Monday, February 28, 2005


Yup, time to talk about Oscar. He was a pretty good boss to Lee Majors, wasn't he?

OK, fine, on the Academy Awards last night -- I saw very few of this year's films (Finding Neverland, which I enjoyed immensely, was the only one), and I really didn't care all that much. Still, it was nice to see Morgan Freeman win -- every day that I look up "dignity" in the dictionary and don't see Freeman's picture there strikes me as an injustice -- and other than that, I don't much care. I liked Chris Rock a bit, although really, I don't care who hosts the show. (As long as it isn't Whoopi Goldberg. I lost my taste for her Oscar hosting a few years back.)

As a film music lover, the Best Original Score category always interests me. This year the award went to Jan Kaczmarek's score to Finding Neverland, which along with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the only one of this year's scores I heard. I found Kaczmarek's score lovely, and I don't really have a problem with it taking the award. It's fine by me, actually.

But then, of course, you can cue the film score community -- see here and here -- to bitch about the fact that James Newton Howard didn't win, yet again, and about the Academy's continued failure to grovel at the feet of Jerry Goldsmith (this time, some people bitch that Goldsmith's music wasn't featured during the telecast, and some don't feel that the applause his name received during the "In Memoriam" segment was enthusiastic enough). Oy.


Sunday, February 27, 2005


I had no idea that the photograph featured here was taken sixty years ago this past week.

Does anyone know if that flag still stands on that spot?

Hey! It's that guy!

I wrote a few days back on why I'm not watching LOST anymore, and in that post, I briefly mentioned one of my favorite actors, Terry O'Quinn, who plays the mysterious Locke on LOST.

Well, MSN has a fascinating profile of Terry O'Quinn today. It's a good article, even if it fails to mention O'Quinn's role on the brilliant Millennium.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Yes, the Burst of Weirdness is back on its regular day! Joy! Rapture!

Anyway, Jayme links a site that provides instructions on how to construct an item of headgear that will protect you from being abducted by aliens.

No, really.

What's even more amazing is the goofy smile on the face of the guy who was actually willing to have his photograph taken whilst wearing this thing, and posted on the Web. Now there's a guy with confidence!

Traffic -- I'd like some!

[Wherein I whine about not getting enough traffic. Boo hoo hoo....]

There's been a kerfuffle around Left Blogistan over the last week or so over traffic and blog linkage. (That's what's great about Blogistan in general: you can almost always find a kerfuffle. Nothing like a good kerfuffle to spice up life, I always say.)

Anyway, Kevin Drum got roasted for speculating that women don't blog as much as men for -- well, I couldn't really figure out why. And Atrios printed a caustic e-mail from someone who really, really wanted a link from him (which they got). All this is very interesting, I guess. I've thought for a while that Left Blogistan should do a bit more to promote its own internal voices, something that Right Blogistan seems to do quite a bit better.

Why do I say this? Well, Kevin Drum's blogroll has remained in its current state, so far as I can tell, basically since he started up. I can't tell if Atrios has added much for linkage to his blogroll, since he doesn't even bother to alphabetize the thing. Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong have now decided to link some blogs other than "the usual suspects" of Left Blogistan, apparently conceding that not enough linkage of smaller blogs goes on. We just had the awarding of the third annual Koufax awards, and I have to note that the winner of the "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition" category, Suburban Guerilla, absolutely stomps all over my blog, in terms of traffic. (SG's daily average is about what my monthly average is. Ouch.) I'm not sure, here, what exactly is meant in terms of "wider recognition".

Yes, this is basically a "whining" post. So allow me one further whine: nearly nine months after he stopped posting to USS Clueless, Steven Den Beste still gets four times as many hits per day to his blog than I do. Harumph.

OK, I'm done.

Musical Linkage

:: Lisa Hersh on performing under Robert Shaw:

Shaw had an obsession: he wanted every last rhythm to be perfectly precise, and we had been working more on notes, choral sound and the musical line than on perfect rhythmic precision.

He had a solution to that: he threw out everything we'd been working on and had us count all the rhythms, and sing them with numbers, mostly staccato, for the next several days.

He got more precise rhythms, all right, but at rather substantial cost. Most of the choristers were ready to kill him; I certainly was. The beautiful work that was emerging from the first, relatively chaotic rehearsal got lost under the precise rhythms. Our voices were starting to shred, too, from all the staccatto singing.

:: Lynn Sislo offers a few musical jokes:

How do you tell the difference between a violinist and a dog?
The dog knows when to stop scratching.

A conductor and a violist are standing in the middle of the road. which one do you run over first, and why?
The conductor. Business before pleasure.

:: Scott Spiegelberg has some thoughts on perfect pitch. I never had perfect pitch, but I generally had a good ear. (Well, until it came to jazz improv. When it came to that, I was about as effective in the aural sense as Helen Keller.)

Wanna travel on the cheap?

Patrick tells you how. I'd love to travel, someday. I'd also love a pony.

It's pronounced "Duh-VOR-zhak".

I didn't play through the entirety of this elucidation of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony (compelte with animation!), since I know the work very well, but I like to see this kind of thing. While I'm not sold on the practice of hooking up classical music to specific imagery in "Mickey Mousing" style, I do think that this general kind of thing can help to demystify classical music, which at times seems to me to be about as accessible as nuclear physics.

Link via MeFi.

But on the other hand....

In the previous post I use a blog post to defend the utility of libraries. Meanwhile, the incoming President of the American Library Association, Michael Gorman, doesn't think too highly of the utility of blogs:

It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.

Having read the article, I just have to wonder what blogs this man has been reading. When one encounters a screed like this, it's natural to wonder just what the writer's sample happens to be. Unfortunately, names are not named here, so basically Gorman's piece reduces to "The unnamed people who called me an idiot are illiterate poopyheads".

Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

Terry Teachout has a list of things he either doesn't see or do anymore -- things which twenty-first century life has made obsolete, at least for his life. It's a pretty interesting list, although there are a couple of items that take me back a bit.

First, I no longer use floppy discs anymore either, but I do use CD-R's for backup purposes, and I do plan one of these days to do some backing up to my G-mail account, seeing as how I've got a whole GB just sitting there with all of six e-mail messages in it. But I don't want to forsake having a physical disc on hand. I'm still very wary of relying entirely on digital means of storing my stuff.

Second, I still use the USPS for most of my package shipping -- no, all of my package shipping. It's simply easier for me to do so. I have no idea if UPS or FedEx are cheaper -- maybe they are -- but I've yet to live in a place where the local post office isn't more conveniently located to me than the nearest place I'd go to use UPS or FedEx. (Those UPS Stores are popping up more, but still, the post office is closer.)

Third, I find the one that stops me in my tracks. Mr. Teachout doesn't use the public library at all. I am forever mystified by people who don't use their libraries. I've always had a library card, but a few years back I had the epiphany that I simply don't have unlimited space to buy every book that I might want to read, and if there's a book that I know I want to read but I know I don't want to own, why should I buy a copy anyway? I'm a huge believer in libraries, and I simply do not understand the mindset of people who don't use them. Heck, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library has enough of a DVD collection that I see no reason to use NetFlix for movies -- I have access, through the library system, to more films than I'll ever have a chance to see, so why pay for a service to bring them to me? (I know, NetFlix has a far larger selection from which to choose, but that's not enough of a concern for me.)

I also love just walking through the library, finding things that I might never have picked up in the first place. Amazon, I find, is good for grabbing specific items, but it's not very good for browsing -- especially since they switched on that "Search the Entire Text" search engine juggernaut of theirs.

Of course, Mr. Teachout is older than I, and I presume he makes quite a bit more money, so a number of factors that bring me faithfully to the library every week likely don't apply to him. But to never use the library, at all? To buy a copy of every book one might need or want, even in passing? Ugh!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

I heart FireFox

No surprise here, but I have officially adopted FireFox as my default browser, and I have uninstalled Mozilla. Thanks, Mozilla, for showing me how to love the Web again, but FireFox is my girlfriend now. Or something like that.

And I still haven't played around with those extension things yet! (The BugMeNot extension is first on my list.)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Spoilers? I laugh in the face of spoilers!

SFSignal linked this stunning collection of photos and whatnot from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which also includes detailed commentary on what each picture represents. That is to say, the site pretty much gives away the entire plot.

Oh well. I don't care if the plot is spoiled for me, anyway.


....and then SFSignal links this photo gallery of Star Wars fanboys, which might be one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

No, it's definitely one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Hoo boy. (Even if one of these people bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Your Humble Narrator. And even if some of the commentary is mean-spirited "Look at the fat people" stuff. Oh, and the language isn't safe for work.)

The Niagara Frontier

Originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

The family that babysits Little Quinn (and, occasionally, The Daughter) while both The Wife and I are at work live in the hills south of Buffalo, and one of the back roads leading back to town from their area yielded this view of the entire Niagara Frontier. I've been waiting for a really nice and clear day on which I could get a photo from this vantage point, and today was the best I've had lately. I'll try again if I get an even clearer day, but for now, I'm happy with this one. (You may need to click through to the largest possible version to make out all the detail.)

To the right, obviously, is the Buffalo skyline, with the tallest building -- the HSBC Center -- rising above the rest. Buffalo's downtown, is more spread "out" than "up", and really tall buildings aren't the rule here. It does bother me, though, that our tallest building also happens to be our blandest.

To the left of the photo, you can spot a sliver of white splitting the area just below the horizon. That is the frozen, snow-covered surface of Lake Erie, and the bit of land beyond that sliver is actually Canada.

And speaking of Canada, if you look at the horizon just to the right of that plume of steam just in the middle of the photo, you can pick some tall buildings out of the haze. That is Niagara Falls, ON, whose skyline is moving ever, ever upward. It probably seems like cliche to think of Niagara Falls as a tourist destination (especially for honeymooners), but the Canadian side is hopping in recent years. (Not so the American side, much to the chagrin of we in New York.)

Also, just to the right of the tree at the lest, you can see a building that looks like a big, white barn. This is the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse, the team's gargantuan practice facility (as well as an incredibly-goofy looking construct that puts me in mind of what an Amish Barn Raising might result in if the Amish used more up-to-date construction techniques). Immediately to the right of the Fieldhouse is Ralph Wilson Stadium, but it's kind of hard to make out in this photo. All you can see is the very top section of seating on the Stadium's north side.

That's Buffalo, folks.

Yet More Clutter

Originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I thought I had posted this photo the other day when I posted the remainder of my cluttered work area, but something went awry and I never got back to it. So here's the other half of the main front on the War on Clutter. (Yes, photos of the uncluttered area will be forthcoming. But not soon. Hey, wars aren't won overnight.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A Brief Update on Little Quinn

Little Quinn has had some digestive problems of late, although he's finally started putting on weight again after falling seriously behind the "curve". Today he went through a battery of tests at a GI clinic to see what's going in inside his gullet, and we are now awaiting the results. The pediatrician believes he has reflux issues. We'll see.

One of today's tests apparently involved filling his tummy with four ounces of barium.

As I write this, Little Quinn has just passed those four ounces of barium. Into his diaper.

As a guy who has to clean out the trash compactor at The Store at least once every two weeks, I can safely say that a diaper filled with barium that has been through a baby's digestive tract is one of the most vile, disgusting things I have ever seen.

I know, you're all grossed out now, but that's what blogging is all about. Sharing.

Heh, indeed.

A Mouse, in need of some Money

Something unexpected is going to happen in fall of 2006:

Disney's film Song of the South, long left to languish in the Disney vaults unseen presumably due to concerns over the film's portrayal of racial relations in the antebellum South, will be released on DVD.

According to the article, it's pretty much money at work -- this would almost certainly be a big splash for Disney at a time when the Mouse could really use a big splash. And we all know that Disney is always willing to do what it needs to do to get the money flowing again -- that's why Song of the South has been available in Europe and Japan all along, and one of the most popular rides at Disneyland and DisneyWorld is based on the film that no one has seen in over twenty years.

Disney's cynicism notwithstanding, I will certainly buy Song of the South. I saw Song of the South when it came out in re-release in 1980, and I loved it. I was nine, but hey, I had good taste even then.

More diagreements! Get your disagreements here!

As long as I'm disagreeing with Lynn Sislo, I might as well quibble with something she wrote in this post about female Presidential candidates: discussing Condi Rice, Lynn says this:

On foreign policy she gets an A+ in my book but that's about all I can say.

Now, I know that Lynn holds the Bush Administration's foreign policy in much higher regard than I do, but giving Rice an A+? Are we talking about here mere qualifications here, or are we including results? If we're including results, I don't see how she can remotely be considered an A+. When I was in school, to get an A+ you basically had to perfect work that was utterly exemplary. I seriously doubt that even if I agreed with the Bush Administration's general approach to foreign policy, I would believe that the results this Administration has delivered to this point deserve an A+.

(BTW, since we're already speculating about the 2008 Presidential Race, one of my favorite bits of political lore is that 2008 will be the first time since 1972 that the Republican ticket does not include either a man named Bob Dole or a man named George Bush.)


Oh, Good Lord. Why on Earth do we keep building buildings like this?

Burst of Weirdness

So what if it's three days late? So what? Huh?

Anyhoo, you know how on The Simpsons, Springfield has a permanently-blazing tire fire? Well, this Nebrasks town's four-month manure fire sounds even worse.

Via Craig of BUFFALOg.

It's like I'm looking down on Wayne's basement, only that's not Wayne's basement....

Alex Ross sports a spiffy new redesign of his blog, The Rest Is Noise. And his content's still good, so everything's A-OK.

Musical Rejoinders

Two music-related responses today:

:: Lynn Sislo is really against making classical music more inclusive:

Tell me, why is it that only classical music is expected to change in order to please people who only might be interested in it if it was more "friendly"? Maybe more city people would like country music if they would ban cowboy hats and quit singing about divorce and cheating and old dogs and pickup trucks. How come no one's pushing for that? Because if they did all that it wouldn't be country music anymore. DUH! But I guess country music has no lack of fans especially the modern pop-country stuff. You know what really needs to change to attract more fans? Soccer. More Americans would like soccer if they would make just a few "reasonable" changes. The players should be allowed to pick the ball up and run it into the goal and they should wear big heavy pads and slam into each other a lot. That would make it more interesting. And they need to have lots of long time-outs so fans watching on TV will have plenty of time to go to the kitchen and elsewhere. To be fair to the Europeans I guess we could make a few changes to American football to make it more interesting for them. Like... oh, I don't know... allow riots in the stands and maybe lift the ban on glass bottles so we could have some really "good" riots?


Those of you who are pushing for more "accessible" classical concerts, really think about what you're asking for. You're wanting to destroy something that some of us dearly love in the hope of attracting people who might or might not like classical music if it fit their notion of "inclusiveness." That's nonsense. It's already as inclusive as it needs to be. Everyone is already welcome. So what if some people look down their noses at you because you didn't arrive in a Lexus. That's their problem. Everywhere you go - school, work, sporting events, your grandmother's house - there is a code of proper behavior. If you are not able to adapt to different sets of rules for different environments you won't even be able to hold a job. Concert etiquette is no big deal. Really! It's not! A little education, in the form of appropriate marketing, would certainly be a good idea. But if people cannot accept classical music for what it is, screw 'em! Better that classical music die a dignified death than to be tortured and mutilated.

There's a lot there. To me, the answer to Lynn's first question -- "Tell me, why is it that only classical music is expected to change in order to please people who only might be interested in it if it was more "friendly"?" -- is that classical music is dying on the vine, whereas country and rock et al are not. Now, at the very end of her post, Lynn firmly states that she's ready to see classical music end entirely than go on in any other, less-formal manner. If that's what is decided, then fine, but if that happened, it would break my heart, really and truly. The idea that no one would ever again listen to Beethoven, because we decided that we couldn't have Beethoven without formal wear strikes me as colossally shortsighted.

But to be fair, I don't think that anyone is seriously maintaining the "Let's drop all concert decorum entirely" line that folks like Lynn and AC Douglas are attempting to refute. What's being maintained is that classical music won't survive if it insists on maintaining its current climate; and if I might invert Lynn's point, to those who resist any change at all in concert decorum, think about what it is you're asking for. As far as I can see, you're valuing the environment over the music. I choose to favor the music.

A point that is often made is that the current concert decorum is a relatively recent invention. Much of the most noted history of classical music had already gone by when we settled on the "Formal wear/no applause between movements/et cetera" version of concert etiquette, and the suggestion is that since classical music's decline in cultural relevance has roughly paralleled the arrival of this concert etiquette, perhaps a changing of the etiquette would enhance classical music's viability. This is often interpreted as "If we just tell people they can wear jeans and clap when they want to, they'll come to the concerts again", and maybe there's something to that. But maybe it's an oversimplification to suggest that what's being proposed is a reduction of current classical etiquette to what one might expect at a Billy Joel concert.

At a couple of points in the whole discussion that's been evolving in Classical Blogistan, and rather explicitly in Lynn's post, I see a general frustration with the general trend to less formality in not just the classical music concert world, but in general society. In some ways I do sympathize with the "etiquette traditionalists", because I do find a certain pleasure in wearing nice clothes to hear music in the traditional environment; and it does bug me occasionally to go to a church service in Dockers and a nice sweater and still be one of the better-dressed people in attendance. But to expect classical music to remain the one bulwark against the ever-encroaching slackening of formality strikes me not as a recipe for maintaining the proper climate within classical music, but for choking classical music off entirely. It's simple fact that in a society that values formality less and less, fields that rigidly adhere to formality are going to appeal to fewer and fewer people. Lynn openly stands up to be counted in the "That's fine with me" camp. I, however, do not. If the choice is between Kleinhans Music Hall being filled with people of all ages in shirtsleeves and slacks or jeans, occasionally applauding between movements of a symphony, and Kleinhans Music Hall only being half-filled by people mostly above a certain age in more formal wear, sitting in staid silence only until the very end of a work, I choose the former.

:: In this post of mine from the other day I questioned whether ACD is being fair in his assessment of a particular moment in the film Amadeus. As I wrote, in part:

I think that the musical edit here isn't intended to change the music itself at all. Rather, it is necessitated by the film itself. All that happens is that the film simply cuts from the middle of the work (that sublime movement that Salieri describes vividly) to the end, so we can get on with the business of Mozart being chewed out by the Archbishop (if my memory of the scene is correct).

In comments to that post, ACD responded thusly:

Had that been the case there would have been no problem. Marriner made it *seamless* (i.e., no indication of a cut as with other such instances in the film), and Mozart conducting it didn't miss a beat.

Well, I was in Media Play yesterday looking to buy the new Hayao Miyazaki DVDs, but only Nausicaa was on the nice sale price of $19.99*, so I decided to pick up Amadeus on DVD, since it's in a nifty new Director's Cut and I've been meaning to buy it forever, since it's a favorite film of mine. And I decided, among other things, to check the scene in question.

As ACD notes, the musical edit in question (from one movement in one work to a later movement, in a completely different tempo, of the same work) is a pretty seamless edit indeed. The inattentive listener might well conclude that the music heard in the film in this one scene does, in fact, spring from a single work.

But nevertheless, I find this conclusion hard to reach, since the time that elapses in the film from the time the music begins (when Mozart, while getting fresh with some woman, suddenly realizes the concert has begun), to the time he delivers the final cut-off, is less than ninety seconds, I find it unreasonable to still insist that in editing the music thusly, Sir Neville Marriner was trying to imply that it's all one single unending piece. Otherwise, you'd have to believe that all of these people have gathered at the Archbishop's Palace to hear the illustrious genius composer give a ninety-second concert.

ACD says that Mozart's conducting doesn't miss a beat, but we don't actually see him conducting at the moment of the musical edit: the tempo changes as Salieri moves through the crowd to the very front of the spectators, and only then -- when the music has already sped up -- do we see Mozart conducting again. The film's editing doesn't make the passage of time throughout the concert unmistakably clear, but neither, I think, does it ham-handedly imply that the music is all of a single stripe. Given that in the film the concert is over in a minute and a half, I fail to see anything in the film that actually implies that the piece performed simply jumps into an inexplicable allegro, as ACD believes.

(UPDATE: Maybe Marriner simply wanted to edit over the awkwardness that would have ensued had the film been forced to show the applause between the movements!)

* If you want a store with a good DVD selection, Media Play is great. If you want a store with good DVD prices, Media Play isn't.

Monday, February 21, 2005

A Reminder.

I posted Chapter Four of The Promised King yesterday morning, so all of you who are dying to know what happens next can now go over and find out, well, what happens next. Or something like that.

Do your research.

PZ Myers provides a tidbit from the guy who goes by the handle "Hindrocket" on the Powerline blog, which parlayed one moment of fame/notoriety into somehow being one of the Most Respected Voices In All Blogistan. In this old item, Hindrocket weighs in on evolution and "Darwinism". Dr. Myers "fisks" the Hindrocket post nicely, but this quote from Hindrocket caught my eye:

Karl Popper argued long ago that Darwin’s theory of evolution was never a matter of science; it was always about faith.

Hmmmm. It's been a long time since I read Popper, but I dug a bit into Philosophy of Science when I was studying philosophy as an undergrad, and Philosophy of Science would likely have been my area of specialty had I gone to grad school in philosophy. I read enough of Karl Popper's work to have at least some sense for what he was about, and this quote struck me as questionable. So I did a bit of digging.

I did a Google search on the terms "Karl Popper Darwin", and the first item returned in that search was this bit of Creationist literature that includes this bit:

"Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory," Popper says, `but a metaphysical research programme."

Well, that certainly seems damning, although the article here seems more interested in the fact that Darwin and Popper were both Englishmen, as though it should be an inconvenience to evolution that someone from Darwin's own country didn't agree with Darwin's theory. The article makes no effort whatsoever to dig into why Popper might have said what he said; it just plops that bit about Englishmen out there.

But anyway, if that's the sole bit of Creationist reliance on Popper to deny the scientific nature of evolution, well, they're not on very strong footing. To return to the Google search above, the seventh Google result produces this:

The fact that the theory of natural selection is difficult to test has led some people, anti-Darwinists and even some great Darwinists, to claim that it is a tautology. A tautology like "All tables are tables" is not, of course, testable; nor has it any explanatory power. It is therefore most surprising to hear that some of the greatest contemporary Darwinists themselves formulate the theory in such a way that it amounts to the tautology that those organisms that leave the most offspring leave the most offspring. And C.H. Waddington even says somewhere (and he defends this view in other places) that "Natural selection ... turns out ... to be a tautology". However, he attributes at the same place to the theory an "enormous power ... of explanation". Since the explanatory power of a tautology is obviously zero, something must be wrong here.

Yet similar passages can be found in the works of such great Darwinists as Ronald Fisher, J.B.S. Haldane, and George Gaylord Simpson; and others.

I mention this problem because I too belong among the culprits. Influenced by what these authorities say, I have in the past described the theory as "almost tautological", and I have tried to explain how the theory of natural selection could be untestable (as is a tautology) and yet of great scientific interest. My solution was that the doctrine of natural selection is a most successful metaphysical research programme. It raises detailed problems in many fields, and it tells us what we would expect of an acceptable solution of these problems.

I still believe that natural selection works this way as a research programme. Nevertheless, I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation. My recantation may, I hope, contribute a little to the understanding of the status of natural selection.

So: apparently the Creationists who are attempting to draft Sir Karl Popper into their cause don't know what they're talking about. Imagine that.

Ex-squeeze me?

"Panic" can be defined as the sensation one experiences when one goes to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and discovers that there is no baking soda to be found in the house. I mean, who doesn't keep baking soda on hand? WTF?!

Anyway, I did a bit of Googling for substitutions, because I know that you can use baking soda and cream of tartar to substitute for baking powder, so I figured there had to be a substitute for baking soda. Well, all of the sites I checked said the same thing: there is no direct substitute for baking soda.

But I refused to be flummoxed, so I used baking powder anyway. The recipe called for one teaspoon of baking soda; I simply used one teaspoon of baking powder. And the cookies turned out fine. In fact, they actually rose to a greater degree than they have in the past, which was a welcome discovery; I like "poofy" chocolate chip cookies better than the "flat" kinds. So this experiment turned out well.

Hunter S. Thompson

I don't have much to say about Hunter S. Thompson's passing, because...I haven't read him. Dammit. I hate having to admit things like that.

Social Security

One nice thing about hanging out in Blogistan is that I can forego the pressure of having to formulate my own thoughts on a subject, when someone else can usually be counted on to come up with a pretty precise formulation of their thoughts, which conveniently happen to mirror my thoughts. So I can just go ahead, quote them, and have done. In the case of political blogging, this saves me trouble of writing political stuff when I'd much rather drone on and on about Star Wars. (Just you wait, readers. By the time the first week of June rolls around, you poor people will be sick of reading me babbling about Star Wars.)

Anyhoo, a while back David Sucher wrote about Social Security, and he managed to precisely phrase a position that happens to also be my own:

The idea of "privatization" — "it's YOUR money" —seems to misunderstand the very purpose of Social Security i.e. it is NOT a private investment account and never was. But no matter, from what I understand, we should be saving more in the USA and perhaps Soc Sec private accounts will be part of a solution. But I can't see how we will escape (or want to escape) a system which takes care of old people who made bad investment decisions. Call that the Nanny State if you like. I just call it having beggar-free streets.

That's my position, and I'm sticking with it.

On Pizza

Reading this post by Alan at BuffaloPundit, I note something odd about pizza.

Alan is a partisan of New York City-style thin-crust pizza. For those who don't know what this is, the crust is thin, but not so thin as to be cracker-like. Instead, it's just thick and doughy enough -- and not one bit thicker or doughy-er, thank you very much -- to be foldable in the hand whilst being consumed. It's a unique texture for pizza, and even though Buffalo is in the same state as NYC, that style of pizza is very hard to find in these parts. So Alan reports on a few places here that make the authentic NYC-style product.

But what interests me is this (as I comment on his blog): everybody I've ever met who grew up on NYC-style pizza, with that type of pizza being their virginal pizza experience, loves it to the point of loathing every other kind of pizza that exists, anywhere. On the other hand, every person I've ever met who loves pizza but did not encounter NYC-style pizza first tends to love NYC-style pizza when they discover it, but they don't drop every other style of pizza in its favor. I don't know why this is, but it's true. Talk to a native eater of NYC-style pizza, and they'll react with horror at the idea of consuming any other kind of pizza. But talk to a non-native eater of pizza, and if they'll likely say, "NYC-style? Yeah, that's pretty good. So's Chicago...."

(For the record, I think we make pretty decent pizza here in Buffalo. But it's not NYC-style. We're a Great Lakes city.)

UPDATE: Alan adds more here, giving the background that supposedly establishes NYC-style pizza as the best: according to his account. NYC-style pizza is the closest thing you'll get to what is served as pizza in Italy. So, I suppose if one defines "best" along the lines of "most authentic", I suppose that there's an argument to be made. Pizza may have become the great culinary specialty of Naples, but it's not like the Neapolitans invented it -- the idea of putting toppings on flatbread goes back way farther than the Neapolitans. So, even though I love a good Neapolitan pizza, I still see little reason to anoint it "the best" pizza possible. (Outside of personal preference, that is.)

However, I don't always think that "most authentic" is the best indicator of "best", and pizza is one of those times. Pizza is a dish that has sprung into so much regional variation that I think that quibbling about authenticity almost misses the point entirely. It's like chili, albeit not quite to that degree -- chili's regional variation is so extreme that it varies not from region to region, but from pot to pot.

Finally, here's an interesting history of pizza, that offers among other things this tidbit about offical Neapolitan pizza:

Today, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the Association of True Neapolitan Pizza) maintains strict member guidelines for ingredients, dough, and cooking. This elite organization maintains that pizza dough must be made only with flour, natural yeast or brewers yeast, salt and water. Dough must be kneaded by hand or mixers which do not cause the dough to overheat, and the dough must be punched down and shaped by hand. Also, only wood-burning, bell-shaped brick ovens are permitted in pizzerias that belong to this organization. The pizza must be cooked on the surface of the oven (often made of volcanic stone), and not in any pan or container, with oven temperatures reaching at least 400-430° C (750-800° F). These ovens often have to heat up for hours before the first pizza is cooked.

I know that Alan will disagree, but for me, I love the fact that in Buffalo I can get pizza in just about any variety that exists. If I want a NYC-style pie, I can get one. If I want a good old Great Lakes region pizza, on fairly soft dough with lots of toppings, I can get that, too. I can even get those Californian seafood-topped pizzas, Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas, and more.

(Just don't ask me about "breakfast pizza". I can't get into that, at all. I don't know what it is, but that stuff just looks wrong to me, even though it's basically a quiche on a pizza crust. I dunno.)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Clap clap clappity-clap

The major topic around the Classical Music portion of Blogistan lately has been applause at classical concerts, specifically focusing on whether or not the relatively-recent etiquette of withholding applause in a multi-movement work until the very end of the last movement should really be enforced. I don't really have a strong opinion on this, since I rarely have the opportunity to attend live concerts any more (Maximiano Valdes was the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic last time I attended one of their concerts, for example). But generally, I don't have that much beef with people applauding in between movements. It just doesn't seem that big a deal to me.

What does seem a big deal is something I actually heard during an intermission in the Metropolitan Opera's live broadcast yesterday afternoon. I didn't catch the names of the people speaking, but the subject of intra-work applause came up, and although the subject here was opera and not concert music, the consensus was the same: the strong prohibition of intra-work applause has contributed to the stuffy air around classical music that has at least partly led to its decline in popularity. This seems to me a pretty serious idea, one that should be taken fairly seriously.

I see some folks around Blogistan and elsewhere insisting that classical music should actually get more serious, all the better to actually dissuade "the masses" from attending. Elitism is a good thing, we are told, which strikes me as an attitude that sounds nice but in the real world would almost certainly result in the final death of classical music as a mainstream cultural current. The idea that classical music should proceed with its number of living adherents never exceeding (X + 1), where X is equal to the number of classical music lovers living right now, just strikes me as odd beyond consideration. One of the interlocutors on the Met's intermission roundtable compared the current atmosphere at a classical concert to a "sacred ritual" that must not be interrupted, at any cost. That sounds fairly accurate to me.

My problem is this: sometimes I want my music to be a quasi-religious experience, while other times I want the kind of "Everybody groove!" atmosphere of other events. There are times when music is an intensely private affair to me, when I could be sitting in a crowd listening to the same work, and yet thinking that I'm the only one who gets it. There are times when I want to simply put on the headphones and exist in my own personal sound-world. And yet, there are times when I want to hear some music with other like-minded people. And I'm not sure which rules should apply in each case.

I guess that what I want, really, is for classical music to have the most inclusive atmosphere possible. I'm tired of telling people that I love classical music only to receive a faintly cloudy stare in return, as if they can't comprehend someone actually loving that old musty stuff, or getting some kind of weird admiration thing going on, like "Gee, I've always wanted to learn about classical music, but I dropped my piano lessons when I was ten and I wouldn't know where to start!" I just want to say, "Start anywhere!".

In fact, that's what I do say. It's just music. That's all it is. I figure that if we can get ten percent more people to just listen to some classical music, and ten percent of those go on to develop a lifelong love of it while most of the rest simply like it for a change of pace, then that's a net win for classical music. I certainly don't want to encourage any continuation of the "Hoi polloi need not apply" attitude in classical music. If loosening the rules of concert etiquette is part of getting more people to listen, then bring it on.

UPDATE: In comments, my good friend Chris -- a cohort of mine in college musical life, as well as a former roommate (who lived to tell the tale!) -- says this:

I always thought that when the conductor quit waving his arms and left the podium, you applaud.

That reminds me of something that was said on the Metropolitan broadcast I refer to above: one of the guys speaking complained about how audiences at the Met and, presumably, operatic performances in America in general don't even wait for the conductor to stop conducting: as soon as the curtain starts to descend, the applause begins. The problem here is, of course, that sometimes -- maybe even often times, although I'm not sure, given my incredibly limited experience with live opera -- the music goes on for a brief time as the curtain falls.

This reminds me of another strange phenomenon I've always noticed, in the movie theaters: whenever people start to sense that the end is near, there's this rustling sound throughout the theater as people gather up their stuff, put on coats, stretch their legs out, et cetera. It's really annoying. The last scene of a movie is often where the emotional payoff comes, but too many people seem to have an attitude of "OK, I get the point, what's next!". But it can become amusing to watch people do this when a movie goes past a point that seems like a perfect ending spot, like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, as they gather their stuff, start to rise from their seats, and then sit down again, only to rise again, sit again, and so on.

This is part of why more and more I find the private experience of music and film in my own home, via CDs and DVDs, a lot more satisfying. I don't get a whole lot of the "communal experience" from being in the theater; instead, I observe people applauding too soon or bolting up as soon as the first pixel of the first credit appears, and I just want to ask them: "Do you acknowledge the artistic and emotional experience that you just had, or was this mere timefiller for you?" This kind of thing breaks the illusion of the communal experience for me, because I see all too little evidence that we have communally experienced anything at all. I often feel like I have experienced something, whereas they have merely passively watched something.


If, like me, you enjoyed the nifty citrus-y taste of Orange-flavored Tic-Tacs, you might be tempted to try the new Lime-flavored Tic-Tacs.

This would be a mistake. Believe me. These things are one of those Godawful products that make me wonder if anyone at the Tic-Tac factory even has tastebuds, or if the incredibly ghastly taste of these things is one of those secrets that no one at the Tic-Tic factory will speak of, for fear of angering the boss by trashing his pet "new idea".

Anyway, Lime-flavored Tic-Tacs taste bad, folks. Real bad. Trust me.

Get thee to a Nunnery! (Or at least to Chapter Four)

Two Sundays having elapsed since the last Sunday on which a Chapter of The Promised King was posted, and thus the appointed Third Sunday of the Month having been reached by the due passage of time:

Be it therefore known throughout all the land that Chapter Four of The Promised King has now been placed in its proper position of prominence upon the primary page of the blog-novel.

Thus all readers of this blog are entreated to get them hence to that blog, that they might read Chapter Four of The Promised King.

(Oh, and I took the liberty of fixing a continuity error in Chapter Three, which Will Duquette was nice enough to point out in an e-mail missive.)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Pardon me for just a moment....





(Yes, a rejection slip for a story of mine arrived in the mail today. That's always a turd in the punchbowl of my life. Harumph.)

I'm more interesting than you are!

Via John Scalzi I see a new meme: "Ten Things I Have Done, that You Probably Haven't". Regular readers know that I'm a sucker for this stuff, so, without further ado, here are ten things I've done:

1. Mooned a college professor. (Yes, I was drunk. I think. No, I don't know if he saw. It was dark. Not one of my proudest moments, really. But I'll bet none of you have done it....)

2. Wandered the streets of Minneapolis in search of misplaced car keys. (No, they weren't mine.)

3. Surfed the hole below Cucumber Rock. (If you know what I'm talking about, this makes sense.)

4. Walked across Ray Kinsella's ballpark, and walked a ways into his cornfield.

5. Boarded a boat in Plymouth, MA, to sail out into the Atlantic to observe humpback whales as they fed.

6. Cooked breakfast for a United States Congressman. (To be fair, I didn't know it was his breakfast before I cooked it.)

7. Cleaned out a trash compactor.

8. Performed Taps for the funeral of an American Legion member.

9. Road-tripped to a town twenty miles away, stopping in six grocery stores in that town (if I recall correctly), looking for a specific flavor of ice cream -- and finding it at the last store, which happened to be the one farthest away.

10. Spent half of a week's vacation at Disney World pushing The Wife around in a wheelchair, after she injured her foot seriously enough to not be able to walk on it for any length of time.

When laziness pays off

Even though I'm a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki's films (which, if you haven't seen, you're a colossal wanker), I still haven't bought my own copy of Spirited Away, which is (so far) his masterpiece. (I say "so far" because his newest film, Howl's Moving Castle, is still in the offing.)

Well, this week sees the release of three more Studio Ghibli films on DVD: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Porco Rosso, and The Cat Returns. I expect that they'll all be available fairly cheaply at Target, so I'll be heading there after work on Tuesday. But the best news is the promotional offer that Buena Vista Home Video is offering:

According to, if you buy all three new DVDs, you'll be able to send in your proofs-of-purchase along with your receipt from the purchase for a free DVD, by mail, of either Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, or Kiki's Delivery Service. So if all goes according to plan, I shall get a free copy of Spirited Away at some point. It will be mine. Oh yes. It will be mine.

(Eagle-eyed readers may note that The Cat Returns replaces My Neighbor Totoro on Tuesday's release. Also according to, there were problems with Totoro's DVD transfer, so that film has been delayed until an unspecified time.)

O for ten gallons of Aloe-vera....

I got a haircut today.

No, not a dramatic slashing of the locks; perish the thought! Just a little trimming of the ends to tame some splits and dead ends and whatnot, and some trimming of those goofy little tendrils of hair that after I go long enough without having them tamed stick out about two inches from behind my ears, which are highly annoying (as well as looking pretty stupid).

I also had the back of my neck trimmed. That's always my least favorite part of the process, because until tomorrow the back of my neck will be alternating between two sensations: "Unimaginably Itchy" and "On Freaking Fire".

(I think I may have to rethink my idea that using Firefox as my new browser would lead to more insightful content around these parts....)


I must report that so far I like the Firefox browser quite a bit. This thing seems to have taken all the things I really dug about Mozilla and, well, refined them and made them better. I really like the separate "search" tool, up in the toolbar. (For you Mozilla users, you know how you can use the URL Address window as a way to send search terms to Google? Well, Firefox has an entirely separate text window for that purpose, next to the URL Address window, and what's more, it comes with several engines installed, which means that you can search not only Google but Amazon, eBay, and others without going to those respective pages. And you can even add engines to the thing!)

One other Mozilla problem I was having is that the program didn't appear to be storing graphics for wab pages locally, so every time I visited my own blog, the entire thing had to reload. That's not just when loading the blog after launching the browser, but also whenever I returned to the blog after navigating to another one. I'm suspecting that this might have cause my recent brushes with Monthly Data Transfer Bandwidth Limit Doom.

And I still haven't dug into any extensions, although I plan to do so this week. Firefox is one slick item.

(For those curious, I didn't get the Thunderbird e-mail program, because I'm perfectly happy with Earthlink's and AOL's e-mail clients for now.)

Friday, February 18, 2005

"Too many notes"

AC Douglas has a brief complaint about how a work of Mozart's is treated in the film Amadeus:

I'm somewhat ashamed to confess I first became aware of the existence of this work courtesy of the film version of Amadeus wherein was heard part of the meltingly beautiful third-movement Adagio (at the point in the film when we first meet Mozart as musician) which, in the film, came to such a horrific, jarringly wrong close musically that I simply couldn't believe Mozart actually wrote it that way; ergo, my acquisition of the CD of the full seven-movement Serenade.

Turns out, of course, that Mozart didn't write it that way. What Sir Neville Marriner (Amadeus's music director) did for the film was to take the close of the seventh movement Molto Allegro Finale of the Serenade, and tack it onto the third-movement Adagio to form its close. Whatever possessed him to perpetrate such an idiot and grotesque edit is simply beyond my meager capacity to imagine, but, to quote the film's Emperor Joseph II, "There it is."

I may be wrong here, as it's been a while since I've seen the film (too long, actually, since I think that it's a great, great film), but I think that the musical edit here isn't intended to change the music itself at all. Rather, it is necessitated by the film itself. All that happens is that the film simply cuts from the middle of the work (that sublime movement that Salieri describes vividly) to the end, so we can get on with the business of Mozart being chewed out by the Archbishop (if my memory of the scene is correct). I don't think that Sir Neville Marriner meant to imply that the brisk conclusion of the Serenade's finale occurs in the same movement as that wondrous Adagio: he is telling us, "OK, we're at the very end of that same concert now."

A similar cut from one part of one work to another, later on the same performance, happens later during the premiere performance of Le Nozze di Figaro, when we go from one moment in the opera to another moment later on (when the Emperor starts getting fidgetty and yawning). That's all that's happening here: the film jumps from one point to another. Thus the musically "jarring" edit, which is probably jarring by design: Marriner very likely needed to make sure that it was blatantly clear to the film's audiences that cuts like these had taken place.

(By the way, I count the soundtrack to Amadeus as an exception to my rule of never recommending that people buy "classical sampler" albums consisting of single movements of various multi-movement works. The Amadeus soundtrack, on two CDs, is a very-well considered product, so if you've just gotta buy a "Mozart Sampler", this is the one to get. And the only one to get. Otherwise, buckle down and listen to complete symphonies, concertos, operas, and so on.)

There's only one more month of winter?!

Congrats to Jennifer, who had an article of her own appear in The Buffalo News. It's about, as you might expect from a Buffalonian, the cold months of winter -- but not in the way you might expect from a Buffalonian.

Who'da thunk it!

According to this Gallup poll, Americans my age (33 or thereabouts -- born during the Nixon Administration) are lucky enough to have lived under six of our nation's fourteen greatest Presidents.

Politics aside, I fail to see how either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton beat out FDR, Lincoln, and George Washington. I stunningly fail to see how George W. Bush places ahead of George Washington. I fail to see how Jimmy Carter seems to have consistently outperformed Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, George Bush the Elder, Thomas Jefferson, or Dwight Eisenhower.

There seems to be no explanation at all for results like this -- unless Americans don't actually know that much about their Presidents or their history. But nah, that couldn't be it!

Actually, I blame the poll's methodology, which seems to consist of asking people to name the greatest President. This method appears more suited to formulating results for an episode of Family Feud than yielding any concrete information about what Americans believe about their Presidents.

(link via Oliver Willis)

Behold...FireFox! (Or is it Firefox? Or fireFox? or PhirePhox?)

I am now using Mozilla Firefox on a "trial" basis. So far I like it, but I have to play around a bit more. It was certainly a fast download and install, I'll grant: on my dialup connection, it took all of fifteen minutes from the time I clicked "Free Download" on the Mozilla site to the time I was launching Firefox for the first time. I haven't started dinking around with these "Extension" things yet.

I also note that my theory that Mozilla was the source of my problems with Blogger seems to be false. Blogger is just being buggy, and "they're on it". It would have been nice if they'd posted that message to a day or two ago -- heck, it would be nice if these kinds of status messages, pertaining as they do to the overall functionality of Blogger itself, were stuck prominently right on the Blogger Dashboard page so I wouldn't go to the trouble of writing a long post and then seeing it vanish (and then reappear again a few minutes later on, which is why I've had a problem with double-posts appearing here this week).

And of course, I will expect that using PfierPfocks will pack this blog with even more pentrating content. Look out, world!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Great Love Dialogue, #5

Broadcast News used to be one of my favorite movies. I say "used to" because I haven't seen it in well over eight years, and maybe more than ten. I'm not sure why that is, but sometimes things we greatly admire (or people) slip through the cracks in our lives, until many years later we think, "Hey, I used to really like that...."

Anyhow, Broadcast News is about a love triangle that takes place in the Washington news bureau of some unnamed TV network. The woman, Jane (Holly Hunter), is the news director (I think); her best friend is Aaron (Albert Brooks), a reporter who is long on journalistic integrity but not long on telegenic quality (as becomes apparent in a hilarious scene detailing his disastrous turn at anchoring the evening newscast). These two are not just friends, but comrades-in-arms: both are resisting the constant trend toward "dumbing down" the news.

But then along comes Tom (William Hurt), who is basically a big dumb lug who is also the smoothest, most natural TV news anchor ever. This is a guy who knows nothing about the issues, nothing about the news, nothing really about journalism -- but who has the uncanny ability to process words being fed through his earpiece during a Special Report into coherent anchoring. He's the type of person whose career flourishes while better journalists find their jobs threatened in the face of economic cutback.

So, obviously, Jane falls in love with Tom, even though he represents values she has been working against her entire professional life; and unbeknownst to her, Aaron is in love with Jane, because she is in a way his "Platonic Ideal" of a journalist.

All this comes to a head in a finely honed scene late in the film, when Jane goes to Aaron's apartment after his horrible stint as news anchor. Jane tells Aaron that she is in love with Tom, and after an angry knee-jerk reaction, Aaron calms down and tries to talk through his feelings:

This is important to me.

Yeah. Well...I think it is
important for you too. Sit down.

She sits. He walks to a desk and looks at her briefly... Silence.


(looking at her)
Let me think a second. It's

A remarkably long silence -- her mind wanders, she takes stock...
it is evident that he is straining to get it right, reaching
into himself.

(glancing at note)
Let's take the part that has
nothing to do with me. Let's let
me be your most trusted friend,
the one that gets to say awful
things to you. You know?

(testy and wary
but fair)
Yes, I guess. Yes.

You can't end up with Tom because
it goes totally against everything
you're about.

Yeah -- being a basket case.

I know you care about him. I've
never seen you like this about
anyone, so please don't take it
wrong when I tell you that I believe
that Tom, while a very nice guy, is
the Devil.

This isn't friendship.

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.
(seeing he's not
reaching her)
And he'll get all the great women.

She is getting pissed.

I think you're the Devil.

No. You know that I'm not.


Because we have the kind of
relationship where if I were the
Devil, you'd be the only one I

She's briefly impressed. He has a point.

You were quick enough to get
Tom's help when...

Yes, yes. I know. Right. And
if it had gone well for me tonight,
maybe I'd be keeping quiet about all
this...I grant you everything but
give me this...he does personify
everything you've been fighting
against...And I'm in love with you.
How do you like that? -- I buried
the lead.

He pauses to catch his breath -- breathing deeply through his

(an aside)
I've got to not say that aloud;
it takes too much out of me.

Sit down, stop.

Aaron slumps down -- it's been a long round.

I've never fought for anyone before.
Does anybody win one of these things?

I love that last aside -- "Does anybody win one of these things?" -- because it tells us that Aaron already knows that he's doomed here. It can't possibly break in his favor. All he can do is stand his ground, make his points, jeopardize a friendship, and watch Jane go off to be in a relationship that is just as doomed as his love for Jane already is.

But the best line in the whole scene, for me, is the perfect summation of what love is all about -- at least, for Aaron:

We have the kind of relationship where if I were the Devil, you'd be the only one I would tell.

And that, really, is probably when Aaron realizes that his love for Jane is doomed to remain unrequited: because he has to spell this out for her.

Broadcast News isn't a perfect film, by any means. But I feel like I should track down a copy.


I didn't mean to take two days off from posting entirely; I've had a lot of problems lately with publishing the blog, for which I was blaming Blogger. However, I am posting this using my AOL account, and since AOL's browser is powered by Internet Explorer, I suspect that I have a browser issue. The fact that I had a big problem with Mozilla the other day (dumped bookmarks) reinforces this.

It looks like this weekend I will be downloading Firefox. Returning to regular use of IE is not in my future, if I can help it.

Peach Fuzz

The Unsinkable Mr. Jones reports that he has been experimenting with his beard. As in, actually growing one. I knew he'd weaken one day! Now if we can just get him to let that hair of his grow beyond 1/8 inch. What is it with guys and freakishly short hair these days?!

(Of course, Matt was always better looking than me in school, and he's substantially more successful, from the financial standpoint. So any fashion advice from me probably shouldn't be taken terribly seriously.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Three years....

Three years ago today I published the first post at Byzantium's Shores. At the time I was working a telesales desk job, living with my one kid and three cats in a suburb of Buffalo. Since then, I have lost that telesales desk job, spent more than a year unemployed, seen two of those cats pass away and another enter the household, moved to Syracuse, moved back to the Buffalo area, sold some books on eBay, bought way more books, discovered new composers and new authors and new blogs, voted for the losing Presidential candidate...and watched The Wife give birth to a second child. Oh, and I've posted a lot of stuff here, much of it meaningless blather, and (bopefully) at least a small portion of it non-meaningless blather.

Thanks, all, for reading. Will I make it another three years here? There's only one way to find out. Stay tuned. Go Bills!

I don't wanna know....

Byzantium's Shores is Number Three on this search.

Of course, whenever I place very near, but not quite at, the top of any strange-sounding search, I have to check out the site that beat me out for Number One. And here it is. Wow.

(Not safe for work, I suspect. And I have to note that I have never understood the, shall we say, attraction some have for the human foot.)

Something good from France!

There's been an awful lot of attitude lately that France basically has nothing good to offer the world, so I found this news article fairly heartening: a French surgeon has developed a technique to reverse the effects of female genital mutilation (if you don't know what that involves, go here, but be warned: it is a stunningly nasty thing to do to a person).

And he performs his operations for no charge.

(via MeFi)

Blogging the Next Generation

Kellie has some good news to share. Best wishes to her, and all hopes that it goes the way it's supposed to go.

My new criterion for political outrage

I've decided that I just don't have time to get into all the various weird political things of the day. I'm talking about that professor from some obscure college who apparently holds some views that put him slightly to the left of Chairman Mao, and I'm talking about the weird way in which some guy apparently went to Kinko's and printed up some press credentials with which he was then granted a place in the White House Press Room, and the salacious details of his life. Sure, I spend a little time reading about it, and if it's a plus for my side I cheer the good guys and if it's a plus for the other side I hiss the bad guys, but my new rule for if I intend to comment on it here is this:

If the scandal or issue in question seems like one that will occupy less than a single page in one of the 900-plus page tomes about the Bush Years that will hit the bookstores in 2010 or thereabouts, it probably doesn't warrant my weighing in upon it.

Not that this has even been much of a political blog since the election, but I just have so little energy these days for tallying the outrages of the week. There's always another week, and always another outrage. So I'm going to be picking my outrages carefully.

Lynn's still Lost

Lynn Sislo on Lost:

...there have been little hints of something now and then, but it seems like I just keep waiting for something to happen and it's not the good, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat kind of waiting; it's more the hurry-up-and-do-something-interesting-i'm-getting-bored kind of waiting.

That's pretty much my take, only I actually got bored and stopped watching the show. Or rather, I didn't so much as get bored as I saw the boredom coming on, and allowed the show to fall off my rotation of things to watch. It's hard to keep a show based on unexplained weirdness going for long. There's a reason why The X-Files didn't focus on the Mulder's sister/Smoking Man/Smallpox vaccinations/Bees genetically engineered for nefarious purposes/Alien Bounty Hunter/Alex Krycek mytharc in every single episode; the series would have collapsed under its own weight very quickly had it attempted to do so. (Instead, it took nearly eight years before the show collapsed under its own weight -- a bit of a pity, that, since the show actually ran for nine full years, but still.)

All Lost has is a bunch of people on a very weird island. Sure, some of those characters are very interesting indeed (when is someone going to realize that Terry O'Quinn can probably carry an entire series on his own?!), but the only way the show can continually invent new circumstances for them is to keep ratcheting up the way in which their island interacts with them in really weird ways. And the problem with that is very simple: sooner or later, some kind of convincing answer as to why the island is such a weird place has to be forthcoming. If not, then there's no reason for any of the stuff that happens on the show, and a drama in which things happen for no reason is no drama, and viewers will feel cheated, and rightly so.

But then, there's the other problem: once the island is explained, why should people continue to tune in? Presumably, to watch the characters try to deal with island/defeat it/escape it/bend it to their own purposes, et cetera. Maybe Lost will get there eventually, but it's not there yet, and I'm not interested in waiting.

(Caveat, though: Lost seems almost tailor-made for its inevitable incarnation on DVD.)

Betrayer Most Foul!

For reasons known only to it, Mozilla decided that it needed sustenance. So it ate my bookmarks. Seriously. Every bookmark I had is now gone, gone, gone. I can reconstruct a lot of it from history or from memory (combined with Google), but there are things that I'm sure I bookmarked for future reference that are now gone, gone, gone. This, sadly, includes a few blogs that I had just started reading on a sporadic basis, at least a couple of which I was planning on linking. I don't know if I'll find all those again. Hopefully I will.

This is the first major "episode" I've had with Mozilla.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


Time for a bit of brazen bandwidth theft, courtesy the United States Government!

Red Saturn:

Blue Saturn:

I hope that wherever Carl Sagan is, he's looking at images like this.

Testing Flickr

Originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

(I'm testing my new Flickr account by posting this: my primary work and reading area, which is currently a repository for an immense amount of crap. This is the main front in my War On Clutter -- the moral equivalent of Tora Bora in my apartment.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

You know how everyone is always wondering just how Lois Lane never finds it odd that Clark Kent is never around when Superman shows up? or how nobody ever puts two-and-two together about the fact that Peter Parker is the only one who gets such awesome photos of Spiderman?

Well, here's a similar theory about Barry Manilow....


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

So long, Drew

Apparently Drew Bledsoe's days as a Buffalo Bill are numbered. Ditching him is probably the right thing to do at this point, since Bledsoe, while not a great starting QB anymore, is still probably too good to sit on the bench behind a brand-new QB seeing his first real NFL action. I'd hoped that the Bills could make a trade, as opposed to the more likely scenario of releasing him outright, but so be it. I do wish Bledsoe the best of luck wherever he ends up. He showed a lot of "stiff upper lip" type stuff during his tenure here, which was admittedly disappointing. I still think the guy has the physical tools to be productive, but I also think that his biggest impediments are on the mental side of the game, which is too bad. Drew Bledsoe is a good guy, and he deserves better than to have the reputation of an immobile statue of a quarterback.

Which brings on J.P. Losman, who is the Bills' third "quarterback of the future" since Jim Kelly's retirement in 1996. (Todd Collins and Rob Johnson were the first.) No doubt the Bills will sign an experienced hand to back up Losman, but I expect that it's Losman's show now. Good luck to him.

Right turn, Clyde!

Oh, wow. Via PZ Myers, I see that someone has used the visage of Charles Darwin to spoof the poster for one of my favorite "guilty pleasure" movies. I mean, that movie (and its sequel) is one of the goofiest things I've ever seen, and the damn thing always leaves me grinning. And the Darwin Day spoof is a hoot.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Jack L. Chalker's final voyage

Jayme Lynn Blaschke reports that SF author Jack L. Chalker has died. While I've never read any Chalker, he's pretty much a permanent fixture on my "Oh yeah, I gotta read that writer one of these days" list.

Tech help, folks....

Can anyone tell me how to implement one of those automated "Recent Posts" thingies for the sidebar? I'm considering adding such a feature to the archived post pages (as opposed to the main blog page), so that people coming onto specific pages might want to look around a bit before vanishing back into the Bloginiferous Aether. Thanks in advance!

Downside? There's no downside here!

I don't know about you all, but I can't see any way that maintaining a blog like this can possibly backfire. I mean, this thing has "Great Idea!" written all over it.

Ah, love....amore....mushroom clouds....

So I'm sitting here dinking around online while The Daughter watches some TV (a couple of Valentine's Day-themed cartoons), and a JCPenney ad for Valentine's Day airs, with some sensitive male singer crooning a tune that sounds pretty familiar while typically sappy footage scrolls by, of men and women giving each other nice things that you can buy at JCPenney.

And then I recognize the song as a retooled version of the 80s classic "99 Red Balloons" ("99 Luftballons", in the original German), which was not about warm happy love but...accidental nuclear war.

All your subtext are belong to us.

Your Crossover Musical Humor for the Day

Ah, classical and rock music -- who said that never the twain shall meet?

(In the Adagio portion of the first movement of Carl Nielsen's Fifth Symphony, lush strings open the proceedings -- but soon the snare drummer is instructed to improvise. A lot. And loudly. If done well, the effect is that of a single drummer and the orchestra attempting to silence him or her. It's a shame that my college orchestra wasn't up to the task of trying this particular piece; I'll bet Aaron's wife would have had a grand time sinking her teeth into that one. Come to think of it, the Nielsen Fifth Symphony should probably always be programmed after a performance of Ravel's Bolero, as an apology to the snare drummer.)

New Month, Same Old Masthead....

Alert readers will certainly have noticed that I have yet to switch masthead images for February. I had every intention of doing so -- the next masthead is already selected -- but I just don't want to pull the trigger just yet, because I find the current one so amazingly beautiful. I don't know what it is -- the woman's eyes, her pose, that blade of grass in her fingers, or her long, thick red hair. I also find myself wondering about the subject of the painting herself -- what was her story? Where was she from? Did she know the artist, or did he happen to spot her while walking in the country one day and ask her to pose for him? What sort of life did she lead, and are there any of her descendents out there, looking with amazement upon this painting of their great-grandmother?

I'll change sooner or later -- maybe in March -- but I'm not going to like doing it.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ah, the Usenet....that takes me 1997 or thereabouts....

I've alluded fairly often to the fact that before I moved to Blogistan, I maintained a long residence in the wacky world of the Usenet newsgroups. My big hangout was, although I also lurked at rec.arts.sf.written and rec.arts.sf.composition (at least, that's what I think that group was called). My Usenet participation started dropping when I launched Byzantium's Shores, and finally ended completely early in 2003. So it's not with much emotion that I note that today AOL finally discontinued its support for Usenet newsgroups; it's more a case of "Meh, who cares."

But I recall back when I first encountered this Interweb thingie, back in fall of 1993 (or was it spring of 1994?). Back then, Usenet was almost the entirety of my Internet use. I remember using UNIX's rn program to read groups first, later switching to AOL's newsgroup service, which never changed one bit the entire time I used it (from 1997 up to the other day). When I wasn't reading newsgroups, I would surf the Net using Gopher. Now there was a clunky thing to use. And then I recall this new program they installed, something called "Mosaic". Now that thing was weird -- this spinning globe up in the corner and I was reading this thing where some of the words were blue, and if I moved the mouse over those blue words, the cursor would switch from an arrow to a hand pointing at something. I couldn't see what that thing was ever going to amount to.

Yup, those were the days.

I heart Mr. Sun

Mr. Sun's Valentine's Day tips:

Men have great difficulty with gifts. Here is a simple tip that will prevent a major tragedy: if your gift has Atkins-Friendly stamped all over it, you have just clicked on

Read the whole thing.

(Hmmmm...I wonder what happens if one actually clicks on Hmmmm....let's see....well, that's not a redirect I expected.)

(UPDATE: And then there's and There doesn't appear to be a, which strikes me as odd -- it seems the perfect domain for Erie County Executive Joel Giambra.)

Oh, shut UP!

Two football-related instances of people who really need to shut up catch my attention today.

First is Bills safety Lawyer Milloy, who decided to gripe about his former team, the New England Stupid Patriots:

It's always been a team thing getting thrown around there, but if some of those guys would test the market, being a champion that they've been, they could really go out there and make top dollar. But for some reason, they want to stay. And that's good. But the other part is (making sure) your family is stable after football is all done. You can't feed your family off of Super Bowl rings.

Boy, that last sentence is a killer, isn't it? "You can't feed your family off of Super Bowl rings." Well, crap. And here I thought that a Super Bowl ring was something edible, like those sour candy-ring things. Too bad Milloy's not a hockey player, because you certainly could feed your family from the Stanley Cup. Just make sure you're serving soup.

But seriously, the StuPats' formula has proven remarkably successful, and there's a reason for that: they've figure out a way, for now, to make the salary-cap era work for them. Now, it remains to be seen how long their system of "Keep a couple of stars and surround them with really motivated no-names" can be sustained. (I suspect it will be a shorter time than many think.) But does that mean that the StuPats are somehow cheating their players? I doubt that. Nobody's holding a gun to anyone's head and saying, "Sign this contract that's less money than you'd get if you signed with Baltimore."

And besides, I don't care that Milloy left the StuPats under less-than-ideal circumstances and joined my beloved Bills. I really don't. I have little interest in hearing any professional athlete who plays in a league where a freshly-drafted rookie is guaranteed to make at least $230,000 this year, complain about feeding his family. My wife and I make a fraction of that amount, and we're feeding our family just fine. "You can't feed your family off of Super Bowl rings"?!

Lawyer, shut up.

As for the other one, since Lawyer Milloy has forced me to actually say something moderately nice about the StuPats in the paragraph above, let me bash this guy who insists they're the best team ever. God, what overinflated rubbish this is. And if there's one football meme I'm tired of, it's the old "You can't be great for long because of the salary cap" thing.

The truth is, with the cap being what it is, you can be competitive for four or even five years, if you pick the right talent (a matter of a lot of luck) and you have decent coaching (a lot of skill). Consider: the Rams have been in the playoffs at least four times since 1999, and been to two Super Bowls. The Steelers are perennial contenders, with a couple of losing years tossed in there. The Eagles have made it at least as far as the NFC Championship Game four years in a row. The cap era began with the Cowboys winning three Super Bowls in four years. The Packers became very competitive at the outset of the cap era as well, and their heyday culminated in two Super Bowl appearances (with one win). Ditto the Denver Broncos, who I suspect might well have posted another Super Bowl win had their rise not also coincided with the end of John Elways career (as well as the injury-termination of Terrell Davis's career).

So the StuPats won three Super Bowls in four years. Is it an impressive accomplishment? Yes. But the existence of the salary cap does not automatically make them the greatest team of all time.

Here's another dumb statement from this article:

They say the true champions are those who win when they don’t have their best stuff, and the Patriots didn’t have nearly their “A” game in Jacksonville, Fla., on Sunday. True champions make sure they have their best stuff when they're on the field in a championship game. I sure never saw the 49ers play a bad game in a Super Bowl. Ditto those Cowboys.

Shut up.

OK, I'm done.

Spinal Tap's new drummer???

Best wishes to Aaron, whose wife Krista may soon be undergoing a medical procedure/natural process by which the horrible distension of her abdomen will be abated.

I call it....the "Sphere of Fear"!

I've been remiss in linking what is unquestionably the funniest bit of Star Wars parody I've ever seen. I literally had to watch this six-minute film in two-minute installments, so hard was my laughter. It's a big file, but oh so worth it....

(via Nefarious Neddie)

(EDIT: When linking something, it helps if one makes sure one actually links what one thinks that one is linking. This way, one doesn't look like a doofus when readers try to follow one's links. Whoops. Link fixed, by the way.)

Blog Reading Habits, #8799

Something I've noticed lately, that I think I've always done since I've been reading blogs but didn't really realize it, is that if I go to a blog that's on my blogroll and see that the blogger there is replying to something someone else who's on my blogroll posted to their own blog, I'll immediately navigate back to my own blog so I can go check what the second person said about the first person before I read the first person's response.

No, I have no strange lesson to impart here, except to note my effort to force the "conversational" aspect of Blogistan to reflect the way I expect a conversation on Real Space to take place.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

There ain't no justice....

One of these days I'm going to figure out just why it is that I'm an unpublished, struggling writer while the Buffalo News actually pays Mary Kunz to write tripe like this. I mean, there's gotta be a reason, right? A reason that isn't that I'm actually worse than she is?

Not much to say....

I'm kind of tired this week, and I have a number of other pressing, "real-space" issues with which to contend. (The major one of those being the ongoing prosecution of the War On Clutter in my home. I figured I couldn't beat Terror on my own, so I'd fight Clutter instead. Otherwise, the Clutterists win. Uhhh...yeah.) Also, Blogger is being really really slow for me this week, for some reason, and there are just so many hours in the day. So it's entirely possible that my posting this week will be minimal (as if you couldn't tell).

As long as I'm at it, though, traffic over at The Promised King is still a bit too light. Come on, folks, the book can't be that bad, right? (But if it is, please don't let me know. I have so few delusions about myself intact as it is these days.)

Happy Birthday, Maestro

John Williams is 73 today. Long may his music live.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Devils of the Gridiron....

[Yes, I bitch about the Stupid Patriots here. I have some positive stuff about football first, though.]

Well, another NFL season is in the books. (Except for the Pro Bowl, but really, who cares about that? I'm amazed that thing is even televised.) A lot of football-loving friends of mine were complaining last week that there was only one game to go, but I'm fine with it -- the NFL season doesn't overstay its welcome, unlike, say, the NHL or the NBA, both of which begin their playoffs in March and crown a champion in August or something like that. And it surprises me that a usually unremarked consequence of the NFL's relentless quest for parity has been that as of late, the Super Bowl has almost always been a good game: in the last ten Super Bowls, there have only been three blow-outs.

:: John Scalzi recently solicited rules-changes for the Super Bowl. I don't have any of those to offer, but I'd make a change in the NFL season thusly: I'd shorten the preseason to just two games, and then I'd start the season three weeks earlier, thus adding two more games to the regular season for a total of eighteen (plus one extra bye week for each team, thus yielding a 20-week regular season). Since this would increase the amount of wear-and-tear on the NFL players' bodies, I'd also increase the rosters to 65 players, the practice squads to ten, and accordingly bump up the salary cap to accomodate those extra bodies. Why would I do this? Just because there'd be more football on the front end. Oh, and I'd add two teams to the playoffs in each conference and get rid of the bye weeks.

:: As for tonight's festivities: that was the best rendition of the National Anthem I've ever heard at any sporting event. I mean, having no celebrity doing it at all -- just a bunch of military choirs, supplemented by herald trumpets -- was just plain classy. What a great moment that was.

:: I'm not entirely sure why President Clinton was introduced as part of a tribute to the World War II generation. I know that since the tsunamis hit Asia, he's been partnered with President Bush the Elder in drumming up support for that region, but I genuinely have no idea why he was part of that particular tribute.

(UPDATE: He was there with Bush the Elder to promote tsunami relief, and the NFL execs probably figured it would be rude to bring out one ex-President on the scene and exclude the other one.)

:: I liked the Fox/NFL thingie about the Declaration of Independence that was playing when I first switched to Super Bowl coverage.

:: Paul McCartney? Not my favorite performer ever, but certainly a step up from last year's noisy, music-free debacle. It could have used more breasts, though.

:: Commercials? I don't care, really. I used them for their intended purpose: as opportunities to visit the bathroom, get more food, check the hit counter, et cetera.

:: OK, the game itself. If you're a StuPat fan, or just some fair-weather oddball who has an inexplicable love for these guys, turn away now!

Yes, they're a dynasty. Three Super Bowl championships in four years has to earn the title of "Dynasty" in the NFL. I won't even try to deny that (not that I would in any case -- before the StuPats, my most hated team was the Cowboys, and I don't deny that their team in the early 90s was a dynasty, either). So, there it is: the New England Stupid Patriots of the early 2000's are a great team.

But they're the worst of the NFL's great teams. Any of the other great teams in NFL history would beat these guys. And I'm not just talking about the former dynasties, either (70s Steelers, 80s 49ers, 90s Cowboys). I think that the best single-season teams I've seen would also probably beat them. (I'm thinking of the 85 Bears, 89 49ers, 91 Redskins, 94 49ers, and 98 Broncos.) That's because in each Super Bowl that the StuPats have won, they really haven't beaten the other team. They've merely not lost to the other team. Big difference.

In three victories, the StuPats have beaten a clearly superior team in a big upset by three points; they've barely held on to beat a clearly inferior team by three points; and they've held on to beat a probably inferior, but not by much, team by three points. Big whoop.

The truly great teams took command in their championship games (most of the time, anyway). There was never any doubt. True, the Steelers had two close games against the Cowboys, but their other games were dominant performances. True, the 49ers had two tough ones against the Bengals (and there's another sticking point: when Tom Brady leads a two-minute drill to win a Super Bowl with his team trailing at the time, then you can get back to me with the Joe Montana comparisons, and not one second before), but the 49ers also blew out the Dolphins (one of the best offensive teams ever) and handed the Broncos the worst drubbing in Super Bowl history. The Cowboys of the 90s were never really in doubt of losing any of their three Super Bowls. And neither were those great single-season teams I mention: those teams flat-out dominated their Super opponents.

I see no true dominance from the StuPats -- just a freakish level of competence that is impressive in its own right, but not one that puts me in mind of the greater dynasties that have existed in years past. And tonight, the StuPats didn't even display that: they were downright sloppy in the first half, and only the fact that the Eagles were equally sloppy and remained so in the second half allowed them to win. That's what I mean when I say that they don't so much as win as they don't lose.

And that's my final bit of StuPat ranting for the 2004 NFL season. A couple of more random thoughts before I check out until the Draft (give or take an interesting free-agent offseason by the Bills):

:: Did Andy Reid suddenly turn into Gregg Williams at the end of the game tonight? Seriously, what was up with the horrible clock management? I'm watching the Eagles act like there's no sense of urgency at all, and I was reminded of that hilarious scene in Bull Durham when the manager berates the team for being a bunch of "lollygaggers".

:: I like the word "lollygag" a lot, in all its permutations.

:: OK, I'll say one nice thing about the StuPats: This year the MVP award was given to the exact right player. Deion Branch had an amazing game. That guy won, big-time.

:: Unintentionally hilarious moment of the night: During the postgame, when Terry Bradshaw goes to award Deion Branch with his new car (the main part of the MVP prize), he says, "Deion, I've got something in my pocket for you...." I couldn't keep from laughing at that.

:: Next up: World Championships of Figure Skating. Go Michelle Kwan! And I wonder what blond Russian guy I've never heard of before will win the Men's competition?

A Request

For some reason, The Promised King just isn't showing up on search engine hits as high as I would like. Now, part of that is because I chose a title that seems to be a fairly common phrase in Christian theological writing (for reasons that should have occurred to me years ago, but we'll not dig that up). So: if those of you with blogs would be kind enough to assist a Google-bombing in my behalf, I'd certainly appreciate it. I'm looking to have the thing linked both to its actual title and to my real name, as I did here. Thank you.