Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Here's another Post That Could Not Get Past Blogger's Black Knight over the last two days, as the Image of the Week should have appeared on Sunday. Oh well. Here's a nice fuzzy and cuddly animal:

How cute is that!

Lynn Sislo linked this site of big, hairy spiders. It's a fascinating place to surf around (but then, it would have to be, or Lynn wouldn't link it). My feelings on spiders are this: I'm fascinated by them as long as they're not on me. In an aquarium, or even crawling up the wall or a window, I'm fine with them and will cheerfully look at them for quite a while. If I find a stray spider inside our home, I don't kill it; I carefully use a paper towel or washcloth to put him outside.

But if one somehow gets on me, I squish him almost immediately. In fact, this policy pretty much extends to every member of the insect or arachnid family, with the exception of ladybugs. And even those I'll kill if I don't realize what they are before I whack them.

(BTW, if any website is graced by a niftier domain name than "bighairyspiders.com", I haven't seen it. Kudos!)

And if any of my readers are hideously freaked out by spiders, well, here's another cuddly and fuzzy creature for you: one of my parents' Persian cats. This picture was taken on Thanksgiving Day.

And for you people who don't like spiders or kitties, I figure it's been a while since I inflicted a photo of Little Quinn on the world, so here he is, lying on his stomach and pondering a nearby block.

And if that doesn't work, then you're a cold, unfeeling robot. So there.

Noting a Brief Passage

Trina Schart Hyman, a noted illustrator of children's books who was a former Caldecott Award winner, has died.

Things that go "Snikt" and "Bamf"

Nefarious Neddie has some interesting tidbits about the next X-MEN movie and at least two movies centering on the signature X-Man himself, Wolverine.

As a pure geek, I'm pretty jazzed to hear all of the details that Matt offers: the "Dark Phoenix" storyline from The Uncanny X-Men is one of the greatest comics storylines of the last twenty-five years, and to see it well-done on film is a very exciting prospect indeed. (I just hope they don't muck it up by doing what Marvel did eight years later and negate the whole thing by resurrecting Jean Grey.)

The Wolverine movies are even more interesting to me, actually. First, there's the idea that the first one would outline Wolverine's origin story, which I never learned, having stopped reading comics before it was revealed. (If it even was revealed; I'm pretty sure that Chris Claremont, the writer of the X-Men titles back then, was intentionally keeping Logan's past as vague as possible.) And if the second tells much the same story that the great Frank Miller-illustrated Wolverine graphic novel told, that will be truly exciting -- especially if the filmmakers really embrace the story's Japanese martial-arts setting and make a movie in the vein of Japanese action films of the present day.

(Although I hope they wouldn't end it with Logan getting stood up at the altar again, as he was the first time he stood up to wed Lady Mariko.)

Why can't every Sunday be the proverbial "Any given Sunday"?

(NOTE: I wrote this post yesterday, and then I had to save it in Word because Blogger wasn't publishing at all for me. I know I recently said that posting here might be more sparse than usual, but lately a lot of that's been because of Blogger choking, not me. So thanks for checking in repeatedly, to all nine of my readers. Hmmmm...Nine Readers, and one Blog to Rule Them All!)

The Buffalo Shitty Bills traveled to Seattle over the weekend, to play the Seahawks. Let's recap the situation: the ShiBills went into the weekend with a 4-6 record, with four of those six losses coming in all four of the ShiBills' road games this year. Their opponent, the Seahawks, were 6-4 and leading their division. This looked for all the world like a no-brainer: a crappy road team having a lackluster season on the road against a division leader? Just pencil in the "L" and call it a day.

Except here's where Chris Berman's voice intones: That's why they play the games.

Final score: ShiBills 38, Seahawks 9.

Huh. Imagine that. The ShiBills scored on their first possession of the game (something they haven't done all year); they won on the road (something they haven't done all year); they had four rushing touchdowns, each by Willis McGahee (something they haven't done all year). They protected Drew Bledsoe pretty well (haven't done that much all year), and they prevailed despite losing the turnover battle (something they haven't come close to doing all year).

So, did the ShiBills beat up on a paper tiger, or are they showing legitimate signs of life? Probably a bit of both. The Seahawks have some talent, but they're still nowhere near being one of the NFC's elite teams, division leader or no. And the ShiBills have started to come together in several aspects of their game of late, which I personally hold to the singular factor of Willis McGahee taking over the starting job at running back. The defense continues to gel, although it still bothers me that their defensive line generates so little pressure. The offensive line is playing much better now than they were earlier in the year (and what worries me now is that the personnel people will point to this stretch of games in the offseason and say that the ShiBills don't need to make any improvements to the line).

Drew Bledsoe did throw three interceptions, but he kept his composure after each one, whereas before he would have likely crumpled. Bledsoe's a maddening guy to watch, I have to admit: I wonder how New England fans stood watching him all those years. He's got amazing physical tools, but it's not unlike watching the greatest carpenter in the world produce a table with one leg nine inches shorter than the others. Weird.

Can the ShiBills still make the playoffs? I seriously doubt it. They would have to run the table to do so, and although all of their remaining games appear winnable (with the possible exception of Pittsburgh on the final day of the season, but then, the Steelers may be heading into that game with either home field or the second bye week locked in, and therefore rest their starters), I don't see them winning them all. And that would keep them out, because the AFC is so deep right now that there almost certainly will be a 10-6 team or two -- and maybe even an 11-5 team -- in the AFC that doesn't make the playoffs.

:: Looking at the remaining schedules of both the New England Stupid Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Philadelphia Eagles, it's conceivable that the NFL could have three teams go 15-1 this year. That would be something to see. There have been only three 15-1 teams since the NFL went to the 16-game schedule, and two of those went on to win the Super Bowl (1984 49ers, 1985 Bears). (The 1998 Vikings lost the NFC Championship Game.)

:: If you're the defensive coordinator of either team in a game that ends up in a final score of 58-48, how do you face your boss on Monday morning? I'm not sure I could even show my face at the practice facility.

:: This week's games bring November in the NFL to an end, so here's the current roundup of how my preseason picks are standing up. My predictions follow the actual leaders, in parentheses:

AFC East: New England StuPats (New England)
AFC North: Pittsburgh (Cincinnati)
AFC South: Indianapolis (Tennessee)
AFC West: San Diego (Denver)
AFC Wildcards: NYJets, Baltimore (Indianapolis, Baltimore)

NFC East: Philadelphia (Philadelphia)
NFC North: Minnesota (Minnesota)
NFC South: Atlanta (Carolina)
NFC West: Seattle (Seattle)
NFC Wildcards: Green Bay, St. Louis (Dallas, Washington)

So, as of right now, I have four of the eight divisions right, and I don't really see any chance of that ratio improving in my favor, so that's it. Looking at playoff spots, out of twelve available spots (four division winners and two wildcards in each conference), my ratio is the same: six of twelve, for the same fifty percent.

I actually hate making this comparison every month, because each time it reminds me that I thought Dallas and Washington weren't going to suck. Oy.

As for my Super Bowl prediction, it's looking pretty good: the StuPats and the Eagles are both 10-1, and the Eagles have actually already clinched a playoff berth.

Now come the final five weeks, when the NFL gets wild and wooly. Bring it on!

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Could it be Mary Stuart Masterson?

Here's an intriguing theory on the famed eBay grilled cheese sandwich. I have to say, it makes an amount of sense.

Outdoor World, anyone?

Do any of my readers have any familiarity with Bass Pro stores? Apparently Buffalo is a done deal in getting one of these things for the currently empty Memorial Auditorium downtown, and it's being described as something incredibly cool that people come to visit from quite a long ways away. Is this true?

(For those completely unfamiliar with Bass Pro -- and I'm almost completely unfamiliar with them -- they are said to be the greatest outdoor gear stores around, to the extent that outdoor enthusiasts from hikers to hunters to fishermen to geocachers to hanggliders will road-trip hundreds of miles to shop at one of them. The details they are mentioning for the Buffalo project are somewhat humbling: Buffalo's Bass Pro will be the third largest in the company, at 250,000 square feet; it will also include a separate museum of Great Lakes history (I'm really looking forward to seeing this, actually); there will be a hotel (now, I'm not sure if downtown Buffalo really needs more hotel rooms), restaurants, and new parking. Memorial Auditorium has been a vacant shell for about seven or eight years now, ever since the Buffalo Sabres moved into the HSBC Arena down the street, and there have been lots of ideas floated on what to do with the empty building. Now we know: it's going to be a Bass Pro. The Auditorium is also located fairly close to the waterfront, which has been an undeveloped eyesore here pretty much since the Native Americans first came here and saw Lake Erie and whispered to one another, "So, do you think they should start Bledsoe or Losman this week?")

I'm excited by the project, but as a long-suffering Buffalonian, I'm a bit wary as well. We've seen a lot of "silver bullet" projects come and go, projects that were supposed to at long last jumpstart the development on Buffalo's waterfront or downtown or wherever, and all of them are just memories of press conferences that never produced anything beyond a few neat architect's paintings on an easel. What I like about the Bass Pro thing is this: over and above the projected economic impact (from construction jobs to generating tourism and downtown spending), it puts a positive spin on Buffalo. Having one of these here -- a juggernaut version, even -- sends a message to the outdoor types: come to Buffalo, because we've got some good outdoor stuff here. We've got water, we've got snow, we've got skiing, we've got hiking, we've got hunting, we've got fishing. We don't just go into our holes and hibernate from October to March. Buffalo's a cool place to be. That is what I really like about this project.

Incidentally, I also really like this project -- a renovation of an old office building into lofts and studios for artists -- for the same reason. Buffalo's arts culture is one of its greatest assets, and it needs to be both nurtured and used to continue enhancing the city's quality of life. This stuff is important, because the one thing that the city of Buffalo needs even more than big juggernaut businesses like Bass Pro is people living in the city. A vibrant arts community helps in that regard.

Returning to Bass Pro for a moment, a lot of public money is going to be spent to get this thing done. (We're talking about a project that is slated to be announced tomorrow and won't see the front doors opened to customers until sometime in 2006.) While it would be nice to think that public money didn't need to be spent to lure private businesses (and if we were talking about a new sports stadium, I'd be singing a different tune entirely), we don't live in that world, and all indications are that this thing will actually be a good fit for Buffalo, which wasn't true of the earlier "silver bullet" projects like Adelphia's rapidly-shrinking office tower and that domed amusement park thing they talked about briefly.

Now, if we could just get Mayor Masiello to stop babbling about damned casinos, I'd be even happier. There he is, talking about Bass Pro's ability to help convince the Seneca Nation of Indians to build their next casino in downtown Buffalo. This is a Godawful idea, and that Masiello continues to flog it annoys me to no end.

(Hey, speaking of the Sabres: if the NHL somehow never returns from its lockout, I wonder what Buffalo will do with HSBC Arena? I'd like to see the biggest bookstore on the planet, myself. But that's just me. And while I'm at it, what ever happened to all that talk about establishing Buffalo as a premiere locale for research in bioinformatics, thus helping to launch a biotech industry here? Is that still going on? Do any of my Buffalo readers know anything about that?)

(Oh, and I now see that Craig of BUFFALOg comments on Bass Pro and the "artist building", here and here, respectively.)

Publish, damn you! Publish! (Oh, and a Burst of Weirdness)

Yeesh. Blogger's publishing has been really "iffy" lately -- it works when I'm not feeling much like blogging, and doesn't work when I do want to post something. Harumph.

Anyway, I couldn't choose between the two front-runners for this week's Burst of Weirdness, so since it's my blog, you get 'em both. Twice the weirdness for the same price, or something like that. Both are via Warren Ellis:

1. Geez, what's in the water in Indonesia?

2. So I guess the old iron-file-in-the-birthday-cake thing is passe now, eh?

They ate their meat, so I guess now they want their pudding?

Remember how part of the Pink Floyd song "Another Brick in the Wall, part 2" involves a chorus of schoolkids singing the famous refrain, "We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control..."?

Apparently those same kids have now decided that they want royalties.

I guess I can't really blame them, but even so, it's been twenty-five years or so since The Wall came out. Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations about stuff like this?

Great Love Dialogue, #1

From the Star Trek (The Original Series) episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" (which also happens to be the single finest episode that any version of Star Trek has ever produced).

The set-up: In a medical accident, Dr. McCoy injects himself with some medication at a high enough dosage that it drives him insane. He beams down to a planet surface and, before Kirk and the rest of the landing party can stop him, flees through a portal into time called "the Guardian of Forever". After failing to contact the Enterprise, Kirk and Spock realize that somehow McCoy has changed history so that Starfleet never existed. They, too, go back in time to stop him -- and arrive in 1930s New York City, where in the course of identifying just what McCoy has done to screw things up, Kirk falls in love with a mission worker, Edith Keeler. One night, the two are out walking, and they have this exchange:

EDITH: Are you afraid of something? Whatever it is, let me help.

KIRK: "Let me help." A hundred years or so from now, a novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over "I love you."

EDITH: Centuries from now? Who is he? Where does he come -- Where will he come from?

KIRK: Silly question. Want to hear a silly answer?


KIRK: A planet...circling that far left star in Orion's belt. See?

And he points to the sky.

It eventually turns out that Edith Keeler is the one who changes history: somehow McCoy keeps her from dying in an automobile accident, and she goes on to enable the Nazis to win World War II. Thus, to restore the correct order of the Universe, Kirk must allow the woman he loves to die. But I just wanted to point out that fine exchange of love dialogue from a simple scene set upon a city sidewalk.

(This is the first in what I plan to be an ongoing series of posts in which I simply offer fine bits of dialogue, either from films, television shows, or books, that center on the theme of love. As with "Exploring the CD Collection" and Move Over Britney!, this series will be sporadic. Hey, I told you I was feeling sappy these days.)

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Support Your Local Buffalo Blog

I've finally got round to putting books up for sale on eBay again, so make sure to check them out here. I plan to have more items up later in the week, including some classical CDs that I'm looking to ditch because (a) I never listen to these particular recordings anymore, and (b) the CD shelf thing is getting really full.

Also, there is a new "marketplace" link in the sidebar (or there will be, a minute or two after I publish this post), in the "Support your humble narrator" section. I won't be putting individual links to auctions in the sidebar anymore, because that frankly got a bit too cumbersome to constantly update.

So go forth and bid on my stuff, folks: you're not only helping me, but by God, you're helping America! And who doesn't want to help America? (I'm looking at you, Finland.)

Christmas attire: hard to find.

At The Store, the employees are allowed to wear Christmas-themed shirts during the Holiday Season. So I went right out this morning to Target, thinking I'd find one or two and grab 'em so I could wear them at work, since it's always nice to get out of the usual uniform shirt (especially since my uniform shirt is this black rugby thing, and I hate it). But I quickly discovered something dismaying: no shirts of a Holiday theme exist for men, unless I want a T-shirt, and unless I want said T-shirt to have, say, Santa riding a Harley or "Bah, Humbug" in big letters, or some slogan to the effect of, "Come here, honey, and tell me if you've been naughty or nice!" Now, it's too cold to be in a T-shirt all day at work, and besides, none of those would be appropriate, anyway.

So what I'll likely do is just rotate a couple plain red and plain green sweatshirts I already own, which I'll doctor up by sticking a bow to the right breast (opposite the nametag).

Speaking of the nametag, I decorated mine yesterday with one of those really small gift bows. This idea proved fairly popular, and I went through two packages of those small bows giving them out to people who wanted to do likewise. It's all in a day's work, at The Store.

(There should be a TV show, kind of like "COPS", only with me wandering around The Store. Except that the show would be really boring: "OK, now I'm gonna go check the bathrooms again. Yeah, I checked 'em an hour ago, but you never know -- all it takes is one person with a bowel problem to turn a clean bathroom into the gastronomic equivalent of Hiroshima...but first we gotta wait outside the ladies' room for fifteen minutes, until everyone comes out...dum doo de dummy doo...")


No, really: Awwwwwww!

OK, and here's another one.

I'm really into the sappy stuff these days.

Maybe Buffalo should change its name to "Vanillaville".

The Tensor was a but curious about the old saying, oft-permuted to reflect different places, "What happens in X, stays in X". He used Google to generate a pretty amusing table of various place-names and the number of hits their "What happens here, stays here" formulation results. Buffalo, sadly, has no hits at all, which as I see it yields two possibilities:

1. Nothing happens in Buffalo, so there's no necessity for it to stay in Buffalo.

2. What happens in Buffalo is, in fact, so amazingly cool that it can't possibly be allowed to stay in Buffalo. So, what happens in Buffalo, gets sung from the rooftops.

I'm going to endorse Number Two here, obviously. I can't really be a Buffalo booster by saying things like "Come to Buffalo -- we're more boring than Columbus, OH!"

When did all this content get here?

Does anyone else have the experience in surfing Blogistan that sometimes you'll click a blog on the blogroll, and you're really really sure it's been no more than a day or two since the last time you checked that blog, but then you discover that it's apparently been a week because there have been six or seven interesting posts since the last one you remember reading?

Anyway, so it is this week with me and View from the Foothills, which if you're not reading, you should be. The last post I recall seeing was this one, in which Will provides a couple of photos of the float his workplace will be operating in this year's Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena. (Will works at some fairly famous laboratory that does stuff with jets and propulsion -- if I could just recall the name of the place....) The float, to me, looks like it should be closing its eyes just before intercepting a nuclear warhead and saying, "Superman..."

(And by comparing the float to the character in the movie in question, I mean that as a compliment. I love that movie.)

Will has another good post here, about the phenomenon of a reader getting "tossed out" of a book's universe or narrative. It's a hard effect to describe, but it's a very real one. I wrote about a very vivid such experience here, when author Thomas Monteleone critically handicapped a scene that should have involved all manner of religious wonder with a truly awful metaphor.

Then Will writes a bit about "Mary Sue" stories, a peculiar subset of fan fiction wherein one injects oneself into the universe in question and then saves the day. I never wrote a "Mary Sue" story; in fact, even when I was writing Star Wars fan fiction, it never occurred to me to stick myself in there. I did have a high school teacher once who actually assigned us to do a research paper in the form of precisely a "Mary Sue" story, but I apparently didn't realize that the "Mary Sue" aspect of the assignment was an actual requirement, and thus completely ignored it. The teacher marked my paper down rather drastically, but that was fine with me, as I hated that teacher with a passion. (She's the one who decided that the other English classes could have their Mark Twain; we were going to read Ordinary People. Ugh.)

And while you're noodling around Will's blog, do check out his Thanksgiving post. I usually abstain from writing lists of things I'm thankful for, because I'm always afraid that I'll forget something big and I'm also afraid that I'm not currently thankful for something because it hasn't worked out that way yet and I'm further afraid that things I'm thankful for are things that may turn out to be serious errors later in life. But Will's list is pretty good. I can't imagine not being thankful for J.R.R. Tolkien, for instance.

Nobody goes to that site anymore -- there's too much traffic there.

Just a bit of FYI: if you are trying to reach Green Man Review and you're coming up 404 or "access denied" or some other such thing, the site is currently in the process of switching hosts, with all the usual delays in that sitename registration stuff that this entails. Keep trying, as the site wille probably be back to normal in a day or two.

Also, because of this, there's no new material being published on GMR this week. I'm hoping to have a couple of reviews in next week's issue, including a fairly large article I'm writing about the music to the Lord of the Rings films.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

And thus did a thousand blogs go suddenly silent....

Or, just this one, and just for a day or two. I won't be posting tomorrow, and very likely not Friday either. Maybe Saturday. Or not. Maybe Sunday. Or not. Or maybe...you get the idea.

For my American readers, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving; for my non-American readers who just don't get the whole Thanksgiving thing, well, have a happy Thursday in which you're not eating your fill of immense amounts of food and watching real football and not that silly "soccer" stuff. Enjoy going to your jobs and reporting to your corporate overlords! Heh!

UPDATE: OK, I wasn't going to post anything, but since the Thanksgiving holiday typically heralds the unofficial start of the Christmas season here in the States, I figured I'd upload the new masthead image I had been saving to wrap up the year of Arthurian mastheads. It's not a specifically Christmas-themed painting, but the swirling angels sort of struck me that way, so there it is. January will start a new theme for 2005's mastheads here. I'm not decided yet, but themes in the running include "Victorian paintings of women", "Classical Sculptures", and "Close-ups of tumors after surgical removal". That last one is a longshot, though.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Mystery of Blogistan, #5869

I will never understand how Terry Teachout (oops, the Honorable Terry Teachout) can write something like this and still complain that he can't write like James Lileks.

He doesn't write like James Lileks because he writes like the Honorable Terry Teachout, and that's fine by me.

Evolution Textbook Stickers of the Future

This is pretty funny. via MeFi.

I'd Rather be in Philadelphia....

So Dan Rather's retiring, eh? Damn, that news is about as earth-shaking as the revelation that chicken tastes like chicken. I'm sure a lot of right-leaning people are ecstatic, since for some reason Rather has come to be the bete noir of the whole idea of the "liberal media", but for me, I don't care, because I haven't watched a network newscast -- any network newscast -- in years. I kind of like Rather when he's on Letterman, but even in that regard, I like Tom Brokaw more. But really, who cares?

BTW, here's an oldie from Letterman: Top Ten Things Dan Rather Would Never Say on the CBS Evening News. I'm sure that right-leaning folks will get an unintentional guffaw out of Number One, but hey, those are the risks we run!


I like this stuff -- nay, I can't get enough of it. Your mileage may vary.

Oh, yeah, the ShiBills played.

Maybe it's my general apathy on many things lately, but I found relatively little excitement in the Buffalo Shitty Bills' 37-17 blowout win over the St. Louis Rams the other day. It was a fun game to watch, but it in no way indicates anything about the ShiBills' problems right now, especially since the special teams accounted for over 200 yards and at least 14 points either directly or indirectly. They had six sacks, but most of those came on blitzes, which continues to frustrate: teams that live by the blitz tend to eventually die by the blitz, and the ShiBills have done a lot of dying lately. So it was a fun afternoon of football, but it wasn't any kind of great harbinger of things to come.

I would like to know just why, if Mike Mularkey was willing to toss J.P. Losman into the last minutes of a blowout loss against the New England Stupid Patriots and watch him get slaughtered, he wasn't also willing to put Losman into the final moments of a blowout win over the Rams so he could get a bit more exposure to the speed of an NFL game. Weird.

The Union of the State, or something like that

Over at Terminus, Drew is wondering about an episode of The West Wing entitled "Bartlet's Third State of the Union". This episode takes place in the second season (transcript here), and it signalled the beginning of the big "Bartlet has MS" storyline that dominated the end of the second season and the first third or so of the third season. But what grabbed Drew's eye is the title itself, referring to Bartlet's third SOTU address:

It turns out that most modern presidents do not give a State of the Union address in the first year of their first term. Bush didn't give one in 2001, Clinton didn't give one in 1993, Bush didn't give one in 1989, Reagan didn't give one in 1981, Carter didn't in 1977, Nixon didn't in 1969. That appears to be how far back it goes, generally. In fact, some presidents have given outgoing SOTU's rather than incoming, including Johnson in 1969, Ford in 1977, and Carter in 1981.

I think that the problem here consists in what one considers a "State of the Union" address. Incoming Presidents do usually give an address to a joint session of Congress in first weeks of their term, in which they outline the legislative programs they intend to pursue with the help of the Congress. Sometimes this speech is called a State of the Union address; sometimes it is not. There seems to be little consensus on this; C-SPAN, for example, does appear to consider these addresses to actually be State of the Union addresses. Now, they also provide transcripts of a few non-SOTU Presidential addreses to Congress -- President Bush's address after 9-11-01, for example -- but the "inaugural Congressional address" seems to generally fit C-SPAN's definition of the SOTU speech:

The president's State of the Union Speech defines his view of national priorities and needed legislation. Since 1913, presidents have chosen to deliver the speeches in person once a year, usually in January.

Interestingly, every President since World War II has given such an address to a joint session of Congress in the opening weeks of his term, with the exceptions of Presidents Nixon and Carter. Also interestingly, President Truman delivered no State of the Union message at all in 1952, despite the fact that his term ended in January of 1953. If this seems odd, it's worth remembering that the Constitution specifies no time frame for the delivery of a SOTU message. All the Constitution says is this:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient....

There's nothing there that requires a yearly, personal visit to Congress: the President could send them a letter every nine months if he so desired in fulfillment of these Constitutional requirements. Of course, the speech itself has a lot more weight as an event, especially in the television age, so that's the way it goes. This probably goes double for Presidents' initial SOTU addresses when they're only a few weeks into their Presidencies; since the Inaugural Addresses take place shortly after noon Eastern time, fewer people probably get to see them in their entirety than do the SOTU addresses, to say nothing of the fact that an Inaugural is more for "lofty rhetoric" than the type of policy stuff that holds sway in an SOTU speech.

So, anyway, I don't think the title of the West Wing episode constitutes an error.

Ah, Antonio, we hardly knew ye....

Lynn Sislo links this interesting article about lost works of composer Antonio Vivaldi. I've always found these kinds of things to be a major source of fascination: the sort of adventurous scholarship needed to search through mountains of trash in hopes of locating lost treasures.

So many times it's not even a case of someone digging through a mountain of manuscripts in hopes of finding something bearing a signature by a Vivaldi or a Monteverdi or whomever; often the works bear no sign of identification, so what has to happen is that the work has to be found by someone already intimately familiar with the person who wrote it, and then that person has to recognize those characteristics inherent within the work as being the unique stamps of authorship. All those lost works in all those piles throughout the world, awaiting either the right scholar at the right time, or the unavoidable ravages of time as they eventually crumble to dust.

Of course, I personally can't abide the music of Vivaldi, but he is a major figure in Baroque music and the article is fascinating nonetheless.

Sunday, November 21, 2004


A robotic test-vehicle, climbing a simulated section of space elevator.

Charles Stross pointed this out: a successful test of a robot climber as part of a program seeking to develop a space elevator. This is highly cool, obviously.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I couldn't decide which of these was the weirdest, so you'll have to do some work yourselves: go check out Mr. Sun's list of questionable government patent applications.

I kind of figured it was in Lake Erie....

Atlantis has been "found". Geez, first Genghis Khan's palace, and now Atlantis? What's next?

And more importantly, how come these discoveries never involve harrowing chases through the desert between the plucky archaeologist and some Nazis?

All your cubicles are belong to us!

Via Lynn Sislo, here are some suggestions for any of my readers who happen to spend their days dwelling in business cubicles.

I deny any responsibility for the results, if any of you are fired for doing this stuff.

Would you like to go for a ride in myott?

I've seen a number of mentions around Blogistan that Congress has approved money to "buy George W. Bush a yacht". Yeah, it seems like a less-than-pressing bit of business, but I do think it's worth noting that it's not like they're looking to buy a brand new yacht for the President. Rather, they are looking to buy back the USS Sequoia, which actually was the Presidential yacht starting with the administration of Herbert Hoover and ending with the administration of Jimmy Carter, who had the yacht auctioned off as part of his effort to remove some of the "imperial trappings" of the modern Presidency. The Sequoia has since been designated as a Historical Landmark, and is actually available to be rented out for $10,000 for up to four hours. (Damn!)

Here is a good article on the Sequoia. I personally can't really see just why the President really needs a yacht, since nearly thirty years' worth of Commanders-in-Chief have gotten along without it just fine, but I wanted to make the distinction that they're not just looking to splurge on some nifty new boat for George W. Bush. They're looking to splurge on some nifty old boat for George W. Bush. Does that make a difference? I dunno, really. I just found it interesting; I read these mentions of buying Bush a yacht, and I thought, "Gee, why don't they just buy back the old one?" Turns out that's what they want to do.

(BTW, a Golden Gumdrop to anyone who can identify the source of the title to this post!)

Why, it looks just like John Bonham!

The Unsinkable Mr. Johnson provides, at long long last, photographic evidence that his wife, Krista, is in fact subject to the March of Time. Of course, it's in the form of a bit of abdominal distension that should fade after a period of forty weeks has passed, as opposed to something more prosaic like gray hair or something similar. But I'll take what I can get, because it just creeps me out that she looks the same as she did when I first met her fifteen years ago.

(A testament to the percussion folk at our college is that this conversation actually took place in the first days of my freshman year:

ME: Dude, who's the hot drummer over there?


ME: No, the other one.

TRUMPET PLAYER: The redhead?

ME: No, the other one. The brunette.

TRUMPET PLAYER: I dunno. But I think she prefers trombone players.

Actually, that last bit wasn't said. But that's the way it turned out. Huzzah for Aaron and Krista!)

Manning the Helm

I watched a little bit of Eli Manning's debut with the New York Giants earlier this afternoon, and while I make no secret that Manning left me cold with his draft-time tantrum when it turned out that the team likely to pick him at Number One, the San Diego Chargers, weren't the team he wanted to play for, what's on my mind right now is this: are the Giants receivers that bad? In just the small portion of the first quarter of this game that I watched, I counted four passes that Manning put right where the receivers needed them to be, and yet, they either allowed the passes to go through their hands or to clang off their chests. Any Giants fans out there? Is the receiving corps down there that bad?

Women and Water: the Unbeatable Combination!

Darth Swank linked a gallery devoted to actress Laura San Giacomo the other day. I've always liked her when I've encountered her -- even if Just Shoot Me went on at least three seasons longer than it should have -- and perhaps she'll earn Move Over Britney! status in the future. But for now, here's a gratuitous shot of Ms. San Giacomo sitting in water, just because there are few things finer than a beautiful woman sitting or standing in a bit of water.

Further proof that water is the most amazing substance on Earth.

(After whipped cream, that is. But we shouldn't discuss that here. In fact, we shouldn't discuss that at all. Move along. These aren't the droids you're looking for.)

Tune in next fall to find out.... We're cancelled?!

If you've ever wondered how many TV series have ended their runs with cliffhanger episodes that went unresolved because their networks axed the shows, go here. There's been a lot of them, apparently.

(Around these parts, the most infamous example of such a show is The Pretender, which NBC cancelled to make room for the "Extreme Football League", a product that was one of the most embarrassing things I've ever seen on TV. And which lasted just one season, to The Pretender's four. Stupid network execs.)


Blogger is being really pissy right now, so here's a content-free test post. As opposed to my usual content-free posts.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Color me unsurprised.

(WARNING: Political comment here. Move on to the non-leftwing stuff immediately below this post, if such is your wont.)

I'm also seeing a lot of mention around Blogistan about the Republican majority in the House of Representatives preparing to dump a rule they themselves initiated when they took over the House in 1995, in which a Representative who is under indictment is no longer allowed to hold a leadership position. This was a stance against the well-publicized corruption of Democrats like Dan Rostenkowski, and in truth, it was a rule that I could support: generally, I would think that people under indictment should not be serving in high leadership positions in our government. But apparently now that the shoe may be on the other foot -- specifically, Tom DeLay may be under indictment soon -- such a rule is suddenly inconvenient to the Republicans. So it's being placed aside.

I can't say as I'm surprised. After all, these are the same Republicans who have changed the rules regarding judicial confirmations whenever they've found the current rules inconvenient, and then whining when Democrats resort to the only weapon left in their arsenal, the filibuster. ("We never filibustered Clinton's judges!" comes the refrain. "We never went that far! Clearly the Democrats are willing to do far worse than we ever were!" And this claim is made, despite the fact that since the Republicans controlled the confirmation process outright, they never had to resort to the filibuster. You don't have to filibuster when you can just never allow the nominations to come to a vote. There's no doubt in my mind that the Republicans would never have hesitated to filibuster Clinton's judges, had it come to that. But there's the rub: it was up to them to keep it from ever coming to that.)

Also, many of these guys are the same folks who took advantage of the "Congressional Term Limits" fetish that was part of the political climate back in 1994, only to then turn around and dump their previous promises to only serve a set number of years and then stop seeking re-election.

So, yeah, color me "unsurprised".

Can we just cut right to the Super Bowl?

It occurred to me the other day that the likely Super Bowl matchup this year (as well as the matchup I predicted), the New England Stupid Patriots versus the Philadelphia Eagles, will also feature what should be a barn-burner of a player matchup: Eagles receiver Terrell Owens going up against StuPats cornerback Ty Law.

Now that's a matchup worth waiting for, isn't it?

Questions that Answer Themselves

It's probably a given that I should be hearing this question nearly four tims an hour at The Store, what with Thanksgiving coming this week and all, but still, you wish people would stop to analyze their thought processes just a little bit before posing their query.

"Where would I find the frozen turkeys?"

The question contains its own answer, folks.

(BTW, in a particularly proud moment of Shared Geekery, I was joking around at The Store with a guy from the Meat Department whose unfortunate job it is to keep the freezer case stocked with turkeys. I was ruminating that it would be funny if the reefer-truck in which we keep the turkeys in their boxes before being put out on the sales floor was simply stolen -- say, if someone just pulled in with a semi, hitched up the reefer-trailer, and pulled away with all of the turkeys. I then added a fateful quip:

"All your turkeys...

And the Meat Guy, whose knowledge of geeky trivia in many areas puts my own to shame, immediately lit up and finished the thought:

"...are belong to us!"

It was a beautiful moment. William Shatner would have cried to behold it.)

I find your lack of pity disturbing.

I just hopped over to Paul Riddell's LiveJournal, where the first post I saw started thusly:

The cold weather's finally seeped into even Texas....

Huh. So it's cold in Texas, eh? The haughty Buffalonian in me feels the need to scoff at the very notion of it being cold in Texas, but I figured I should check the weather in Dallas before I scoff publicly. So I just checked the weather in Dallas.

And now I am scoffing publicly. You call a week of forecasted high temps in the sixties and then the fifties cold? Ha! In Buffalo, we don't call that "cold". We call that "October".

Wow. Last week I ate some rice while listening to Brahms....

I'm seeing a bit of mention around Blogistan yesterday and today (here, for example) about the fact that incoming Secretary of State Condolleeza Rice is, among other things, a very skilled pianist -- so skilled, in fact, that she accompanied Yo Yo Ma in public. I make no secret that I'm not a big admirer of Ms. Rice's skills in the political arena (I saw a Jon Stewart quote about this to the effect that "There's nothing Rice can't do -- except make peace with other nations!"), but a love of classical music still bridges some kind of gap.

What interests me currently is that accomplishment on a musical instrument is now seen as being a sufficiently rare thing as to merit big-time mention in a newsmaker profile article. That saddens me; it kind of adds to a "mystique" about musical ability that frankly wouldn't be so mystical if we still bothered to make sure our up-and-coming generations knew something about music.

I'm unsurprised to hear that Ms. Rice prefers the music of Brahms to that of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.

I love Brahms because Brahms is actually structured. And he's passionate without being sentimental. I don't like sentimental music, so I tend not to like Liszt, and I don't actually much care for the Russian romantics Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, where it's all on the sleeve. With Brahms it's restrained, and there's a sense of tension that never resolves.

My own preferences go precisely the opposite direction, as I've previously established -- although Tchaikovsky isn't one of my towering favorites, I've noted before that Rachmaninov is the composer closest to Berlioz in my personal composer pantheon -- and pretty much for the reason that Ms. Rice leans away from those composers. I tend to really grok the music that puts it all on the sleeve. Music, to me, is emotion distilled to its ultimate essence, and I'll take an emotionally compelling but structurally-flawed work (like the Symphonie fantastique) over a perfectly-structured but emotionally stunted work just about every time.

But I don't want to go too far in this, because structure in music doesn't have to rule out emotion in music. It's not a case where you can have one but not both. I mean, look at Beethoven's Seventh Symphony: the structure in that thing is as close to flawless as I can see, and it's also got emotion in spades. And you know what? Brahms has emotion in spades, too.

I confess to not knowing much at all about Brahms's chamber music, but I do know his four Symphonies very well. (Well, three of them, at any rate. I've never been able to muster much enthusiasm for the Third.) The First Symphony, so long belittled by the unfortunate moniker "Beethoven's Tenth", opens with precisely the tension to which Ms. Rice alludes: two melodic lines, one ascending chromatically and the other descending chromatically, pulling at each other over a series of throbbing timpani beats. When I think "tension in music", those opening bars of the Brahms First are what I think of.

But, contrary to Ms. Rice's statement, the tension does resolve, in the wonderful fourth movement. The hushed and mysterious opening, that haunting chorale theme sounded by the low brass, the melody that first shows up as a soaring horn call as if Kepler's crystal spheres have just opened up -- and then the main theme that many cite as being ripped from the "Ode to Joy" tune of Beethoven's Ninth. Tension, yes; but also resolution -- right down to the very end, when a passage of rhythmic pulsation builds to a huge statement of that formerly-haunting chorale theme.

No, I have to disagree with Ms. Rice: in Brahms, the tension does resolve, and in Brahms you'll find as much emotion as you'll find in Rachmaninov. You just have to look for it a bit harder.

(BTW, I'm assuming that I have to wait until she receives offical Senate confirmation to refer to her as "Secretary Rice", correct?

Also BTW, in my grab-bag post the other day I mentioned former Buffalo Philharmonic music director Semyon Bychkov. Apropos of the current post, Maestro Bychkov's last two concert programs as music director in Buffalo featured all four of Brahms's symphonies -- two of them one week, the other two the next. I can't remember which symphonies were performed which night, but those concerts were absolutely thrilling. Believe me, you haven't lived unless you've heard an orchestra with a really good brass section perform the endings of the Brahms First or Second Symphonies -- and if you've heard both, then you've not only lived, but lived well.)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Why I Love Blogs, Reason #8958

I love it when I'm noodling about Blogistan, and I see some post on some blog mentioning a book that I know I have to read upon the mere sight of its title.

OK, what is THAT stupid looking thing and why do we have one?

No, I'm not going to be joining the ranks of "Friday Cat Blogging", but here's our cat Lilac providing her best "WTF?!" expression upon her first encounter with the Daughter's newly-battery-powered Furby.

I can almost hear Lilac thinking, "Dumbest...toy...ever...."

"Five Dirty Secrets About Me"

I am merely pointing out the existence of this new blogging theme, but I think I'll be sitting this one out. I have at least some residual modesty. I think.

Search Engine Follies! (Formerly brought to you by Ziegfeld)

Maybe I'm just not digging through my referrals as much, or maybe I'm not finding the odd searches that bring people here all that odd anymore, or maybe, just maybe, the more I blog the less I turn up on really oddball searches. I'm not sure. But I saw one earlier that gave me pause, via an engine I've never seen before, Munky.com: On that particular search engine, I'm the top result for "An authority on dressing and feeling good". I even beat out Andrew Sullivan on this, for God's sake.

Anyway, I'm pretty certain that I am neither an authority on dressing (in neither the clothing sense or the salad sense), nor on "feeling good". Sorry to see this person go away unfulfilled, but them's the breaks, I guess.

By Request, a Google-bomb

Alex Ross wants his blog, The Rest is Noise, to be easier to find when people do a search under his name (which, currently, it is not. So, being happy to help out with a Google-bomb whenever I can, here's some aid tossed his way (and not just because he recently linked me in his blogroll):

Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross Alex Ross

That should help things a bit.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Apologia (with traffic babbling)

I know I've been sparse the last day or two, and in truth, I expect that pattern to continue for a while, at any rate. The Wife returned to work today, which means that I am now the caregiver for Little Quinn when I'm not at work myself. And there's the matter of the five-year-old Daughter (who is proving to be remarkable with him -- I couldn't be happier about that). I'm trying to work in more "writerly" writing, as opposed to "bloggerly" writing (which is more akin to babbling), in and around trying to work out some kind of schedule or rotation or something like that for my time at home alone with the two kids.

I'm pleased, though, to note that earlier today traffic here broke the 70,000 hit plateau (that's "all time" -- if I had that many hits in a day, I'd probably explode). Thanks to everyone who's been reading or just dropping in to ogle pictures of women who are more talented than Britney Spears, and a double thanks to everyone who has seen fit to link me lately.

(Oh, and here's a link that I forgot to include in my round of "Lazy Links" the other day: an article that explores the demands placed upon the actors who play corpses on CSI. They should have special Emmy's for people who play dead people, or for people whose job it is to lie on a gurney and have makeup smear them with all manner of nasty shit for an appearance on ER.)

Shuffling the Tracks

It's time for another of those "random shuffle" of all the music tracks I have on my hard drive (wow -- I have 1112 of them, is that a lot?), just because I'm bored. Here they are:

1. "A Telegram" from Little Women (Thomas Newman)
2. "Fox Fanfare" from one of the Star Wars soundtracks (Alfred Newman)
3. "Slave Children's Crusade" from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (John Williams) (speaking of which, this score needs an expanded release.)
4. "Singin' In the Rain", performed by Gene Kelly
5. "Lexington Hotel, Room 1432" from Road to Perdition (Thomas Newman)
6. "My Lord, What a Morning" performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
7. "Roy's First Encounter" from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (John Williams)
8. "Thorpe's Pet Monkey" from The Sea Hawk (Erich Wolfgang Korngold)
9. "Wake" from Road to Perdition (Thomas Newman)
10. "Anvil of Crom" from Conan the Barbarian (Basil Polidouris -- now there's a composer we don't hear enough from.)

It interests me that I only have two Thomas Newman scores on my computer, and yet, the shuffle play gave me three tracks in the top ten from those two scores. Not sure what this means. Probably nothing.

Of Matters Riddickian....

Nefarious Neddie takes time out from poking me with a stick in comments here to waxing poetic about that Riddick movie that came out a short while ago. Now I gotta see the damn thing, which I didn't want to do because I thought the previews looked ridiculous. Or even Riddickulous.

(There's no way that I'm the first person to coin that pun. And checking Google, I see that I'm not. Dammit. Hell, even the raving evolutionist beat me to the punch!)

A MeFi Two-fer

Two things I saw on MeFi today:

:: The AFI's next "100 Years" show will focus on movie quotes -- iconic lines, bits of dialogue, et cetera. As always, look for lots of debate. Personally, I'm glad to see that the prospective list of 400 quotes (which will be whittled down to 100 for the show next year) includes the wonderful line from Say Anything, "I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen." It annoyed me a couple of years ago when the AFI did the "100 Romances" special, and left Say Anything off the list -- despite the fact that it's the greatest teen romance ever filmed. In terms of iconic lines from that movie, I personally would also go with the anonymous stoner who approaches Diane Court at the big party and simply says, "Lloyd Dobler. All right."

(Annoyingly, the list of 400 is a PDF file, for reasons passing understanding.)

:: Speaking of movie lines, I'm reminded of one in particular as I read this article about "secret law", the idea that we are subject to laws and regulations that we are not told about on the basis of national security. The quote I'm thinking of is from Broadcast News:

What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing...he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance...Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen....and he'll get all the great women.

Actually, there's a lot of stuff that's had me thinking of that quote lately.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Lazy Links

Just a few items of interest or of complete disinterest. You be the judge.

:: I forgot to do an Image of the Week this week, so take your pick from what might be the greatest Internet picture gallery ever. This is just a collection of incredibly tacky book covers from bad romance novels, bad sci-fi novels (what's usually called "skiffy"), and bad porn novels. My favorite is Awakening of Jenny, which bears the hilarious tag line:

She had a woman's face and a woman's body but she had never known a woman's passion.

I almost want to read some of these books.

(via PZ Myers)

:: If there's one thing I wish Buffalo had that the Midwest has, it's the Hardee's chain. For those unfamiliar with Hardee's, it's a fast-food chain in the Midwest that has, to my knowledge, responded to the healthy-eating craze with a guffaw and another dollop of lard in the fryer. There's so much fat in their food that the plumbing in the Hardee's buildings themselves frequently have to undergo angioplasty -- but my God, they've got some good burgers there.

And now I see via Mr. Sun that Hardee's now has something called the "Monster Thickburger". Yes, I'd eat one. But I'd only do so after fasting for three days beforehand, and I'd spend the three days afterward eating nothing but apples and water.

:: The collection of whining fanboys known as the Ain't-It-Cool-News Jedi Council recently reconvened (here and continued here), and they even have some new whines. Instead of George Lucas being a raper of childhood, now he's an abusive husband and Star Wars fans are the abused wives. Personally, I think a more apt descriptor is that George Lucas is a guy who makes movies and whining Star Wars fanboys are nitwits, but that's just me.

:: Ever wonder what a soda pop flavored to taste like green bean casserole would taste like? Sure you do.

:: Ever wonder if the old sci-fi TV show Battlestar Galactica had a fiercely loyal fan following? Sure you do. (Read the posts by Eric Paddon.)

:: Random disclosure of something: I've always had a soft spot for the pop music of the 1980s, since that's when I grew up and first started listening to pop music. And my favorite 80s song is the Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart cover of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready". I love these lyrics:

People get ready
There’s a train a-coming
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank the lord

People get ready
For the train to jordan
Picking up passengers
From coast to coast
Faith is the key
Open the doors and board them
There’s room for all
Among the loved the most

There ain’t no room
For the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just
To save his own
Have pity on those
Whose chances are thinner
Cause there’s no hiding place
From the kingdom’s throne

So people get ready
For the train a-comin’
You don’t need no baggage
You just get on board !
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don’t need no ticket
You just thank, you just thank the lord

I'd love to see the video again -- it was filmed in sepia tones, with Beck riding a train to the station where Stewart was waiting, intercut with closeups of people with very weathered faces. Not much of a description, I know, but damn, I love that song.

:: Drew Vogel doesn't think very highly of Colin Powell, apparently. I've often wondered about Powell myself -- just to what extent he was working with people whose beliefs he did not share, and to what extent he was pushing his own beliefs aside. There's some fascinating stuff there, I bet.

UPDATE: A couple of extra items.

:: This profile of Oklahoma Senator-elect Tom Coburn is kind of frightening. What gets me is this part, at the very end:

"I didn’t do this (run for the Senate) because I necessarily wanted to come back up here, I did this because I thought I was supposed to," he explained Monday, attributing his decision to "an impression in my spiritual life that that was something I should do."

How come God never seems to tell liberals to run for office? Is the Big Guy that partisan? Should future printings of the King James version refer to the Heavenly Father as "God (R-Heaven)"?

:: Nick Mamatas on waiting in line behind Bart and Milhouse. Or Beavis and Butthead. Or Potsy and Ralph. Or Lennie and Squiggie. Or...you get the idea. This is pretty funny.

:: In the course of linking an article she wrote on the young generation of orchestra conductors, Jessica Duchen singles out Semyon Bychkov as someone she particularly enjoyed talking to. She mentions Bychkov's wonderful Russian accent, and I concur: I met Maestro Bychkov way back in 1988, when he was the music director of my own Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. After the concert was done (Brahms's Second Piano Concerto and Dvorak's "New World" Symphony), I headed backstage with my program book in hand, and found Maestro Bychkov sitting in the "green room" enjoying his post-concert cigarette. He looked tired and unsurprisingly sweaty*, but he was gracious enough to give an autograph to a fairly nervous high school senior. He made some standard chit-chat, asking me if I was a music student (I was) and encouraging me to keep coming to concerts (I did) and to keep with my music (ummmm....), and then he signed the program after actually going across the hall to track down a pen.

What I remember most about that particular night, after the experience of meeting Maestro Bychkov, was that during the second movement of the Dvorak, the Buffalo audience was inexplicably seized by some kind of mass bronchial infection, to judge by the shocking amount of coughing and throat-clearing. It was very distracting, especially during the symphony's slow movement, in which there are numerous pianissimo passages. It was so distracting, in fact, that when the movement was done, Maestro Bychkov actually turned to the audience and scolded them for coughing so much. Then he turned back to the orchestra, seemed to think for a moment, and then turned back to the audience again; and this time he said: "For those of you who missed the second movement the first time we played it, we will now play it again." And so they did.

* Say, has anyone ever studied the sheer athleticism required by orchestra conductors? Conducting whilst garbed in formal wear and brilliantly illuminated by spotlights is a pretty strenuous task. I wonder if so many conductors live to their ripe old age simply by virtue of doing two hours of aerobics three nights a week.

Monday, November 15, 2004

How to do Self-Portraiture

The Third Law of Self-Portraiture: It really really really helps if you're a beautiful Icelandic woman.

(Unfortunately, the Laws of Self-Portraiture say nothing about what to do if you're a goofy-looking guy from Buffalo. That's the problem with these Laws. They're too restricting.)

On Dissonance

Lynn Sislo wants a clarification of "dissonance", since apparently she just listened to a piece of music described as containing quite a bit of dissonance but which she found beautiful and haunting.

Well, to start with, "dissonance" is a term that has to do with a work's harmonies, and that's it. Here's a good "starter" definition. Unfortunately, the term seems to have accrued a connotation of negativity, so that if we find a work's harmonies unappealing, we complain about "too much dissonance". But in truth, a work can contain a lot of dissonance and still be "beautiful". The canonical example here would probably be the Prelude to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, which I suspect would be described as beautiful by most sophisticated music lovers. Dissonance does not equal Cacophony.

So what is dissonance? It's what arises when you inject a musical note or notes into a setting in which it doesn't belong. Take a simple chord, a C-major triad. The notes -- C, E, G -- complement each other to form a consonant chord. (Take my word for it.) But if you play that chord and then strike the B-natural just below the C, you'll discover a dissonance: the B and the C clash, and the resulting four-tone chord becomes one of harmonic tension instead of one of harmonic consonance.

Dissonance is actually one of the most powerful tools in the composer's kit. Shifting from dissonance to consonance is a fundamental aspect of musical expression. What's so amazing, though, is that it's often not entirely obvious where the dissonances are, because dissonance does not equal "ugliness". One of the most beautiful pieces I know, Percy Grainger's setting of the Irish Tune from County Derry, contains some highly dissonant chords, but the way that Grainger handles the setting -- with the lushness of the harmonies in the bass voices -- masks the dissonance, so one is never consciously aware of the harmonic tension at work beneath the familiar tune of "Danny Boy".

A lot of times it's hard to tell that dissonance is there. On a piano keyboard, if you strike Middle-C and the B-natural just beneath it at the same time, the two tones create a pretty harsh dissonance: you can hear the two tones clashing against one another, and the effect is one of great tension. However, if you strike instead the C above Middle-C and the B-natural an octave below the one from before, the resulting dissonance is harder to hear, because the distance between the tones is greater. But the dissonance is still there, and it still implies a resolution to consonance.

An interesting question is: Is dissonance essential to musical expression? Could a composer write an interesting work out of nothing but consonant chords? I have my doubts. One thing is certain, though: music can be beautiful and dissonant. In fact, I suspect that since beauty depends on contrast, beauty in music must involve dissonance, to some extent.

Theisman-ia, and other Divers Football Stuffe

In comments to my previous post about what a doofus ESPN's Joe Theismann is, some other folks provide agreement (while Nefarious Neddie provides a contrarian take which I can only assume is part of his overall scheme to be as contrary as possible when posting to my comments, the little devil). I figure this is a good time to dig out my favorite Dumb Thing from the Lips of Joe of all time. In the pre-game hoopla before Super Bowl XXXVII (Buccaneers vs. Raiders), the various TV sports folk were offering their picks for the game, and Theismann opined that the Raiders would win because "Week in and week out, they were the best team in the NFL this year." This was an odd opinion for Joe to have, since the Raiders were only 11-5 that year (versus 12-4 for both the Bucs and Eagles, the participants in the NFC title game the week before), and since the Raiders had suffered a four-game losing streak earlier in the season. It just goes to prove: when you want to hear something dumb about football, just tune in to a game Joe Theismann's calling!

Anyway, what should I say about yesterday's dismantling of the Buffalo Shitty Bills at the hands of the New England Stupid Patriots? Well, not much, since it was (a) expected, and thus (b) totally unsurprising. You've got a 3-5 team with a crappy offensive line and a defense that, while highly rated, still generates too little pressure up front and relies too heavily on the blitz against a team with a good defense and a quarterback who seems to be about as susceptible to the blitz as my dead grandmother. (Just try blitzing my dead grandmother. She won't even blink at you. Of course, she won't burn you for a 50-yard completion either, but you sure won't surprise her.)

All week prior to this game, the Buffalo sports media kept insisting that the ShiBills would have to take advantage of the StuPats' injury-depleted secondary, and all along I was thinking, "Yeah. Good luck with that." Since that didn't play out so well for the Rams the week before (a team that can move the ball through the air sometimes), I failed to see just how this would work for a team like the ShiBills, whose limited ability to move the ball involves running it, not throwing it. And I was right: the ShiBills couldn't move the ball at all. Their only points came on a punt return, for God's sake, and they couldn't even punch home the two-point conversion despite having two shots at it. (The StuPats stopped the first one, but a penalty against them gave the ShiBills another shot. Which got stuffed too.)

Of course, nothing I write here should be seen as any kind of endorsement of the StuPats. They're still the greatest force for evil in all of sports-dom, and no amount of admittance of their current football ascendency changes that. I mean, the Nazis had a pretty awesome military machine in 1939, but they were still evil. Evil, I say! EVIL!...uh, where was I?

In other ShiBills developments, it seems that just about everyone is clamoring for J.P. Losman to be anointed the starter, right now. And from what I've heard on the radio shows and read in the paper, this isn't out of some belief that maybe Losman can salvage the season. It's solely for the purpose of getting him in there to get some NFL experience: embracing the inevitable quarterback turnover, since Drew Bledsoe looks to be totally done. I have to admit that the idea is pretty seductive, although I'm not sure what kind of learning experience Losman's going to get behind this offensive line. He'll be sacked more times than the Campbell's Chunky Soups that are on sale at The Store. (Yeah, what a crappy metaphor. I'm tired.)

So anyway, next week brings Mike Martz and the Rams to Buffalo -- otherwise known as the Most Underachieving Team in NFL History. (Maybe I should call them the UnderRams.) Whee. That one should be a real hootenanny. Zzzzzzz.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Shut up, Joe!

As you might expect, I'm watching the Buffalo ShiBills right now performing their annual act of self-destruction in Foxboro, MA (the New England StuPats are spectators). Not much to say right now, but I'm always astounded by Joe Theismann's ability to say something really stupid. Sometimes it's something dumb in the "What are you smoking?!" kind of way; other times it's just something so vacant of content that you just wonder why on Earth Theismann felt the need to fill the silence in the first place, unless for no other reason than to hear the sound of his own voice. A few minutes ago, the StuPats were on offense, and Joe opens his mouth to unload this bit of amazing football wisdom:

"I really like the way Tom Brady plays football!"

Gee, Joe, I'm sure glad you bothered to let us know this. I mean, as color commentary goes, this is just fascinating. I think I'll do the same thing, next time I'm at Starbucks:

"I really like the way this capuccino has foam on top!"

Or maybe I'll dust it off next time I'm at the gas station:

"I really like the way this gas nozzle fits into the hole in my car!"

Or next time I'm watching the Buffalo Philharmonic:

"I really like the way those musicians follow that guy with the white stick!"

Lordy, now Joe is using a bunch of replays to show that if a quarterback has time to throw the ball, he can throw the ball! Wow! What would we football fans do without Joe Theismann to tell us these things!


Evolution, again

Michael Lopez responds to my post from the other day. I have little intention of flogging this subject beyond the point of usefulness, considering that (a) this is just a blog and (b) I'm not a biologist, but Michael does make some points that I feel need addressing.

First he notes some of "the usual suspects", by which I mean, the standard complaints about evolution theory:

Whatever your opinions of Evolution, there are still serious problems with it. The one that jumps to my mind most quickly is the simple lack of time: our planet is only about four and one half billion years old. That's really not a lot of time to go from ooze to amino acids to proteins to humans. I'm not saying it's impossible -- but it's not really 100% convincing. Then there is the problem with "missing links." Creationists make a LOT of hay about this, but despite their zeal, there's some sense to the argument. There's also the question of why single celled organisms still exist... but that's a slightly less strong argument.

That's pretty breathtaking: "only" about 4.5 billion years old. Creationists trot this one out with surprising regularity, and yet they somehow are never able to conclusively demonstrate that evolution is impossible in such a "short" amount of time. I personally find 4.5 billion years to be an astonishing amount of time (check out Carl Sagan's "Cosmic Calendar", which sets the Big Bang at midnight on January 1st, for an illustration of the time scales involved here.) I'm frankly amazed that Michael wants to just toss this one out there with a "you see, it's just not 100% convincing". Whose fault is that? It's not exactly 100% convincing that light is both a wave and a particle, but no one complains about that. I'm also not sure what to make of Michael's insistence, also with no backing argument, that "there's some sense" to the "problem with missing links". (Perhaps PZ Myers could weigh in here.) As for the bit about why there are still unicellular organisms, so what? It's never been the contention of evolution theory that all organisms must evolve into organisms of higher complexity over time, but rather that they can, if conditions over time favor them doing so. That's not just a "less strong argument"; that's a non-starter.

Michael also takes me to task for comparing theories that actually have been either confirmed or disproved, but he really doesn't have much to go on here because he keeps assuming that evolution theory is on far less stable ground than it actually is. My contention, and the vast majority of scientists agree, is that evolution is on far more stable ground as a scientific theory than most people think it is. With all due respect to Michael, he appears to be swallowing Creationist and ID "objections" without question. Plausible answers and convincing rebuttals to every one of these objections exist, and yet they keep getting plopped out there, often completely unchanged despite the answers the scientists provide. It's simply not true that evolution is in a "lot more serious trouble" than, say, plate tectonics. That the evolutionists haven't convinced everyone is not an indicator of a theory in danger of being debunked, which is just how Michael depicts it.

Michael also still seems to think that the Laws of Thermodynamics are called "laws" because Thermodynamics is on better ground, as a theory, than evolution is. This is flat-out wrong. The Laws are called Laws because they are formulated as such: the Second Law, for example, states that "In any closed system the energy available for work always becomes zero over time." (There are other formulations, of course.) It's not called a Law because it's true, but because it can be reduced to a single sentence in the form of a Law. Importantly, I can do exactly the same thing with Natural Selection; in other words, it can be stated as a Law: "In a world in which species must compete for limited resources to survive, organisms that develop traits that give them decided advantage over others will survive." (This phrasing stolen from here.)

Additionally, Michael insists that the phrasing on the textbook-sticker in question is fairly neutral. Yeah, maybe it's "technically true", but believe me, it really isn't. One doesn't pay attention to the evolution vs. creationism "debate" for years without noting that the phrasing "Evolution is a theory, not a fact" does not turn up outside of people trying to advance Creationism. Yes, it is true that "Evolution is a theory", but I see no reason to ascribe motives of truthfulness to the people insisting that this sticker be applied to this book about this theory alone.

Michael also says this:

Jaq needs to understand that the people who support Creationism aren't reacting negatively to evolution because they don't want it to be true. They're reacting negatively to evolution because it's directly at odds with what they've decided is the truth. It's a subtle, but important difference. They're not scared of evolution, but rather convinced of an idea which is inconsistent with it.

Again, with all due respect, I think that Michael is completely wrong here. They are scared of evolution, and they're scared of it precisely because it's inconsistent (or, rather, they think that it is inconsistent) with their default positions. That's a perfectly human way to respond to something, too -- but it is not a rational one, nor is it a scientific one. You don't get to react negatively to something because it's at odds with what you've already believed, and then call your objections "science". That's not the way it works. To return to Copernicus, it's worth noting that initial objection to Copernicus wasn't based in scientific concerns, but also because it stood at odds with what people had already decided was true. The objections were religious and philosophical in nature, precisely as they are now with respect to evolution. It wasn't science then to oppose the Copernican model, and it isn't science now to oppose evolution.

Lastly, Michael seems to be trying to turn things around a bit, accusing me of the same emotional response of which I accused the Creationists in my earlier posts. Well, maybe, but I don't think so. I'm convinced of evolution because of the amazing amount of evidence in its favor, its explanatory and predictive power, and frankly, its stunning elegance. And since I didn't come into the debate with a raft of pre-held notions about these things, I don't see how that accusation holds. Not even close.

It's also worth noting, in the end, that Michael's main point of interest here seems to be in the legal matter of whether this particular school board should be allowed to put that sticker on the book. I admit up front, I don't care one whit about the legalities. I care about the science, and I care that this is clearly just another attempt by the Creationism/ID people to whittle away until their position is in the schools, too. Defending someone's right to be ignorant is one thing; defending the actual ignorance is something else entirely. It's the latter on which I am focused. The fact is, there are some things on which I do not want to encourage students to "make up their own mind". A list of such items would include UFOs, Holocaust denial, Hollow Earth theory...and Creationism.

UPDATE: PZ Myers also comments on the textbook sticker. Warning to my readers: Dr. Myers is far less patient with Creationism than I am.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

It turns out that the Bush Administration's new policy of torpedoing suspected drug-running boats before they reach American shores is having some unintended consequences.

Won't someone please think of the crustaceans!

(via PZ Myers. And yes, this is a joke. So far as I know, the Bush Administration isn't torpedoing drug-runners. Just Democrats.)

The how and why of "Red and Blue America"

Kevin Drum digs into why red is used for Republican states and blue for Democratic ones. It's a mildly interesting analysis, for those interested in such stuff. I always assumed that red got co-opted by the Republicans because Nancy Reagan always wore red. Remember all those 1980s Republicans in their identical navy suits and red ties? That's where I figured it came from. Of course, it turns out that I'm pretty much dead wrong, which is probably why Kevin's the paid political blogger and I'm just Joe Blow With A Blog.

I've been let down by my readers!

A while back we spent a Saturday wandering around to various garage sales, and at one of these, the Daughter somehow ended up with one of those "Furby" things". This one had no batteries, but she liked it because she likes goofy-looking fluffy beasties.

Well, this morning the Daughter discovered that I had bought a new pack of AA batteries, and she immediately assumed that I had purchased them for the Furby. I, of course, took pity on her because she's nursing a nasty cold and loaded four AAs into the fluffy white beastie.

So now there's this little white thing sitting on the floor, making very weird noises at what appear to be random intervals. It's the creepiest damn thing, like, ever. Seriously.

Why, O why, did none of my readers warn me of the elemental evil that is the Furby!

The Whistling of the Birds

As long as I'm blathering on a bit about our neighbors to the North, I just wanted to note something interesting I discovered a week ago. This time of year is when you can't walk outside and look up without seeing a large flock or two of Canadian geese making their southward migration. As anyone who's seen the geese knows, usually they're making this surprisingly loud honking sound which can often be heard even before the flock itself moves into one's sightline.

Well, one day last week as I was arriving at The Store early in the morning, one of the larger flocks I've seen flew overhead, and two things struck me: first, they weren't honking, at all. Not a one of them was honking. And second, they were flying much lower than I am accustomed to seeing geese fly. As they passed directly overhead, I could make out the motions of their muscles as they flexed their wings, up and down, up and down.

But the coolest thing by far was something I'd never known: when the geese are silent and they're flying low enough, you can hear a pulsating whistling noise that I suppose is the air coursing through their feathers. It was an amazing thing to hear, especially in that setting: a suburban grocery store parking lot, the traffic on the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) just half-a-mile away, and the whistling of the morning wind on the wings of the Canadian geese.

There are so many times a day that I ache for all the people in this world who go through their days without ever looking up.

Nitwittery on Display

Yesterday two articles about the election ran in The Buffalo News, one relating how happy Bush supporters are about their victory, and the other describing how despondent Kerry supporters are about their narrow defeat.

I wanted to slap the people quoted in both stories.

First, the easy one. One of the Bush supporters in the first story says this:

This country was founded on strong religious values. My father's family and my mother's family fought the American Revolution for that. That's what this country was founded on. If you don't like it, go somewhere else.

Ah, yes: "Love it or leave it." Yeah, well, with all due respect to this person's forebears who took up arms against the Redcoats, screw that. I have ancestors who fought for this country too, and I plan to work hard to advance the agenda in which I believe precisely because this country is my home and I love my country.

Now to the folks on the other side:

On the day after the election, the number of U.S. visitors to Canada's main immigration Web site jumped from an average of 20,000 to 115,016 - a nearly sixfold increase that practically doubled the previous record.

Look, I have no idea how much of this traffic was brought about by people who are actually considering expatriating to Canada, or just living there until January 20, 2009, or whatever. I admit that I read this Harpers article about the ins-and-outs of ditching one's country, but I did so because it was linked on MeFi (I can't find the link right now) and I thought, "Gee, I wonder just what is involved in changing one's nationality." You never know when something like this is going to be useful, when you're a writer-in-waiting.

(And it's actually a very interesting read. You'd be surprised at the amount of legal stuff that awaits anyone trying to go this route. It really makes me wonder just how much money all those rich folks who renounced their citizenships to evade US taxes spent on the lawyers who had to iron out the details.)

I suspect that a lot of traffic to whatever site this article is referring was of similar variety -- i.e., I doubt that the number of people actually thinking about leaving the United States for greener (well, colder, anyway) pastures in Canada is very low. Anyone who hangs around Blogistan for even a short while knows that traffic does not imply support, and I suspect that this site may have been Slashdotted or something similar.

But to anyone who might actually be considering moving to Canada, let me say: You're nitwits. All of you.

The risk of participating in a democracy -- hell, it's not even a risk, but a guarantee, a mortal lock -- is that sometimes you're not going to win. Sometimes you're going to want the country to go one way, and fifty-plus percent of the people who vote are going to want to go another. You don't knock the board on the floor and stomp off to your room; you reset the board and try again. If you do that, you just make it that much harder on those of us who do still hope to win one of these election thingies once in a while.

So, to sum up: Conservatives, your recent victory doesn't mean that you own America and get to tell the rest of us to get out if we liberals wish to pursue our agenda. And liberals, shut up about moving to Canada, because that's really an anti-American attitude, and I for one am done listening to people tell me that I am anti-American. I am an American.

(But if you really really must move to Canada, Sarah Jane Elliott has some pointers for you on how to be a Canadian. And before you leave, make sure you stop in Buffalo and spend some money. We need it. Bad.)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Explain this meme, please

I'm seeing a lot of the political blogs I read carrying some kind of disclaimer about being a "proud member of the reality-based community". Of course, being the lemming-like soul that I am, I'd love to follow along, but my problem is this: I don't know what "reality-based community" means. Anyone care to let me in on the joke?

"Theories" are not "Conjectures"

I respect Michael Lopez enormously and I love his blog. He always gives me food for thought, and often in the best of ways: he says something that I think that I might disagree with, but I'm often not sure why or how, which gives me cause to explore my own thinking and such. That's always golden, whether I end up agreeing or disagreeing with him.

But he goes way off the rails in this post about an Evolution vs. Creationism case. The particulars are that some school district wants to slap a PMRC-style warning label on science textbooks to the effect that "This book contains material about evolution!" (Which has me wondering when National Geographic will have to start carrying similar labels about aboriginal breasts.)

Michael commits the all-too-common "It's only a theory" error when he says this:

Evolution, for all its marvelous explanatory power, has not been proven. Now, it hasn't been disproved either, but there are enough holes in it to keep its famous moniker "The Theory of Evolution" and not to promote it to the rarefied company of, say, the Laws of Thermodynamics.

This is all very, very wrong, in a number of ways.

First of all, the Laws of Thermodynamics are not things that got "promoted" to "Physical Law-hood" from "Theories"; the Laws of Thermodynamics are theories. A theory, in science, is as close to fact as you get, but to most people, the word "theory" carries with it a connotation that a "theory" is little more than a hypothesis that's got some evidence going for it. If we're going to play the "Evolution's a theory" card as an implication that there are other, perfectly good theories to explain the same stuff, then we have to take similar approaches to other theories: plate tectonics, for one. Or Special Relativity. Or General Relativity. Or universal gravitation. Or Thermodynamics. The Laws of Thermodynamics are the theoretical laws that govern the theory of thermodynamics. They are not theories that have been "proven".

And this is because theories are never "proven". Proof is not something that happens in science; what happens is confirmation: the gathering of evidence that either strengthens a theory or either weakens or outright disproves it. Now, Michael cites earlier examples of theories that fell by the wayside, and he's right: we now know that phlogiston theory is wrong, as is the theory of the luminiferous aether. But this doesn't imply that evolution is some nice story that has a ton of holes in it, nor does it imply that evolution is just waiting for some intrepid anthropologist or paleontologist or biologist to uncover the smoking gun that reveals it's all bunk.

Michael also trots out the "critical thinking" bugaboo, accusing scientists of being dogmatic about their insistence upon evolution. I've always found this baffling, because no one (outside a few cranks like the Flat Earthers) insists that geologists are somehow going against the grain of science in their current acceptance of plate tectonics. Neither does anyone complain about the fact that you won't find an astronomer who refuses to toe the Copernican line. Somehow, in all those cases, we're all willing to admit that the scientists believe these things because they're true; but when it comes to evolution, it's suddenly a case of "Whoa, there, scientists! You guys aren't supposed to be so dogmatic!"

What it all boils down to is that opposition to evolution, or the endorsement of either Creationism or its more handsome younger brother Intelligent Design, isn't born out of "critical thinking" at all. What it's born from is the desire on the part of an awful lot of people to have evolution not be the way things are. Why so many people are emotionally invested in evolution's failure is beyond me, but don't tell me that they can act this way toward one theory (and I use that word here in its full-blown scientific sense) and no other theory and tell me it's all about "critical thinking". Because, hell, while we're at it we might as well slap a similar sticker on high school physics texts that they contain material about universal gravitation, and then insist that we're merely encouraging "critical thinking" from students who would never know where to start to look for evidence against universal gravitation even if they wanted to.

This "sticker on the textbook" stuff isn't about intellectual honesty, or the "true spirit of science", or any such thing. It's about encouraging students to believe that one scientific theory that is nearly universally accepted by scientists is false after all, and that's it. It's an encouragement of Creationism, and nothing more.