Sunday, October 31, 2004

Lutherans Ahoy!

One of my personal downsides in attending a Lutheran college and now regularly attending a Lutheran church is that a Lutheran -- the Lutheran, actually, the big Martin himself -- wrote what is my least favorite hymn of all time, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, and thus one rarely goes more than three or four Lutheran services without hearing it. I don't know what it is about this hymn, but the tune just annoys me. I can't phrase just why I don't like it, but I have never heard it in any guise that appealed to me. "Dee Dee Dee doodoo Dee, doodoo Dee, Dee...." GAHHH!

A Mighty Fortress, played on a pipe organ by a virtuoso of the instrument? Nope. Sung by a wonderfully rehearsed college choir? Sorry. The same choir, doing an entire program featuring four different arrangements of the thing? Hand me the earplugs, please. A "praise group" in church, singing a "pop-ified" version of A Mighty Fortress? I'd build my own mighty fortress if that would make it stop.

So today at church, the praise group launches into A Mighty Fortress in honor of Reformation Sunday (something to do with something that afore-mentioned Martin Luther fellow did), and almost immediately, little Quinn started crying. He let out five or six good, loud squeals of displeasure, which stopped about halfway through the hymn. This was the first time he's cried in church. Granted, the sample size of opportunities he's had to cry in church is a small one, but still: the kid who has been perfectly silent every time out chose A Mighty Fortress for his first "church cry".

I know that it was most likely a slight bellyache or a burp he couldn't get out or some such thing, and not a statement of musical taste on Quinn's part. But I can't help but admit that some small part of me hopes it was.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness (Halloween Edition)

There's nothing finer than getting up on a cold Sunday morning and putting on a nice pair of slippers before padding out to the kitchen to make coffee.

A nice pair of slippers like these Cthulhu slippers.

Shrink before the Dark Ones, mere mortals!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Coping, through music

Before little Quinn was born, I was endeavoring to learn some songs, one or two at a time, because I find the ability to run through a song or two to be a valuable means of helping pass and mark the time at work, in the car, and in general. Plus, it's rather like memorizing poetry -- actually, it's pretty much exactly like memorizing poetry, with an added tune -- which means it puts some really fine turns of language at my disposal. That can only be a good thing, as I'm finding the writing muscles are wanting flexing again.*

Anyhoo, I've started doing that again, starting with "The Fields of Athenry", a terribly sad song that revolves around a shipment of corn brought to Ireland by Lord Trevelyan during the Potato Famine. The corn turned out to be useless (it was too hard to be milled), but this was unknown to the starving locals who, in desperation, broke into the Lord's stores to steal the corn. Those caught were sent by ship to prison colonies in Australia.

By a lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl calling
"Michael, they have taken you away,
For you stole Trevelyan's corn,
So the young might see the morn.
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay."

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

By a lonely prison wall, I heard a young man calling
"Nothing matters, Mary, when you're free
Against the famine and the crown,
I rebelled, they cut me down.
Now you must raise our child with dignity."

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

By a lonely harbor wall, she watched the last star fall
As the prison ship sailed out against the sky
For she lived to hope and pray for her love in Botany Bay
It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry.

I think that I've come to love Celtic music for much the same reason that I love Russian Romantic music: the strong undercurrent of sadness beneath so much of it. A wonderful rendition of this song, sung heartbreakingly by lead vocalist Kirk McWhorter, can be found on Kilbrannan's album Live at O'Lacy's.

* I know, that was a terrible metaphor, but it's late and I'm tired and I don't feel like looking for a better one.

I like things that are shiny.

Self-portraiture from Iceland's greatest natural beauty.

Also here, modeling headgear.

And here, providing other photographic reasons why I want to visit Iceland.

Can it be the day after Election Day yet?!

You know, I used to be a lot more politically oriented than I am now, so maybe that's why I am thoroughly sick of this damn election. Maybe it's just that this is the first election in which I realize just how amazingly banal our political discourse is, or maybe it's that I'm sick of the amazing levels of cynicism infecting the process these days. But I'm not sure about that last point, given that my readings of history imply that our elections have always been pretty cynical.

Anyway, now that we're trying to figure out how Osama Bin Laden's most recent utterance affects the campaign, I'm ready to bow out of paying attention. First, my mind's made up already; second, I can't believe any undecided voter out there is dumb enough to think, "Hmmmm, I can't choose between these two, so I wonder what OBL thinks"; and third, well, I'm sick of the whole thing. Or did I say that already?

And as soon as this election's over, we can get around to worrying about the really important stuff, like who's going to run for Mayor of Buffalo next year. God help me, if Anthony Masiello gets to run unopposed again, even though Buffalo is circling the drain, I will scream.

The Department of Questionable Election Strategy

Yar has some suggestions for ordinary citizens who want to help elect Senator Kerry as the next President of the United States.

In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz, "He's gone now, but you gotta admire his spirit!"

Lovable Losers, no more

Bill Altreuter has a contrarian take on the Red Sox, starting with this:

I suppose one upside of the NHL strike is that it is one less sport for New England fans to be insufferable about.

And finishing with this:

Enjoy it, Boston fans. You're the Florida Marlins now.

I agree that the Red Sox were never "lovable losers". That label better fits the Chicago Cubs, who tend to, well, lose a lot. The Red Sox are noted more for almost getting there, but not quite; that's more a kind of fatalistic futility than lovable loserdom. The Cubs are lovable losers because they invariably sell out Wrigley and all those rooftops around the place on all those gorgeous Chicago afternoons because so many people inexplicably pull for a team that posts 90-loss seasons more often than not.

Of course, I'm a Pirates fan, which -- for all intents and purposes -- has become the de facto level between Triple-A ball and the Majors. I guess that makes the Pirates a Quadruple-A team, eh?

(And now that Tim Wakefield has a World Series title after ten years of being a workhorse for the Red Sox, now maybe all those Tim Wakefield rookie cards I bought in winter of 1992 will be worth something!)

In the "Chip on Buffalo's Shoulder" Department, I also saw something in The Buffalo News recently -- I don't recall if it was a letter to the editor on the sports page, part of a column, or what -- that I liked. The writer took exception to Boston's feelings of being "cursed", simply because of the Red Sox. Loosely paraphrasing, the person wrote: "There's no way the city that has two of the last three Vince Lombardi trophies, something like a dozen NBA titles, and a World Series title can possibly claim more sports suffering than Buffalo." Yeah! It's our misery, Boston, and you can't have it!

Friday, October 29, 2004

Votes, and the Voting Voters who Vote Them

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting take on compulsory voting -- i.e., not just giving people the right to vote, but actually enacting a legal requirement that people use their right to vote. I wouldn't mind seeing this, since I think it something of an embarassment that the country that is the poster child (or, at any rate, sees itself as the poster child for Democracy) can never get more than roughly 55 percent of the voting population to show up at the polls. The old saw is that "Decisions are made by the people who show up", so hell, let's just make everybody show up. Especially if it could stem the tide of negative advertising, whose goal is often suppression of turnout in favor of the "victim".

And while we're at it, the Electoral College needs to be changed. Personally, I'd do one of the following: get rid of it entirely; set it up so that each state's votes are distributed according to voting percentage in that state (i.e., get rid of "Winner take all"); or give every state the same number of electoral votes, thus totally leveling the electoral playing field. I know that small states seem to think the EC is just great because it gives them more power, but it really doesn't: the EC gives swing states more power. In terms of electoral votes, Hawaii is a small state, but nobody cares about Hawaii. I think it's a ridiculous scenario that Texas and New York both have more people than, say, Ohio, but both are being completely ignored by the campaigns for the Presidency. The people in Dallas and the people in Buffalo have just as much right to hear from the candidates for President, but under our current system, neither is as important as the people in Cleveland.

Of course, since I'm singing the Praises of Democracy here, I should in the interests of being "fair and balanced" provide a contrarian take. So here's what George Carlin once said about the whole thing:

You may have noticed that there's one thing I don't complain about: Politicians. Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says, "They suck". But where do people think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky. They don't pass through a membrane from another reality. No, they come from American homes, American families, American schools, American churches, American businesses, and they're elected by American voters. This is the best we can do, folks. It's what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out.

....I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don't vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain", but where's the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain.

I, on the other hand, who did not vote -- who did not even leave the house on Election Day -- am in no way responsible for that these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created.

(I posted the Carlin quote on Election Day 2002, but it's always a good one to revisit.)

Thursday, October 28, 2004

When Music People Joke

If you want to see the type of joke that circulates around the classical music community, check out this Scott Spiegelberg post. If you're in the know, it's really funny. If you're not in the know, well -- get in the know!

Sports Stuff from Around Boston

Wow, when did Boston become the center of the sporting world? Did I miss a memo or something?

:: Last week I approvingly linked a bit of Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, in which Easterbrook basically says he's sick of the New England Stupid Patriots. In this week's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Easterbrook revisits this topic after some e-mailers attempt to set him straight. Here's the relevant portion of the article:

Many, many readers objected to my "unpatriotic" declaration that I am sick of the New England Patriots. Not that I don't think they are a worthy team -- remember, I praised them for unselfishness and hard work -- just that I'm sick of them and want somebody else to win at this point. Readers objected to my saying the Flying Elvii [Easterbrook's nickname for the StuPats] streak was partly based on good luck, and also my saying the streak was partly based on New England avoiding injuries. The latter comment was intended as tongue-in-cheek, since the Patriots had a ton of injuries in 2003. Reader Michael Logan noted, "If that was that a tongue-in-cheek observation, it was very oblique." Yeah, it was, my bad.

Charles Moylan of Arlington, Mass., performed an incredibly scientifically advanced analysis of all close-finish Patriots games during the streak, and maintains that in the close-finish games, chance favored the Patriots' opponents more often than it did the Patriots. Jon Thiele, a Packers fan currently living in Bosnia, countered TMQ's analysis with this quotation from Catherine the Great: "Good fortune is not as blind as it is generally thought to be. It is often nothing more than the result of sound, consistent actions that go unnoticed by the crowd." Laura Ross of State College, Pa., opined, "Yes, there were some calls that went in the favor of the Patriots, but in every game you will find a call that is controversial." Now for some complaints in haiku:

TMQ must love
hate mail, speaking ill of Pats.
Here's to twenty more!
-- Jeffrey Smith, Albany, N.Y.

Health of Tom Brady
not the only reason for
wins in New England.
-- Charles Moylan, Arlington, Mass.

Pats' streak due to luck?
Ye gods! Give due credit to
players and coaches.
-- Barry Brown, Wanship, Utah

Do not resent a
long winning streak: New England
not a me-first team.
-- Jose Marquez, Somerville, Mass.

I would rank the factors in the Patriots' success thusly -- hard work; team spirit; excellent coaching (New England is the most film-studied team in the league and yet every game seems to have a surprise for opponents); avoidance of boasting and preening; luck. Note that I don't list talent. At the NFL level, every team has talent -- teams that are heavy with talent get pounded week after week. Poor coaching, me-first attitudes and boasting can go a long way toward neutralizing talent. Often losing teams do more boasting and preening than winning ones, while there are some coaches who can take average players and win and others who can take great players and lose. New England has the first type of coaches.

Nevertheless, luck cannot be discounted. Many Flying Elvii faithful took most offense at my statement that chance was a factor in the winning streak. Americans seem loath to accept that luck plays a role in our life-outcomes -- we want to believe anyone who succeeds does so on hard work alone, or any team that wins does so strictly because it is deserving. But while I don't think luck is the main factor in our lives, it surely is important. Merely being born into an above-median-income family, for example, dramatically increases your chance of graduating from college and earning high wages in adulthood, and this holds across racial and ethnic groups. There's a hard-work element in who becomes rich or famous, or secures in a nice suburban lifestyle, but also a luck element; it would be well for Americans to bear this in mind, for the disadvantaged often end up where they do owing in part to bad luck. And you can't win 21 games in a row unless your luck is good -- unless the league's best kicker misses a field goal against you on the final play, and so on. There's no shame in the successful admitting they have benefited from luck: In fact, admitting this is admirable. I recommend to readers the important recent book Something for Nothing by the social critic Jackson Lears, which explores why Americans are loath to admit the role luck plays in our lives.

First, he says that he was just kidding about the injuries, which I guess pretty much makes my own agreement on that point full of crap. (But again, I'm curious as to what kind of injuries the StuPats suffered last year -- a few different players each week getting hurt for a short time, or significant starters losing big chunks of the entire season? They're different animals, and it remains my contention that the StuPats' system -- which I've believed to be the big way that teams will prove successful in the NFL's era of free agency -- is particularly well-suited to neutralizing the former.)

To reform my own point, I don't attribute the StuPats' current level of success to luck. I attribute their winning streak to luck. There's a difference. Winning fourteen games in a season is only partly attributable to luck, as Easterbrook notes. Winning fourteen games in a row is, in my view, far more attributable to luck, to say nothing of winning twenty-one in a row.

(I generally agree with Easterbrook that we're generally unwilling to grant the degree to which luck governs things in our lives. Sure, we admit it in cases like Ritchie Valens boarding that plane in Clear Lake after "winning" a coin toss, but other things don't seem so rooted in luck. I can attribute my current success at The Store to the hard work I've put in there, but getting the job in the first place required immense luck that someone else got fired at roughly the same time that I applied. Also, when I was choosing colleges way back in my senior year of high school, I narrowed my decision down to two schools, one of which I attended, where I met my future wife. The decision was very close, and I can perfectly well conceive going the other way. Of course, then I'd have met someone else who would have been my future wife, but the point remains: chance governs more of what happens to us than we admit.)

:: Congratulations, of course, to the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. (That felt really weird to type.) I don't have much to say about the Series itself, except for three observations, two of which are related to stuff I saw on TV. First, Tony LaRussa has now managed in four World Series (1988, 1989, 1990, and 2004), and only one of those (1988) was not a sweep. His Oakland A's were the sweepers in 1989, while they were swept in 1990 as were his Cardinals in 2004. Second, I laughed when Fox Sports cut to crowds in the Boston streets, and it just looked like a thousand people wandering about slowly, as if in a daze. One imagines a city waking up from the celebration, realizing that it all really did happen, and now saying, "Gee, now what?" And third -- and this is naughty, but I can't help it -- Fox Sports sent a rather attractive female reporter down to the Boston clubhouse to do the postgame stuff, with the presentations of the trophy and the MVP award and talking to players in and around the myriad champagne dousings. I have to admit a small bit of disappointment that this reporter didn't get drenched in champagne. I know, I know....

Shorter Roger L. Simon

"You can't win, Senator Kerry. If you strike Bush down, the Right-Wing Blogosphere will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

Simon's original just may be the most hilariously over-the-top thing I've ever read on a blog (and that would be something, since I read that "We've become women" thing that Kim Du Toit ejaculated a while back).

Of course, he has a point, although not the one I suspect he thinks he has. I fully expect that if Kerry wins, the level of right-wing hatred that will arise will make the treatment Bill Clinton received look like a little girl's treatment of her new pony.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Lollipop, lollipop....

I provided some general thoughts about candy some time back, and that post came to mind after I recently read the new book Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, by Steve Almond. This book described the author's lifelong fascination, and obsession, with candy -- how he consumes candy each day, how he always keeps several pounds of it on hand, the various hard-to-find (or just-plain discontinued) candies he misses, and more. It was a pretty fun book to read, although I suppose your mileage here would be dependent upon the degree of your sweet tooth.

Almond laments the "Days of Yore" in American candymaking, when every major metropolitan area had its own candy companies that made their own locally treasured candy bars and such -- before Mars and Hershey basically took over the national market and began shutting the smaller manufacturers out by basically paying the large retailers exorbitant placement fees to get their bars on the racks near the checkout (where the vast majority of bars are sold), fees that cannot remotely be approached by the smaller manufacturers, who hang on by marketing their wares through specialty retailers. This is doubly a shame, Almond notes, because the smaller companies' candy bars are often superior to the better-known big names. I tend to agree: I like the Butterfinger bar, for example, but the Clark Bar really is better. Ditto the Goldenberg Peanut Chew (available at The Store!), whose chewy texture, peanutty goodness and strong molasses flavor put the Snickers bar to shame. And I can't go a month without trekking to Vidler's in East Aurora, NY to pick up an armload of Boyer Smoothies, a bar which, to paraphrase Almond in his book, "makes the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup its bitch." (I've waxed poetic about the Smoothie before.)

Of course, it's hard to read Almond's book without being able to directly sample the candies he mentions, but most of them seem to be available online, so that's not too much of an issue. (I haven't bought any of them yet.) I also couldn't agree with Almond's list of "candy dislikes", things he hates in candy; his list starts off with Marshmallow Peeps, which I find as disgusting as he does, but then he mentions coconut and white chocolate, both of which I love. (The Reese's White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup comes a lot closer to the Boyer Smoothie than its flagship milk chocolate cup.) But Almond does share my preference for dark chocolate, and he tells a fascinating story that the only real reason milk chocolate is preferred in the United States is because of agressive marketing a hundred years ago.

If you enjoy candy, check out this book. It's a fun and insightful read.


OK, does anyone else besides myself think that the "Red Baron" sequence in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of the best uses of surreal storytelling ever? This show is just freaking genius, I tell you.

Great Openings

Over at About Last Night, Our Girl in Chicago has a quote from the opening paragraph of a book that she particularly admires. The best opening sentence I've yet come across isn't from a novel, actually, but from Alan Jay Lerner's memoir, The Street Where I Live. Here it is:

This is the story of climaxes and endings and the sundown of a decade that blazed with joy, excitement, and triumph: so much, in fact, that as I look back I am haunted by the fear that perhaps I drank the wine too fast to taste it and instead of slowing down to look at the scenery, kept my foot on the accelerator and my eyes on the road ahead, gazing only occasionally from side to side and waiting far too long to glance at the rear-view mirror.

I wrote more about this book a long time ago, but suffice it to say that I enjoyed this book thoroughly, even if in more recent times I've learned that Lerner's factual veracity may not always be what we might prefer. Lerner is said to have believed in the adage, "Where legend and fact conflict, print the legend." Oh well, at least he tells his legend well.

Monday, October 25, 2004

StuPats, meet the ShiBills.

As my longtime readers know, the NFL franchise based in the suburbs of Boston, MA is known for purposes of this blog as the New England Stupid Patriots, because they're the greatest force for evil yet known by the world of sport. If Cthulhu himself appointed a football team to do his dark bidding, the StuPats would be the team. I suppose I should call them the Evil Patriots, but Stupid Patriots more perfectly captures the existential stupidity of a franchise once owned by that goofy Remington Shaver guy now being the NFL's leading franchise.

But in light of the performance of my preferred team yesterday, against the Baltimore Ravens, I feel that the Buffalo Bills can no longer be referred to as such in this space. So, what to call them?

Well, as is usually the case when I think about stuff like this, a pop-culture reference leaps to mind: the movie Major League. (I know, it's a baseball movie and we're talking football, but humor me.) The story of Major League involves the Cleveland Indians, back in the day when they were perpetual doormats of the AL East (a period which lasted something like 40 years), end up being inherited by a rich woman who hates Cleveland and wants to move the team to Florida. Trouble is, she can't get out of her lease unless attendance for the season falls below some threshold number -- one million, I think -- so she fills the roster with the worst talent she can find. Sure enough, the team starts off absolutely horribly with its crew of whodat's and ne'erdowell's.

But these guys have pride, and when they learn of the owner's plan, they decide to "Win the whole f***in' thing". Which, of course, they do, after a one-game playoff against the hated Yankees (remember, the Indians and the Yankees were in the same division for many years).

(Incidentally, I've always remembered an exchange from the film that was featured in the movie's TV spots, even though it didn't occur in the final cut of the movie. Discussing a home run given up by the team's closer, the crusty catcher (Tom Berenger) says, "That ball wouldn't have gone out of most parks." The closer (Charlie Sheen) counters, "Name one." And Berenger says, "Yellowstone." Har!)

Periodically throughout the film, we cut away from the main characters (the ballplayers and their wives/girlfriends) to check in on the opinions of the Cleveland faithful. Most start off thinking they suck, but then they gradually gain respect for the team -- except for these two Asian groundskeepers, who jabber at each other in an Oriental tongue that is subtitled, each time, as the finely nuanced bit of baseball analysis:

"They're shitty."

Well, that's what I think of, watching the Bills offer game after game like yesterday's effort. So, here's the new policy here: Until the Bills demonstrate to me that they no longer warrant the title, they shall be known on Byzantium's Shores as the Buffalo Shitty Bills, or the ShiBills, for short.

How will I determine that they have risen above their new moniker? Well, I don't really know for sure, but I'll start with this: they have to win four games in a row. This year, next year, whatever -- four wins in a row. That's a minimum requirement for ditching the title "Shitty Bills". Now, it's not the only requirement, and they might well win four in a row in shitty fashion, and thus not have the name changed; but three wins in a row won't do it. Even if they win 56-3 three weeks in a row and then lose a 27-24 squeaker in OT. Even if they have three wins and a tie. Even if the officials blow every single call against them, call every non-penalty, and uphold every coaches' challenge. Even if they lost close games by a single point each. Until I say so, they are the Buffalo Shitty Bills.

(And none of this StuPats stuff of straddling two seasons for a streak's purposes. If the ShiBills win their last two games this year, and then win their first two next year before losing the third one next year, they're still the ShiBills.)

Buffalo Shitty Bills. Get used to it. I know I sure am.

I'm not going to delve into long details about how bad yesterday's game was, except for one key facet (and to note that once again I have to agree with Jerry Sullivan, Jerry's crappy writing notwithstanding). That key facet is this: Drew Bledsoe is done. I've supported him longer than just about anyone else, mainly because of my strong belief that a good football team is built on its big men up front -- on the offensive and defensive lines -- and that the Bills are inadequate on both accounts, woefully so on the offensive side. I firmly believe that Steve Young or John Elway, the best mobile QBs I've ever seen, in their prime, would not be able to run a decent offense behind this line.

But that excuse has run its course, at long last. Yesterday, Drew Bledsoe made one bad decision after another, pressing passes into double coverage and heaving up passes he had no business attempting (to say nothing of fumbling on one of his sacks). Yes, several of his passes were deflected away from his own receivers, but that doesn't really faze me anymore. His passes were errant, his decisions questionable. Consider this: according to this calculator, if every pass you throw in an NFL game falls incomplete (and isn't intercepted), your rating is 39.5. Drew Bledsoe's quarterback rating from yesterday's game was 32.3. There's no way to sugarcoat that, or excuse it as the work of an able quarterback behind a godawful line: it's the work of a bad quarterback behind a godawful line. I've resisted this conclusion as long as I could, but the evidence can no longer be ignored. The ShiBills will never win consistently with Bledsoe as the starting quarterback.

From where I sit, the 2004 season is over for the ShiBills, and all that remains is playing out the string. Better, then, to get JP Losman a bit of game experience -- maybe not starting him the rest of the way, but getting him some reps and snaps in real games, and getting ready for the post-Bledsoe era. And you know, I'm not opposed to having a rebuilding year on principle. The bad taste in the mouth comes when one realizes that this is the second rebuilding year in four years (2001 being the first), in an era when well-run NFL franchises can rebuild with startling quickness.

So there it is. All behold the Buffalo Shitty Bills.

Go ShiBills!

Good for what ale's you.

A while back I expressed delight that The Store had begun carrying Leinenkugel's, a beer from Wisconsin that I like. At the same time, though, I lamented the absence in Buffalo (so far as I could tell) of Yuengling's, a beer from Pennsylvania that happens to be made in the oldest continuously operating brewery in the United States.

Well, guess what: Yuengling's is now available in Buffalo. I snatched up a twelve-pack of the wonderful Lager yesterday, and I shall grab a twelve-pack of the Black-and-tan this weekend. Zowie!

(Of course, the import of this is lost on some people -- such as the person who informed me that Old Milwaukee is cheaper. But then, so is paint thinner.)

Sunday, October 24, 2004


A mausoleum newly built in Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Buffalo News reported the other day on the construction of this mausoleum, designed by Wright in 1928 for Darwin Martin (owner of Buffalo's FLW-designed Darwin Martin House). Buffalo is working hard these days to embrace its architectural heritage, to the point where two FLW-designed projects that were never built -- a boathouse and a filling station -- are currently under construction themselves.

Along the same lines, Sean recently e-mailed me a link to a Metafilter post that I somehow missed, an article about what is most likely Buffalo's most infamous architectural decision: the demolition of the FLW-designed Larkin Administration Building (image of Larkin Building here). Personally, I think the Larkin Building looks rather like what I might expect, say, a Very Important Building in Berlin in 1936 to resemble. I mean, looking at that building, I expect to see the Hindenberg rising from behind it and Indiana Jones to come out the front door, his father's Grail Diary in hand. But anyway, even if the building was demolished stupidly many years ago, well -- don't FLW's plans and drawings and schematics still exist somewhere? Why can't the thing be built again, as it was? (Of course, I'd assume that such a project would involve very hefty expenditure of money just to get rights to FLW's intellectual property -- but there's an interesting question in itself. Are an architect's designs subject to copyright, patent, or any other type of intellectual property protection?)

I've read suggestions in recent months that FLW wasn't an architect who designed usable buildings, but rather sculpture in building form -- his most famous building, for example, the Falling Water House, is said to be virtually unlivable with too-low ceilings and other problems resulting from the presence of a waterfall in the house's foundation. (I'm parroting this all from hazy memory and may have seriously mis-stated things, and thus am open to correction. Maybe David Sucher could weigh in?) I grant that this all may be possible, but I also have to admit that as a proud Buffalonian, I have something of an investment in FLW as "genius". If he's seen as a genius, and Buffalo gets known as a place where people can go to see some FLW buildings, then it's good for Buffalo. I know this isn't the most intellectually honest stance in the world, but there's a time for being rational and a time for being a rabid booster of all things Buffalo. And I always err on the side of Buffalo!

The Yglesias Endorsement is in!

[Politics here, move on if left-leaning people bug you.]

Matthew Yglesias shockingly endorses John Kerry for President (yeah, like that was an office-pool bet across the land), and sums things up thusly:

We know that the current officeholder has done a bad job by his own terms -- "compassionate conservatism" has not improved the plight of the poor, tax cutting has not improved the economy or even the average person's disposable income, preventative warfare has not halted nuclear proliferation, crossing names off the high-value target list is not stopping al-Qaeda, pounding the table is not spreading democracy, unilateralism is not producing a pro-American bandwagon, the size and intrusiveness of government is not lessening, even the number of abortions has increased. It is time for him to go.

Indeed. Occasionally people will ask me why I would vote for Kerry as opposed to against Bush, and while I could go into some details about where I agree with Kerry on policy and such, I don't think I need to. I know what four years of Bush looked like, and I don't want four more of them. End of story.

BTW, the Buffalo News today endorses John Kerry:

If there is one overarching theme to the Bush administration, it is the triumph of ideology over judgment. Mitigating facts and educated opinions simply are dismissed if they conflict with conservative dogma.

When the National Cancer Institute wanted to say that abortion does not increase the rate of breast cancer, the administration refused to let it. When a report from the Environmental Protection Agency included a warning about global warming, the administration took it out of the document. When a Web page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said education about condom use does not lead to increased sexual activity, it vanished from the Internet. The quality that many admire in the president - his strong-willed conviction - too often turns into a liability when he refuses to reconsider his positions even in light of conflicting evidence.

This last facet of the President's character, coupled with his apparent belief that aside from a few appointments, he hasn't made a single substantive mistake in the nearly four years in office, scares me the most about him. I'm just Joe Blow with a blog, a guy who plugs away at producing unpublished prose and who spends his days sweeping the aisles in a grocery store, and I can name a bunch of things from this morning that I'd do differently if I could. That the President of the United States professes his own record to be error-free is astonishing to me.

What if the DOA was a Yankee fan?

I didn't hear about this until yesterday, but apparently in the course of the late regular season, Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling hurt his ankle. The injury made him ineffective in his first start in the American League Championship Series, and by the time of his next start -- likely the most crucial start of his career as his team tried to make up a three-games-to-none deficit -- the injury was still a serious problem. The solution to Schilling's injury involved some kind of surgery-on-the-fly, with the procedure in question being invented and tested on a cadaver that morning.

Now, is it just me, or is this some kind of troubling sign that we may take professional sports a tad too seriously in this country? I mean, a game has become so important that we go to the morgue and find a John Doe corpse to experiment upon so that the star pitcher might be able to go? I suppose there's no harm done, but I'm honestly not sure I approve of this, especially since there's not much way of knowing if this spit-and-chewing-gum stitch job will have lasting repercussions on Schilling's leg.

Of course, Schilling might be one to say, "Hey, I've got my millions, and I might just get a World Series Ring out of this," and the city of Boston might say, "Hey, we just eighty-sixed eighty-six years of history and we had to do something questionable to a single cadaver to do it, so who cares?" So maybe I'm just being a stick-in-the-mud here.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Sunday Burst of Weirdness!

I was just thinking the other day that boy, do my dreams at night stink, so maybe I'll buy this gadget in order to improve them.


New Toys!

I've been saving up my loose change in a big jar for a couple of months, my intention being to use that money to buy a digital camera for the wife (and, well, me) for Christmas. However, last week the photo department at The Store had a digital camera on a big markdown because it was a discontinued product (discontinued in the sense that we weren't going to be carrying that particular model anymore), and after checking out some online reviews of said camera (this camera) that reported it as a decent starter point-and-shoot (which is exactly what we wanted), and noting that the price at The Store was less than Amazon's price for the same camera, I went ahead and bought the thing. Of course, I didn't let the fact that Glenn Reynolds also likes this camera influence my decision. After all, I didn't start eating broccoli just because George H.W. Bush said he didn't like it.

So of course we played around with the thing on Friday night, using up whatever juice was left in the original batteries (Damn, that was quick!), and then yesterday we took advantage of the nice weather to make our annual excursion to Pumpkinville, which is one of those places that I suspect exists nearly anywhere in the United States where autumn actually exists as a season when trees change color and the air gets cooler, a place where you can buy apples and cider and pick your own pumpkins from a patch and wander a cornmaze and ride a hay wagon pulled by a tractor and eat freshly-made pumpkin-flavored donuts (we consumed half a dozen of these things) and buy homemade fudge and maple sugar and maple syrup and just generally enjoy the fall air and colors while giving one's pancreas a pretty major workout.

We really wanted to go last Saturday, but the weather then was too dicey, so we had to postpone a week, thus missing the brief time when the autumn hills are at their peak of stunning color. Now we're in the phase when the brown of leafless trees is starting to become the majority color in the hills, but when there are still enough trees in yellow and orange about that the hillsides look as though they are flecked with small bursts of flame. Plus, it was warm enough to be out in our shirtsleeves.

Back to the camera, we're pretty excited about it. We have no plan to ditch our traditional film camera, but we like the flexibility of the digital one, especially for e-mail and Web purposes. Of course it gives me more flexibility to turn this blog into my very own photoblog, which is the best thing about it. In time perhaps I'll take the thing and get my own photos of places I love around the Buffalo region, but for now, here's the Wife, holding little Quinn in her nifty sling.

And again:

That's us, entering the Digital Era, one gadget at a time. Next up, a couple of cell phones.

He DOES know that there aren't gorgeous women on EVERY planets, right?

According to this MSN article, William Shatner wants to fly on those recently-announced space-tourism flights. It's a pretty odd article, actually -- Shatner's spaceflight desires are the basis of the headline, but Shatner is only mentioned in the opening graf, with the rest of the article profiling the folks behind the Virgin spaceflights. And most odd of all, the article is filed under MSN Music, because Shatner has a new CD out.

What a weird world.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Rating Wolfgang

Fred thinks Mozart is overrated.

I, on the other hand, do not.

Thus, I win!

Seriously, though, I find Fred's example of Mozart resorting to banality -- the final bars of the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro -- might not be the best example in the world. First of all, Mozart was still a product of his time, which meant that he trucked with Alberti bass lines and trills and "tonic-dominant-tonic-dominant-tonic-tonic-tonic" conclusions to works. But in the case of Figaro, well -- what always gets me about this opera is the way Mozart blends music of nearly sublime character with some of the most ridiculous subject matter ever. So I think that if Mozart closes out his overture with a bit of banality, he has some cause, since the very opera in question presses some absolutely gorgeous music into the service of banality.

Flu?! They've eaten too much fresh fruit!

In the wake of all this flu-shot hysteria (I blame Bush!), make sure you check out Mr. Sun's sensible precautions against influenza. Remember, you can't be too careful.

(And for those who might recognize the source of the title of this post, here is the text of my favorite Monty Python sketch ever.)

Does the Republic have a ship called the "Adam Smith"?

TF.N reports that the starship belonging to the major new villain in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, General Grievous, has a name: the Invisible Hand. This is an interesting name, in that "Invisible" sort-of reminds of the title The Phantom Menace, implying that the genuine threat against the Republic is an unseen one from within. Also, "Hand" may be a subtle nod to Timothy Zahn's additions to the Star Wars Universe in his post-Return of the Jedi novels which posit a person called "the Hand of the Emperor". (Or it could be that I'm just in an overly-geeky mood, and am reading way too much into what's probably just something Lucas made up because it sounds cool.)

I doubt that George Lucas is trying to make some kind of statement about contemporary politics by naming a bad guy's starship after a concept that underlies a lot of our economic system, but I do admit that reading the name Invisible Hand put me in mind of George Carlin, who once said, "That invisible hand of Adam Smith's seems to be offering an extended middle finger to an awful lot of people."

Oh, and now I'm thinking of the Star Trek (The Original Series) episode, "Who Mourns for Adonais?", in which the Enterprise crew literally encounters the Greek god Apollo, after the fine starship is literally snatched up in space by a big-ass hand.

I see the likeness!

Check out PZ Myers's attempt at self-portraiture, done in the medium of Carven Orange Gourds. It's the one on the right in the first picture in this post. I only bring this up because of the time he said I look like an axe-murderer. Well, better that than an evil evolutionist!

(Except that I'm one of those, too. An evil evolutionist, I mean. Hmmmmm.)

All kidding aside, condolences to Dr. Myers on the recent passing of his sister-in-law. He wrote a very touching post about it here.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A Very Public Service Announcement.

If you tend to value your continued existence on this planet, don't get a job where you have control over the TV in a public place, and then wait until the middle of the single biggest sporting event in recent memory (like, say, Game Seven of the American League Championship Series in which the most storied rivalry in sports is playing out yet again with the perpetual underdog team trying to complete a comeback from being down three games to none), when your establishment is full of paying customers who have come specifically to watch the game....

....and then change the channel.

Don't do this. Please oh please!

To Obi Wan, you listen!

Michael Lopez has a bit of a Star Wars conundrum, and I would not be Blogistans greatest single contributor to Star Wars fandom* if I didn't weigh in. Michael is concerned about the timeline in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, specifically in the sense that when Luke leaves Dagobah prematurely in TESB, Yoda and Ben are stunned because he hasn't completed his training, but when Luke returns to Dagobah in ROTJ, Yoda tells him that he needs no further training. What gives?

Michael offers three explanations, and generally I go with a revised version of his first theory. My thoughts hinge on two facets here: first, the fact that we don't know how much time elapses not just between TESB and ROTJ but also within TESB itself; and second, on just what constitutes Luke's "training", or in other words, why Luke went to Dagobah in the first place.

First of all, at least a year seems to have passed between TESB and ROTJ, during which I assume that Luke has been assisting Lando and Chewie in locating Han. I assume this because at the very end of TESB, Luke tells Lando, "I'll meet you at the rendezvous point on Tatooine", which implies to me that as soon as his hand is all ready to go, he's off to help find Han. I can see them spending a year -- it probably takes that long to learn about Jabba's operation, get Lando an "inside job", hatch all the various parts of the plan for Han's rescue, and for Luke to do some work like build his new lightsaber. (This last one is important, because both Vader and the Emperor later see the existence of this new lightsaber as evidence of Luke's abilities, thus implying that not just any old doofus with some tools can build a lightsaber.) Secondly, I've always assumed that the events in TESB had roughly a month to take place, with the bulk of that coming in the scenes between the asteroid field and the arrival of Han and company on Bespin. The film doesn't give too many clues here, but surely what training Luke requires on Dagobah takes more than just a few days, and there is Han's line "It's pretty far, but I think we can make it", in reference to Bespin before they set out on that journey.

Now we come to the more important question: Just what is Yoda teaching Luke, anyway? It's pretty clear that Luke's not getting anything remotely resembling the traditional Jedi training, which starts at an age even younger than the ten years or so that Anakin is when we first meet him in The Phantom Menace, and ends somewhere around Luke's age in TESB (assuming Obi Wan in TPM actually is that same age). He's getting a serious "crash course", a just-the-basics kind of thing. Luke first starts using the Force in A New Hope, on a very rudimentary level; but he proceeds from "The Force? What's that?" to actually drawing upon it in destroying the Death Star pretty quickly. Next time we see him, in TESB, he's able to use the Force to call his lightsaber into his hand, and while we don't see him actually using it until Dagobah, I think it safe to assume he's continued to do so and probably used it in such exploits as in the Battle of Hoth when he brings down a walker by himself.

So Luke spends a month or so on Dagobah learning some stuff, and then runs off to fight Darth Vader. What stuff is he learning? Well, given what little we see of Luke's training activities -- jogging through an intense obstacle course, doing handstands while levitating stuff -- and given the nature of his single most important lesson ("Size matters not"), I tend to believe that Ben doesn't send Luke to Dagobah to learn nuts-and-bolts stuff like lightsaber fighting and whatnot, but to work on the mental aspects of being a Jedi. When Luke decides to leave prematurely, the overriding concern that Yoda and Ben have isn't that Luke's swordplay isn't nearly as good as Vader's and that therefore the Dark Lord will vivisect him, but rather that Luke doesn't have sufficient control of the Force to avoid temptation by the Dark Side. So, in TESB, Luke isn't being "trained" by Yoda in the same sense that Daniel is being "trained" by Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid (i.e., that Luke has to be taught Jedi-stuff from scratch with tricks like "R2 unit in, R2 unit out".

What does this mean, then? Well, it implies that Luke's experiences in fighting Vader and then rescuing Han actually constitute a major victory for Yoda and Ben, because Luke doesn't give in. He doesn't join Vader, he isn't tempted by the Dark Side, to the point of choosing certain death (jumping off the gantry into Cloud City's reactor shaft) over joining Vader. Since Luke has made this choice, and since he has further demonstrated Jedi valor by constructing his new lightsaber and using his abilities so impressively against Jabba's entourage, Yoda deems that he is mentally ready to face Vader. This is what Yoda means by "No more training do you require". Of course, Luke doesn't know this, so he goes back to Dagobah, to keep his promise.

A couple of minor things leap to mind in reading Michael's theories:

1. He refers to Yoda being "healthy and spry" in TESB, but I don't think he looked terribly "spry" at all -- he looked old and wrinkled. I didn't find his death in the subsequent film terribly surprising.

2. Michael also seems to reject the "Luke's just that good" theory by saying that Luke isn't that good: "He's no Anakin Skywalker." Well, it seems to me that Luke actually is pretty damned good: with minimal training and experience he destroys the Death Star; he gets his ass kicked by Vader in TESB, but it does take Vader some doing; and in the end of ROTJ, Luke defeats Vader/Anakin in single combat. This last is pretty important. From the first moments of the duel in the Emperor's Throne Room, it's very clear that Luke has progressed immeasurably. He fights with much more speed, he pushes Vader back, he knocks Vader down the stairs. And when he finally gives in to the anger, for that one brief moment, he drives Vader to his knees. Luke, clearly, actually is that good.

I also don't like Michael's third option, that the scene between Luke and Yoda in ROTJ takes place after some time that Luke's been on Dagobah, because I can't believe that Luke wouldn't raise his questions at the first sight of Yoda, and because when Yoda tells Luke he's dying, Luke says, "But I've come back to complete the training". That, too, seems to be something he'd have said earlier, if this isn't the first time they're seeing each other.

(Now, one thing that's often bugged me about that scene in ROTJ is how quickly it's over. I would have liked it better if, say, Ben had met Luke upon his landing and told him, "Yoda is very sick and near death", as opposed to the way the scene plays out as is. It's kind of like Yoda says, "Sick have I become, old and weak...soon I will rest, forever sleep...really soon. Like, you'd better ask me what's on your mind, Luke, because I'm out of here in five minutes. Too bad I just put a pot of rootleaf on the stove -- you'll want to stir that, because it sticks to the pot something awful!"

Anyway, there's my take.

* This title is self-appointed.

(Belated) Image of the Week

I was just scanning through my posts for the last few days, and I realize only now that I completely forgot about the Image of the Week. So, scrambling madly to come up with something appropriate, here's an Image of the Week:

Also, here's one that very nicely captures the state of mind at this event last night. Wow.

Wow, what a baseball season, and what a way for the baseball season to end...uh, what? You mean there's another Game Seven in a different league tonight? And then there's this World Series whosis coming up soon? Who'da thunk it!

UPDATE: Check out Nefarious Neddie's thoughts. Geez, Matt, you shoulda been a writer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Nice try, Glenn.

Glenn Reynolds says this:

I think that Oliver [Willis, who calls him a partisan] mistakes a reluctance to engage in name-calling with a facade of above-the-fray I-have-no-opinions "nonpartisanship." But in fact, it's possible to have opinions, even strong ones, and to express them in a non-abusive fashion.

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but is Reynolds really claiming that he is "reluctant to engage in name-calling"? Um...yeah. Sure. Because when one is reluctant to engage in name-calling, a good strategy to use is to link every instance of right-wing namecalling in existence with a "Heh" or an "Indeed" or, if one really likes the bit of namecalling in question, a "Heh indeed". Or even a "Read the whole thing". And if you can do so in the same post in which you call John Kerry an "ugly bastard child" of two Presidents one doesn't particularly like, well, hey, your reluctance is so strong that it might be called "reticence".

Heh. Indeed.

The "Bush Bulge"

I'm sure we've all seen the photos of the incredibly weird "bulge" underneath President Bush's jacket, roughly near his shoulder blades, taken during the Presidential debates. Speculation ranges from some kind of bulletproof vest to some kind of wireless device broadcasting debate points into Bush's ear via a secret earpiece. The former strikes me as odd given that every person entering the auditorium was surely vetted at least eight times by the security people, while the latter seems odd given that...well, that Bush by all accounts didn't exactly mop up the floor with John Kerry.

But now, via Libertarian Jackass, I see this photo from the White House website, of the President driving his truck on his ranch. Note that he's wearing a t-shirt, that the bulge is totally visible here, and that the photo was taken over two years ago.

What the hell is that thing? Is it possible that the President has the most freakishly prominent shoulderblades in history, or is he wearing...something? What the hell is it?!

Yes, we're slobs.

I've seen this article about Ten Myths Women Believe About Men linked a number of times on the MSN front page, and I figured I should check it out. Below are the myths, with comment by me.

1. Men are not interested in what women have to say.

Colossal nonsense. Not only am I keenly interested in what women have to say, sometimes I am only interested in what women have to say. Problem is, our reactions to what you have to say may not be what you expect, which isn't to say that we didn't care what you had to say.

2. Men want somebody who is just like their mother

Geez, what's with the Freudian crap? Yes, sometimes men like to be "taken care of", but we also have this thing I like to call the "Damsel in Distress Instinct", which makes us love taking care of women in the same way. (In truth, my own "Damsel in Distress" meter has a very low threshold. The mere sight of a woman crying yanks the Bejesus out of my heartstrings.

3. Men only think about sex

Not true for me, sorry to say.

4. He's spoiling me, so he must have plenty of money

ACK! No, we don't. No no no no no. We like spending money on women, and we don't tend to much care if we actually have the money or not.

5. If I sleep with him on the first date, he won't respect me

I honestly can't evaluate this one.

6. I can change him

This depends, but it's really only possible if te guy actually wants to change. Beyond that, you're pretty much powerless.

7. Men are interested in my dating history

A little bit, I suppose, just to see what you are coming from. Other than that, nah.

8. Men don't like women who make the first move.

My wife proposed to me. So I think I'm a decent countexample here.

9. Men prefer inexperienced women

Again, I'm not qualified on this one.

10. Men are strong.

Strong at what? Lifting stuff? Sure. Bearing physical pain? Less so. Bearing emotional pressure? Well, you never know, whict is the scary thing.

I knew I kept reading him for a reason!

"Him" being, of course, Gregg Easterbrook, who is a writer who tends to blend equal parts talent and equal parts being full of crap. Here he is on the New England Stupid Patriots:

New England works hard and is unselfish, its players rarely boast, and its magnificent new stadium was built with the owner's money rather than taxpayer funds; there's a lot to be said for the Patriots.

But I am sick of them. At least half the games in the New England streak have turned on good luck for the Patriots on the critical downs at the end; change New England's luck even slightly, and this club becomes another middle-of-the-pack outfit. New England's good fortune at avoiding injuries has been nothing short of spectacular -- lots of NFL teams would look better if hardly anyone ever got hurt. Just ask Carolina and Tennessee, or note how much better Houston is this season with numerous injured players who missed the 2003 campaign now back on the field. Plus it's fundamentally tedious when the same team always wins. Somebody else deserves a winning streak. At this point, I'm rooting for the Patriots to lose their next 20 consecutive games.

Huzzah! I couldn't agree more. The number of lucky breaks the StuPats have received is just staggering.

In other sports stuff, let me say that although I am by no means a hater of the New York Tankees, I am rooting for the Red Sox to win the ALCS, because I really really really want to see what George Steinbrenner does when his beloved Yankees, the Jewel in the Crown of Major League Baseball, becomes the first team in baseball history to blow a lead of three games to none in a best-of-seven playoff series.

UPDATE: In comments, Sean (whose allegiance to the StuPats is bizarre) and Jess (whose allegiance to the StuPats is not) take exception to this. Sean seems to want to chalk it all up to the Pats being a good team, and good teams make their own luck, which I think is true, but only up to a point. It's no accident that only one team has managed to go undefeated for an entire season in the entire history of the NFL, and that was thirty-two years ago, when there was no free agency and when there were only 14 games in a season. The StuPats are a very well-run organization, both in the front office and in the coaching staff, and well-run teams that execute with precision tend to be good at making the most of lucky breaks.

But the thing with sports streaks is this: the longer they go on, the more dependent on luck they become. This isn't to say that each individual game becomes more a function of luck, but rather that the streak in total becomes more a function of things that could have gone seriously wrong for the streaking player or team but didn't. I'd be willing to bet that if you looked at every single hit Joe DiMaggio had in his 56-game hitting streak, you'd see some infield hits that he beat out, balls that eluded the glove of a fielder by just an inch or two, "seeing-eye balls" that just managed to bounce between two fielders, et cetera. Or consider the ultimate streak, Cal Ripken's consecutive-games-played. Yes, it's a testament to Ripken's work ethic and toughness; but it's also a testament to the monumental luck that in all those years of playing shortstop Ripken never sprained an ankle or twisted a knee; that in all those at-bats he never took a pitch on the knuckles and broke a hand; that in all those collisions at the plate or with guys sliding into second that he never planted a foot and broke a bone. Luck, there, and lots of it.

Now, I do grant that luck has played a lesser role in the StuPats' current streak than it did in their 2001 run that ended in their first Super Bowl championship. (Now there was a run of unprecedented luck. Wow-za.) But they've still received an awful lot of breaks at exactly the right times. Just to take two examples: in their game against the Bills just two weeks ago, the StuPats put the game away on a play in which two Bills offensive linemen missed blocks, allowing one StuPat to sack Bledsoe and force a fumble, and allowing the other to recover said fumble and return it for a touchdown. That doesn't happen if one, or even both, of those Bills OLs don't miss their blocks. Yes, the StuPats have a better defensive line than the Bills have an offensive line, but defensive skill doesn't make an offensive line break down at the exact right time. The other example came in last year's Super Bowl, in which the Panthers tied the game with something like a minute to play -- and then the Panthers' kicker, on the ensuing kickoff, booted the ball out of bounds. This gave the StuPats the ball on their own 40 yard line. Now, of course, this isn't to say that the StuPats wouldn't have been able to drive for the game-winning field goal in the time they had left if the Panthers had kicked off to, say, the 20-yard line, but it's another example of an amazingly lucky break that came for them at exactly the right time. Yes, they took advantage of it, to their credit; but that doesn't make it any less of a lucky break.

Jess takes issue with the idea that the StuPats have not had to deal with injuries as much as some other teams; he insists they have. Not being a StuPats fan, I of course can't totally speak to this point, but a couple of things leap to mind here. First, the StuPats' current system is to basically build a roster around a couple of stars (mostly on defense), and then round out the roster with cheap role-players and good draft picks. Injuries probably play less of a role in determining on-field results for a team that is built on such a model.

But, to move on to my second point, I don't really recall a lot of StuPat players losing significant amounts of playing time to injuries, except for Rosevelt Colvin, who spent all of last year on Injured Reserve. Now, maybe I'm wrong here, but I don't recall anything like Tedy Bruschi missing six games with a broken collarbone, or Ty Law being sidelined for four games with a separated shoulder, or anything of the sort happening to Tom Brady. (Ironically, it's worth remembering that the StuPats' single greatest lucky break of the last few years was, in fact, an injury: if Drew Bledsoe didn't get hurt in 2001, Tom Brady wouldn't have come to the fore. At least, not when he did.) I certainly haven't heard of the StuPats dealing with anything like what the Bills have been dealing with this year, what with two starting offensive linemen out, several members of the secondary out, all at the same time. A single player or two, here and there, sure. You don't go through an NFL season without injuries. But I don't recall the StuPats suffering major injuries to key players at the same time for extended periods. Here, though, I am absolutely open to correction. (But not to the extent that I will admit error!)

Monday, October 18, 2004

What does it mean if we have more points than the other guys?

The Buffalo Bills broke into the win column yesterday, defeating the Miami Dolphins 20-13 to run their record to 1-4, as opposed to the Dolphins' 0-6. I can't believe how bad the Dolphins are right now. Amazing. Just a few things:

:: Willis McGahee got his first start, and he looked amazing. He looked like the star player the Bills were hoping for when they picked him two years ago. I'd never really seen him in action before, and I was struck by how strong he is. On several plays he actually carried Dolphin defenders with him.

:: Since McGahee now looks really good, I'd suggest that if Travis Henry is going to be traded, it needs to be now. (Also because the trading deadline is tomorrow, if memory serves.)

:: Drew Bledsoe actually looked pretty good again. He completed more than fifty percent of his passes, he was only sacked once, and he threw no interceptions.

:: The defense, on the other hand, continues to look like a "bend but don't break" defense, which is a defensive philosophy that drives me crazy.

That's about it. I'm pretty tired today...but it was fun to watch the Bills win a game fore once.


In a grab-bag post of Google searches that led to her blog, Lynn Sislo makes the statement that John Williams ripped off the main motif of his score to Jaws from Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Until I hear from the lips or pen of Mr. Williams himself that he did, in fact, "rip that motif off", I won't believe it. The motifs are the same in their notes only, and not even for that long; the rhythms diverge very quickly, as do the notes themselves, and the orchestrations and dynamics are totally different. Williams limits himself to just the double basses; he plays them slower, lengthening the pauses between statements of the "duuuuuhhh-dum" motif (because it's a suspense theme); and when he goes into his full rhythmic statement, it really doesn't bear much resemblance to the Dvorak at all when you actually listen to the way Williams goes on from there. Dvorak uses that motif to very quickly lead into a big brassy statement of the main theme of the movement, whereas Williams uses the motif to set a mood of menace that doesn't let up even when his main theme is sounded in the low brass. And Williams's use of the same motif is much more rhythmically pulsing than Dvorak's.

It's entirely possible that Williams, being a very experienced musician, decided to use the very bare-bones of the Dvorak motif -- and I'm talking just the first bar alone, those two notes, because after that it's totally different -- as a basis for a suspense score, but to accuse him of "ripping Dvorak off" suggests to me an accusation of laziness, a kind-of "Williams couldn't do it on his own, so he stole a bit of Dvorak to help him out" thing. If this is what is meant by saying "Williams ripped it off from Dvorak", then it makes little sense, since Williams uses that motif as the basis for one of his best filmscores, whereas Dvorak just uses it as a six-bar introduction to a movement in a symphony, and that motif is never heard again. The similarity between Dvorak's symphony and Williams's score is not very strong, and is over almost immediately.

And anyway, composers have been using and re-using the same motifs for centuries. Williams no more "ripped off" Dvorak than Shostakovich "ripped off" Richard Strauss's Death and Transfiguration in the final movement of his Symphony No. 5. The fact that a work sounds a tiny bit like a previous work does not mean that the composer of the latter work "ripped off" the former.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Note to self: Make the next guy put both hands ON the table.

In reply to my solicitation for questions, the esteemable Andrew Cory asks the question of high import:

Han shoots second: what implications does this have for the character of Han Solo?

My answer is: None whatsoever. This change, made for the Special Edition of Star Wars in 1997, does nothing to affect Han's characterization, George Lucas's claims to the contrary. Apparently Lucas decided that Han wouldn't actually shoot Greedo in what appears to be cold-blood, so he altered the film so that Greedo shoots first, and then Han shoots in return. The general criticism of this scene is that this change totally changes Han's character, blunting his rogueish nature and making him "softer". I don't think it does this at all, really.

What do we learn of Han Solo in this scene? We learn that he owes money to Jabba the Hutt, we learn that Jabba has enforcers out looking to collect the debt, we learn that Han is pretty cool in such a crisis, we learn that Han's general approach to such problems is to blast his way out of them, and we learn that Han is a very good shot with the blaster, a weapon that Obi Wan Kenobi has already characterized as "clumsy" and "random". I'd say that in the Special Edition version of this scene, we still learn all of that.

As for Han not being one to shoot first, well, Lucas is flat-out wrong. (And I'm a steadfast defender of Lucas, so for me to say he's wrong is quite a thing.) Consider that in just about each tight spot in the films, Han's initial preference is to fight. He wants to fight his way out when the Millennium Falcon is caught by the tractor beam; he wants to fight when Luke complains that Chewbacca is howling too loudly; when a cadre of stormtroopers comes across the heroes in a Death Star hallway, Han blasts the guy in front and charges after them. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han's blaster is in his hand instantly when the door opens on Cloud City to reveal Vader. So on and so forth. Han's more than willing to shoot first if he feels the need to do so, and he feels that need quite a bit over the course of the films. In fact, I'd say that his reliance on subterfuge on Endor in Return of the Jedi constitutes an overlooked bit of character growth on Han's part. (Many fans think that Han is just "along for the ride" in ROTJ, but he has a very real character arc that plays out fairly subtly.)

The fact is this: if the altered Greedo scene really hurts Han's character, then we can expect that Han's subsequent actions would not be consistent with that scene. I don't think that this claim can plausibly be made. He's cool under pressure, he gets his weapon at the ready, and when the moment comes, he pulls the trigger without hesitation. So I don't think that having Greedo shoot first harms the characterization of Han Solo at all.

What Greedo shooting first hurts, then, is actually the scene itself. In the original, it's a very funny scene; here it's less so, because the scene has a different flow to it (better in the DVD version, which was altered again to make it work better than it did in 1997), and because as the scene exists, Greedo has no reason at all to shoot when he does. There's no logic to Greedo shooting at all, unless Han makes some kind of move that startles him, or if Han says something that articularly enrages Greedo, or so on. As it is, the scene goes from being a funny scene that also establishes Han's character to being a scene that is less funny because, although it still establishes Han's character, it makes less sense. It's the equivalent of a joke that is told masterfully until the punchline, which the joke-teller muffs.

The other major addition to this part of Star Wars is the scene between Han and Jabba himself, originally filmed with a stand-in actor playing Jabba but never finished because the effects couldn't be done. (Incidentally, Jabba wasn't even designed until his appearance in Return of the Jedi, so presumably the Jabba originally intended for A New Hope would have been very different from what eventually showed up.) I don't object that the scene repeats quite a bit of the dialogue in the Greedo scene. The final line, though -- Han saying "Jabba, you're a wonderful human being" -- is just horrible. In the original script, the line was "Jabba, I'll pay you because it's my pleasure". That would have worked a lot better. As it is now, I'm wondering why Han is calling this big-ass slug thing a "wonderful human being". Is he making fun of Jabba, because he's so fat and Han's thin and can walk around and stuff? What is he saying here?

Anyway, there's my answer to that question. Does anyone have any others? Post 'em in comments at the link above, or even here. Test me, folks! Challenge me! This is your chance to make me talk about something goofy (or something).

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I've complained before about the prevalence of advertising these days, and the apparent belief that a moment in which we are not somehow pitched a product or made aware of a brand name is a moment wasted. I've always used, as my ultimate example, the presence of advertising on that little plastic rod you put on the conveyor belt in grocery stores to separate your order from the next person's, but I've just seen this one supplanted. If there's a context in life that should be advertising-free, surely that would be the one.

(via Mr. Sun.)

Three items of "Oy".

WARNING: Politics here! Move on if you'd rather not see leftism on display.

Here are three things I read this morning that have me saying, "Oy".

:: Via Thousand Yard Glare I find that in addition to industrial pollution, we also need to worry about military pollution. Stories here and here. Oy.

:: Via John Scalzi I see that back before the Iraq invasion, planning for the post-war Iraq wasn't just lacking but utterly nonexistent. Oy. I'm not sure when "Que sera, sera" became a viable approach to war planning, but I'm not liking the results.

:: Via Matthew Yglesias I see a rather disturbing account of just how supremely confident in his own instinct George W. Bush is. The degree to which this President is so convinced of his own righteousness just scares me. Oy.

:: Why stop at three? Via Darth Swank I see that the Bush Administration is just so darned serious about fighting terrorism that they finally got round to freezing the assets of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist who's been making all kinds of headaches in Iraq since the invasion. Oy. Who knows, maybe the "Everything changed after 9-11" Administration will actually pull the trigger now, if they ever get another good chance to kill Zarqawi. Remember, they didn't before.

OK, that's all out of my system. Back to normal stuff.

OK, here's something those weirdo LiveJournalers are doing, and I figure, since it's halftime of the Bills game, I can toss this one off in a few minutes. (Some language adapted from the LJ version, since we in Blogistan don't have "Friends lists". We have blogrolls. That's because we're generally cooler people. Score!)

Name a CD you own that no one else on your friends list does.

Probably quite a few, given that I have a large CD collection and my tastes are mainly in classical, film and Celtic music, genres that aren't exactly the "heavy hitters" of music these days (sadly enough). I'll just settle on Live at O'Lacy's, a disc of Celtic and Irish tunes by Western New York's own Kilbrannan. This is one of the most entertaining CDs I've ever heard.

Name a book you own that no one else on your friends list does.

At first glance this seems easy, but I have some pretty literate people on my blogroll, and it wouldn't surprise me if any title I named turned up on the shelves of people I link -- Jason Streed or Will Duquette, for example. But for my purposes, I'll assume that nobody owns a copy of Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels.

Name a movie on DVD/VHS/whatever that on one else on your friends list does.

Anybody got a copy of Flash Gordon (the 1980 version with music by Queen)? No? Ha!

Name a place that you have visited that no one else on your friends list has.

Tough one, this. I'll try Cannon Beach in Oregon. (Chime in, folks, if anyone's been there. I'll revise accordingly.)

Name a Piece of clothing that no one else on your friends list has.

Well, philosophically speaking, isn't every article of clothing I own an article of clothing no one on my blogroll has? If not, you people need to get out of my closet!

Anyway, since they seem to be my photographic theme here, I'll go with my overalls. Again, correct me if I'm wrong.

Name an occupation that you've had that no one else on your friends list has had.

I don't know if anyone I currently link has ever been a helper on a beer deliver truck, so I'll go with that. I did that for four days. It sucked.

Exploring the CD Collection, #7

Film Music of Lee Holdridge
London Symphony Orchestra
Charles Gerhardt, conductor

This is a good CD to talk about on two levels. First there is the conductor, Charles Gerhardt, who is most famous for his long career of championing film music and the art of music recording. Gerhardt recorded a fine series of film music compilation albums for RCA; his recordings - - undertaken with the assistance of George Korngold, the son of the great film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold - - that are staples in the collection of any serious lover of film music. Gerhardt died in 1999 while he still might have had years of music in him. A bio of Gerhardt's career can be read here, while an article specifically on Gerhardt's film music recordings can be read here.

RCA's decision to abandon Gerhardt's film music series is a particularly frustrating one for film music fans. Since we are used to seeing worthy recording projects go undone because of commercial concerns, it's doubly annoying when projects like Gerhardt's recordings are terminated despite their commercial success. Anyhow, the recordings of Charles Gerhardt for years represented the only real way for film music lovers to explore the work of "Golden Age" composers like Herrmann, Korngold, Steiner and Rozsa. And even though many classic film scores have over the last decade at last been issued on CD, both with the original music tracks or in re-recordings, Charles Gerhardt's CDs are still worthwhile interpretations of film music's underexplored byways.

This particular CD was not part of the RCA series; rather, it was issued on Citadel Records in 1985, exhibiting the work of composer Lee Holdridge. Holdridge is one of those film composers who, like Bruce Broughton or Basil Poledouris, always gets mentioned by film music fans as a composer who just doesn't get the high-profile projects that he deserves. His music is always very melodic and memorable, even though his filmography includes relatively few films that many people will have seen. He gets a lot of work, but he never seems to get that big project that could catapult him into the rarefied air where people like James Horner and Howard Shore hold forth. This is especially frustrating in light of all the "cookie cutter" film music being churned out these days by guys like Hans Zimmer (whose music, to be fair, I do enjoy at least somewhat) and his Media Ventures disciples.

Holdridge's most "famous" efforts -- if that word can even really be applied -- include his score to The Beastmaster (is that movie still on TBS something like every nine days?), his love theme to the early Tom Hanks movie Splash, his themes to the TV series Moonlighting and Beauty and the Beast (a show which also received fine music from Don Davis, who went on to score the Matrix trilogy), and his very fine score to the recent TV movie The Mists of Avalon. (This last might have been one of the most memorable scores of the year 2001, had it not been for a TV project and had it not been completely overshadowed by Howard Shore's work for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.) And the theme of Holdridge's that is most likely to be very familiar to mainstream audiences is his East of Eden theme (limited-time sample here), which is probably better known because it was used prominently by magician David Copperfield in his "flying" illusion than because of its use in the East of Eden TV film.

This is one of the very best CDs in my film music collection. Lee Holdridge is a composer who deserves more attention, and Charles Gerhardt was in many ways film music's greatest evangelist. Here you get both.

Stoking the Fires....

Yeah, like they've never heard that pun before...anyway, congratulations to Macon and family on the birth of a new child. Best wishes to all concerned!

"You can eat your fill of all the food you bring yourself...."

As I noted in my One Hundred (plus) Things About Me post, I went to college in Iowa, which was in some ways quite a change from my experiences in Western New York. To wit, it took some time getting used to a place where the nearest cities of major size (Buffalo-sized and up) were at least three hours away (Des Moines and the Twin Cities, respectively), where there were no hills to speak of (although Iowa's flatness tends to be overstated, especially in the Mississippi River region, which is frankly a stunningly beautiful region that gets nowhere near enough recognition as one of this country's most scenic locales), where every town had its water-tower, where the roads are for the most part disturbingly straight, and where trees existed pretty much in small stands to punctuate the corn-fields.

But that was all first-impression stuff, really. If you spend long enough in Iowa -- say, an hour or so -- the place's charms start to work on you. The way that entire towns are "off the main drag", half a mile or so away from one of the state highways as opposed to actually being on the state highways, seems odd at first until you realize that the towns were built where the trains either used to run or still run, and anyway, having the town not centered right on the state highway certainly makes for safer traffic patterns in a state where any consideration of "traffic" has to take large vehicles built by John Deere into account. The flatness of the land strikes at first, but then one's sense of topography adjusts, and you find yourself realizing where very slight grades exists, and you discover that in its own way pumping a bicycle up a one-percent grade over five miles is harder than it looks, even if you're used to five-percent grades over much shorter distances. It takes a while longer getting used to the lack of urban areas, but you discover the places of quiet beauty with greater ease.

And in Iowa you meet one smart person after another. Not that you expect these people ot be dumb, by any means, but you figure that they'll be pretty much as smart as the people back home and they'll just have some different takes on things. And yes, they do have different takes on things, but you're surprised to learn just how often they're smarter than the people you know back home. And they're just plain sensible, really. Iowa's just a place where things make sense. I mean, where else could Captain Kirk come from?

Why am I babbling on about all this? Because yesterday I stopped in a store to buy something, and in my change was an Iowa quarter. This was the first time I've seen it, and for my money, Iowa's Statehood Quarter is the best of the series yet, from the standpoint of managing to catch the character of the state on the back of a coin. Vermont came closest, prior to this, but Iowa takes the prize thus far.

(I still think that if they wanted to capture the character of the states, then New Jersey's should be a car in gridlock on the New Jersey Turnpike, with the driver offering an extended middle finger to the guy in the toll-booth.)

Friday, October 15, 2004

Come on, without....

In comments to the "Ask Me Questions" post (which, by the way, is still active -- ask me questions, people!), Simon asks to hear more about the "new addition". Assuming he's talking about little Quinn, I aim to please, so here's what's up. (This isn't an entirely happy post, by the way.)

To go back to the beginning, what happened is that in either the latter stages of my wife's pregnancy or during the birth process, the oxygen levels in Quinn's blood became compromised. The blood gases taken from the blood in the umbilical cord right at birth were very low, and as I sat beside my wife during the C-section, I looked over to the table to where the docs and nurses were cleaning Quinn up, and I saw something that I knew I should not see: they were intubating him. Minutes later they whisked him upstairs to the NICU. When next we spoke to a doctor, nearly two hours later, we were informed that the level of oxygen was sufficiently low that there was certain to be organ damage in Quinn's body. The good news was that every organ in the human body, save one, has the ability to heal and regenerate in the event of such an injury. The bad news was that the one organ without the ability to regenerate is the brain.

We then suffered through a long period of uncertainty (which has, in many ways, not yet ended). Quinn spent a total of nearly six weeks in the hospital. During the first week, he was on a ventilator machine; two early attempts to extract the breathing tube ended in collapsed lungs. Luckily, the last attempt to extubate proved permanent (save for the brief period when he was re-intubated for surgery -- more on that below), but his EEG and MRI suggested significant abnormality of brain function. The doctors believed that he was likely to suffer significant disability later in life, including cerebral palsy and likely mental retardation.

One by one, Quinn's organs healed -- first his kidneys, then his lungs. His breathing was sufficiently strong that he was off the respirator for good. The problem now was in his secretions of mucus and saliva, because he didn't seem to have any ability to swallow at all. The worry now was that he would need to have a G-tube in his stomach for feeding, and a tracheostomy for breathing. Luckily, he began to swallow, so he never had to have the trache, but he still doesn't have a strong enough gag reflex or "suckling instinct" to feed normally. So he went into another hospital, this time for surgery to put in a G-tube.

This surgery went very well, and his recovery from this was, if anything, quicker than the doctors expected. A week after the operation, we were allowed to bring Quinn home. Now we feed him through his G-tube every four hours, and life is adjusting to a rhythm that doesn't involve hospitals and monitors and alarms and complete lack of privacy. He still has a boatload of doctor appointments in the future, with a number of different specialists. But he's home, and he's ours.

The latest medical news comes from a neurologist, who examined little Quinn yesterday and said that we can be "cautiously optimistic" that any future disability will be "mild". Quinn does see and hear, although we don't know how well yet. His body and muscles tend to be very stiff, but he's progressed in that regard (for example, he no longer clutches his hands in an incredibly-tight fist). He lifts his head, looks around, and seems to be figuring out that crying gets him attention. That last is, in itself, a particularly hoped-for development. Quinn did not cry at all until he was nearly five weeks old. Now he has a full-throated cry, and in all honesty, I have not yet tired of hearing it. (Unlike his older sister, whose cry drove me crazy at about Day Five.)

So there we are, with more doctor visits in store. A repeat EEG -- his third -- is scheduled, and it still feels weird to pour his feedings into a tube in his stomach. But again, he's home and he's ours.

By the way, I posted news about Quinn's arrival to the message forums over at Bright Weavings (the official site for Guy Gavriel Kay, and one whose message forums are home to a very fine community of GGK fans and generally intelligent people), and in the course of the resulting thread (to which GGK himself posted) some enterprising soul came up with this response. Yeah, that song's been on my mind a lot lately, but not quite in this version. I'll take it, most gratefully.

And I'll close now with yet another annoying photo of the little guy, in the arms of the follically-blessed writer-in-residence in our home. No, it's not really my intention to turn Byzantium's Shores into a goofy photoblog about an infant, but hey, it's not my intention to not do so, either. And besides, that's why the blog scrolls.

Onward and upward!

My eye! My eyes! I can't take the cuteness!

Sean posts pictures of his kids, here, here, here, and here. He's got a nice looking family. That son of his sure looks like he'll one day be sitting in a collegiate philosophy class, munching a toasted bagel and saying things like "Maybe truth doesn't exist, maybe truth subsists." (No, I didn't understand him, either.) His daughter, on the other hand, looks like she'll be singing soprano, writing poems in a leather-backed journal, and perhaps riding a hot-pink Harley.

(BTW, Sean reports not yet owning a digital camera. This isn't totally strange, since I don't own one either, but Sean's a lot more into tech stuff than I am. I'll bet he's waiting for Google to come out with its own digital camera!)