Saturday, July 31, 2004

Exploring the CD Collection, #4

In my post honoring Jerry Goldsmith on the occasion of his passing, I commented that the event left John Williams and Elmer Bernstein as the "grand old men" of film music. This, of course, constituted several errors of omission: John Barry, for one; and as Michael Brooke pointed out in comments, Ennio Morricone.

In both cases, I fell victim to not really thinking things through when writing the post, since both men should be so named. But in the case of Morricone, something else is at work: basically, I've never liked the guy's music. He's amazingly prolific and influential, but as a listening experience, he does nothing at all for me.

There was a time, in college, when I enjoyed his score to The Mission, but I think this played into a more general taste at the time for "ambient" and "atmospheric" music, the kind of stuff we used to play late at night with the lights off in order to ease the passage into sleep. As music, The Mission made little real impression on me. And Morricone's work on those Clint Eastwood "Spaghetti Westerns" I find actually unpleasant, and they are a major factor in my general distaste for those films. Yes, they're different, they're minimalistic, they're unique and all that. But I still don't like them. (Morricone's score for Once Upon a Time In America is often cited as one of the very greatest film scores; I've never heard a note of it, to my knowledge.)

Which brings me to Morricone's most recent high-profile score, Mission to Mars.

I have to be blunt here: Mission to Mars is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It's bad in that breathtaking way that kept me watching, in total awe of its badness. It was paced like a funeral, and had all the subtext of one; the central mystery wasn't all that interesting; and the science was absurd. Here was a film that tried blending the "Hard SF" of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the gonzo-origin-of-life theories of the Fortean Times. Here's a movie that tries to give me a plausible look at what a flight to Mars would be like, and then turns around and gives me the "Face on Mars" as an actual face on Mars. Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

And then there's Morricone's score.

I have to admit that I don't hate it as much as I did when I first saw the film, but when I saw the film, I really hated the score. I mean, I detested it. Think of playing a Dr. Dre CD for a person whose musical tastes stopped evolving when the Bee Gees stopped recording, and you'll roughly have my reaction to Morricone's score to Mission to Mars. I found it thick, ponderous, dominated by slow melodies backed by a chorus helpfully oohing and ahhing in an unending series of "Feel wonder NOW!" gestures. Add to that some spectacularly bad orchestral playing (did nobody notice how out of tune the clarinet was in that long solo at the end?), and I wrote this off as one of the most unpleasant scores in film history.

Well, at the time, I was active on Usenet's (which is little more than a graveyard now), and a number of posters there kept insisting that I should give the score another chance, that it worked better on CD, that "it made their souls take flight", et cetera. So, in the interests of intellectual honesty and all that, I bought the thing and listened to it.

I ended up not hating it as much as before, but I still don't like it; Morricone's stature in the film music world is to this day a mystery to me, and this score still does nothing to dispel that mystery. It's full of very strange details that never add to anything. There is a rising, arpeggiated motif that sounds very similar to the "Rhine" motif from Wagner's Ring cycle, except that Morricone appends this weird, two-note "lick" at the end of it, usually played by a glockenspiel that stands out like a sore thumb. There is a descending, chromatic motif that erupts at seemingly random points in the score. And there are odd instrumentations throughout, which is a standard for Morricone but which also make no sense at all to me. The electronica in the score works, for the most part; what doesn't work is a pipe organ seemingly played with one stop selected and with a single hand, the worst oboe and (afore-mentioned) clarinet playing I can recall, and a part for -- of all things -- a piccolo trumpet, supplying some incredibly odd baroque-ish effects over the lower strings. To be fair, there are some wonderful melodies in this score, but they're fragmentary, seemingly always stopping in order to open things up for some really odd effect of Morricone's.

I admit that my knowledge of Ennio Morricone's music is very limited, but almost exclusively my impression is that Morricone just takes a big pile of ideas, some of which are remarkable and some of which are remarkably awful, and just mixes them together. Sometimes, I suppose the approach works. But I've yet to find the Morricone score where it does.

Six-stringed badness

The 50 Worst Guitar Solos Ever, filched from MeFi. I confess that I haven't heard a great deal of these, but the ones I have I don't recall being that bad. Criticizing rock guitarists for excess seems to me to be kind of like criticizing Impressionist painters for too little precise clarity, but this description of Ted Nugent gave me some serious chuckles:

Hide your women and pets, it's that misogynistic poacher leaving scorched earth and bleeding carcasses wherever he roams.

Heh, indeed!

(OK, I have to quibble with listing the solo from "Comfortably Numb". Fact is, who cares if it's spliced together for the recording? Does it work musically, or not? My answer is "Yes", which is the only question that matters, in my opinion.)

And within the MeFi comment thread I find the Top 100 guitar solos, which I merely link here but have not, as of this writing, actually read. I'll update later. (This latter link features "tabs", by the way, which I assume are some kind of notation for guitarists. I know nothing about the guitar, so this is of no use to me. But maybe there's a guitar player in my readership who'd like to sharpen their teeth on "Eruption".)

Signs. Lots of signs.

I linked Signs of Life a while back, and I discovered that link again while browsing my archives a bit this morning. When I linked it before, the site had to shut down due to bandwidth concerns, and I meant to re-link it when it was back up, but forgot about it.

Anyway, go check it out. It's merely a gallery of signs bearing verbiage that is uniformly hilarious (unintentionally so).

(UPDATE: Oh, wow. I'll bet that if I saw this one, my ensuing double-take might well cause me to lose control of the car and....)

(UPDATE II: Oh my God!)

(UPDATE III: I don't want to meet the person whose shopping list can be exhausted here. Especially if he or she mixes up the purchases!)

(UPDATE IV: OK, I'm done. Those ones just had to be singled out.)

The Care Bears must DIE.


Ugh, ugh, ugh.

For reasons passing understanding, the Care Bears have made a comeback in the last year or so -- right in time for The Daughter to become obsessed with them. The stuffed one she owns is fine; the DVD of four episodes of the 1980s-era show about these guys that she received for her birthday a month ago is not. This thing just makes me want to claw out my eyes and pour lye into my ears.

And the worst thing? There's this portentous music for "No-Heart", the black-robe clad villain of the show, and this music includes a snippet that just has to be ripped from the "Imperial March" from the Star Wars films. The intervals are identical. Betrayer most foul!

Screenshot Hilarity

Leon of Phileos (a blog with really nice design that I'd forgotten about) has what may be the funniest screen capture (from Amazon) that I've ever seen. I clicked, I saw, I chortled.

Hey, look at Coach! He's turning red and jumping up and down!

During the off-season, the Buffalo Bills (who begin training camp real soon, yay!) brought in a whole new coaching staff (except for the defense), on the heels of last year's disaster of a season in which the team set new records for offensive futility. Among these new additions is Sam Wyche, who takes over as quarterbacks coach. His primary responsibilities are to pull Drew Bledsoe out of the apparent tailspin he's in, and to prepare rookie J.P. Losman for duty as the eventual starter.

I never liked Wyche all that much before, when he was head coach in Cincinnati, but I figure he's older, wiser, and anyway, he's a Bill now, so there it is. And he is most definitely experienced and noted for his teaching skills, which is what the Bills really need after stumbling badly last year.

The most interesting thing about Wyche's arrival with the Bills isn't just that it's his comeback to the NFL, but the story behind it. Wyche endured some serious health problems a few years back, one of which required surgery -- and in the course of one of those operations, his vocal cords were damaged to the point that he is physically incapable of speaking in anything louder than a normal speaking voice. That's quite an obstacle for an NFL coach, and it will be interesting to see how he gets by once the season starts and he's trying to make his points in a stadium surrounded by 75,000 fans.

Here's an interesting story about Wyche and his recent trials. It's definitely one of the more unique "sports comeback" stories I've encountered.

Friday, July 30, 2004

A cross to bear

Nefarious Neddie points out that this November, I will be voting for a guy whose visage resembles that of the logo for the New England Stupid Patriots. Talk about your strange bedfellows.

Oh, bugger.

Back when I was studying philosophy at Wartburg College in Iowa, friends of mine who were from the Twin Cities area were constantly telling me that I had to go to a bookstore there called "The Hungry Mind". I never made it there, but I had hoped to do so one day.

I'm not going to make it.

Oh, well.

(The linked story requires registration to read, but you can get around that by using Via Bookslut.)

You jump, I jump....

First Michael Lopez wrote about Titanic; then I wrote about Titanic, and then he wrote about Titanic some more. So it only seems right that I proceed to, yes, write a little more about Titanic.

Basically, I just want to respond to the fourth point in Michael's second post, in which he's still really hung up over the fact that Rose doesn't sell the diamond and then live off the money (or something similar), which would make it a lot more feasible to "make every moment count". The problem I'm having with Michael's argument here is that he's attacking Rose for this, but as far as I can see, what she's doing is putting Jack's philosophy into play. Jack has, by the end of the film, been pretty much conclusively established as a guy who would rather be poor than rich, because he knows how to get by. Now, whether that's realistic or not is open to question, but I don't think it's so easy to damn Rose when what she really does after the sinking is start living what was not actually her life, but Jack's. (Take a good look at those photos on Rose's shelf, the ones that Michael mentioned in his earlier post: the first one we see has her standing on a horse on a beach, in front of a roller coaster. This is an exact allusion to something Jack had said they would do when they left the ship, early in the film.)

I also think that the film also establishes that Rose would really rather be poor, so I think her decision to do nothing with the diamond is in keeping with her character. She has absolutely no desire to marry just to maintain her family's station, nor does she want to remain in that "station" at all.

At its heart, the love story of Titanic is another version of Lady and the Tramp, although in this case the Lady decides to become a tramp herself, rather than see the Tramp "rehabilitated" to become a "Gentleman". I don't know, I guess from a standpoint of utilitarian ethics I can see the argument that Rose shouldn't have kept the diamond all those years. But I can't bring myself to hate Rose.

But then, this could simply be because she's a ravishing redhead.

(Full disclosure, I suppose: To this day, I still love Titanic, even if the love story really is pretty goofy.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

God, am I a juvenile, or what???

I'm enjoying Alex Ross's photo-blogging of the Bayreuth Festival, which is on its third installment. But when he points out that statues of Richard Wagner's dog are all over town, I can't help but think it would be funny to walk around and place one of these behind every one of them.

I mean, I love Wagner's music and all, but statues of his dog?!

UPDATE: Mr. Ross has a bit of new information about the dogs of Wagner. I wasn't so much "alarmed" as "bemused"; I merely assumed that the canine statuary had been in place pretty much since the Wagner festival began, probably as part of Wagner's own dictate as to how the Festival should be run. I don't think that there's much "whimsy" to be found in Wagner -- either in his music or in his character -- which is why I assumed the dogs weren't meant to be whimsical.

But apparently the dogs are meant to be precisely that, and they're a much more recent phenomenon: it's an art project designed to make Wagner more accessible. That being the case, I'm reminded of something that happened in these parts, the Herd About Buffalo. This was a "herd" of life-sized fiberglass bison that were individually decorated by local artists and displayed around Buffalo before being auctioned off, one by one. A lot of local businesses and homeowners ended up buying them, so it's not uncommon to drive around and see this big, stylized fiberglass buffalo sitting on someone's front lawn.

Anyway, thanks to Mr. Ross for the link.

New at GMR

Incidental stuff: I've had a couple of new reviews appear the last two weeks at Green Man Review. One is for Move Under Ground, by Nick Mamatas (a book I liked, but with reservations -- Mamatas himself, incidentally, thinks my review is tripe); and Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, which I loved. Check them out. (Ane believe me, if you're looking for a fun book to read, get Oppel's. It's the closest thing I've ever read to a fourth Indiana Jones movie.)

More to come at GMR in the next couple of weeks as I clear the decks.

Ahhhh, those Freepers

In comments to this post, Scott (of Archipelapogo) wonders how long until the Freepers (that is, the denizens of Free Republic, a place that makes the denizens of Little Green Footballs look like paragons of centrist moderation) start referring to Barack Obama as "Obama bin Laden". Scott predicts that Ann Coulter will use that phrase in print within 48 hours, but she'll be quite behind the curve: the Freepers already had this one in play more than three weeks ago. You'll also find it in use here (what constitutes a political "moderate" to this person is an exercise best left to the reader).

As of this writing, a Google search for the exact phrase "Obama bin laden" only turns up three pages' worth of hits, but give it time. I expect that number to do nothing but rise.

Wondering if your heart is working?

Read this.

If you're not reaching for the Kleenexes by the halfway mark, you've got problems.

(via John Scalzi)

Best. Resource. EVER!

I mean, really, this thing is freaking AWESOME.

It's American Rhetoric, a site that gathers more than 5000 audio and/or video versions of

.... public speeches, sermons, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, other recorded media events, and a declaration or two.

This thing includes a selection of movie speeches. Want to hear the greatest pep-talk in literary history? This is the place for you!

Man, does Jason Streed ever deserve a giant cookie (with an equally-large glass of milk to go with it) for finding this one!

UPDATE: Lynn Sislo also linked this, via Jason.

Must be sunspots.

Nefarious Neddie has been posting again.

A Research Request

I have a question for my female readership (or for my male readers who have females present whom they can ask). This is for a writing project that I'm getting underway. (It's a screenplay of sorts, freely mined from some of the more absurd aspects of life at The Store. Kind of like Clerks, I guess, only probably not nearly as good. And with more spaceships. [No, not really. Spaceships, that is.])

Anyway, here's a situation I want to write but I'm not sure about the key detail. My main female character will at some point arrive for work in the morning, but she will have undergone some kind of emotional trauma the night before -- maybe a sudden and ugly breakup or some such thing (I haven't thought much of this out). It'll be the kind of thing that's bad enough to make you wish you'd stayed home from work, but not so serious as to make you actually stay home from work.

So my question is: what effect would this sort of thing have on her makeup? I don't want anything so obvious as streaks of mascara running down her cheeks -- maybe she got all her crying done and has enough self-control to keep from bawling on the job, but she still doesn't want it to be obvious to everyone at work that she's been crying all night. What does she do, makeup-wise, to accomplish this? And what details would tip someone off? I'm thinking that most people will simply think she looks a tiny bit different from her usual appearance, but I want to have one person who knows just what the tiny shifts (or not so tiny) in her makeup application might mean.

(For some reason, this project is coming to me in the form of disconnected scenes, all over the place. I have no idea how to tie it up as a story, which seems kind of weird to me, since I rarely work this way, if ever.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

This Just In

Barack Obama kicks ass.

Who WAS that masked man?!

Via just about everybody (Darth Swank, Modulatin' Steve, Kevin Drum), I see that Atrios is no longer anonymous. He's a guy named Duncan.

So I guess this puts to bed all those Sidney Blumenthal rumors of a while back. And while it's pretty cool to see the face behind the Eschatonic greatness, part of me is slightly disappointed: it's as if the "Who Shot JR?" episode of Dallas had revealed that the assassin was merely a night watchman whose gun accidentally discharged.

Anyway, I wonder if PZ Myers thinks that Atrios/Duncan looks like an axe murderer....

(As of this writing, Atrios himself has yet to say anything at all about being "outed", as far as I can see. Hmmmmmm.)

Conventional Blathering

I watched the Democratic National Convention last night for all of six minutes while the Wife read to the Kid in bed, because while I myself could watch the damn thing gavel-to-gavel, the Wife has made clear that her tolerance for politics on TV extends very little distance past the closing credits of The West Wing. So, this is shaping up to be the election year that I watch the least convention coverage.

Of course, the TV networks have decided not to cover much of the conventions anyway, since it's "not news". Well, gee whiz -- neither is half the crap on the nightly newscasts or on The Today Show, and that sure doesn't seem to bother them. So I'm all for the idea of telling the networks, "You know what, who cares if it's not news. Once every four years our political parties get together and talk to America about what they think. So the days of smoke-filled-rooms producing a nominee who is only nominated on the fortieth ballot are over. Big whoop."

Of course, it has nothing to do with "news" per se; it's about money, since by limiting convention coverage to a tiny amount the networks can still plan out their advertising budgets. But even then I don't care. If they're that worried about lost ad revenue during the conventions, then they can make for it by charging a little more for ad time during the Super Bowl or the Oscars. I mean, it's not like the most important story in America right now actually is a single missing person's case from Utah, but that's what led off The Today Show this morning after they were done summing up the previous evening's business from the Democratic National Convention.

And while I'm mildly griping, I caught a couple minutes of Tim Russert's brilliant analysis this morning. And I mean, this guy is a freaking genius. First the Today folks play this bit of Bill Clinton's speech from last night:

During the Vietnam War, many young men—including the current president, the vice president and me—could have gone to Vietnam but didn’t. John Kerry came from a privileged background and could have avoided it too. Instead he said, send me.

And then Russert says something like, "This was a masterstroke. Bill Clinton included himself in the numbers of men who did not go to Vietnam, like President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and then he noted that John Kerry went."

Wow. I guess that's how you get to be Washington's most important political analyst: by possessing uncommonly keen powers of summarization.

(Yeah, Russert's from Buffalo and a Bills fan. But the guy makes me shake my head every time he opens his mouth.)

Monday, July 26, 2004

Live Blogging!

As you might expect, a number of the fine folks on my blogroll are posting live from the Democratic National Convention. And Alex Ross is posting live from the Bayreuth Festival (an annual festival devoted to the music of Richard Wagner).

(I am posting live from my living room.)

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Sooner or later, the most outrageous fictional prediction comes true

I've been following with some bemusement (and a little sadness) the "fifteen minutes of fame" being enjoyed by Annie Jacobsen, a woman who basically panicked for no reason at all on an airplane and yet somehow now has a legion of people cheering her on. I wasn't going to comment on it at all, because it's all really stupid: Jacobsen's a twitchy nitwit, apparently, looking for terrorists beneath every bit of Middle-Eastern looking skin, and it's pretty clear everyone's already starting to figure this out.

Witness the progression in the links to Instapundit's posts on the subject, provided by Oliver Willis: First he's lapping it up, linking every bit of corroborative writing he can find, but by the last post, he's saying, "Well, gee, we'll never know what really happened (even though the Federal Air Marshalls on the flight seem to have a pretty good handle on what happened), but hey, at least we're talking about airplane security now!" Yup, she's a loon, but she's got us talking about something important -- as if listening to Richard Hoagland is a good thing because hey, it gets us talking about exploring Mars.

But what really made me decide to mention the whole thing is that it finally clicked in my head a few minutes ago: we've just seen a bit of the movie Airplane! almost come true.

Oldlady : I can't stand it anymore, I've got to get outta here. I've gotta get outta here.

Elaine : Calm down get ahold of yourself. (shakes woman gently)

Gentlmn : Stewardess, please, let me handle this (grabs her and starts to shake her)

Gntlmn2 : Calm down, now get back to your seat, I'll take care of this. CALM DOWN, GET AHOLD OF YOURSELF ! (shakes her violently, then slaps her)

Nun : Mr, your wanted on the phone . . . Everything's going to be alright < SLAP >! Please.

Gntlmn3 : Sister, I'll handle this. < SLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAPPP >

(There is now a line of people with baseball bats and whips waiting to help the woman)

Looks like Annie Jacobsen picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

IMAGE OF THE WEEK (and the Sunday Burst of Weirdness)

Yes, I'm combining my two regular Sunday features this week. I don't have a weblink for this event, but my friend Robert sent me some photographs he took of an event in Minneapolis where a bunch of cars and other vehicles are decorated in all manner of odd ways and then paraded down the street. Here's a "Cork Truck", covered in corks:

And I'm not sure what this little car is supposed to be -- an airplane, I suppose, although to my eyes it looks more like the Love Boat.

This next one's right up my daughter's alley, since she adores VW Beetles (an obsession that springs from our watching of the Love Bug movies last summer):

And finally, since you can't have this kind of art show without a good old bit of goofy left-wing politics expressed as art, here's a "Pink Slip" truck, complete with women wearing pink slips:

Of course, I'm not sure about the congruity of the message here combined with the occasion of loading down a pickup truck with lots of people and then driving it slowly down the street so it burns a lot of gas fairly needlessly, but hey. It's women wearing pink slips.

NPR on Goldsmith

NPR's Andy Trudeau, who does the annual run-down on the filmscores nominated for Oscars, did a fine tribute to Jerry Goldsmith. The audio link can be found here. (Does NPR have to make it so hard to link their actual audio content? What possible reason could they have for doing this?)

Anyway, it would be great if NPR would allow Trudeau, who is very articulate and knowledgable, to comment on film music more often than just at Oscar time and when one of the big-name composers dies.

Geez, Jack, your hands are really COLD!

Michael Lopez has a funny post up about the film Titanic, which I still like a good deal despite the fact that it is, in large part, full of crap. In his post, he dissects the character of Rose, and his conclusion -- supported by some evidence -- is this:

Rose is an utterly self-absorbed bitch, and her relationship with Jack doesn't change this one bit.

Well, now. I do wish Michael would, just once, come out and say what he means!

Kidding aside, it's fun to look through his supporting commentary. I'd just like to answer a couple of his points here (because, well, I'm in a bit of a "geekery" mood this morning).

Michael's really bugged by Old Rose's dropping of the Heart of the Ocean into the sea at the end of the movie. Yeah, I think a case can really be made that she could have done a lot more good with it elsewhere. On the one hand, there's the old "Indiana Jones" ethic at work here ("That diamond is an important artefact, and it belongs in a museum!"). But then, I've watched enough Robert Ballard interviews over the years in which he castigates people who have basically scavenged just about everything from the wreck that wasn't bolted down (or that was bolted down, but then the bolts rusted away) as "grave robbers". So I dunno. I can live with it, in the movie. I think.

(I wonder if Michael ever saw a TV commercial that aired a couple of years back. I can't remember who the advertiser was, but it recreated that scene of Old Rose tossing the diamond, and then she suddenly thinks better of it and jumps into the water after it. Cut, then, to Old Rose emerging from a pawn shop rifling through a thick wad of money. It was hilarious.)

Michael also points out that at the end of the movie, the camera pans across the pictures on Rose's shelf, which are pictures of her and nobody else. I guess this would be a weird thing for her to do, but I took it as just a cinematic construct of Cameron's to show that Rose really did put Jack's philosophy of "Make every moment count" into effect after she disembarked the Carpathia in New York City.

I also don't really fault her jumping off the lifeboat, since the whole film is setting up a kind of "Better we die together than live apart" subtext, even if that's ultimately not what happens (except in the minds of Rose's family).

It's also interesting to peruse the film's shooting script and note some differences in the way the film was originally written versus how it was eventually released. Remember how Rose sees Cal on the deck of the Carpathia, the morning after the sinking, but he doesn't see her? Well, it wasn't originally written that way:


It is the afternoon of the 15th. Cal is searching the faces of the widows lining the deck, looking for Rose. The deck of Carpathia is crammed with huddled people, and even the recovered lifeboats of Titanic. On a hatch cover sits an enormous pile of lifebelts.

He keeps walking toward the stern. Seeing Cal's tuxedo, a steward approaches him.


You won't find any of your people back here, sir. It's all steerage.

Cal ignores him and goes amongst this wrecked group, looking under shawls and blankets at one bleak face after another.

Rose is sipping hot tea. Her eyes focus on him as he approaches her. He barely recognizes her. She looks like a refugee, her matted hair hanging in her eyes.


Yes, I lived. How awkward for you.


Rose... your mother and I have been looking for you--

She holds up her hand, stopping him.


Please don't. Don't talk. Just listen. We will make a deal, since that is something you understand. From this moment you do not exist for me, nor I for you. You shall not see me again. And you will not attempt to find me. In return I will keep my silence. Your actions last night need never come to light, and you will get to keep the honor you have carefully purchased.

She fixes him with a glare as cold and hard as the ice which changed their lives.


Is this in any way unclear?


(after a long beat)

What do I tell your mother?


Tell her that her daughter died with the Titanic.

She stands, turning to the rail. Dismissing him. We see Cal stricken with emotion.


You're precious to me, Rose.


Jewels are precious. Goodbye, Mr. Hockley.

We see that in his way, the only way he knows, he does truly love her.

After a moment, he turns and walks away.


That was the last time I ever saw him. He married, of course, and inherited his millions. The crash of 28 hit his interests hard, and he put a pistol in his mouth that year. His children fought over the scraps of his estate like hyenas, or so I read.

Now, it doesn't make it explicit, but I'd say that Cal knows at that moment that she has the diamond, but he chooses to let it go. This scene was probably cut (or not even filmed) because such an act of sacrifice would not have been in keeping with what we've already figured of Cal's character, to say nothing of Rose's coldness here. (I'd have more expected her to give him the diamond and say, "Now leave me alone. Tell everyone I died." But then the whole movie's framing device, of modern-day treasure hunters looking for the diamond amidst the wreckage, wouldn't work.)

And that's not all. The "dropping of the stone into the sea" scene was entirely different as originally written, as well:

307 EXT. KELDYSH STERN DECK [Keldysh is the present-day treasure-hunter ship.]

Rose walks through the shadows of the deck machinery. Her nightgown blows in the wind. Her feet are bare. Her hands are clutched at her chest, almost as if she is praying.

ON LOVETT AND LIZZY running down the stairs from the top deck, hauling ass. [Lovett is the treasure-hunter played by Bill Paxton; Lizzy is Rose's granddaughter.]

ROSE reaches the stern rail. Her gnarled fingers wrap over the rail. Her ancient foot steps up on the gunwale. She pushes herself up, leaning forward. Over her shoulder, we see the black water glinting far below.

LOVETT AND LIZZY run up behind her.


Grandma, wait!! Don't--

ROSE TURNS her head, looking at them. She turns further, and we see she has something in her hand, something she was about to drop overboard.

It is the "Heart of the Ocean".

Lovett sees his holy grail in her hand and his eyes go wide. Rose keeps it over the railing where she can drop it anytime.


Don't come any closer.


You had it the entire time?!

FLASH CUT TO: A SILENT IMAGE OF YOUNG ROSE walking away from Pier 54. The photographers' flashes go off like a battle behind her. She has her hands in her pockets. She stops, feeling something, and pulls out the necklace. She stares at it in amazement.

BACK ON KELDYSH, Rose smiles at Brock's incomprehension.


The hardest part about being so poor, was being so rich. But every time I though of selling it, I though of Cal. And somehow I always got by without his help.

She holds it out over the water. Bodine and a couple of the other guys come up behind Lovett, reacting to what is in Rose's hand.


[Bodine is that associate of Lovett's, the one who looks like Comic Book Guy.]

Holy shit.


Don't drop it Rose.


(a fierce whisper)

Rush her.


(to Bodine)

It's hers, you schmuck.

(to her)

Look, Rose, I... I don't know what to say to a woman who tries to jump off the Titanic when it's not sinking, and jumps back onto it when it is... we're not dealing with logic here, I know that... but please... think about this a second.


I have. I came all the way here so this could go back where it belongs.

The massive diamond glitters. Brock edges closer and holds out his hand...


Just let me hold it in my hand, Rose. Please. Just once.

He comes closer to her. It is reminiscent of Jack slowly moving up to her at the stern of Titanic.

Surprisingly, she calmly places the massive stone in the palm of his hand, while still holding onto the necklace. Lovett gazes at the object of his quest. An infinity of cold scalpels glint in its blue depths. It is mesmerizing. It fits in his hand just like he imagined.


My God.

His grip tightens on the diamond.

He looks up, meeting her gaze. Her eyes are suddenly infinitely wise and deep.


You look for treasures in the wrong place, Mr. Lovett. Only life is priceless, and making each day count.

His fingers relax. He opens them slowly. Gently she slips the diamond out of his hand. He feels it sliding away.

Then, with an impish little grin, Rose tosses the necklace over the rail. Lovett gives a strangled cry and rushes to the rail in time to see it hit the water and disappear forever.


Aww!! That really sucks, lady!

Brock Lovett goes through ten changes before he settles on a reaction... HE LAUGHS. He laughs until the tears come to his eyes. Then he turns to Lizzy.


Would you like to dance?

Lizzy grins at him and nods. Rose smiles. She looks up at the stars.

308 IN THE BLACK HEART OF THE OCEAN, the diamond sinks, twinkling end over end, into the infinite depths.

Now, I don't know if those differences change anything in Michael's thesis (my gut reaction is, probably not), but it's still interesting to see "the road not taken" once in a while. I wonder if any of that stuff was filmed, or if the changes were made before shooting took place. But I'm really glad it was cut. The film didn't need this kind of "preachy" stuff at the end. (For a glimpse of James Cameron indulging his "preachy" side, check out the ending of the Director's Cut of The Abyss. As superior as I think the DC is to the theatrical release, he really lays it on thick at the end.)

Anyway, I know that what swept the nation in 1997 was a mass psychosis, and that now we're all supposed to admit that Titanic is one of the worst movies ever made and all, but I still like the bloody thing. Go figure.

(BTW, in this post, Michael's occasional co-blogger William Moon says this: "My grandparents have always said, 'To thine own self be true.' Now I know it likely comes from another source originally, but that is from where I've always heard it." It's from Hamlet, Act I, Scene III -- part of Polonius's advice to Laertes:

And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice:
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy:
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be:
For loan oft loses both itself and friend;
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all,--to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

So William's grandparents were indoctrinating their young charge with Shakespeare. The devils!

Whoa! Somebody talented decided to STAY in Buffalo!!

In a pleasing development that marks a switch from Buffalo's usual modus operandi of being a stopping-point on the way to the proverbial "bigger and better things", conductor JoAnn Falletta -- music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra -- has signed on for three more years, which means that Falletta will be here at least through 2008. Since Falletta has been the major driving force behind the BPO's artistic resurgence over the last few years, this is great news indeed.

Is John Kerry the guy in the Klingon suit, or the Boba Fett costume?

This year, Boston isn't just playing host to the Democratic National Convention: it's also hosting the 2004 World Science Fiction Convention. (No, they're not at the same time. NoreasCon, the SF con, isn't until the first week of September.)

So the helpful folks organizing NoreasCon have come up with a list of ways the SF con isn't like the Democratic con. With due respect to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, I thought the list was mildly amusing.

Quick! Somebody buy Dave Wannstedt some stock in Excedrin!

In a very surprising turn of events, running back Ricky Williams has decided to retire from the NFL, leaving the Miami Dolphins just before training camp begins.

As a Bills fan, I heartily endorse Williams's decision (since he pretty much made the Bills' defense look like it was made of tissue paper the last couple of years). And I suspect this will pretty much put the nail in Dave Wannstedt's coffin -- he should have been fired last year, really, but now that his team is missing its best weapon (and a weapon which Wannstedt had no idea how to correctly use) and fielding a defense that continues to age, I think we can safely pencil in the Dolphins for their annual "Also Ran" status a bit early this year.

Gee whiz, it breaks the heart.

(And now, having got the schaedenfreude out of my system, it wouldn't surprise me at all if Williams ends up reversing his decision at some point. The guy's a weirdo.)

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Birth of the Empire

I've just seen that the title of Star Wars Episode III has been revealed:

That's a good title: it dovetails nicely with the final chapter of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi, and I like how the initial logo even matches the styling of ROTJ's original logo back in 1982 or thereabouts.

Sometimes I have to thank that little nagging voice that says, "Yeah, it's bedtime, but check AICN one last time before shutting down...and don't read those nitwits in the TalkBacks...."

"Talking Points: They're true, because they're said a lot."

Oliver Willis catches James Lileks apparently insisting that talk radio hosts don't get no talking points, nosiree, bob -- them's rugged individual thinkers fillin' our airwaves!

Cue Jon Stewart.

Ah, to live in Lileks-land, a world where metaphor trumps the need to draw any conclusions from, you know, reality.

"The Shroud of the Dark Side"

Way back when I wrote my defense of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, I noted that I a lot of my groundwork had already been done for me.

Well, now the guy who did that fine service to the most unfairly-maligned movie in history has provided a similar thing for Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Very cool.

(BTW, we are now less than 300 days from the opening of Episode III in theaters. Boy, I hope that Anakin guy pulls it out! He was seeming a bit, shall we say, tempted by the Dark Side in AOTC, eh?)

Good idea, because bringing livestock into the Statehouse can't POSSIBLY go wrong!

A month or so ago, South Carolina's Governor -- a guy named Mark Sanford -- thought it would be funny to make a statement about pork-barrel spending by bringing two pigs (named "Pork" and "Barrel" -- hey, give him points for staying on message!) with him into the Statehouse chamber.

Hilarity ensued when the pigs defecated on both the Governor and the Statehouse chamber carpet.

South Carolina Attorney General Rosco P. Coltrane could not be reached for comment, as he'd just flipped his car while chasing "them Duke boys".

(BTW, what is it with politicians doing stupid things to argue against "pork barrel" spending? My own former Senator, Alphonse d'Amato, once sang an anti-pork version of "Old MacDonald" on the floor of the United States Senate, for God's sake -- and this from a guy whose reputation for "bringing home the bacon" was so strong that he was often referred to as "Senator Pothole". But then, I once heard d'Amato address the Commencement ceremony at St. Bonaventure University -- and all throughout his speech, he kept referring to the school as "St. Francis University". A rhetorician he wasn't.)

I'll take "Freaks Named Ken" for 500, Alex

I must admit that I have been following the adventures of Ken Jennings, the guy from Salt Lake City who has been dominating Jeopardy! for over a month now. I read a news item recently that said that Jennings has been seen in and around his home lately, so his streak had to be ending; turns out that the show's season ended, and for six weeks there is no production of new episodes while reruns of tournament highlights are run. (Also probably so that the producers could line up some more investors or funding for when Ken returns to play.)

For those who might have missed last night's "season finale", Ken finally stopped toying with Alex Trebek with regard to the "Single Day Winnings" record, which had been $52,000. Three times before, Ken had been in position to break the record, and purposely tied it; but then last night, he actually went into "Final Jeopardy!" with $51,400, and with his correct answer ("Two of the four Shakespeare plays in which ghosts appear onstage") and his big wager ($23,600), Ken smashed the old record and took $75,000 in a single day. Then, Jennings was shot from behind by an unknown assailant. Rumor has it that the next new episode will reveal "Who Shot Ken".

(OK, that last thing didn't happen. But Ken did take the record. The four correct responses are Macbeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and Richard III, by the way. I was also able to answer correctly from the safety of my living room armchair; yay, me!)

Anyway, for the numerically-minded out there, here are Ken Jennings's stats as of right now. I'm not certain, but I think Ken has just about every game show record wrapped up except for "consecutive daily appearances on a show in which you can come back the next day if you win today" (there's got to be a shorter way to say that, but it's early and I haven't had coffee yet), currently held by Thom McKee, who ruled the roost on Tic Tac Dough! for 43 straight days back in 1980 or 1981.

I suspect that Ken's streak can only end in a way previously imagined by Gary Larsen in a Far Side installment years ago, in which God appears on a quiz show. God has a total of something like $50,000, while the other guy is standing there with a big zero on his scoreboard, hands on his hips, looking annoyed, and the announcer says something like, "That's right! The answer is 'Wisconsin'! That's another thousand for God, and uh-oh, it looks like our defending champion, Norm, hasn't even rung in yet." Such a scenario would be doubly funny because Ken is a Mormon.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Is this thing on?

No, not much to say today, as you can tell by the fact that I'm only posting now at about 11:00 eastern time. Things on the mind, and all that. A couple of quick takes, and maybe I'll have something more to say tomorrow:

:: I've just watched fifteen minutes or so of John Stossel's 20/20 episode in which he rips into "trial lawyers", complete with swipes at, you guessed it, John Edwards. I'm sure that in the interests of balance, Stossel's already got a program in the works on Dick Cheney and Halliburton's war-profiteering. I'll bet it's already scheduled to be aired on September 31 of this year. (Besides, Stossel's programs are always a fascinating exercise in shoddy thinking and muddled logic.)

:: Comics writer-extraordinaire Alan Moore, in a fascinating interview, has this hilarious take on the Bush family:

I tend to think that the whole tree is rotten, that's the only conclusion I can draw. These are dynasties; they carry out the will of the family, which is old, avaricious, power-mad, arrogant. Generation after generation, they see that the family's will is done. I'm surprised that the Bushes are doing so well over there. You people actually had a war of independence to free yourselves from a dynasty of blue-blooded Georges. I thought that was the whole idea! You were fed up with having a bunch of aristocrats named George ruling your country, but obviously it seems that you can't get enough of it!

Priceless. (That's a Salon link, so you have to do the "watch an ad for a day pass" thing to read it.)

:: I bought the new Van Halen hits compilation Best of Both Worlds today. God, I love Van Halen. In my experience, there is no sadness so deep that it can't be partially salved by listening to Van Halen. (Just as there is no mild disappointment that can't be amplified to a suicidal depression by playing a few Pink Floyd tracks.)

That's it. More tomorrow. Or Sunday. Or whenever.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Ebert on Music -- a challenge, of sorts

One thing I've noticed about Roger Ebert's film reviews over the years is that he almost never mentions the music. Never, ever. So, I've just sent the following message to him as a query for his "Movie Answer Man" column (which alternates on Sundays with his "Great Movies" column):

Today, on the occasion of great film composer Jerry Goldsmith's death, I'm suddenly reminded that you almost never mention a film's music in your reviews, even though you often mention the work of other "technicians" involved in production, such as the editors or cinematographers. Do you simply not feel qualified to discuss film music? I would think a critic of such obvious erudition and knowledge both within film and without such as yourself would have something to say about the cinematic contributions of a Jerry Goldsmith or a John Williams, to name just two.

I hope he answers, because even if Ebert doesn't know a bass drum from a pipe organ, surely he can say something interesting about how music is used in film.

Play "Chinatown" For Me....

The news that confronted the film music world this morning was not unexpected, but it's still terribly sad: Jerry Goldsmith has died, at the age of 75.

Goldsmith had been battling cancer for several years, and in more recent months, a certain sense of mortality has been creeping into the film music community with every announcement that Goldsmith has either left a film project or cancelled a concert appearance.

Goldsmith wrote music for literally hundreds of movies and television shows in a career that spanned decades. I really don't know what more to say than this. I adored a great deal of his music, although admittedly I was less impressed with his more recent work than many other film music fans. Still, a composer whose career includes such magnificent scores as Chinatown, The Wind and the Lion, The Omen, Legend, Total Recall, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Basic Instinct has to be considered among the very greatest voices that film music has had to offer. Among Goldsmith's many influences were Stravinsky, Ravel, and Copland; Goldsmith was also well known for his extensive use of electronica (he approached synthesized sounds as supplements to his orchestra, never as a replacement) and for his early avant-garde style in such scores as Planet of the Apes.

Now that Goldsmith has died, this leaves Elmer Bernstein and John Williams as the "grand old men" of film music. While I am more optimistic than many about the future of film music, what with people like Howard Shore and Thomas Newman moving to the fore, I still mourn the passing of a name that surely deserves to rank with Herrmann, Rozsa, Korngold and Steiner.

Farewell, Maestro Goldsmith. Your voice will be missed -- though long may it be heard.

(Thanks to Jayme Lynn Blaschke, who notified me via e-mail about Goldsmith's passing. He posts his own thoughts here.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I hope one of them was named "Andy Dufresne"

I know, I know, they're criminals and all, and they did commit two additional crimes, but gee whiz, they just popped out for some beer, and they came right back, and they brought enough to share with the rest of the guys. It just doesn't seem right to charge them with more stuff, does it?

A Mental Image that I did not need.

And you don't need it either, but hey, it's only fun if you share!

Hmmm....maybe Rolf actually WILL be one of them, after all!

Michael Brooke recently attended one of those The Sound of Music singalong things, and reports on the experience. I don't think I'd want to go to one of these, since I actually like the movie (except for Liesl's singing voice, ewwww make it stop). But it actually does sound like it could be fun, if you could get an audience with the right blend of reverence and, well, irreverence.

The one time I saw Rocky Horror Picture Show with a live audience, it was a pretty disappointing experience: not many of the people there knew the whole drill, so it kind of devolved into everyone just trying to do their own MST3K bit. I suspect that's the kind of audience I'd get with The Sound of Music.


There's a fascinating post by Our Girl in Chicago (Terry Teachout's coblogger, for those not regularly reading About Last Night -- speaking of which, why aren't you?) on the topic of memorizing poetry.

"An art of opening the heart": this is a nice way of capturing the extra-intellectual aspects of memorizing poetry. To memorize something effectively, you have to expend some interpretive effort on it, and with this effort you wind up in something like a conversation with the text. Grasping at least the literal meaning—not necessarily as easy as you might think, I've learned in my teaching—is the most efficient way of mastering a poem, so you can't help but learn something more than just the words in the process. And the richer the text, the more there is to absorb. It's sad that such a truly mind-expanding practice has been saddled with a reputation as just the opposite.

My experience with memorizing in school was a bit strange. I never resented having to do it, when it was actually required (which I suspect was not enough). I actually enjoyed having some bit of verse that I could recall to mind, any time I wanted, unless it was a bit of verse I totally hated (like this Godawful thing, which I'm sure will send Nefarious Neddie into convulsions as soon as he clicks the link, because he sat in front of me in that class and he had to do it too).

And as I noted a short while back, I'm trying to do some memorizing of my own: not poems, per se, but songs, which is really part of the same thing. You have to learn a tune, and you have to learn the words, and you have to learn how the words fit into the tune, and to make it all work you have to figure out just what the song's about in the first place. It doesn't do any good to learn the words and tune of, say, "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore" from Gigi if you don't realize just what kind of mischievous dirty old man Honore really is, and what he's getting at when he sings it. And it's really fun to just be able to drop little bits of verse and song lyric into idle conversation, once in a while. If you want to sound like you're an erudite individual, well, here's a great way to do it. And the best part is that it will actually make you erudite.

The part that I seriously hated about memorizing in school wasn't the actual memorizing, then. No, it was the fact that teachers felt the insatiable need to couple memorizing with reciting, which I despised as much as is possible to despise anything. Bad enough that you have to stand up in front of your classmates and fumble through a poem, but even worse if every kid in the class is doing the same damned poem, so you're spending forty-five minutes in a hard-wooden chair listening to the same poem over and over and over and over and over again, while Mrs. Hairbun dutifully takes down notes on each student's delivery. It always seemed to me that simply giving everyone a piece of paper and requiring them to actually write down the poem would have accomplished the same goal, without being simultaneously boring and nerve-wracking; moreso if the actual goal was to learn a poem as opposed to being expected to put on a bit of performance art (woeful grades to the student who delivered every syllable perfectly, but with a monotone that would make Mr. Spock proud).

Anyway, maybe I will start memorizing poems. It seems a good way to simply exercise the brain a bit, and you never know when the ability to start spouting some Tennyson at length might come in useful.

(Lynn Sislo also comments on this. I actually read her post first, but I would have read OGIC's sooner or later anyway, since I read About Last Night daily. Did I already mention that?)

Foil'd again....

Want a good example of frustration? It's going a little online reading while you eat breakfast before work, seeing something hilarious that you just know one particular co-worker of yours will think is just hilarious because it involves a hobby of his, and then discovering that he's not scheduled to work that day.

So I told someone else, and they got a kick out of it, but the original guy I'd planned on sharing the funny story with would have enjoyed it a lot more.

Oh, and the funny story is this Ebay auction, in which some woman who recently caught her fiance cheating on her put all of his PlayStation games up for bids. (Apparently she paid for them all, so she's reasoning that they're technically hers.) Talk about Hell having no fury, and all that jazz.

(via John Scalzi)


Thanks to PZ Myers and Scott Spiegelberg, whose comments to this post I was able to combine in order to make my blockquotes look the way I want them to. (For the really geeky, I went with a color other than blue because I already use blue for links.)

I'm really starting to figure out how things work on what Matthew Yglesias calls "this Interweb thingy".

Carlos Kleiber 1930-2004

Via Lynn Sislo I see that conductor Carlos Kleiber has died. Like Lynn, I am not terribly familiar with Kleiber's work, except via one recording. Luckily, that recording was a very fine one indeed; unluckily, I no longer own it (I owned a taped copy from my high school music teacher's LPs). It was this recording of Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischutz, which to this day is one of my very favorite operas. It's full of earthy German choruses, several wonderful arias, and a hair-raising scene involving the Devil (a scene which, being constructed around the tritone, is an important forebear of Wagner's leitmotif technique).

My current version of Der Freischutz -- on CD, of course -- is Sir Colin Davis's (with Staatskapelle Dresden), and while it's quite good, to this day whenever I listen to it I hear things that I liked better in Kleiber's version, even though it's well over ten years since my tapes faded to nothingness.

I also recall Kleiber's 1992 New Year's From Vienna concert on PBS, which was enjoyable as always but not as fine as Herbert von Karajan's 1987 version.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


I don't have much to say today, so I'll just swipe a bit more of Uncle Sam's bandwidth. Here's a very nice shot of the Andromeda Galaxy (via APoD).

Beautiful, isn't it?

Apropos of Nothing....

When you buy a new desh for your office, and it's one of those "Put it together yourself" jobs that come in two big, heavy, long flat boxes, and you have ordered the model in cherry wood because that's the wood you like and that's what the other people with offices have, you will generally find it good practice to actually crack open the box and confirm that the desk the furniture place has shipped to you actually is cherry wood before you pull everything out of your office and pile it all in the office corridor. Waiting to do so until after you've emptied your office is a tempting of fate that is not unlike dangling a bit of string before the eyes of a wakeful kitten.

An HTML question

OK, technophiles, here's what I want: When I use the "blockquote" tag, the font within the blockquote is smaller than the font of the regular post. Is there a way to change this without resorting to "font size=+1" every time, which seems to me to be something of a kludge? What I'd really like is for blockquotes to appear offset and in blue text, but in the same size as the regular post.

I'za good critic!

For a bit of fascinating yin and yang, check out Alex Ross and Terry Teachout on the subject of a new classical work by Elvis Costello. Now, I haven't heard the piece in question, so I have no opinion, but it's always cool to read two articulate and knowledgable critics who stand in disagreement over the same work.

And I also think it's funny that both make veiled negative references to Paul McCartney's "cantata" Standing Stone. I borrowed the CD of that work from the library a year or so ago, and I remember thinking as I played it, "This is the most banal damn thing I've ever heard!" I've never shied from liking stuff that critics don't (Attack of the Clones is a great movie! Someday you'll see!), but still, it's cool to receive vindication once in a while.

Sunday, July 18, 2004


The hands of composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninov.

If there were a classical composer who was most likely to ever supplant Hector Berlioz as the leading light of my musical world, it would almost certainly be Sergei Rachmaninov. I'll write a longer post about Rachmaninov and my appreciation of him another time, but for now I note that in reading a little bit about him recently, I am reminded that apparently his hands were enormous, able to span over an octave-and-a-half on a piano keyboard. This "wingspan" allowed him to pull off feats of pianistic skill that would defy people of, well, smaller hands.

I found the above picture this morning, and it doesn't quite convey the massive size of Rachmaninov's hands as well as I was hoping, but you still get the sense of it -- look how long those fingers are, for one.

(BTW, Rachmaninov's three symphonies -- the first and third are wonderful, and the second is just transcendent -- are available in a budget-priced "two-for-the-price-of-one" set here, performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and conducted brilliantly by Vladimir Ashkenazy. I own these recordings in their earlier, singly-issued, full-price incarnations -- and I've never regretted buying them.)

Two provocative quotes

I read two interesting quotes today that I partly agree with. (Or, more accurately, I'm not sure what part I disagree with, or even if I do, or if I'm just mildly uncomfortable with something contained within them, as a foggy sort of cognitive dissonance holds sway.)

:: Michael Blowhard on "adolescence":

Adulthood now looks sad. Having been crowded off the stage, adulthood mills about disconsolate and lost. Given that we now live in a country whose central values are adolescent, we've lost track of even the best adult values -- wit, grace, perspective, depth, suaveness, conviction, knowledge. In any sane civilization, these would all be regarded as virtues. In our country these days, such virtues often seem the marks of losers and failures.

I'm very sympathetic to this, but at the same time, I don't really know. I don't think it stops at adolescence even; our culture is geared generally toward children to a ridiculous degree. Teens are the "gotta get 'em" demographic, and actual adults aren't merely ignored as Michael suggests, but actually viewed as mere caretakers for the pre-adolescents. Our role as adults is just to make sure that there are more adolescents in ten years, and that's about it. The mere thought that maybe, just maybe, the kids aren't the absolute first priority in our lives is met with a gawking stare. It's really weird, and I don't have the solution, unfortunately. But on a practical note, it's just hard to set aside the Kid in favor of more adult pursuits a lot of the time, on both logistical and financial grounds.

(Allow me to resurrect here my abject hatred for the greatest lie ever foisted on teenagers: "These are the best years of your lives." God, what vomitous prattle that is. That's right, kids: not only are we discouraging you from actually looking forward to adulthood, but we want you to actively dread it. And speaking of that, where did this idea ever come from that "adulthood" is somehow wholly incompatible with things like whimsy and lightness?)

:: The Gray Monk on Islam:

It is time to put aside the "All Muslims are Victims" thinking and recognise that Islam must grow up. The problems in the Middle East and elsewhere relating to Islam are generated by the tension created by the fact that Islam is intolerant of any other religious philosophy.

I agree strongly with this idea, the thought that Islam is now roughly where Christianity was before the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment eras all transpired. I'd add, though, that at least here in this country (the Gray Monk is from Britain and writes from the perspective of British politics, a subject on which I know little), the brand of Christianity that at least partially mirrors Islam in its current state is much more ascendent (they dominate the Republican Party); and I'd also add that as much as I may agree with the idea that the Islamic world needs to "grow up", my problem with recent policy decisions from our end -- and I'm talking about the Iraq war -- is that I'm far from convinced that "bomb them until they realize how badly they've gone off the rails" is really a workable strategy for encouraging such. (This point isn't exactly in response to anything the Gray Monk has written today; it's just a thought of mine. Anyway, Gray Monk follows up here.)

Heads up....

....Michael Lopez started posting again. Of course, he's a lawyer, so I don't trust anything he says. Like that John Edwards guy.

(Kidding there, of course. Go read.)

Oh, and Alex Frantz and Stirling Newberry have also started posting again. Now all I have to do is figure out whatever happened to Michelle. Are you out there, Michelle?

Sunday Burst of Weirdness (Lots of Profanity Edition)

Not safe for work, not safe for people at home with kids and the speakers turned up, and not safe for people who don't get an occasional junior-high-school type of chuckle out of hearing the "F-bomb" dropped at least ten times in thirty seconds (consider yourselves warned), but here is what Neil Armstrong really said on July 20, 1969 (almost 35 years ago, by the way).

(via Oliver Willis, whose redesign makes it hard to figure out where the friggin' permalinks are!)

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Ye Olde Emporium of High Nerdishnesse, with Divers Geekerye

(Yeah, I know, I'm milking the whole "Ye Olde...." thing for my titles today. It was a whim, one which will presumably wear off tomorrow.)

I saw a couple of things out there in Blogistan that made me want to display my penchant for All Things Geekish And Sad, so here I go:

:: Darth Swank points out a compendium of dumb things in Sci-Fi movies. Now, you might think I'm going to quibble with the one Greg quotes, but I'm not, even if I don't grant that the Imperial Walkers are that bad of a weapon. (Seems to me they pretty much ruled the roost in that battle -- the Rebels only brought down two of them, and one of those was because Luke is such a cool proto-Jedi at the time.) The one that caught my eye is this, about Independence Day:

Independence Day had already lost all credibility when Will Smith climbed into an alien spacecraft and after a few moments, figured out how to fly the thing. But dumb turns to laugh-out-loud ludicrous when Will conquers the aliens with a floppy disk, in an absurd homage to "War of the Worlds." Will should have just stuffed a peanut butter sandwich into the disk drive. It would have had the same odds of working.

Now, there's a decent point there: the idea that these aliens' computers could be flummoxed by something cooked up in mere hours on a circa-1996 Powerbook is totally absurd. But we are talking about ID4, a movie that is so loaded with bad SF stuff that it hardly seems fair to pick on even this most crucial plot point; and anyway, it isn't even Will Smith who does this! Will flies the ship, but it's Jeff Goldblum who does the handy bit of miraculous uploading. Ye Gods.

:: Terminus solicits suggestions for sequels which are superior to their forebeards. There aren't many, obviously -- most people would put The Empire Strikes Back in that category (personally, I don't, but it's incredibly close); Godfather II is often cited (haven't seen it); X-Men 2 certainly fills the bill. Lethal Weapon 2 is amazingly close as well (but it doesn't quite exceed the original, as it gets really bleak in its last half hour). No one mentions Toy Story 2, which is really close to beating out the original, or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which most think is far-and-away superior to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which I hold to be very underrated, although I certainly understand the criticisms of it). And Die Hard 2 is awfully good, although again, not as good as Die Hard.

But in the comments, a couple of people suggest that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade exceeds Raiders of the Lost Ark in quality. I really think that this film is amazingly overrated, simply by virtue of Sean Connery's performance, which is so good (both by itself and by his pitch-perfect chemistry with Harrison Ford; why on Earth have these two never teamed up again, even in a non-Indy movie?) that it outweighs a lot. But Last Crusade really falters in two key areas of character and story.

Character first: Walter Donovan is not a very interesting villain, whereas Rene Belloq from Raiders is. Secondly, Sallah is little more than a buddy-along-for-the-road in Last Crusade, fulfilling no vital function in the film. He's certainly a sharper-drawn character in Raiders than he is in Last Crusade. But the most egregious example of bungled character in that film is poor Marcus Brody. Brody only appears in a handful of scenes in Raiders, at the beginning and end, but the implication very clearly is that he's a shrewd and passionate man himself; we can almost see that he is what Indiana Jones himself would be in his elder years. But in Last Crusade, Marcus Brody is literally turned into a bumbling fool who provides nothing more than idiotic comic relief. Every time I watch Last Crusade, I cringe whenever Denholm Elliot is on the screen.

And story: yeah, Last Crusade tells a fun story. It really does. (I don't want to give the impression that I don't like it, because I do.) But upon further examination, it tells the exact same story as Raiders. Don't believe it? Well, which film am I describing here:

A father-figure from Indiana Jones's past turns out to have uncovered the final key to discovering the last resting place of one of the holiest of relics in history, but the Nazis are also hot on the trail, aided by a rival archaeologist. Indy first travels to that father-figure's last known location to reacquire that final key, and then he journeys to the Middle East for the final search. After much adventuring, including a harrowing chase through the desert involving a caravan of large vehicles, the final confrontation is set up in which the villain is defeated because he fails to understand the true nature of the powers with which he is grappling. Ultimately Indy gains no real fame or fortune for having found the relic, which remains located in obscurity.

Sure, there are differences here, and those last couple of points also apply to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which I once hated, but have come to actually enjoy a good deal). But aside from the stuff with Connery, Last Crusade really doesn't have much sense of "new-ness" about it -- it's more retread than anything else.

Ye Olde Greene Lanterne

In commenting on this old post, my friend (and personal source of Minnesota sports commentary) Chris expresses the hope that someday a movie be made about his favorite superhero, the Green Lantern.

The good news is that apparently such a film is indeed in the works.

The bad news (at least, I'm assuming it's bad news, as I know absolutely nothing about the Green Lantern) is...well, here.

(BTW, AICN also reports that the new Superman movie that's been in gestation for years, with at least five different creative teams at various times, now sports -- you guessed it -- a new creative team. At least this creative team has some success under its belt.)

"Fast Fiction Friday"

Go scroll through Warren Ellis's entries for yesterday, starting here and navigating forward. Nothing but short-short stories (200 words and less) from people I've never heard of before, some of which (I haven't read them all) are disturbingly effective.

I suspect that the people who whine that there isn't any good writing anymore just aren't reading.

Ye Olde Blogger Interface

As I noted the other day in a bizarre test post, Blogger's new interface is, well, hard to get used to. For now I'm just using the "Edit HTML" interface, because it's what I'm used to. (And really, what's so hard about typing out "a href" all the time? My fingers just gravitate to it, now.)

Anyway, publishing no longer crashes Mozilla, but there's a new bug that's apparently occupying the Big Heads at Pyra: the "spinning wheel" thing to indicate publishing-in-progress never advances, even though publishing actually works. Something to keep an eye on. In an e-mail from Blogger tech support, they suggest that Mozilla users clear cache and cookies, although this may not help everything.

Finally: It would be cool if for some of these Big Changes, the Blogger folks would actually stick an update message into a prominent position -- say, the top of the screen -- on the Blogger "dashboard" (for non-Blogger users, the dashboard is simply the first screen you see upon logging in to Blogger). I can't be the only person who ever checks when there's a problem.

Good news, bad news

I found something thing morning called "Celebrating the Underblog", which apparently solicits nominations for underrated blogs, and I didn't see Byzantium's Shores nominated (although I didn't exactly dig through all fourteen pages of comments). That's the bad news.

But hey, the news isn't all bad: at least I'm not mentioned in "Denigrating the Overblog" either! (Boy, a lot of people apparently hate Kevin Drum. Weird.)

(And if any of you intrepid readers of mine decide to rectify one of the above, well, be nice, OK?)

Thursday, July 15, 2004


Apparently Blogger has gone and jiggered their text-editor and didn't tell anyone, so I have no idea what is what right now. If things look weird in these parts until I figure it all out, that's why.

This paragraph is just a test paragraph to see what happens when I do stuff in this new Editor thingy. Ditto this link.

God save the Queen.

OK, now I'm testing some other stuff. Bear with me. This post has absolutely no content.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
OK, this seems interesting thus far. It'll take some time getting used to, and the editor does seem to have a separate setting so I can do things the way I used to do them, if I want. Hmmmm.

UPDATE: Publishing is now choking Mozilla and making it crash. Ugh.

Exploring the CD Collection, #3

Berlioz: Grand symphonie funebre et triomphale, performed by The Wallace Collection, conducted by John Wallace.

Since yesterday was bastille Day, this CD of French revolutionary music performed by London's Wallace Collection, a fine wind ensemble, leaped to mind. This disc includes a number of works for wind band composed during the years of the French Revolution, such as one of the oldest settings available of La Marseillaise.

The star attraction here, though, is Hector Berlioz's fourth symphony, his Symphonie funebre et triomphale. Composed in 1840 upon a commission for a ceremony to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 1830 Revolution (the French like to revolt a lot, apparently), Berlioz's "Funeral Symphony" is a long work in three movements for wind band only (although he later added parts for chorus and strings in the last movement). It's a very compelling work, even if Wagner's prediction that "this Symphony will last and exalt the hearts of men as long as there lives a nation called France" has not come to pass. (The "Funeral Symphony" is rarely performed, and has never come close to entering the standard repertoire either for wind band or for orchestra.)

Of the three movements, the first -- a titanic funeral march that lasts some fifteen minutes -- is the best, although the other two movements are not without their charm. The last movement, entitled "Apotheosis", provides the "triomphale" part of the score with a long series of brass fanfares that break into a fine marching melody, and when the chorus enters toward the end, the result is thrilling.

The second, middle movement is a "Funeral oration", the melody of which Berlioz reworked from an operatic project he had previously abandoned. (Berlioz was never one to allow a melody to go unused.) That long and stately melody is given to a solo trombone, and I've decided to make an MP3 of that movement available for a time as tribute to Scott Parkinson, the Buffalo Philharmonic trombonist who died unexpectedly and tragically two days ago. I have no idea if Parkinson ever got to perform this piece -- I rather doubt it, but you never know. That movement can be heard here.

UPDATE, 8-7-04: I have removed the musical selection linked above.

Are You a Good Mother?

I propose a simple test to determine if a woman actually does, in fact, has her child's wellbeing foremost in her mind. It consists of a single question:

"Do you breastfeed, or do you use formula?"

The facts are pretty much not in any serious dispute: breastmilk is superior to formula, to a simply staggering degree. For us, the decision was obvious -- between the health benefits and the fact that we weren't spending a hundred dollars or whatever a week on formula, I'm amazed that the formula companies can even remain in business.

Or, I was amazed. Then I saw, via PZ Myers, that the formula companies have powerful friends, and they don't hesitate to cash in their chips if they think the prevailing wind is going to shift toward breastfeeding once again becoming the predominant means of feeding babies.

As far as I am concerned, we will never be able to truthfully claim that we only want the best for our children as long as infant formula is available without a prescription.

Sad news from the Buffalo music world

A while back I featured as the Image of the Week the complete assemblage of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, borrowing the photograph from the website of the BPO's principal trombonist, Scott Parkinson.

Sadly, while driving home from work I heard on Buffalo's classical station that Scott Parkinson died two nights ago, stricken by a sudden heart attack. I thought I caught Parkinson's age as just 26, but I'm not sure about that. In any event, he was too damned young for this.

Condolences to Parkinson's family, both his real one and his musical one.

UPDATE: I am keeping an eye on Buffalo's news outlets, and I will have a link to something when one appears. I also pay some small tribute to Parkinson here.

UPDATE, 7-17-04: Mr. Parkinson's obituary appears in THe Buffalo News today (his age, incidentally, was 27). There is also a Guestbook for anyone wishing to express condolences.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bye bye! Have fun storming the castle!

Lynn Sislo reminds us that today, July 14, is Bastille Day in France, which is their equivalent of July 4 for us. Lynn also thanks France for its contribution to classical music, listing six notable French composers -- with one stunning omission. Regular readers of this blog will already know which one she leaves off. Harumph!

(By the way, one of my favorite historical anecdotes is that King Louis XVI's diary entry for Bastille Day reads "Nothing". You begin to see how he ended being on the unlucky side of the guillotine blade.)

The current Big Project at The Store is a major remodeling project. It seems that the Powers-That-Be decided a while back that The Pharmacy at The Store just wasn't big enough, and quite frankly, they're one hundred percent right, since the current Pharmacy at The Store is about the size of my first dorm room at college, and yet there are always at least eight people working back there, and often more, and that's just the people. Factor in all the shelving for all the drugs, and the cabinets for packaging, and the computers, and the records they have to keep on hand, and whatever other paraphernalia are required for practicing the fine art of Apothecary, and my amazement mounts that the people actually working in our Pharmacy are about the nicest people in the entire Store.

(I shudder to think what would happen if we put, say, the fellows from the Meat Department in there. I love the Meat guys, but these are the people who listen to Van Halen on a boom box while cutting meat with big knives, or even a band-saw. The results would not be pretty.)

So, this week the Pharmacy people have been relocated to a Temporary Pharmacy (involving a temporary Customer Service area and a double-wide trailer set up immediately outside the Store's side door), where they will remain for two months while their old Pharmacy is rebuilt into a Shiny, New, Improved Super-Duper Pharmacy.

Now, we didn't just dump this change onto the customers with no warning whatsoever. We have posted signs all over the store about the impending remodel, starting more than two months ago. And now that the remodel is actually in progress, we have hung additional signage from the ceiling, complete with Big Green Arrows, such that anyone entering The Store should be able to figure out where the Temporary Pharmacy is in lieu of the old one that is now being refitted with new warp engines and the like.

Or so you'd think.

Instead, I have been subjected to a steady stream of people who walk in, note the huge plywood barrier enclosing the old pharmacy, and then in panicked voice grab the nearest convenient person wearing The Store's logo on their shirt (in many cases, me), and demanding in a mixture of terror and rage, "Where is the Pharmacy?! Why have we closed the Pharmacy?!" And this despite the fact that the Temporary Pharmacy is literally thirty feet from the Old Pharmacy; the Temporary Pharmacy can be seen from the Old Pharmacy; the plywood enclosure on the Old Pharmacy has one of the afore mentioned Big Greek Arrows reading "Pharmacy Thataway" bolted directly to it; and the Temporary Pharmacy has a giant sign hanging directly above it reading, you guessed it, PHARMACY.

At least once I've had the temptation to get this quizzical look on my face and say something like, "Pharmacy? No, we don't have one of those. But we do have an Apothecary. Maybe they can help!" Or maybe something along the lines of, "The Surgeon General has recently advised that all medications be taken in powder form, so you'll find your meds in the baking supplies aisle, next to the flour and confectioner's sugar." But no, I chicken out each and every time, because you quickly learn that the old canard about "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" is a bit of a misstatement, and that scorned women are like purring kittens next to an elderly person who needs to pick up their pills.

The Human Form, Shadow, and Light

My friend Robert Guttke, whom I know from years of sparring and gibing and generally conversing first on Usenet and then on private e-mail, is a very talented artist whose medium is photography and whose subject is the human form. His goal has been to study the human form in much the same way that the old masters did.

He's just relaunched his website, and he's offering one week of free access to his "Members Only" area in celebration. I'm not the most knowledgable person in judging visual art, but I've always found Robert's work striking -- especially the women, of course. Go check him out, and if you're so inclined, buy something. This is a big part of how he makes his living.

(Oh, and for those surfing at work, Robert's photography probably isn't work-safe.)

Congratulations, Mr. Bergerac! You're getting an EXTREME MAKEOVER!

The Wife, the Kid and I watched Roxanne the other night. That's the Steve Martin/Darryl Hannah version of Cyrano de Bergerac from the 1980s, and as lightweight romantic comedies go, it's pretty good, although to be honest, watching it this time I was less involved in the romantic storyline (which is, as might be expected, frankly absurd) and more amused by the antics of the worst fire department in history. There's a comic montage, set to On the Beautiful Blue Danube, in which C.D. Bales (Martin's character) tries to train this motley crew of firefighters as they do things like wrestle with a hose that's set to full-blast, talk a terrified firefighter into sliding down the pole, and practicing flapping their arms like "Big Bird" as a signal for some firefighting maneuver.

Anyway, one thing that suddenly occurred to me in watching the movie this time came in a single scene. C.D. barges into the office of a plastic surgeon and demands that his nose be reduced immediately; the doc says no, it's too dangerous. Today, though, not only would the doctor cheerfully allow to do the surgery, C.D. would probably end up on a reality show like Extreme Makeover, complete with narrator:

"It's now three weeks since C.D.'s surgery; let's see what he's been up to!"

CUT TO C.D. sitting in Doc Cutflesh's office, with his back to the camera. Doc Cutflesh begins unwrapping his face.

DOC CUTFLESH: Hmmmm....the swelling has gone down nicely....oh, you're gonna love this....

CUT TO Doc Cutflesh, in an interview:

DOC CUTFLESH: (into camera) I'm really proud of C.D.'s new nose. He's going to have a brand new life. He's just going to find a whole new world out there...I can't wait to see the look on everyone's face when he does his 'reveal'.

And then there's "the reveal scene", in which C.D. emerges from behind a curtain into a room full of his friends, all of whom go nuts, including Roxanne; this is followed by a few more testimonials by C.D. about how thrilled he is, yada yada yada.

(I should note that I don't hate Extreme Makeover, because for every "shallow" participant they've had -- "I'm thirty pounds overweight with a receding hairline, and I'm scared to talk to the ladies" -- there's a case that really is calling out for some kind of surgical intervention. I remember two such cases that I watched: a woman whose nose literally hooked, like the classic caricature of a wicked witch, and another woman whose features were nice except for the most amazing example of misshapen teeth I've ever seen (she actually had several teeth that were perpendicular to her lips). So I don't begrudge everyone their makeovers, even if spinning a TV show out of them is a bit crass. I merely note the incongruity of watching Roxanne, with its "Accept yourself as you are" message, in this "Don't like it? Have it surgically amended!" time in which we live.)