Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Do they make a statuette with an extended middle finger?

I've just perused the list of Oscar nominations, and I don't really have a whole lot of reaction except for two items:

:: Memoirs of a Geisha boasts the best score John Williams has written in years, and I hope that it wins the award. It's possible that a Williams vote could be split, though, with Munich, which was also nominated. (I haven't heard Munich yet.) I'm not familiar with the other nominees for score, so my hopes here are based purely on my Williams fanboy status. (Cue the FSM Board folks, however, to point out yet again how the Academy screwed Jerry Goldsmith through the years and how James Newton Howard should have an award by now and so on.)

:: Look at the three nominees for Best Visual Effects: The Chronicles of Narnia, King Kong, and War of the Worlds. Ummmm...is there a conspicuous absence there, or is it just me? Revenge of the Sith? Hello? (OK, I admit that I didn't see the three nominated films yet -- but with the exception of Kong, I can't imagine that the other two films had appreciably better effects than Sith -- especially Narnia, the footage of which I've seen looks pretty much like Lord of the Rings with a wider color pallette.

Anyway, those are my only complaints. As usual, I will probably watch an hour or so of the Awards ceremony, basically as a means of updating my "I should rent that" list.

UPDATE: Link that went nowhere now goes somewhere. Oops.

Proverbial small-town heroes

Lynn Sislo realized that she lives near a town where the placekicker for the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks grew up, and she went down there to take some pictures. From a town whose "city hall" looks to be smaller than my apartment to the Super Bowl in Detroit? That's just great.

A dirty job, but....

Making fun of Buffalo News columnist Mary Kunz Goldman is a popular pasttime here in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan, and I figure that it's my turn to do the deed. MKG tends to be readable when she writes about classical music, and only classical music. (She's the current News classical music reviewer.)

Here is the text of her review from this past Sunday's paper. The item being reviewed? Not a classical recording, but...a two-disc set called The Essential Kenny G.

Just the idea that Kenny G is essential is enough to make anyone take a second look at this two-CD set, which includes such Kenny G benchmark recordings as "Songbird," the theme from the Campbell Scott movie "Dying Young," and "My Heart Will Go On" from "Titanic."

Love him or hate him, Kenny G is the mellow man of our era. An embarrassing number of guests on Macy Favor's "Jazz Favorites Hour" have sheepishly ended their list of favorite tracks with "a little something by Kenny G." When Kenny G played the Arena, he had people screaming. And remember that horrifying Sabres game when Clint "The Throat Man" Malarchuk got cut with the skate blade? They put Kenny G on the sound system, and everyone felt better.

Kenny G turns 50 this year, and this set celebrates his legacy. (Shut up. He does have a legacy, whether or not you want him to.) Guest artists include Michael Bolton, Peabo Bryson and Earth, Wind and Fire. Don't fight it. Embrace it. Feel better.

Kenny G's musical legacy is roughly analogous to the rice cake's culinary legacy.

Time for one of them blog-quiz things

Yup, as the title says, I feel like doing one of them blog-quiz things, which I originally found here. It's a really long "Have you ever..." thing:

1. Smoked cigarettes - Nope.

2. Smoked a cigar - Twice, on occasions when guys I knew had babies and gave them out. I wasn't turned off by the experience, but I don't have much of a hankering to explore it further, either.

3. Broken a CD – Not "smashed", but I've had a couple become scratched to the point of unplayability.

4. Crashed a friend's car - I haven't even crashed a car of my own!

5. Stolen a car – Yes. I'm blogging from my computer at Attica Prison. (Of course not!)

6. Been in love - If I had a nickel for every time....

7. Been dumped - Lots of times, until I met The Girl who eventually became The Wife. After that, nope.

8. Shoplifted - Well, technically, I did once when I went grocery shopping and put a newspaper in the spot where the child would sit if she was sitting there, and then put my coat on top of the paper, and then forgot about the paper.

9. Been fired - Yes. I would have quit within a month or two, though. I stunk at the job, and I didn't much like my bosses.

10. Been in a fist fight - Yes. Not sure if I won or lost. It was seventh or eighth grade.

11. Snuck out of your house - Strangely, no. We lived out in the sticks, so it wouldn't have done much good.

12. Had feelings for someone who didn't have them back - I was actually surprised that The Girl who became The Wife returned the feeling.

13. Been arrested - No.

14. Made out with a stranger - No!

15. Gone on a blind date - No.

16. Lied to a friend - Probably, of the "Little White Lie" variety.

17. Had a crush on a teacher - I don't think so.

18. Skipped school - Grade school? No. College? Occasionally.

19. Slept with a co-worker - No.

20. Seen someone die - No. But I've been there within the hour.

21. Been on a plane - Yes. I don't like flying; it's too noisy and cramped.

22. Thrown up in a bar - No. I've only thrown up after drinking a handful of times; two that I remember, actually. Both were at home.

23. Taken painkillers – This is dumb, isn't it? Unless they're talking the stuff like Vicodin or whatever, the ones that everyone gets hooked on? Excedrin is wonderful stuff.

24. Love someone or miss someone right now - Oh, my, yes.

25. Laid on your back and watched cloud shapes go by – I still like to do this.

26. Made a snow angel - Yes.

27. Played dress up - I honestly don't recall doing this, but I may have.

28. Cheated while playing a game – Sadly, yes. I would occasionally peak in the little envelope when playing "Clue". (Did it ever piss anyone else off when it turned out that you were the murderer? I hated that!)

29. Been lonely – Yes.

30. Fallen asleep at work/school – Yes.

31. Used a fake id – No. I took my chances when doing stuff underage, and got caught only occasionally. (Funny story: at the grocery store in my college town, there was a cashier who was almost legendary for being stupid. I mean, I could mention "Brandi at Hy-Vee" to just about anyone, and without saying anything more, get a knowing nod and a smile. Anyway, I was buying a six-pack of Birch Beer -- a minty, rootbeer-like soft drink for those who haven't heard of it -- and she carded me. I had to have the manager assure her that Birch Beer was, in fact, not an alcoholic drink at all.)

32. Felt an earthquake – Yes.

33. Touched a snake - I think so, but I'm honestly not sure.

34. Ran a red light – Yes. Only two or three times, and all were inadvertent and late at night.

35. Been suspended from school – No.

36. Had detention - Yes, and for breaking some really stupid rules, too.

37. Been in a car accident – No.

38. Hated the way you look – Yes. I hated the way I looked with short hair.

39. Witnessed a crime - Aside from drinking underage or urinating where we really shouldn't, no.

40. Pole danced – In Buffalo, we often dance with Poles. (rimshot) But in the spirit of the question, no.

41. Been lost – Yes.

42. Been to the opposite side of the country – Yes.

43. Felt like dying – Yes. I got better.

44. Cried yourself to sleep - Yes.

45. Played cops and robbers – I'm not sure if we played "Cops and Robbers" per se, but we often had "good guys versus bad guy" games.

46. Sang karaoke – No. Never had the guts.

47. Done something you told yourself you wouldn't – Jeez, I did this an hour ago! (I really wasn't going to have that cookie.

48. Laughed till some kind of beverage came out of your nose - Yeah, in grade school I was the kid who was susceptible to doing this. Socially awkward, that was.

49. Caught a snowflake on your tongue - Yes. Maybe I'll do it again, if it ever friggin' snows again. (Yes, it's mid-Winter in Buffalo, and our snowpack on the ground measures zero.)

50. Kissed in the rain - Probably, but I don't remember doing it. I should.

51. Sing in the shower – Not really, but I sing in the car all the time.

52. Made love in a park - Nope.

53. Had a dream that you married someone - Yes.

54. Glued your hand to something – Fingers occasionally, when working with wood glue at work.

55. Got your tongue stuck to a flag pole – No!

56. Worn the opposite sex's clothes – Nope!

57. Had an orgasm - Oh, come on!

58. Sat on a roof top – Yes.

59. Didn't take a shower for a week - Yes, when camping or some such. It was pretty icky.

60. Ever too scared to watch scary movies alone – No. I enjoy scary movies.

61. Played chicken – No.

62. Been pushed into a pool with all your clothes on – Not "pushed", but I've gone in voluntarily a few times.

63. Been told you're hot by a complete stranger- No. Dammit.

64. Broken a bone – Yes. My collarbone, when some bully asshole jerkoff pushed me off my bike. I think he eventually got sent to jail for statutory rape.

65. Been easily amused - I write a blog, don't I?

66. Laugh so hard you cry – All the damn time.

67. Mooned/flashed someone - I mooned a college prof once. Moronic stunt, that.

68. Cheated on a test – Yes. I still feel fairly little remorse.

69. Forgotten someone's name – I am absolutely awful with names. Horrible. As in, it's a good thing that I work in a place where everyone wears a nametag.

70. Slept naked – Errr....

71. Gone skinny dipping in a pool- No.

72. Been kicked out of your house – No.

73. Blacked out from drinking – No.

74. Played a prank on someone – Yes. Little things, nothing horrifying or messy or humiliating. I prefer pranks that involve a bit of humorous frustration for the victim, like the time I used a cable-tie to bind all of a person's keys together.

75. Gone to a late night movie – Yes!

76. Made love to anything not human - Oh, come on!

77. Failed a class – I failed assignments, but never an entire class.

78. Choked on something you're not supposed to eat – Don't think so.

79. Played an instrument for more than 10 hours - At once? No.

80. Cheated on a gf/bf – Not one damn time.

81. Ate a whole package of Oreos – Yes. And I feel surprisingly little regret.

82. Thrown strange objects - OK, I need a judge's ruling here. What constitutes a "strange" object to throw?

83. Felt like killing someone – Metaphorically? Sure. Literally? No. (Well, once: OBL on 9-11-01.)

84. Thought about running away - Yes. I then realized how colossally stupid the idea was.

85. Ran away – No, because I thought it through. (That episode of The Brady Bunch helped.)

86. Did drugs – No.

87. Had detention and not attend it - No.

88. Yelled at parents - Don't know if I actually yelled, but I did talk back a time or two. Never a good idea.

89. Made parent cry - Yes, at Little Quinn's funeral.

90. Cried over someone - Constantly. I'm a water-works kind of guy.

91. Owned more than 5 puppies - Puppies? No. Cats? Yes. Kittens at the same time? No.

92. Dated someone more than once - I assumed "dated" means, "had a dating relationship with", since I obviously dated The Wife more than once. No.

93. Have a dog – No.

94. Have a cat – I've never lived without cats.

95. Own an instrument – Yes. Several trumpets: a standard B-flat, a C, and an E-flat that could be converted to a D (although I don't think I ever used the D-trumpet attachments).

96. Been in a band - Concert band/wind ensemble? Yes. Jazz band? Yes. Rock band? No.

97. Had more than 25 sodas in one day – The mere thought of that much pop gives me the willies.

98. Made out with a member of the same sex – Nope. Not even curious.

99. Shot a gun – No. Guns give me the creeps. I just don't like them, and I have no intention of owning one, ever.

100. Been online for more than 5 hours straight – At one stretch? No, although I have spent that much time in total online in a day before.

This was sufficiently time-consuming that I'm not going to tag anyone. Just do it if you so desire, or ignore it entirely.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I, for one, welcome my new Wampum overlords!

I see that Byzantium's Shores has received a nomination for the 2005 Koufax Awards, the blog awards organized by Wampum to honor the best of Left Blogistan. This blog is nominated in the "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition" Category, and yes, it is indeed an honor to be nominated. But then, it's also an achievement just to reach the Super Bowl -- and as a Bills fan, let's just say that I'd like to accomplish just a little bit more than that, OK?

For those who are new to this blog via the Koufax nomination, the quickest way to get the lay of the land here is via the stuff in my sidebar. There's some stuff that's directly about me in the section where my two self-photos reside ("100 Things About Me", several online profiles, my Flickr photostream), and a bit below that, you'll find a section labeled "Notable Dispatches and Archives". Here is where I link the posts of mine that I've liked the most over the years I've been doing this (four of 'em as of this coming February, believe it or not), as well as my best posts of 2005, as chosen by a council of...well, me.

I generally keep my political writings here to a very low mix, so if you scan through the archives and think "Geez, does this guy even blog about politics enough for a Koufax?", that's probably a fair cop, although apparently that didn't bother the fine folks running the Koufax awards, for what it's worth. I don't avoid politics entirely; it's just that I tend to think a lot more about the cultural and domestic stuff I write about here. But when I get pissed off enough, I will get quite political. (Last time that happened was when Brownie was doin' that "heck of a job". Putz.) Suffice it to say that I do, indeed, believe that George W. Bush, having virtually cornered the defintion of "failing upward", is the least able man to hold the Presidency; that I never see Dick Cheney on TV that I don't think he should be wearing a Nehru jacket and stroking a white cat; that were my car to run out of coolant, the fluid that runs in Ann Coulter's veins would serve as an effective stopgap solution; and that the mass of commentators on FOX News, Townline, and the fine denizens of LGF "never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge" (to steal a fine quote from onetime Republican Speaker of the House Thomas B. Reed).

But then, you have to consider the source: I'm a long-haired guy who lives in Buffalo. I'm convinced that Buffalo is just this close to turning the corner and becoming the greatest f***ing place on Earth. I work in a grocery store hanging signs and cleaning up the spill in Aisle Nine whilst dreaming of being a writer in that mythical "someday". Looking quite the hippie, I venture out in public garbed in tie-dyed shirts underneath bib overalls, and yet I know absolutely nothing about the Grateful Dead and have never attended a single rock concert. I believe that George Lucas has never "lost it", I picked the Arizona Cardinals to make the playoffs, and I actually liked the flavor of Holiday Spice Pepsi. So you know, I could at any point be completely full of bird poop. But what else is a blog for?

Thanks for visiting, and vote Byzantium's Shores. Because if you don't, the terrorists win, the puppy gets it, Michelle Malkin will eat another fuzzy kitten, and an angel will be stripped of his wings.

Oh, make it stop....

I'm now watching the creepiest damn show in all of television -- network, cable, public access, you name it.

It's called Wife Swap.

In one corner we have a woman who is so permissive and fetishistic of her 12-year old son that eats dinner on her bed with the kid (leaving the husband downstairs), forces the husband to sleep in his own bedroom, and has run up something like $30,000 of debt running a "business" as a children's entertainer.

In the other corner we have a woman who is so money-tight and "expectations driven" with her children that she uses fifteen-minute drives in the car to quiz the kids using flash cards, requires her children to pay for their participation in family trips, and personally flosses her childrens' teeth on a daily basis. (She doesn't require daily flossing; she actually does the flossing for them. The youngest kid lays down on his back in the bedroom and submits to flossing.)

And then these two women change places. Hijinks ensue with the kids; husbands get really uncomfortable. Hippie-lady brings a puppy into the hermetically-sealed environment of her new family; tight-wad lady puts all of hippie-lady's things out on the lawn for a garage sale.

Obviously the point of all this is something about "moderation" and not going too far one way into "fun" and "business", but jeebus, this show is giving me a rash.

By any other name....

Via TBogg, I see -- for the second time in three days -- that some right-wing clod has tossed out a statement of unimaginable stupidity. Behold:

Today's New York Times details a Japanese scientific on earwax and body odor in Asians vs. Europeans and Africans. There is actually an "earwax gene" in DNA that determines this.

But the paper glosses over the most important finding. The study found that Europeans and Africans tend to have wet ear wax, sweat more, and have more under arm body odor than Asians, who have dry ear wax and don't sweat much. But the study also found that "Native" Americans have dry ear wax and body odor similar to Asians, proving they migrated here from Asia.

So whom did THEY steal the land from? Somebody else, obviously. Yet, no "Dances With Wolves" and "Into the West" from Hollywood about that.


What's funnier is that Ms. Schlussel is really upset that a bunch of "liberals" are stampeding over there to call her dumb in comments, so at the top of her post she appends a follow-up:

To all the liberal idiots who've left dumb, insulting comments on this entry, as directed by similarly intellectually-challenged lefty websites, I'm well aware Indians came here over the Bering Strait, which you'd realize if you actually bothered to read what I wrote below in this entry. I simply quoted the NYTimes that this was yet more proof. Yet, there is no proof they were the first here. And even if they were, this is yet more proof that they originated in ASIA. Hello? . . . This is yet more evidence that we did NOT steal THEIR land. It means it was not THEIRS to begin with.

The mind boggles in so many ways:

First there is the embarrassment of Ms. Schlussel's grasp of the science involved. While it's true that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, the truth is that -- so far as I know -- there is no evidence whatsoever of any civilizations of humans, or human ancestors, on the American continents prior to the emigration of the Asian peoples who eventually became the Native Americans. Ms. Schlussel is attempting to construct some kind of moral argument based on a hypothetical entity for which she has no evidence to justify supposing its existence. Her "argument" hinges on just making up stuff that sounds like it might work. It's the equivalent of all those times on Star Trek: The Next Generation when, with ten minutes left in the show and the Enterprise facing certain destruction, either Data or Wesley Crusher would start babbling about how they could save the day by using whatever sub-nucleic particle they'd been reading about earlier that morning.

But then there's Ms. Schlussel's moral argument, which fares even more poorly. Even if there was "someone else" here, and even if that "civilization" was displaced by the onrushing hordes of Asian invaders (maybe they were led by a distant ancestor of Genghis Khan) -- a supposition which, we'll again note, has utterly no backing in any anthropological science of which I know -- since we're talking about events that would have happened thousands of years ago. That means that those arriving Asians would have had millennia to establish civilizations that were in some cases nomadic (think of the Plains tribes of North America), and some that were distinctly city-based (think of the Anasazi, Olmec, and Aztecs). Therefore, the question becomes: even if the land wasn't "theirs to begin with", would it not still be the case that the land became "theirs" at some point?

And more importantly, does that even matter?

Let's perform a thought experiment here. Imagine a swing set on a school playground. There are no kids on the playground, and no kids on the swings. Out comes young Calvin, ready to swing to his heart's content. And Calvin comes over, sees nobody on the swings or even on the playground, and hops on the swing. So there's Calvin, just a-swingin' away, fantasizing about Spaceman Spiff and planning his revenge on Suzy and wondering how he'll get into the house without getting pummeled by Hobbes.

And then, along comes Moe.

Moe's our schoolyard bully, the kid with the beady eyes and the forearms the size of Calvin's torso. Moe could play on one of the other swings, and he could skip the swings entirely and head for the slides or the dodgeball court, but no! Moe wants the very swing that Calvin occupies. And the following transpires:

MOE: Get off the swing!

CALVIN: No! I was here first. It's mine.

Moe simply shoves Calvin off the swing and takes it over.

By Ms. Schlussel's moral logic, Calvin has absolutely no moral standing here to resist Moe. After all, the swing never belonged to him in the first place. He has no standing at all, according to Ms. Schlussel. I suppose that in her world, things belong only to those who are strong enough to take them, and that's that.

(And note that this moral argument of Ms. Schlussel's is unaffected by whether or not there were any pre-Indians here at all. All that is mere chimera; it has no bearing whatever on the moral logic at all. Such as it is.)

What's worse, though, is that Ms. Schlussel's "argument" doesn't just deny the Indians their moral stance; it affords a positive moral stance to aggression. If the "We were here first" argument is of no worth, and if ownership of land can only be ascribed to the very first people who were ever on the scene in the entire course of history, then why should aggression ever be opposed? If there was nothing whatsoever objectionable to the United States's treatment of the American Indians, then what can we say of other acts of aggression in history? Did the victims of all those wars of territory really have no moral standing at all? I'm sure that will come as news to the Jews -- after all, Israel wasn't theirs to begin with. And I suppose that the United States was wrong to oppose Saddam Hussein in 1991; after all, it's not like Kuwait was the Kuwaitis' to begin with.

Does any of that make sense? I suppose it all does to Ms. Schlussel.

Sentential Links #35

In addition to the normal linkage, I'll have some links to blogs nominated for "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition" Koufaxes. There are so many nominees for that award that I can't possibly link them all in a single post, so I'll attempt to link a bunch of them each week for a while.

:: While airports have a lot more glamor than bus lines and can probably get a lot more dollars too (maybe even $24 million of them,) I'd suggest that the NFTA stick to its mission and stop trying to get some more pork for an unneeded second airport. (Craig has been blogging the hell out of issues surrounding the Niagara Falls International Airport.)

:: It won’t come as a shock to anyone that we don’t think much of Democratic elected officials. (Koufax nominee)

:: So the contributions to Democrats from the Abramoff represented tribes would probably have gone there anyway. This is all legal, by the way. To equate it with the illegal contributions (or "bribes") coming from Abramoff is, at best, highly misleading. (Koufax nominee)

:: Here's the problem with adventure journalism more generally: it's not written by experts or beat reporters, and therefore only infrequently rises above the usual combination of local color, exoticism, florid prose, and received opinion back home. (Koufax nominee)

:: We're so used to today's Hollywood smile that we're not much bothered by the fact that they're fake. We are so distracted by the dazzling expanse of perfect white teeth, we hardly notice the eyes. (I know people who smile entirely with their eyes. You can't fake that.)

:: I will also say that having a nice industry job offer in your back pocket makes these things much less stressful. (Yeah, already having a job makes the search for a new job a lot less terrifying! Koufax nominee.)

:: With 400 posts under my belt I finally feel a bit like a blogger. But I still despise the word "blog." I want to suggest something more dignified like "combo." ("Combo"?! Koufax nominee.)

:: Heavy, heavy sigh. (Go see what she's talking about. Yipes, that's sad.)

:: But is that what Christianity is about? Is it about power, and authority, and controlling the discussion, and framing the issues, and winning the debate? Or is it about what St. Francis supposedly said: "Preach the gospel to all the world and, if necessary, use words." (Koufax nominee)

:: Today, I am a man. I've received my first hate e-mail. (Geez, I've never received hate e-mail! Guess I have some red-meat blogging to do, then. Koufax nominee.)

:: The background animals on the other hand... I just have this vision of the harried BBC wardrobe mistress going to her assistant and saying "go raid the pantomime costumes or something, just get me more animal costumes!" (OK, she wrote this post a month ago, but I've been forgetting to link it for that long. Remember when Letterman used to have a bit called "Can A Guy In A Bear Suit...", in which he'd literally send a guy in a bear suit out into the streets of NYC to do funny things? That's what I thought of when I read Sarah's post.)

All for this week on the main links, although I may return to Sentential Links more often as I try to get through the Koufax nominees. But I'm not going to try to have them done by the time the awards are done; I'm just going to try to throw them some linkage as I can. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 29, 2006


This has been quite the weekend for anniversaries. In order of how recent:

I was a sophomore in college when the Buffalo Bills lost Super Bowl XXV by a single point. It's a pretty mundane anniversary, I know, but the Bills were a major link I had with my home when I was in college, 800 miles away. I'd watch games from Rich Stadium and think, "That's home". (And two years later, it killed me to see all these Iowans, who had always struck me as sensible types, come out as closet Dallas Cowboys
fans. What the hell was that about?!)

I was in ninth grade when Challenger was destroyed in flight. A friend told me about it in the hall, between classes. It seems odd now, but in those pre-Web and pre-cable everywhere days, and in rural Western New York, I didn't hear a single thing more about the disaster until I got home and watched the endlessly repeating footage on the network newscasts. What I most remember is that, when they played the tape of the entire flight, after the explosion, some NASA person just calmly went on reading the telemetry data or some such thing that was on his screen. It seemed like forever until someone said something like, "Obviously a major malfunction has occurred."

And then, of course, there's the sublime. I doubt the Bills will be remembered by anyone other than a scholar or two studying the sports of the late 20th century two hundred fifty years hence. The Challenger astronauts will also be known primarily to historians. But surely Mozart at 500 will still be alive in the most important sense, right?

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I shouldn't poke fun at such a stand-up guy, but it just tickles me immensely that until the other day, Alan was completely unaware of the existence of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Not "weird", per se, but it's still interesting to see how certain things manage to seemingly get on everybody's radar screen but our own.

More Wolfgang (and then some other stuff)

Be sure to check out Sounds and Fury, where ACD has been doing yeoman duty celebrating the 250th birthday of Mozart. Lots of quotes from Mozart's letters, and quotes from writers about Mozart, and general goodness relating to Wolfgang A. I especially enjoyed this post, where ACD reports on listening to a broadcast of the "official" Mozart 250th performance from Salzburg:

I was entirely unprepared, however, for the ringing of the church bells of all Salzburg's churches at precisely 8:00 PM (2:00 PM EST) — the official time of Mozart's birth as noted by his proud papa — and the frisson of emotion and surprise on hearing them literally made the hair rise up on the back of my neck.

One thing I've longed for years to experience is an old-world European city when all the church bells are ringing. Here in America, church bells always sound incongruous and out of place, and when I've lived in a place where church bells could regularly be heard -- always from a single church -- I would occasionally hear complaints from the locals.

Imagine the joyous din of hundreds of such bells, pealing such that individual pitches can barely be made out and only one giant din, marked by the percussion of impact from the bells nearest the listener. I'd love to hear that, just once.

As long as I've got ACD on the brain, though, I note with some amusement that he is, as ever, annoyed with the onward march of "pop culture", now as evidenced by the segments on CBS Sunday Morning. Now, I've not watched this show in over a year, since I've started attending church services at the exact moment the show is on, so I can't confirm for myself whether classical music has received significantly less coverage than it used to. That certainly sounds likely, however, given the general and saddening trend away from classical music these days. And Sunday Morning's failure to note Mozart's 250th constitutes a major gaffe for a show that has always celebrated culture. That cannot be disputed.

But what amused me was the roster of segments on today's program that, for ACD, constitute an unacceptable level of "pop culture" focus:

Consider today's Sunday Morning culture segments, for instance. They were on the turn-of-the-century Viennese painter, Egon Schiele; on C&W singer, Rosanne Cash, daughter of the late Johnny Cash (a regular chip off the ol' block, she is, with the difference that, unlike her papa, she can actually sing somewhat); on a 10-year-old, Oakland, California Black kid who's become a big hit in Oakland's Chinatown singing in his Chinatown elementary school's productions of Chinese opera; and not a word, not so much as a fleeting mention, of the 250th anniversary of the birth of one, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Now, admittedly, Roseanne Cash is a fairly large name in country music, but she's not that big a name, and she is, so far as I can tell, following a line in country music that's more about the folk-art aspects of the genre than the "rockabilly" stuff that dominates the country airwaves these days (think Shania Twain and the like). But a Viennese painter who lived from 1890 to 1918? Some kid who sings Chinese opera? Is this what ACD takes for "pop culture"?

If so, I can only surmise that ACD defines "pop culture" as "that with which ACD is not interested or doesn't like". I don't deny the existence of "pop culture", and I certainly don't share ACD's loathing of it, but I do have a pretty good idea of what "pop culture" is and these subjects ain't it.

Oh, and Johnny Cash most definitely could sing. That man did things with his voice that no one else could have done, and he was, as far as I am concerned, a great American artist.

(Hell, as long as I'm now quibbling with ACD, I figure that I should also note that I've never cared for Wynton Marsalis's playing. He has always sounded to me like a guy whose very tone conveys a "brute force" approach to the instrument, especially in the classical repertoire. [I think Marsalis a far better jazz musician than a classical one, even though it took me years to warm up to his jazz work, and even now I've generally conceded that my ear for jazz is never likely to develop much beyond "bare familiarity". Marsalis's best "classical" album, in my opinion, is his disc of cornet virtuoso showpieces that he recorded with the Eastman Wind Ensemble. It's an incredibly corny record, of course, but as virtuosity-for-virtuosity's sake, it's a lot of fun.]

For the Sunday Morning fanfare, I much prefer the way one of the trumpeters from the Canadian Brass performed it on one of their albums; for general baroque playing, Maurice Andre's level of finesse is far superior to Marsalis's; for contemporary trumpet repertoire, I'll take Hakan Hardenberger. And for orchestral playing -- a totally different animal, of course, as far as the requirements of the performer but worth mentioning -- I will forever worship at the altar of Adolph Herseth.)

A query for the craft-minded

In my newfound fascination with tie-dying, I find I'm getting to that point in a new hobby when one has enough rudimentary skill with the process to start thinking of new stuff to try.

For instance: what would happen if I took a pair of stiff blue jeans of dark blue denim and, after tying them in various ways, dipped them into a strong solution of bleach and water? Would this result in a kind of "negative" effect on the jeans? Would the same occur if I did this with a heavy black sweatshirt? And is it possible to tie-dye a down comforter?

(I'm not serious about the down comforter. But the bleach idea intrigues me.)

Bush sucks.

As if I needed another reason to think that our President is a complete tool, here he comes with the State of the Union on Tuesday night. He couldn't do it on damn Monday, when all I'd miss is CSI: Miami. No, he's got to pre-empt Scrubs and House.

Commander in chief? More like the "Doofus in Chief".

(But somehow the Prez managed to not pre-empt American Idol, which means I get to go from watching Simon Cowell being mean to watching the President of the United States. What a jolt that will be! Hey, Democrats -- why not get Simon Cowell to do the Democratic Response? He'd sure be a lot more interesting than whatever Blandy McBland we're about to put up there on Tuesday night.)

Those who have gone before

Shortly before she left for work, The Wife asked me to look about online for a certain song that she discovered a week or so ago. A bit of Googling later, I found the song, posted on a blog called Punkin Toes. This blog is no longer updated, being as it is allowed to sit fallow in memory of one of the bloggers involved and apparently some other people who passed away. It's a terribly sad read.

(Oh, and the song is called "Held", by an artist named Natalie Grant, with whom I am totally unfamiliar. I've just downloaded the MP3 from the link given in this post, and dammit if that song didn't start up my waterworks.)

And on top of all that, this morning's church service featured one of the songs that was performed at Little Quinn's funeral as well as a baptism. I know that life has to go on, but does life have to beat us up and steal our lunch money too? I'm just asking.

Friday, January 27, 2006

With Jonah's buoyancy, rest assured.

Oh, man. I don't often run into Jonah Goldberg's blatherings, because whenever I do, they are invariably stupid. But this is abnormally stupid. We're talking, dropping-jaws stupid, stupid that makes you literally gasp aloud "Huh-whuh?", stupid that makes you marvel at the idea that the human brain can even entertain the train of thought in question. He's talking about the Titanic, and specifically, objects that might better have been used for flotation:

Rather than deck chairs, I thought all of those lovely sideboards filled with fine china would work very well, particularly if you filled them up with life jackets and lashed them to each other. It would be a pain getting them up on the deck, but fear of death and ample time would have made it quite doable. Also, going into the kitchen and smearing-up your body with lard might be a good idea too. Those English Channel swimmers do that. Still, the wisest course of action would have been to either A) not hit an iceberg or B) not build a ship that was guaranteed to sink if it did (please: emails on the superior craftsmanship of the Titanic should be kept to a minimum).

Wow. Just...wow.

This all follows some kind of "conversation" between Goldberg and John Derbyshire in which the general subtext is, "Stupid Titanic victims -- they were on a ship with all that wood around, and we all know that wood floats, so why didn't they just huck as much wood as possible into the water and cling to it until the Carpathia arrived?" The number of ways in which this is all unbelievably stupid are too many to number, but let's give it a shot anyway:

1. Goldberg says that heading to the Titanic galley to grab some lard would have helped to insulate the victim's bodies. "Those English Channel swimmers do that," Jonah helpfully notes. Those English Channel swimmers also do their swimming in a body of water that's a bit more temperate than the North Atlantic waters that are outside of the Gulf Stream, and as this Channel swimmer notes, the slathering of lard on the body is not for insulation, but for protection from chafing due to the hours of repetitive motion inherent in swimming such a distance. A simple Google search would have helped Goldberg realize how wrong he is; but then, Goldberg is always asking his readers to do his Googling for him.

2. The afore-linked Channel swimmer notes that a number of former training partners of his suffered symptoms of hypothermia after just an hour in water that was warmer than that of the night the Titanic sank. And those are people who presumably are in far better condition than your average person who went into the water when Titanic sank. ONE hour. Carpathia arrived in four.

3. Why didn't they just chuck all the wood into the water and float around on it? Because it wouldn't have done any damn good, Jonah. Not all wood floats, and even if a particular kind of wood does float nicely, there are other factors at play here. If they tossed, say, a dresser into the sea and then clung to it, it is still highly unlikely that the dresser would have floated in such a way as to allow the person clinging to it to get out of the water. Canoes do not float in a useful way because of what they are made of; they float because of how they are made. A non-watertight wooden bureau would probably "float" in the sense that it would bob about very near the surface of the water, but the human body will do that. What was needed were ways to get people completely out of the water. (Witness the way that mantelpiece or whatever it was, in the movie Titanic, nearly flipped over when Jack tried to climb on after Rose. Things that are not designed to float may still float, but they will almost certainly do so in unpredictable ways.)

There is no reason to suppose those "nice sideboards" would have remained upright if placed in the water as a lifeboat; there is no reason to assume that they wouldn't have taken on water quickly (especially if they were bolted down, and would have had to be ripped up); and there is no reason to assume that the people on board the quickly-sinking ship would have been able to get enough of these sideboards ripped out of the walls, up the stairs, and into the water in time to be useful to more than a handful of victims. (The ship sank in just over two and a half hours.) Had the people on the Titanic followed Jonah's advice, the Carpathia would have found lots of lard-smeared dead bodies clinging to scraps of useless wood.

God, the Corner is a den of idiots. I can't believe these people get paid to poorly write such stupid stuff.

(Oh, and here's Derb, a little ways down the page:

Jonah: My gloom is vast, cosmic, and existential. It does not encompass, nor even concern itself with, the trivialities of personal survival. Placed on a sticky wicket, I will swing my bat with a will. Asked about the fate of Western civ, I'll tell you it's going to the dogs. Which is where it's going.

Oh for a black turtleneck and a cigarette, eh?)

UPDATE: Oops, forgot to attribute the original link to TBogg. And I now recall that Derb is the guy who wrote a while back that women stop being attractive to men for a few years after puberty. Yeah, that's the guy I want beside me on a sinking ship.

Wolfgang and Me

I never really "discovered" Mozart. He just kind of gradually moved into my life, first via my sister, then via school, and then via a movie, and finally by invitation. And now the guy won't go away. But that's fine with me.

My sister is six years older than I am, and she took piano lessons for years in her own youth. Therefore she ended up giving me my first exposure to an awful lot of classical music: the three B's, of course, but also guys like Tchaikovsky and Chopin and Clementi and Mozart. He wasn't my thing at that time (I'm not even sure I actually had a "thing" at that time), but there he was, a little more demonstrative than Bach but a little less stormy than Beethoven. Or so I thought.

When it came time for me to take piano lessons myself, I took on the first movement of that C-Major Sonata after a few years. I didn't do very well with it, since my musical instincts at the age of fifteen were that of an undisciplined slob, but I got through it all right. My piano teacher offered up an interesting quote when I started working on the piece: "Playing Mozart is like taking a musical bath: it cleanses you of bad habits." If only I could have realized what my bad habits even were, but that takes time.

Along about this time Amadeus came out. My mother took me to see it when it came, not so much because it was about Mozart and I needed some culture, but because it was tremendously acclaimed and she really, really, really wanted to see it. This, of course, was in a small town in the Southern Tier of Western New York, and at that time our town had only six movie screens. I remember going to see something else a few months earlier, and my mother asked the manager if Amadeus would be playing our town, and his curt reply of "No". Of course, a bunch of Oscar nominations changed that. Off to Amadeus we went. And I did pretty well, for a young person who hadn't yet caught the bug of classical music but wasn't completely turned off by it, either: I hated the interminable opera sequences, but I enjoyed the story and was moved by poor Mozart's various dilemmas and ultimate fate.

A year or two later, I chose to rent Amadeus from the local video store. (This was when you had to pay to join video stores, and this one didn't bother alphabetizing its shelves.) I don't recall why I wanted to see the film again, but I did, and this time those opera scenes didn't bother me as much. One cinematic joke -- the harping of Stanzi's mother being the inspiration for the Queen of the Night's coloratura fireworks in The Magic Flute -- had completely escaped me at the theater, but now I got it.

That was all well and good, but I didn't really start to grok Mozart until I took up the reading of orchestral scores. I taught myself score-reading with the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz, but a few months later I found a score of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G-minor. Looking at the first page, I was struck by the sparsity of the orchestra (when Berlioz is your orchestral template, even a Mozart symphony looks like chamber music by comparison). Even with my fairly untrained eye, I could tell that there was a contrast going on between a quick, but legato, melodic line and a pulsing staccato accompaniment; and what struck me most of all was the total lack of introduction. With this work, you get one bar and then you're into the melody. I wasn't used to that.

The first opera I saw was one of Mozart's -- The Magic Flute. It was a performance at Artpark in Lewiston, NY. I haven't been to many operas since, but that memory is one of my most enduring.

There's never been a real moment when I suddenly "got" Mozart, no moment of incandescent discovery like that scene in Amadeus when Salieri looks at Mozart's scores and realizes the depth of the man's musical gift. He's just been a presence, always there, always growing.

I've never much liked the cliche about Mozart that he "took dictation from God", because I don't like the idea that Mozart's music sprang from some angelic realm, untainted and pure. Rather, Mozart represents the pinnacle (or a pinnacle) of human musical creation. Mozart reminds me, in times of darkness, that humans can create things that are timeless and worthwhile, things that do not require the endorsement of the angels to be worthy.

Figaro, The Magic Flute, Symphonies 40 and 41, the Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, the Requiem, the piano sonatas, the clarinet concerto, the piano concertos...all the work of a human genius. I don't think that we are all capable of creating what Mozart created -- that would be absurd -- but we should all be capable of seeing the greatness in Mozart's creation, and it gives comfort in a cold universe to know that there exists a species capable of producing from its numbers, over hundred and even thousands of years, a Mozart.

I guess that's why I love so much the idea that the Universe is teeming with life and with civilizations, even if many of them are already long dead. I'd hate to think that out of this entire Universe of ours, there's only been one Mozart.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

March of the Beads

Jen points out DesignYourBeads.com, which is a bead supply business originally founded by a friend of Jen's as a way of raising money to fight her mother's cancer fight. The site looks pretty cool, and money from each sale goes toward the charity. Check it out, if you're into beads.


Apparently a sequel to Alien vs. Predator is in the works:

You know what happens when a painfully mediocre film based on a great concept makes a little money at Fox? They set out to make an even worse hunk of mediocrity. So... set off the confetti cannons - another nail in ALIENS and PREDATORS' coffins is being hammered...

Whoa, wait a minute. Who ever said that "Alien versus Predator" constitutes a "great concept"?

And yet, the film apparently made enough money to make a sequel a justifiable business decision, in the eyes of the Fox people. I think that should be another nail in the "People want good movies with good scripts" shibboleth, eh?

I often hear the refrain, "When will Hollywood just go back to making good movies?" The answer is, obviously, that Hollywood will go back to making good movies when people stop paying to see the shitty ones.

Dame fashion says, "Dye it."

I have some new photos up at the Flickr photostream, including one photo of the candle-sconce thing by my writing desk and some shots of the shirts I tie-dyed this past weekend. I'm getting the hang of the whole tie-dying thing now.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

On Wolfgang

This year marks the two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birth. I've yet to say anything about it, because I'm not really sure what to say about it -- another blogger droning on about what a genius Mozart was would just be, well, another blogger droning on about what a genius Mozart was. I'll figure something out eventually, since this blog is all about personal reflections and meditations and such. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from a chapter of a quite wonderful book I recently read, Of Music and Men by Deems Taylor. The book is copyrighted 1937, which means that Taylor was writing in a time when Stravinsky was still an active composer, Aaron Copland had yet to really hit his stride, "talking motion pictures" were still fairly new, and jazz was still in a kind of infancy (which explains the mainly dismissive, and at times almost nasty, tone Taylor adopts when he mentions it).

Taylor was a prominent music writer during the first half of the twentieth century, although he's probably now best known for his appearance in the Walt Disney film Fantasia (Taylor's the man who delivers the "program notes" in between selections in the film). I learned, reading Of Music and Men, that Taylor was also a composer. I've heard not a single note of his music, and I am now fairly curious about it. In addition to several operas, Taylor was one of the composers who wrote a fanfare at the behest of Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conductor Eugene Goossens, only one of which -- Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" -- is ever heard today. (There's a cool recording idea: putting all of the Goossens fanfares on a single CD.) Maybe he'll turn up on Naxos's "American Classics" series at some point...but until then, here's a bit of one of Taylor's essays, about the idea that a composer's music represents in some way the inner emotional life of the composer. A good chunk of the essay is about dear Wolfgang:

No one pretends that by looking at a painting you can tell whether or now the artist had the money to pay his rent; and very few people would undertake to tell you, from reading a poem, whether or not the poet was hungry at the time. But people who talk about music, including a good many critics and commentators who ought to know better, insist on confusing the emotions they feel on hearing music, with the mental processes of the composer. Most of Mozart's music is simple and cheerful in character; therefore Mozart was a cheerful little man, whose sunny disposition made him impervious to worry.


Take Mozart first. He was born in domestic service. His father, Leopold Mozart, was a musician attached to the household of the Archbishop of Salzburg. As such, although he was a violinist and composer, he had the standing of a servant. Actually, that isn't as bad as it sounds. Such was the social standing of nearly all composers in his day. Things have improved since then, of course. Formerly, we paid them to compose, and made them eat with the help. Now, we let them eat with the family, and don't pay them anything. At least, Mozart's father had a living. Ont he other hand, we do know that his brilliant son resented the life he led.

Between his sixth and twenty-first years, Mozart made nine tours of Europe as a pianist and composer. It is customary to assume that his father was a mercenary and heartless tyrant, who exploited his son's talents for his own advantage, and so wore him out with incessant traveling and public appearances that the strain eventually killed him. This isn't strictly true. What Mozart's father was trying to do was to find some European ruler or church dignitary who would engage his talented son as a staff musician -- in other words, give him the only opportunity a composer had, in those days, of supporting himself. Incidentally, he never found one. The actual money returns from those trips barely paid expenses. He did make about $3,500 on one tour, but for the most part the elder Mozart would return with his son to Salzburg with a collection of snuffboxes, watches, rings, and fine words -- and no money. Nevertheless, I believe that those first twenty years were the happiest in Mozart's life.

In 1772, when he was sixteen, he did get a position as concertmaster to the new Archbishop of Salzburg, at a salary of about $75 a year. Even Mozart couldn't live on that, so in the intervals of turning out musical masterpieces he gave piano lessons. In his twenty-third year the Archbishop raised his salary and made him full Kapellmeister. But the two didn't get along. The Archbishop felt that since Mozart was in his employ, he ought to do what he was told, and go where he was told. Mozart had different ideas. He felt that his talents entitled him to some freedom of action, and he didn't like being placed above the cook and below the footmen at the dinner table. He and his employer finally had a serious quarrel, and parted forever.

In 1782, when he was twenty-six, Mozart married. And by some grim coincidence, from that time on he never had any permanent source of income. He lived by giving piano lessons -- including some to an eighteen-year-old boy named Beethoven -- and by what money he could get from his compositions. It mat seem strange that he didn't make a comfortable living out of his operas, many of which, notably Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute, were extremely popular. But popularity was no source of income in those times. A composer was paid a flat sum for an opera, which then became the property of whichever theatre took it first. it could be resold in turn to dozens of other opera houses, but the money went to the original owner, not to the composer. Even to make a living just above the starvation line, Mozart had to compose continuously, selling outright everything he wrote.

In '87 he did get a $400-a-year job as chamber musician to the court of Vienna. But he lost even that position two years later. His last commission came in the summer of 1791, from a Count von Walsegg, who had a habit of buying works from composers and having them played as his own. The Count wanted a requiem mass, and Mozart set to work on it, although he was on what proved to be his deathbed. Incidentally, to the credit of the Count, be it said that when he did have the mass performed, two years later, it was under the composer's name. Mozart died before the mass was finished, on December 5, just before his thirty-sixth year. Everybody was very much upset by the news. One of his former patrons, the Baron von Swieten, actually called upon his widow, the next day, to advise her not to spend too much money on the funeral. She didn't. She didn't have it to spend. Mozart was buried in the pauper's field in Vienna -- just where, no one knows.

[Here Taylor gives a similar bio of Tchaikovsky and compares their two lives.]

How much actual reflection of Mozart's unhappy life do you find in his music? Almost none at all. Most of his greatest works were written during his worst years, financially, but you will find little in them of gloom or despair. He did write a requiem mass virtually for his own death, but just before that he had written a successful musical comedy, The Magic Flute< the champagne of whose score still sparkles.

And what of Tchaikovsky? A great critic once wrote of his work: "Tchaikovsky's music awakens in the breast the haunting, unanswerable questions of life and death that concern us directly and personally." That is quite true. It is also quite true of any great music, whether it be Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Mozart's G-Major, Brahms's First, the Liebestod, or The Afternoon of a Faun.


If you want to know what a bad time Wagner had during the 1850s and '60s, go to his letters, not to his music. In the former you will find the outpourings of a tormented and discouraged man. In the latter you will find only the triumphant achievements of a musical djinn, a creative demon whose sole concern was with turning out masterpieces of art without the slightest regard for the miseries of the highly uncomfortable human being that it happened to be inhabiting.


The truth of the matter is that no composer has the time or the energy to spare, when he sits down to write music, to think about his private troubles. When he is writing music he is practicing his profession, and any preoccupation with his own affairs is a hindrance, not a help, in practicing it. If his life is a troubled one, his music is all the more likely to be a refuge, a denial, of that life. I cannot say, with any authority, exactly what went through the minds of Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky when they wrote their symphonies. One one thing I am sure: that as they wrote, they were thinking, not about Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, but about music.

I'm not sure how much of that I totally agree with, but I do agree with quite a lot of it. I've always viewed the creative act as a kind of intersection of two worlds, where the creative mind is seeing something (or, in the case of music, hearing it) that exists in some kind of almost Platonic realm, and the artist's job is to represent that Platonic thing in our world as best he or she can. But I also believe that at some point, something of the artist creeps in to the mix: Mozart was a staggering genius, no doubt about it, but he was also a man who created those works, not just some vessel through which those works poured into our world from the nether region where all perfect art resides.

(By way of a tangential rumination, it occurred to me a while ago that I think that maybe the main reason why I've never totally warmed up to Gustav Mahler's music, although I admire it a great deal and even love a significant portion of it, is that Mahler seems to take eighty minutes of a symphony to say less than Mozart was capable of saying in twenty-five with an orchestra one-third the size. But then, I'm also a person whose greatest musical love is not Mozart but Berlioz, so it doesn't seem totally correct to me, either, to ascribe my love of Mozart to the man's brevity and restraint. I guess that, in the end, it's not Mozart's ability to say so much more in so much less time and with so much smaller a musical force that makes me love him so. It's just pure response to what he has to say in the first place.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

From Caesar to Romulus Augustulus

Lynn Sislo was slightly vexed that I didn't quote her in this week's Sentential Links, but this post of hers warrants a hell of a lot more than just a drive-by: she's just finished reading a book. Quite a book, actually. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

So, what have I gained from reading this colossal work, other than having accomplished my goal of finishing it? Quite a lot, actually, but it's hard to define exactly what I got out of it. My memory is not what it used to be, not that it was ever very impressive, so I can't tell you what happened year by year or even century by century; I can't list the names of emperors or talk intelligently about the many wars and the changing borders of what was The Roman Empire. But I think I have something of an overview. All my life I've heard about the glorious Roman Empire - good and bad - but it was all much more complicated than all the journalists and pundits trying to make points make it out to be. That's not surprising since most things are more complicated than journalists and pundits make them out to be.

I've never been much interested in this one, but I do need to get back to reading the King James Bible, since I'm right in the middle of Exodus, if memory serves. (Gotta check the bookmark.) Like her, I'm reading the Bible straight through, beginning to end. I wanted to do it in a year, which can be done at a rate of four chapters a day, but I fell off for some reason. And I also have to keep banging through The Brothers K.

I always find something inspirational about reading someone's thoughts upon finished one of the undisputed Great Books. Books constitute a greater investment of time than do, say, works of music. I'd never claim that any book is an inherently greater work of art than, say, the Beethoven Ninth; but in temporal terms, from the initial beat of the first movement to the final chord of the fourth, the Beethoven Ninth will take roughly sixty-five to seventy-five minutes. You know when you're going to be done. (We're talking initial appraisal here; lifetime study is a different matter, and one can indeed spend a lifetime on either Beethoven's Ninth or Gibbon's Decline and Fall.)

Lynn also wonders what to read next:

In a rather improbable coincidence, I also finished reading the last few pages of James Michener's Hawaii this morning so I'm now looking for two more books to read. After so much history, I'm in the mood for some light, breezy space opera but, without buying something new, I don't have much to choose from that I haven't read before. I'll probably start Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson even though it looks like fairly heavy reading and therefore not quite what I had in mind.

I loved Cryptonomicon, although I didn't understand big chunks of it. With that book, I eventually decided to stop trying to keep track of everything and just kind of "go with the flow". I should probably read it again -- there are some wonderful passages in that book, including one that played a role in killing my waistline. (Damned Cap'n Crunch!)

(Of course, I note that Lynn wants to read a breezy space opera but doesn't want to buy any new books. Would that there were places that would let you take books home for a time to read, for free, on the condition that you bring them back after, say, three weeks. And maybe this book-lending place would also stock other media, such as films on DVD and even music. Such a place would be awesome!)

Sentential Links #34

It's Monday again: time to sit down and commit some Linkage By Excerpt!

:: All her personalities took a vote and "hard-line" Hillary showed up yesterday to shame Bush over Iran. (Credit where due: that's pretty funny, even if it's the entire post -- something I avoid doing on Sentential Links. Hey Craig, why weren't you at the BloggerCon thing last week?)

:: Maybe, just maybe there’s a chance I’m really beginning to understand Thomas Edison after all this time. In case you don’t know, one of my favorite quotes of all time is one from Edison. (Well, this post is actually a follow-up to the preceding post, so maybe you should read that one first...or not....)

:: Will you try something unexpected and delightful this week? Something out of character that disrupts the little habit/pattern synaptic connections/grooves in your brain, not to mention people who thought they knew you, who depend on you to be predictable? (Hmmmm, might not be a bad idea. Anyone got any suggestions?)

:: Over time I have come to realize that one of the truly amazing aspects of keeping an online journal is that I can reach out and touch people with my words.... but also those same people, or people that I have never known before can also reach out and touch me. Advice, support, a kind word when you need it, an "atta girl" or "atta boy", or a kick in the ass when nothing else will do. (Isn't that the truth!)

:: (4) Stop chasing Jehovah's Witnesses past property boundaries and onto street. (Hmmmm...I wonder what my own "Evil Monkey"'s resolutions are....)

:: So Sunday was the 100th birthday of Robert E. Howard, famed creator of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn among others. (I don't know the first thing about Robert E. Howard, I'm sorry to say. I should rectify that.)

:: My darling Nettl looks as sweet and tasty as a Viennese meringue dusted with vanilla sugar, and by my expression I appear to be thinking, "Let's ditch this juke joint and get a room!" (Please do! Scroll down to January 22 entry -- no permalinks here that I can find.)

:: "Disenfranchise?" Excuse me? Because you don't get everything on your wish list, no questions asked, you're disenfranchised? (Apparently so.)

:: These rules seem very fair and evenly applied and I think we owe it to the country to be a little more diligent in complying with them. After all, if we don’t stop with all of this criticism of the Commander-in-Chief, we might lose our freedoms.

:: Despite widespread interest in their culture Shaker song remains virtually unknown with one glaring exception - Simple Gifts. This song has been reworked by Aaron Copland and so many others to the point that it is generally assumed that Simple Gifts and Shaker song are one and the same. This is both wrong and a great pity as there is much more very fine music which deserves to reach a much wider audience. (You know what's weird? I had forgotten, until I read this post and thought "Wow, I gotta check that CD out", that I already own it. So many times I forget the treasures I have in my own collection!)

All for this week!

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Via Will Duquette I came across this site (which actually links three separate mirrors of the original site, which is having server issues). It showcases the work of a person who has built his own digital camera, using a flatbed scanner as the image-capturing device. This method of photography has its own "quirks". Go look.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I figured that, apropos of some discussion that happened at the Buffalo BloggerCon the other night, I should establish a bit of Star Wars geek street cred. So, I figured I'd do a little research online to see if anyone ever came up with a recipe for rootleaf (the stew that Yoda makes over an open flame on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back). And sure enough, I found a number of recipes!

This one actually looks tasty, but it also strikes me as being a tad unlikely, because it includes meat. I'm not claiming that Yoda was a vegetarian, but I rather doubt that meat was easy to come by on Dagobah. It seems to me that Yoda would have subsisted on root vegetables and the like. Maybe stewed eel meat, or roasted lizard, bat, or amphibian-on-a-stick.

Here's a vegetarian version (but not strictly vegan) that strains credulity because of the presence of dairy items. I don't recall seeing a cow milling about outside Yoda's little cottage.

But anyway, I'm not sure I'd recommend rootleaf stew anyway, even if one could get an authentic recipe. I mean, Yoda reaches the tender old age of 880 or something like that while living on Coruscant and eating the food there, and he regularly fights Sith Lords and conducts a Clone War and generally guards peace and justice in the Old Republic...and then he goes to Dagobah, where after just twenty years of living in hiding on a rootleaf diet, he dies!

Yeah, on second thought, skip the rootleaf.

(Oh, and as a bonus item, wouldn't this make the coolest centerpiece for a drinking party ever?!



Warren Ellis's mother has died. Condolences to him. Ellis has written quite a few comics that I've enjoyed, his websites have been the source of great amusement and/or disgust (when he gives a link that says "Don't look", for God's sake, don't look), he's provided me with a lot of fodder for the weekly Burst of Weirdness, and he's coined what's become my favorite Net aphorism ("The Internet is made of people").

I wonder if his mother is now in a better vantage point to get a handle on whatever it is that the Filthy Monkey is planning....

Subsisting in Cyberspace

Sean has a new gig. Congrats to him!

Let Bartlet Be Bartlet

Via Cliff I learn that The West Wing will end this year. This comes as no surprise at all, really, given that NBC this year moved TWW to a really bad time slot on Sunday nights that pretty much forced me to give up the show. (The eight o'clock hour pretty much gets ignored in our home, TV-wise, because of things like bathtime, homework time, and bedtime for The Daughter.) I have seen a handful of episodes this year, and the show's been doing pretty well. So, to NBC, I say, in the immortal words of Joey Lucas: thbbppppt!

The big question about TWW is just what will be done about the untimely death of John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry on the show. I figure they can either pretend he's still there and just not show him (and hell, since they're positing a Vice President figure with a history of nasty heart trouble, they might as well take the next step and posit his ensconcement in a "secure, undisclosed location"), or they can have Leo die on the show and then have Democratic candidate Matt Santos scramble to name a new running mate. I've seen some online speculation that Sam Seaborn could come back and fill that role, but personally, I think it would be cool if Toby Ziegler's ex-wife (a Representative from Maryland) got the nod.

(And it's worth noting that it isn't like TWW lacks for precedent in just having characters disappear with no explanation whatsoever -- they could have Leo just go off to wherever it is that Season One's Mandy, a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard character if ever there was one, vanished to on the very night of the assassination attempt on President Bartlet.)

TWW was a favorite show of mine for most of its run, even if I think that the much-derided Season Five was better than most thought at the time and even if I think that Aaron Sorkin started to lose steam early in Season Four (aside from "Twenty Hours in America", the Bartlet re-election campaign was a snoozer of a storyline). Thus far I only own the first two seasons on DVD, owing to a massive price markdown on them last fall, but I expect I'll at least pick up the remaining Sorkin seasons at some point, if I find them cheaply.

Anyhow, here's to The West Wing, which will be missed as NBC starts lurching for something, anything, with ratings.

(You can read about my favorite TWW episodes here, by the way.)

They must be dropping leaflets while flying over Flyover Country

Last month, I noted with puzzlement Steven Den Beste's strange obsession with Brokeback Mountain* and his great hope that the film tanks at the box office, so that maybe Leftist Hollywood would get the message and stop making those pesky, pro-gay, anti-Christian movies. (Which is a pretty bizarre argument to find originating from an atheist who has long professed to be pro-gay rights, I must admit.) One of SDB's money-quotes back then was this:

Peoria and Nashville and Des Moines just aren't interested in LGBT-themed films.

I guess the idea here is that even if Brokeback Mountain somehow manages to have a respectable showing at the box office, it'll be because of the liberal enclaves on the coasts and not because of Middle America, where people would much rather see explicitly Christian stuff.


This weekend the Focus Features film, which stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as hunky star-crossed lovers, will move to about 1,200 screens (up from 684) and reach even more suburban markets. But don’t necessarily expect Brokeback, which has a fairly explicit sex scene with the two men, to ignite widespread heartland protests. So far it has played relatively well outside the traditional coastal city areas where somber indie hits usually rise and fall. Producer James Schamus explains: "What’s driving the gross now is the gigantic numbers from the small and medium-sized cities, not New York and Los Angeles." He attributes its success to lots of advance, Internet-driven buzz and near-universal critical acclaim.

The article notes the film's enthusiastic reception in such locales as Salt Lake City, UT; Mason City, IA; and Scottsdale, AZ.

Seeing SDB march in lockstep with the Religious Right is fairly disconcerting -- what's next, advocating the teaching of Intelligent Design? -- but it's pretty clear that he's chosen the wrong horse here.

* SDB is currently offline, and before he departed, he sounded pretty non-committal about going back online.

Lo! and the Four shall become Two....

It's Championship Sunday in the NFL! Yup, up for grabs today are the two berths in Super Bowl XL. As a Bills fan, I have a special fondness for Championship Sunday, because it used to be that this was when we'd see our beloved Bills play their best football. (Would that they had saved some football in the tank for those next games....) I liked it better when the NFL had the games around noon and four o'clock, as opposed to around three and one in primetime, but that's not much to complain about, I suppose.

Some brief football-related ruminations:

:: People often refer to "home field" as being an advantage, but clearly it isn't. In fact, in thirteen seasons since 1992 (including 1992), AFC teams have only managed to convert a top-seed status into a Super Bowl appearance four times. The NFC has fared a bit better, doing it eight times in the same span, but that's not a commanding difference. Of course, this year's AFC top seed is already out, while the NFC's (Seattle) is still standing. And there hasn't been a year in which the Super Bowl featured the top seeds of both conferences since 1993 (the second of the two Buffalo-Dallas matchups).

:: The NFC has never sent a wild-card team to the Super Bowl. All 39 NFC champions to date have been division champs. Contrast with the AFC, which just since 1992 has sent four wildcard teams to the Super Bowl, two of which won it (1997 Broncos, 2000 Ravens), one of which came oh-so-close to winning it (1999 Titans), and one of which didn't come anywhere near winning it (1992 Bills).

:: The last time the Super Bowl featured the road teams from Championship Sunday was in 1997, when Denver beat Pittsburgh at Three Rivers and Green Bay beat the 49ers at Candlestick/3Com before meeting each other in the Super Bowl.

:: Since 1997, the Super Bowl has been won five times by a team that, to that point in its franchise history, had never won a Super Bowl before.

What does any of this mean? Hell, I don't know. I just think it's pretty cool trivia.

Here's something else: in talking to football fans this past week or two, I've discovered that a lot of people just loathe Bill Cowher. Now, I don't know if that's a bit of residual Buffalo anger there or not (see, there was a power-struggle in the Steelers about six years ago that basically boiled down to either Cowher or then-Steelers GM Tom Donahoe staying and the other being fired, and it was Cowher who won, leading to Donahoe's coming to the Bills and basically running the ship aground), but it's there and it always strikes me as a little weird. I like Cowher's fiery persona, and here's a guy who gets to watch his roster get shuffled massively seemingly every offseason, and yet with the occasional bad year every four years or so, he just keeps on being competitive and getting to the playoffs.

Cowher coaches today in his sixth AFC Championship Game, and that run is spread out over the last twelve years. Critics point to the fact that despite all those Championship Sunday appearances, Cowher has only managed to make it to one single Super Bowl (a loss to Dallas in 1995), and thus he is tagged as one of those "can't win the big one" guys. I look at it another way, though: looking at some of the talent he's had to work with, it's damned miraculous that he got to those title games at all. Here's a guy who took Neil O'Donnell to the Super Bowl. Here's a guy who twice reached the AFC Championship Game with Kordell Stewart under center. If Cowher loses today and then walked away from coaching, I think he'd be mentioned along with Marv Levy and Bud Grant as the greatest coaches who never won the Super Bowl, and he'd probably be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

But of course he's not going to walk away from coaching after today -- win or lose -- and right now he's got the best quarterback he's ever had, and that guy is only going to get better.

I heard a caller to a Buffalo sports-talk station the other day refer to Cowher as "Billy the Chin". Well, I'd take Billy the Chin to walk the Bills' sidelines any day. He's earned it.

:: OK, I don't usually make predictions, but what the heck? It's pretty obvious by now that I'm rooting for the Steelers today, but then, I always root for the Steelers unless they're playing the Bills (or a Steeler win would impact the Bills adversely in some important way). But I'm not sure I'd predict the Steelers to win.

The problem is that of the four possible Super Bowl matchups that will emerge from today's games, none strikes me as significantly more probable than the others. Picking Denver and Seattle to both advance is probably safe, but it's not overwhelmingly safe, and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if when the dust settles we're watching the Steelers and Panthers heading for Detroit. So I'll go with my gut and pick the Steelers and Seahawks.

Of course, that's the same gut that picked the Arizona Cardinals to make the playoffs this year, so I wouldn't bet the house on my say-so here.

Friday, January 20, 2006


As I've noted before, Spiderman is my favorite superhero, by far. I always loved the way this powerful superhero could use the niftiest set of powers ever to defeat the most powerful supervillains, and yet still have a personal life that was always a complete trainwreck. That's the aspect of the Spiderman/Peter Parker character that the two movies made thus far have best captured -- but now, after reading this AICN article, my Spider-sense is tingling.

Why? Because Spiderman 3 will add Gwen Stacy to the mix.

For some reason, Harry Knowles is going ape over the addition of this character:

When Avi Arad called me this morning to discuss the HULK sequel - he let slip that he was intent on calling me today anyway to drop this megabomb of coolnews. He knew that I would friggin love this like no tomorrow! For me, Gwen Stacy is the very embodiment of YOUNG LOVE. She is that teenage girl that dreamt of all those tomorrows that she'd never live. She was the damsel that wasn't saved. Right when Spidey was getting cocky about web-slinging and soul-saving... he lost another. This one, within his own soul. For serious comics fans, the Gwen Stacy story is sacred text. It is, along with the coming of Galactus - the single greatest Superhero arc of the Silver Age. And it was the exact opposite of that story. FF 48, 49 and 50 were about the story cosmic, this was about the story intimate.

Now, I've never been a huge "purist" when it comes to movie versions of books or comics or whatever taking liberties with the original material. I don't think that Peter Jackson committed a big error by omitting the Scouring of the Shire, and I don't get too worked up that Mel Gibson basically told a story only slightly tangentially related to history in Braveheart. But this is really problematic for me.

And it didn't bug me in the first Spiderman movie when Gwen Stacy was not included, and Mary Jane Watson was established right up front as Peter Parker's first love. What did bug me about that film, though, was the filmmakers' efforts to have their cake and eat it too. As I wrote at the time:

I conceded above that films of comic book stories have to make hard decisions about which things from the mythology to include and which ones to leave out. In the comics, while Peter did know Mary Jane for years, his first true love was Gwen Stacy, and it was Gwen whom the Green Goblin dangled off the Brooklyn Bridge. However, in the comic, Spiderman failed to save her. The Goblin drops her from the height, and Spiderman snags her with a web, breaking her fall, but she dies in the effort (if she was alive to begin with). This was Peter Parker's second great life lesson: not just that "With great power comes great responsibility", but that "Sometimes great power just isn't enough". The death of Gwen Stacy was just as important to the Spiderman character as the death of Uncle Ben, and as such to see the events of her death replayed in the film -- but with Mary Jane, this time, and with Spiderman saving the girl -- created in me a sort of "cognitive dissonance" that I just couldn't get around. I can understand why the filmmakers would omit Gwen Stacy from their story of Peter Parker's life, just as I can understand why the filmmakers of Superman would omit Lana Lang, but Gwen Stacy is far more important to Spiderman than Lana Lang is to Superman. I might have been able to accept a Spiderman who was never in love with Gwen Stacy, but in giving me Gwen's death without Gwen and without the death, the film basically kept reminding me of her. For me, it was the Big White Elephant in the room. Under some circumstances, I can be made to ignore it -- but not if you're going to point my chair at the elephant and have the beast nuzzle me with its trunk.

They wanted the dramatic tension of the dilemma Peter Parker faced just before Gwen's death, but without actually killing anyone, which was bad enough. As we now know from watching the movies, Peter Parker is with Mary Jane Watson. So what purpose will Gwen Stacy serve in the new film? We've had two movies of Peter and MJ; how can we possibly buy, in a single film (in which MJ will also appear), Peter's love for Gwen? How can Gwen's death possibly be as dramatically potent as it was in the comics?

Of course, it's possible that Gwen won't die in the movie, which would quite frankly piss me off too -- or maybe the filmmakers plan a role-reversal of sorts, and have Mary Jane die despite Peter Parker's efforts to save her. But I frankly can't imagine how either one of those options would be anything other than a big cheat.

Maybe it can work. Maybe. But I'm not feeling good about it. Some things you can get away with; some things you can't. This will almost certainly have the same feel to me that the X-Factor comic had when it "revealed" that Jean Grey had never died because that hadn't been her that committed suicide on the Moon after all.

Yeah, my Spider sense is tingling, all right.

The Internet is made of people

That's become one of my very favorite aphorisms (coined, I believe, by Warren Ellis), and last night I got to meet a bunch of the people behind the screens. It was the second meeting of citizens from the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan, and after missing the first incarnation, I am supremely happy to have made the second. I hope it's not as long until the next one, folks!

I would try to link everyone I met last night, but in truth I lost track a little bit and I know I'd miss some one ("Hey! He doesn't remember meeting me?! DAMN HIM!"), so if you check Alan's or Jen's rundowns (hey, Jen -- the link to your comments threads, minus the part of the URL that says "#comments", is your permalink, if that helps!), I met all those folks. And they're great people, every one.

What was funny was to note that people do actually sound like their blogs! Erin talked a bit about Arrested Development; Jen talked about a relationship she's in that started with the advent of the 2005 NFL season, which has her nervous what they'll talk about once the Super Bowl is over; Alan talked about parking lots and diesel cars and The Amazing Race and why it's stupid to pay thousands in rent in the "cool kids" cities when you can get a house for that in Buffalo; Cliff -- whom I had never before met, and whose blog I had to Google this morning -- riffed on so much pop-culture stuff that I frequently lost track (but I cheered inwardly when he endorsed my positive view of The Phantom Menace; Kevin and Val are just a great, great couple. (Although when they walked in, I thought, "Why are Christopher Lloyd and Bonnie Raitt here?" Oooooh, that one's gonna get me in trouble -- but seriously, I could listen to them talk all night. At the mere mention of the fact that they got married in Vegas by an Elvis who spoke in a tenor, I was hooked.) And despite listening to WGR-550 sports radio on the drive into downtown, I actually learned that the Bills had talked to Dom Capers about their head coaching vacancy from the BFLOBlog guys (one of whom I now owe one beer -- I'll make good on that next time, Kevin).

Special kudos to Jen, who not only greeted me on sight as soon as I emerged from the stairs, but who was also apparently quite concerned about the possibility that I might show up for such an event wearing something other than overalls. Well, perish that thought! (Photos of everyone here.) Although I should warn folks that if we have a summer meet-up, I'll most likely wear boring, regular shorts. Summer is too hot for overalls.

If I regret anything about last night, it's that I didn't quite block out enough time and that I didn't get to talk to everyone. Next time I'll try to stay later. It would also be nice if I'm not nursing a sinus headache next time out -- that's pretty much why I stayed rooted to a single spot. Damned sinuses! Oh, and next time I'll actually use the digital camera that I brought, instead of forgetting that I had it with me at all. Oops. There it sat, in my coat pocket the entire night.

Like many folks, I have some blogroll updating to do this weekend. Meeting everyone was a great experience, and I can't wait for the next one! (Maybe I should start scouting out a Southtowns location for one of these....)

UPDATE: In comments, LCScotty suggests a summer blog picnic at Chestnut Ridge or someplace similar. I like that idea -- we could do a "potluck" kind of thing. Shall we pencil that in for an August or early September get-together?

UPDATE II (Saturday, 21 January): The other night, whilst discussing various pop-culture items with Cliff (whose curse it is to discuss such things), he insisted that he was NOT hallucinating when he was channel-surfing one day and found some kind of Care Bears show on which the bears were discussing "acid reflux". Well, a bit of Googling bears him out (no pun intended):

THE CARE BEARS BIG WISH MOVIE, not rated, 2005, $19.98 VHS and DVD; age 2-4.

This film succeeds in bringing new faces to the Care Bear family. Wish Bear is the niece of Wish-a-Lot Bear and is also a lucky bear. She has direct access to making her wishes come true, thanks to her friend Twinkers. Wish Bear ends up taking advantage of this genie-like pal while trying to impress a trio of new friends, Too-Loud Bear, Me Bear and Messy Bear, who exhibit the traits described in their names and mistakenly believe wishing can replace working. Equilibrium is restored with cute scenes and musical numbers.

The movie falls short because attempts to appeal to older viewers—such as with a joke about acid reflux—don’t work. (emphasis added)

Oh, and I was just digging a bit through the archives at Cliff's blog, and I found this item:

Western boots and hats and shirts will never take off in Blue States, especially when the consensus is that the Red States are entirely to blame for our current situation. Dressing like a Hee Haw extra is the equivelent of saying "they won," and will be dealt with accordingly...

I'm trying to figure out if I should stand up for people who dress like Hee Haw extras, or if I should try to insist somehow that I don't dress like a Hee Haw extra, the overalls notwithstanding. (I mean, you don't see anybody on Hee Haw wearing them over sweaters or the like -- it's all-flannel, all-the-time on that show, and to my knowledge I have never owned anything flannel.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


John takes exception to something somebody said somewhere (actually, it was a producer from 24, in a Slate interview) about the popularity of serialization and ongoing storylines on TV series these days. John lists, as evidence, the most popular dramas on TV and notes the lack of story arcs or serialization on them.

Now, I haven't watched all of these shows, but I do have to point out that the CSI series, while generally self-contained from episode to episode, actually do feature story arcs on a regular basis. Those series tend to keep their story arcs well in the background (and wisely so, avoiding the mistake many such shows make when they allow the soap opera to overwhelm), but the arcs are most definitely there: Gil Grissom's struggle against deafness; Catherine Willow's coming to terms with her own past; and others. CSI: New York seems to have the least, in terms of story arcs, but there are a few percolating away once in a while; and that show is offset by CSI: Miami, which has tons of arcs going all the time, including one giant set of arcs, potentially constituting three "trilogies" that will each unfold over three seasons each, about the past of Horatio Caine.

Sitcoms of today also tend to involve continuity, if not actual serialization and story arcs. Frasier and Friends led the way -- maybe even led by Cheers -- and that torch is carried on by Joey, Scrubs, Will & Grace, and more.

It's certainly overstating the case to say that every show these days involves story arcs and serialization, but it's a most definite trend. (I haven't watched Without a Trace, Cold Case, NCIS, or Criminal Minds, so I can't comment on whether or not those series blend arcs with their self-contained procedurals.)