Sunday, July 31, 2005


If I won some kind of sweepstakes where I could pick any city in the United States to spend one week, all accomodations provided along with a big wad of money for shopping and entertainment, I'd go to Chicago. No question. It's always bugged me that I never spent more time there than I did in the time I was in college, when my home-to-school trek involved traversing Chicagoland at least ten times a year.

Anyway, check out this wonderful photo-post about Chicago, by a blogger who hails from Pittsburgh. Great use of adjectives and great photos.

(And there's another blog I've just discovered, a day after rearranging the blog-roll to accomodate all of my last new discoveries and such. Curse you and your incredibly cool linkage, Michael Blowhard!)

I s'pose you hadda be there....

So we just got done watching America's Funniest Videos (shut up, The Daughter loves it, and the current Tom Bergeron-hosted incarnation is far more amusing than the version with Daisy Fuentes or the godawful Bob Saget), and one video in particular struck me as funny on a number of levels.

It took place during a youth soccer game, what looked like kids around nine or ten years of age. All of the action was taking place at one end of the field, and that was the direction in which our home-video Federico Fellini was aiming his camera. Ho hum: a soccer game. Lots of players standing in their coach-assigned spots, with a couple of them kicking the ball around in a micro-parcel of the actual playing field space. Yawn.

And then the little old lady with a cane wandered out onto the field.

And by "wander", I mean, she wandered. Had her gait not been fairly steady, I would have suspected her of being drunk. In fact, maybe she was. Anyway, this old lady wandered right across the field. She didn't just amble out onto a little bit of the field and then wander back off: she ambled straight across the field, right through the players, and right out the other side of the field of play. This went on for about thirty seconds or so -- quite a long time for such a thing, if you sit and time it -- and then they cut to a bit later to show the woman exiting the field on the other side.

The humor here, over and above some old lady wandering out into the middle of a soccer game, was twofold: first, nobody came forward to try and stop this lady or redirect her elsewhere, which I thought was pretty funny. But second, and even funnier, is the fact that in the bit of the clip that AFV showed, the game itself never stopped. It can't mean anything good for soccer if an old lady wandering right into the middle of the game field can't even disrupt the play!

A very public service message

I'm feeling a bit of change-mongering lately, so I decided to rejigger the sidebar a little more. I replaced the second self-photo near the top with a new one of me standing near my bookshelves, and I created a small "family photo album" near the bottom of the sidebar. Keep scrolling down to see it. And if you really liked the former photo number two of me at the top, the large version is still available here.

I've also been kicking around a re-do of the entire template, but I'm as yet undecided on whether I want to do all that or not. So if anyone thinks that Byzantium's Shores is just a dandy blog but would be even better with a new design, now's the time to chime in.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I have a friend at The Store who likes to quote movies and the occasional TV shows. Usually it's something I haven't seen, which generally has us agreeing that I'm horribly unschooled in the finer points of pop culture, with which I cannot disagree. Anyway, he recently came up to me and said the following (with punching emphases placed as indicated):

"I have a fever -- and the only prescription -- is more cowbell!"

I found this, of course, to be the oddest thing he's said all along, but he then explained it: there was a Saturday Night Live skit involving a Behind the Music special in which the Blue Oyster Cult, recording "Don't Fear the Reaper", is exhorted by a legendary rock producer to give the song "more cowbell".

I know, this sounds like just another goofy, and not very funny, SNL skit. However, I actually got to see the skit a week later, and I discovered why it's utterly hilarious: Will Farrell plays the band member whose sole job is to play the cowbell, and Christopher Walken is the producer who keeps stepping in to announce that he needs "more cowbell". Farrell is, of course, his usual funny self, but it's Walken who elevates the sketch to something special, by doing that "Christopher Walken" thing he does when he puts the emphasis in every sentence on a word that no one else would emphasize. Hence:

"I have a fever -- and the only prescription -- is more cowbell!"

Here's a transcript of that skit, and here's the actual "Sunday Weirdness", which isn't really "weirdness" per se so much as a surprising bit of coincidence: the current issue of Wired has a sidebar item that tracks "More cowbell!" as a pop-culture meme.

Anyway, I plan to use the phrase "More cowbell!" in everyday conversation, as much as possible.

(Oh, and it suddenly occurs to me that if God granted me the power to impel any celebrity to keep a blog, I'd name Christopher Walken. Anyone else have any ideas?)

Randomize the music!

I haven't done one of these "Friday Ten" things in a while, and since it's Sunday, well...I suppose we'll call it a "Sunday Ten". Or something. Anyhoo:

1. "Love is Everything", k.d. lang. From Hymns of the 49th Parallel, one of the best CDs I've ever heard.

2. "A New Ending", Jerry Goldsmith, from Star Trek Nemesis. I sold my copy of the CD a while ago, but I ripped it to the computer before I did. This was more out of my allegiance to film music in general than out of any particular love for this score, because I consider it to be one of Goldsmith's few duds. (The FSM Board freaks adore this score, for reasons passing understanding. It never moves me above the level of "meh".)

3. "John Quincy Adams addresses the Supreme Court", from Amistad. I actually downloaded this speech from the Movie Speeches section of Not the best movie ever, but it is a really good speech, delivered wonderfully by Sir Anthony Hopkins. The underscore is, of course, by John Williams. It's pleasant Americana, nothing to write home about, really.

4. "Every Sperm is Sacred", by Monty Python. This is self-explanatory, I suppose.

5. "S'Wonderful", from An American in Paris, performed by Gene Kelly and Georges Guetary. I would have liked this movie a lot more if they could have paired Kelly with anyone other then Leslie Caron, with whom he has no chemistry at all. Good Gershwin songs, though. (Except for "I Got Rhythm", which I've never liked.)

6. "Concerning Hobbits", from The Fellowship of the Ring, by Howard Shore. I've done the Blogistan equivalent of spilling rivers of ink in praise of this stuff, but what's a little more? Sheer genius. I love how the first time we hear the Shire theme, it's given the Percy Grainger treatment.

7. "Rescue of Dances With Wolves", from Dances With Wolves, by John Barry. This is an absolutely magnificent score, beginning to end.

8 and 9. "The Time is Now", III and I, from Millennium, by Mark Snow. Moody, wonderful, brilliant TV music. I'm surprised two selections from this came up in the top ten here.

10. "A Blind Eye", from Road to Perdition, by Thomas Newman. I like Thomas Newman a lot. He's one of film music's most interesting new voices.


Over at Tosy and Cosh, John posts some commentary on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 best albums of the last twenty years. I won't excerpt the entire list here, since I don't own very many of these albums and am incredibly surprised by the inclusion of certain items (not one but two albums by the Beastie Boys? Gimme a break!). And it goes without saying that since this list is skewed toward rock, pop, and a bit of country and jazz, some truly great items have slipped entirely through their cracks: Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings scores, that amazing live Les Troyens that Sir Colin Davis recorded with the LSO a few years back, Santiago by the Chieftains, anything by Lunasa.

I could go on, but I'll let it suffice that I can't take seriously a list of the "Best albums since 1985" that omits the still-brilliant-after-all-these-years Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. The album makes Rolling Stone's "Master List", but apparently didn't crack the top 100 of the last twenty years, which to me constitutes an amazing omission. It's certainly a better album than anything by the Beastie Boys.

(Speaking of Dire Straits, the other day I happened to glance up at the TV in the cafe at The Store when a commercial for Mark Knopfler's newest solo album came on. The commercial featured, believe it or not, the two computer-graphic appliance delivery men from the classic "Money for Nothing" video, albeit aged a bit after twenty years: the cranky, fat one has white hair and beard now.)

Sentential Links #10

Yup, after a layoff of a couple of weeks, it's time to get back into the swing of finding nifty sentences throughout the blog world. As always, click through the get the context.

:: Or put it this way: Let’s make tell our prospective audience that we’re arrogant and smug, that we don’t understand the people we’re trying to reach, and that in fact we don’t know much about the world we’re living in. Now there's a recipe for success... (I couldn't agree more.)

:: Yes, I love back-to-school supplies as much as the next autodidact, but their reduced prices at Target do not herald the end of summer, only the end of the "summer fun" aisle. (This is a new entry to the blogroll, by the way, and one of the blogs I had bookmarked when I had to reinstall Firefox and thus lost all of my bookmarks. I rediscovered it quite by accident the other day.)

:: What reason could possibly justify the expense of venturing off-Earth to found offshoot societies, absent direct threat or a compelling need? Ideology of some sort would seem to be required, that or obvious and immediate economic benefit. (Note to self: read the remainder of this series. Via Jay Manifold.)

:: In the meantime, I notice outbreaks of testiness between several of the NRO regulars. I fear it is only a matter of time before they turn on each other like the dusty gang in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. (I dunno; I don't read NRO. I just like Wolcott's brand of snark.)

:: Only in New York can people talk about being in an ethnic food "rut" that contains not just Mexican, Chinese, and Italian, but also Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Brazilian. (Actually, that's the entire post. I just thought it was a funny observation.)

:: Many things piss me off. One of those things happens to be a football coach making several million dollars a year condescending to fans that loading up the schedule with patsies is something to be proud of. (This is precisely why I pay extremely little attention to college football. The first half of the season consists of watching Florida State beat the South Carolina Typewriter Repair Maintenance College team -- their mascot, the "Shift Key" -- by a score of 81-0, and then dropping in the polls because Oklahoma beat the North Texas Animal Husbandry School Fighting Grillies by a score of 84-0. My interest level would probably be different if I'd attended a Division I-A school with a real solid program, as opposed to my Division III alma mater, but I was in Iowa anyway and the Earth revolves around the Hawkeyes in those parts, unless you're one of the small percentile for whom it's the ISU Cyclones who command your allegiance. Anyway, I no longer care much about college football.)

:: Here in the non-internet world, we have a technical term for people who, without the permission of the authors, take copies of their books and give them away for free to lots of readers: we call them "librarians". (Actually, I'd quibble with this: Librarians don't give free copies of books out, they loan them out, with the expectation that they will get them back. That's an important distinction, albeit not entirely critical to Mr. Stross's larger argument.)

:: Yes, I know. I could always move to Florida or Texas, but are hurricanes really preferable to six feet of snow? (This is something I've always maintained about Buffalo, and the post linked here isn't even talking about Buffalo. I'll take snow over people not dying in heat waves; the temperature hitting triple digits, well, ever; the wind chill not being below zero for months at a time; the possibility of large storms from the Gulf of Mexico wiping us out; the possibility of large swathes of our water-facing properties falling into the lake as a result of either earthquakes or erosion; or entire communities having to evacuate because of wildfires?)

:: But oh, what a country we would be if we could revive a sense of shame in a man if he leaves the house in the morning without a sack suit, brogues, waistcoat with watch chain, shirtfront, string tie and skimmer! (You know, we can elect a Republican President every time out between now and Doomsday, and that won't be enough to get me to move to Canada. But if we start getting men to dress like this again, it's "Peace Bridge or Bust" for me. Ye Gods! via Lance Mannion.)

OK, that's it for this week. Peace out, y'all!

A Possible Homecoming

There is a possibility, if all the doctors can agree with each other, that Little Quinn may come home today. The last few days he has been receiving no real "treatment" for anything in the hospital; it's all been observation and feeding. So we may be able to finally get him out of there. The Wife left for the hospital a short bit ago, whilst I stay home to keep The Daughter company. Here's hoping that when The Wife gets home, she's got Little Quinn in tow!

Updates later as events warrant.

UPDATE: Well, look who got home just a short while ago!

Yup, there he is. Now we have to get his physical and occupational therapies lined up, so we can figure out just to what degree this whole ordeal set back his development. But as of right now, he's had a feeding and is sleeping nicely.

(BTW, I look like crap in this picture because I haven't showered yet. Just in case you're wondering.)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Quick Video Links

:: I don't think I'll ever get the appeal of soccer as a spectator sport, but if they played it like it appears in this British ad for Adidas, I'd probably watch with baited breath.

:: If you ever wondered how hard it was for the actors on Star Trek: The Next Generation to get their lines out, full of fake technobabble as they were, wonder no more: they relied heavily on the word "shit".

Via MeFi and SFSignal, respectively.

UPDATE: Above, I use the idiom "baited breath", which is, of course, supposed to be "bated breath". I am aware of the correct spelling, but this is one of those homophones that my fingers don't know, and thus refuse to type correctly unless I'm watching them carefully. (My fingers are pretty treacherous, actually: in The Promised King, I constantly have to be on alert lest my characters leap onto their trusty horses and take up the reigns before riding off.)

Upon doing a bit more research, I find that this error is so common that it may become standard as our language evolves:

The correct spelling is actually bated breath but it’s so common these days to see it written as baited breath that there’s every chance it will soon become the usual form, to the disgust of conservative speakers and the confusion of dictionary writers....It’s easy to mock, but there’s a real problem here. Bated and baited sound the same and we no longer use bated (let alone the verb to bate), outside this one set phrase, which has become an idiom. Confusion is almost inevitable.

So there you go. Bate, bait, where will it end? The befuddlement is enough to leave my breath thoroughly Beta'd.

Does that come with a cape and some tights?

John of Tosy and Cosh posts a list of his favorite superhero movies. So it seems right that I should do the same:

1. Superman. The original is still far and away the best superhero film I have ever seen. It's got humor, epic scope, and just plain fun galore. It's a great film. (Gotta get it on DVD.)

2. X-Men 2. This is the film that the first X-Men should have been. I loved the way it captured the whole "moral ambiguity" thing that marked the X-Men comic of the Chris Claremont years, when the X-Men would sometimes end up fighting side-by-side with a mortal enemy of theirs (Magneto, in this case).

3. Spiderman 2. The second Spiderman film got everything right.

4. Spiderman. The first Spiderman film almost got everything right, but the ending was a serious disappointment.

5. Batman Forever. The Val Kilmer installment, which is still my favorite Batman flick. I liked nearly everything about this film, and it still has my favorite line from a Batman film, when Alfred tells Bruce Wayne that young Dick Grayson has gone off in "the car": Wayne says something like, "he took my Porsche?" to which Alfred does a slow burn and says, "No, sir...the other car!" Cut to Dick Grayson having a blast in the Batmobile....)

6. X-Men. This film really needed an extra half-hour of running time to really get good. Some of the characterizations are really short-changed.

7. Superman II. This film is often cited as a rare sequel that's better than the original, but not by me. It doesn't gel together well for me, but I find it fun to watch. I don't really like the entire last half hour, though. Superman's ultimate victory over the supervillains is a great moment (the crunching of the bones in Zod's hand, and his subsequent moan of shocked agony, is priceless), but the stuff leading up to it goes on too long, the fight in the Fortress of Solitude just gets weird, and I hate the "hypnosis of Lois" thing at the end.

8. Batman Returns. I didn't like the first Batman flick that much, but I enjoyed the second a great deal. And you have to credit Tim Burton for making sure the film's best line, spoken to Catwoman, gets delivered by Chistopher Walken: "Can I get you anything? A ball of string?"

That's about it, I suppose.

Lining the Stream

I've just spent some time tidying up the sidebar at left, updating some stuff and rearranging other stuff. I've folded the blogroll devoted exclusively to LiveJournalers (weirdos that those folks are!) into the main blogroll ("Other Journeys"), as well as removed a few blogs that were either inactive or that I had not read in enough time so as to make me forget that I'd blogroll'd them in the first place. I've toyed with the idea of moving the entire blogroll to an inner blog post that I'd simply link from the main page, which would allow me to maintain more links and to categorize them without creating too much clutter in the sidebar, but I haven't got round to that yet.

Also gone is the 2005 reading list, for two reasons: one, it was just taking up space and making clutter over there; and two, the year is half gone and I've not read a single thing from that list yet. My reading habits tend to be, shall we say, capricious, and I should have known long ago that attempts to plan my reading that far in advance were likely to end in complete failure. These aren't books that I'm admitting that I'll never read, but they're books that I shouldn't try to promise myself to read. I see little reason these days to approach my regular reading as though it's a college syllabus. (I also finally changed the titles in the "Currently Reading" box to what I'm actually currently reading, since the former titles there hadn't been active in months.)

I've also updated the "Writings Elsewhere" section of the sidebar, with a mess of links to reviews I've written for GMR over the last year or so that I never linked here.

Now all I have to do is put a few photos of scantilly-clad dancing women in the sidebar and I'll be all set!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Next, a stuffed poodle named "Carmen".

The other night, the Daughter was playing pretend with a little stuffed puppy of hers, which is a pretty non-exceptional event -- except that she has apparently named this particular puppy "Papageno", which made my ears perk up, since I wasn't sure where she could have happened upon the name of a supporting character from Mozart's The Magic Flute. So, I asked her where she heard that name, and she shrugged and replied, "From a movie we watched in music class." I asked her what the movie was about, and she in turn answered: "It's about a princess who is trapped in a magic castle by the Queen of the Night."

"Does a prince rescue her?" I asked.

"Uh-huh," she said.

"Does he do it with a magic flute?"

"Yeah! Have you seen that movie too?"

"In a way of speaking," I replied.

The Magic Flute was the first opera I saw live, and to this day it might well be my favorite opera of all (its chief competition being Berlioz's Les Troyens). It goes without saying, of course, that the version The Daughter saw was a truncated, watered-down version, but every journey has to start somewhere, right?

They pull me back in....

Well, I finally succumbed, as I do every two or three years: I rejoined the BMG Classical Music Club. I do this every so often because the introductory "Ten CDs for the price of one" deal, or whatever it is, is really a pretty good deal, but the hard part is finding CDs that I want in the special booklet they send me every so often to get me to sign back up. This time, however, I found enough items that I wanted that it was fairly easy. The CDs arrived in the mail today, and I got a disc by Celtic group Altan and one by Celtic singer Moya Brennan; a disc by the Asian group Twelve Girls Band (hey, why not); a Dvorak violin concerto (don't recall the player), which I've always wanted to hear; a disc by Russian soprano Anna Netrebko; and the Elgar Violin Concerto performed by Hilary Hahn (who, by the way, is a Move Over Britney! designate). Yeah, BMG's shipping seems pretty high to me, but this first shipment was a little more than twenty bucks for shipping only, so that's six CDs for less than four bucks each.

Now I just have to buy one CD at regular price, pick out my three subsequent freebies, and I'm done. Of course, I'll wait until they send me one of their "Buy one, get two free" deals. (Assuming I remember to cancel the Featured Recording each month, which has usually been my downfall in the past with respect to the BMG club.) I've generally found, in the past, that if one is patient, one can get some good stuff through BMG. It's certainly worth joining and quitting, joining and quitting, joining and quitting....

Wi nøt trei a høliday in Sweden this yër?

Alexandra linked one of the funniest Star Wars related things I've ever seen. It seems that the some guy bought a pirated DVD of Revenge of the Sith, which turned out to be one of those "camcorder in the movie theater" deals, but with one weird thing: added subtitles, for some reason I can't quite fathom, derived from "a direct english translation of the chinese interpretation of what the script was saying". I guess, therefore, that the translation went from English to Chinese and back to English?

Anyway, go read the subtitles from various scenes. It's absolutely hilarious, the Star Wars equivalent of those subtitles of the opening credits to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Stop chirping, crickets!

Sorry about the lack of posting the last couple of days, but I've been a bit tired and have had nothing of interest to say, so I figured I shouldn't force it. As Confucius once said: "Forcing blog posts from a tired mind is the surest path to the blog sucking."

(Of course, there is some controversy as to the translation of this little-used Chinese verb; some linguists react strongly against the idea of Confucius referring to something "sucking".)

In more substantive news, Little Quinn's recovery continues well. He is no longer sedated and his breathing machine was removed on Tuesday morning. There was a period of about twenty-four hours during which it looked like he might need to be re-intubated, but that didn't happen, and now he is resting pretty comfortably, still on antibiotics but with no fever. In fact, the only reason he's still in the Pediatric ICU this evening is because there are no beds available on the regular floor, to which he has been cleared medically.

If life were a game of AD&D, Little Quinn's constitution score would be at least a 16, I think.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Poetical Excursion

I used to write occasional "Poetical Excursions", in which I'd expound briefly on the bits of meaning I gleaned from various poems I'd read. I'm not sure why I stopped doing this, but I'm planning to start again. (Links to those old posts are available in the sidebar.)

While I may not have posted much about poetry in a long time, I have been reading poetry all the while, and I've been reading more poetry especially over the last six months or so. I've found that poetry is ideally suited to reading in short bursts -- such as, during lunch at work when I'm not already sitting with a friend -- and I've always believed that all writers, aspiring or otherwise, should read poetry to gain some insight as to just what is possible in language.

I particularly enjoy poetry compilations. True, collecting compilations results in a collection marked by multiple copies of many poems, but that itself strikes me as illustrative of poetry's expressive power: when you can find a single poem anthologized in both a compilation of war poetry and love poetry, you gain some insight into just what is in that slippery old word, "meaning".

This week I've been dipping into Poems to Read: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology, edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz. It's a nice collection, containing old favorites I've seen elsewhere and new poems I've not seen anywhere, containing poems selected under the auspices of the Favorite Poem Project. What makes this collection interesting is the introductory passages to each poem, many of them the words of ordinary Americans who "nominated" these poems for inclusion. One of these messages struck me in particular when I read it earlier today.

It is an introduction to e.e. cummings's poem "somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond". Here's the poem:

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

I've never really read much e.e. cummings before. The only time I recall encountering his work in school, there wasn't much of an exploration into what makes his work beautiful or powerful or whatever cummings is. The approach was to posit cummings as the token "modernist": "By the way, class, did you know that poems don't have to rhyme? Don't believe me? Here's a guy named e.e. cummings!" It all seemed so cute, especially with his refusal to capitalize and his unorthodox spacings of words and his runningwordstogether and the like. I often wonder if the lessons English teachers try to impart upon their charges are wasted upon readers who are not experienced enough to learn them.

But the problem with that is that there are readers who are ready for such lessons. Here's the introductory note for "somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond", which is by an eighteen-year-old student from Georgia:

I have read this poem so many times that the spine of the book is broken and always turns to its page. Today I gave that book away to the first person that I have ever truly and sincerely loved. I gave her the book because there is no gift I could give her that would be more honest. This poem has shaped who I am. It has been a long journey, but cummings's poem set my heart on a course to find love, and I have arrived, only to truly understand the poem for the first time.

Since the Favorite Poem Project ended around six or seven years ago, I'd very much like to know just what that girl made of the gift this young man gave her. Did she read the poem and understand it the same way he did? Are they still together, with their lives somehow bound by the threads woven in words by e.e. cummings?

Oy. Or "oi". As in "Hanoi".

Sympathetic though I may be to the anti-war cause (even if I don't share that particular belief), I wish Jane Fonda would just shut up.

Jane Fonda is returning to anti-war activism and embarking on a cross-country tour to call for an end to US military operations in Iraq.

The actress, 67, said the protest trip would begin next March and she would travel on a bus powered by vegetable oil.

I really don't like Jane Fonda. Protest is fine, dissent is fine. Meeting with the enemy is not. Sorry, Jane, count me out.

(Oh, and count me out on a sequel to 9 to 5. I love the original, but Fonda was the least of the cast in that film, whose charm is generated almost entirely -- no, flat-out entirely -- by Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Dabney Coleman. I'm glad, though, to see that Ms. Parton has a sense of humor about the possibility of a sequel: "I've told them they'd better get on it before they have to call it the good, the bad, and the ugly because we ain't getting any prettier!")

There are always worse roads than the one you're on

If anyone in Buffalo is reading this and has O-negative blood, please answer the call. I don't, unfortunately.

Failing that, there are always prayers and hopes and vigils offered by moonlight in a sacred grove.

Further Updates

Little Quinn continues to improve today; he was apparently awake for part of the time this morning (he's been under sedation), the docs have decided to increase the volume on his feedings again, and they are having to suction his gullet even less frequently now. One set of cultures revealed some kind of bacteria that is covered by the antibiotics already administered, while other cultures have not been reported back yet.

We're hoping to get him home by this weekend.

I suppose "Harry Potter and the Slug Club" would have been a sucky title.

I finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yesterday afternoon, just as I thought I would, and I have a couple of spoilerish thoughts. So here's some empty space to protect you who would remain un-spoil'd:

(remember: spoilers below!)

OK, that should do it. From this point on, I make no attempt to conceal spoilers. I shall not be cagey in any way. I'm not going to refer to "the character who stunningly bumps off a beloved old favorite", I'm going to refer to them by name. Got it? Good. That was your final warning.

So Snape killed Dumbledore. Holy Shit, who saw that coming?

Well...I did, kind of. I don't think there was ever any surprise that Dumbledore died; I figured if he didn't die in the last book, he had to die in this one. The powerful mentor always has to be shown the door. Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Quint in Jaws. The old bartender in Cocktail. Gandalf (in a way). Uncle Ben in Spiderman. (More on Spiderman in a moment, by the way.) I never once doubted that Dumbledore would die, and not just because J.K. Rowling knows her Campbellian story structure, which the Harry Potter series roughly follows, but because she knows another principle of storytelling:

Create likable characters, and then put them through pure and unadulterated hell, for the greatest heroes are those who stand up and do the right thing even after their world has been irrevocably destroyed.

That's what Rowling has done here: she's given Harry his baptism by fire, and almost pushed him down as low as he can go. (But note that he can still go down even further: Ron and Hermione are still alive.)

So no, I didn't find Dumbledore's death surprising at all. It would have been more surprising if he'd lived, frankly. And it wasn't really that surprising that Snape killed him, given Snape's Unbreakable Vow.

Here, then, is where I start theorizing. The question is, then, has Dumbledore's trust in Snape really been that misplaced all along, which Rowling seems to want us to believe? Or is there something even deeper in play here? I strongly suspect the latter. The book opens with Snape swearing to protect Draco Malfoy and submitting to an Unbreakable Vow to do so. The implication is that, by refusing to help Dumbledore, Snape is fulfilling that Unbreakable Vow.

But since Draco Malfoy isn't really in need of protection at that exact moment, it would seem to me that Snape's departure with Malfoy is the fulfillment of his Unbreakable Vow -- which would make his killing of Dumbledore something different. Perhaps the fulfilling of another Unbreakable Vow? One he has already sworn to Dumbledore? That would explain Dumbledore's unshakable trust in Snape: it would have nothing to do with Snape's motivations, or whether Dumbledore has judged Snape's character or anything of the sort.

So I suspect that when Harry was a baby, before Dumbledore placed him with the Dursleys, Dumbledore swore Severus Snape to an Unbreakable Vow in lieu of killing the former servant of Voldemort, which Snape somehow fulfilled by killing Dumbledore.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong; this is a half-baked theory, of course, and I'm not well-versed enough on the arcana of the Potterverse to flesh this out any more than I already have. We'll learn soon enough, anyway. (Or not soon enough, since I want Book Seven now.)

A few other thoughts:

1. They can't figure out who R.A.B. is? Come on!

2. I actually enjoyed all of the teen-romance stuff. Maybe it's because I'm a hopeless sap, but I found a lot of that stuff funny and true to the way I remember those stupid youth romances going. But that leads me to....

3. So, I wonder if J.K. Rowling's list of favorite movies includes Spiderman, because the last scene in this book nearly perfectly echoes the last scene of Spiderman. It takes place at a funeral, and after the service, Harry tells Ginny that he can't be with her because it will be too dangerous for her to be Harry Potter's girlfriend -- just like the way Peter Parker tells Mary Jane Watson that he can't be with her (although, if memory serves, he doesn't spell this out exactly).

4. Thinking back on Voldemort's/Tom Riddle's youth, I wonder if maybe Dumbledore isn't quite as wise as he seems after all: "Hi Tom. You certainly seem to be a sadistic creep and a criminal in training, but come with me and we'll teach you how to be a Wizard!" It kind of reminds me of another time a young kid with a trend to fear and anger was taught to use mystical powers, with this other kid also growing up to change his name to something more nasty even started with a 'V'....

5. Where are the remaining Horcruxes? I really don't know, and I'm not confident enough to hazard any guesses. Rowling has, in the past, hidden big things in plain sight (Moaning Myrtle's identity, Scabbers being Peter Pettigrew); and at other times, she's done new things entirely (hinting strongly at a death in Goblet of Fire, only to have it be Cedric Diggory, the Potterverse equivalent of Star Trek's red-shirted security guys). I've read a few discussion threads with ideas aplenty, and each idea I see has me saying, "Hey yeah! That would be a great hiding place for a Horcrux!" But OK, I'll hazard one guess: I wouldn't be surprised if one Horcrux is sitting in the Dursley's living room.

Here's a really good spoiler-filled post on the book, and here's an equally-good discussion thread. Barring an announcement from Ms. Rowling along the lines of "I'm two-thirds done with Book Seven, and it will be out for Christmas!", I hope to re-read the entire series before Book Seven comes out. And I also intend to be as spoiler-free as I can possibly be for it, which will be quite a change for me after my "Give me the spoilers NOW, dammit!" approach to Star Wars for the last six years.

At the very least, she'd better not take as long to come up with Book Seven as George R. R. Martin has to come up with A Feast for Crows!

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Outside links for the Image this week. Michael Blowhard provides a link to a satellite image of Niagara Falls, which I thought I'd supplement with the Google Maps satellite image of the same place. The links:

Michael's satellite image
Google Maps image

Michael's image (not really Michael's image, of course, but that's a convenient shorthand) only depicts the Canadian falls, sadly; there's a prejudice about the Falls that has the Horseshoe Falls being more impressive than the American Falls, but for my money, the best place to see the Falls is from Goat Island, where you can stand on the brink of both Falls or even go down to the Cave of the Winds. Of course, the American city of Niagara Falls is an economic disaster to a degree that precisely mirrors that of Niagara Falls, Ontario as an economic miracle, but if I'm going to just look at the Natural Wonder of the Falls, I say, do it from the American side.

With the Google Maps image, of course, you can scroll northward to see the American Falls, or zoom out to get both in one image. Michael's image was apparently taken in summer, and the color is very striking; the Google Maps one is apparently taken in early May, since the surrounding trees are brown but there's no trace of remnant ice which sticks around for a long time after winter's official end. Also, scrolling around to the surrounding cityscapes on each side of the Falls, I note a surprising lack of traffic, which also indicates that the photo was imaged out of the normal tourist season, and possibly quite early in the morning.

And in both images, you can make out one of the Maid of the Mist boats near the turbulent pool beneath the Horseshoe Falls. In Michael's image, the boat is still on its approach, while in the Google one, the boat is coming about to return to its dock. One of the most fascinating things to observe, actually, when visiting the Falls is the voyage of a Maid of the Mist boat. They move very slowly upstream, coming surprisingly close to the curtain of the Falls themselves, and then suddenly the boats whip about and move back downstream amazingly quickly. It's then that you realize just how powerful the current of the Niagara River is, first in noting the way the river just shoves that boat right back downstream, and then the subsequent realization of just how powerful the engines on the Maid boats have to be in order to navigate those currents.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Back in the day when I read a lot of conspiracy-theory related stuff (lots of fun, kooky stuff in that world -- I gotta read more of it one of these days), my delvings into the sub-conspiracry genre of alien life (think of the stuff that forms a lot of the backstory for The X-Files) I often saw the name Richard Hoagland, a former NASA employee who has since gone on to bigger and better things -- and by "bigger and better things", I of course mean "creating a career of sorts out of pimping looney ideas that NASA is covering up evidence of life in our Solar System, including the far side of the Moon and the artificial [yeah, right] structures on the Cydonia Plain on Mars".

Well, thanks to Paul Riddell, I see Hoagland's latest bit of hilarious madness: he thinks that an entire Saturnian moon is an artificial construct.

I love Richard Hoagland. I really do. As Paul Riddell describes:

Some examples of insane pseudoscience are worthy only of disgusted ridicule. Others, though, are like your insane little cousin who has the permanent hickey on his side from making armpit farts all day long: you should be disgusted, but you're laughing, and you can't quite explain why you're laughing.

That's exactly right -- Hoagland is the Cheech of the intergalactic conspiracy set. Anyone want to nominate a Chong?

For all your armor-plating needs

Suppose you're making an IMAX movie about tornadoes. You'd want to get footage as close as humanly possible to the tornado, right? Maybe even footage up until, and beyond, the moment when the tornado strikes exactly where the camera is?

Yeah, that would be cool...but how?

Why, by armor-plating a Ford pickup truck, of course.

Strangely, the article fails to mention the TIV's (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) top speed and gas mileage. For myself, there's no way on Earth I'd trust my life to this thing with a tornado bearing down upon me, but there's a very good reason for that: I come from a long line of Chevy men.

(Link via Warren Ellis)

Come on, J.K., get to the point!

I'm a bit more than half-way through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and I'm enjoying the book immensely, as I've enjoyed each previous installment. (I'm rationing the book, almost, to stretch out the reading experience, although I'll probably give in to temptation and plow through it this afternoon.) This book seems less plot-heavy than the last two, and less outwardly flabby than Book Five, which is nice. Rowling's eye for detail and her gift for characterization are really shining through, and I have to note that she seems to have a gift for dialogue emerging as well, now that her characters are achieving maturity. Our boy Harry has some zinging one-liners in this book that had better be preserved for the movie version.

One thing that I must admit grates after a while is Rowling's deferred payback on tantalizing plot hints. There are a number of times when one character will notice something quite strange, or ask a very pertinent question, only to receive a reply along the lines of, "Well, that's a very important question that I will nevertheless answer at another time!" It kind of reminds me of all those times in old mystery novels when, halfway through the book, some minor character would figure out the identity of the murderer and announce, "I know who the killer is!" just as the killer pops out from behind a curtain and clubs them to death with a hammer or whatever.

But as ever, who am I to quibble with the writer who has made sufficient money from her fictional creation to outstrip the Queen of England in total worth?

By the way, do read Lance Mannion's take on the Potter phenomenon. (He gives no spoilers for Half-Blood Prince.) I think he's particularly astute when he says this:

The great good thing Rowling and her contemporaries have done, I think, is help create a community of young readers.

There have always been children who love to read, but they tended to do it all on their lonesomes, holed up in their rooms, and the joy they found in their books was a private joy.

But Harry Potter has opened the bedroom doors as wonderfully as he opened the Chamber of Secrets. All these young readers now talk to each other. They trade books, they get online and post in forums and on webpages, they build friendships around their mutual love of books, and they read more and they read faster. Reading isn't an escape from their lives and other kids. It's a part of their lives and a connection with other kids.

I think that what Rowling has also done is restored a bit of respect for story in literature, but my thoughts on that are a bit half-baked at the present time, so I'll just hold on to that nugget for a while. Kind of like the way, in Half-Blood Prince, XXXXXXXXXX keeps refusing to tell XXXXX how he XXXXXXX his XXX.

Sentential Links, delay'd

Everybody's sentences sucked this week. Fifty points from Gryffindor!

OK, kidding aside. For obvious reasons, my time for trawling Blogistan for glorious instantiations of grammar in the further pursuit of insightful content has been somewhat lessened of late, so the next installment of Sentential Links will appear next Sunday.

Crossing the afore-mentioned bridge

Well, Little Quinn is into Day Three of his hospitalization for bronchitis, and the doctors are now doing that "guarded optimism" thing they do, where they try to sound as pessimistic about a possible optimistic outcome as possible. I think they take classes in that or something -- "Advanced Bedside Manner 201", perhaps.

Little Quinn has not actually entered the "getting worse before he gets better" stage; his fever has slowly but steadily trended downward, and while he continues to have icky gunk suctioned from his lungs regularly ("icky gunk" being, of course, a medical term covered in "Basic Bedside Manner 101"), the docs are suctioning him a little less often and they're getting a little less icky gunk out of him each time they do it.

I'll say this: Little Quinn's a tough little bugger. I'm not sure where he gets it from, considering the whimpering fetal form that I assume whenever I contract any kind of mild cold.

UPDATE: I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone out there for their support, whether expressed as a comment in the post below or in e-mail. It all means a great deal to me.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Always another bridge to cross.

We had to have Little Quinn admitted to Children's Hospital in Buffalo this morning due to a respiratory infection that became obvious late yesterday afternoon. He was working hard to breathe, and even frequent doses of albuterol were not providing anything more than temporary relief. As of this writing, it is likely that he will be intubated in the next hour or so.

Further posting as events warrant.

UPDATE: Little Quinn is still in the hospital, and will most likely be there for a week or so, depending on how things turn out. He does not have pneumonia; the current diagnosis is bronchitis, either due to an infection in his lower airways or due to a reaction against something he inhaled. If the latter, he should begin to show improvement fairly quickly; if the former, he will actually get worse before he gets better as he fights off the infection.

However, the doctors are confident that we caught the issue early on, so Little Quinn has been on antibiotics for some hours now, in addition to receiving medicines to make him sleep and restrict his motions so he doesn't pull the tubes out. Throughout the ordeal, Little Quinn's blood gas levels have been normal, and his chest X-rays showed no evidence of pneumonia. We are now awaiting cultures generated from his secretions, which apparently take three days or so to process. So that's a bit of a waiting game there.

It all began last night with a fever and difficult breathing. We gave him acetaminophen and brought the fever back down to normal fairly quickly (he hasn't run a temperature since late last night), but the labored breathing continued. The final straw was at about 6:00 this morning, when his breathing became so labored that he went beyond wheezing and started chirping with each indrawn breath. Not good.

We came home from the hospital a bit ago to eat dinner, and will be going back after the docs do nightly rounds. Before we left, Little Quinn's breathing was looking very normal and his swelling had gone down to the point where the nurses and respiratory technicians had to re-do some of his tubes and connections to accomodate the lesser bulk.

It's hard, as always, to see Little Quinn on his respirator again, bringing back as it does some memories that I'm generally loath to recall. But what's different this time is the degree of certainty the docs are willing to express. The six-week ordeal of Little Quinn's birth was one round of "Let's do this and see what happens, and then we'll decide what to do next" after another, while this time is more of a binary state: "Either this is happening or that is happening. If it's this, we'll do X, and if it's that, we'll do Y." And this is all stuff that the docs have seen many times with children of all ages. That's about as encouraging a note as is to be found in this whole scenario.

It's time again, I guess, for Little Quinn to be the Mighty Quinn again. Further updates will come as events warrant.

(Oh, and I almost forgot: in the "Adding insult to injury" department, the ER folks took Little Quinn's temperature rectally this morning [at home, we use the axillary method, under the armpit], which they then followed up with another dose of acetaminophen which they dispensed to him in suppository form. Then, this afternoon, he was given an IV line in his groin. Poor little guy!)

UPDATE II (Sunday, July 27): I posted a follow-up this morning, here.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Well, that should about do it, right?

Maybe it's time that I closed up shop on the blog, given that Byzantium's Shores has turned out to be the Number Two result for this search.

And do go look at the Number Three result for the same search. That had better be some kind of satire or something. Oy.


That's what happens when I go on hiatus: people get married. Congratulations to Mary! I'm a bit surprised that she didn't use a reading from Richard Feynman, but hey, it can't be all physics, all the time, right?


Over on Fantasy Hot List, Patrick interviews author Robin Hobb. Check it out. I haven't read Hobb yet, but she's a constant on my "Oh yeah, I gotta read that author" list.

"What would you have me do?"

So cries one of the central characters in Guy Gavriel Kay's magnificent novel The Lions of Al-Rassan, which I re-read for the first time in four years while on my trip out west for the sister-in-law's wedding. (When you travel with your family across the country so that the two women in your family can be in a wedding, while you yourself are not in the wedding, you end up with a lot of free time in the days running up until said wedding. Good thing I packed a bunch of books.)

I note in my post about GGK's novels that Lions is my favorite of his works, which is saying quite a lot considering the man has yet to write a book I don't love dearly. This is the story of a number of lives intersecting in a fantastic realm called Al-Rassan, modeled on the Iberian peninsula during the Moorish retreat. As has been GGK's wont ever since he completed The Fionavar Tapestry, the role of magic in his tale is so limited that the book might be an actual historical novel if not for the fact that his geography and religions, while analogous to real ones, do not exist.

While Lions is now my favorite of GGK's books by quite a margin, it wasn't always so. This is because Lions is similar to the film Casablanca in one major respect: it is actually better upon a second reading (or viewing), when the foreknowledge of how the story comes out in the end casts an elegaic light over the events leading up to that end that isn't present when one doesn't know how it all ends. This was my third complete reading of Lions, and even though I knew how that final duel turns out and even though I knew how that final duel came to happen, I still found myself actively wishing for it to not come out that way, and for a world to be forged from the ashes of the one dying in which Rodrigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn'Khairan could both live.

On this reading, I noted much more of the erotic undercurrents within GGK's tale; this is a very sensual book, to a degree I didn't appreciate as much the first two times I read it. And I did pick up on one more thing, which constitutes a spoiler of sorts: parts of the book turn on Diego Belmonte's ability to see future events, or events from far away to which he cannot possibly be privy. What I didn't pick up on until now is that Rodrigo Belmonte, Diego's father, has a similar such moment when he has a vision of his wife, Miranda, and his company physician, Jehane, standing on a hilltop against a deep sunset. I never caught that before now.

With GGK's novels, I tend to avoid full re-reads for several years, so as to allow certain inner details of the stories to recede into my memory that they might delight me anew each time. This practice works well, except that for it to work again, I can't re-read Lions again until 2009.

When Michael Jackson thinks you're a weirdo....

Oh, the humor of it all! It seems that Ann Coulter has managed to go so far around the bend here, on the subject of President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, that even John at Powerline and his mates are slowly backing away from her, saying "Frankly, it's hard to believe she's serious" and "I can't remember a time when she has been this totally misguided" (thus demonstrating that apparently John of Powerline is either completely unfamiliar with Ann Coulter or has no memory beyond eight minutes ago, but that's a fish to be fried another time).

Still, I think a right-wing feeding frenzy over this Roberts guy's right-wing street-cred will be a funny thing to behold. There's a very sizeable part of this country's right -- the sizeable part of it, perhaps -- that won't be happy unless they can put someone to the right of Kaiser Wilhelm on the Supreme Court.

According to Coulter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a "reliable left-wing lunatic". God bless Ms. Coulter! I like it when I can pop up the popcorn and enjoy the show before the Democrats have even stepped up to the mike.

(Link via Craig, who started off a post the other day with this: "George W. Bush never disappoints." Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations, eh? Heh indeed!)

UPDATE: Now, via Roxanne, I see that Coulter isn't even an original lunatic hack. Details here.


I spent some of my daydreaming time at The Store today fulminating a post about casinos in Buffalo, since the Seneca Nation of Indians announced the other day that they're picking their site for their third Western New York casino, which will presumably be in downtown Buffalo. I had all of my arguments ready to go, and then I get home and find that Alan has already posted them. So ditto what he says: I don't like the idea of taking property off the tax rolls in a city whose tax base is already in a state of deep erosion; I don't believe there will be much economic spin-off effect; I believe that too many dollars from the casino, aside from the wages for the bartenders and the coat-checkers and the blackjack dealers, will end up in Seneca Nation pockets and not Buffalo pockets. I'm not wild about a downtown casino, but if we're to have this thing rammed down our throats -- and apparently we are -- then it had damned well better not be on the waterfront. That's the last place where we need a big-ass windowless box of a building.

I also don't think that casinos will do much to generate new tourism here. Everybody and their brother has casinos nowadays, and I'm hard-pressed to think of a place east of the Mississippi where one isn't within six hours of some form of casino gaming. Nobody's going to come to Buffalo because the Senecas build a casino here; our new casino will primarily be a draw for people already here.

TIME Magazine ran a two-story feature on the underside of the Indian casino industry a few years back, with part one here and part two here. It's a pretty creepy business, in my view, and I'd really rather not have my struggling city put this group in any kind of economic driver's seat.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


It makes me a little bit sad that not every daughter gets to be the flower girl at a wedding. But my daughter did, and here's how she looked for the part.

Yes, those are rose petals hemmed in at the bottom of that outer veil-thing. She got the bottom of the dress a bit messed up in the course of dancing at the reception, but hey, who cares?

The word is given: Warp speed.

Everyone knows already, but James Doohan -- a.k.a. Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery Scott, chief engineer of the USS Enterprise -- died today. He had a good, long life and was by all accounts a warm and gregarious individual. I can't necessarily say that I'll miss him, since the TOS crew left the scene years ago -- better to say that I do miss him, I suppose.

I always thought that ending Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country with the animated signatures of the actors and actress of the TOS crew was the classiest ending to a movie I've seen. If I had any Scotch on hand, I'd raise a dram to the memory of James Doohan and his signature role -- ironic, I suppose, since Doohan wasn't Scots himself. So maybe a Yuengling's will suffice.

And yes, as the resident "miracle worker" at The Store, I do in fact multiply all of my repair estimates by a factor of four.


I skimmed over this Buffalo News article about Erie County Executive Joel Giambra while on break at work this morning, and I pretty much blew it off as the usual BS-fest that issues from Mr. Giambra: despite negative ratings that make Jimmy Carter at the height of the Hostage Crisis look like Ronald Reagan in 1984, this guy is doing the out-thrust jaw, stiff-upper-lip, damn-the-torpedoes-and-full-speed-ahead thing. There are times when someone's delusionary antics can be an entertaining spectacle, but this isn't one of those times. The Buffalo Niagara region is like a hot-air balloon that's been unfolded and is being filled with warm air, but there's this idiot who can't -- or won't -- untie the mooring ropes. That's Joel Giambra.

Alan, however, posts on the same article and points out a pretty breathtaking quote that I missed when I read it this morning:

"If Jesus Christ came off the cross today," he said, "I'm not sure he could get the County Legislature to go along with him."

When arrogant delusion gives way to Messianic delusion is usually when things start getting really frightening. Stay tuned.

(Oh, and Alan also links a really fine op-ed column that appeared today as well. I read it myself and wanted to cheer. Buffalo rules, and let's damned well not forget it!)

Half-bloods, mudbloods, it's all the same

If I'd been thinking more clearly, I would have scheduled myself for a longer hiatus to accomodate the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Now, as it is, I have to be super-careful to avoid spoilers while noodling around Blogistan. I just bought my copy of the book today, and I plan to start reading it this evening. It shouldn't take me too long, given that I devoured the previous volumes pretty quickly.

(And it's also weird that I was so gung-ho about reading spoilers for Revenge of the Sith, but when it comes to Harry Potter, I'm covering my ears and shouting "LA LA LA LA can't hear you!")

Anyhow, yes, I am now back from hiatus. It seems that a lot has happened while I've been gone. Time to play catch-up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Offerings before the Hiatus

I'm going on hiatus as soon as this post is complete, but before I go I have two favorite quotes to re-offer and some really good stuff I want to link now rather than later. I've posted these two quotes before, but I like them a lot so I'm offering them again. First we have rock critic Lester Bangs:

In a way, Jim Morrison's life and death could be written off as simply one of the more pathetic episodes in the history of the star system, or that offensive myth we all persist in believing which holds that artists are somehow a race apart and thus entitled to piss on my wife, throw you out the window, smash up the joint, and generally do whatever they want. I've seen a lot of this over the years, and what's most ironic is that it always goes under the assumption that to deny them these outbursts would somehow be curbing their creativity, when the reality, as far as I can see, is that it's exactly such insane tolerance of another insanity that also contributes to them drying up as artists. Because how can you finally create anything real or beautiful when you have absolutely zero input from the real world, because everyone around you is catering to and sheltering you? You can't, and this system is I'd submit why we've seen almost all our rock 'n' roll heroes who, unlike Morrison, did manage to survive the Sixties, end up having nothing to say.

And here's composer and sometime critic Hector Berlioz:

One man only in this orchestra does not allow himself any such diversion. Wholly intent upon his task, all energy, indefatigable, his eye glued to his notes and his arm in perpetual motion, he would feel dishonored if he were to miss an eighth note or incur censure for his tone quality. By the end of each act he is flushed, perspiring, exhausted; he can hardly breathe, yet he does not dare take advantage of the respite offered by the cessation of musical hostilities to go for a glass of beer at the nearest bar. The fear of missing the first measures of the next act keeps him rooted at his post. Touched by so much zeal, the manager of the opera house once sent him six bottles of wine, "by way of encouragement." But the artist, "conscious of his responsibilities," was so far from grateful for the gift that he returned it with the proud words: "I have no need of encouragement." The reader will have guessed that I am speaking of the man who plays the bass drum.

Also, on the occasion of the apparent return to service of the Space Shuttle Discovery (assuming the launch goes as planned), I link this essay by Bill Whittle, written on the occasion of the destruction of the Columbia on re-entry over two years ago. While this essay, like all Bill Whittle essays, goes on way too long and has a lot of goofball digressions into what's wrong with liberals, it also winds up with one of the more unforgettable passages I've read in a blog post.

Do go read this post by Terry Teachout. I'd love to have a weekend like this: a car and no destination. And if you've ever considered reading David Weber's military-SF novels featuring Honor Harrington (a future Horatio Hornblower, obviously), check out Will Duquette, who is reviewing them in sequence (latest review here). I read the first two and enjoyed them, although Weber's infodumps are really irritating. And from what I've heard, they get worse as you go in the series. James Wolcott slaps down some folks who are really mad that Oliver Stone is making a 9-11-01 themed movie, here. (I must admit that I find the possessiveness a lot of folks on the Right feel toward 9-11-01 a bit creepy.) And finally, the guy who goes by the handle "D. Trull", whose site I have linked in the past because of his enormously sensible thoughts on the Star Wars prequels, has some preliminary thoughts up on Revenge of the Sith, here.

I don't rule out the possibility of a post showing up while I'm gone, if I'm able to set up camp on the mother-in-law's computer at all, but I wouldn't bet on it. At the very least, I will definitely post again on Wednesday, July 20. In the meantime, look through my archives, visit the folks on the blogroll, and so on. See you all on the flipside.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Another week, another chapter!

Due to the impending trek across Our Great Nation, I have posted Chapter Fourteen of The Promised King one week ahead of the normal schedule, which might seem like good news for the book's regular readers (all four of you -- hint, hint) except that this means that four weeks will now elapse until the appearance of Chapter Fifteen. Oh well. This break will give you all time to catch up on what you've missed, right?

So go read Chapter Fourteen, and don't forget that links to the other chapters are available as well.

(This post is being anchored at the top of this page for today and most of tomorrow, so scroll down through Sunday as new material will appear beneath it.)


Stirling Bridge, Scotland.

I recently watched Braveheart again, a film which I've always liked a lot despite my knowledge that the history in the film is incredibly bad. And when I say "bad", I mean that the film gets these facts right:

1. There was a guy named William Wallace.
2. This guy named William Wallace pissed off King Edward of England but good.
3. The Scots loved William Wallace because he pissed off King Edward of England but good.
4. King Edward of England got the last laugh on William Wallace, in the way that medieval Kings usually got the last laugh on their enemies.

Most of the other stuff in the film is complete fabrication. The Battle of Stirling, as depicted in the film, takes place on a plain old field and the charging English cavalry are butchered when Wallace and company hold up long spears for the cavalry to impale themselves against. However, the real battle was actually the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and this is where that battle took place.

This isn't the actual bridge; the original is long gone, but this one is thought to be very near the spot where the original bridge stood.

Here's a site that tells the actual history of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. History seems a bit unclear as to whether or not Wallace and his men all lifted their kilts and displayed their manhood to the English troops before slaughtering them, but I rather doubt it. Nor did he demand, before battle, that the English commander present himself before the Scottish force, bend over, put his legs between his knees, and kiss his own arse. The filmmakers made that up, too.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

OK, I was doing a bit of Googling and I came across this Christian fundamentalist site, which is pretty straightforward as Christian fundamentalist sites go -- not a whole lot of weirdness, but some outright creepiness (did you know that George W. Bush isn't Christian enough for some Christians?).

But I saw a link to something called the Confession Booth, and the old Weirdness Detector started ticking. I think it was the disclaimer ("The views represented in Confession Booth do not necessarily reflect the views of anybody but God") that did it. Sure enough, there's some good old flogging of the sinners there: homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, atheists...and "potty mouths" and "Democrats"! (I'm not kidding. Go look.)

Under "Liars", we find this advice: "YOUR ONLY HOPE is to SHUT THE HELL UP (James 3:5-6) and tell the truth." Well, telling the truth is certainly advisable, but did James really advise people to "shut the hell up"? Well, I'm not sure that's how I'd interpret that passage, but I'll give it to them. We're still not onto the real weirdness.

No, the Weirdness isn't to be found until you hit the "Divorced and Remarried" section. When you click through, you won't find any illumination of why divorce is so bad; nope, you merely find...well, you look. What a betrayal that must have been!

The silencing of a voice

Michael Lopez is closing down his blog. I can't argue with his reasons, since they're personal reasons and you can't really argue with the personal, but I'll miss reading him. I didn't agree with him all that often, but he was a very thoughtful poster who managed to create the best kind of disagreement: the kind where I say to myself, "Self, I disagree with that, but why?"

Michael promises to post something each day for the next week, and then he'll be pulling the plug -- apparently going so far as to delete the blog entirely. Well, I hope he at least saves his archives locally; he's generated too much material that I think he has every right to be proud of, even if he's now loathe to have it permanently available as a matter of Internet record.

I also hope that his retirement as an active blogger doesn't also signal his retirement as an active blog reader. And who knows, blogging can go in any number of directions: witness Steven Den Beste, who hung up his hat as a political blogger and instead went off to blog about nothing but anime. Maybe Michael will be back in some other form, after he's either recharged the batteries or found some new batteries.

But anyway, spend some time looking through the archives over at Highered Intelligence. There's a lot of good food for thought over there.

Yup, I like that one too...and that one....I know all the words to that one....crap.

Michele at ASV has a list of the most overrated songs in history, with lengthy commentary after each one. It's a really fun post to read (as is usually the case with Michele), even if I feel slightly dirty in still liking a lot of these songs. Here are her songs, with a few responses of my own:

1. Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven. Maybe part of why I like this song a lot is due to the fact that I've never really been one to study the meanings of lyrics. I just love this song's structure: you can barely feel the constant upping of the tempo over ten minutes or however long it is. I just think it's brilliant.

2. Don McLean - American Pie Yeah, it's self-important, unintelligible gobbledygook. But I still like it, for some reason I'm unable to illuminate. McLean's other songs make me wince. That one about Vincent Van Gogh is just treacle.

3. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Freebird Believe it or not, I've only heard this song a few times in my life. I gotta get out more. I like it, but I don't know it well enough to form an opinion on whether it's overrated.

4. Eagles - Hotel California I like this song, but I'm unimpressed when people tell me they know all its words. Sure, the song is eight minutes, but there's a minute of intro followed by three minutes of lyrics followed by four more minutes of guitar solo that only sounds good on the original recording. (Don't believe me? Listen to the exact same solo as played on the Hell Freezes Over reunion album. Ick.)

5. Meatloaf - Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Michele closes a lengthy diatribe about this song (which includes some really creepy descriptions of what happens when this song comes on the DJ's playlist at a wedding reception) with stating that she can't see anything redeeming about it. And she's probably right, since its lyrics portray the Artist As Disgusting Emotional Troll. But I guess that's what I like about it: that Meat Loaf made this gigando-hit out of a song that has him stand up, arena-rock style, and shout for all the world to hear, "I am a complete pig, and how do ya like that!" It's sort of admirable in that Archie Bunker kind of way, I guess. And I have to like that while other self-important rock acts were making epic songs out of incomprehensible poetry (see above), Meat Loaf is making a nine-minute epic out of a fifteen-year-old's one-night-stand at Inspiration Point. He's saying "You guys sing about a bustle in your hedgerow and stabbing things with your steely knives and cryptic shit about plane crashes outside Clearlake, Iowa. I'm gonna sing about the time I got lucky and dumped her the next day." Redeeming? No. Refreshing? A little.

6. Guns N Roses - November Rain Michele says that bad things happen when you diss GNR, but bring it on: I never once liked GNR. Hated 'em from the first time I heard "Sweet Child of Mine". Why, you might ask? Well, I think that Slash is a brilliant guitarist; love his work. The drummer and bass player seem OK (although no Alex VH or Michael Anthony). The problem with every GNR song is this: sooner or later Axl Rose starts singing, and at that moment my nerves instantly curl up. Seriously. The man's nasal delivery, coupled with his metal-esque tendency to blend singing with shouting, is to me the musical equivalent of when a large metal cabinet is dragged across a smooth concrete floor.

For this reason I have never owned a single GNR album, and I never will.

7. The Beatles - Hey Jude God almighty, I hate this song. I've never actually been much of a Beatles fan anyway. I tend, with almost no exception that I know of, to like their songs best when they're performed by anyone else, but as an actual act in themselves I always get this feeling that they're either a bubble-gum band just treading water until they can get to the business of revolutionizing music forever, or that they're in full music-revolutionary phase which turns me off anyway. But "Hey Jude" is just an annoying, unending, interminable piece of crap. I hate it well before the four minutes of "Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na" begins, and that part of the song just makes me cringe.

8. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run in the USA in his Glory Days. I like Bruce. Oh well. I don't like "Born in the USA" much, delivering its message as it does with all the subtlety of a brick through a plate-glass window, and "Glory Days" suffers from the same back-end fault that afflicts "Hey Jude", only in Bruce's case it's four minutes of "Well ALL RIGHT! Come ON NOW! Well ALL RIGHT! Come ON NOW!" But "Dancing in the Dark" is cool; I liked his song for the movie Philadelphia way more than I actually liked the movie Philadelphia; and I do like that 9-11 themed album he did a few years back (although I suspect Michele hates it). Anyway, I like Springsteen's voice. I like it when rock stars sing with a voice that sounds like it's been through too many years of riding a bus and drinking bourbon.

Here are a few additions of my own:

"Spinning Wheel", Blood Sweat and Tears. I don't know what I hate more: the insipid lyrics, the awful brass chords that punctuate the song, or the "Carousel band on drugs" that closes the song. The whole thing stinks. I hate it.

"I Swear", All For One. Ah, yes -- summer 1994, when I would work a shift at Pizza Hut and hear this g**damn song at least eight times in the space of a single night. (Yes, I counted once. Eight is accurate.) And if somebody took mercy and changed the radio to the country station, it didn't matter because some country artist did the same song the same year! Ugh. Anyway, the song is like eating the world's biggest fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie without any milk at hand to wash it down.

Any song by Aerosmith that had a video starring Alicia Silverstone. Especially whichever one had her rigging up a stuntman gizmo so she could appear to be committing suicide by jumping off a bridge, but then give her boyfriend the finger while she dangles on her safety harness above a busy freeway. Yeah, right. Or the one where she goes off for a night of debauchery with some other chick and steals a farmboy's pants. I like Alicia Silverstone just fine, but these songs were overwrought crud.

"Losing My Religion", REM. Now, it's not a bad song by any means. But did it really warrant airplay on par with Elton John's "Candle in the Wind -- Princess Diana version"? I don't think so. And all those playings of "Losing My Religion" kept "Everybody Hurts" off the air. (At least in my town.)

"New York, New York". This song does two things: first, it brings out the inner Sinatra that everybody thinks they have. And the problem with that, of course, is that the song also proves what should be obvious: that nobody actually has an inner Sinatra. That's why there was only one Sinatra. I tend to really dislike songs that get adopted by every drunk in a given room. Which brings me to....

"Sweet Caroline", Neil Diamond. Full disclosure: it's a lot of fun to be in a bar full of drunken patrons when this songs comes up on the jukebox. Equally full disclosure: the song is pedestrian, at best, in any venue where alcohol is not involved. What's funny, though, is that two generations of drunks singing this song have elevated those three descending brass notes in the chorus to actually being part of the lyrics. No longer does the song go like this:

Sweet caroline
Good times never seemed so good
I’ve been inclined
To believe they never would

No, it now actually goes like this:

Sweet caroline BUM BUM BUMMM!
Good times never seemed so good
I’ve been inclined BUM BUM BUMMM!
To believe they never would

"Brown Eyed Girl", Van Morrison. I love this song. But it's most certainly overrated, if its airplay as compared to the airplay of other, better Van Morrison songs is taken into account.

OK, enough of those for now. I'll leave off, though, with a funny joke I read on the MeFi thread I referenced in this post from yesterday:

Question: What did the Dead Head say when he ran outta dope?

Answer: "What is this crap we're listening to?"


Sentential Links #9

Good sentences from better posts for the week just gone by.

:: Still, no gift, however generous, can possibly make up for the empty feeling with which we say farewell to the kindly men and women who once upon a time helped to show us what we were. (Mr. Teachout, with all due respect, if you've got it in you to write like this -- and you damned well do -- then please oh please, stop wishing you could write as well as James Lileks. It's Lileks who should be coming to you for pointers.)

:: A secret: I fall a little in love with nearly every woman that I meet. Just a little - sometimes only for five minutes, sometimes forever. (And I thought that I was the only one who did that. This isn't actually from a blog post, but it is from a blog, so it counts.)

:: I mean we all stop dead in our tracks while walking to grab that piece of paper to write down a great idea, or line, or story, or thing to do, or thing to blog. Or is it just me? I wonder who else will be found guilty! (Guilty as charged. I'm constantly thinking up stuff. Some of it is just observational stuff to use in stories, some of it gets put into blog posts, some stuff just percolates around within my cranium. I think that this practice is one thing that marks one as a Writer-At-Heart.)

:: The authority of evolution is derived not from any edicts, there is no Central Committee, nor is there any Great Man who defines it all for us (concepts which are exceedingly hard to get across to creationists), but instead, it is derived from a great many experiments and observations of the natural world.

:: At approximately 7 pm EDT this evening, I left my office (5 blocks from the White House) to board the subway at Metro Center (2.5 blocks from the White House) to travel 12 minutes to walk 2 blocks to get home. During my journey, I saw not one sniffing dog. Not one meter maid. NOT A SINGLE COP. (Actually, that's the entire text of Roxanne's post. I hope she doesn't mind.)

:: The Home Run Derby has now gotten so out of hand that a crappy post-grunge band, Alter Bridge, a derivative remnant of the highly derivative band Creed, will now perform at the Derby. (How behind the times am I? I'm not sure I've ever heard anything by Creed, but all I know is that everyone who has ever mentioned Creed to me has also used the word "sucks" in the same sentence.)

:: The flypaper theory is dead and buried. (New redesign for Demosthenes's blog, by the way, which happens to be the first liberal political blog I ever read.)

:: There sure are a lot of different versions of Diet Coke these days, aren't there? (Yup, there are. And once again, the Blogger With Millions o'Hits posts about something that the Blogger With Hundreds o'Hits touched on two weeks ago. I'm just sayin'.)

:: Seriously, can anyone name a film adaptation that was superior to the book? (Yes, I can. The Bridges of Madison County.)

:: Can you tell catfish bother me a little bit? (There were about seven or eight sentences I could have chosen from this post, whose only wrong point is that Mississippi is not in the Midwest. It's in the South. The Upper Delta region might be termed in the Midwest, ranging as far north as the southeast portion of Missouri and the southern tip of Illinois. But as to that, it's worth noting that Cairo, Illinois is farther south than Richmond, Virginia. Yes, Cairo's in the same state as Chicago, which is most definitely a Midwest city, but consider: Buffalo is in the same state as New York City, but Buffalo's certainly not a Northeast city; we're a Great Lakes city, and it's about 293 miles from here to NYC. From Chicago to Cairo is even farther than that: about 348 miles, according to this site. But that's just a mere quibble. This is a wonderful post. Go read it.)

That's all for now. Remember, there will be no Sentential Links next week, because I won't be linking much of anything next week. (By the way, it just occurred to me that with the exception of my two moves, from Buffalo to Syracuse and back again, this will be the first real hiatus since this blog began which shall also involve a period of inconsistent Net access. What on Earth will I do!)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Too young for the long, strange trip.

This MeFi thread commemorates the ten-year anniversary of the last concert played by the Grateful Dead. I was never a Deadhead, having come of age too late to know what that scene was all about, but I remember hearing the news of Jerry Garcia's death on MTV one day in 1995.

Last week, Buffalo News rock critic Jeff Miers wrote this review of a CD/DVD package from a concert the Dead gave at Buffalo's Rich Stadium (now Ralph Wilson Stadium) in 1989.

More than just another release from the ample Dead vaults, "Truckin'" celebrates what fans, band members, Dead archivists and historians are calling one of the finest shows the band performed in its last decade together. The release also cements the Dead's long-held love for upstate New York, a relationship that yielded some now-historic - indeed, mythical - shows in cities such as Albany, Ithaca, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.

"There is no question in my mind that Western New York brought out the best in the Dead," says the band's official audio and visual archivist, David Lemieux, speaking to The News from the Dead's San Francisco office last week.

"There's a few reasons for this. First, cities like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and so forth were among the first to embrace the Dead, going all the way back to the beginning. The band always preferred playing these cities to the bigger places like New York City, for example. There was just a rich history of connection with people upstate, and in Western New York in particular.

"Second, how well they played, and how often they played in places like Buffalo created a lasting impact on those areas, a fan base that was incredibly large and incredibly loyal. When you watch the "Truckin'' DVD, you can see on all of the band members' faces how pleased they were with the gig."

Dennis McNally, longtime Dead publicist and author of the definitive band biography, "Long Strange Trip," sees other reasons for the undeniable strength of the band's Rich Stadium performance.

"That particular show is one of the high points from the period immediately following Jerry Garcia's collapse and his slipping into a diabetic coma, and subsequent miraculous recovery," McNally says.

"Like any sane person would do, the band members hit their knees - metaphorically, at least, if not literally - and said "Thank you' to whatever it is that they believe in. There was the very real sense that Jerry was glad to be alive, and the other guys were so relieved that he was still there, that they could still do this together, that it wasn't all over. As a result, I think they took it very seriously. There was definitely a feeling of, "Let's be damned good every night.' So, as you can see and hear from the Rich Stadium show, there was an energy and a joy in the performance. They had a song in their hearts."

That joy in the collective musical experience was apparent during the Rich Stadium show, from the opening moments of "Bertha," through a career-high take on "Not Fade Away" and a celebratory encore of "U.S. Blues."

I may have to look into getting this thing.

The Dole (and not the pineapple company, either)

There's a blogger from Rome, NY who codifies his frustration with his hometown in his blog's title, Rome, NY Sucks. He's a staunch conservative who, while enormously frustrated with the economic morass that is New York State (where, if you're anywhere outside New York City or Yonkers, the state government is as reluctant to admit your existence as the Department of Defense is to admit that of Area 51), has stuck around and tried to make a go of it. Kudos to him for that, but the lack of jobs in his town has taken its toll, and now he's very likely applying for public assistance.

Now, given that Romey (sorry, but I got nothing else to call you!) is a conservative who seriously dislikes public assistance stuff, he finds himself in a philosophical quandary:

Here's some interesting questions. Can you still be conservative and on government assistance? Does your opposition to handouts make you unworthy to receive them? Is it hypocrisy to be one of the people you criticize? I'd tend to say no.

I'd also say no, for all the various reasons, most of which are cited in the comments thread to his post. There's the "You paid your taxes, so in a way this is your right" argument, which I don't have a problem with at all. But there's something else: I also paid my taxes, and this is part of what I have been paying for. So, if you need to do this to get by for now, I have no problem whatsoever with it.

I've never been one to feel moral outrage for when people use their public assistance funds to buy anything other than Ramen Noodles and milk or whatever the cheapest subsistence-level stuff available happens to be. (Not including cigarettes and alcohol, of course.) In fact, I feel rather the reverse whenever I'm in a store checkout line and I overhear someone griping about what the person on public assistance is buying: "How can they get away with buying ice cream on Welfare? How dare they?" Well, I don't know the welfare recipient's life story, do I? I'm not going to jump to moral outrage without knowing what's going on. Maybe they're abusing the system, but in my experience, they're very likely not. They're unlucky, in that (a) they are unqualified for what few jobs there are; (b) those jobs don't pay enough to live on; and (c) they lack the means to either get qualified for whatever good jobs exist (and in these parts there aren't too many of those, either) or to move to where the better jobs are for which they are qualified.

I tend to find the assumption behind the disdain for people on public assistance to be that getting a good job is like shopping for toothpaste at Target: you just pick the brand that works best for you and off you go. You hear it in the rhetoric: "Learn some skills, dumbass." "Go to where the jobs are, you slacker." It just isn't that easy, and if there's a tendency by some (fewer, I suspect, than many believe) to use the safety net as a hammock, I find that preferable to allowing every falling person to plummet to the pavement by removing the safety net entirely.

Some evidently think that not only should society not provide a safety net on a moral basis, but that it is also immoral for a person to accept aid from any safety net that exists. I reject this view as well. I myself was on Unemployment for over a year, and without it, my family would have suffered greatly. And Little Quinn receives assistance from Medicaid that covers treatments that our employer-provided health insurance would not: his various therapies, for instance, without which he would be little better than an immobile child with little hope of recovery; or the in-home nursing assistance, which provides a trained medical professional to watch over him while I'm at work. To say that there is a moral fault in accepting this assistance is, to me, absurd; I would claim that it would have been morally negligent for us not to accept it. What were the alternatives? Look around for employers whose insurance plans might provide better coverage? and then work for the usual required year of service before the insurance kicked in, a year during which Little Quinn's prospects for improvement would have been set back immeasurably? for me (the secondary income) to stop working again? Not in this lifetime. We were stretched thin on a single income with one healthy child. Our heads are above water, and it's because of the state assistance we've accepted.

Do we like dealing with the state, and its mishmash of regulatory agencies and requirements? No. But we had no choice, and in a way, I'm glad, because I'm very wary of trusting the market to help in situations like ours.

I guess I just have trouble faulting individual people who are on public assistance, because they're people, and I can't look into their hearts. Nor can they look into mine. And that's not changing.