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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Graphically Reading

Time to catch up on a few graphic novel titles I've read recently:

:: Water Baby by Ross Campbell is a different kind of story, certainly. I didn't much enjoy it, but it's OK. A female surfer named Brody loses half of her leg to a shark attack while surfing, which leads to some kind of existential crisis involving her ex-boyfriend who shows up after an absence, her best friend who seems to have some homosexual tendencies. The three fall in together, alternating between getting along and not getting along, and then they embark on a road trip. The book ends when the road trip ends. I'd say more, but there's really not much more to say about the story than that. This is the kind of character study piece where the point is to spend some time with some characters, rather than paying a great deal of attention to what happens to them. (Aside from the shark attack, of course.) The book is aimed at teen readers. I found it mildly interesting, if rather short and slight. The book suggests some interesting things regarding Brody's psychology after she loses the ability to surf, but nothing much is made of it.

:: House, by Josh Simmons, tells the tale of a young man who is backpacking through the countryside when he comes across an enormous dilapidated mansion and two women sitting outside, who are also backpacking. They go inside, and haunted-house type stuff ensues. This book's art is very compelling – the atmosphere reminds me a bit of Edward Gorey's work, although it is at times hard to figure out exactly what's going on, and this is important because the book is all art and no dialogue. Not a single speech-bubble to be found here – the entire story is conveyed through pictures alone. That said, I read this in about twenty minutes.

:: Madame Xanadu tells the backstory of a character who has apparently been in the backgrounds of the DC Comics universe for years now. I'd never heard of Madame Xanadu before I saw this book on the shelf at the library, but you've always got to start somewhere. Madame Xanadu turns out to be a magician who has lived for many centuries, and whose adventures have taken her from the tutelage of Merlin to the palace of Kublai Khan to the court of Marie Antoinette and to other places. All throughout these journeys, she finds herself struggling against the forces of history, which are personified in a man she knows only as "The Stranger", who is everywhere she goes and whose presence she finds both maddening and intoxicating. The present graphic novel collects the first issues of a "Madame Xanadu" series, so I'm not even sure if the book is complete, even though it does end on a "full stop" of sorts. I did appreciate that the book doesn't assume any particular degree of knowledge of the DC Universe, and I really appreciated the art, by Amy Reeder Hadley. Matt Wagner's writing is also very good. I enjoyed this book a lot.

:: And then there's Cairo, which I loved. I outright loved it. Written by G. Willow Wilson and drawn by M.K. Perker, Cairo is a thriller in which five strangers – a drug runner, an alternative journalist, an American expatriate, a college student, and an Israeli soldier – find themselves involved in the search for a stolen hookah pipe that happens to house a genie. The search is joined by a gangster-magician, and the story set in present-day Cairo, with all its East-meets-West tensions, turns into a highly entertaining, and moving, potboiler. If anything, I felt that this book ended too quickly.

:: Finally, I read the autobiographical The Quitter by Harvey Pekar. Pekar is the writer of the highly-regarded American Splendor, but he has not been a career writer. Rather, after knocking around from one job to another in his youth, he got an office job with a government agency and stayed there until retirement. Nevertheless, he was apparently a fine jazz critic, and he really does turn out to be a very gifted writer after all, when one considers how fascinating The Quitter is despite the fact that there is, at first glance, almost nothing about Pekar's life that people would consider fascinating at all. But then, that's the whole point, isn't it – that the normal and the boring in everyday life can actually turn out to be the most fascinating. I'm reminded of Gene Siskel's old test for how he was liking a movie: "Would I rather watch a movie of these people just having lunch?"

A pretty good run of titles, I think...Water Baby was the least of them, and even that one wasn't a complete waste of time.

Sentential Links #191

Linkage for the week!

:: Think how much more awesome you would be if you got to have Thanksgiving twice a year. That’s basically how I am all the time.

:: I sense it's about time to share some of my thoughts about television and movie critics, myself, and the past, present and future of my corner of the critics-on-TV adventure. (There is an increasing sense of "farewell" to all of Roger Ebert's posts of late. I'm wondering if he is nearing his end.)

:: Once she spent an entire lesson on one measure.

One measure.
(I remember lessons like that. They were amazing.)

:: I am very thankful for the power that keeps us warm and lights the darkness and am so aware that there are still people living without power, and some without shelter - in this country and in other countries - as we move toward a time of celebration and gratefulness...... and even in my very simple life I know that I am lucky beyond measure.

:: In a crazy kind of irony "Freedom of the press belongs to the guy who owns one" stops being true once everybody owns one; noise drowns out sig

:: Holdstock, along with people like Neil Gaiman, taught me just how original and imaginative fantasy could be. (In reference to author Robert Holdstock, who passed away yesterday. I only read one of his books, Mythago Wood, but he's been high on my list for a long time. I'll have to push him higher on the "to read" pile.)

More next week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I must return to Ryhope Wood

I've seen today, in a number of places, that fantasy author Robert Holdstock has died. He was only 61. Apparently he was hospitalized several days ago with an E. coli infection, and he succumbed today. He was only 61 years old.

Holdstock wrote a number of highly-regarded books, but as of now, the only one I've read is Mythago Wood, which a friend of mine who was also a correspondent of Holdstock's sent me with orders to read it as soon as possible. I did, and I was highly impressed with it (this was seven or eight years ago, and might well have been before I even launched this blog). He also sent me the sequel Lavondyss, which I still have not read -- nor anything else by Holdstock, for that matter -- but I will. And soon.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddities abound!

:: Having gone to college in northern Iowa, I interacted with more than a few Minnesotans, all of whom had elder relatives who insisted on trotting out lutefisk every year. This despite the fact that no one in their right mind could possibly want to eat the stuff. Here's a description. I'd sooner eat haggis than that.

:: Don't look at this article if you're in any way squeamish! The 10 Most Horrifying Sports Injuries is just that. Faces pulverized by objects in flight, limbs bent in directions they're not supposed to bend and in places they're not supposed to be bendable, and one that longtime Buffalo Sabres fans will almost certainly remember.

I was actually watching the Monday Night Football game in which Napoleon McCallum destroyed his leg. I recall that it wasn't clear what the injury was until ABC put up a replay, no one having any idea of what had happened -- and all three guys in the booth (this was during the Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, and Dan Deirdorf) simultaneously going, "Ooooohhhh...." You can hear that moment in the YouTube vid over there. If you want. It's pretty gross.

:: If ever we needed evidence that some folks out there have way too much time on their hands, I give you...shudder...a Seinfeld/Star Wars mash-up poster.

I feel dirtier just looking at that.

More next week!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Four years



"I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone."

-Red, The Shawshank Redemption

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blogger Reefer Madness!

Lots of folks have noticed lately that the Word Verification CAPTCHAs on Blogger (and others) are less random concatenations of letters nowadays and more things that seem like they may be, or actually are, real words. Sometimes these are pretty funny, such as this one with which I was confronted a few minutes ago whilst leaving a comment over at SamuraiFrog's place:



Could Blogger be, I don't know, telling me something?

From the Books: "A Pound of Paper"

Some time ago I read a book called A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict, by John Baxter. The book is a memoir of Baxter's years as a book collector and sometimes dealer, and it's full of amusing anecdotes about that craft. Here's one of them:

One in a row of three-storey detached homes built in the Twenties, the house and garden had the shabby look of a place run to seed, belying the red MGB sports car parked in front. The car's owner opened the door, a young man of the type known as "Hooray Henry", in yuppie uniform of pressed jeans, flannel shirt, Hush Puppies, no socks, and -- my God! -- a cravat.

"You're the book chaps, yah?"

"Yah," I said. "I mean, yeah."

"Come in, come in. Haven't much time. Lots to do."

He led us into the front room, lined floor to ceiling with big books in uniform leather bindings. Sorting papers was a girl dressed in the female equivalent of his outfit; same jeans, same shoes, same no socks.

"These are the book chaps, sweet," he said.

She spared us an uninterested glance and went back to the papers.

"The house belonged to my fiancee's father," he said. "I'm helping her with the sale. Now these," he went on, waving around the walls, "are not for sale. A valuer from Sotheby's will be here tomorrow. That understood?"

Martin nodded enthusiastically, groping at the same time for his tobacco pouch and the makings. I looked around the books with my best poker face. Even I knew that bound volumes of the Proceedings of the British Dental Association were worth about as much as telephone directories. Both he and Sotheby's man were in for a mauvais quart d'heure.

"The rest are upstairs." He led us up the staircase. At the top was a large room lined with empty shelves, in the middle of which was a neat parallelepiped, two meters by one by one, of the books that had been on them. "You can have any of these. See if there's anything you want. I'll be downstairs."

As his steps receded, Martin, nodding with pursed lips, as if listening to an unheard voice, picked up one of the books. It was a first edition of P.G. Wodehouse's The Heart of a Goof in its original gaudy dust wrapper with its gold motif. I'd seen one less good in a catalogue at a hundred pounds.

There were more underneath, all in their wrappers. Eric Ambler novels, Sapper, Taffrail, John Buchan -- and Graham Greene; my heart jumped as I spotted the near diaphonous wartime cover of A Gun for Sale and the plain cream one of his first novel, The Man Within.

"Boots rebinds," Martin said, peeling off the Wodehouse wrapper to reveal the plain cloth cover. "Boots rebound everything, but they kept the dust wrappers. At the end of the year, they put them back on and sold the books at a shilling each." He turned the spine to me, showing the "one shilling" label.

"What are they worth?"

"The books? Ten quid each, maybe. The wrappers..." He shrugged. "Hundreds."

"Each?"

"Well, the Wodehouses anyway. And the Greenes. The Buchans..."

We tried to calculate a total, but hadn't got far when the young man bounded up the stairs again.

"Well, what do you think? Anything here you can use?"

"Oh dear, oh dear..." Martin muttered. In moments of stress, he betrayed his middle-class origins by descending into a variation on the maiden-aunt's fluster that sat oddly with his boho look. He didn't quite wring his hands, though he came close. "I suppose...two hundred quid for the lot?"

Said with more confidence, the sum might have seemed almost insulting, but Martin's nervousness, not to mention his wardrobe, suggested that £200 was all he had in the world.

"And you'll take them away -- tonight?"

"Car's outside," I said, not revealing that it was a Fiat with the cubic capacity of a shoebox. I took out my chequebook. "Who do I make it out to?"

We spent an hour ferrying the books to the car, convinced that at any minute he'd realize the treasure he was giving up. Each trip just made the experience more intense. If there is anything more pleasurable than not giving a sucker an even break, I don't know what it is."


How fun it would have been to hear the chuckling of the Sotheby's valuer the next day, huh?

The "Dumbass Quiz"

I got this from Kerry, who dubbed this a "dumbass quiz". Strangely, the word "dumbass" appears nowhere in the quiz. Odd....

1. 3 living things you treasure

The Wife, The Daughter, and as of right now, Abe Vigoda.

2. 3 non-living things that you treasure

My 11-in-1 screwdriver, my laptop, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

3. favorite time of the year and why

Fall, because temps become nicely comfortable, the world gets prettier, and the Bills start playing...oh wait, forget that last one.

4. favorite things to wear

This question is too hard to answer.

5. are you a perfume wearer? If yes, which one?

No. Nor do I wear cologne, musk, or any other "manly" scent. Sometimes, though, I smell of sawdust.

6. favorite animal

Killer whales.

7. top three events in your life (so far)

Two births and a wedding.

8. top three small pleasures

Coffee, alcohol, pizza.

9. top 3 favorite places in the world you have visited

Toronto
Boston
Chicago

10. top 3 favorite sounds

Music by Rachmaninov
The ignition of a lightsaber
The sound my circular saw makes when it engages with the wood

11. top 3 favorite things to eat

Pizza
Ice Cream
All things that are good tasting and currently bad for you until someone does a study that indicates that eating it a little bit on a daily basis may be good for you.

12. 3 small ways someone has made your day lately

Direct deposit went in the day before yesterday!
Someone asked me to do something and then decided to do it themselves
Someone showed me how to do something I didn't know how to do before

13. 3 small habits/quirks

I always have to resist the urge to buy more flashlights at Home Depot
I color-sort Skittles before consuming them
Wednesday is Donut Day!

14. describe your life using 6 words maximum

PAST: Probably shouldn't have given up music
PRESENT: Books! Movies! Power and Hand Tools!
FUTURE: Danger! There be dragons.

15. favorite books, films, and music... list 3 in each category:

OK, I'm ducking this one, as this entire blog tends to be about this stuff.

16. name 3 words that you hate, and 3 that you love:

HATE: Copacetic, Libertarian, Didactic

LOVE: Golden, Mist, Fountain

17. what are a few of the goals you have for your future and how do you plan on making them a reality?

Writing a story; I plan to finish a story that's already in progress.

18. what is the best piece of advice you've ever heard?

"Never a day without lines"; "Measure twice and cut once (but don't measure at all if you don't have to)"; "Wear safety glasses when cutting or drilling"; "Use slow speed and a lot of pressure when drilling metal"; "Do or do not"; "It's just one word after another".

19. what is your favorite quote and why?

Can't pick a favorite, but here's one, from Captain Jack Sparrow: "The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do."

20. have any regrets?

A few, but too few to mention...something something, without exemption....

That's it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stuff I'm thankful for

Cheddar cheese so sharp it makes you pucker
Sesame crackers
Our azalea plant
Our ivy plant
Cats
Get Fuzzy
My blog
Other peoples' blogs
George Lucas
Star Wars
My dining room table
Klein screwdrivers
LED flashlights
William Shatner
Sela Ward
Mary Stewart's Arthurian trilogy
Stephen King
The hardware store in my old hometown
The glory years of the Buffalo Bills
Watching Star Trek: The Next Generation every night at college
Surprising The Daughter with a new Webkinz
Ms. Pac-Man
Sergei Rachmaninov
The Beatles
Van Halen
Baked pasta dishes
Pizza
Cookies
Harry Potter
Guy Gavriel Kay
Big, thick poetry collections
Small, artfully illustrated poetry collections
My drill
Fried chicken
Italian sausage
The Amazing Race
Elections
Aaron Sorkin when he's on his game
Chess
Firefly
The Mentalist
Tasting something good at a restaurant and figuring out how to make it at home
Ice cream at the roadside place down the road
The County Fair
Libraries
JRR Tolkien
Bib overalls
Route 20-A in the fall
Sandals
Using the scissor jack at work
Pies on the table
Pies in the face
Monty Python
Aquariums and science museums
The Origin of Species
Complete collections of Shakespeare
Thick, fuzzy socks in the winter
Eggs
Daniel Craig as James Bond
George Lazenby as James Bond
The Y
My MP3 player
The Daughter learning the string bass
John Williams
Hector Berlioz
Toronto
Roast turkey
Chicken wings
George Carlin
Hayao Miyazaki
Baby Fiona
Little Quinn
The Daughter
The Wife

Something for Thursday

I've been trying to come up with a rationale for this being apropos of Thanksgiving, but...well, I can see it, and if you can't, then thbbbbpppt! Here is "The Egg Travels", from the Disney film Dinosaur. Music by James Newton Howard.



Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

50 films from the Aughts

The other day in Sentential Links I linked two different bloggers who made a list thusly:

This list means nothing, except to me. It's a list of 50 movies that gave me pleasure over the past decade. I can say without reservation that I would watch any of these again. Would I say that all of them are great films, however great films are supposed to be defined? Probably not. But that's nothing you need to worry about. Because it's my list.


So, here's my list of such films. Some of these I've written about before, and I briefly considered digging back to find their respective posts, but in some cases I've written about these films multiple times and I really don't feel like doing all that work. Sorry for that, but there is a search function on this blog if you're interested! These are in no particular order, just the order in which I think of them whilst writing this post. (I usually italicize film titles in my posts, but since this is literally a list of titles, I'm eschewing the italics for now.)

1. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
2. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
3. The Lord of the Rings (all three films)
4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
5. Love, Actually
6. Catch Me If You Can
7. Finding Nemo
8. Spirited Away
9. Sunshine
10. Kingdom of Heaven
11. Almost Famous
12. Elizabethtown
13. 3:10 to Yuma
14. Anchorman
15. Blades of Glory
16. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
17. Casino Royale
18. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
19. Batman Begins
20. Cast Away
21. The Emperor's New Groove
22. Spiderman 2
23. Monsters, Inc
24. Millennium Actress
25. Chicago
26. The Count of Monte Cristo
27. Possession
28. Road to Perdition
29. Whale Rider
30. Across the Universe
31. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
32. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
33. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
34. X2: X-Men United
35. Before Sunset
36. Finding Neverland
37. The Incredibles
38. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
39. The 40-year Old Virgin
40. Little Miss Sunshine
41. Serenity
42. Brokeback Mountain
43. Tristan and Isolde
44. Nanny McPhee
45. A Prairie Home Companion
46. The Simpsons Movie
47. Stardust
48. Juno
49. Atonement
50. Star Trek

Anyone else? (If you do this, probably best to quote the paragraph reproduced above and link back to the original blogger.)

A warning on comments

Folks, I'm seeing a general up-tick in the number of spam comments making it through the CAPTCHA here over the last few weeks. It's only been about one comment a day, so I can keep manually erasing them when they happen, but if the frequency picks up much more beyond that, I may decide to turn on Comment Moderation (which would mean that all comments would be "held" until I get 'round to publishing them). I'll make that announcement if it becomes necessary, but there it is.

By the way, I've also noticed something that Will Duquette noticed: occasional spam comments that are actually "on topic", and only include a commercial link either in their signature or at the end. For my purposes, unless you're someone I know trying to point out a product or website that may be germane to a specific post, I will assume that any comment containing an obviously commercial link is a spam comment and delete it. My decision's a bit more Draconian than Will's, but he's probably nicer than I am, anyway.

For more information, see my official comments policy.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Stuffing: bake it in the turkey, or not?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Recent Reading....

A grab-bag of brief notes on some nonfiction books I've read recently:

:: I've checked Infrastructure by Brian Hayes out of the library several times, because it's really very fascinating. Subtitled "A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape", the book is a guided tour through the man-made objects that dominate the landscape of our daily lives. Basically, if you've ever wondered things like why cell-phone transmission towers are triangular in shape, or how shipping ports are designed for maximum efficiency, or what all those objects attached to the power line pole actually are, or how raw materials are extracted from the earth, then this is the book to check out. It's a wonderfully produced "How Things Work" kind of book. (It's also a coffee table book, loaded with photographs illustrating its various points about the engineering that surrounds us in our world.

:: The View from the Bridge is a memoir by filmmaker Nicholas Meyer, who is best known for his work on the Star Trek franchise. He directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, as well as partially writing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. While that was clearly my main area of interest in reading his book, Meyer has also done a great deal of other film and teevee work, such as the post-nuclear war teevee movie The Day After and the wonderfully entertaining time-travel film Time After Time (in which Jack the Ripper escapes capture in 19th century London to 1979 San Francisco by using a time machine invented by friend-who-doesn't-know-his-friend-is-a-serial-killer, H.G. Wells). Meyer tells many of the same kinds of stories we hear from other filmmakers who pen memoirs, describing the long efforts it took for him to break into the business and the friends and enemies he made along the way. Meyer is refreshingly candid about his own screw-ups, which is always nice to see in a book like this.

:: Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich is part-memoir and part-manifesto about one woman's desire to step back from modern technology and all its "improvements" of life, in many respects, and get back to a state of being where many of the things in her life are things she does for herself. Things like growing her own food, making her own clothes and music, and so on. It's a very engaging read – Woginrich has a very friendly writing style, and she brings a great deal of verve and enthusiasm into her project. She doesn't just evangelize for the "do it by hand" movement either, but she also describes the places she has screwed up along the way (such as failing to factor the presence of her dog into her decision to raise her own chickens from hatchlings). The book isn't full of technical details, although Woginrich does give lots of advice on how to get started in many areas and provides resources for further research. The main value in the book, I found, is in the way Woginrich is able to give insight into a "Made from Scratch" kind of lifestyle in a world of advanced technology. The book is not Luddite in its attitude; Woginrich is a web designer by trade and she maintains a blog, Cold Antler Farm, where she continues to write about the themes of her book.

Of particular interest to me is that she wrote the book while she lived in Sandpoint, ID, the little ski-resort town way up north in the Idaho panhandle which happens to be where my in-laws lived for many years (and where my brother-in-law still resides). While she no longer lives there, I can certainly attest that Sandpoint would be an ideal locale for anyone desiring the kind of lifestyle she writes about in her book.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Animatorium

SamuraiFrog comments on Entertainment Weekly's list of the 20 Greatest Animated Movies, and I figure I'll do the same thing. EW is pretty good for generating lists for bloggers to talk about, after all.

20. Ghost in the Shell

Haven't seen it.

19. Waltz with Bashir

Nor this one. I'm not off to a good start here....

18. Pinocchio

Only #18? This is really one of the greats: it's Exhibit A for the existence of the seriously dark side of the Disney of old.

17. Kiki's Delivery Service

I love Kiki, but it's simply not as good as My Neighbor Totoro, and it's nowhere near as good as Laputa or Princess Mononoke. I suspect this one's cited on the basis of accessibility: it's the kind of anime people can watch if they don't want to deal with all that weird Japanese stuff.

16. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Haven't seen it. I've never been able to figure out if I like South Park or not.

15. The Iron Giant

Why the hell is this so low? Probably because it still isn't that well known.

14. Akira

Haven't seen this either, although I should.

13. Chicken Run

Huh. I'd forgotten about this movie, although it's really pretty terrific.

12. The Triplets of Belleville

Geez...haven't seen it.

11. Dumbo

Hmmmm. I like Dumbo. I like it a lot. But I'm not sure I like it more than Pinocchio, and I sure as hell don't like it more than Snow White.

10. Coraline

OK, doing this list was a bad idea. Haven't seen it. I liked the book. Although I'm not sure the movie's been around long enough to warrant this kind of reverence.

9. Bambi

I was just thinking about Bambi today, while listening to guys at work talking about their success or lack thereof in their hunting exploits. (Hunting season just opened up.) It's one of my favorite of all Disney movies, and it's certainly deserving of this list.

8. Toy Story 2

Really, really good movie. I love its resonance -- every adult I know remembers some long-lost toy they wish they hadn't dumped in a box somewhere -- and I love the little digs it makes at the collecting hobby world, the little pop culture references (especially to Star Wars), and...well, everything.

7. The Incredibles

If Pixar had to do a sequel for their next one, I'd rather see an Incredibles II than Toy Story 3. It's a terrific superhero movie, and it's so sure about itself. The sequence where Mr. Incredible is sitting at the computer console, scrolling past the history of the bad guy's development of his evil robots, is utterly chilling.

6. Beauty and the Beast

This should be higher. It's a great, great film, full of magic and brilliant characters and outstanding songs and music. Yeah, it's too low.

5. Persepolis

Haven't seen it. But I assume it's roughly as good as the book, and since the book is brilliant....

4. The Lion King

I'm sorry, but I have to call foul here. The Lion King just isn't this good. It's very entertaining and fun and all, but I've never seen it as the classic everyone else seems to think it is. I can name probably a dozen Disney films that I think are better than this. It's not a bad movie, but there's no way it's the supreme Disney achievement.

3. Up

WAY too soon to be on a list like this. I just saw it last week and will post more about it later on, but I loved about two-thirds of it. Roughly until it set aside its magic and wonder in favor of another villain who needs to be defeated.

2. Spirited Away

This movie isn't high enough. It's just so, so, so brilliant.

1. WALL-E

Have I ever blogged about this movie? I'm of mixed mind on it, and generally, I view it as I do The Lion King: a generally good movie with some wonderful parts (WALL-E and Eve's "dance" in space is as amazing a piece of imagination as I've seen in a film) but also some parts that left me cold. To be honest, I felt a lot of the air of the film go out when the humans showed up. It almost felt to me as if the filmmakers didn't quite have the courage of their convictions and had to have something conventional happen sometime. (The same problem afflicted Up.) I wouldn't have this movie this high up, and I in fact might not even have it on the list.

What other movies do I miss from this list? Well, there's not room for everything and I'm not about to re-write the whole thing, but...Fantasia. Snow White. (That one's omission is just weird.) Finding Nemo (still my favorite Pixar film). Princess Mononoke. The Emperor's New Groove. (Yes, I'm serious. It remains the only Disney film that's ever come close to channeling the spirit of Chuck Jones.)

Sentential Links #190

Linkage....

:: We're all born trying to pick up the thread..

:: This list means nothing, except to me. It's a list of 50 movies that gave me pleasure over the past decade. I can say without reservation that I would watch any of these again. Would I say that all of them are great films, however great films are supposed to be defined? Probably not. But that's nothing you need to worry about. Because it's my list.

:: This list means nothing, except to me. It's a list of 50 movies that gave me pleasure over the past decade. I can say without reservation that I would watch any of these again. Would I say that all of them are great films, however great films are supposed to be defined? Probably not. But that's nothing you need to worry about. Because it's my list. (Yes, two different posts use the same quote. Sheila takes the same idea from the one linked above. And yes, I'll be doing the same thing.)

Actually, that's about it. I wasn't online very much, after all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddities abound!

I wasn't on the Web much this past week, so I only have one thing to offer, but I found it pretty funny, so here you go: How to create a weapon that is devastating and unstoppable.

More next week, maybe.

Ahhh, screw the Gipper. What did he ever do for us, anyway?

Adam Schein of FOX Sports spends part of a regular column opining on the Buffalo Bills -- specifically, just who is to blame for the fact that the team is a giant mess right now. Here's the entirety of his take:

1. The Bills' mess is Dick Jauron's fault.

This is a bust.

Don't get me wrong. The record proves that Jauron, a strong football mind, did a bad job. There were major issues with in-game strategy through the years, from the disasters against Cleveland, Dallas and New England on national television to this past Sunday in Tennessee. And Jauron didn't surround himself with great offensive and defensive coordinators. Firing Turk Schonert right before the season was ill-timed and ill-advised. Promoting Alex Van Pelt, who had never called plays before, was even worse. Schonert should've been let go in the offseason and then the Bills should've had a new coordinator in place for the offseason workouts.

But there are other factors. The club needs to reshape the football department.

Ralph Wilson has a reputation of being impatient and, relatively speaking, cheap. That means any unemployed coach with Super Bowl rings will not even consider lovely Western New York. I saw our friend Adam Schefter reported the Bills have contacted Mike Shanahan. That would be great. But does Shanahan really want the Bills?

And Terrell Owens once again takes a major hit. I wrote on FOXSports.com that this was a 'boom or bust' move for the Bills, and they'd win either 6 or 10 games. It's been a total bust. T.O., according to defensive coaches around the league, doesn't bust it off the line of scrimmage every play. Those with and around the Bills scratch their heads as T.O. would get a day off from practice every week, often times on the crucial Friday before a game.

Sometimes, the coaching staff would actually be surprised when T.O. didn't practice. T.O. is a club killer. And Owens' play has fallen off. I don't see a team taking a chance on him next year. He's helped bring down the Bills. T.O. was jawing at assistants during the Tennessee game. Who would want him?


I find this whole bit rather odd. Schein has been a consistent defender of Jauron's pretty much all along up until Jauron's firing last week, insisting at various intervals that Jauron can, in fact, be a winning coach in the NFL. This point is rather dubious now, considering that Jauron's had head-coaching stints in two different franchises in this decade that last longer than three seasons in each place and yet he managed to turn in exactly one winning season for all that. (I don't count Jauron's service as an interim coach with the Lions against him, because that was the Lions during the Matt Millen era. No coach in history could have won there.)

Schein's partially correct here: the Bills' problems go a lot farther than Dick Jauron. However, Jauron's role in the craptacularity of the on-field product also can't be undersold, either. Schein indicates some of Jauron's errors, from questionable coaching staff hiring (and firing) to his on-field goofs. But Schein then says what everybody in Buffalo already knows: that the front office is just as big a problem here. The team's talent level just isn't good enough, and everybody knows it: draft picks that were outright busts, or picks that ignored more critical needs, or free agent signees that turned out poorly, and so on. But Jauron had his parts there, too: witness the release of Langston Walker right before this season started. That was a dumb move to make given the team's intention of starting the least experienced offensive line in team history (and possibly in league history). The Bills' habit in recent years of drafting handfuls of defensive backs every year, even in the face of critical holes on the roster everywhere else, is pure Jauron. But even with Jauron now gone, every Bills fan I've either talked to or heard on the radio call-in shows has said the same thing: if all that is changed is the head coach, then the Bills will almost certainly not improve much.

Schein's third paragraph echoes a pretty odd sentiment that I find generally uncompelling: "Ralph Wilson is notoriously cheap, so no big-name coach would come to Buffalo." Now, this is possible, but from the standpoint that Wilson may decline to spend the money necessary to bring a big-name coach here. But then, there is still the fact that Wilson is breaking his pattern with the Jauron firing, to some degree: he's not trying to recoup the money he's losing by paying Jauron to not coach here, and he's already pledged that at season's end there will be a large "re-evaluation" of the organization. Besides that, there's the fact that Wilson's recent history doesn't so much bear out cheapness as his motivation rather than a tendency to try to do the opposite thing when the last thing doesn't work out. That's how you go from a fairly sedate coach like Wade Philips to a more fiery guy like Gregg Williams; and then from a defensive guy like Williams to an offensive guy like Mike Mularkey; and then from an inexperienced guy like Mularkey to an experienced and steady hand like Dick Jauron (who was selected by Marv Levy, anyway). Wilson has also in the past proven willing to spend money on players, so I don't see that he'd be resolutely unwilling to ante up for a good coach. He has also, in the past, decided to hire what he saw as a "strong football guy" to take over just about all of the team operations, which is how Tom Donahoe arrived.

Wilson's chief fault, in my view, is not so much cheapness as that he's often unwilling to pull the trigger when the trigger needs to be pulled and that he's frankly not that great a judge of whom he should hire. Now, maybe the latter doesn't bode well for the next great rejiggering of the Bills franchise, but he's already started pulling the trigger, so we'll see what happens.

Color me unconvinced, also, by the various arguments I've seen thrown around this past week that a "big name" coach or GM wouldn't want to come here, just by definition, because the Bills have been a mess for years. A big-name coach or GM is going to want two things: a dollar figure, and the authority to do things the way he wants. If Ralph Wilson agrees to those, then someone's going to sign the dotted line. The Kansas City Chiefs were, after last year, a bigger mess than the Bills are now, but that didn't stop Scott Pioli from going there. Somehow there's always somebody willing to take on the coaching duties in Detroit, Oakland, Washington, and Cleveland.

Finally, the last two paragraphs of Schein's entry are laughable. Look, folks, as someone who's been paying attention, let me tell you that Terrell Owens is the last person to blame for the fact that the Bills are terrible in 2009. Now, he's not exactly taking it on himself to make things a lot better, but he is in no way a cause of anything bad here. No, he doesn't put a great deal of effort into things, but any locker room discord right now on the Bills is more a function of things like losing than T.O.'s complaining. If anyone thinks that the couple of passes a game that T.O. has dropped, or the routes he's run half-heartedly when the ball had zero chance of coming his way anyway because the offensive line can't block and the two quarterbacks can't complete a pass to anyone other than a running back are primary reasons the Bills have been losing this year, then that person can speak up, and I'll call them an idiot for their troubles.

Dick Jauron was an enormous factor in the Bills' era of woe, and for Schein to pretend otherwise is just goofy -- as is his bizarre T.O. rant.

UPDATE: As I write this, the Bills are playing the Jaguars. I'm not watching, but I just looked at the game stats as they are right now, with the 3rd quarter almost over, and T.O.'s line is 8 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown. Yeah, that guy's certainly been the turd in the Bills' punchbowl this year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Apologia

Well, folks...sorry about the lack of posting the last few days, but the sails have been pretty slack and wind-free. Part of it -- quite a large part of it, actually -- was the shockingly rapid health decline of a dear personal friend of our family's, a lovely older woman who took it upon herself to babysit Little Quinn back in the day, before our in-home nursing care arrangements could kick in. We became quite close to her and her husband and remained so the last five years, even through her cancer diagnosis six weeks or so ago. Unfortunately hers was one of those "so late it's everywhere" diagnoses, and the last week has been a march of steadily worse news until finally, night before last, the news reached its final, awful coda. She'll be missed.

So, again, sorry for the radio silence. I even missed out on "International Overalls Day", but...well, I haven't even been wearing them much this season yet, so who knows.

Anyhow, I can only assume my blogging mojo will return at some point soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Strange quizzes!

Roger has a quiz, and since I haven't done a quiz in a while, here goes!

1. What is the color of your toothbrush?

White with magenta trim. I started using those battery-powered vibrating toothbrushes a while back. I like the tickling.

2. Name one person who made you smile today.

A guy I work with who called me just to speculate on who the Bills' new coach will end up being.

3. What were you doing at 8 am this morning?

Either scraping off old caulk on a fixture at The Store or installing a stainless steel splash guard on a hand-wash sink.

4. What were you doing 45 minutes ago?

Reading blogs.

5. What is your favorite candy bar?

I couldn't name a favorite if I wanted to. Almond Joy (it would be perfect if they made it with dark chocolate); Skor and Heath; Clark; Reese's Cups; Boyer Peanut Butter Smoothies (oh so heavenly); Baby Ruth; 100 Grand; Oh Henry; and many others.

Bonus Question I Just Made Up: What no-longer-available candy would you bring back?

Marathon Man. Wow, those were something: strands of caramel were literally braided together and covered in chocolate. The thing was 12 inches long, and the wrapper actually indicated this by having a ruler printed on the back. These were around when I was a kid.

6. Have you ever been to a strip club?

Never once, and I have absolutely no desire to attend one, either.

7. What is the last thing you said aloud?

"Get your dessert."

8. What is your favorite ice cream? How to choose?

Ummm...yeah. Like the candy question, all I could do is list a bunch of flavors. I can only recall one ice cream flavor that I didn't like: Turkey Hill (a brand in these parts) makes a "Buttered Popcorn" ice cream. I thought it sounded intriguing. It wasn't.

9. What was the last thing you had to drink?

Water.

10. Do you like your wallet?

I guess so. It gets the job done. My wallet isn't thin, but it's not "George Costanza" thick, either. I refuse to carry it in my back pocket, though. I hate that.

11. What was the last thing you ate?

I had cheese and crackers for dinner tonight.

12. Have you bought any new clothing items this week?

No. I desperately need new socks, though. I'll pick some up the day after Thanksgiving.

13. The last sporting event you watched?

In entirety? Browns 6, Bills 3 -- a month ago. We're watching movies instead of the Bills. (This week, I'm thinking Close Encounters sounds good.)

14. What is your favorite flavor of popcorn?

I like my popcorn marinated in butter, and then dipped in butter prior to and immediately after popping, and if possible, I like each individual kernel to be injected with butter. Oh, and then, pour butter over the whole thing, and wash each mouthful down with a sip of butter. (It's OK. I don't eat popcorn all that often, although all the movie watching lately has my popcorn consumption going up a bit. But still not more than once a week.)

That said, I adore the kettle corn made at the County Fair. Microwave kettle corn is OK, but not the same.

15. Who is the last person you sent a text message to?

The wife. I rarely text.

16. Ever go camping?

Not in many years. It's perennially high on the "things we need to do" list.

17. Do you take vitamins daily?

Yes. I have morning and evening vitamins. Some of them could get caught in the gullet of a small horse.

18. Do you go to church every Sunday?

Most of the time, yes. I truly enjoy it and love the people, but I'm still unsold on the ideological aspects. My general view continues to be that every religion has something wise and insightful to say about humanity and its place in the Universe, and that every religion has something deeply bogus to say about humanity and its place in the Universe.

19. Do you have a tan?

It's November in Buffalo. Take a wild guess. (Even though our weather this year has been stunningly mild.)

20. Do you prefer Chinese food over pizza?

Yes. And no. I love both, but I have pizza more often because a large cheese-and-pep is cheaper than Chinese for the family. But if money's not an object, it's whichever one we haven't had in the longer while.

(Wait a minute: how about General Tso's Chicken on a pizza? Holy shit, I'm on to something BIG here!)

21. Do you drink your soda with a straw?

Only if it's in a paper cup from a fast food joint. If it's served in a plastic cup or a glass at a restaurant, I don't use the straw.

22. What did your last text message say?

"Unhelpful wife is unhelpful."

OK, the boring tale: we were at the Central Branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library this past Saturday. That's the main branch, which is in downtown Buffalo. It's a two-story building that takes up an entire city block. A big library. So I went off to look at what I wanted to look at, The Wife went off her way, The Daughter was in the Children's Room, et cetera. After an hour or so I wondered if it was time to start thinking about leaving, so I texted The Wife to asked her, "Where are you?" To which she replied, "Right here." Hence my reply above.

23. What are you doing tomorrow?

Going to work. Oh, specifically at work? I have to blow out the condensers on our self-contained refrigerated cases.

24. Favorite color?

Purple.

25. Look to your left; what do you see?

Books; several stacks of CDs; plush toys of Grumpy from Snow White, Mickey Mouse in his "Sorceror's Apprentice" garb, and Sully from Monsters Inc.

Roger says there might be a part II of this someday....

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Spiderman: the red costume or the black one? (On pure looks only, obviously, since the black one turned out to be a bit on the not-so-nice side....)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yay.

The Bills have fired coach Dick Jauron, and there was much rejoicing.

Yay.

Now, to eat Sir Robin's minstrel.

Get thee to an ER.

One of the most nauseating of all talk points from the Right in this country on the subject of health care is the whole "Hey, the uninsured can just go to the emergency room for health care!" canard. Any time I hear someone say this I instantly file that person away in my head as someone without anything of worth to say on the subject.

And now it turns out that guess what? Uninsured ER patients are twice as likely to die from traumatic injuries as insured ER patients are.

The fact is that our awful health care system kills people who shouldn't have to die. Anyone defending this system, then, needs to answer the question of why they think that more death is preferable to less death.

(Comments closed.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

You got to know when to hold 'em....

The football world is abuzz -- abuzz! -- with talk about a big gamble Patriots coach (and all around Incarnation of All Things Evil) Bill Belichick made in the game yesterday against the Indianapolis Colts. With the Pats leading 34-28 with a bit more than two minutes left, the Pats faced 4th-and-2 from their own 28 yard line. Just about everybody on the planet would almost certainly punt in that situation, the idea being that you at least want the other team to have a lot more field to cover if they have to drive for a touchdown to have any chance. But Belichick decided to go for the 4th-down conversion, which came up short. The Colts took over at the Pats' 28 yard line with just over two minutes to go and with all three of their timeouts remaining, in a game in which they had just stormed back from being down 31-14 early in the 4th quarter to being down just 34-28. Peyton Manning drove them in for the touchdown that gave the Colts a 35-34 lead with less than ten seconds to go, and the game ended with that as the final score.

Now, I agree with the general criticisms being leveled at Belichick on this. There is a growing consensus in the NFL that you shouldn't always punt on 4th down; going for it on 4th down is a lot more frequent now. But there are situations where it still seems prudent to kick the ball away, and this definitely seems like one of them. So what was Belichick thinking?

My suspicion is that he was, first of all, utterly confident that his offense would convert the 4th down. That seems obvious. Also, I suspect that he was less than confident of his defense, which, as noted above, had just been shredded in the 4th quarter and hasn't looked like a particularly stout defense a whole lot this year. Most of all, though, I'll bet Belichick was thinking about the game clock. I'd guess that his reasoning was something like this:

"Well, my defense is getting killed, so if we punt, we'll almost certainly give up the touchdown. If we go for it and convert, we can run down the clock a bit and force the Colts to use their timeouts on defense. But if we go for it and fail, the Colts will still score. So, assuming that the Colts score their touchdown if they get the ball back in this situation, which situation is worse for us? If they score after going sixty or seventy yards, they'll probably only leave a few seconds on the clock for us, so we won't be able to get a winning field goal. But, if they get the ball back right here on the 28, then they probably score really quickly, right? And then we get more time to get the field goal we'll need to win."

I think Belichick was trying to play the clock a bit, choosing the scenario that gave him the most control he would have over the time he would have left: either keep the ball, or at least give the Colts a chance to score in a lot less time than it would have taken them otherwise. Of course, the problem with that kind of thing is when the guy on the other side of the field knows all this too, and Peyton Manning may be the single most football knowledgeable quarterback in history, which is why he was able to both score his go-ahead touchdown and leave New England a paltry nine seconds in which they could do exactly nothing.

(In other news, the Bills still suck. We watched Up instead. A post on that movie is forthcoming sometime.)

Sentential Links #189

Linkage of the week....

:: What happened to the right wing swagger? When did they turn into such a bunch of scared wimps? When did they go from standing there in the rubble with George Bush and his megaphone to hiding under Dick Cheney’s desk cowering in fear?

:: The funny thing about all of this is that no matter how bad all their ideas are, no matter how disastrous their governance has been, no matter how many horrible things they have done to the economy and this country, what really is killing the Republican party is that deep down, they are just complete assholes. You see it in the way they treat women, you see it in the way they treat minorities, you see it in the way they treat homosexuals, you see it in the way they treat anyone who is not a white Christian, and you see it in the way they treat anyone who disagrees with them slightly about anything. They just have no respect for anyone, and it shows. People don’t like to be treated like crap, and grown-ups don’t want to be associated with people who yell “You lie” or scream “socialism” or “Hitler” or accuse you of being a terrorist whenever they don’t get their way. (Two from the same blog, but I couldn't choose.)

:: I’m in a bit of a hungover haze at the moment, but as I understand it the two big new attacks on the President are that he (a) bows at formal meetings with Japanese people and (b) wants to see terrorists tried for their crimes. Is that right? Really? Strange times.

:: Now we know that Joe Lieberman isn’t a loyal Democrat or an actual Independent. He probably wouldn’t be a good Republican if and when he switches parties. He’s a die-hard Libermantonian, a staunch Joe-ist, and nothing else, and it’s hard to believe that people in the position to know this about him, like Gore himself, missed this about him.

:: What wakes liberal writers up at night -- I mean that eye-snap of soul-gnawing, nauseating dread -- is not social injustice, is not the fear of creeping fascism, is not rage against corporate greed ...

:: I've got no problem with the White House making some real moves to cut the deficit. But the devil is in the details. It would be insane, for instance, to sharply cut spending in the midst of a recession. But it makes sense to build out policies to increase revenues in 2012 or after.

:: Moby Dick remains an unclassifiable novel for me - would I call it "my favorite"? I would not. But I will say this: It is, hands down, the most exciting read I have ever had. Not exciting because of all that exciting action, because as we all know, the majority of the book is one long marine biology lesson - and those were the sections that seemed to be the stumbling blocks for early reviewers and readers - like: why the hell do I care about blubber? Get back to Ahab!

:: Whenever I find myself in a difficult situation or experience, I try to ask myself, "What is it about love that I'm not learning?". Sometimes the answer is a bit convoluted and I have to dig around a bit to find it, and sometimes it's looking me in the face.

:: "My Cousin Vinny" is a lawyer movie that believes in lawyers and the legal system. A just result-- the correct result-- is reached, and it ends that way because the defendants' lawyer, Vinny, did his job. That's a good reason to put it on anybody's list of great lawyer movies, and congratulations to the ABA for getting it. (That movie is so often viewed as "fluff", and I've always thought it very unfair -- in fact, an urban legend holds that Marisa Tomei was awarded the Oscar by accident when the presenter read the wrong name. It's really a very good movie in itself, and I never even realized the competence of the film's treatment of the legal proceedings.)

More next week.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A random observation

Back in July, we had in Buffalo a fairly long string of days that were cooler than usual, and as a rule it never really got sweltering during the summer. The general consensus seemed to be that the summer's weather sucked, and one sentiment I heard a lot went along the lines of: "Gee, what a cold summer. Global warming my ass!"

Flash forward to now, when we've had a November that's been warmer than any I or anyone else can remember. Temps have been consistently above 50 degrees, with frequent trips into the 60s, for several weeks now and according to the weather reports, this pattern is unlikely to change anytime in the next week. Where snow at some point in October is usually the norm here, it has yet to snow at all this year in Buffalo.

And yet I've not heard a single person say anything to the effect of this extended warm spell being a positive indicator of global warming. I find that interesting.

(Of course, short term local weather trends do not actually indicate anything one way or the other about global warming, but the general psychology is interesting here.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddities abound....

:: Apparently a study was needed to confirm that cannabis is good for stress-relief.

:: The union of the sets "Happy" and "Sad".

That's about it, I guess. It was a pretty "Meh" week for weirdness in my usual haunts.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Something for Thursday

Here's a bit of film music from quite recently. It's from the film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and it scores a scene where Harry Potter and a number of the kids at Hogwarts decide that their professors aren't doing enough to train them against the Dark Arts, and that therefore they should undertake such training themselves, with Harry himself teaching them. Much of the music in the Potter films tends to be the kind of thing you'd expect from movies about wizards and magic and whatnot, especially when most of the themes in the series sprang from the pen of John Williams, who scored the first three films. But this one, the fifth, was scored by Nicholas Hopper, who took a decidedly different approach, as we can hear in this cue. It's not heavy or portentous at all; in fact, it's some of the most optimistic music written in the whole series. Here's "Dumbledore's Army".



(This is actually a recreation of the cue by a person using a synthesizer, but it's really pretty amazingly close in sound to the original composition for orchestra, and the music's forward-looking nature really comes through.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Veterans: heroes who should be honored, or...well, that's it. There's just one option on that one.

Thanks to all the veterans out there for their service.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of Tumbling Walls

I don't remember much about the fall of the Berlin Wall. That is to say, I remember nothing about it.

The event happened when I was barely two months into my freshman year of college. I was trying to focus on studies that were harder than anything I'd known before; I was a member of three musical ensembles and had to practice at least two hours a day anyway; neither I nor my college roommate brought a teevee, so we had none in our room that whole year; I was probably more focused on some girl -- there was a blonde pianist I quite fancied at first -- and, well, all of the above. So I had only the vaguest notion that the general feeling that had been accruing through the late 80s -- that Communism was quickly approaching the end of its shelf-life, aided along by the efforts of Gorbachev -- was about to come to a head.

I only knew that the Wall had come down when I went to my first class the morning after, and heard one of my classmates literally say to someone else, "Hey, did you see the news? The Berlin Wall fell." And for a moment, I remember thinking briefly that it had toppled of its own accord, as if there had been an earthquake or something. The magnitude of the human accomplishment was obvious, though, almost immediately. The feeling that eventually settled in was that it was pretty surreal. It felt as if one night, the world was in its natural state, with two Germany's and two Berlins, and the next night, that era was over, just like that. No long periods of summit meetings, no signings of treaties to take effect in five years. Just a bunch of people, at long last taking their hammers and crowbars and whatever else they could grab to that immense series of concrete slabs so they could finally start chipping it away.

Anyway, that was my sense of what was going on.

I wonder whatever became of that blonde piano player, by the way....

Monday, November 09, 2009

In other news, my chips-and-dip consumption is WAY down

Readers may remember that toward the end of the 2008 NFL season, I decided that watching the Buffalo Bills consistently lose games and look boring in doing so had lost its appeal to a sufficient degree that I decided to just plain stop watching them. Sunday afternoons became a lot more pleasant once I realized that devoting three hours each week to an activity that wasn't bringing me much pleasure wasn't that good an idea. I was prepared to do the same this season, but in the offseason, the Bills did something that can now been seen for what it was: a move designed to tempt fans like me back into the fold. That was, of course, the signing of wide receiver Terrell Owens.

And yes, it worked. I watched the Bills for the first handful of games this year, even though it was obvious that aside from his signing, the team hadn't actually gotten any better. At all. Now, in the first four games, they only won one contest, a home game against Tampa Bay, a team that is in a full-bore rebuilding youth movement phase. But the games they lost were to teams that are pretty good: New England, New Orleans, and defending division champ Miami. But aside from the New England game, which they played pretty well in before losing when someone made a really bad fumble late in the game that led to the Patriots' winning points, the Bills tended to look flatter and flatter each time out, and the offense specifically looked worse and worse, despite the presence of T.O. For me the last straw came when the Bills lost at home to the Cleveland Browns -- one of the league's worst teams right now -- by the thrilling score of 6-3. That's when I said, the hell with it, T.O. or no T.O. I spent the next three Sundays watching the Spiderman movies with The Daughter at the time when the Bills were playing.

They were 2-1 in those games, but I don't really care. I didn't miss watching football at all, and I didn't miss it this week either (during which the Bills were on their bye week). The Bills have managed, I think, to drive the fandom out of me at long last. Oh well. A Super Bowl win would have been nice, and who knows -- maybe in a few years when they're a year or two into their new location (either Los Angeles or Toronto, I'm thinking), they'll manage a title in the Big Game.

Sentential Links #188

Linkage of the week:

:: Very few phrases fill me with dread and/or irritation as the response, "Oh, it's EASY!" And it bugs me on two separate but related levels.

:: I really do believe that there are blessings in ALL my experiences. Some float right up to the surface, like those breaching whales and leaping dolphins. Others are harder to identify. But if I look deep, they are always there.

:: Walking into the San Antonio Airport this afternoon I noticed that there was a decal next to the door that said "Threat Level: Orange". What the hell does it mean that this is apparently a sufficiently permanent state of affairs to merit a sticker on the door? (Interesting that nowadays we never hear about "Threat Levels", like we did back in the day....)

:: At least half of all writing involves just sitting and staring into space. Letting your brain out to hunt down ideas, bringing them back all warm and bloody between its teeth. (For me, it also involves training my brain to recognize ideas when they float by, snatch them up, and kill them.)

:: When I was a kid I didn’t pay any attention at all to who wrote the songs. (Me either, with the effect that I would often -- and still do -- find that when discussing contemporary song, I can't often keep up because I often don't know artists or titles, but when I hear the song in question, I think, "Oh yeah, I know that one." Of course, by that point, the conversation is long over.)

:: Do you believe in inspired writing? Has it ever happened to you? A wave of insights, images, or thoughts so profound you must stop at once, grab a pen, and paper in hopes to capture it before it's gone. (I know the feeling well.)

:: I used to live in a town called Sandpoint. It was a little ski town in the northern tip of Idaho and it was beautiful. (I just read a book by the woman who writes this blog, Jenna Woginrich, titled Made from Scratch. I'll blog about that book soon -- short version is that I liked it a lot -- but what caught my eye is that she wrote it when she lived in Sandpoint, ID. That's where my future in-laws lived when I first started dating The Wife, way back when; in fact, my brother-in-law still lives up there. It really is a very beautiful place. I wouldn't want to live there, myself -- I find the distances between places in the West a bit daunting -- but I do wish we could get out there more than we do.)

:: Today, fifteen years after I first saw it, I believe "Hoop Dreams" is the great American documentary. No other documentary has ever touched me more deeply. It was relevant then, and today, as inner city neighborhoods sink deeper into the despair of children murdering children, it is more relevant. (Wow, I really need to watch Hoop Dreams one of these days. I never saw it, but I was a faithful viewer of Siskel and Ebert back when the film came out, and during the controversy when despite the nearly universal acclaim that was heaped upon it, the Academy failed to give it any Oscar recognition whatsoever. The film wasn't even nominated for anything, despite the fact that many felt that it was not just the best documentary that year, but a serious contender for the best picture, period.)

More next week!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Under Heaven: the cover revealed!

Via BrightWeavings.com, I see that the cover art for the forthcoming new novel by Guy Gavriel Kay, Under Heaven, has been revealed. Here's what American and Canadian readers will see:



The British art can be seen here. I prefer the American/Canadian version; the people on the British cover are far too photographic for my tastes.

The book comes out in April, so I still have time to get back to my re-read of all of GGK's books....

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddities abound!

:: Jellyfish of unusual size? I don't believe they exist.

:: "Hey Jude", flowcharted.

:: Ever want to combine a dead-blow hammer with a mouse sander? No? Well, maybe they won't make one, then. (They actually weren't, anyhow.)

More next week!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bill Denbrough Beats the Devil (III)



I'm not the biggest Stephen King fan in the world. I find that he can be hit or miss, which is probably to be expected of a writer so prolific as he. I haven't read everything of his; not even close. I've read some stuff of his that I liked a good amount (Salem's Lot), some stuff that I enjoyed a bit less but still liked just fine (Carrie), some stuff that I outright bounced off (Dreamcatcher), and a range of reactions thereof. But I have also read a good deal of his work that just blows me away (The Stand, numerous short works of his). I've often seen King's It cited as one of his best and scariest novels, but I'd never read it until just a short while ago. And wouldn't you know: it's one of his best and scariest novels. It's also, in my opinion, a great novel.

The book opens with a scene of fairly shocking violence as a small child is killed in the town of Derry, Maine by something that lives in the sewer. It calls to little George Denbrough as he is floating his newspaper boat down the street gutters which are swollen with rain; it appears to him as a clown dwelling within the sewer grate, and when it beckons to him with the promise of cotton candy, the clown – named Pennywise – grabs George's arm and pulls on it, pulls harder and harder, until it rips free and little George dies. Thus begins Pennywise's reign of terror in Derry in 1957, which eventually turns out to be a cyclical event; Pennywise shows up every 28 years or so for a fresh round of violent killings. Meanwhile Derry goes on, as it always has – a sad town where life just kind of grinds on and on, until the grinding of the decades is punctuated by the murderous awakening of the malevolent clown that lives in its sewers.

The main characters in the book are a group of teenage children, and the same children as adults, in 1985 – twenty-seven years after the 1957 arise of Pennywise, and therefore on the cusp of the new one. One of the kids is little George's older brother, Bill, and as the summer of 1957 begins, none of them knows each other well at all, but circumstances bring them together – circumstances like Pennywise and the fact that they have each been targeted by the local bully, a boy named Henry who is in his own way as malevolent as Pennywise himself, who is actually the embodiment of something almost eternal. And in 1985, the kids – now adults – are brought together again, back to Derry, to do battle with Pennywise again. The novel shifts back and forth between these two timeframes, and King does this with such amazing facility that it is actually two stories unfolding at the same time. The 1957 parts never once feel like mere flashback, even though we know that by definition the characters alive in the 1985 chapters of the book must therefore survive the 1957 parts. It's a testament to King's skill that instead of grinding through large segments of the book given over to flashback, we instead sense that we're following two stories that happen to befall the same group of people, many years apart.

King's sense of pacing is pretty remarkable, given how long this book is. Even more impressive, though, is King's ability to create a number of characters, this circle of friends bound by grim destiny, who are all vivid and real. Ultimately this is why the horror in the book works, and why It is such a scary read. It's not all about ratcheting up the gore quotient; it's about depicting horrible things befalling people we care about. But more than that, King's gift for not only creating people we care about but also for people who genuinely feel like real people, and who respond to things in a very real way. This is King's great strength as a writer, and it's on tremendous display here. Not only are we sympathetic to Bill and Eddie and Beverly and Ben and the others, but we see them react to events in ways that we might well react ourselves if we found ourselves confronted by the kinds of horror that confront them in It.

That's another of King's great strengths: his knowledge that there are, in fact, many different kinds of horror. The scary stuff in It comes in a wide range of types, and not all of them are supernatural. In fact, some of the scariest events in King's book don't involve anything supernatural at all: they are the terrors we all remember (or maybe only some of us remember) from being the kid singled out by the school bully for continual "special treatment". There is more than one way to scare a reader, and King at his best always does. In It, King creates for us a group of outcast children who feel like outcast children and who suffer all the normal horrors that many outcast children face, even before they are confronted by the horrible clown who lives in the sewers of Derry.

A word about the setting: Derry is a fictional city in Maine, which is a setting used by King in a number of other works. It's not, as far as I know, a "redressed" version of a real place, but a creation from King's viewpoint of the kind of city you'd find in Maine -- if that city happened to be the scene of numerous supernatural horrors throughout its history. Several times in It, it is suggested that the kids aren't just battling a demonic clown, but some kind of darkness in the very spirit of Derry itself. King portrays Derry as an organic being all its own, with a long -- and very dark -- history that we learn along the way. The book, therefore, spins three stories together: our child heroes in 1958, their adult exploits in 1985, and the long dark travails of Derry itself.

And yes, this book is scary. There is some extremely disturbing imagery throughout the book, and particularly so in the last 150 pages or so, when the tales in both timelines start plowing toward their respective conclusions. The ending is moving, satisfying, and poignant. It is amazing. If you have any love for the horror genre at all, read it.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Something for Thursday

Nettl used this the other day, and it's sufficiently good for me to pass on to you all. Here's the first movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto:



This has been one of my favorite concerted works -- in fact, one of my favorite works, period -- ever since I first heard it many years ago. Some of the things in this movement that always strike me are its lack of an introduction (the soloist comes in, playing the main melody of the movement, in the second bar), the placement of the cadenza in the middle of the movement instead of toward the end, and one of my very favorite passages in all of classical music, which comes at about the 2:50 moment, when the soloist climbs to a very high note, holds it a bit, and then arpeggiates back down to a very low note, which he then sustains while the clarinets play a lovely countermelody. It's not only a gorgeous moment, but an ingenious one as well.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shouldn't some developer have built a strip mall there by now?

SamuraiFrog points out that today is the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. Wow. That means that the show was only a few years old when I was a part of its core audience. My memory of that period of my life is admittedly vague, but I recall being distinctly upset when it seemed like most of the day was gone and Sesame Street was still a few hours away from being on teevee. (I think it was on at 4:00 or something like that.) My era was, of course, pre-Elmo. I had no idea who Elmo even was until The Daughter came of the age to watch the show, and I remember thinking, "What the hell is 'Elmo's World' all about? Did somebody drop some bad acid or something when they came up with this character?" There's a lot in Sesame Street for adults to find enjoyable while the kids eat it up, but really, Elmo ain't one of them.

But anyway, here are some clips from the show over the years. Here's Nathan Lane, singing what may be the show's signature song, called "Sing":



Lots of other celebrities have shown up on the show to do musical numbers with the various Muppets in attendance. Here's Gloria Estefan doing the same song, partly in Spanish (and looking very cute in overalls!):



REM came on to do this take on one of their own signature tunes:



One of the coolest guys in history came on the show, Johnny Cash:



I suppose it's typical that all of my favorite Sesame Street moments involve music. Here's the earliest appearance on the show of "Mahna Mahna":



Of course, the definitive rendition of "Mahna Mahna" would later be done by The Muppet Show, but this is pretty cool too.

Here's classic Kermit the Frog:



And hey, what is the name of that song, anyway?



Sesame Street's sense of humor was a lot stranger back in the day, when they'd use trippy animations to teach lessons about sneezing:



Or when they'd demonstrate subtraction using cream pies:



And, of course, one of the most famous clips in the show's history, when the producers had to figure out how to address death:



Happy anniversary, Sesame Street, and thanks for the memories.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Inspired by this post of Steph's:

Clowns. Creepy, or fun?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Consolidating my tool bag....

Toolmonger brings me an interesting bit of news: Black and Decker is being bought out by Stanley. Wow.

B&D already owns a number of already-existing tool lines, the most notable in my personal experience being DeWalt and Porter-Cable. I don't own any tools under the actual B&D label, but my power tools are evenly split between DeWalt and Ryobi. (Oh wait, I just got a Makita hammer drill, so now they're in the mix, as well.) I do own a number of Stanley products -- their tape measures are a constant on my belt -- although for hand tools I tend to stick with either Husky (Home Depot's "house brand") or Klein Tools.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, but I hope that it doesn't result in either a dilution of quality (especially from DeWalt) or a raise in prices. I'm never sure it's a good thing when big companies get even bigger, but then, I'm just the guy who buys and uses the tools.

Take her out.

May the service of the USS New York be long and proud.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sentential Links postponed

I'm taking a week off from Sentential Links. I just didn't feel like doing any aggregating over the weekend. We'll be back in action next week.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddities abound!

:: After reading this, it seems to me that the candy companies are missing a prime marketing strategy, in which they would push candy that has twice the demon as the other leading brands!

:: Having lived in Western New York for more than 28 years, it bothers me that this video's existence is necessary at all -- but of course it is, because so many people have absolutely no idea how to do this. So here's how to eat a chicken wing:



:: In honor of last night's Halloween festivities, check out this amazing Cthulhu-lantern. Wow!

More next week.