Friday, January 30, 2004

A Follow-Up....

Can you imagine being the contractor on the receiving end of that phone call?!

"Sure, I got a crane. Big one. Lifts a hundred tons....[beat]....You need it for what, now? A dead what?!"

Friday Burst of Weirdness

After I made fun of the uptight person who wrote the letter to the Buffalo News complaining that her children were suffered to the nightmarish moral depravity of -- GASP! -- Ghostbusters, I figured there have to be real life ghost hunters out there, somewhere.

Boy, are there ever. I pretty much could have linked any of hundreds of different sites, but I decided for the purposes of the Friday Burst to go with the Utah Ghost Hunter's Society. Why them? Well, just because Mormon ghosts would be slightly stranger than other ghosts, wouldn't they?

Answer Me These Questions Three Five

I played this game a while back, wherein someone asks me five questions, and then I pose five questions to someone else, but hey, that was a while back and I have new readers and new people to ask me questions, so why not? (God, what a tortured sentence that was. And I consider myself a writer….)

These questions come from Sarah Jane Elliott, whose answers to her own questions are here. By the way, I should warn you all that I cheat at things like this: I construct my replies in a thoughtful, "ruminating" structure that thus allows me to actually give multiple answers to the questions! Sneaky, eh?

1. While out shopping, you enter a travel sweepstakes to pass the time as you wait in the very long line at the drugstore. Six months later, you get a phone call. You've one a one-week, all-expenses paid vacation to the destination of your choice. Where do you go?

Well, after looking at the pictures Bara's been posting, I'd be tempted to say the Alps, but probably not. The other places I most want to see are Japan and Britain, specifically touring around every locale relevant to the Arthurian legends and my own novel-in-progress. Between those I'd flip a coin, unless coin-flipping is not allowed, in which case I'd choose Britain. I think.

2. If you could go back and erase any one moment of your life, what would it be?

Hmmmm….this is one of those deceptively-hard questions. While there are indeed any number of things I wish I hadn't done, such as getting fairly pissed for a very long period of time at a friend during my college years over something that I now realize was pretty friggin' stupid to get that pissed about, I'm not sure I'd actually reverse any of them, since they were lessons learned. And other moments I wish I'd handled differently I don't think it's too realistic to think I'd handle differently again, seeing as how I didn't have all the knowledge then that I do now. I guess I wouldn't have quit the last good-paying job I had when I did, but even so, I'm not sure I'd have committed to developing a writing career before quitting. So basically, I guess I'm not one to dwell on milk I've already spilled; I'm always too busy looking for the next glass to tip over, you know?

Or, as Mr. Shatner put it, "I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!"

3. Aliens take over the world, and in exchange for all the help you've been giving them over the years, they give you Hollywood as a way of saying thanks. You now have the best and brightest of the filmmaking world at your feet, and they have to do what they tell you or they'll get vaporized. All those times you kept thinking "damn, I wish they'd make this book into a movie" have led up to this moment. So, what movie do you have them make, and who do you insist be involved?

Man, another hard one! The Lord of the Rings movies have really changed the calculus of what used to be considered "unfilmable" books. An obvious choice would be to have Peter Jackson do a Guy Gavriel Kay novel -- Lions of Al-Rassan, probably, since The Fionavar Tapestry would be too much like what he's already done. But even then, why Jackson, specifically? The LOTR films buck convention all over the place: Jackson was never known for a predilection for the epic; the books themselves were considered unfilmable; and among film music fans, the selection of Howard Shore was generally met with a "Huh?"

Maybe I'd have the Wachowski brothers film Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, or just for experiment's sake, re-gather the same cast and use the same screenplay, but have Steven Spielberg direct The Phantom Menace. (And remember: I love the movie as Lucas did it, so this is not a slam on Lucas!)

But you know what I'd really want to see? I don't know if the aliens would let me do this, because the question specifies Hollywood, but what I'd want is this: Four films, actually. I'd gather every top animator in the country, all those poor folks left out-in-the-cold by Michael Eisner's recent insane management practices at Disney, and have them make animated versions of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, using the classic recordings made by Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. (I once made just this suggestion on a classical music newsgroup and promptly got roasted, but I've come to believe ever more deeply in serious animation.)

4. What's in your CD player right now?

My music-listening habits are pretty similar to my reading habits: I tend to have a bunch of CDs I have in heavy rotation at any one time. These days I can't get enough of the scores to the Lord of the Rings movies, with my favorite track therein being either "The Breaking of the Fellowship" from Fellowship or "Foundations of Stone" from Towers. In truth, though, I am firmly convinced that these are the best filmscores of the last ten years.

Other musical items I've been listening to a lot are Lee Holdridge's score to The Mists of Avalon, the soundtrack to My Fair Lady, the Chieftains' album Tears of Stone, and a CD I recently grabbed from the used-bins at a local store of "Beloved Chinese Songs".

5. You save the life of a brilliant and influential (and wealthy) inventor by pushing him out of the path of a falling piano. He's so grateful that he gives you access to his time machine and tells you that you can have a casual conversation with anyone in the world, living or dead. Who do you pick, and why?

Sheesh…OK, clarification needed: am I just "brain picking" here, or am I trying to "kibitz" someone from the past? If the latter, I'd certainly want to go to whatever person rejected Adolf Hitler's art school application and try to talk him out of that.

But if I'm just shootin' the breeze, I want to talk to Carl Sagan. I wouldn't even have to say anything, really. I'd just want ot listen to the guy.

1 - Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.
2 - I will respond; I'll ask you five questions.
3 - You'll update your journal with my five questions, and your five answers.
4 - You'll include this explanation.
5 - You'll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed

My Super Bowl Prediction

I will consume four slices of pizza, nine chicken wings, down three Pepsi's, and innumerable chips and carrots dipped in dressing. You heard it here first.

(BTW, we will be attending Super Bowl festivities at the palacial domicile of one of my wife's coworkers, so there may not be any blogging on Sunday. Or there may be. Or not.)

Thursday, January 29, 2004


Ticket to Super Bowl XXV, January 1991.

This is the ticket to the first of four consecutive Super Bowls in which the Buffalo Bills participated. It links to a neat gallery of all the Super Bowl tickets; check them out not just for the neat tickets but also for the overwrought prose summaries accompanying each one. For maximum effect, read them aloud in your best baritone, "NFL Films" voice. (Link via Scott of Archipelapogo.)

And yes, you all get a bonus image, for which you can blame PZ Myers who thinks I'm timid. Here, folks, is the most horrifying thing I've found online since, well, Nick Nolte's mugshot: James Brown's mugshot.

Fix Or Repair Daily!

Someone who would probably be mad about the acronym formed by the above words provided my 35,000th hit today. Woo-hoo. I'd be happier, except my new issue of WIRED came yesterday, and it's got a full-page profile of Glenn Reynolds that points out that my total, nearly two years in the making, constitutes his daily traffic by lunchtime. But hey, yay me!

Gotta love those whacky biz-ness-folk!

I've seen it linked all over the place this morning: the 101 Dumbest Business Moves of 2003. Some true hilarity here.

My favorite stupid-business move of all time, incidentally, came back in 1997, by the company I worked for at the time: Pizza Hut. (It was probably a franchisee, actually, but still.) The Pizza Huts in Maryland decided to offer, as a Monday special, $1.00 off for every sack the Baltimore Ravens had against whatever opponent they faced the day before. This was a fairly safe thing at the time, since this was a few years before the Ravens' defense became really good -- or so they thought.

Reason to Park in a Parking Garage, #5786

Because you wouldn't want your car to be parked on the street when a flatbed truck drives by carrying the carcass of a dead sperm whale whose outer skin can no longer contain the distension of the whale's innards caused by the buildup of gases from internal decay.

I hope none of those cars belong to relatives of Michelle, since this happened in her native neck of the woods!

(BTW, the picture above isn't even the ickier of the two at the linked article!)

Polls -- there's only one that counts

Steven Den Beste reports today that he doesn't pay attention to polls, except for one: the actual election results. I tend to agree with him. Polls have never seemed to me to be particularly useful, because even in the most carefully constructed of polls, there is still a disconnect that shows up quite often between what happens and what the polls had seemed to indicate would happen.

But what annoys me more about polls is the way they allow political matters to be reduced almost to the level of sports, with the corresponding style of reportage that you might expect from such an outcome. I saw headlines last week, prior to the New Hampshire primary, such as "Kerry opens up big lead" and "Dean trailing as time runs out" -- as if the whole process is akin to a football game, to say nothing of the absurdity of such a way of looking at things: If the primary's on Tuesday, how can a guy have any lead at all three days before any votes have been cast?

And this "elections-as-sporting-event" type of reporting always ends up on the front page, while something actually important, such as coverage of an actual Kerry speech or Dean policy proposal or, you know, something actually substantive and relevant to the question of which one of these guys might make a good President ends up on page A-6 of the paper. The real news gets stuffed on the inner pages, leaving the front page open for "McNews" such as reportage of the most recent polls.

Evil Livejournals!

I have just decided that I hate Livejournals. My reason for this involves commenting: on a few Livejournals that I follow, I either can't comment because the users have disabled "Anonymous" posting (meaning, you have to be a Livejournal user to comment) or I try to use the Anonymous posting, only to be told that my ISP is an "open proxy", whatever that means, and that therefore I might be a spammer and am therefore denied access to posting. This, of course, after I have bothered to write out a comment.

Ergo, I hate Livejournals.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Fanboy Whackos on Parade!

Wow. Whenever I need a dose of fanboy wanking-ness, AICN never fails to disappoint. Case in point: this article on some casting for a new Superman movie.

Apparently, whatever producers are currently working on the long-dead, consigned-to-development-for-the-last-ten-years-purgatory Superman franchise are close to signing Beyonce Knowles to play Lois Lane. And, as you might expect, this has the TalkBackers all a-twitter. Just go scroll through the TalkBacks. Not the actual posts themselves; I couldn't even inflict those on myself, much less my unwitting readers. Just looking at their subject headers is enough to establish how seriously these people need to get out once in a while.

Nice. Not as pretty as Buffalo, but nice.

Bara and the Alps, revisited.

Final Thoughts on THE ODYSSEY

I finally finished The Odyssey the other night, and I just have a couple of things to add to what I wrote the other day, when I was almost done.

:: The battle in Odysseus's house, and how it began, made me think: Just how old is the storytelling convention of the "True King", or whatever, being the only one able to perform a certain task? In some places, it's pulling a sword from a stone; in others, it's fitting one's foot into a slipper of glass; here, it's stringing the bow and shooting the arrow through the twelve axes. I wonder what the earliest occurence of that motif might be.

:: I found it easier to accept, on the basis of the morality of an earlier day (much earlier, of course), the killing of all the suitors. I found less acceptible the subsequent killing of all the women.

:: I'm not entirely certain as to why Odysseus found it necessary to make up yet another fictional account of who he is for Laertes's benefit.

Now, by looking at my 2004 reading list, it's clear that a big goal of mine is to delve into the "source material" for so much Western storytelling: the ancient works and national epics whose themes and motifs still wind their way through our culture. However, I also believe in "changing the tone" quite often, so after pushing myself through The Iliad and The Odyssey back-to-back over the last few months, I'm ready for a "cleansing of the palate" before I move on to either the Icelandic sagas or the Nibelungenlied. So now I'm reading Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, which I have seen cited elsewhere -- and more than once -- as "the funniest book ever written". Well, we'll see -- but the book's initial scene, in which our narrator becomes convinced he suffers from every malady known to the medicine of his day save one, quite funny indeed.

And here is a neat looking HTML edition of Three Men in a Boat, which I found via Professor Bainbridge. The edition I'm reading, which is borrowed from Buffalo's wonderful library system, has no date but does include the ilustrations featured on this site and is clearly quite old, so I wonder if this is one of the 1889 editions.

A Strad, no more....

Most of the world's great violinists and cellists, people such as Nadia Solerno-Sonnenberg and Yo Yo Ma, ply their trade on the famous instruments made by the great instrument-makers of Cremona, Italy over two hundred years ago -- names such as Stradivari and Guarneri. Sadly, though, as these instruments continue to soar in value, they are less and less likely to be owned, and played, by musicians. Classical musicians simply can't afford them, which means that they will end up being owned by large institutions such as banks and large museums.

It appears that the great violins and violas and cellos will fall silent over the next few decades, as the instruments pass into the ownership not of those who can play them but those who can afford to own them.

(Link via Sean, who finds some pretty good stuff when he's not scanning Ebay for used jerseys once worn by Tom Brady.)

You mean, relevant knowledge enhances appreciation? No way!

Michelle reports on Bridge of Birds, the book I in turn reported on a few days ago. Michelle brings a bit more perspective to the book, knowing as she does slightly more about Chinese history than I do.

I know that Chairman Mao is dead, and that's about it. He had been dead for ten years or so when I took the high school class in which we covered Chinese history -- for a month or so -- and the textbooks we had for that class had been printed while Mao was still alive. In fact, at a lot of points in that year's history classes, our teacher had to amend the text: "This guy they're talking about in present tense is dead now, and you'll notice that the book speaks favorably about that guy, but he turned out to be a dictator and killed a lot of people before he was exiled. Oh, and he's dead now, too. And we're gonna skip the chapter on this country, because that country doesn't exist anymore."

So, can anyone recommend a good, preferably one-volume general history of China and/or the Far East?

Whoa....that's trippin', man....

OK, is there anyone else who suspects that a peyote-induced vision might well look like an episode of The Teletubbies?

And do they ever make new episodes of Sesame Street, or are we doomed to watch the same fourteen or so shows in rotation until adolescence? I'm getting pretty tired of the whole "Baby Bear's family has a new baby" story arc.

"So be it, Jedi!"

Teresa Nielsen Hayden points out that Joe Lieberman looks like Senator Palpatine. I guess he does, sort-of, but it's hard to imagine Lieberman saying things like, "Viceroy, I don't want this stunted slime in my sight again!"

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Eleven nominations? That's it?

Mickey (who, btw, is a Prince Among Men), reports on the Oscar nominations for Return of the King. In honesty, I have to admit that I liked The Two Towers more, but I hope that these filmmakers get their due recognition for what really is a pretty staggering accomplishment.

(BTW, the "circle-strikethroughs" on his sidebar aren't helping. Mickey's blog still makes me hungry.)

Reclaiming the Marshes of Iraq

One of Saddam Hussein's many misdeeds was the draining of the marshlands of southern Iraq, not just for the ecological impact but also for the complete disruption of a water-based culture that had thrived in that region for many, many years. John Hardy has a very impressive summation of that region. One of my hopes for post-Saddam Iraq is the restoration of those marshlands (inasmuch as they even can be restored).

Go read John's post, and give the pictures time to load.

"Sell crazy someplace else. We're all stocked up here."

I watched a bit of the film As Good As It Gets when it aired on TV a couple of weeks ago; this is one of those movies I can sit down and watch the rest of, no matter what I'm doing when it happens to come on. And in watching the final scene, I realized that Melvin Udall's admission of love is one of the best-written such declarations I've yet come across, because it's so perfect in the way it springs from his very personality.

Melvin, you may recall, is a terribly selfish individual, and even as he grows in the course of the film he still views nearly everything in the prism of how it affects him. He is in love with Carol (Helen Hunt), one of the waitresses at the local restaurant where he eats breakfast every day, but in the course of the film he continually comes close to saying the perfect thing only to ride it right off the rails by turning selfish again.

So, when it comes time for him to "get with the program" and tell Carol how much she means to him, he doesn't go off on some weird tangent in which he objectifies her: he sounds like that's what he's doing, but then he routes the conversation right back to himself. This is what he says:

"Hey, I've got a great compliment for you....I'm the only one on the face of the earth who realizes that you're the greatest woman on earth. I'm the only one who appreciates how amazing you are in every single thing you do -- in every single thought you have... in how you are with Spencer -- Spence [Carol's son] ... in how you say what you mean and how you almost always mean something that's all about being straight and good... I think most people miss that about you and I watch wondering how they can watch you bring them food and clear their dishes and never get that they have just met the greatest woman alive... And the fact that I get it makes me feel great... about me!"

And hearing that last bit, Carol realizes that he's not making this up, because he can only describe his love for her in terms of himself. She knows that he loves her, but that he frames it in a way that is still about him. Now, I'm not sure what kind of lives these two people can go on to have after the credits roll, but it delights me that these screenwriters (Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks) know their characters well enough to know the only way that Melvin Udall could ever tell Carol that he loves her.


Alexandra recently read Guy Gavriel Kay's The Sarantine Mosaic (his most recent work, until the release of The Last Light of the Sun in two months) and she has some interesting thoughts on the mosaics and mosaic-making that figure in GGK's story.

The Birthdate of a Prodigy

Listen to some Mozart today, for he was born 248 years ago on this date. If you need some listening suggestions, Lynn Sislo has the goods. I'd also suggest The Magic Flute. If all you know of Mozart is Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, then (a) you don't know anything about Mozart, and (b) you're in for some seriously good listening.'t....look....away....

I caught part of Deep Impact the other night, which is clearly the better of the two "Big Asteroid Hitting the Earth" movies that came out within months of each other a few years back; and then, imagine my great surprise when I saw that Armageddon was on ABC last night. This, of course, makes perfect sense, given that Armageddon has become to ABC what Beastmaster is to TBS. Paul Riddell today describes Armageddon as "unwatchable", but for me, the problem is that the movie is absurdly watchable: with that constantly moving camera (even in conversation scenes) and lots of swirling, colorful stuff, the damned movie is as hypnotic as a lava lamp. It's a bad, bad movie with crappy dialogue, horrible science and music that causes migraines in lab rats, but whenever the thing comes on I invariably end up watching at least half an hour of it.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The Return of M-Lo

Yeah, I know he's probably going to be less than thrilled that I just dubbed him "M-Lo", but Michael Lopez is posting again on Highered Intelligence, so go have a look. He's got an interesting look at college admissions processes, for instance, that makes me glad I went to college when I did, because I'd be pretty much screwed if I had to jump through these kinds of hoops these days. I wonder how much of the "Show us just how much you wanna be here!" kinds of rigamarole that Michael disparages is motivated by the desire to identify those students who, upon becoming rich twenty years after graduation, will donate large amounts of money to the annual fund.

An Imagination, Defied.

I'm not sure what would be the weirdest possible Google search one could use to find this blog, but this has got to be a contender. Not only do I have no idea, nor even the beginnings of one, as to what this person was actually looking for, I can't even imagine why it was sufficiently important that the searcher clicked through to the second page of search results.

Cue the Strauss, or Julie Andrews....either will do....

Bara returns from the Alps.

He's freakin' me out....

It turns out that John Scalzi writes fiction the same way that I do -- no outlines, just a general idea of where I'm starting, where I'm going, and a few neat things I want to see along the way -- and he does it for exactly the same reasons. Call it pseudo-validation, since actual validation would involve an offer from a publisher.

Still, I slog on: yesterday the novel-in-progress passed the 100,000 word barrier, with the story now approaching the conclusion of the second act, in which I basically leave everybody just about on death's door. Cool, because that means soon it will be on to the climactic third act, in which I get to squash characters like bugs on the way to the finale. It probably sounds demented, but I'd be lying if I did not admit that a large part of the appeal of writing is the ability to kill people vicariously.

Oh, that whacky Bart!

Wonderful moment from last night's episode of The Simpsons: Marge takes Bart and Lisa into a huge Borders or B&N-style bookstore called something like "Book-opolis", and upon their entry, Lisa says, "I'm going up to the fourth floor, where they keep the books!" And Bart responds, "I'm gonna go taunt the Ph.D.'s." Whereupon he goes up to the cash register, where three people are working, and says, "Hey, I hear there's an assistant professorship opening...." And all three employees lean forward, hanging on his every word. Priceless.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Won't someone PLEASE think of the CHILDREN!!!

(I make fun of a "family values" activist here. If that offends, skip this post.)

There is a letter to the editor in today's Buffalo News that boggles the imagination.

A little background: Buffalo's main theatrical venue, Shea's Center for the Performing Arts, does a "Family Film Series" every year where they offer free screenings of "family" movies -- generally PG or G-rated fare. The letter in today's paper registers a complaint about one of the films recently shown. Here are some selections from the letter:

As a parent and an educator, I am writing to express my appreciation for your support and sponsorship of family-oriented events, but also to bring to your attention the lack of family values portrayed during the Jan. 11 event.

....The other adults and I were appalled at the vulgarity that was shown in the film. I am not in favor of censorship. I am, however, in favor of age-appropriate material for children, especially when presented under the auspices of a "family event."

I have to believe that not one of the sponsoring agencies viewed the film to assess its appropriateness. Had they, I would imagine the film would not have been selected, or at the very minimum, the multiple utterances of expletives would have been beeped out or voiced over and the sexual overtones edited for content.

Furthermore, the amount of smoking that was portrayed in the film was astonishing. Granted, the film was released in [year]. Today, however, the clear message being conveyed is that of a smoke-free lifestyle.

It is unsettling to me that an organization would agree to have its name and reputation associated with a "family event" when clearly the values of respectful and appropriate language and healthy lifestyle are not a part of the event.

I hope The News continues to support family events, but takes greater care in selecting experiences that foster positive values."

Wow, that's a pretty strong condemnation, and I'm sure that you're wondering just what R or PG-13 rated monstrosity was allowed to sully the imaginations and moral lives of these poor kids. Die Hard, maybe? There's a lot of smoking and swearing in that. Or maybe A Fish Called Wanda, which has smoking, sex, and lots of swearing.

Nope. The movie with such display of staggering immorality, with smoking and sexual overtones and vast amounts of potty-mouthed depravity that was nevertheless inflicted on the poor little angels was Ghostbusters. From 1984.

Can you imagine this woman's reaction if her kids were to watch, say, Casablanca? That movie has smoking and sexual overtones galore! There's not much swearing, but I imagine all that gambling and drinking would make up for it. The horror! O the swooning in the aisles!

And I always love the phrasing of such missives: "I am a parent and an educator", as if this has anything to do with, well, anything (and raises the question of just what an "educator" is -- is it a teacher? a guidance counselor? a homeschooling parent?); "I am not in favor of censorship", leaving out the implied second clause: "But you can't expect me to exercise my own responsibility for judging a film's content before I show it to my kids, especially a movie that's been out for twenty years."

I swear to God, every time I encounter something like this, part of me wants to sit my kid down and have her watch Pulp Fiction. You know, just to balance out the world.

(I edited the letter, obviously, to withhold the name and release date of the film for maximum effect in my post. The unexpurgated letter can be read here.)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot....

Scots everywhere celebrate today the birthday of Robert Burns, the great national poet of Scotland, who gave us the lyrics of "Auld Lang Syne" and others. Perhaps next year I shall attend a Burns supper, and yes, I would try Haggis: although this dish would surely test my heretofore unquestioning love of sausage, I'll try anything once. No, I'm not Scottish. I'm not Chinese, either, but that doesn't stop me!

(For the purposes of this post, I have tried valiantly to find a nice, large picture of a cooked Haggis, but I have come up dry -- every picture of one that I can find is either a distant shot, or thumbnail sized! This is the same Net where I can find pictures of beheadings, surgeries-in-progress, and Nick Nolte's mugshot. How can those pictures be less disturbing than a boiled sheep's stomach that has been stuffed with meat, oats and spices?)

UPDATE: Aaron comes through, finding a pretty nice picture of a Haggis after it's been ritually cut. It doesn't look that nasty, really.

Sail on, Odysseus!

I'm about three-quarters done with Homer's Odyssey, and I have a couple of thoughts:

:: First, I suspect that for many people, when you mention The Odyssey, they think of Odysseus lost at sea and having all manner of amazing adventures – the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis, the Lotus Eaters, and all the rest of it. Having reached the point in the book where Odysseus returns to Ithaca, but under disguise, I am struck by how little of the book is actually about all those adventures that constitute the most famous part of the story.

:: Second, the non-linear structure of the story surprised me a bit. Here my expectations were undoubtedly colored by the "simplified" version of Odysseus's adventures way back in seventh grade, but I sort of expected the book to open with Odysseus leaving the shores of Ilium and then having all manner of difficulties on his way back to Ithaca. However, Homer's actual telling of The Odyssey is decidedly different: it actually doesn't begin with Odysseus at all, but rather with Telemachus, his son, who despairs of his father's return as a group of suitors gathers around Penelope, looking to carve up Odysseus's estate among themselves.

Thus I expected to start with Odysseus and follow his exploits on the way home, but instead the book begins with him already missing. Rather than a straightforward adventure story, the Odyssey begins as a mystery, a "missing persons" story. We follow Telemachus as he embarks on his own journey to search for his father, which has the further purpose of letting us learn how the war on Troy ended after the death of Hector at the end of The Iliad. Telemachus goes to the courts of Nestor and Menelaus, hears stories of his father's exploits; we learn about the hardships suffered by all of the victorious Achaeans on their journeys home, before we finally join Odysseus in Book Five, as he is held captive by Calypso.

:: Third: repetition of motifs and verbal cues. There's a lot of this in The Odyssey, whereas I didn't notice nearly as much recurrence in The Iliad. The best example is that, whenever a day begins in The Odyssey, Homer uses a line like "When Dawn with her red fingers rose once more…." And in Book VIII, "A Day for Songs and Contests", Odysseus is twice moved to tears by the proceedings at the great feast in the Phaeacian court; both times he casts his cloak over his face, seeking to conceal his tears, and both times Alcinous – who, in fact, later saves Odysseus by providing him a ship to take him back to Ithaca – is the only one to notice Odysseus's tears and intercedes to lighten the mood. The repetitions seem, to me, to more reflect the poem's legendary oral genesis, even though it is far from certain to what degree the poem, as we now have it, springs from a tradition of oral performance.

:: Fourth: I haven't come yet to when Odysseus literally cleans house and kills all the suitors, but it's pretty obvious. What a delicious bunch of villains they are; I can only imagine Greek audiences, hearing the poem in whatever manner it was performed, hissing at their mere mention.

:: Fifth: I think that a Peter Jackson-directed version of The Odyssey would be a pretty nifty movie.

:: Finally, reading these books sort of makes me understand why Greece converted to Christianity. I imagine they were pretty relieved: "Whoa, you mean, we don't have to believe in those guys anymore?" asked while jerking a thumb at Mount Olympus. These Gods are a pretty creepy bunch.

O for a time machine....

It's always fun to conjecture as to those moments in history when we think that, if just one teeny-tiny little thing had happened differently, everything after would be better, or at least vastly different. The Star Trek original series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" turns on this idea, for example; so do the Back to the Future movies, on a smaller scale.

William Burton has one that's....well, it' figure it out.

I bow to the four corners of the world.

Wil Duquette is reading aloud to his kid one of my very favorite books, The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, which was really my first encounter with multi-volume epic fantasy. (I read Tolkien two years later.) Now I want to read that series again….lucky for me I own it in a one-volume omnibus, although I'd like to get the individual hardcovers with the original cover art someday.

And speaking of Wil, I followed up one of his recommendations from a month or so ago and read Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. This book is just wonderful; it's one of those beautifully-crafted fantasies where a poor villager's home faces a terrible threat unless he can find the magical talisman that will banish the evil. In this case, the villager is Number Ten Ox, the threat to his village is a strange "wasting" disease that strikes only the children, and the magical talisman is the Great Root of Power (a particularly powerful form of ginseng). Ox, it goes without saying, can't do it all alone, so he enlists the aid of a sage named Li Kao, who has "a slight flaw in his character" (his own words) but who also knows, well, nearly everything.

The book is episodic in structure: Ox and Li Kao go from one adventure to the next as they try to figure out how to get the Great Root, and they must first execute certain tasks in a certain order to do so. But the tasks aren't merely sequential in terms of revealing the mere location of the Root or how to get it; Ox and Li Kao's quest is also (or moreso) a quest for the wisdom they will need to achieve it. So each "episode" in the story ends up tying back, in the end, to the basis of the whole problem in the first place, and like any good fantasy a small problem facing a tiny village ends up involving Goddesses and the Ruler of All China and grievances a thousand years in the offing. There is a lot of mythology here (though I have no idea how much of it springs from actual Chinese mythology, knowing as I do very little about it); there are moments of great beauty, great sadness, and some absolutely wonderful humor, like this:

"....Master Li turned bright red while he scorched the air with the Sixty Sequential Sacrileges with which he had won the all-China Freestyle Blasphemy Competition in Hangchow three years in a row."

And the book's climax hinges on one of those wonderful revelations that make you laugh with delight as you realize how everything that has gone before leads to precisely that conclusion, while at the same time making you curse yourself for not seeing it coming a mile away. I loved this book, and while I'm told that the subsequent two books by Hughart featuring these characters aren't quite as good, I look forward to tracking them down. And as for the publishers whose lunacy led Hughart to stop writing these books altogether, may their villages be afflicted by locusts and tax collectors.

Best of luck, Jim.

The truly esteemable, and even estimable, James Capozzola has decided to leave Philadelphia, a decision that must be a lot more gut-wrenching than he's letting on: he puts up a nice air of "It's all good, ya do what ya gotta do, et cetera", but his deep love for Philly always shone brightly in his writings about his home. I hope he doesn't have to move so far away that he can't get back there now and again.

"Why Mars?" Well, why not!

I've been forgetting to link this fine op-ed about the "new space initiative" (which, in turn, comes via A Voyage to Arcturus) for about a week now. A representative graf:

It really is a good idea to go back to the moon and onward to Mars, for reasons so long-term that they barely get mentioned in the usual debates: the survival of the human race and contact with extraterrestrial life. The payoff on these two issues, if it ever comes, is probably at least several centuries in the future -- but they are still important issues.

I confess that I'm less convinced now that the President meant what he said two weeks ago, mostly in light of his failure to even devote a single sentence to the thing at the State of the Union -- if it was as important as he'd previously said it was, surely he'd have mentioned it to the Congress and the entire country. Still, here's hoping.

In other news from the Martian front, the Opportunity Rover has landed on the red planet and begun sending back its own pictures. (Maybe the operative verb there should be "bounced" or even "boinged"?) This one they put down in a place where the terrain isn't the rock-strewn flatlands so familiar from the Spirit, Pathfinder, and even the Viking missions. (This story, by the way, features a very goofy headline: "Rover Reveals Alien Mars". could there be anything but an "alien" Mars?)

And finally, if you want to make your very own Mars rover, the fine folks at Lego have you covered:

Just stir some red paint into the nearest sandbox, wind this baby up, and it's hours of fun for the whole family!

Friday, January 23, 2004

Film music sites

As a final throw-away post before the weekend, I figured I'd list some of the film music sites I regularly visit; but then I realized that there are only three. Weird....I used to be more active than that. One of my old favorites, Jason Blalock's Scoreland, has been gone for some time now, and thus I'm left regularly visiting these ones.

:: The home site of a monthly (duh!) magazine devoted to film music, this one usually has pretty good news (especially on Fridays, when they gather up all the news from the week), reviews of obscure film music releases (sometimes really obscure), and other stuff. The discussion forums there are generally good, as well, with a lot of flamewars being permanently disabled since the moderators imposed a strict "No politics" rule. The forums tend to be rather heavy on the idolization of Jerry Goldsmith, but generally that's OK.

:: Soundtrack Express. Just a good review site, really. Not much to add.

:: Filmus-L. This is actually the website that archives all of the messages posted to the Filmus-L mailing list. I'd join, but I had my fill of debating film music stuff a long time ago; it's really not a hobby that has a lot of "new and exciting" issues cropping up. About the fiftieth time you debate the merits of, say, Hans Zimmer's approach to scoring versus, say, Carter Burwell's, you've pretty much seen it all. They don't get too wildly off-topic, and being able to read everything at once on the Web rather than by subscribing (and thus being tempted to reply) is nice.

And that, surprisingly, is about all of it. There are lots of other film music sites, obviously, but these are the only ones that have held my attention for very long.

Goodbye, Captain....

Bob Keeshan, who played Captain Kangaroo, has died.

I don't really remember anything at all from his show, aside from the fact that I liked it a lot when I was five years old or so. But I do remember liking it, and it occurs to me that I thought he was older than a mere 76.

Friday Burst of Weirdness

Via Outside Counsel, I see that today is National Pie Day. That inspired me to dig about for the weirdest pie recipe I could find, and here it is. (It's actually the first weird pie recipe I found, so there may well be some out there that are even stranger. I also haven't clicked the links on this site to other weird recipes, so who knows what lurks....)

And then, if you want to observe National Pie Day but you don't feel like eating a pie, well -- this place has all you'd ever want to know about what Monty Python once termed "the edible missile".


In promos the last couple of days, NBC is referring to "the last three episodes of Ed". Not the last three of this season, but the last three, period.

I know, it was pretty much pure luck that the show even made it to a fourth season, but still: NBC is run by jerks and pinheads. But maybe they can save the show by introducing the town sheriff as a cast regular, and renaming it Law and Order: Stuckeyville.

Feeds! We got yer feeds here!

Blogger now has a syndication feature of its very own, so you can have your very own RSS feed for your blog. Which you should. When updating, go to "Settings" and find the "Site Feed" tab. Proceed from there. I suspect that bloggers who use Blogger to maintain blogs that aren't on BlogSpot have some URL stuff to do, but I'm not one of those, so you're on your own. (And "blog", as word and root, appears way too many times in that sentence.)

Wanna be a "Big Head"?

Check out Popular Science's Mental Muscles of Steel. I, uh, didn't perform so well on their quiz (just under fifty percent).

Via Paul Riddell.

Hmmmmmm....maybe there were TWO turkeys....

I'm not sure what the person doing this search was looking for, but I'm feeling a bit of paranoid conspiracy coming on....

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Interior view of the dome inside the Buffalo Savings Bank building.

I read this Christopher Alvarado post earlier today, and I was struck by the building he pictures there: I thought I was looking at the Buffalo Savings Bank, one of Buffalo's most beautiful buildings. The Buffalo dome isn't stained glass, but gold filigree on the outside (it's really stunning on a sunny day) and ornate painting on the inside.

The Buffalo of the early 20th century must have been a beautiful place.


In the last year or two I've noticed a new habit of grocery shoppers: the parking of the cart, while they wander off down the aisle to look for something. Occasionally they'll try to leave their cart in a position that's not inconvenient for others, but come on, we're talking shopping carts here; there's really no way to do this without being a pain-in-the-ass.

So, I'm mulling over adopting the following strategy: Whenever I encounter one of these "parked carts" whose shopper is more than ten feet away, I would remove one item from their cart and deposit it later someplace else. Of course, this won't result in any kind of "lesson" being learned, but it would at least pose an inconvenience for people who evidently believe their carts become non-corporeal objects when they release the handlebar and turn away from it.

(Or is this too evil?)

UPDATE: In comments, Sean points out that sometimes parents get overwhelmed by their kids, thus necessitating questionable cart behavior. I can understand that, to a point, but I haven't seen too much of that, believe it or not. The main grocery store we frequent here has a playroom where we can sign in our daughter and leave her there for an hour while we shop, and they also have those nifty carts shaped like trucks so the kid can "drive" through the store. Shopping with the kid isn't that much of a headache, really, for us!

Oh, come now!

Surely I'm not the only one who thinks that there's endless opportunity for speculative humor based on the idea of Presidents owning overly-talkative parrots? Come on, folks! Make me laugh!

Of Intermittent Bloggers....

:: Nefarious Neddie has returned to posting, after a month-long hiatus. It seems that January is a pretty busy month for him, but he had time to report on possible Star Wars sequels to be filmed after the completion of Episode III. I withheld comment, since it was only a rumored thing and since I'm not sure I'd want more Star Wars movies after next year's: I like the whole idea of the Extended Universe, even though I don't much follow it anymore, but for the purposes of the movies, I prefer keeping it centered on the story of Anakin/Vader. Any post-Return of the Jedi films would have to find another "angle".

But, TF.N reports today that it might not be a series of sequel movies, but a television production of some sort, telling stories of Vader's "Reign of Terror". That would be interesting.

:: Somehow it escaped my notice that fellow-Collaboratory mate Jason Streed is posting again. I can't really single out any one of his posts for mention, because he's really good (and not just when he's telling his readers how good I am!). Oh, and can anyone figure out why his blog never seems to display correctly? I always have to hit F-11 twice to get it all to show up.

:: Another of the Original Collaboratory Gang, who disappeared from blogging for a long time, is Christopher Alvarado, who will be going up on my blogroll as soon as, well, I remember to get him up on my blogroll. Interesting stuff there, especially his Cleveland-centric posts. Living in Buffalo, for a number of years now I've thought of Cleveland as an example of what Buffalo could be like if they'd ever get things figured out; it turns out that all isn't entirely rosy at the other end of Lake Erie. Check him out.

:: Finally, I figure that Michelle will start posting again once she finally finishes reading all twenty of Patrick O'Brian's "Aubrey & Maturin" novels. Of course, by that time, Guy Gavriel Kay's new novel might be out, and that will delay her again (probably for only a few hours, though).

What is Art? Can we define "art" as....oooooh, Cheetos!

Lynn Sislo points out a comment thread that is heading for definitions of art. It all began with another thread somewhere that asked if a classical listener attends a Chopin recital and reports a "great" experience, and a rock listener attends a Black Sabbath concert and likewise reports a "great" experience, can both listeners be said to have experienced "greatness"? My personal feeling is "Absolutely" -- I've never believed in the inherent superiority of classical music, even when I was a music major neck-deep in studying the stuff -- but that's not what interests me just now. There's a commenter named Bill Kaplan who argues thusly:

"The premise of this discussion is that both Chopin's music and Black Sabbath's show are art. This seems a dubious premise. I would argue that only Black Sabbath's show is art and that Chopin is merely decoration for the ear.

There are numerous definitions for what art is and isn't, but most have meaning as a central condition. "Art is a lie that shows us the truth," says Picasso. "Art is a selective representation of reality based on the artist's metaphysical value judgements," says Rand. Where is there any element of truth or value in purely musical expression? I say there is none unless it is coupled with some element of meaning, generally lyrics."

Kaplan is receiving quite a bit of, shall we say, negative reaction to his apparent belief that Chopin is not art. Ultimately, of course, we arrive at the age-old question, "What is art?" Kaplan seems to want to define art as having something to do with "meaning", which he then assumes refers to specific representational connections, I guess, between an art work and the "world out there". (He doesn't identify which Rand he's quoting here, but I have the sinking feeling it's Ayn Rand, the citation of whom in nearly any conversation makes my eyes droop and my soul grow weary.) Art, Mr. Kaplan appears to believe, must be representational of something.

Thus, Kaplan's definition of art is, in my eyes, exclusive to an almost absurd degree, because it appears to rule out abstraction almost completely, and pays no attention at all to emotion (which, actually, is the central consideration in my definition of art). However, in the course of riding his argument right off the rails, he has hit on something important:

Music is fundamentally abstract.

Take, for example, a Chopin nocturne. Chopin was a Romantic -- in fact, along with Schumann, he's probably the quintessential Romantic composer for pianists. But Chopin rejected an idea that's been common ever since the Romantic era, i.e., that music could have extramusical significance, and that music could, in and of itself, depict things in the real world. This, however, music cannot do. Chopin knew this, and that's why he doesn't give his pieces wistful-sounding titles: one of his most hauntingly beautiful works does not bear a moniker like "Elms Swaying In the Breeze", but just the prosaic description of genre and key: "Nocturne in E flat major".

This, I think, is a premise in Kaplan's argument. Musical tones, by themselves, can't describe or depict, in concrete terms, anything in the real world. I learned this in, of all places, a fifth-grade music class: our teacher gave us all sheets of paper and some crayons, put some music on the stereo, and told us to "draw" the music. The piece she played was the first movement of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, but no one in the class -- twenty-four of us, roughly -- came up with any kind of picture even remotely suggestive of The Arabian Nights. So unless we are told, up front, what a composer says his or her music is "depicting", we are vanishingly unlikely to realize it on our own.

But this isn't a fault with music, and neither does it undermine music as an art form, as Mr. Kaplan seems to think. Not every truth can be encapsulated in words, and not every work of art need exhibit a one-to-one relationship with something in the world. Leonard Bernstein once summarized the position I outline above by saying of a Chopin etude: "If Chopin could say in words what he was trying to say with this etude, why should he use musical notes at all?" Further, Kaplan seems to totally ignore the role of form in art, and form is probably more important in music than in any other art: pure form, I'm talking about here: not how perfectly representational something is, but how its composite parts interact with one another for complementary effect.

Perhaps this is too mystical of an approach to art for Mr. Kaplan, but I've arrived at this view purely through my own experience. Great music does express "truth" -- whether it has "lyrics" or not -- but it's not truth that can be said in words. (Or if it is, it would take a poet to do it, and I am certainly not a poet.) Music expresses musical truth, purely emotional truth. It's not a definable truth, and it's not an easy truth, which I think partially explains why the lyricists tend to be favored over the composers these days. We're accustomed to looking for truth and meaning in words; non-linguistic truth is harder, more nebulous, more redolent of hippies "goin' with the flow".

Well, I'll take it. So, I think the proper response to Mr. Kaplan comes from Shakespeare: "There are more things on Heaven and Earth than are dream't of in your philosophy."

(My own definition of Art is this: "Art is any activity whose primary purpose is the provocation of aesthetic response.")

How fast DOES time fly, anyway?

I was poking about my archives just now for a couple of pieces I wrote last fall, because something came up on another blog that reminded me of a point I thought I'd made before, and I wanted to check it out. So I looked through my September archive, and nothing; then my October archive, and nothing. I was pretty sure it wasn't in November, but no dice. And then I started noticing something weird: certain posts in September that I have no memory of writing, and others that I feel like I wrote last week.

The posts I was seeking finally turned up in my April archive.

Man, does time whip by. It's like sand, you know....sands in the hourglass....[head explodes]

So ya wanna be an evolutionary biologist....

PZ Myers has a quiz to determine if you should seek a Ph.D. in biology.

If he really wanted to get elaborate with this, he could do one of those Quizilla things with this, complete with radio buttons and keying each question so that, if you get a really good score, you're Steven Jay Gould, while if you get a really bad score, you're Duane Gish.

Oh, the Apprentice....oops....

I forgot about The Apprentice last night completely, owing to the presence of American Idol on FOX. I've found Apprentice mildly interesting, and I at least wanted to see if that guy who fell asleep on the job last week got fired this week. Well, I saw on this morning's Today Show that this character did, in fact, get the axe. Strangely, he seemed perfectly normal and jovial this morning, whereas on The Apprentice he was depicted as a complete nutbar. I wonder which was "real"?

But, the news wasn't all bad for this guy (Sam, I think his name was). He already owns his own company and on the Today Show, he proposed -- live -- to his girlfriend, who accepted. coffee's empty. 'Scuse me....

(Right now I'm wondering how many of my newer readers are suddenly learning about my TV viewing habits and recoiling in horror....)


Long-time readers know that I just love it when Presidents, and candidates for that office, are caught in moments of decidedly non-Presidential behavior. Watching the Leader or Would-Be Leader of the Free World in such moments, such as President Bush tumbling off a parked Segway or former President Clinton being knocked to the ground by an exuberant dog just crack me up.

So, I just have to say, I think that Howard Dean's "barbaric yawp" the other night may be the single funniest moment relating to the American Presidency ever. I do hate to see a viable candidacy so nearly derailed by so silly a thing, but geez, that speech is utterly hilarious. I just think about it, and I start giggling.

And that's just the "Yawp" itself, in all its glory. I haven't even gotten to the remixes yet. (via Dead Parrots)

Damn you, iTunes!

Well, I spent an hour downloading iTunes last night, on my measly little dial-up connection.

And it wouldn't install correctly.

So, no easy journey to the Millennium music for me....GAAHHHHH!

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Good news on the home front

Well, my long period of sustained unemployment is ending at long last: I have been hired by one of the local supermarket chains. I will literally be the guy doing the clean-up on Aisle Three, but that's fine: this particular company has made the Fortune 500 List of Best Companies To Work For several years in a row, even cracking the Top Ten. I won't be making much, and I'll be starting off on the bottom again, but it will be with a good company, a growing company, a local company at that. I could have made more money working at a call center, but quite frankly, I'd rather chew my own arm off than work at a call center. The "local" thing is important to me, as well; I'm glad I never got hired by Wal-Mart. And I think I can reliably say that if they ever figure out how to outsource grocery store jobs to India, well, we might as well shut the whole thing down anyway. Less money plus time to write plus job security plus a schedule that doesn't require us to resort to daycare four days a week seems to me, just now, a pretty decent formula.

I don't know how my blogging schedule will be affected by working again. Hopefully, not by much, although my postings will no doubt start appearing later in the day, and I may drop back to a five-day posting regimen. But I'll have more peace-of-mind, so my postings won't be so caustic and bitter. (Except for when I'm responding to Nefarious Neddie. He gets all the causticity and bitterness I can muster.)

One last item on this whole topic: the job offer really couldn't come at a better time, because I happened to exhaust my unemployment benefits this week. (No, I feel no shame in drawing unemployment. I've been a worker, and will be again, and I've paid my taxes for them.) But, since the new job doesn't start for another nine days (the earliest available orientation session I could attend, what with the wife's work schedule) and since I won't start drawing pay until nine days after that, well, I'm in a momentary tight spot. So, if any of you wonderful readers out there have ever felt inclined to drop a shekel or a gold sovereign or a few Galactic Credits or whatever the standard currency of Gondor happens to be in the tip jar at left, now would be a most welcome time to do it. No, tipping a certain amount won't get you the PBS mug with the coffee stains scrubbed out before shipping, but it will help us buy food and pay for the bandwidth for a couple of weeks. (Yes, Blogger is free, but my image hosting and dial-up connection aren't.)

Thank you all!

Geekery on display!

In his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column yesterday, Gregg Easterbrook digresses about halfway through to briefly discuss the plot holes in the movie Double Jeopardy, a film whose plot hinges on a gross misreading of the concept of double jeopardy. His objection to that film is spot-on, but what caught my eye here was his illustration of a "triple plot hole" in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Esterbrook writes:

Perhaps the greatest came in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Nazis steal the ark from Indiana Jones, and escape in a U-boat. As the submarine dives, Jones leaps off a ship and clings to the U-boat's side. Now, what is he supposed to do -- hang on while the sub is underwater? We see a chart of the U-boat crossing the Mediterranean, then a shot of the submarine easing into its dock at a super-secret base. As the submarine arrives, Indiana Jones is already standing on the dock, disguised as a Nazi. Double plot hole! Not only could he not have survived by clinging to a diving submarine, how did he then get to the base first? Triple plot hole! How did he even know where the sub was going?

Well, taking the objections in order: first of all, the film does not establish that the sub dives, so Indy could have simply hung out on top of the thing. According to a bit of online research I did, U-boats did not routinely cruise underwater; they submerged when actually on the attack; given that the film takes place in 1936 -- three years before the outbreak of WWII -- the U-boat wouldn't really have had reason to dive. (However, there still appears to be a partial error here, since I also read elsewhere that U-boats would dive at least once in the course of even a routine voyage, for some reason to do with pressure and ballast. I assume this is just a historical error -- Steven Spielberg and company probably knew U-boats generally didn't submerge for just going from point-A to point-B, as in The Hunt for Red October, but didn't know that they would submerge for "routine maintenance".)

Second, Indy isn't already standing on the dock when the sub arrives – he is there after the sub has already arrived (the "arrival" shot isn't the sub arriving, but the crate containing the Ark being offloaded). He doesn't arrive before the U-boat does, he arrives at the same time. Easterbrook is forgetting that Indy has to procure a uniform, and he first does so by clubbing a Nazi guard who isn't his size. So, the U-boat approaches its base, Indy hops off and sneaks inside the base, and then while the U-boat is offloading, Indy grabs a uniform. The whole sequence is highly implausible, but it's not a "triple plot hole".

UPDATE: A commenter informs me that the Sub Captain can be heard saying, in German, "Dive the boat!". Well, I'm just going to ignore that. Doo dee doo dee doo....

Wait....worry....who cares?

Two items of intense interest appeared to me this morning:

:: According to Aaron, the first season of Millennium will be coming out on DVD in the US. (It was previously available in Japan.)

:: According to Mickey, eighty minutes of music from Millennium, comprising some of Mark Snow's finest work, is available....on iTunes. Of which I am not a member. Gahhhhh. This one is killing me -- I have wanted a release of Snow's Millennium music for years, and that's how they do it. So, I guess I have to look into joining iTunes....unless there is some other, shall we say, means of procurement here....hmmmmmm....

Nail, meet hammer....again!

Tom Burka provides a helpful template for post-SOTU press coverage.

A handful of thoughts:

:: I'm not sure if the President was trying for some kind of effect when he rather dramatically closed his leather portfolio, containing the text of his speech, at the end; but it would have worked better had he not thumped the microphone in doing so.

:: Am I the only person getting tired of that constant smile on Senator Daschle's face? You know, the "Holy shit, I can't believe my party hasn't tossed me out on my ear yet!" smile?

:: Likewise, am I the only person who thinks that Vice President Cheney would look a lot more at home at these kinds of events if they'd let him cradle his white fuzzy cat?

:: Invariably, some headline for the morning after the SOTU will always say that the President wants to "stay the course". Well, it's not like the President's going to ascend the podium and shout, "Full reverse engines, right full rudder!"

Tremble before us, mere mortals -- oh NO! the BEER!!

Via John Scalzi, I see that a Russian military operation has been launched to retrieve ten tons of beer from a sunken boat.

Sending the Army out to recover lost beer....there's got to be a Kim Du Toit essay in there, somewhere.

Et tu, Morat?

Robert Jordan? Really?

(Hey, he asked for it!)

Hank's Anger Management

There was an episode of King of the Hill a year or so ago in which, for various reasons, Hank gets sent unfairly to "anger management" classes, which he deeply resents. While he's in the classes, he meets a "kindred spirit" who really does have an anger problem: later on, when he's hanging out with Hank and the boys, this guy loses his temper and starts screaming and gyrating and just boiling-over almost instantly. His voice goes higher and higher and higher, until he finally can do no more than utter an unintelligible gurgle of sound -- and then he drops dead of a heart attack.

I've been thinking of that episode ever since I heard Howard Dean's post-Iowa caucuses speech. I've been having trouble making up my mind about Dean, and that did not help. I think that Dean needs to realize that the idea of "Mild gaffes are OK because they result in press coverage" has probably run its course.

When you find something cool, link it!

Because if you wait too long, Lynn will find it and link it first. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

So, here it is: Winston Churchill had a pet parrot, and apparently parrots have quite the lifespan, because Churchill's is still talking. And what's he saying?

"F*** the Nazis!"

I guess this pretty much guarantees that no future President will ever own a parrot. Imagine if Nixon had owned one:

"It's the damndest thing," said the curator of the Nixon library and unofficial caretaker for Tiddlywinks, the parrot who sat at the side of the 37th President for much of his time in office. "He doesn't talk very often, but when he does, he just rattles on for eighteen-and-a-half minutes or so...."

OK, folks, here's a suggestion for a comment thread: if any other Presidents had owned parrots, what would they be repeating? (Keep it clean, you folks imagining a Bill Clinton-owned parrot!)

Traffic stuff....and nefarious schemes for Google Ascendancy

This morning, SiteMeter passed 34000 hits for this site. Weird thing is…according to SiteMeter, I was my own 34,000th hit. So, I'm going to go buy myself a set of steak knives!

And I'm happy to report that my addle-pated scheme to gimmick Google in my favor has, at last, triumphed. Behold thou the Buffalo Blog!! Brooooo-hooo-hoooo-hahahahahahaha! (Thanks, folks!)

Additionally, check out the new sidebar section "Other Boats in the Harbor", consisting of other Buffalo blogs, a few of which are moved from the main blogroll and others of which are brand new to me.

Because, you know, Buffalo rules.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Oh, Tom, Tom, Tom....

I feel a bit "dirty" pointing this out, but it's no secret that I am a fan of neither President Bush nor the New England Patriots.

So I'm watching the speech while reading, and who do I see as one of the President's VIP guests? Pats quarterback Tom Brady.


Jerry, Jerry, Jerry....

Shorter Jerry Sullivan: "Since I can't think of anything new to say about the Super Bowl match-up, I'll just use the match-up to remind everyone how bad the Bills are."

Well, I'm sure glad that Jerry's on the case, because I wasn't quite clear on the difference between a 14-2 Super Bowl team and a 6-10, third-place team. Yeesh.

Well, one thing's for certain:

Whoever takes the Oath of Office one year from today will have eyebrows.

That is about the total extent of my reaction to the Iowa caucuses. There's a long way to go, and since I'm backing Clark, who didn't bother campaigning in Iowa, I paid the whole thing very little attention. On we go.

The Blogging of an Insensitive Clod

Somehow I failed to offer congratulations to Scott on the occasion of his new job, and now I'm thinking that there's some other blogger who got good news that I forgot to properly congratulate as well. I'm starting to feel like Dory from Finding Nemo.

Now, let's see....hey, a blog! I should get one of those!

Nail, meet hammer!

Lynn Sislo continues her weekly explorations of her CD collection, this time reporting on a disc of Tomaso Albinoni's music. Lynn compares Albinoni to Vivaldi, saying: "I can say with confidence that if you like Vivaldi you will like Albinoni." That's certainly true, in my experience; but since I can't abide Vivaldi -- I could live to my 90s and very happily never hear The Four Seasons again -- I don't much like Albinoni either.

Generally speaking, my musical tastes start with Mozart and move forward; Bach and Handel are the only Baroque masters I much enjoy. Baroque music is just too sane for me, but as to that, there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy. Varying mileage and all that.

You say "potato", I say "starchy tuber"....

In the comments to this post, Sean corrects my spelling of the word "estimable", which I had spelled "esteemable". Looking it up, I see that he is, of course, entirely correct; but this word is just bugging me now. I'm a good speller (although in the heat of the moment I'm likely to use "there" instead of "their" or "hear" instead of "here"), and I've long known that the English language's spelling conventions tend to not make a lot of sense, to put it mildly. This one, though, is sticking in my craw. If we have "esteem" and "esteemed", why on earth do we have "estimable" instead of "esteemable"?

Up with this I will not put.

Give 'em hell, Simon! Yeah!!!

The new season of American Idol has begun. Yes, I am an unapologetic fan. If Kevin Drum can still watch Survivor, after seven or eight incarnations, I can watch American Idol. Sue me.

Now, I didn't watch the first version at all, and I only tuned in to the initial episodes of the second version mainly to see if this Simon guy was as mean as I'd heard. And yes, there was a certain thrill in watching people who literally cannot tell one note from another work under the belief that they are actually good singers. (This, I'm sad to say, is not unrealistic -- I remember music majors in college who suffered the same affliction.) I figured I'd abandon the show once it got to the actual competition, but strangely, I found it compelling and kept watching. It's not the same formula each week, like Survivor (tribes argue, play a game, have a reward, argue some more, play another game, argue a bit more, someone gets voted off).

And that's because I like the idea of a show that rewards people for talent and hard work, and it doesn't do any goofy stuff with "alliances" and doesn't involve mean-spirited tricks like Average Joe or so many other reality shows. No, we're not talking astounding music here, but the show really does seem to want to reward actual singing as opposed to lame stagecraft and sexual histrionics. The people who win aren't the ones who sing in the shower and have a brother or sister tell them, "Hey, you should do that Idol show!", but those who have sung for years and have really worked on it.

I read an interview with Clay Aiken a few months ago, in which he said something like, "Yeah, I'm vanilla and I admit it. But vanilla's the top selling flavor of ice cream in America, so that's gotta count for something." That's about right. Vanilla may not be the most exciting flavor out there, but it is a flavor.

Project Buffalo Blog continues....

Well, I delved very deep into Google's search results for Buffalo Blog, and I have yet to even crack the top two hundred! That's bad, folks. It appears that my mission may never leave the drawing board....

Dinner jackets and martinis for all!

Gregory might find The Swank Pad interesting, if he hasn't seen it already.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Malls, malls, malls....

We went to one of Buffalo's malls the other day, and it occurred to me then that I did not set foot in a mall a single time during the entire Christmas shopping season. And what's more, I didn't really miss it -- there was no conscious decision to avoid malls, just the fact that my Christmas shopping last year never took me to a mall at all. Now, I don't want to read terribly much into this -- had we still lived in Syracuse, I am certain that I would still be regularly going to Carousel Center, which is simply the most beautiful mall I've ever been in -- but it interests me nonetheless. (I didn't buy anything online either, the first time in six years that that has been the case.)

My family has always been a mall-going family; my parents can tell you which malls are the best ones in an impressive number of metro areas in the Great Lakes region, and it was not uncommon for us to pile into the car when I was a kid and drive two hours to another city to tour one of their malls. I specifically remember shopping in a number of the malls on, and we even bought one of our more memorable cats at the pet store in this mall way back in 1978.

But that was all a long time ago, and a person familiar with the malls of today no doubt finds the idea of driving two hours (or, occasionally, more) to "do a mall" somewhat ridiculous, since malls today are pretty much the same. Not the design, exactly -- they still use different lighting, different architecture, et cetera -- but in the shopping experience itself. The stores are all the same these days. You'll find the same clothes on sale, in the same layout, in the exact same stores, in malls everywhere. When my wife and I took our honeymoon to the Boston and Cape Cod area in 1997, we stopped at what looked like a spectacular mall in Framingham, MA, and when we walked in, we were shocked to discover almost the exact same selection of stores that can be found at Buffalo's Walden Galleria.

It wasn't always that way, though. You'd find very different stores in malls in different cities, and going to a mall in Rochester, NY was a very different experience than going to a mall in Buffalo. These days, though, we seem to have made "sameness" the desirable quality. We seem to want the same stuff on sale everywhere, and in the same layout, and we seem to want the same selection of fast-food in the food courts.

I'm not really complaining or griping here, but it struck me that going to the mall just wasn't as much fun anymore, and this is a large part of why, I think. There is nothing particularly unique about the whole "mall" thing anymore, except for the fact that one mall here in Buffalo has a carousel and nifty kids' play area while another has a really cool sporting-goods store with two-story climbing wall that's fun to watch as people scale it (although, strangely, the wall was closed when we were there on a weekend recently).

I'll read news stories about local malls and retail development, and they'll say something like, "Such-and-such Mall was struggling recently, but now they've rebounded with 92 % occupancy", meaning, I guess, that 92 % of their space is occupied by stores. But when I go to these newly-resplendent malls, I discover that what's being talked about in the articles is space, not the number of stores. What seems to happen a lot is that the big chains -- the Gaps, Old Navy's, American Eagles, Pottery Barns -- get bigger, taking over flanking slots. Thus, instead of two separate stores, you get one big store. So the smaller, often more-interesting and locally-owned stores get driven out and are taken over by larger versions of the same stores that everybody in the country already has.

I know I'm far from the first person to notice the homogenization of American culture, but there's still something disconcerting about actually seeing it in action.

Could someone beat Chris Matthews with a large rubber stick, please?

The host of Hardball in on the Today Show right now -- oh, mercifully, he's just ended -- and my God, is he always like that? (I don't have cable, so I don't get to see his show much. To my pleasure, I suspect.) First of all, there's his speaking style, which is as close to a perfect, pure monotone as anything I've ever heard, including comedian Steven Wright. It's nearly impossible to tell where Matthews ends one sentence and begins another, which would be hypnotic if his voice wasn't whiny to begin with. But then, at one point, he's going on about which Democratic candidates in Iowa are cold because it's cold there right now because it's winter and he just saw the Edwards campaign bus roll by and Senator Edwards waved from inside where he was warm but it's cold outside in Iowa and it's like football where teams that are used to playing in the cold win and man is it cold.

The wife and I literally said, at the same time, "What the hell is he babbling about?"

How do the political bloggers out there watch Matthews and these people on a regular basis?

The climb begins....

Yes, my nefarious scheme to scratch-and-claw my way to the top of Google's rankings for "Buffalo Blog" has begun, thanks to the esteemable Mr. Cory and the also-esteemable Mr. Johnson (who, btw, once played for a Minneapolis rock band that might have gone places if that harlot Yoko hadn't messed everything up).

That's a lot of water, making that journey.

Check out Catherine Berlin's nifty post about Niagara Falls, complete with pictures and a fascinating image detailing the altitudes of each body of water in the Great Lakes system, from Lake Superior all the way down. The drop-off there for the Falls is part of the Niagara Escarpment, a land feature that is very prominent in the part of Southern Ontario up against which Western New York resides.

Which reminds me, now, of a favorite book of mine from when I was a kid: Paddle-to-the-Sea, in which a yound Indian boy carves a small wooden figurine in the shape of an Indian paddling a canoe. This he sets afloat in the waters of Lake Superior, and the book traces Paddle-to-the-Sea's journey as he bobs along all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. I should track down a copy of that book, one of these days.

Go Panthers!

(WARNING: Unseemly bashing of this year's AFC Champions ahead.)

As might be expected, I am now the World's Biggest Carolina Panthers fan -- not because they beat Philadelphia, a team that I like a lot and actually rooted for yesterday, but because the Panthers are now the sole obstacle to total and complete hegemony over the NFL by the greatest force for evil known in the sport since the days of Jimmy-n'-Jerry, the New England Stupid Patriots. Only the Panthers can keep Teddy Bruschi from doing that stupid dance he does every time something good happens to the Stupid Patriots, and only the Panthers can erase that "Awww, shucks!" grin from Tom Brady's face. Here's hoping. Random observations:

:: I'm sure there will be all manner of hand-wringing in Eagles-land that Donovan McNabb "can't win the big one", but from what little I actually watched of that game (and also last week's game), McNabb doesn't seem to get a whole lot of help from his supporting cast. The Eagles might need to go out this offseason and bring in some free agent talent, as opposed to expecting McNabb to both pass for 250 yards and run for 100 every game.

:: Someday, Adam Vinatieri's karma is going to come crashing down and he's going to miss a huge kick. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later. Say, two Sundays from now in Houston.

:: The Panthers were 1-15 two years ago, which is about as bad as an NFL team can possibly be. (Nobody's ever gone 0-16.) That year, the Panthers were one of the Bills' only victories in a 3-13 year. Now, they're in the Super Bowl. It's amazing how fast you can rebuild a team now, and it also highlights the frustration that the rebuilding didn't take here in Buffalo.

:: This Super Bowl's dynamic sounds a lot like the one that existed two years ago, when the Stupid Patriots rode the greatest wave of luck in football history all the way to the championship. The matchup involves a heavily-favored team that went 14-2 and won its first championship two years earlier against a "lesser" team comprised of low-priced cast-off players from other teams that had won its conference championship on the road. Here's hoping this Super Bowl plays out like that one did, with the "lesser" team shocking the juggernaut.

:: The Stupid Patriots are only the fourth AFC top seed since 1992 to advance to the Super Bowl, and the Panthers' win yesterday keeps alive the NFL's ten-year streak, beginning in 1993, of not having both top seeds advance to the Super Bowl in the same season.

:: Five of the last six Super Bowl champions were teams that, to the point in their franchise history, had never won the Super Bowl; and while history tends to not favor teams making their franchise's first-ever Super Bowl appearance, the last two teams in that situation won the game. Reasons to hope for the Panthers!

UPDATE: In comments, Jess Nevins points out that my dislike of the Patriots doesn't seem particularly rational, and I pretty much grant the point, thinking it obvious since I've taken to referring to them as the "New England Stupid Patriots", which is about as rational as, say, Redskins fans referring to the "Dallas Cowgirls". That said, I responded that I genuinely dislike Bill Belichick, I find the amount of respect he has commanded (prior to this admittedly outstanding season) overblown, and I find it hard to forgive the football organization that made Brian Cox, one of the most nauseating football players ever, a guy with a Super Bowl ring.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Returning Kings, Return'd

Sean lists things he likes and doesn't like about Return of the King.

For reference, here is my own such list. Sean and I agree on a lot, apparently.

Gypped in '92

Late in my high school years I became quite the political junkie; that is when I started to realize that there were real issues behind all the political slogans and rhetoric and whatnot. This was around 1986 to 1988, and I graduated in 1989. And when I was looking into college, I eventually narrowed my choices to a school in Iowa and one in Ohio. One small factor that led me to choose the school in Iowa was that I'd be in college during the next round of Iowa caucuses, in 1992. This prospect excited me deeply; I'd have a front-row seat for the official beginning of an election cycle. No, this was not the deciding factor -- not even close -- but it was in the back of my mind.

But when 1992 finally rolled around, something strange happened to the caucuses: Iowa's own Senator, Tom Harkin, decided to run for the Democratic nomination. (Since President Bush the Elder was running as an incumbent, the Republican caucuses were pretty much a "rubber-stamp" affair.) Harkin's candidacy pretty much let the air out of the excitement that should have surrounded Iowa; the favored son won the caucuses, and nobody much paid attention to Iowa. Everything, instead, focused on New Hampshire. So I got gypped.

I've been remembering all of this in the course of watching the current round of Iowa caucuses reach a fevered pitch, what with something like six candidates all within four percentage points of each other and so on. So, you students of Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa had better be enjoying this! You turkeys got my caucuses!

New Reviews at GMR

I reviewed two CDs for GMR this week: one of which I threw stones at and one of which I didn't.

I am the Voice of Buffalo, darn it!

Today's edition of The Buffalo News has a big, front-page article on blogging, with profiles of three Buffalo-area bloggers. None of whom, I might point out, are me. Harumph. Harumph, I say! (I seem to be saying "Harumph" a lot these days. Must be something in the water.)

Anyhoo, I decided to turn to the All-Knowing Oracle in an attempt to find out why I so completely avoided detection in this fine journalistic endeavour, and I find that according to the Oracle (Google, of course), Byzantium's Shores is not listed in the top one hundred results for "Buffalo Blog". Seems to me a Google-bomb might be in know, something like this: Buffalo blog. (My blog vanity knows no bounds, apparently, but I'd much rather be known by "Buffalo Blog" than, say, "Syracuse Lutefisk". Harumph, indeed!)

By the way, the three blogs profiled in the aricle are:

Berlin Blog
Outside the Law
Unknown Geek

Incidentally, I'd never encountered these blogs until the article in the News, which probably points out a lesson to be learned about looking around one's own surroundings. The Net is an amazing thing that allows the formation of friendships between people from disparate corners of the country and the world, but I wonder if sometimes we Netizens get so caught up in that aspect that we forget that there are interesting people blogging just minutes from our own doors. Our physical doors. You know, that rectangular slab of wood that you swing out of the way to accept the pizza from the nice kid in the ugly hat.

UPDATE: Well, once again the Buffalo News's web operation is, shall we say, a tad inept. The paper's print edition contains the story linked above, but it also includes a sidebar where one will find excerpts from these blogs, plus the URLs (which, except for "Unknown Geek", are not given in the main article). That sidebar is online -- read it here -- but the News doesn't link that sidebar from the main article! So, if you're reading this article online, you have no way of knowing about the sidebar at all. I'd really think that by 2004 the Buffalo News would have a website that wasn't so much of a muddled mess.

Oh, those goofy kids!

Remember how David Letterman used to have a routine where he'd go to a Taco Bell or some such establishment in suburban NYC and basically "have a little fun" with the drive-thru customers?

Well, apparently some kids in Detroit had a similar idea.

(Via Mickey)

I hate predictions, but....

....I just don't see the Patriots losing today. I've seen a number of folks predicting a Colts victory, based probably on the fact that Peyton Manning has been incredibly hot and that you'd think the Law of Averages would work around to handing the Patriots a loss eventually, but I just don't think that will be today. Maybe in the Super Bowl -- both coaches in today's NFC title game can probably beat Belichick, despite the guy's apparent status as "George Halas and Vince Lombardi rolled into one scowling body" -- but not today.

I, of course, will be rooting strongly for the Colts, but I've seen enough great offenses shut down by great defenses to know that this is the likely result today. So, I'll have to stomach another Patriots appearance in the Super Bowl.

Gosh Dang It!

Over on Collaboratory, John Hardy is collecting expletives designed to get around the Second Commandment (the one about taking the Lord's name in vain).

(Side observation: I couldn't remember which of the Commandments this was, so I did a quick Google search since actually walking the twelve feet to the book shelf where I keep my trusty copy of the King James just wasn't an option, you know? Anyway, when I Google'd "Ten Commandments", the first two hits had nothing to do with the Bible, but rather centered on computing (Ten Commandments of HTML and C programming, respectively). Hmmmmmm.)

Saturday, January 17, 2004

A Very Rare Saturday Post....

....just noting that I've moved the "Marketplace" section of the sidebar up, for greater visibility. All auction links have been updated (something I tend to be lax about doing here), and new items are listed. Help support my continued online presence and the livibility of my domicile by taking books off my hands! (Yeah, like I'm not gonna go right out and buy new books to replace the old ones. Eeeek. And there's always the tip-jar.)

See you tomorrow!

Friday, January 16, 2004

Friday Burst of Weirdness

(This one's slightly morbid, folks.)

I'd always heard the phrase "running around like a chicken with its head cut off" as a kid (mainly used in reference to something I was doing at the time, but we'll leave that unexplored for now). I never really understood this until I learned from a girlfriend who grew up on a farm (who was actually my future wife, but we'll leave that unexplored for now) that when you "process" a chicken -- i.e., send it on its journey from pecking at seeds to the KFC bucket -- you first behead the bird, at which point it flops around wildly until expiring.

On some level, I guess I always wondered why the body should behave in such a way, and it turns out that many of a chicken's activities are actually controlled not by the poultry's brain but by its brainstem, so the bird is actually still "alive" in its headless state until it bleeds out. Fair enough -- but this raises the possibility that if the beheading isn't executed quite correctly, the headless chicken can survive for quite some time. Months, even. It will continue to "peck" at the ground and stamp its feet and, generally, act "chicken-like".

But hey, don't take my word for it.

Riddell's Theorem

"Any suffiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from conspiracy."

BTW, Paul Riddell wants more traffic, so if you like pithy, scientific-minded commentary, go read him. He's often hilarious.

(Also BTW, I didn't know that I could use links in Blogger's titles. Cool!)

Yeah, I still watch "ER". Got a problem with that?!

On the off chance that any of my readers watch ER: Are you, like me, watching every moment of the new-and-improved, moderately happy, "putting her life together and seeking new challenges" version of Abby (Maura Tierney) and waiting for Sally Field to walk in and ruin everything?

And in today's embarrassing admission....I watched an entire episode of that Donald Trump show, The Apprentice or The Accomplice or Survivor: Manhattan or whatever they're calling it. It was a mildly-interesting reminder of just why people under 30 who have achieved some business success tend to be the most obnoxious and/or downright contemptible people on the planet. And I just loved that one guy, the team-leader dude, who, having been assigned to supervise the creation of an ad campaign, decided not to meet with the client. Oy!