Friday, February 28, 2003

I am officially hanging out my shingle today as a Freelance Copywriter, so if anyone out there is involved in a business that needs copywriting services, here I am.

(No, this post does not constitute the entirety of my marketing efforts. Shyeah, as if....)

I can't get worked up, really, about Emmitt Smith no longer playing for the Cowboys. I'm used to this by now. In the last ten years I've watched Joe Montana put on a Kansas City Chiefs uniform; Jerry Rice take the field for the Raiders; Bruce Smith and Andre Reed suit up in the fine colors of the Redskins; and Thurman Thomas for -- of all teams -- the Miami Dolphins. This is an unfortunate side-effect of the NFL's salary cap. But the truth is, I think the NFL's current system is the best of any of the four major sports. Yes, it does lead teams to send their stars packing before their time is really up, but I think the NFL's system generally leads to easier rebuilding for moribund teams; it leads to better competitive balance, which is good for fans -- look at this past season, when something like twenty teams were still in playoff contention with only two weeks left. And the NFL has not suffered a labor-related work stoppage in sixteen years.

Should Jerry Jones have offered Smith more money to stay? Possibly. Is the guy who is now anointed as the starter there better than Smith, at this time in Smith's career? Maybe, maybe not -- I don't know. Should Smith have sucked it up and accepted Jones's offer to stay with a single team for his entire career? Maybe, maybe not. The guy's got the right to earn what he can, but he also could have said, "You know, I've made enough that I'm set for life and so are my kids. I'll play cheap for a year or two." I don't fault Smith either way. This is just the way things are now in the NFL.

And besides, the Cowboys stink. If and when they return to prominence and win another Super Bowl, Emmitt Smith will have since retired, anyway.

(And in a Buffalo Bills update, apparently the Bills are willing to consider trade offers for Peerless Price, who is a free agent that the Bills have designated a "franchise player". I'm assuming the Bills would want at least a first-round pick for Price, since last year they traded their first-rounder for this year to get Drew Bledsoe. I want the Bills to keep Price, but if the choice is between keeping Price and getting an impact player for the defense, I'd have to opt for the defensive player.)

Question for the technically superior: what are some good PC programs for working with and constructing Zip archives? I had WinZip on my last computer, but I don't have it on the current machine. I downloaded the "trial" version today, but I'm not sure I want to spend $29 to get the "permanent" version if there's another program out there that will allow me to Zip up my files that's cheaper. Any advice, folks?

Buffalo received national media attention the weekend before I left that city, because that's when the "Lackawanna Six" -- an alleged Al Qaeda sleeper cell -- were broken up and arrested.

This week, there were arrests in Syracuse involving a charity that funneled money to Iraq.

I'm starting to feel a bit like Max Fenig, the character from The X-Files who was at the epicenter of some very strange UFO activity, no matter where he went....

I've been getting a few hits lately from people looking for the photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, taken back in the 1980s. (I made an offhand mention of that photo a few days ago.) Anyway, anyone still looking for it can still see it on Tom Tomorrow's blog from December.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

ANNOUNCEMENT: My new blogging project is up and running. The title is Reverie and Passion, and Aaron had the right of it: 2003 is the bicentenary of the birth of Hector Berlioz, the classical composer I love above all others. So far it's not much to look at, but I'll get there. Hopefully.

(And I can't imagine anything more boring than a blog about the bicentenary of Ohio...ugh.)


Microscope image of sand from Corsica.

I saw this on MeFi and found it fascinating. I tend to imagine sand as, basically, billions of little cube-shaped particles, like table-salt or sugar -- but the reality, as is usually the case, turns out to be much more interesting than that. I had no idea there were shellfish that small, for instance. The picture links to a site with a bunch of other equally fascinating microscope images of sand, from beaches around the world.

Oliver Willis has been experimenting lately with taking blogging into audio and visual dimensions. I like Oliver, even if he is a Redskins fan. I also have to admit that I figured his spoken voice would be a lot deeper and more gravelly. I'd suggest that he start smoking and drinking a lot of bourbon, but I think someone already did so on his comment section.

I got up early this morning to head to the gym for my daily workout, and when I turned on NPR in the car I heard Bob Edwards on Morning Edition talking to someone about Fred Rogers.

They were talking in the past tense.

What colossally sad news to learn at 6:30 in the morning, as the sun is rising.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

My blogroll -- known poetically as "Other Journeys" -- keeps growing. Fantasy writer Caitlin R. Kiernan is doing a journal called Low Red Moon, which I think is about the writing of a novel by that same name. Also, there is a blog of political content called The Forge that I found by sheer chance (it happened to be one of the "ten most recently published" blogs on the Blogger main page when I signed in a few days ago, and once in a while I'll check a few of these to see what's interesting). It appears to be right-of-center political commentary, but I'm not entirely sure and anyway, the guy seems to have an interesting voice. It's a very new blog, so I'm provisionally linking it. (I'm prejudiced in its favor, anyway, because the writer, Joshua Legg, is using the same template that I used for Byzantium's Shores when I got started. Do I need a good reason for everything?!)

I finished the longhand draft of The Welcomer the other day; now all I face is a day or two of typing. Then I plan to do one last round of edits to tidy up the prose -- one final polish, as it were -- and then, this sucker is going in the mail to...someone.

(I'd like to see a contest for aspiring writers, the Grand Prize of which would be a lifetime supply of paper, ink cartridges, and new printers when the old ones die. I can't believe the sheer amounts of paper I use, and I'm neither published nor even especially prolific. Ye gods.)

The vampire slayer has apparently been slain.

I never got into Buffy, although on the occasions that I watched it I always found it very well done and enjoyable; there was simply always something on opposite the show that I already watched faithfully, and then the show got to a point where I simply didn't want to invest the time I'd need to catch up with a mythology that is, by all reports, pretty complex. But I know the show will be missed, and maybe I'll investigate it in the inevitable syndicated re-runs someday.

And judging from what I hear from friends of mine and other bloggers who love Buffy, I gather the show is going out pretty strong -- maybe not at its height, but at least it's not getting all "stretched out" and bloated the way The X-Files did. (And in that particular case, I'm one who hung in there liking the show until the last season, whereas many other fans got sick of TXF during the sixth or seventh seasons.)

If you're fond of baked pasta dishes and want a new one to try out, make yourself some Pastitsio. This is the Greek forerunner of lasagna, and as a special bonus, I'll tell you how to make it. The recipe looks complicated, and it takes a while to put together, but it's really fairly easy.

The Noodles

Cook 1.5 cups of elbow macaroni, and drain. Toss with a mixture of 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup milk, and 1 beaten egg. Set aside until ready for assembly of the dish.

The Meat Mixture

Beat one egg; set aside. In a heavy stovetop pan (Dutch oven or something similar), 1 lb ground meat (I usually use beef or pork, but I have used bulk pork sausage before -- if you use a seasoned meat, go easy on the salt later in the recipt), 1 onion and a couple tablespoons chopped garlic (to taste, really) until the meat is browned. Add 1 small can tomato sauce, 1/4 cup red wine (whatever's on hand -- I've made this dish using red wine from Cabernet to Port), salt & pepper (1 tsp each), 1 tbs parsley flakes, 1 tbs oregano, and 1 tbs ground cinnamon. (Generally I put in a bit more oregano and cinnamon; these are to taste.) Stir, bring to boil, and then simmer for ten minutes or so, until the meat mixture is quite thick. At that time, remove from heat and slowly stir 1 beaten egg into the meat mixture. This will thicken it even more.

White Sauce for the Top

Beat two eggs, set aside. In a saucepan, melt 3 tbs butter or margarine; add 3 tbs flour to make a roux. Then add 1 1/2 cups of milk, all at once, and ground pepper to taste. (I use quite a bit.) Stir constantly, breaking up any lumps in the roux, over fairly high heat. You want this to come just about to a boil, because a roux thickens best at a boil. When the mixture is pretty thick, temper the eggs by spooning 1/4 cup or so of the sauce into them; then slowly pour the eggs into the pan with the rest of the sauce, stirring along the way. This will thicken it even more. Then stir in 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese.

Final Assembly

Lightly grease, butter, or spray with cooking spray a 1.5 qt casserole dish. Assemble the layers as follows: 1/2 of the macaroni mixture, then all of the meat mixture, then the remaining macaroni mixture, and finally top with the white sauce. Sprinkle the sauce with more ground cinnamon to taste (I absolutely blanket the thing, because we adore cinnamon) and then bake in a 375 degree oven until the top is nicely browned. Remove from oven and let stand for several minutes before cutting and serving.

This makes six servings. It is not a light meal, but it is fattening in a glorious way. With garlic bread and a nice salad, this makes one of the finest meals I know.

(Blogger rant of the day: Geez, now the thing's eating posts. As Thomas Covenant might say, Hellfire and Damnation!)

When in doubt, post something about my referral-logs, I guess....

:: Someone happened on Byzantium's Shores via a Google search under "DestinyUSA progress".

Short answer: there ain't any.

DestinyUSA is the big-ass shopping mall/water park/Erie Canal recreation/hotel resort/indoor golf course thing that's been on the drawing board in Syracuse for years, and despite a "groundbreaking" ceremony last fall (in which a lot of dirt was brought in and spread about a section of the Carousel Center parking lot so Governor Pataki and assorted luminaries could stick a spade in it) there appears to be nothing going on outside of the normal behind-the-scenes discussion and wrangling about zoning and tax incentives and environmental studies and the like. When we moved here in September, they were talking about having DestinyUSA open and running (at least partly) in 2004; now they've pushed that back to 2006.

I like the idea of the project, although I remain skeptical of the ability of a metropolitan area the size of Syracuse to support something of this magnitude and have decided that I'll believe it when I see huge cranes, backhoes, earthmovers, and two thousand guys in blue jeans and orange shirts and Carhartt clothing milling about actually building the thing.

:: Someone else was looking for something involving VH1 and "the greatest one-hit wonder of all time"; I assume they're looking for info on a specific VH1 show. However, my personal favorite one-hit wonder of all time is Dexy's Midnight Runners, who achieved pseudo-immortality with their anthem "Come On Eileen".

:: It must be "Read a poem and comment on it" time in classrooms across the nation, because the "Annabel Lee" hits are starting to pick up again.

:: And I'm still getting hits from my mentioning of the Don Cheadle NFL ads, which stopped running a month ago!

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Heavens-to-Betsy, I actually like American Idol. This damned show has me hooked. Somebody throw me a life-preserver!! (I'm rooting for that Reuben guy.)

And I'm still loving 24, although I do hope they quit dropping Kim Bauer into more and more ludicrous situations. It's time for her storyline to end. Really.

I've got the new tourism slogan for Syracuse: Come to Syracuse! We've got one of everything!

Buffalo isn't a particularly big city, but it was big enough to have more than one Barnes&Noble, more than one really nice mall, more than one Outback Steakhouse, more than one independent bookstore, et cetera. I got spoiled a bit by that aspect of the town, and I suspect in a bigger city it's a luxury really taken for granted. If I wanted to shop for CDs, I had a number of choices of where to go for good selection.

Syracuse, on the other hand, is only about half Buffalo's size, and thus the choices really don't exist. There is one Borders and one Barnes&Noble, and that's it. Not to complain, because that's the way it is (as Stephen King might say, "Tough titty said the kitty"); but moving from a large city to a significantly smaller city can reveal ways in which we're spoiled that we had never considered.

(Here's a strange thing, though: Syracuse has at least four Thai restaurants and three Japanese steakhouses that I've noticed, and yet in my travels around town I have yet to see any significant Oriental population. In fact, there are more Oriental eateries here than there are Applebee's outlets.)

The Top Ten Comic-Book Movies? Well, not quite. But close.

First of all, none of the Batman movies are better than the original Superman, which is one of my favorite movies (despite the descent into deus ex machina at the end). I also think Superman is better than Spiderman, which is really good but nearly derails at the climax. Both those films share the same strengths: wonderful opening halves that establish their characters' "mythologies"; I think that Superman has the stronger second half.

If I'm going to include a Batman film on this Top Ten list, and I would, it wouldn't be Batman Returns because as good as that film is -- a great improvement over the original Batman, which is one of the most overrated films I've ever seen -- I give the edge to Batman Forever, in which Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones provide over-the-top villainy that balances Val Kilmer's understated Batman/Bruce Wayne wonderfully. (Full disclosure: I don't hate Batman and Robin as much as everybody else, but it's still not very good.) I do give Batman Returns credit for the best line in a Batman movie, for when the Christopher Walken character says to Catwoman, "Can I get you anything? A ball of string?"

The X-Men could have been the finest of all comic-book films to date, except it's too short and skimps on the character development to detrimental effect. With another half-hour of character time, this could have been a very fine film. As it is, it feels like a Cliff's Notes introduction to the X-Men; it's as if the producers said, "We know we're making sequels, so let's just get the introductory film out of the way ASAP." But the casting is probably the best of any comic-book film.

I loved Dick Tracy, and yes, I love Flash Gordon -- one of the most cheerfully goofy films ever made. I just can't watch that movie and not have a good time, what with Max Von Sydow's scenery-chewing ("I like to play with things a while before annihilation"), Timothy Dalton's quiet irony ("I knew you were up to something, Aura, but I confess I hadn't thought of necrophilia"), and the film's sheer exuberance, complete with soundtrack by Queen and special effects that are unlike just about every other gonzo-scifi flick out there. Flash Gordon actually looks like its comic-book origin material. (And how can anyone not grin when a big-ass army of guys with wings confronts an art-deco, phallic-shaped spaceship? I mean, what's not to like in a movie with stuff like that?)

Popeye is just a horrid, horrid film. To me, it is the cinematic equivalent of fingernails-on-a-chalkboard. As for the other films on the list, I haven't seen them.

(Daily Blogger Complaint Department: Was this thing bought by Google, or by Mrs. Butterworth's? ARRGGHHHH!!!)

Monday, February 24, 2003

(Complaint about Blogger: when Google buys Disneyland, do you suppose the dolls in "It's a Small World" will turn feral or something?)

(Update: OK, I guess the thing's working after all. Harumph.)

Over on The Rittenhouse Review, James Capozzola has written about a concert he attended at the Philadelphia Orchestra's new hall. In an "update", he asks why the orchestras always tune to the oboe, and he gets an answer, but he seems a bit foggy about some of the particulars -- specifically, what "A 440" means.

Well, they tune to the note "A". I'm not sure exactly why it's that note as opposed to, say, "E", but that's what they're doing. So, when a conductor ascends the podium at first rehearsal and asks the oboe to "Give us the A", he's asking the principle oboist to sound an "A" so that the orchestra can tune. Easy enough.

So what's this "440" business? That's the frequency of the particular "A" -- 440 hertz. (I think it's hertz, anyway. It's been a while since I did this stuff on a regular basis, and even then I didn't pay much attention to the scientific stuff underneath it all.) If we define "A" as 440 hz, then it follows that a "B" one full-step up will have a higher frequency -- 455 hz, perhaps. (Again, a guess. Don't get indignant with me if I'm colossally wrong!) And a B-flat, in between, will be roughly halfway between the two. OK?

But "A = 440" isn't carved in stone. If an orchestra wants to tune slightly flat, the principle oboe will sound the tuning "A" at, say, 438 hz; likewise, they can tune slightly sharp, at "A = 442", perhaps. Sharpness is generally preferred, especially by the string players in an orchestra, because sharpness yields a brighter, livelier tone. Playing flat is generally viewed as "icky". ("Icky" being, of course, a precise musical term. You can look it up.)

Now, if "B" is 455 hz assuming "A = 440", then the musicians in the orchestra will naturally play a "B" slightly sharper than that if they tune to "A = 442". The professional musicians who fill the ranks of America's orchestras (and the world's, for that matter) have good enough ears to adjust their tuning of all the notes (or "pitches") at their command, based on whatever they have established the "A" to be. This is what is meant by the term "relative pitch", and it is an absolutely essential ability for orchestral musicians to possess. If a musician, a trumpet player perhaps, was to walk into an orchestral audition and display technical proficiency on par with Wynton Marsalis's, but also displayed the relative pitch of an average high school or college-level player, the trumpeter would not get the job, if (s)he were to even be called back for the second round of auditions. Tuning is the bedrock of ensemble playing, and that little ritual orchestras go through at the outset of each concert serves a very real purpose.

And it's not, to castigate a horrible pun foisted on the world by a onetime band director of mine, the world premiere of the newest composition by Chinese composer Tu Ning.

Those of you with expertise in television broadcasting (I'm thinking of one particular reader, here -- hint hint, Aaron) will maybe be able to answer this question for me: is there something about the way NBC stations broadcast in general -- something relating to a satellite feed, or something like that -- that results in NBC stations invariably having the crappiest reception of all the network stations no matter which municipality I happen to be habitating at the time of watching?

We haven't used cable since we moved to Metro Buffalo three years ago; a set of "rabbit-ears" was sufficient for our needs, and except for the Food Network, there really wasn't anything on cable that we felt essential. But in both Buffalo and now Syracuse, while we lived within ten miles of each local network affiliate's broadcast antenna, the major networks all come in nice and clear (even PBS), except for NBC, which either flickers or has weird static or general fuzziness.

I haven't seen a clear episode of The West Wing since my cable days, during that show's first season.

I'm looking at pictures of what apparently constitutes significant snowfall in Indianapolis, and trying not to emit a large burst of haughty, smug cackling at the mere thought that any snowfall measured in units smaller than feet is considered a big deal. Heh!

Indy seems to be on pace for a snowfall record, having currently received 44 inches this winter. According to yesterday's Syracuse Post-Standard, Buffalo has received 97 inches. And Syracuse?

One Hundred Twenty-Nine Inches.

Yep, we're hardy folk up here in North Country. Now, I'm off to hitch up the dogs for my daily checking of the caribou traps.

In the interests of fulfilling my daily quota of snarkiness (which I don’t always fulfill in this space, but what the hey), here’s a mental exercise.

:: Step One. Examine the picture below. That nice looking guy in the middle – the distinguished-looking gentleman with the glasses and holding the kid – is the university professor who last week was arrested for various charges relating to terrorism and Al Qaeda.

:: Step Two. Remove the familiar-looking guy standing just left of the Professor, and also remove the familiar-looking woman to that guy’s left. (The one leaning forward to get her head in the shot.) You should now have two vacant positions in the photo. OK?

:: Step Three. In the place where the familiar-looking guy was, insert the forty-second President of the United States.

:: Step Four. In the place where the familiar-looking woman was, insert the current junior Senator from the state of New York.

:: Step Five. Imagine the likely behavior of the national media if the photograph as we’ve just constructed were the real one, as opposed to the actual one we started with.

(And I don't know about any of you, but things like this -- plus that picture of Donald Rumsfeld in the early 1980s shaking Saddam's hand -- have me reaching for my tin-foil hat, pronto.)

Tomorrow is the release date for the second batch of James Bond filmscore reissue CDs. The first batch was released two weeks ago, and thus far they are magnificent. To have the score to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, almost in its entirety, is wondrous. Ditto Diamonds Are Forever and the expanded Live and Let Die (decent music for an utterly horrible film). The ones I plan to pick up tomorrow are Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and A View To A Kill.

These reissues are the film music event of early 2003. Go get them, if you have any love of good music at all.

Friday, February 21, 2003

An ANNOUNCEMENT: Next week, I plan to launch a secondary blog to this one, which will have a specific focus and reason-for-being. I'm still working with the template and the introductory essays. Stay tuned.

(Hint: the new blog won't be political in content. Instead, it will reflect 2003-as-bicentennial for....)

It's always nice to see artistic value found in an unlikely place -- not because the place is unlikely to yield art, but because we're generally unlikely to look there for the art that's been there all along. A case in point is the quilts of Gee's Bend.

These quilts, made by slave-descendents in the tiny town of Gee's Bend, Alabama, feature textile craft "imported" from Africa when the slaves were captured and likewise "imported". Lately, the quilts of Gee's Bend have attracted attention in art circles and have even been featured in museum exhibits in New York City. Amazing.

It's always illuminating to read about the trials and tribulations of an aspiring writer. This person's frustrations and annoyances are, shall I say, familiar -- although I wonder at the years involved. But then, I've been doing the same project for years, too. I am also hoping that my road to publishing -- given that I'm a genre writer -- will prove slightly easier than what this woman has endured.

(NY Times registration required.)

I've seen Roger Ebert dislike quite a few films in the years I've been reading him, but I'm not sure I've ever seen him get as angry about a film as he does about this new Kevin Spacey flick, The Life of David Gale. I don't plan on seeing this movie -- the subject matter does not interest me one whit -- but I'd still like to know just what has Ebert so annoyed here. His rigid rule about not giving away plot points means that basically his review says "This movie pissed me off!" without saying "This is why the movie pissed me off." This is a strength of the AICN style of reviews, where Harry Knowles and Moriarty and cohorts write general, spoiler-free impressions, followed by a detailed, spoiler-filled (with plenty of warning and white-space preceding it) discussion of the film's virtues or lack thereof.

So, if anyone sees the film and wants to let me know what I'm missing, feel free.

I've just discovered the work of travel writer Jim Holt, over on Slate. Right now he's doing a series about journeys through Scandinavia, complete with slideshows of art and architecture. Check it out.

Thursday, February 20, 2003


Land's End, Cornwall, England.

I found this nice photo while looking through various sites collecting views of Cornwall, the southwestern part of England. (The photo links to the best collection of such that I found.) I find something appealing about this photo -- it conveys a sense of the vast sea and the distances involved somehow. Maybe it's the signpost. Anyhow, I'd love to travel to this place someday.

We ate dinner last night at Red Lobster. I know, it's homogenized, corporately-designed seafood; every restaurant looks the same, et cetera. But I still love going there. The food is invariably decent, those cheddar-biscuits are wonderful (if evil), and most of all, Red Lobster meets my big criterion for a seafood place: they decorate the joint so it looks like a seafood place.

I have always been a huge sucker for theme restaurants. When I walk into a place like Montana's, for example, and see all the timber-beams along the ceiling and the wagon-wheels on the walls and the trapping equipment and canoes on display and the branding irons and other assorted whatnot everywhere, that puts me into a kind of mood that usually involves generous helpings of red meat. Likewise, when I go into Don Pablos and note the colored lights (very large bulbs, not the twinkly Christmas-tree lights) strung about, and the faux windows and awnings and the tiled fountain in the middle of the place, I envision myself entering a Mexican sidewalk cafe -- even if I know I'm really in the middle of some suburban strip in Anywhere, USA. I like restaurants that try to convey a sense of place, a certain bit of fantasy to go along with food that, while it's probably not the best you'll ever experience in that vein, is still pretty good.

The single best seafood meal of my life was at a Legal Sea Foods in Boston. The focus there is on the food, and spectacular it is. But I still like the other stuff, too -- the theme stuff, the "other time and place" stuff. What do I want in a seafood place? Besides good food -- which, in my opinion, Red Lobster has -- I want to see nautical charts on the walls. (If they can do local waterways, great; in Syracuse that's probably asking a bit much.) I want to see oars and propeller blades and fishhooks and nets. Anchors are good, and lobster-traps. Low lighting -- enough to see, obviously, but not to make the place brilliantly lit, as a whaling-vessel or schooner would have been -- is a must. Low ceilings too.

If the restaurant is located on water or with a view of water, that's a bonus. This isn't always possible, of course, but it really helps. And if it's near the water, then it's really cool if the restaurant is actually supported on pilings above the water, so that one has to cross a little bridge to get to the place. (Again, too much to ask of Syracuse, but....) I should hear seagulls, and a foghorn would be OK too. And of course, there's nothing like the smell of saltwater to get one in the mood for tearing into some crablegs. Again, not in Syracuse, alas....but freshwater locales can have their own allure, too.

I tend to completely ignore music in restaurants -- a byproduct of having worked in them so long -- so I don't need to hear sea shanties on the speakers. And I pay little attention to what the servers wear, so there's no need to dress them up as captains or crew or whatnot. (Unless, of course, I'm eating at a Disneyworld theme restaurant. In that case, they'd better look the part.) I also suppose that simulating the swaying motion of a ship would be impractical and not entirely desirable.

Red Lobster gets a lot of this right. Yes, it's fairly obviously inauthentic, but it works for the hour or so that I'm there. Works for me, anyway.

I've been following the terribly sad story of the girl who got the wrong transplant organs. Apparently she might have another chance today, because a donor with the right blood type has been found. That is good news.

And yet, I can't help but wonder something else: when a family allows the harvesting of a loved one's organs, are they told where those organs are to be used? What I'm wondering is, is there a family somewhere that, having lost a loved one, at least took some solace in the fact that their misfortune would possibly prolong the life of another, only to learn even later that their loved one's organs will now be of no use to anyone?

I'm trying not to attach any cosmic significance to the fact that the day after I read that Google has bought Blogger, I couldn't get into Blogger for most of the day. It's probably just one of "those things", and the news of Google's taking-of-the-Blogger-mantle is sufficient to make me postpone any plans I had for switching to Movable Type (I want to see if the Blogger infrastructure does, in fact, get better). But an outage for an entire day, after the announcement? Huh?

Sunday, February 16, 2003

I've done some general tweaking today: a new masthead image, and some additions to "Notable Dispatches" at left.

Also, updates to Byzantium's Shores may be light this week because I have some other projects that need my attention (including winding up the first draft of the damned novel the novel-in-progress).

I started reading Jo Walton's novel The King's Peace this week, and I set it aside when I got about ninety pages in and realized that I had no idea who these characters were. I'll try it again another time; I found the book's opening chapters fairly well-done and interesting, so I'm assuming this is a case of me just not being in a "fantasy" kind of mood just now. So I'm onto Conqueror's Legacy by Timothy Zahn, the concluding volume of a space-opera trilogy the first two volumes of which I enjoyed greatly. I do find it a bit strange that I haven't been in a "fantasy" mood for a long time now. Fantasy has been my favorite genre for years, but more and more I'm becoming interested in science fiction and also in horror (including "dark fantasy", a term which I find cumbersome but unavoidable). There isn't much fantasy out there right now that I'm really hankering to read, but there's a ton of SF and horror that I want to get to.

(Oh, and a minor rant: it occurs to me that the two epic fantasies that I've bounced off in recent months -- The King's Peace and Sean Russell's The One Kingdom -- are books that are set in large kingdoms with lots of traveling and such, and yet the books have no maps. Maybe I've come to lean on maps in fantasy books too much, as a kind of crutch, but I find them almost indispensible in fantasy these days. And come to think of it, they're often very useful in SF, too.)

Bill Whittle, of Eject! Eject! Eject!, has written a new essay about courage and how it relates to the fate of the shuttle Columbia.

Whittle's essay is well-written for the most part, but I do think that he tends to ramble a bit, and in some spots he could really use an editor. He includes a mini-rant on how Hollywood gets courage wrong, by citing the film Top Gun. Now, I agree with him here on this particular film, but it's telling that he doesn't see fit to give Hollywood credit for getting it right in films like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. He also derails a bit into "Why we're better than the terrorists", which felt totally out-of-place given what he's trying to do here. I don't enjoy being made to feel that I have to be a conservative to admire the astronauts and other people who lay their lives on the line in the service of our country or our species, and I don't feel that a tribute to these noble souls is the place for more ranting about what the America-hating liberals are doing to our college campuses.

But, if you skip over all that stuff, there's quite a bit of gold in Whittle's essay, and his concluding section -- in which he describes what the last moments of Columbia's descent might have been like for the crew riding her to their doom -- is simply haunting.

My first two reviews for Green Man Review have been posted: a review of the film Amadeus and an omnibus review of three young adult novels by John Bellairs.

(And my reviews for GMR are posted in my real name, so anyone dying to see the mists surrounding my identity dispelled should go have a look. No, my name is not Waylon Smithers; nor is it Clancy Wiggum, Montgomery Burns, Troy McClure or -- gasp -- Ned Flanders.)

Friday, February 14, 2003

In honor of Valentine's Day, here are a few of my favorite romantic scenes from movies, in no particular order.

:: Witness: when John Book sings "What a Wonderful World" to Rachel and leads her in what is probably her first dance.

:: The American President: when President Shepard asks Sydney Ellen Wade to dance at the state dinner.

:: Sleepless in Seattle: when Sam and Annie meet for the first the last scene.

:: Titanic: the sketching scene. (Yes, I still like Titanic. Sue me.)

:: On Her Majesty's Secret Service: the scene in the barn, when James Bond realizes he is actually in love.

:: Singin' In The Rain: the title number.

:: My Fair Lady: "I Could Have Danced All Night", "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face".

:: Princess Mononoke: when Ashitaka first comes to San's rescue.

:: When Harry Met Sally...: another great last scene.

:: Rob Roy: "Do ye know how fine ye are to me, Mary McGregor?" Wow....

:: Friends: Chandler proposes to Monica. (Yes, it's a TV show. Yes, I still watch Friends. Sue me.)

:: Flash Gordon: "Flash! I love you, but we only have eight hours to save the Earth!" (Well, OK, it's not romantic at all. But it is my favorite corny line in a movie full of them.)

:: Braveheart: the secret wedding.

:: Attack of the Clones: the secret wedding.

:: The Simpsons: Yeah, another TV show, but Marge and Homer's backstory is witty and touching.

:: Star Trek (The Original Series): As long as I'm in TV land, the episodes "The City on the Edge of Forever" and "Metamorphosis" are romantic masterpieces.

:: Bull Durham: Yet another great last scene.

:: An Affair to Remember: The whole damn movie.

:: Say Anything: The whole damn movie.

:: Casablanca: The whole damn movie.

MeFi has had some interesting threads lately about local delicacies, both in food and drink. It's always fascinating to think about all of the wonderful foods I long to try, but cannot without either traveling a long way or trusting my abilities to follow a recipe for a dish when I don't know how the dish is supposed to turn out. (I am pretty good at following recipes, though, so this isn't as big a hindrance as it could be.)

Also interesting to me, though, is the converse: the stuff that I can't fathom being palatable to anyone. Grits are very popular in the south, and I can't imagine why; I've always found them stunningly tasteless. And lutefisk? Ugh!! I was even looking in the ice cream section at the grocery store the other day, and I came across the first flavor of ice cream I've ever seen that made me wince, so awful did it sound: Green Tea Flavored Ice Cream. Green Tea?? Huh?!

(By the way, the greatest ice cream in the history of ice cream is Coffee Haagen-Dasz. Oh, the wonderment of that stuff....)

I've occasionally alluded to my general pessimism about the Bush Administration's ability to manage a post-war Iraq in any fashion that rises above "Half-assed". So my fears in this regard were not allayed in the slightest by the report that the Administration omitted funding for nation-building in Afghanistan from the new budget.

I've just about bought into the idea that the coming war is a necessary step for making the world a better place. Problem is, as far as I can tell from the administration's behavior and public statements, they think it's the only step.

ER has been a favorite show of mine pretty much since its first season. No, it's not the fresh wonder that it was back then, but I still find it much more enjoyable than most of the stuff elsewhere on TV. The show did waver a bit, a few seasons back, when the producers allowed the cast to balloon to a ridiculous degree with a set of newer characters that weren't particularly likable; luckily they ditched the duds, brought in a few new ones, and the show's doing just fine now. I like that Dr. Carter has matured and is in what appears to be a good relationship; I like the dynamic of Doctors Gallant and Pratt, the two young students who bounce off each other because one is gung-ho and cavalier while the other is cautious to a fault. I've never been a big fan of Dr. Weaver, but Laura Innes is for my money the most underrated actress on television.

The only blemish right now, for me, is Maura Tierney's character. Tierney is a very beautiful woman and she has great comic timing -- so obviously, the ER producers keep downplaying those qualities by keeping her looking incredibly frumpy in every episode and giving her character more psychological baggage than the supporting cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She's a recovering alcoholic with one broken marriage under her belt; she dropped out of medical school; her mother is bi-polar to the Nth degree and now she apparently has a brother who is also bi-polar. I really hope the writers quit dumping on her, soon.

(And for God's sake, stop inflicting Sally Field upon us during every sweeps period! Field is an actress of, shall I say, limited appeal. She was good in Smokey and the Bandit. She was excellent in Places in the Heart, and she was fine as Tom Hanks's mother in Forrest Gump. But her character on ER is the very picture of annoying.)

The Central New York area was hit hard with lake-effect snow this week. The Syracuse metro area (actually, I feel a bit funny describing it as a "metro" area -- the "metro" prefix to me implies, well, a bigger town than this) got hit with probably a foot or so, total, over the three days; it was the towns north of here -- closer to Lake Ontario -- that got pounded.

I'm only bringing this up because I was driving on the NY State Thruway today (that's Interstate 90), and there were the usual semis that went off the road during the big snow. One of them, my wife tells me, has been there for two days, and from what I could see it's going to be there for quite a while. It's a double-tractor-trailer, and it is currently located at the bottom of a very wide ditch about thirty feet from the Thruway itself. It is buried in snow up to the tops of its wheel-wells, and there is an impressive pile of snow immediately in front of the truck's cab, probably the result of the vehicle's plowing effect as it moved through the snow. The funny thing is that the truck is perfectly straight and parallel to the Thurway; there is no jack-knifing, no tipping, and no bending of any kind. It's almost like the truck driver meant to park it there, and park it he did.

Not so, unfortunately, the smaller truck -- roughly the size of the biggest U-Haul available -- that went off on the other side of the Thruway, in that exact same spot in the road. The ditch on that side is not nearly so wide, and it's much deeper -- so this poor guy put his vehicle head-first into that ditch, so that he is positioned perpendicular to the Thruway, with his back axle and wheels now roughly two feet in the air.

I suppose I could switch into "tinfoil hat" mode and speculate on the fact that these two trucks went off the road right in front of the Syracuse location of defense contractor Lockheed-Martin....

Thursday, February 13, 2003


Congratulations to The Simpsons on hitting 300 episodes!

And here are two images from my personal favorite episode, "The Springfield Files", in which two FBI agents come to Springfield to investigate Homer's paranormal claim. I have to admit that if I was sitting in a bar next to Gillian Anderson, I might well behave this way....

"Mulder, shouldn't we do something about this shipment of drugs coming into New York City?"
"Scully, I hardly think the FBI wants us to waste our time with that."

My only reaction to the Oscar nominations is to note the absence of a nomination for James Newton Howard's superb score for Signs, a tension-filled work that pays grand homage to the great scores Bernard Herrmann wrote for the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I think Signs should have been nominated in place of Catch Me If You Can, which is a good score but isn't really all that notable except for a different kind of John Williams sound than the big, epic sound for which he's so well-known. It's become almost robotic for the Academy to nominate John Williams, even if they don't nominate his best score of the year (which was either Minority Report or Attack of the Clones).

The Academy has also decided to codify its long-standing distaste for sequel scores. (The "Best Original Score" Oscar in 1980 went not to The Empire Strikes Back, one of the finest scores of all time, but to Fame.) Sequel scores, which are based on themes from the earlier films, will no longer be Oscar-eligible. The rule doesn't take effect until next year, apparently, but that didn't stop the Academy from ignoring Howard Shore's work on Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which doesn't make extensive use of the material from Fellowship. Ah well....

The consensus among film score afficionadoes is that the winner this year will be Elmer Bernstein. I haven't heard his score to Far From Heaven, but Bernstein is the current dean of film composers (followed by Jerry Goldsmith and Williams, both of whom celebrated birthdays this month) and recognition for his fine, fine career would be more than welcome.

Noting all of the ads on TV that tout "the newest reality series!", I wonder if in a year or two fictional shows will become sufficiently rare that ads will begin popping up touting "the newest fictional series!". I can hear the copy now: "These people are not real. They are not the guy or girl next door. They are characters, played by actors, reciting dialog written by writers. Follow their adventures!"

I've stopped following American Idol, mainly because now it's at the point where they're showing all these people singing songs that I really don't like, in the "pop" style that I don't really enjoy. I'd rather watch these people try to sound like themselves, as opposed to trying to be "the next Mariah Carey" or "the next Whitney Houston" or "the next Luther Vandross". (Or, as someone actually tried the other night, "the next Debbie Boone". I mean, who on earth sings "You Light Up My Life" anymore? Ye gods....) But the show's early installments, the "weeding-out" episodes, were highly entertaining.

Of course, tonight the reality-granddaddy-of-them-all returns. Yep, another go-round of Survivor. I plan to celebrate in my own fashion.... watching Friends and Scrubs.

(Although, I can in fact envision a few scenarios under which I would probably watch this show: maybe if they did Survivor: Siberia with No Food, or Survivor: the South Pacific but with no island, just a leaky boat, or Survivor: The Pakistani Highlands.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

After a year of blogging, I'm a bit surprised as to what generates attention here and what doesn't. I've occasionally posted responses to SDB's political commentary -- although not often, and most recently here -- and have received nary a peep; but somehow he sure noticed my indignance that he dares speak ill of a Star Wars movie.

And the first big spike in my traffic came last summer when I started posting my capsule reviews of all the James Bond movies. Somehow that attracted attention at the time, and yet, my similar capsulization of the Star Trek films has, to my knowledge, gone completely unnoticed.

I mentioned during the NFL playoffs how much I was enjoying that series of TV ads the NFL made, featuring actor Don Cheadle spouting some fairly memorable dialog ("That's how big the playoffs are. They took the name Joe and made it, JOE.") That mention generated at least nine or ten hits a day. (Yes, for me, that's a lot.)

People also find Byzantium's Shores if they search the Net for information on any of the poems for which I've done "Excursions" (these "Poetical Excursions" are merely brief discussions of what strikes me in particular about a given poem, as a way of constantly reminding myself to read more poetry). By far, the most popular of these is my Excursion for Poe's "Annabel Lee", which is good in that this is the poem I've thought most about over the years since I read it.

And there's a good amount of traffic to be found by linking to Scoreland Soundtrack Reviews, a film music website (that hasn't been updated in far too long -- are you there, Jay?). This is because there appears to be another, more notorious, site with the ScoreLand handle wherein can be found...well, I'm assuming photos of scantily-clad women.

So, anyway, I hope some of you arriving by way of Steven Den Beste's statement that I should lighten up stick around a while. I'm not really as anal as I seem in those two posts. Really.

(And while I'm discussing my one-year blogiversary and traffic-details, I'd like to thank everyone who has permalinked me over the last year. It's always appreciated!)

My books for sale, on Ebay, have been updated, so check 'em out. (Oh, and I'm now able to offer the "Buy It Now" pricing, so if you see something there you want you don't have to wait....hint, hint....)

Rachel Lucas, coiner of the wonderful word "asshatted", has done it again.


She's starting to approach the lofty heights of The Simpsons's writers, who generated such terms as "craptacular".

I've just learned, via the regular FSM feature The Aisle Seat, that a direct-to-video sequel is being made to Charlotte's Web.

I'm trying not to think of any jokes involving Wilbur being mistakenly sent to an abattoir, but they just keep popping into my brain....

The Nebula Award nominations have been announced. I expect that American Gods will make it a trifecta, having already won the Hugo and the Bram Stoker.

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

                              --Oscar Wilde.

There are a number of generally-held views of what a writer's day is like. Sometimes we envision a person doing a lot of contemplation of his or her own navel; other times we envision a skinny person sitting in a bare room banging away on a typewriter at great speed, enhanced by caffeine and nicotine, pausing only to rip the current sheet out of the typewriter, crumple it, and toss it into a wire-frame garbage can the floor around which is littered with dozens of crumpled versions of the same page. We envision something like Wilde's quote above, a writer poring over many a manuscript, moving single words around in deep concentration.

For some writers, though, it's actual work. Witness a day in the life of Sheila Viehl.

Of course, all writers are different. Sheila works in several different genres and these days she has a lot of projects going on at once. Not all writers work as hard as she does, but for all writers, it is work. Writing is not sitting around, waiting for the inspiration to show up. Writing is sitting at the desk every day, wringing the inspiration from one's fingers until they bleed. And if it's a dry day, with no inspiration to be found, it's still work.

I came across another nifty quote the other day, but I've already forgotten the source: "The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more work." That applies to everything, really, but it really applies to writing.

OK, SDB, and another thing....

Well, no, not really. A hearty "Welcome" to those of you perusing here by way of SDB's link. I hope some of you will take some time to look around a bit and see that I don't foam at the mouth, generally, except for matters relating to a certain set of space-opera films made by George Lucas. I mean, we all have those little things that launch us into unforeseen rants. For me, it's Star Wars. For some people (ahem), it's France.

(Whoa....thank God, George Lucas isn't from France....the horror!!!)

(Oh, and one other note to newcomers: I don't talk about politics here very often, mainly because there is a ton of that available elsewhere. Generally speaking, though, I am a liberal, I generally vote Democratic, I have very little use for President Bush, and I support war in Iraq although I don't really trust our current Administration to not muck up the aftermath of such a war. Just in case anybody is wondering.)

Monday, February 10, 2003

Wow, I've been blogging for one year now. Hoo-ray!!

OK, time for some geeklike response to SDB's review of Attack of the Clones:

:: First of all, if you're already fairly certain that you only want to see a given movie because of a single scene in the movie, why on earth would you buy the DVD? Just go to Blockbuster, plunk down your four bucks, watch that one scene as many times as you want for a week, and then be done with it. Of course, SDB has quite a bit more money than I do, but to purchase a film that one doesn't particularly want seems to me an odd use for twenty bucks. (Unless, of course, he got a previously viewed copy. He doesn't say.)

:: SDB makes this claim about the Jedi: "They were selected not on the basis of their ethics but solely on the basis of how much "force" they had in their veins."

SDB is stone wrong here. The "midichlorian count" is a definite factor, but it's pretty clear from The Phantom Menace (and the original films, to boot) that there's more at work than mere Force-potential. The Jedi Council, in TPM, duly notes Anakin's Force-potential, and still they initially refuse his training and only grudgingly consent to it when first Qui Gon defies them, and then Obi Wan makes clear his intention to do the same. Also, when Luke arrives on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda is very wary and it's pretty clear that he is far from convinced that training Luke to be a Jedi is a good idea.

:: Then he makes this claim: "It's really hardly any surprise they got their asses butchered in that battle; they were not only arrogant, they were stupid. This was the cream of the original Republic? Good riddance."

SDB is wrong here, too. First of all, he's still showing off his "Look what an expert in military stuff I am" bit, which in the context of a Star Wars movie is a pretty pointless endeavour. But anyway, this is not the cream of the original Republic. Those days are long, long gone. The whole point of Attack of the Clones is that the Jedi have become arrogant and that they are no longer the "cream" of the Republic. How SDB could totally miss the point here is mystifying.

:: "And then they go into a great wild melee with their light sabers, and I found myself wondering: If Yoda can move like that in a fight, why in hell does he need a cane to walk normally?"

Surely this doesn't take that much thought. Yoda clearly channeled a great deal of Force-power in that duel, and it's clearly not something he can do for long periods of time, and certainly not for something as trivial as discarding his walking-stick. We get a glimpse of Yoda's immense skill in Attack of the Clones, but it's not Yoda at his most powerful. He is not in his prime here; he is, in fact, over 800 years old and is only 40 years away from dying of old age.

:: "Yoda could have thrown his light saber and put a big gash in the side of it to make it not be space-worthy. There was no excuse at all for him letting Dooku get away. Yeah, he was using the force to keep a bunch of debris from crushing Kenobi and Skywalker while Dooku got into his ship, but there was plenty of time before it launched to wreck it."

Ummmm....sure. First of all, SDB is suggesting that the ship's hull is sufficiently thin that it would be rendered un-spaceworthy by a mere glancing blow by a lightsaber. Now, nothing ever shown in any of the Star Wars films suggests that a lightsaber, while able to cut through metal, does so like a hot knife through warm butter or a Ginsu-knife through paper. It takes effort -- witness Qui Gon's attempt to cut through a metal bulkhead in TPM.

And for that matter, SDB is assuming that Count Dooku will (a) not notice Yoda's lightsaber arcing through the air and thus (b) either do nothing to deflect it or be unable to deflect it. If Yoda had done this successfully, it would have been a cheat of mammoth proportions.

Then SDB launches into his DragonballZ stuff, which frankly reminds me of when my college roommates and I would stay up late and, after consuming a number of beers, debate whether or not a Borg ship from Star Trek could withstand a Death Star blast. I can only assume SDB is trying to be funny here, but it just ain't working, I'm sorry to say.

OK, geek-mode off. I think. (That's the problem with "geek-mode". It can be reactivated by the slightest thing....)

Notes on a couple of books recently finished:

:: Excelsior! by Stan Lee is the autobiography of Stan the Man, the main creative force behind Marvel Comics. Lee created, among others, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and my longtime fave, Spiderman. His highly entertaining autobiography is breezy and fun, filled with neat details about the birth and growth of the comics industry, and Lee writes here in pretty much the same tone that is familiar to anyone who has ever read one of his "Stan's Soapbox" columns that used to appear in each Marvel comic. (In fact, the book even opens with a special edition of "Stan's Soapbox".) Lee's style includes a lot of exclamation points, and a pretty-much constant sense of a guy looking at you from his perch atop the mountain, grinning widely, and saying, "Jeez, can you believe a guy like me ended up here?"

The book does include some of the "darker" events in Lee's life, but even those events in Lee's hand don't come off as really all that grim -- even the Seduction of the Innocent fiasco of the fifties that hobbled comics as a medium for the ensuing half-century. If you want a sense of the history of comics that is more angst-ridden, there is Michael Chabon's brilliant novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay; Lee is a guy who doesn't take it all very seriously and that's how he writes.

(Oh, and after looking at the photos in the book, I have to note: Stan Lee's daughter is absolutely stunning.)

:: Children with dark imaginations (and like-minded adults, too) are well served by Neil Gaiman in his short novel Coraline. This is an Alice In Wonderland type of story, in which a little girl uncovers a portal into another world, but this is substantially darker than Alice -- the focus here is on chills, as opposed to Lewis Carroll's focus on wordplay and intellectual games. The book is fairly creepy, with some striking images.

Little Coraline lives a fairly boring life with her parents in a new flat that includes a door behind which is a brick wall -- until she opens the door and finds the brick wall gone. Passing through, she finds herself in a nearly identical flat occupied by her nearly identical parents, but the differences are terrifying and soon Coraline discovers even darker things about this new place and the force that has brought her into it.

I enjoyed Coraline. Gaiman's use of small word-tricks is evident here, and his dark imagination manifests itself in the same stark imagery that was so evident in his Sandman comics and in American Gods, although he somewhat "keeps a lid on it", focusing on atmospheric effects rather than on gore. The story is relatively straight-forward and the book is an easy read. I'm not sure if Coraline is destined to be a classic -- I don't think it's as good as, say, the best gothic novels of John Bellairs -- but it's quite a good read for someone looking for an alternative to Harry Potter.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

I find it moderately amazing that of all the words spilled, scrawled and spewed by the warbloggers, the best case for going to war in Iraq I've seen yet is made by Kevin Drum, and fairly concisely, too. (Not concise for him -- for a guy who's usually a model of brevity this is abnormally verbose, but he doesn't ramble at all, and the words "Engineerist", "Jacksonian", "Idiotarian" and "Evil-evil-France-we-hate-them!" are not to be found. Man, it's refreshing.)

(The only problem with his essay I can identify is his statement that while India and Pakistan have problems with one another, their region is not a powerkeg. India and Pakistan are their region -- the Asian Subcontinent -- and it won't take much to make that region into a powderkeg.)

For the LOVE of GOD.

I'm not mad that Den Beste didn't like Attack of the Clones, really. (Well, OK, I am, a little.) And I'm not mad that he repeats the tired complaint about both prequels, "There's no Harrison Ford!". (Well, OK, I am, a little. To me, this complaint has always been a little like going to a "Frankenstein" movie and complaining because Dracula isn't in it.) Hell, I'm not even annoyed at his pretentious closing -- "I am harder to please than the masses." (Well, OK, I am, a little.)

But I'm most definitely annoyed that he is actually of the belief that Star Wars pales in comparison to....

....wait for it....

....Dragonball Z.

I may be completely off-base on this, but SDB strikes me as one of those people who reads one novel every two years or so, mainly to take his mind off the Really! Important! Nonfiction! stuff that usually occupies his time, which he just doesn't have to spend on such frills as fiction. (As I say, I could be completely wrong here. But somehow, I doubt it.)

(Yes, folks, I know. When I die, if I come before St. Peter and he tells me "You've had a good life, so you're in if you just do this one little thing: Denounce the Star Wars prequels!", I'm going to have a very hard time making the decision.)

When Bad Guys Have Great Lines, part one.

I've noticed over the years that villains and antagonists tend to have the best dialog in the movies, so I'll start catalogging some of my favorites.

:: "Love is a dunghill, and I am a cock that struts upon it to crow." --Cunningham (Tim Roth), Rob Roy.

:: "Why, I have more money than...than...than Calvin Coolidge! Put together!" --Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), Singin' In The Rain.

:: "I like to play with things awhile, before annihilation." --Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), Flash Gordon.

:: "I want them alive. No disintegrations." --Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back.

:: "I've watched Presidents die." --Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), The X-Files ("One Breath").

:: "All right, we'll head him off at the precipice." --Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

:: "They stamped it, didn't they? Those damned Gideons." --Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), Mission: Impossible.

:: "It's K-k-k-Ken, c-c-c-coming to k-k-kill me!" --Otto, A Fish Called Wanda.

:: "The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots." --King Edward II (Patrick McGoohan), Braveheart.

:: "Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something!" --Belloq (Paul Freeman), Raiders of the Lost Ark.

:: "We all have our little faults. Mine's in California." --Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), Superman.

:: "When it comes to brains, I got the lion's share. But as for brute strength -- I'm afraid I'm at the shallow end of the gene pool." --Scar (Jeremy Irons), The Lion King.

To be continued....

I've been thinking a bit about the "digital distribution revolution" that is unfolding in the music world, and is beginning to bud in the film world -- the uploading and downloading of songs on P2P networks, the various copyright issues, and such. While I grant that the industry attempts to stuff the genie back into the bottle are equal parts laughable, draconian and dumb, I also have to admit a certain suspicion of the motives of many who are allied against the RIAA and MPAA. For all the high-sounding rhetoric about "freeing Mickey" (with which I generally agree; copyright was surely never intended to last for periods measured in decades) and "progress" and "the evil record companies" (with which, again, there really can be no dispute, since the RIAA's typical view of talent is not-that-distinguishable from indentured servitude), it seems to me that the bedrock motive always comes back to money. The RIAA does not want its golden goose killed, and the file-swappers are under the impression that a fabulous new day is dawning when paying for music and movies and whatever else is a thing of the past. "Information wants to be free" has always struck me as a ludicrous idea, especially since the conduct and quick anger of those who insist such never fails to convey the actual message of "I want my information to be free".

Some other thoughts, largely unrefined, have been stirring about in my brain for a bit, so I'll just throw some things at the wall. If anyone has answers or thoughts of their own, feel free to comment.

:: The means of distribution affects art in many ways. For instance, every article I read about filesharing and its related issues discusses the shared content in terms of songs. I see this in the Apple tagline, "Rip. Mix. Burn." I see this every month in WIRED, when some celebrity or important person is asked to list their current playlist, and it's always a selection of ten or twelve completely different songs. When WIRED recently compared a group of music-download sites, they used a single song as the test case. My point? While I do often speak of individual songs, I've always preferred to think of the song as something atomic, with the larger work -- the album -- as the actual work of art. I may be one of a minority in this regard -- I haven't done any research here -- but I wonder if something isn't being lost when our attention turns from albums to individual songs. I worry that the idea of a great album -- say, Brothers In Arms or Led Zeppelin IV or The Wall or Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely -- may die out as our focus shifts to finding those songs that we like.

A great album isn't merely a collection of songs. A great album has an entire character on its own that is defined by the way its constituent songs work alongside one another; how the mood of one song leads into the mood of the next; the ebb-and-flow of the tempi and style of the songs. What place, then, for an album in a world where the song is the standard of exchange?

:: I've thought of getting an MP3 player, once in a while, but I'm not at all certain how much mileage I would get out of it. This is because I tend to listen to entire albums, as noted above; but also for another reason: I just plain like CDs. When I read comments in WIRED that imply that the CD has become uncool and square, I really wonder how on earth this can be. I've never found CDs to be anything other than marvelous and wonderful. They are convenient; their sound is frankly better than an MP3; and I actually like things like cover-art and liner notes and whatnot. And I don't like the idea of my entire musical collection existing as nothing more than ones-and-zeroes on a hard-drive, subject to the various problems that affect hard-drives now and again. I like the physical reality of my CDs. Thumbing through my music collection and finding old gems that I haven't heard in a long while is always a pleasure; although admittedly I haven't tried, I can't quite believe that scrolling through a collection of folders and files on my PC would have the same cachet.

:: If the digital realm is really the future of content -- music and books and film and whatever else -- then I worry even more about the "digital divide", where so many people in our society are unable to join the online world, whether because of cost or disability or whatever. The Digital Divide is real, and it is large; and it seems to me that if we're going to transfer a significant part of our cultural expression to the digital realm, then we'd better make damned sure the Divide is reduced to almost nothing, if not eliminated entirely.

There are many people in this world who cannot afford a computer and whose only opportunity to go online is to use a public terminal at a library, if they can even do that. But a person who might not be able to spend $600 on a computer may still be able to scrape together $30 for a bargain-basement CD player. They need not be shut out of our culture entirely, which is what I fear may happen to an uncomfortably large segment of our society as we become more and more digital.

Digital media are wonderful and have stunning potential. But I'm unconvinced that the infrastructure exists to make our digital world a reality for all people, and if we can't bring the digital to all people, then I am not prepared to allow those people to fall by the wayside, thus creating a caste of Untouchables -- perhaps we would call them "the Unconnected" -- who are not only divorced from the Internet, but divorced from our culture itself even as they walk amongst us.

One year ago tomorrow, the blogosphere shuddered with the crushing impact of...well, it didn't shudder so much as proceed unimpeded. Anyhow, tomorrow Byzantium's Shores is one year old. Get your party-hats ready. (The tin-foil ones, naturally.)

Saturday, February 08, 2003

New in "Other Shores" at left is Green Man Review, an online publication for which I will soon be writing reviews -- mostly of books, I expect, but I may do some films as well.

AICN has a nifty article up about this summer's film Pirates of the Caribbean. While the whole idea of Disney making movies not from folktales and legends but from the rides in its theme parks may seem goofy*, I'm actually looking forward to this film and am hoping that it's good. This is because I'm something of a junkie for a good pirate film. Of course, as a genre the pirate film is fairly limited, but there's something about a tall ship, sails filled with the wind, with cannons a-thundering and a crew of scruffy-looking men wielding cutlasses shouting things like "We're sucking the wind out of the Spaniard's sails, Cap'n!" that never fails to make me smile. Unfortunately, pirate films have pretty much fallen by the wayside over the last few decades, which is probably inevitable given the limited nature of the genre and the fact that you really can't hope to improve on Errol Flynn. (Though Burt Lancaster, in The Crimson Pirate, gave it a really good try by eschewing the traditional pirate-stuff like swordplay in favor of acrobatics that have to be seen to be believed.) Cutthroat Island was a decent film that didn't deserve to flop as badly as it did, but it wasn't anything special either. For a pirate film to succeed these days, it would have to sport a screenplay of Raiders of the Lost Ark quality. (Yes, I tried writing one once. No, it didn't turn out well.)

I don't know if Pirates of the Caribbean will be any good, but I hope it is. This is a genre that might not need a fullscale rebirth, but it at least warrants being taken out of the drawer and dusted off now and then.

* Starting with The Country Bears -- which I did not see but which looked just awful -- Disney has apparently decided that the rides in its themeparks that are not currently tied to a movie are to be so tied, poste haste. Hence the Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the Haunted Mansion movie. I wonder what the Space Mountain movie will be like, or if they'll do a gonzo-Western for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I'm not sure I want to see a Hall of Presidents movie, and by gum, there'd better not be any attempt at a Carousel of Progress movie. Oh, and while we're at it, could we possibly get Song of the South released from whatever bizarre purgatory it's been consigned to?

Friday, February 07, 2003

I have a few final thoughts on the Columbia disaster.

:: For some reason, whenever something like this happens and we mourn the people killed in the event, we are reminded of all the hundreds or thousands of people who die each day throughout the country or the world, and whose deaths are generally unremarked except for their immediate circle of family and friends. We're told to "keep it all in perspective", because after all, X number of people die each day in car crashes or in accidental gun discharges or whatnot. I'm never sure what to make when we're reminded of death's omnipresence in our mundane lives; are we being told not to mourn the astronauts because we don't know them? or are we just being told not to mourn them that much, because they -- like so many others -- simply died in the course of the jobs they willingly chose? I'm not sure. "Let's keep it in perspective" is a sane enough proposition, but I'm never sure exactly what perspective we're supposed to be maintaining. I can't speak for anyone else, but I mourn the astronauts because they died in the pursuit of something that I personally hold to be absolutely essential to the future of our species. Not our country, but all of humanity. People who die in service to humanity are, it seems to me, to be mourned even if I don't know any of them personally or even have any personal connection of which I am aware. These people were doing something extraordinary, and it claimed their lives. For that reason I mourn them.

:: The chorus of voices calling for an end to manned spaceflight is predictable, if a bit disheartening. I certainly agree with all those who say that the shuttle program, for all its successes in its flight history, really constitutes a "missing of the boat" as far as humanity's outreach into space is concerned. The reasons for this belief are legion and can be easily found elsewhere (this MSN article and this Usenet post by SF author Charles Stross are good starting points), and I absolutely agree with them. In the opening moments of Cosmos, Carl Sagan describes our early space exploration efforts thusly:

Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting. The ocean calls. Some part of our being knows that this is from where we came. We long to return.

Keeping with Sagan's metaphor, it seems that we've tested the water, decided that we like it...and promptly retreated back to the very edge of the beach, there to remain. Having reached once for other worlds, we have decided that low-earth orbit is more to our liking, and everything we have done in terms of manned exploration has been with low-earth orbit in mind. It's a self-perpetuating circle: the shuttle is only fit to get us into low-earth orbit, and for reasons that are bureaucratic to a depressing degree we've put all of our space-eggs in the shuttle basket; this being the case, we are restricted to building our International Space Station in low-earth orbit. So the ISS exists, as Gregg Easterbrook noted recently, to give the shuttle someplace to go, and the shuttle exists to service the ISS.

What's depressing is that it didn't have to be this way. I'm not sure where exactly we went wrong in our space endeavors. Perhaps it was in not developing Project Orion, which was probably the best design for an interplanetary ship available with current human technology. Perhaps it was with the rigid adherence to the shuttle, even after the Soviet Union aborted its own shuttle program as being unacceptably more costly than the good, old, reliable Soyuz rockets. Perhaps it was even partly in the Apollo missions themselves, and in the sense of anti-climax that inevitably set in once the Moon was no longer a goal to be reached but someplace we'd already been.

I keep thinking about the disconnect between the world as it exists now and the world as depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Gary Westfahl may be partly correct in that science fiction has conditioned us to expect space colonization, but I think there is a reason for this. After all, science fiction does not exist in a vacuum. Somewhere, somehow, we really do expect to take to the stars. Or at least we did.

What's really bothering me about the "Let the robots do it" crowd isn't so much that they are unconvinced that manned spaceflight is desirable; it's that in a saddeningly large number of cases, they are telling us: "Forget it; space colonization is so 1960s; let the dreams of the old people go and get some new dreams." God, how that stings! I may not be properly "young" anymore, but I'm certainly no old fart. I'm only 31; Neil Armstrong had been back from the Moon for two years when I was born. And yet I've always believed that humanity's destiny lies beyond the fragile sphere of earth; I can't remember not believing it. It's looking less and less likely that it will come to pass in my lifetime, which I find depressing enough, but now there are people who not only don't see it, but they don't want to see it. Witness the words of Kevin Drum, who is one of the most forward-thinking bloggers I've yet encountered, a guy not adverse to thinking in terms of the future:

But the worst part is the final sentence, which I've seen repeated over and over: we need to colonize Mars (or whatever) so that humanity will live on in case we blow ourselves to smithereens here on Earth.

There's really no polite way to put this, but the notion is simply nonsensical. Do space enthusiasts keep writing this stuff because their neurons stop firing before they put finger to keyboard, or is it just that they've been saying it for so long that it's become a habit? Do they have any idea how dumb the proposition really is?

Now, to be sure, I'm not totally sure on what Kevin is attacking here; it may not so much be the idea of space exploration and colonization at all that's got his goat, as opposed to a belief that we've done well for where we are technologically but if we're going to make some real progress we need to wait a while. If the latter, than he's somewhat correct, but I have to point out again that at least some of this work has been done, but it's either been ignored in favor of bureaucratically-favored means of doing things (i.e., the shuttle) or shelved for other reasons (Orion). But if Kevin genuinely believes that the entire proposition of colonizing other worlds is dumb -- not just now, but forever -- then I have to pray this view does not take root in society as a whole.

It most certainly is not dumb to worry about what might happen when a large rock in space happens to intersect Earth's orbit when Earth just happens to be there already. Space is a staggeringly violent place (just look at the lunar surface) and Earth's biosphere is fairly fragile, at least as far as specific organisms go (just look at those neat skeletons at the Museum of Natural History). It's simply not starry-eyed wishful-thinking to consider that, if such a rock were to strike tomorrow, the species that produced Shakespeare and Beethoven and Miles Davis and Frank Lloyd Wright and Hayao Miyazaki and Gandhi and Jesus would be gone, with nothing left behind save the Voyager spacecraft to tell the tiniest part of the tale. Now, if President Bush were to do what President Kennedy did, and forcefully set us on the road to establishing a Mars colony; and if that colony were established in, say, 2035; and if that colony consisted of, say, twenty men and women; and if while they were there the asteroid hit...humanity would end anyway. That colony would not be enough, not by a long shot nor by a damned sight. I'm not sure if this, too, is what Kevin is getting at; but I have to note that the failure of Jamestown did not sour the European colonials on the Americas. (Fully admitting, of course, the faultiness of comparing the colonization of America to that of space.)

But the problem with such pronouncements is that we are rarely afforded the opportunity to say, "OK, now we know enough; now we're ready; now we can safely assess our chances of success and survival." This is true of just about anything. It's true of graduate students who do, at some point, have to stop researching and start writing the thesis, and it's true of a species that wishes to colonize the other worlds in its solar system. Our efforts in space might fail over the short term; the last twenty-five years of our space program might eventually be more notable for what we've learned not to do than for any know-how we've accumulated. But I remain convinced that five hundred years from now, our post-human descendents will look up at the sky from their homes on Mars and on the moons of Jupiter and wherever else, and they will think back to this time in history, and they will think, "That's when this began."

Call it a dumb dream, if you will. I prefer to call it a vision.

Peter David, a writer primarily of comics and media tie-in novels, has his own weblog. It's always interesting to read the thoughts of an "insider". I always enjoyed David's comics writing -- particularly Peter Parker, the Sepctacular Spiderman, for which he wrote a wonderfully dark story called "The Death of Jean DeWolff" -- but I found his Star Trek novels nearly unreadable (well, not all of them; Imzadi was halfway decent), and I haven't tried him since.

I never heard about the contest to decide who writes the next Godfather novel until just now, and given the popularity of the original novel and film, I'm surprised that I hadn't heard about this until now. I would think that a sequel to The Godfather would command as much interest as the sequel to Gone With the Wind did twenty years ago or however long ago that was. Oh well, I missed my chance....

....but then, I almost certainly would not have won. There's no way I could write a convincing Godfather novel, because I have next to no interest whatsoever in Mob stories. I've not seen a single episode of The Sopranos, I haven't seen a single Mob movie since GoodFellas (unless you count Analyze This), and I've never read any of Mario Puzo's work. Oh well....maybe the estate of JRR Tolkien will announce a contest to chronicle the Fourth Age of Middle Earth? or maybe George Lucas will license some novels set after Return of the Jedi....oh. Never mind.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Hailing frequencies open??? (testing Blogger, of course)


"The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill", John Trumbull.

Judging by the shelves in the US History sections at Borders, Barnes&Noble and just about every place else, the conflicts that have the strongest hold on American history buffs are the Civil War and World War II. While I share the fascination with WWII, I've never been much interested in the Civil War. Not for any real reason, mind you; it actually is an interesting part of our history, and the issues that sparked that war still resonate today, almost a century and a half after that war's fighting. But along with WWII, the conflict from American history that has most interested me over the years is our first conflict, in which the United States underwent its painful, violent birth: the American Revolution. Perhaps it is the tale of an oppressed group of colonies banding together and throwing aside their oppressors that appeals to me; I have always found something of a heroic nature about the Revolution, whereas the Civil War is instead a terribly sad story. I don't know, really -- I've just always found the exploits of George Washington and John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among so many others, particularly compelling.

Along those lines, I just finished reading Jeff Shaara's novel of the American Revolution, Rise to Rebellion. The first volume of a duology (the second of which, The Glorious Cause, has just been released), Rise to Rebellion tells the story leading up to, and into the Revolution. He begins with the Boston Massacre, and as one might expect the most famous and folkloric events of the 1770s are here: the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's midnight ride, Lexington and Concord, the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Shaara does an excellent job here of showing how these much-celebrated events fit into the historical tableau of the Revolution. I'm not qualified to assess Shaara's degree of accuracy here, but it seems to me that he's probably given a good sense of the buildup to, and breakout of, the war.

The novel is one of the "shifting viewpoint" novels that seem to be very popular these days, wherein each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different character. The main ones here are Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Gage (the British general charged with containing the rebellion). There are others along the way who get the focus, but those are the main ones. This being the case, Shaara does a masterful job of conveying what Franklin and Adams were doing before the revolution, what their lives were like, and how their thoughts are driven inexorably toward the concept of independence. Gage, too, is handled well, and it is perhaps the novel's greatest strength that it depicts how the stubbornness of the British created many of the problems that drove the colonists to revolt. But still, Gage does not come off as a villain or an unbending Tory -- he is a complex man who is given an impossible task. Washington comes off less successfully; he doesn't show up until the Continental Congress, so I didn't get as fine a sense of the man who was swept into revolution as we do with Adams and Franklin. But I did get a strong sense of his ability as a commander.

The greatest weakness in Rise to Rebellion is in its women. They are strictly supporting players in Shaara's drama, to whom the men return when they are not planning a break with England. I would have liked to have seen how the Revolution really affected the women -- how they felt about a break with England, how they felt about war, how they supported the colonial effort in their own ways. I'm not entirely sure how Shaara could have addressed this problem, given the viewpoint structure he has chosen for his novel, short of including entire chapters from the viewpoints of various women -- Abigail Adams, perhaps -- and thus increasing the page-count. But the book reads quickly as is, which is no mean feat for a 550-page novel; I have a feeling a 650-page novel including some material from the standpoint of the women would not have been beyond Shaara's considerable skill.

I further found interesting Shaara's decision to actually tell his story from the viewpoints of the "major players" in the Revolution. He took a considerable risk in attempting to make into flesh-and-blood some of the most beloved personages in American history; a less daring writer might have created a fictional character or set of characters to interject into the historical proceedings. Of course, that's been done before -- Johnny Tremain, the John Jakes novels, the movie The Patriot -- so Shaara has, at least to my knowledge, done something fairly unique here. Rise to Rebellion is an excellent book. I highly recommend it.

(My recent resurgence in my usually-latent interest in the Revolution was probably brought on, at least in part, by my daughter's fascination with the PBS show Liberty's Kids, about a trio of youngsters who work for Benjamin Franklin's newspaper during the Revolutionary War. It's not really geared toward the 4-year-old set, but she loves it.)


This is the opening scene to one of my first forays into short fiction, "The King's Taster". I'm not enamored of the results, but I've always like this opening, so I thought I'd use it here. Its main source of fascination to me lies in its brevity. That's a quality I don't often achieve.

:: "The King's Taster", opening scene

When Fesk Rangol was born, just after his mother completed the Naming, the Priest placed a tiny droplet of orange liquid on his tiny pink tongue and closed his mouth.

"Be silent!" the Priest hissed. The woman’s wailing was highly irritating. She knew the risks of delivering a child this month.

The Priest held his breath as little Fesk swallowed the juice of the whisperberry. It would take seconds to enter his blood, and seconds after that for the seizures to begin. But in Fesk there were no seizures; the child only continued to scream the shrill howl of the newborn. The Priest handed the child back to his mother, who slid her bare nipple into his waiting mouth.

"We will come for him in six months," the Priest said to her as he wrote down the child’s name and the mother’s. He then packed up his belongings and left. On his way he passed a wagon in which lay six infant corpses. Six, before he found one resistant to whisperberry. It was a good year.

Six months later that same Priest came and took little Fesk away to the Venomous Academy. The mother cried and wailed a lot. They always did.


"Shorter Steven Den Beste". This is funny.

I am finding the contrast between Governor George Pataki prior to the 2002 election ("Look at all the wonderful things I've done for New York!") and Governor George Pataki after the 2002 election ("Look at all the wonderful things I'm going to be lacerating from our deficit-ridden budget!") rather interesting, especially considering everyone pretty much knew this was the way things were going to be, but heaven forbid that the media actually hold the candidates' feet -- all of the candidates -- to the fire on this.

Is it like this in other states as well?

WARNING: Profanity ahead.

An unintended consequence, but something of an unexpected pleasure, of blogging is the nifty adjectives and metaphorical phrases I pick up along the way. Of course, some of them are obnoxious and annoying ("idiotarian" being a prime example), but there really are a few that I like. I'm not sure what it says about me, though, that the ones I like best are all derived from profanity. Anyhow, here are my three favorites, the mere sight of which in a post makes me smile even if I disagree vehemently with the content.

:: Courtesy PNH: "Shit-kicking". (As in: "Alterman has really written a shit-kicking book here!")

:: Courtesy Rachel Lucas: "Asshatted". (As in: "I wish all of these asshatted Hollywood liberals would shut up!")

:: And my favorite, courtesy Warren Ellis: "Eat my fuck." Yes, it's a purely juvenile reaction, not unlike Beavis and Butthead, but every time I see this concatenation of words, I laugh. Go figure.

OK, back to family-friendly posting.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Clear your mind, if you will. I would like to take you on a journey.

Imagine you're going to a job interview. First, imagine that when the guy called to set up the interview in the first place, you asked him what his company does, since it wasn't clear from the newspaper ad. He tells you, "We'll discuss that at the interview."

OK. Now you're walking into the place. It's in a not-run-down, but not particularly nice office complex out in one of the older suburbs. You notice that the company name on the door you've been directed to is not the same as the company name in the advertisement you answered. This is probably the reason why, in the phone call, the boss-guy told you to go to the door with a picture of a rhinoceros on it. (Forget the rhinoceros. No explanation is ever forthcoming.)

You walk in the front door, into the reception area. Here you are greeted by a receptionist who looks barely old enough to drive or vote, and she is bundled up just shy of still wearing her parka because the office is kept quite cold, despite the sounds of air blasting from the vent overhead. Her desk appears to have nothing on it save one (1) binder, a few file folders and clipboards, a fax machine, and a phone. No computer, no photos of the dog or boyfriend or goldfish or mother or parish priest.

You look around at the reception room. There are some chairs -- standard waiting-area chairs that will be found in any dentist's office or LensCrafters. There is a table with the requisite selection of magazines, none younger than one year and none remotely interesting. There is a single potted tree that looks like it needs water, and the sole decoration is a map of the United States from National Geographic, complete with fold-lines, pinned to a dingy-looking bulletin board. The map sports a collection of pushpins inserted over every major metropolitan area in the United States, conveying the impression of a wide-ranging, national company. And yet, this office has no company literature of any kind to be found anywhere. Nor is there a logo to be seen.

The receptionist has you fill out an application. Fair enough. When you finish that, you give it back to her and ask to use the rest room. She directs you to the "girl's room", because "the boy's room is broken". (Those are exact words. You note "girls" and "boys", not "women" and "men".) So you obediently use the women's room, noting that (a) the fluorescent light does not turn on all the way, but merely flickers at half-light; (b) there is no toilet paper; (c) there are no paper towels; (d) the hand-sink has no soap. You finish your business and go back to the waiting and reception area. where you sit and await your 1:00 interview, for which you were on time although it is now 1:10.

While passing the time between 1:10 and 1:25, you observe the arrival of five other people to fill out applications for open positions. Busy place to be doing all this hiring, and sure enough, the receptionist takes a lot of phone calls from people apparently answering the ad in yesterday's paper. (You had answered an ad two weeks prior.) The receptionist answers a LOT of these calls, and only later do you realize that in the roughly 30 minutes you were in her company not once did she field a call from a customer of whatever company this is.

So, the boss-guy finally comes out and greets you for the interview, apologizing for the 25 minute wait and claiming it's because of his heavy interview schedule that day -- which is odd because (a) you have noticed no one leaving his office, and (b) he later confirms this by informing you that you are in fact his first interview of the day. Ever the professional, you don't give the obvious rejoinder that he is off to a great start, even though it is painfully obvious that he is at least six years younger than you. (This, too, is later directly confirmed.) He takes you into his office, where you again notice the complete lack of personal items on the desk. He does have a picture of Derek Jeter on his wall, but this does not necessarily imply that he's a Yankees fan, because said picture has one of those inspirational business-world slogans that are all the rage these days. What's more, his desk doesn't have a computer either, and you're wondering just what kind of business this guy is running with no computers at all.

During the interview, you are never asked a single question about your background or work experience, other than the standard "I see you've worked at X, Y and Z companies." No "What did you like best about those companies"; no "Tell me about your responsibilities"; no "Tell me about a problem you faced and solved". Then you get to hear the boss-guy's background, which involves him buying his favorite college bar, running it for three years and eventually selling it, and then joining this company, the name of which he still has not said. The only reason you know it is because you read it on the door coming in. The receptionist doesn't even use it when answering the phone.

The interview process, as described by boss-guy, involves a preliminary interview -- that's today's interview -- followed by a second round with the "top candidates". This seems perfectly normal, although you wonder how much of an impression he's forming given that he is not asking any questions. But then he describes that the second round involves candidates coming back in to spend an entire day on the job with this guy, essentially performing job duties so that he can decide who he wants to hire permanently. This strikes you, a former manager who is no stranger to staffing and selection processes, as very odd. After all, when hiring a server at a restaurant you managed, you never brought a potential candidate in to wait tables for a day before hiring him/her.

So you leave after ten minutes of being talked to by this guy, and he seems perfectly pleasant and nice....but you still have little idea of what the job entails. At no point has he mentioned things like wages, hours required, duties...he does indicate that all the people now flooding the reception area are prospects for his warehouse positions, which is further confusing because this place is certainly no warehouse. It's a run-down office suite with exactly one office apparently in use.

So you leave, sit in your car for a moment basking in the warm air issuing from the heat vents (which after 45 minutes is still warmer than the air inside the office suite), marveling over the surreal job interview you've just experienced. Then you shake your head and drive off, a bit flummoxed and thinking of that scene in "The Fugitive" where Tommy Lee Jones gets annoyed over someone's use of the word "hinky".

And you certainly don't hold your breath waiting for the call for your "trial day".