a canvas here that is so big that for much of the book, I barely knew what was going on.

So a word of warning: if you like moral clarity in your fantasy, with heroes fighting against all odds against the Horrible and Magical Villain who is firmly ensconced in the Giant Granite And Iron Citadel that squats at the exact center of the blasted region where nothing grows that he has called his own, don't bother with Gardens of the Moon. This ain't that kind of fantasy.

But if you have at least some taste for following characters without knowing just who the good guys are, or if you like not knowing if the 700-page volume you're reading even has "good guys" in any general sense of the term, then Gardens is for you.

There also isn't much plot here, in the traditional sense; the book follows a more "situational" path. There's a continent called Genabackis, which is the subject of a military conquest campaign by the Malazan Empire, and the book follows the exploits of a fairly large cast of characters as they react to events shaped by the Malazan invasion. Some of the characters are military officers, some are soldiers, some are mages, some are assassins, some are thieves, some are unclassifiable, and some are gods.

I mentioned last week that Gardens of the Moon contains almost nothing by way of the traditional infodump, which only serves to heighten the reader's sense of being at sea here. There really is no place in the book where anyone sits down to give a lengthy precis of the history involved, so the reader has to be pretty attentive. In the short run, this makes the book rather hard to follow as the lack of a "big picture" hampers things a bit. But in the long run, as the various details that are handed out piecemeal throughout the narrative begin to fall into place, the tale becomes quite a bit more satisfying.

(My understanding is that Gardens is something of a stand-alone novel.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Can there be any doubt? By far the biggest Weird Thing to cross my radar screen this week as Conservapedia. Nothing else even came close, and nothing else to date has so perfectly illustrated for me the tendency of much of the Right in this country to wall itself off from reality in as complete a way as possible. People who think this is a good idea truly live in a dream world.

UPDATE: From their entry on the Moon:

Throughout man's existence, the Moon has had the same size as the Sun when viewed from Earth. This creates a beautiful symmetry and permits phenomenal eclipses to occur. The odds of that symmetry occurring by chance are too small to be considered possible. That symmetry will not last forever.

...

There is no plausible non-creation theory of origin for the Moon at this time.

...

Our solar system is one of the few that has only one sun. Only one sun and only one moon: this uniqueness may reflect the existence of only one God.


On unicorns:

The existence of unicorns is controversial. Secular opinion is that they are mythical. However, they are referred to in the Bible nine times,[1] which provides an unimpeachable de facto argument for their once having been in existence.


And compare the Conservapedia entry on algebra to the Wikipedia entry on the same topic. One of these contains interesting and helpful information, with sources; the other reads like Coach from Cheers when he had to learn facts about Albania for a night class:

Albania!
Albania!
You border on the Adriatic!
Your land is mostly mountainous,
and your chief export is coal!

(to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In")


What an absolute joke.

UPDATE II: God, I can't stop. From their entry on Albert Einstein:

Nothing useful has even been built based on the theory of relativity. Only one Nobel Prize (in 1993 and not to Einstein) has ever been given that even remotely relates to the theory of relativity. Many things predicted by the theory of relativity, such as gravitons, have never been found despite much searching for them. Many observed phenomenon, such as the bending of light passing near the sun or the advance of the perihelion in the orbit of Mercury, can be also predicted by Newton's theory.


(I suppose I should note that the nature of a wiki-based site like this means that the text of entries can change, and that therefore some of the quotes above may in time disappear from the linked entries. I could go to the trouble of creating screen shots, but I hope you'll all take my word for it. I'm just cutting and pasting.)

UPDATE III: On second thought, here are screenshots of the current state of the articles linked above:









Read 'em and weep.

UPDATE IV: Ach, wouldn't you know it. All these years, and I've had Coach's "Albania" song in my head wrong. The chief export isn't coal, but chrome. Watch the clip here.

Squash!

I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that I ate better than you did last night, thanks to The Wife's cooking of a new recipe.



I am now well on my way to becoming a big fan of squash. I never cared much for them until about a year ago.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Will the ghost of Farley come back and eat them all?

Time for a potentially embarrassing admission: I've been a sporadic reader of the comic strip For Better or For Worse for years now. Used to be I'd read it faithfully for a while, then stop for a while, then pick it up again, stop again, and so on. This pattern started when I was in college. I've been reading the thing on a daily basis now for the last year or two, and man, now that Lynn's announced that the strip will end sometime next year, is it ever starting to suck. She's clearly getting all her characters in line for their happily-ever-afters, and it's getting nauseating:

"Oh no! Elizabeth just got attacked on the job by a creepy guy!"

"But look! Anthony, the guy who's been in love with her since she was six, just showed up to beat the crap out of him!"

"Oh no! Michael's apartment just burned to a crisp!"

"But look! He saved his laptop with his book manuscript!"

"Oh no! Michael has to move with his family back in with his parents!"

"But look! Michael's just got a $25,000 advance for his next book!"

"Oh no! Elizabeth just got dumped by the guy she basically treated like crap!"

"But look! That guy who's been in love with her since she was six is single again!"

"Oh no! Michael's been told by his boss to fire some people at work!"

"But look! Michael's taking a moral stand by resigning himself!"

"Oh no! Michael has just deprived his family of his income!"

"But look! His wife will pick up the slack by returning to her own high-income career!"

Why do I get the feeling that FBoFW is going to spend the rest of its run tracking its characters as they repeatedly step into buckets of shit and come out smelling like a bed of roses?

Answers! (Part Two)

Here we go with the second bout of answers for Ask Me Anything! version 2.0....

:: Starting with something Star Wars, Simon asks:

While I, too, will rally to the defense of the Prequel trilogy, who would have been better suited to write dialogue for the scripts so that they didn't sound like a smarmy high school drama class production?


Unsurprisingly, I don't grant Simon's premise; I never found the dialogue in the Prequel trilogy all that bad. It's true that Anakin sounded like a smarmy high-school drama kid, but I always figured that was intentional, since he is a smarmy high-school drama kid. I particularly note how most of the really really awful lines, if not all of them, are given to him. I don't think George Lucas ever intended anyone to take his "I don't like sand" pickup line as anything other than a terribly awkward attempt by a very immature kid to impress a girl some years his senior.

And there are good lines scattered all through the Prequel Trilogy, especially in Revenge of the Sith. So for punching-up of the dialogue, I'd have maybe brought in Frank Darabont, or brought back Lawrence Kasdan. It's tempting to say Joss Whedon, but I don't think the tone he tends to achieve in his scripts would have worked terribly well with Star Wars.

:: Roger asks:

Presidents' Day is coming. Who are the five best and the five worst Presidents?


Well, Presidents' Day is over, but anyway, briefly, here's how I'd rank them.

The best, in order of their service:

1. George Washington
2. Thomas Jefferson
3. Abraham Lincoln
4. FDR
5. Harry Truman


and the worst, also in order of their service:

1. James Buchanan
2. Richard Nixon
3. Jimmy Carter
4. Ronald Reagan
5. George W. Bush


Honorable mentions to Thomas Whitmore, Josiah Bartlet, and David Palmer.

:: Belladonna asks:

What was your favorite toy during childhood?


Hmmmm. You know, that is really a hard one. I mean, that one is really hard. The few Star Wars action figures I owned were favorites, of course. I had a couple of remote-control cars that I remember fondly, and a small chemistry set that was quite a bit of fun. I never did much with Hotwheels or similar toy cars. The best bath toy I ever had was a wooden boat with a paddle-wheel that was driven by a rubber band; you rotated the paddle-wheel manually to tighten the band, and then you released the boat in the water, whereupon the rubber band unwound and made the paddle-wheel spin. That thing was cool.

There was also the model railroad set-up that we started building, but never much got beyond the construction of the table and the layout of the track itself. We never decorated the thing, which I look back on as one of the bigger missed opportunities of childhood. To this day, I find something magical about a good model railroad layout.

This is weird! I've never thought about it much, but I really don't remember too many of my toys at all. The books, though -- now those, I remember well.

(And you want to know what's really freaky? I was just thinking of the old handheld electronic game "Merlin", which I liked a lot, and just minutes later, on My Name is Earl, Earl and Randy visit their childhood bedroom whereupon Randy picks up his old Merlin and says that he's been practicing his Tic-Tac-Toe! That kind of thing always spooks me out. Whhhoooaaaaa....)

:: She also asks:

How do you determine what is private and what you are willing to publicly disclose on our blog?


Well, one easy rule is the "Would The Wife kick my ass if I posted this publicly?" policy, which is always a good one to follow. I also try to generally avoid posting too much about The Daughter, because her life is her own. And of course I resolutely never post about work.

I pretty much go on a case-by-case basis on these sorts of things, and there are many things about my life that never show up here. That's not to say many of those things never will show up in this space; I've got a number of proto-posts stashed away that I started writing and later decided against posting, and there are other things in my life that I don't post about directly but toward which I allude vaguely around here sometimes, mainly so readers may see those things and go, "Hmmmmm....", or maybe, "Huh-whuh?!"

More to come over the next few days!

Thirteen Opening Lines

(Updated below, and updated again.)

Here are thirteen first lines of spoken dialogue from some movies I like a lot. Try and guess the titles.

1. "Whenever I get gloomy about the state of the world, I think of the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport."

2. "Echo Three to Echo Seven! Han old buddy, do you read me?"

3. "I've been saying for years, sir, that our special equipment was obsolete; and now, computer analysis reveals an entirely new approach: Miniaturization."

4. "With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the Americas."

5. "The poison is still fresh, three days. The Hovitos are near."

6. "I'm just going to get some flowers, dear. I'll be back in twenty minutes. It's tulip season today. I'm so happy."

7. "Liberty's moving."

8. "Sixty knots? No way, Barnes."

9. "In ancient times, the land lay covered in forests, where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods."

10. "I don't feel anything."

11. "The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air."

12. "T minus six zero three and holding, laser positive, latch compressors."

13. "Freddy, go and find a cab."

Guess. I dare you. Heh!

UPDATE 2-24-07: As of this morning, Nos. 6, 9, 10, 12, and 13 remain unidentified. Answers will be posted tomorrow morning.

UPDATE II 2-25-07: Below are the answers, in pseudo-invisitext, so you'll have to highlight them to read them (unless you've got great eyes).


1. Love, Actually
2. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
4. Casablanca
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark
6. As Good As It Gets
7. The American President
8. The Abyss
9. Princess Mononoke (English dub)
10. Say Anything
11. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
12. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension
13. My Fair Lady


And there you go.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Brief Political Notes

A few political items I'm thinking about:

:: When regular surveys show that shockingly-low percentages of Americans know things like when the Civil War was fought and who the Presidents enshrined on Mount Rushmore are, why should we care about a poll in which Americans rank the Presidents?

:: Richard Mellon Scaife is pining for the Clinton days? Really? Wow.

:: I didn't watch the right-wing version of The Daily Show, and nor do I intend to, but I'm hearing pretty universally that it isn't funny (unless you're the type of person who found Rush Limbaugh's godawful TV show back in the day funny). A professional comedy writer explains why it's not funny:

I hate to keep explaining this, but if it seems like the Republicans have been suffering the comedic brunt for the last six years, this is because they have been in power, and comedy's job is to kick power in the junk.

More revealing is the idea of using "talking points" in a comedy show. This is obviously someone who's never worked a real comedy writer's room. For topical runs, you start with "okay, what happened today," and you look at everything. Everything. This is because comedy has maybe a 10% success rate on the pitch, and that's just for joke-like objects, never mind actual functioning funny jokes. To fill a show with a couple dozen funny jokes, you don't have the time or luxury to stick to talking points. You need to find the funny. Unless you're not worrying about funny -- in which case, you get the 1/2 Hour News Hour.


:: By pure chance, I saw that one ugly term being bandied about in reference to Islamic persons is "Muzzie". Jee-bus, there are some messed-up people in this country.

Answers! (Part One)

OK, the time has come to start answering the questions posed in Ask Me Anything! version 2.0.

I'm answering these in Order By My Whim, which means, in whatever order I want to. So there!

:: Someone going by the handle "Opus" asks this technical film music question:

I just found your blog via google, as I was searching for some comment on James Horner's Apollo 13 score. So as long as you're entertaining questions, here's mine: Have you ever noticed that, in the last moments of the last scene of the movie (on the Iwo Jima), Horner moves chromatically away from the tonic, thus ending on a chord that bears no relation to the tonality he's been working on for at least the last 20 minutes of the film? If you haven't noticed it, do you know where I can find fellow fanatics who would be driven as crazy as I by this nonsense?


No, I hadn't noticed that. Next!

Actually, though, there's a more serious point to be made here. When I listen to music, I'm quite good at hearing melodic motifs and the relationships between them, as in leitmotif-based scores like Lord of the Rings; I'm also very keen on instrumentations and rhythms.

But with tonalities? Not so much.

I can hear that the chords that begin Tristan and Isolde are dissonant, and I can hear the dissonances at work in lots of Percy Grainger's music. But I've never been good at being able to tell by ear when a work modulates into a subdominant key, to name one example. I can tell that a modulation has occurred, but I've never been good at identifying the destination key or at identifying the new key's relation to the old key.

I'm honestly not sure why this is (other than that I probably didn't put enough effort into my ear-training classes in college). Has this level of listening ever been the norm?

(And for a suggestion as to where to go on the Web to meet listeners who are equally attuned to keys, I'd probably pose either the Filmus-L mailing list or the FilmScoreMonthly message boards, where a number of fairly astute listeners hang out. I like to think of myself as an astute music listener, but in this case, I'm pretty much impotent.)

:: Chris Byrd from IndaBuff asks:

Why does Jimmy crack corn?

AND...

Why don't people care that he does?


Well, I have no idea, either. And that means, to the Google-cave, Batman! It turns out that "Jimmy Crack Corn" was originally a slave song from the pre-Civil War days.

Via Wikipedia:

There has been much conjecture over the meaning of "Jimmy Crack Corn and I don't care." One possibility is "gimcrack corn," cheap corn whiskey; another related theory is that it refers to "cracking" open a jug of corn whisky; another is that "crack-corn" is related to the (still-current) slang "cracker" for a rural Southern white.[7] Another, and possibly the most popular, is that the chorus refers to an overseer who, without the master, has only his bullwhip to keep the slaves in line. Most etymologists support the first interpretation, as the term "cracker" appears to predate "corncracking", and "whipcracker" has no historical backing.[8] This suggests that the chorus means the slaves are making whiskey and celebrating. Pete Seeger himself was said to explain the true lyric was "Gimmie cracked corn--I don't care",[9] a reference to a form of punishment for something very bad, in which a slave's rations were reduced to cracked corn and nothing else. In this case, the author seems to have decided that even this punishment is worth it, since the master is now dead and gone.


Another explanation:

Most of the theories about who Jimmy is and what he's really doing agree that whatever he's doing, the slave doesn't care about it because his master is gone. Whether he's gleefully carefree or woefully despondent is a point of dispute, depending a bit on which of the two main theories you subscribe to:

1."Cracking corn" is opening a bottle of corn liquor; the phrase is self-referential and means "I'm Jimmy, I'm upset, I'm drinking, and I don't care." Well, that sense of crack is certainly old enough, but I can't find any evidence of "corn" being used independently of the phrases "corn liquor" or "corn juice." And if Jimmy is really talking, why use "I" in the second part of the sentence, but be Bob Dole-like in the first part?

2."Cracking corn" really is crushing corn, and it means that someone named Jimmy, presumably a fellow slave, had to start grinding corn for food because of the penury visited on him after the master's death. This is as plausible as any other piece of speculation, but it's not a satisfactory answer to who Jimmy is and why he suddenly turns up in the refrain.


I found a lot more along that vein.

Basically, "Jimmy Crack Corn" is a very old folk song that arose from the plantation life of the antebellum South. As such, it'll probably never be conclusively established just "jimmy crack corn" means, but apparently he doesn't care because his master's gone. What's interesting is that depending on interpretation, he may be happy that his master is dead, or he may be sad.

More answers to come!

Loops! Look at all the pretty loops!

One oddly endearing thing I always forget about when I go to Rochester, until I see it again, is the Inner Loop. This is an expressway that runs tightly around the city's downtown core, presumably built for easy commuter access to downtown. I've done a bit of Googling, and I find that like many such expressways, it's seen as a barrier between the downtown and the outlying neighborhoods, creating an artificial barrier to development or whatnot.

Parts of the Inner Loop are below the normal street level (I'm not sure what the actual term for this is), but if we're worried about the barrier to neighborhoods and streetscapes posed by their crossings of expressways, I'm reminded of a unique solution they did in Columbus, Ohio.

Expressways can be dividers in cities. But there's nothing that says they have to be.

UPDATE: More photos of the Columbus I-670 cap here, from the streetscape level. You literally never know you're crossing an expressway.

Preznit Day!

A good time was had by all yesterday, for the holiday known as Presidents' Day. After we lit memorial candles for Zachary Taylor, Chester Alan Arthur, and Warren Harding, and after we sacrificed six live weasels in hopes of securing the favor of The Gods of Rodents for George W. Bush*, we took The Daughter to Rochester to visit the Strong Museum. I'll have pictures up on Flickr in a week or two (I need to upgrade my account before I do more uploading), but for now, let me note that if you haven't been there in a long time you should definitely go again. It is one of the classiest places I've ever been, and it's actually been significantly improved since then, what with the addition of an entire new wing and an amazing butterfly habitat exhibit. We were there for more than five hours, and we still didn't see everything before we staggered back out for the drive home. The admission prices are very reasonable, and the parking is free. So those of you with kids, what are you waiting for???

And wouldn't you know it, but at one point while we were there, we rounded the corner to head into the Sesame Street-themed exhibit area when I was stopped by a woman who asked, "Hey, do you have a blog?" I answered affirmatively, and it turns out that she's a regular reader of Jennifer's, her name is Tracy, and she's just launched her own blog, LitMama. Again, Blogistan turns out to be a very small place! (I can't imagine how she recognized me, though. You wouldn't think that long-haired guys wearing tie-dye and overalls would stand out that much.)

Anyway, more connections are being made all the time! What a world.

* No, we didn't sacrifice weasels. What kind of ogres do you think we are!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Where's Phil?

Now we're onto the "All-Stars" edition of The Amazing Race. Thus far I can only say this:

Rob and Amber are evil and must be destroyed.

Seriously: since they've been on Survivor twice and they've already been on The Amazing Race once, this is their fourth shot at winning a million bucks. Why doesn't CBS just cut them a check and be done with it? Sheesh.

Best exchange amongst contestants on tonight's episode: "It sure is nice in Peru." "That's nice, but we're in Ecuador."

Worst thing said by a contestant: "We need to go more 'rapido'. Not less 'rapido'." Said in an exaggerated Latino accent.

Sentential Links #87

I'll probably be away from the computer most of the day tomorrow (Monday -- Presidents' Day), so here are this week's Sentential Links, one day early.

:: One of the reasons I love researching for Pulp Heroes is that I'm constantly reminded that our predecessors could be so exuberantly imaginative. A crossdressing rocambolesque zeppelin-piloting master criminal from a 1915 silent film--how fun is that?

:: I've always figured that anyone who thinks that the world today is more dangerous and more frightening than, say, the decade after WWII, is either too young to remember, too incurious to have read any history, or else just plain nuts.

:: What does it mean to "love thy neighbor"? Where does my social/spiritual obligation or opportunity start and stop?

:: I've seen biggies like the Eagles, Pink Floyd, U2, and Bob Dylan, not to mention personal uber-faves like Dwight Yoakam, but the list above still did the best live shows.

:: Things get pretty moody out in space, I guess. All that training, and then, at the end of the day, there you are with no gravity, some other astronaut is having sex with the astronaut you're supposed to be having sex with, you're trying to eat something that looks like a mylar balloon, and you have a load in your pants.

:: Boy, the early years were rough on Jerry, weren't they? 17 episodes in and he's only had four girlfriends, really. We'll check back in with the next season soon. Things might pick up for him then! (Schmoopy! Yes, he's blogging his way through Jerry's history of love on Seinfeld. Hilarity should ensue.)

:: Being a kid means feeling afraid, feeling sad, feeling lost and confused, feeling let down, feeling alone, feeling sad, feeling bad for reasons you can't name for yourself. (One of those posts Lance uncorks on a regular basis that makes me wonder why on Earth I'm blogging in the first place. Criminy.)

:: One thing to consider about the Glenn Reynolds / Hugh Hewitt assassination strategy for coping with the Iranian nuclear program ("we should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists") beyond the obvious is how we once again see conservatives (or in Reynolds' case "libertarians") displaying an almost childlike faith in the competence, honesty, and efficacy of the federal bureaucracy insofar as that bureaucracy is tasked with dishing out lethal force that they would never in a million years ascribe to, say, the people in charge of the Endangered Species Act.

:: I am not a Freak.

:: Pig, the last animal of the zodiac, is considered a very good sign to be born under. They are sincere, gregarious, diligent, generous sensualists. (Personally, I'd rather call it the Year of the Boar, but hey, it's my year! How about it, readers? Am I a sincere, gregarious, diligent, and generous sensualist? According to the placemats at Chinese restaurants, I'm noble and chivalrous, and while my friends will be lifelong, I am prone to marital strife. [No comment. -Ed.] I'm also supposed to marry a Rabbit, which The Wife is not. Hmmmm.)

That's it for now. Back next Monday.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Here we go:

:: Almost two years ago I finally filled a giant hole in my small geek-toy collection when, through the services of eBay, I bought a die-cast Millennium Falcon. Finally I could play out the asteroid-field chase from The Empire Strikes Back in my head! And the final battle from Return of the Jedi! Hooray!

(Actually, I now own two die-cast Millennium Falcons; the months following the release of Revenge of the Sith saw a whole bunch of new Star Wars toys on the market, among them new ships from MicroMachines. My second toy Falcon, viewable in this photo (although not very well), is a "battle-scarred" one. That apparently means they dabbed more gray paint on it to simulate carbon scoring from laser blasts and whatnot. So basically I seem to now have a model of the Falcon from both before and after Han Solo got his hands on it.)

Why am I bringing this up? Because now you can get a Lego set to make your own Millennium Falcon. It checks in at almost three feet in length, and it costs five hundred dollars.

I don't think I'll be buying any of these anytime soon. Not just the money, but who the hell has the patience to assemble it?!

(via)

:: The stuff people do these days. Ye Gods. (Kind of a creepy image involving tattooing. Not graphic, but creepy.)

:: Superman versus the KKK. Seriously. This is fascinating.

(via)

:: I saw this mentioned on a blog somewhere over the last few days, but now I can't remember which blog. I'll update if I find it again, but for now, here's a bit of Presidential lore I didn't know: sixteen years after he left the Presidency, John Tyler, our tenth President, was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.

Now, Tyler died before he could assume that office, but I'm wondering: if he'd lived to serve in the Confederate Congress, would that have constituted an act of treason against the United States? Committed by a former President? Man, history's fascinating, but you never hear about this stuff in high school. It's like, they give you all the boring outline stuff, but the year ends and you graduate before you can start learning all the good stuff.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Ecstasy of Influence

Anyone interested in the increasingly important issues of copyright and intellectual property needs to read this Jonathan Lethem essay. A brief sample:

Honoring the commons is not a matter of moral exhortation. It is a practical necessity. We in Western society are going through a period of intensifying belief in private ownership, to the detriment of the public good. We have to remain constantly vigilant to prevent raids by those who would selfishly exploit our common heritage for their private gain. Such raids on our natural resources are not examples of enterprise and initiative. They are attempts to take from all the people just for the benefit of a few.

...

Any text that has infiltrated the common mind to the extent of Gone With the Wind or Lolita or Ulysses inexorably joins the language of culture. A map-turned-to-landscape, it has moved to a place beyond enclosure or control. The authors and their heirs should consider the subsequent parodies, refractions, quotations, and revisions an honor, or at least the price of a rare success.

A corporation that has imposed an inescapable notion—Mickey Mouse, Band-Aid—on the cultural language should pay a similar price.

The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors but “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” To this end, copyright assures authors the right to their original expression, but encourages others to build freely upon the ideas and information conveyed by a work. This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate.

Contemporary copyright, trademark, and patent law is presently corrupted. The case for perpetual copyright is a denial of the essential gift-aspect of the creative act. Arguments in its favor are as un-American as those for the repeal of the estate tax.

Art is sourced. Apprentices graze in the field of culture.

...

Any text is woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The citations that go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read; they are quotations without inverted commas. The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are secondhand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral caliber and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.


Read the whole thing. It's brilliant.

(via)

When the old words fail

I saw the other day that former NBA star Tim Hardaway said of gay people:

Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States. So yeah, I don't like it.'


I think we need to stop using "homophobic" to describe attitudes like this. A phobia is an unreasoning fear, and it's hard to see Hardaway's attitude toward gays as being similar to a claustrophobe's fear of being in an enclosed space.

Let's call this what it is: bigotry. Tim Hardaway is a disgusting bigot, in precisely the same way that many are toward blacks.

Saturday Morning Geekery

Some geek-type stuff to launch the weekend:

:: I kind of liked this quiz, because not only does it tell you which superhero you are, it also breaks out a bunch of others you could be. (Although as much as I love Wonder Woman, I don't much see how I could be her, since I'm a dude and stuff.)

Your results:
You are Spider-Man
























Spider-Man
85%
Hulk
75%
Robin
68%
Iron Man
65%
Catwoman
55%
Supergirl
53%
The Flash
50%
Green Lantern
45%
Superman
45%
Wonder Woman
38%
Batman
35%
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.


Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test


Spiderman, eh? Fine by me!

:: Here's an article about the ratings-crash of LOST. I no longer watch the show, having quickly grown bored with it in Season One. What interests me is the way the show is constantly mentioned in the same breath as The X-Files, with the earlier show continually being cited as an example of a mystery-mytharc type of show petering out in an unsatisfying way. And yes, TXF certainly did that, but it's worth noting that TXF managed to go on for nine seasons, surviving far longer than LOST's current three. (From what I've read in the past, LOST is almost certain to go away after its fifth year, if the ratings allow it to survive even that long.)

Why did TXF go on so long? Well, a few reasons -- for most of its run it focused on the chemistry between two characters, as opposed to the large cast that inhabits LOST, it was able to tell stories that were a lot more varied than sticking to a single island (character flashbacks notwithstanding), and most importantly, for all the invective thrown at TXF for the way its internal mytharc was eventually mishandled, TXF just didn't do mytharc all that often. Over nine seasons the show produced around 180 total episodes, with only around 60 of those actively advancing the mytharc (and that's depending on how you count the mytharc episodes in the first place -- is "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" a mytharc episode at all?). LOST seems to be all-mytharc, all-the-time. (I may be wrong here, of course, since I stopped watching a long time ago, but back in the 90s, FOX only felt it necessary to air a "Mytharc summation" TXF special once, whereas it seems that ABC has to do this for LOST twice a season.)

:: I've probably linked this before, but it's worth doing so again: Wil Wheaton is slowly blogging his way through watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. His write-ups of each episode are hilarious; for instance, from his writeup of "The Last Outpost" (when we first meet the Ferengi):

Data says Ferengi are like traders, and explains this with the most obvious contemporary reference: Yankee traders from 18th century America. This indicates that, in the 24th century, the traditional practice of using 400 year-old comparisons is still in vogue, like when you're stuck in traffic on the freeway, and you say, "Man, this is just like Vasco de Gama trying to go around the Cape of Good Hope!"


Even better, his introspective ruminations on the part he played on TNG are fascinating. Here's an excerpt from what he says about the episode "The Battle" (that would be the one where Picard is being mind-controlled by a Ferengi captain who has a personal axe to grind with Our Dear Captain):

I haven't watched this episode in over a decade, but it's probably one of the most important for me to see, because it clearly illustrates exactly why Wesley Crusher went from mildly annoying to vehemently hated character so quickly: First of all, acting ensign or not, having Wesley rush into the middle of the Bridge and effectively tell Riker, "Hey, I figured this out before you all did because I'm so fucking smart" is quite possibly the worst way to help the audience accept that this kid is going to be part of the main crew.


I never loathed Wesley as much as many other fans did, but it did get annoying when all these Starfleet personnel would turn out to be too stupid to figure out what's going on. It would have been helpful to have an episode where Wesley bursts onto the bridge and says, "Hey, I figured it out! You need to...oh, you've already done that. OK, but next make sure you...oh, you're on that, too. OK, I'm gonna go back to my room."

:: The Disney Corp. has lost a legal battle over the ownership or some other rights issue pertaining to Winnie the Pooh. Maybe we can finally start tilting back in favor of the idea of public domain over the next decade or two? (And maybe someone who understands the issues involved in that case I linked can sum up what happened?)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Questions?

I'm still soliciting submissions for Ask Me Anything!, version 2.0. Leave 'em here. I'm planning to start answering questions this weekend, so get 'em in!

Passages

AICN reports that the great visual effects artist Peter Ellenshaw has died. If the name doesn't ring a bell, check out his filmography. You almost certainly know his work.

Note to self

When Guy Gavriel Kay has a new novel coming out in the next week or two, don't start reading a doorstop like Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon.

My unopened copy of Ysabel, which came via Amazon three days ago, is giving me a big old guilt trip right now.

(And man, is Gardens a dense read. I'll say more about it when I finish it -- right now I'm about halfway done -- but so far, it seems to me that Erikson stands at the opposite pole from David Weber. With Weber, you get infodumps galore, whether you need them or not. With Erikson, you don't get infodumps at all. It's in medias res, all the time.)

Whatever Groucho said about not joining a club that would have him as a member....

I'm not sure who it is at WNYMedia.net who felt that what they needed was some Ann Coulter, but that just about carves in stone my non-intention to join up.

Why I miss Molly Ivins

From a column Ivins wrote about Camille Paglia, way back in 1991:

What we have here, fellow citizens, is a crassly egocentric, raving twit. The Norman Podhoretz of our gender. That this woman is actually taken seriously as a thinker in New York intellectual circles is a clear sign of decandence, decay, and hopeless pinheadedness. Has no one in the nation's intellectual capital the background and ability to see through a web of categorical assertions? One fashionable line of response to Paglia is to claim that even though she may be fundamentally off-base, she has "flashes of brilliance." If so, I missed them in her oceans of swill.


Whole thing here.

(Via this MeFi thread on the occasion of Paglia's return to Salon. I don't read Salon unless someone I already read links something there, so I didn't even know Paglia had been there before, much less left.)

Five more and I get a set of steak knives.

Sorry for the silence the last couple of days, but real life has been busier than usual at home. (Not in any kind of bad way, but just busy.) Anyhow, time for a momentous revelation:

Five years ago today, Byzantium's Shores went "live".

Five years and more than five thousand posts later, here we are, keeping the beat marching on. How much longer can I go? Who knows? I suspect that there are fewer days ahead for this blog than there are behind, but you never know. Sometimes I get the hankering to sign off from Blogistan, but I'm kind of like Crash Davis in that regard: "Well, I quit! F*** this f***ing game! [beat] Who do we play tomorrow?"

I started off as a pseudonymous blogger, writing brief posts about books and movies and TV shows and the occasional sporting event. Now, I'm pretty much non-pseudonymous, but with the same kinds of posts about books and movies and TV shows and the occasional sporting event. The only real difference is that I've gotten more long-winded.

But five years is a pretty interesting chunk of time over which to survey once it's over. In that time I've held a job I hated (and at which I sucked), got fired from said job, moved to Syracuse and spent a winter there*, moved back to Buffalo, spent a year-and-a-half unemployed, joined The Store, spent fifteen months attempting -- and ultimately failing -- to raise a son with severe cerebral palsy, and more. I've also met a whole lot of fine bloggers, both in cyberspace and outside of it, enough so as to enrich my life handsomely.

Anyhow, thanks to all my readers for dropping by over the past five years and to all the fellow travelers in Blogistan who have linked me from time to time.

* Hey, Buffalo, you want to know what winter's like in Syracuse? Imagine the last week or so, and extend that from mid-December to mid-March. Why it's Buffalo that's got the snow-and-cold reputation is beyond me.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Another reminder!

I'm gearing up for Ask Me Anything! version 2.0, so get your questions in! Anything goes. There are no stupid questions! (Well, OK, there's a few, but I think my readership is smart enough to avoid those, right?)

Norris Koana

The title of this post will make sense once you watch tonight's episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which I of course watched last night courtesy of the good Canadians who show it on Sundays.

I was starting to have hopes for this show, but having seen this episode, I'm thinking that Aaron Sorkin is this close to completely blowing it. (You can't see me, but I'm holding my thumb and forefinger really close together.) Why? Because Sorkin just can't keep beating Matt and Harriet to death.

Let me back up a bit. Last week, Buffalo News TV critic Alan Pergament launched this column about Studio 60 thusly:

I'm still trying to understand why more of Buffalo and America hasn't fallen in love with Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

It is one of the smartest, funniest and more romantic shows of the new season. It also has one of the season's more appealing and unassuming stars, Sarah Paulson. Paulson, who plays born-again sketch performer Harriet Hayes, conceded during an interview on the show's set in Hollywood last month that she stood out like a born-again Christian in Hollywood in a cast that includes Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Timothy Busfield and D.L. Hughley.


The article proceeds to give a nice profile of Sarah Paulson, whom I actually do think does a good job on the show as Harriet Hayes. The whole problem with the show, so far as I see it, isn't the fact that Sorkin can't help but fall in love with his own turns of phrase and therefore keep using them over and over and over again from one show to the next; nor is it Sorkin's apparent Gilbert-and-Sullivan fetish that also crops up in everything he writes (not the weirdest fetish out there, as fetishes go, but it's certainly unusual and hard to work into shows constantly). The problem is that Sorkin won't write the interesting stuff for his interesting characters because he's freaking obsessed with his two least-interesting characters.

Harriet Hayes doesn't get to be interesting just because she's a born-again Christian. Born-again Christians can be interesting, and yet, Harriet is not. And why isn't she? Because there's no struggle involved. She just flits about the show, with her faith never really being challenged in any serious way. There's no evidence that she ever struggles with her faith in the way that, say, President Bartlet did in The West Wing. Remember when Jed Bartlet cursed God? Can anyone see Harriet Hayes ever cursing God? There's no conflict in Harriet, and conflict is what makes characters interesting. Why is Peter Parker more interesting than Clark Kent? Because Parker's internal conflict is a lot more interesting than Kent's. We never see any internal conflict in Harriet. Sure, there's lots of external conflict -- non-religious groups think she's a bigot, religious groups think she isn't religious enough -- and yet we never get any real idea how this all affects her. Her faith remains as it is, totally unchanged.

Matt Albie doesn't have any internal conflict either. He's the mirror-image of Harriet, and it shows every time they get together, and Matt almost immediately goes into some uber-clever indictment of religion that sounds pre-rehearsed in his brain. (In tonight's episode, he actually cites the percentage of the American people who believe in angels. Who goes around knowing that stuff?) Sorkin's approach to writing these two characters is to say that "Person X believes this and Person Y believes that, and all I gotta do now is have them argue about it at length."

And he does this for enough of each episode that it totally takes over everything else. The internal power struggles at the fictional TV network? The trials and tribulations of a young writing staff thrown into the deep end without a life preserver? The production problems inherent in a weekly sketch comedy show? The neuroses of comics who have to play multiple characters each week and keep them all straight? All of that is more inherently interesting than Matt-and-Harriet, and yet, Sorkin keeps the focus on Matt-and-Harriet.

Which brings me to tonight's episode.

One of Sorkin's favorite devices is the interwoven series of flashbacks, in which today's events are presaged by what happened weeks, months, or years before. Here we keep flashing back to Matt's early days with the show, when he meets for the first time -- you guessed it -- Harriet Hayes. And in their first extended conversation, Matt goes right into talking about religion as though he's a professional pollster, of course offending Harriet. For the balance of the episode, their flashback banter revolves around tiny minutiae regarding that first conversation, long after we, the audience, have stopped caring.

There's another big strike at work here, too: Matthew Perry and Sarah Paulson just don't have the chemistry between them that might be able to make it all work, if Sorkin weren't writing it so poorly.

(On chemistry: I'm not necessarily referring to romantic chemistry. On West Wing, Rob Lowe had terrific onscreen chemistry with Emily Procter, and their characters weren't romantically linked in any way at all. Perry and Paulson don't seem to even have that kind of chemistry. Not that they can't appear onscreen together, but they can't pull off what's supposed to be the emotional center of a show together.)

We never, not once, buy the idea that these two are anything but doomed. I had hope of that in the previous couple of episodes, when Harriet suddenly realized that the relationship was utterly dead in the water, but now, here we are, beating it to death again. Now, maybe Aaron Sorkin is trying something more sophisticated here, in depicting Matt Albie as a guy who is hopelessly attached to a relationship that can't possibly go anywhere, but the problem there is, it just doesn't feel like Sorkin is writing that story. Instead it feels like Sorkin genuinely believes he can get these two together in the end, and right now he's just working through it all. Well, I don't want to see it. I want to see the other stuff.

Some of my favorite movies and TV shows are "backstage" stories set in show business. Shouldn't it tell Aaron Sorkin something that he keeps dwelling on Matt Albie, a guy who almost never leaves his own office? There's a reason why Captain Kirk was always leaving the bridge of the Enterprise, and it's not because Kirk was some kind of grand adventurer. It's because keeping him on the bridge would have made him a really boring character.

Ultimately, by having these two only ever talk about a single subject, we not only never see that Matt and Harriet could love each other, we end up with no clue why they ever would love each other. If Aaron Sorkin wants Studio 60 to succeed, he needs to put the Matt and Harriet relationship behind him. He can write about Matt, and he can write about Harriet. But constantly writing about Matt-and-Harriet is killing the show.

(No, I didn't like tonight's episode. Apparently Matt is now starting to lose it.)

Widgets! Got your widgets here!

I just added a thingie called a "ZoomCloud" to the sidebar. I don't know if it is of any use at all, but there it is.

A pet peeve

I hate it when people point out that "Just because that's the way we've always done it is no reason to keep doing it that way." Why do I hate this? Well, it's always true to note this, of course; it really is the case that tradition isn't in itself a good reason to keep doing something.

What irritates me is that this bit of wisdom is, in my experience, usually advanced in support of making a change, in and of itself, as though change is a priori good. The above mantra is often tossed out there as a means of shutting off debate of a change that amounts to little more than a whim on the part of whoever wants things changed in the first place.

So my response is usually to say, "I agree, but you haven't sold me on your idea yet, either. Why make a change?" If there's no convincing answer forthcoming to that, then I say, keep things the way they are.

(No, this post is not occasioned by anything specific that happened at work or in real life recently. It's just a thought that I have every so often. Kind of like my dislike of the idea of "common sense".)

Sentential Links #86

Yup, we've reached Installment #86 of Sentential Links. However, we will not be 86ing the series. Just in case anyone was wondering.

:: I had a wild hair and decided to redesign my weblog. (Sean's is the first blog I ever saw, and aside from changing the contents of his sidebar on occasion, his blog has maintained its look for the entire time -- until last week.)

:: Well, here it is. It's not too pink, is it? (No. It's more of a faded salmon color, actually. [Little Friends joke there.] Lynn redid her blog's appearance too.)

:: Every time we receive one message it means we are not receiving something else. (I haven't commented on the Anna Nicole Smith thing because it just doesn't interest me, except that I've noted what Belladonna notes here -- the media focus on her was absurd. I just don't get it. Her death was the banner headline that day in the Buffalo News, beating out the ongoing trial of a former close associate of the Vice President of the United States. There's a statement in there about our priorities.)

:: The ESRB is so eager to let me know if the game will torment my ears with bad words, or if my eyes might be scalded by the sight of boobies, but they never tell me what I really want to know: They never warn me that I need to pick up an extra controller or mouse while I’m buying the game, to replace the one I’m inevitably going to smash. (I have got to stop reading Shamus's blog, because every day I read him I feel my resistance to allowing computer games in the home to slip a little. The other day at Target I very nearly dropped forty bucks on a five-pack of Star Wars games, but luckily for me and my wallet and that pesky marriage thing, I recovered after a self-administered dope-slap. But you can't go around giving yourself dope-slaps forever; sooner or later their effectiveness wears off, and then you're just that weird long-haired guy in overalls who keeps slapping himself in public. And believe me, I don't want to be that guy.)

:: Making a bigger leap, I think that the thread connecting 24, CSI, opposition to anti-bullying legislation, and in the past opposition to anti-lynching statutes is the conviction that society requires extra-legal violence in order to hold together. (Hmmmmm.)

:: So, to summarize: it's badly paid, the hours are weird, the office environment can be claustrophobic, you can't get the staff, you're selling your wares to big corporations who can roll over in their sleep and crush you if you don't make nice, nobody's going to give you a champagne reception, a stretch limo or a signing tour, there's lots of business admin stuff to deal with, and you still have to cram in a normal social life or you'll go mad.

On the other hand: you're doing exactly what you always wanted to do (or you'd get frustrated and go do something else). And what could be better than that?


:: I’ve recently received permission from Ian Hamet to explain the events behind his mysterious disappearance from the Web last July, and his enigmatic reappearance in mid-October. The tale’s not quite as lurid as the fevered imaginings that had me calling the American consulate on Ian’s behalf, but it’ll do.

:: I'm a latecomer to the horror genre. Aside from a couple Steven King movie adaptions, the required Edgar Allen Poe poetry (standard for any budding young Goth), and weekends rolling dice over my Vampire character sheet as a teenager I didn't bother with the genre much.

Enough for now. Tune back in next week for more exciting stuff.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday Burst of Delusion

Rumsfeld-Bolton in 2008.

The money quote:

Rather than running away from this record, how about running on it? How about trumpeting the military success of the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and highlighting the need for inter-agency reform to offset the problems we have encountered in reconstruction?


The war was a military success, and everything that's happened since has been "reconstruction".

This is like saying that the Buffalo Bills won Super Bowl XXV because they led at halftime, and just ran into a few problems running out the clock.

(via)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Hoo-boy....

:: How to draw Dick Cheney.

First Step: Draw Dick Cheney. Yah, I know that's a bit of a leap, I remember my old "how to draw superheroes" books where the first step would be a box, and the second step would be Captain America.


Of course, my visual arts mojo is such that drawing the box would trip me up.

:: Move over Pauline Kael! An AICN persona reviews the new movie 300:

I can’t spoil the plot because THANK GOD THERE ISN’T ONE. Just ass kicking that kicks ass that, while said ass is getting kicked, is kicking yet more ass that’s hitting someone’s balls with a hammer made of ice but the ice is frozen whiskey.


Ummm...OK then.

:: A dead whale carcass washes up on a beach in South Africa; South African police tow the carcass out to the waters off a place called Seal Island. I don't know anything about Seal Island, but I can only assume that it's called Seal Island by virtue of being home to lots of seals. And we all know what beasties love to munch on seals, right? Yup, sharks. Lots of sharks. Lots of Great White sharks. Who now have a nice big rotting whale carcass to nibble at. And by "nibble", I mean, "take big honking bites out of".

Here's the nearly seven-minute video of the feeding frenzy. It's pretty grisly stuff, as you might surmise, so keep that in mind, all ye queasy creatures out there. But it's worth watching in that "Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom" way that always fascinated when the lion ran down the wounded gazelle...and that's all before the guy in scuba gear goes into the water to get a better look.

And what do you suppose happens when a bunch of boy sharks and girl sharks get together and fill their bellies? Well, their thoughts may well turn to thoughts of, well, doin' the underwater grind. A scientist hypothesizes that dead whale carcasses may well be essential to the continuation of the Great White species, by providing the opportunity for full-stomached shark orgies.

This is officially the greatest thing ever posted to YouTube, and quite possibly the entire Interweb. Icky dead things being fed upon by ravenous sharks, followed by scuba diving bravado, followed by the making of little sharks? I honestly can't think of a way for this to get any better, unless it would be for one of the scientists to get up the next morning, when the carcass has been reduced to just chunks of internal organs held together mostly by gristle, and climb onto the carcass in an attempt to get even closer footage of sharks feeding....

Seriously, greatest thing on teh Internets EVER.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A reminder!

In honor of this blog's fast-approaching (this coming Thursday!) five-year blogiversary, I'm doing Round Two of Ask Me Anything!. Details here. (Anonymous questions are fine, although nothing...dirty. This blog is PG-13 at worst!)

Oh, and there's no limit on questions, either. Ask one or ten, if you must.

Geek Movies!

Via Jason Bennion I see a list of Fifteen geek movies to see before you die. Which ones have I seen? The ones in bold, of course:

Brazil (I can only count this by virtue of equating "seen" with "having been in the same room when it was on". It was so long ago that I remember nothing from the movie. In fact, I may even be thinking of the wrong movie entirely. So on second thought, scratch that.)

The Matrix (Loved it when it came out. I liked it a little less every time I watched it afterwards. I got the second one from the library a while back, and I actually fell asleep in the first half hour, and it wasn't one of those nights when I had gone to work at 5:00 a.m., either. I've never looked back, either. For additional hatin' on The Matrix, check out 50 reasons to reject The Matrix, which includes the following:

You've worked as a policeman your whole life, protecting the innocent, enforcing the law. You retire with honors, then take a job as a security guard, working the metal detector on the ground floor of a skyscraper in order to help pay for your wife's arthritis medication. You're sitting there, on a slow day, reading your newspaper, when a girl walks in wearing a trenchcoat. She issues no demands, no warnings, no "freeze" or "drop your gun." She just tears you in half with a spray of machine-gun fire, then does cartwheels along the walls while killing all your friends.


The Fifth Element (Good movie, but man, is it weird. And I've never understood people who insist that this movie is a great work of genius, with that unimaginably irritating character in it, and yet also tell me that Jar Jar Binks is too evil to let stand.)

Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (I suppose, but I still think it's overrated. But hey, KHAAAANNN!)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Good movie and all, but is it really indispensible geek viewing? Really?)

Serenity (Out of purism, I won't watch this until I've seen all of Firefly. I know they say you don't have to have seen the show to grok the movie, but I'm gonna do it right.)

Dark City

12 Monkeys (I liked it a lot. But I have to be in a special mood for Terry Gilliam. Same as I have to be in a special mood for Wild Turkey jello shots.)

Shaun of the Dead (You know, I like reading horror, but I'm not a great fan of movie horror.)

Darkman (Wow! One of the funnest nights ever in college involved this movie. We did one of our "Three movies and a bunch of beers" nights, and this one was the second movie. Most times the second movie ended up being the most fun, since that movie always occupied the "sweet spot" when we'd consumed enough beer to understand the plot and still laugh uproariously at horribly inappropriate stuff, like when the bad guy chastises an underling by cutting off his fingers with a cigar clipper, or when the hero coerces a baddie to give him information under threat of death -- and then proceeds to kill the guy anyway. "Wait! I told you what I knew!" "I know you did -- but let's pretend you didn't!" Oh, and Liam Neeson rocks.)

Army of Darkness

War Games (Incidentally, this was the last time I liked Matthew Broderick in anything. And even then I didn't like him that much. A nerd like that, going out with Ally Sheedy? GAHHH!)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Well, duh! And check out the complete script, which includes a lot of different stuff from what actually ended up in the finished movie. For instance, here's a bit that would have taken place just after the Bridge of Death, when Arthur and Bedevere are coming to the boat that will take them to the Castle Aggghhhhh:

Suddenly the air is filled with ethereal music, and out of the mist appears a wonderful barge silently and slowly drifting towards them. They gaze in wonder. The mysterious boat comes to where they are standing. As if bewitched, they find themselves drawing closer to the boat. As they are about to step in, a ragged figure looks up at them.

BOATKEEPER: (he is the same as the BRIDGEKEEPER and the SOOTHSAYER) He who would cross the Sea if Fate, must answer me these questions twenty-eight.

He fixes them with a baleful eye, ARTHUR and BEDEVERE exchange glances, then turn, with minds made up, pick him up bodily and throw him in the water. They climb into the boat and the boat moves off into the mist


Ni!)

Office Space (They said I could keep my radio at a reasonable volume.)

Repo Man (I don't know the first thing about this movie!)

Jason points out a number of movies that could also be considered "Essential Geek viewing"; I'd add The Abyss and Superman to the list. Another? Well, it's not a SF or horror flick, but neither is Office Space, and I've never met a single person that I held to be a Geek in Good Standing who hadn't seen The Karate Kid.

All those two had was EACH OTHER!

John's got a brief post in which he describes a TV show moment that makes him cry. Since I myself have been known to blubber like a baby at certain movies and TV shows, I figure, why not make a list of such moments? (It's not like this is a masculine blog or anything; I mean, geez, look at the picture at the top!)

:: Titanic. OK, I never found this movie to be the overwhelming emotional experience that many folks did, and Jack's frigid and wet demise never made me tear up at all, but that brief bit where the mother in steerage is telling her two kids their last bedtime story before the waters swirl around them, and then the moment just after that when the elderly first-class couple is on their bed for the last time, always gets me. (Yes, I still like Titanic. I've never seen so befuddling an example of something so universally beloved at one point becoming so universally loathed a bit later on.)

:: Field of Dreams. When the catcher removes his mask, and Ray Kinsella realizes just who he is and just why he's been doing all this weird stuff -- oh, crap, where's my Kleenex?

:: Back when ER didn't suck, it could usually be counted on to have one big tear-jerking scene per year. The "Love's Labor Lost" episode (Dr. Greene saves the baby but the mom dies) was one such episode; then there was the second season episode when one of the two ambulance-driver dudes died of the burns he suffered in a fire. I always found the episode where Dr. Greene died overdone -- it was like the producers were saying, "You will cry now. Cry, damn you! CRY!!!" -- but the episode before that one really got me. That was when, at the beginning of the episode, Dr. Carter is reading a letter to the ER staff from Dr. Greene, and then at the bottom, he gets to the note that Elizabeth had added to the end: "Mark died this morning." The rest of the episode tracks everyone's reaction to the news, and it ends with a flash-forward by about six months or so -- and the last letter of Dr. Greene is still pinned to the bulletin board.

:: OK, I gotta mention the Little House on the Prairie episode when Laura Ingalls gets jealous over the attention being paid to her baby brother, and prays for the baby to die, which he then does. And then Laura runs away from home and goes up on top of this really high mountain (an oddly high point, given that the Ingalls family is supposed to be living in the flatlands of Minnesota, but who cares), whereupon she meets an angel played by Ernest Borgnine. While Laura's learning all kinds of wisdom from the angelic Borgnine, Pa and Mr. Edwards are frantically searching for her. Yes, it's exactly as maudlin as it sounds, but that moment at the end when Pa finally arrives...and then Laura turns to introduce her new friend, but he isn't there...shit, I need more Kleenex.

:: The West Wing: when Aaron Sorkin was really on top of his shit, he could get me like nobody else. The opening minutes of the second-season premier, "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen", gets me every time, when Toby starts speaking to Josh and then realizes he's bleeding profusely from his gunshot wounds. "Two Cathedrals" is a tough one, too, as Jed Bartlet comes to grips with Mrs. Landingham's death and his big MS problem. But nothing got me quite as much as the scene in "25", Aaron Sorkin's last episode of the show, when Toby spoke to his newly-born twins.

:: I don't recall actually tearing up during the second half of Star Wars Episode III, but I definitely felt like I'd been punched in the gut as Anakin's betrayal of the Jedi starts to play out. The look on Plo Koon's face as he realizes that the clone troopers are now training their blasters on him is devastating.

:: The Shawshank Redemption: "I hope the Pacific is as blue as it is in my dreams...I hope." Wow.

OK, that's about it. I could go on, though.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ask Me Anything! (version 2.0)

One week from today marks this blog's fifth anniversary of existence, which seems to me a good time to do another round of Ask Me Anything!. This is simply where readers get to toss questions at me, which I promise to answer. (Not always seriously, though!) The first round of Ask Me Anything! was a lot of fun, so here's hoping for Version 2.0.

So, you know. Ask me anything!

A Query

For my Buffalo readers: have any of you eaten at a restaurant in East Aurora called "Tantalus"? I'm wondering how good it is. Let me know.

ROWR!

Heavens, has it been that long since I've done a Realization Of Womanly Radiance? It seems so. Thus we'll delve into the past a bit, for a bit of Retro-ROWR! Here's a beautiful woman who came to the fore in the 60s and 70s, mainly as Emma Peel on The Avengers and as Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, the greatest Bond girl of all, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. We're talking about Diana Rigg.



She was also pretty limber back in the day, it seems:



And:



Rigg was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1994, which means that she is now properly referred to as Dame Diana Rigg. In recent years, she's been chancellor of the University of Stirling and has remained active in the British theater.

But she'll always be Tracy Bond to me.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Gratitude

I'd like to thank everyone who has either commented here, or on their own blogs, or both, for the well-wishes after my story was published in the Buffalo News yesterday. All that meant as much to me, if not more, than getting printed in the first place!

Regular posting may resume later today.

UPDATE: I'm keeping this post at the top of today's entries, for people who may be jumping on the blog for the first time. Newer posts appear below.

UPDATE II: I've been remiss in mentioning the second-place winning story, "The Color of Dreams", by Buffalo area teacher Jennifer Cantie. I found it a fine effort, even if she got Ernest and Hilda completely wrong! Check it out. Congratulations to Mrs. Cantie.

UPDATE III: I have a friend who occasionally morphs photos of me into...other photos of me. Here's what he did to the author shot that appeared with my story:



Lurking...always lurking....

Dispatches from the Boston PD

A press item, noted today:

BOSTON -- Still smarting from their recent partial shutdown of the city, which was perceived nationwide as a staggering overreaction to what was later uncovered as a viral marketing ploy, the Boston Police Department is now facing questions about its conduct in investigating another bomb scare last month.

"There was clearly intent to harm civilians," said Detective Duncan Shaun O'Reillyhughe the Third. "The surveillance tape clearly shows the suspect wiring a piano to explode with ten sticks of Grade A dynamite from the 'ACME' corporation."

The scheme, as explained by Detective O'Reillyhughe, was for the bomber's quarry to approach the piano and plink out the tune written out on the manuscript paper on the instrument's sheet-music holder. The tune, as identified via surveillance tapes of the scene, was 'Believe Me If All These Endearing Young Charms'. The dynamite was wired to the 'C' key one octave above middle-C, with the expectation that the bomber's quarry would hit that note and then be destroyed in the explosion.

Fortunately, the bomber's quarry proved to be a poor musician, and repeatedly struck the tones to either side of the high-C, eventually prompting the bomber -- a short man with red hair, beard and mustache, and tall cowboy hat -- to come to the keyboard himself to demonstrate. Surprisingly, in the resulting explosion, the bomber was unhurt save for the singing of his hat and facial hair. His quarry, who was dressed as a rabbit, escaped unharmed.

Boston police acted on a tip about a man matching the bomber's description, going from bar to bar in the downtown area demanding to know if anyone had seen a "flea-bitten varmint". When police arrived on the scene, the bomber ran from them, shouting that "no lawman would ever catch him". Police then gave chase, Detective O'Reillyhughe said.

Accounts from here differ as to what happened next. According to Detective O'Reillyhughe, the official police report states that the piano bombing suspect ran down a dead-end alley, but when pursuing officers arrived, the suspect was gone. However, a homeless man who was sleeping in that alley says that the suspect was able to escape by hastily painting a tunnel onto the wall and then escaping into it. The pursuing officers attempted to give chase into the painted tunnel, only to be forced to evacuate when a light therein indicated an oncoming train.

"These two individuals, the bomber and the unidentified 'varmint', are highly dangerous," Detective O'Reillyhughe said in his statement. "We are releasing their photo, taken from the surveillance cameras on the scene of the piano bombing, in hopes that someone in Boston will recognize them."


Oh yeah, that was this weekend, wasn't it?

I just realized that I haven't yet mentioned the Super Bowl in this space, so just a few thoughts:

:: Lots of folks left due to the rain, which meant that by the middle of the third quarter, Dolphins Stadium looked about like it always does for regular season Dolphins home games.

:: Worst halftime show ever? Nope -- I still remember the Michael Jackson one at Super Bowl XXVII, and the "Rockin' to the Oldies in 3D" thing they had for Super Bowl XXIII (you had to get the 3D glassed out of TVGuide or something like that).

:: Commercials: I don't watch them much, really. During Super Bowls, I use commercials for their intended purpose (to go to the bathroom, get more chips, refill my glass, et cetera). There was one with a couple of gorillas that was mildly amusing.

:: Is the NFL trying to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the status of the Stanley Cup or something? This business of having it marched in to a giant trumpet fanfare at the end of the game is just weird.

:: Why the Bears Lost, in a nutshell: despite the game being close for most of the way, they ran the ball less than half as many times as the Colts did. Sure, Grossman's picks didn't help, but surely rushing the ball more would have helped keep Peyton Manning off the field.

:: The whole game was weird, between the opening kickoff return, the constant turnovers, the rain and whatnot. Even though the score at halftime was only 16-14, the guys on CBS were saying things like "If Chicago's gonna get back in this game, they gotta..." That struck me as an odd way to put it when the differential in the score was only two points, but it was true: this game was either the closest blowout I've ever seen, or the most lopsided close game I've ever seen.

:: One final shot at the New England franchise: surely we can stipulate that losing the Super Bowl is several orders of magnitude more disappointing than losing the conference championship game. And yet, compare and contrast the behavior of Lovie Smith and Rex Grossman after the Super Bowl with that of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady after the AFC Championship.

And now, into the offseason we ride. Go Sabres!

S-s-s-soo...c-c-c-cold....

Wow, it's cold in Buffalo this week. Scary cold. The kind of cold that makes you wonder just what kind of drugs or liquor the Inuits drink to voluntarily live in cold like this. Some observations:

:: Granted, my sample size isn't huge, but I'm noticing a lot less overtly crappy driving over the last few days. I've only had one of those situations where I was driving down a road that's usually four-lanes, but due to snow was down to effectively two lanes, only to be passed on my right -- and fairly closely, too -- by some guy driving a big pickup truck. That usually happens during these storms a lot more.

:: Six weeks or so ago I took my car into one of those Quick Lube joints for an oil change, which they did very nicely, thank you. I even let them run that Engine Cleaning stuff through my engine for twenty bucks (yes, you can tell me how dumb that was in comments, because I suspect I got fleeced a little bit there). But I did not let them replace my battery, even though when they hooked it up to their Magical Battery Scanner, my battery was rated as "marginal" and therefore stood an excellent chance of failing in the cold weather.

Well, we've just come through three of the coldest days I can remember, and each morning, my car started up just fine. Sure, there was a little grinding as the battery basically said, "Geez, do I gotta?" But each time, the engine caught just fine within five seconds of me turning the key.

Some "marginal" battery, eh?

:: TV News stations have got to stop this business of sending reporters outside to report on the weather. I have a window. I don't need to see some schlub reporter bundled up in a parka standing outside in the dark to tell me that it's really cold and snowing.

:: Rant time: The Daughter has missed the last two days of school, since her district closed due to the snow and cold. Fair enough. However, yesterday morning the decision to close the school was not made until 6:45 a.m., which was well after the usual time when the word can be disseminated effectively. How bad was it? Well, on a morning when the wind chill was double digits below zero, The Wife and The Daughter didn't find out that school had been canceled until they'd been standing outside for ten minutes waiting for the bus. They weren't alone, either; not even all the bus drivers got the word, so they ended up picking up all their kids and then being told to bring them all to the district's bus garage to wait for their parents to come get them.

And then the Superintendent went on TV to defend her actions, insisting that concern for "the safety of the students" had forced her hand. Well, having kids on buses on their way to school, with others standing outside on horribly cold days waiting for buses which aren't coming, doesn't strike me as being terribly "safe for kids". It's not as if the snow happened with no warning; the forecasts were known to be for large amounts of lake effect snow and abnormally bitter cold, and in fact, a number of school districts decided on Monday to cancel Tuesday not because of snow but because of the cold.

:: This blast of cold brings back memories of winters in Iowa during my college years. I don't know how you Minnesotans do this (minus the lake effect snow, of course). I'll take our hundred inches of snow a year with temperatures that are usually around 20 degrees, over twenty inches of snow a year with winter temps down around -20. Yeesh.