Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tough on Terror

You know, folks, when Bill Clinton had a shot at Osama Bin Laden, he may have missed, but at least he pulled the trigger. That's more than George Bush did when he had a shot at Abu Musab Zarqawi.

Yeah, that Bush is really tough on terror, all right.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness Greatness

Not a whole lot of weirdness this week, but even though everyone's already linking it, here's Part One of Stephen Colbert's brilliant performance at the Correspondents' Dinner in Washington, DC; and here is Part Two. What's great about Colbert and Jon Stewart is that they're big enough that the politicos who know they shouldn't go within ten miles of them instead can't afford to pretend they don't exist.

And boy, has the Correspondents Dinner come a long way since Don Imus's disastrous performance a decade ago.

Everyone to aft! The Captain's gone daft about the draft! Quick, to a raft!

OK, I guess I gotta talk about the NFL Draft, since I'm a Bills fan and all. First off, drafting's an inexact science and you never know which players are gonna be stars and which players are gonna tank and yada yada yada. William Goldman wrote that Hollywood's golden rule is "Nobody knows anything", but that could also apply to the NFL on Draft Day. The Bills weren't stupid to draft Mike Williams in the first round, and the StuPats* weren't geniuses to draft Tom Brady in the sixth. Nobody knows anything.

So why am I having trouble figuring out what Marv Levy's doing?

I have no problem with the Bills not picking Matt Leinart. I really don't. It couldn't be an attractive possibility to Levy to use a first round pick on a quarterback for what would have been the fourth time in ten years, especially when the team has so many holes in other places. That, actually, is part of what's bothering me: this team has so many holes that what's really needed is an addition of as much talent as humanly possible. We're talking large numbers of raw bodies, and then let's see who sticks. So, when Levy had four picks to use in the first three rounds, along came a still-available Leinart and an opportunity to get even more picks. Instead, Levy used the pick on a safety -- which, while yes we need one, isn't nearly the major point of concern for this team.

So I, an armchair quarterbacking watch-it-on-TV-on-Sunday-afternoon fan, wanted to see those four picks used on two offensive linemen and two defensive linemen. Marv Levy, on the other hand, used one of those picks to trade up into the second round again, and thus used only three picks to take a safety, a defensive lineman, and a cornerback. Uhhhh...OK.

Maybe these guys turn out to be great. I don't know. Not too many of Tom Donahoe's picks panned out, and nor, frankly, did many of John Butler's picks in his latter years here. But Levy always had a different view on personnel: he always looked for character and intelligence and raw athletic ability, players who could develop rather than start right now, and that appears to be what he's doing now that he's a GM. I'm willing to give him partial benefit of the doubt on the players he chose, but I'm less convinced about the manner in which he chose them. The best argument that I've seen is that Levy (and his assistants) came into this draft knowing, for the most part, which players they really wanted to get, and they paid the prices they needed to pay to ensure that they got them. If that's the case, then these guys had better pan out.

And I should note that I'm distinctly unhappy that the Bills didn't take an offensive lineman until the fifth round, and as of this writing, they've only taken that one OL player. I'd really hoped that OL would be a more pressing concern, given how stunningly bad the line has been the last few years. Maybe they're convinced that the cast-off free agents they've signed will pan out, but it's worth remembering that this is a team that closed out last season with zero starting offensive linemen who'd been drafted here. Free agency hasn't changed everything, folks -- the draft is still the main means of upgrading the level of talent on an NFL team over time.

Again, none of this is remotely exact. The Bills' biggest draft bust of all time, Mike Williams, was taken fourth overall in the first round. One of the Bills' best offensive linemen ever, Howard Ballard, was taken in the twelfth round, back when the draft had twelve rounds. Today, Ballard would be an undrafted free agent. But you can't develop the linemen if you only draft one or two per year.

* For newer readers, the word "StuPats" is an abbreviation of "New England Stupid Patriots". Because the NFL team from New England has, for the last five years, been the focus of Ultimate Evil in the sports world.

Into the Depths of the Stars!

I've made the decision, based on lots of soul-searching and careful consideration...ach, who am I kidding? It's basically a whim. But I want to become the world's preeminent expert on space opera. Now, I know, this is a goal that will take years to achieve and will neither yield riches nor fame, but it'll make me Lord Emperor of All Geeks (Space opera Division). And really, who could want more than that?

What brought this on, you ask? (Ach, who am I kidding -- nobody's asking that.) But anyway, it's a pretty obvious interest, since I'm one of the most faithful worshippers at the Church of Lucas. Space opera has always been my preferred SF subgenre, the bigger and vaster the better. And really: since mid-May of last year, life has seemed a tad directionless and unfocused. (Don't take my word for it.) So in a way, I'm going to try to scratch an itch that won't ever be scratched in the same way again. Or something like that. (Hey, it's a whim, and whims are pretty hazy things. Who sits and thinks out a whim, anyway?)

I'm also seeking to give myself a broader background in space opera tropes, because after I finish The Promised King* I want to turn to a tale that's been sitting in my head gestating for a few years now. I posted a kernel of this tale before; you can read it here, although I'm not at all certain how much of that little excerpt will remain when I get back to that story. Suffice it to say that stories of war and romance on a Galactic scale appeal to me; and if I had to name the single best piece of writing advice I've ever heard, it would be "Write the books you want to read."

So, where to begin? Well, I'm not sure where exactly I'll start. But I'm in the beginning of amassing a collection of space opera books. These I have already, in no particular order:

:: The Lensmen novels, by E.E. "Doc" Smith. I read Triplanetary a few years ago and enjoyed it, but still have yet to read the rest of this series. My understanding is that Triplanetary wasn't actually the first of the Lensmen tales.

:: The Skylark of Space, also by Doc Smith. Hey, you gotta inspect the roots of the genre, right? This book came out in 1928.

:: Brian Daley: Requiem for a Ruler of Worlds, Jinx on a Terran Inheritance, Fall of the White Ship Avatar. I remember Will Duquette recommending these a while back. I remember reading some of Daley's media tie-in novels as a kid, but never any of his own work.

:: Kevin J. Anderson's Saga of Seven Suns. This series is still "in progress", with three more volumes to go, apparently. The first book is kind of weak, being chapter after chapter after chapter of exposition; also, Smith's tendency to throw in cute allusions gets a little off-putting at times. But things improve quite a bit in the second book. I wouldn't recommend splurging on this series in hardcover, but they're fun in softcover. Anderson's really got a gift for conveying nifty visuals in descriptive prose, like the diamond-hulled warships of the Hydrogues.

:: Debra Doyle and James MacDonald's Mageworlds series. I've got The Price of the Stars, Starpilot's Grave, and By Honor Betray'd, which constitute the main Mageworlds trilogy, as well as a prequel novel called The Gathering Flame. I read Price of the Stars four or five years ago and thought it was just "Star Wars lite", but enough folks have spoken well of the series since then that I suspect I may have judged it unfairly. It happens, folks -- I wish I had a dime for every piece of classical music I hated the first time I listened to it. Heck, I hated Berlioz the first time I heard him.

:: The Liaden Universe novels by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. I've read the first three of these and enjoyed them, although they didn't feel all that "space opera-ish" to me -- more like romances set in space. But as fans of SF and fantasy well know, these genres and their little subgenres tend to stubbornly resist easy categorization.

:: Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro. I read Primary Inversion a few years back as well, but I don't remember much about it. These are the first two books in a larger series called "The Saga of the Skolian Empire". Well, that's gotta be good, right? It's got the words "Saga" and "Empire" in it.

:: Downbelow Station and The Faded Sun Trilogy by C.J. Cherryh. These are apparently set in "the Alliance-Union Universe". Strange as it may seem, I have never read anything by Cherryh before.

:: Star Soldiers by Andre Norton. Equally strange, I don't recall ever reading Norton before, either. What the hell have I been doing?!

:: Excession, by Iain M. Banks. This is one of Banks's "Culture" novels. I started The Player of Games a while back, but never finished it for some reason. Perhaps someone can tell me if Excession is a good entry point into the "Culture" books, or if I should dig back farther. My understanding is that they're all standalone novels, but that doesn't mean that one book isn't a better intro than another.

:: A Thousand Words for Stranger and Ties of Power, by Julie E. Czerneda. The first two books in Czerneda's "Trade Pact Universe". I liked Thousand Words a lot when I read it a few years back. In honesty, I completely forgot I had the second book in this series until I went through the shelves just now.

:: The Duke of Uranium and A Princess of the Aerie by John Barnes. Read the first and liked it a lot; never got around to the second. If there were any justice, "Toktru" would be as well-known a word in SF fandom as "Fnord!"

:: Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. Another one I started but didn't finish. In truth, I do this a lot. I'll be reading along, and get to about fifty or so pages in and just kind of say to myself, "Hmmmm, this really isn't what I'm in the mood to read right now." It's kind of a capricious reading life, I'll admit, but I think the upside is that I think I'm more fair to books when I come to them when I want to rather than forcing myself through them when I don't, if that makes sense. (I was clearly reading this last summertime, because I discovered that I'd been marking my place with an old grocery list. Charcoal, beer, and Italian sausage topped the list. Oh, and a can of infant formula. Weird, the reminders that await us in the tall grass....)

:: Sunrunner and Startide Rising, by David Brin. Everybody says that the first Uplift trilogy is amazing, the second one less so. Guess I'll find out eventually. I'm still mad at Brin for saying mean things about Star Wars a few years back, but I'll try to be nice to his books.

:: Metaplanetary, by Tony Daniel. Not sure if this is space opera or just hard SF, but I just found it on my shelves. I don't remember buying it, even. Anyone?

:: Jaran, by Kate Elliott. I don't know squat about this one, save that the back cover refers to a mix of "interstellar empires and primitive cultures". That works.

:: Lord Valentine's Castle, by Robert Silverberg. I'm honestly not sure this counts as space opera; the cover copy reads more like a blend of SF and fantasy. But again, the pesky dividing line between space opera and something else is always fungible. Onto the stack it goes.

:: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. First book in a franchise of sorts. I love this book's cover art -- simple, intriguing, and evocative.

:: In Conquest Born, by C.S. Friedman. I just bought this last week. I'd heard of Friedman, but knew nothing of her work. The cover has a guy on a starship, holding a sword. Yup!

:: Deathstalker, by Simon R. Green. Someone told me that this series probably went on two or even three books too long. This was another casualty of the "Hmmm, not really in the mood for this" malaise that sends me to the shelves for something else. Still, I absolutely adore that opening passage.

:: Pandora's Star, by Peter F. Hamilton. Ahhhh, Hamilton. Tried him once before and didn't make it -- but not for the usual reasons. His Night's Dawn Trilogy was so massive that when the books were issued in paperback, each volume had to be split in two. We're talking a massive series here, folks. Well, I loved the first half of The Reality Dysfunction (the first book), but something went awry with the second half: my copy of it literally fell apart, some months after I had bought it. Bad glue, or what, I don't recall. I never got around to replacing it. Anyway, I bought Pandora's Star a few weeks ago.

:: Dread Empire's Fall, by Walter Jon Williams. Trilogy about a fallen interstellar empire. Check.

:: Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, by Charles Stross. I don't know why, but I always feel stupid when I read Stross. Kind of like that episode of Friends when Joey, tired of feeling left out in conversations, buys a single volume of an encyclopedia (because that's all he can afford), and thus keeps trying to steer the conversations to topics that start with the letter 'V'. I haven't read any of Stross's novels, but his short fiction is so idea-packed that I may need to decompress after reading his novels.

:: A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge. I liked Fire, although I don't think I understood the ending all that well. Still haven't attemped Deepness.

These are works that I do not own yet but plan to acquire:

:: Scott Westerfeld's Risen Empire duology. I checked the first half out of the library and loved it. Why didn't I read the second half, then? Because I'm forgetful as hell, that's why. Hence this list.

:: Timothy Zahn. Pretty much anything. I owned his "Conquerors Trilogy", but lost it in the last move. He's fairly prolific, too.

:: David Zindell's Neverness and Requiem for Homo Sapiens trilogy. Never heard of Zindell until last night. Anyone?

:: The Book of Skaith, The Coming of the Terrans, and The Starmen of Llyrdis, by Leigh Brackett. I read her Sword of Rhiannon a while back, and once I aligned my reading-mind with the fact that Brackett had been writing with a 1950s author's knowledge of the planet Mars, I found it a highly entertaining read. There was a reason that George Lucas brought in Leigh Brackett to take the first whack at a script for The Empire Strikes Back, and her reputation as a writer of space opera was that reason.

OK, that's what I either own or plan to get in the near future. However, I know that this list isn't close to being exhaustive. So, what say you, readers? What space operas am I missing here? I'd be especially interested in comics, and in those terms, I'd like to focus specifically space operas, and preferably closed series that have actual endings. There are times when lots of comics titles delve into space opera -- the famous Dark Phoenix saga from The Uncanny X-Men, frex -- but unless the tale has a specific ending point, I'm not really looking for "Well, Superman often has some space opera stuff in it". (BTW, the series Six from Sirius, from which my Net handle "Jaquandor" is taken, is pure space opera!)

I'm also keenly interested in older SF authors, long out-of-print, who worked in the space opera form. Aside from Leigh Brackett and Doc Smith, I'm fairly ignorant of space opera as a literary subgenre before Star Wars came along, and we're talking about roughly fifty years of space opera goodness. So let me know about those, as well.

This is obviously something of a long-term thing that I'm putting in motion here. Looking at the stacks of books I've just created next to my computer table, I've got enough space opera goodness to keep me busy for a few years at least, and I've no intention of foregoing my other interests along the way -- horror and fantasy will still abound.

But space opera? That's where I want to be!

* I've started working again on The Promised King in the last week, and I'm hoping to start serializing Book II: The Finest Deed either later this summer or in early fall. I'll keep everyone posted.

UPDATE 5-1-01: Readers have suggested the following series and/or books, either in e-mail or in comments:

:: Dune, by Frank Herbert. I own the first one and started reading it once. I stopped a ways in because I frankly got tired of Herbert's constant use of his own made-up vocabulary. Usually this doesn't bother me much when authors do it, but Herbert had me flipping to the glossary every other sentence, or so it felt. Not sure if this is "space opera", really -- how much of it involves, well, "space"? Someone who's read it, let me know. Also cited are Herbert's The Whipping Star and Dosadi Experiment. I've never even heard of these, but I'll seek them out eventually.

:: David Webber's Honor Harrington series. I've read the first two books, and I enjoyed them. They're space opera to an extent, although most readers would more consider them "Military SF". I like the Honor Harrington character, but I've heard that farther on in the series, Honor's seeming perfection gets more and more grating; I'm also told that Webber's infodumps get more and more intrusive and cloying. That would be something to see, since in the very first book, Webber completely stops the action just as the climactic battle/chase is starting to heat up, so he can go into a lengthy explanation of the history of supralight drive in his universe. I'm not sure how much more Honor Harrington I really want to read.

Military SF, generally, isn't my cup of tea. Admittedly, it's hard to find the dividing line between space opera and Mil-SF. My own way of determining the difference has a flaw or two, but so far it seems to have worked. I've never been much of a Robert A. Heinlein fan, but it's been years since I tried reading him.

:: Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books. Yup. I've read the first three. Pretty fun stuff thus far.

:: C.J. Cherryh's Chanur books. Never heard of them. I'll look them up.

:: Gordon R. Dickson's Dorsai series. My familiarity with these extends about as far as the fact that I know they exist. I'll have to check them out.

:: The Hitchhiker's Guide series by Douglas Adams. Strangely, I've never read these.

Keep the recommendations coming, folks -- I'm looking for all the space opera that can be read in a lifetime!

There's a tear in my beer....

I'll have time a little later on to flesh out my thoughts on how the Buffalo Bills fared in yesterday's NFL draft, but for now, here's a sound clip that I suspect will be getting lots of play next season in these parts.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Eagle-eyed readers may notice that I'm now only featuring one "headshot" of Yours Truly in the sidebar; readers with the eyes of, well, birds with better eyes than eagles may notice that the headshots change with each page load! This is courtesy of this handy script for rotating images. I love the Interweb!

Pour me another draft!

I'm just going to throw this up here for reference, when I post again tomorrow to bitch about the Buffalo Bills' draft selections. Anyhow, today will see Rounds One through Three of the Draft. The Bills have four picks in those rounds (with two picks in the third round, by virtue of last year's trade of Travis Henry to the Titans). If the Bills do not have at least three new linemen, either offensive or defensive or some combination thereof, when Day One is over, I will be...annoyed.

The Bills have not been a force at the line of scrimmage since the late 90s. Pussyfooting around with fullbacks and wide receivers and having an open competition for the quarterback of the future isn't going to cut it. I'm judging Marv Levy's inaugural season as General Manager by how the team does at the line of scrimmage, because winning teams are good at the line of scrimmage.

Here we go. Next stop, training camp!

(By the way, I'm sure that lots of good analysis and rantage will be available over at BFLOBlog. Check those fellows too.)

A call for recipes and cooking suggestions!

OK, readers! I have two pounds of Polish sausage in my freezer, comprising two large loops of the stuff. And I want to cook it. I'm planning to cook one of the loops, actually, and then slice it up for use in a jamabalaya sometime in the next week or two. But what about the other one? Any thoughts?

(I should mention that my family uniformly hates sauerkraut. While I personally don't like to consume sauerkraut directly, I do think that a piece of meat simmered in sauerkraut is friggin' heavenly, but I can't even convince the clan of that, so recipes that involve sauerkraut are out.)

(By the way, when I went to college in Iowa, the pizza places out there offered sauerkraut as a pizza topping. That's wrong on so many levels that it boggles the mind to even try to list them all.)


I haven't done one of these in a while -- the "Friday Shuffle" thing, so here it is. (If you haven't seen it, what you do is set up your computer's music program to play shuffle your entire music library and then post the first ten tracks the computer plays.)

1. "Remembering" from Total Recall, by Jerry Goldsmith. I think that this was the last indisputably great score that Goldsmith wrote.

2. "Bounty Hunter's Pursuit" from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Good action cue.

3. "The Cobbler", from the album Big Shoes by the Dave Rowe Trio. I reviewed this album for GMR. This is one of those small bands that can be found in cities all throughout the country. I like their sound a lot.

4. "There's Nothin' Like a Dame", sung by Bryn Terfel from his Rodgers-and-Hammerstein album. I like his Lerner-and-Loewe album better, but this is still a great listen.

5. "Rock Hammer", from The Shawshank Redemption by Thomas Newman. This is a mild underscore cue that becomes rhythmic halfway through. This score's last half hour is amazing.

6. "Lamenta", by Mark Snow, from The Truth and the Light: Music of The X-Files. It really annoys me that this disc, with music from the show's first two seasons and released ten years ago, is still the only music released officially from The X-Files.

7. "Ice Skating Sequence", from Gigi. Music by Frederick Loewe. A nice waltz tune for an ice-skating scene from the film.

8. "Escape from Waziri / Eve and Struts", from High Road to China, by John Barry. This movie was Tom Selleck's consolation prize after he was unable to do Raiders of the Lost Ark because of his contractual obligation to star in CBS's new show Magnum PI. I tend to think that worked out fairly well for all concerned. High Road is a nice little adventure flick, with a good score by Barry.

9. "Goodbye", from Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely. If you've got a bit of depression that needs to be nursed with some music and booze, this is the album for you.

10. "Forgotten Overture", from Finding Neverland, by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. I wrote about this score here. I used to play this score a lot while I was doing feedings for Little Quinn, and as such, this is a rare piece of music that is strongly connected to a certain set of memories and emotions for me. My relation to music tends to be strongly tilted toward the abstract, but not in this case.


I hope Digby doesn't mind me quoting his entire post, but it's brief and to the point:

A reader writes in to ask:

Please tell us again why the Spanish translation of the National Anthem is making wingnut heads explode when they all but genuflect at the waving of the Confederate Rebel flag?

Tell me please, which of these was meant to turn hearts to America, and which is meant to tear the country apart?

I don't know the answer to that. Apparently honoring the confederate flag is ok because it's a tribute to the heritage and culture of some Americans' forebears.

But that's the only culture and heritage to which Americans are allowed to pay such tribute. The one that seceded from the United States and created its own country.

Those whose forebears didn't secede from the US to form their own country but rather came to America to become Americans should not be allowed to honor their culture in any way shape or form. That would be un-American.

I can't explain this.

Yeah, I don't get it, either. Alan also points out that the lyrics are hardly "offensive" or disrespectful, and he also reminds us that "O Canada" has two sets of lyrics -- one English, one French.

A few weeks ago Kevin Drum expressed a kind of admiration for the way Michelle Malkin and her ilk seem to dig through local news all over the country in order to find tiny things over which they will then work up amazing amounts of rage. It really is amazing. Don't they get tired of being angry all the time?

(For the purposes of this post, I tried finding the lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner translated into Klingon, but I was unsuccessful. Alas!)

Friday, April 28, 2006


Today the new 9-11 movie, United 93, opens. I've read a large number of reviews, and not one of them has been less than glowing.

I'm sure I'll see it eventually, but not until I feel like it -- which will probably be a year or two from now, when it's on DVD and when the furor over its release has become distant memory. Kind of like the way I only watched The Passion of the Christ a few weeks ago. I'll see United 93 when it's easier to watch it as just a movie, which is what it is.

I have to note that I find slightly creepy the notion by some that United 93 will become some kind of tract that hopefully kick-starts American passion in the "War on Terror", and that it will bring people back round to full support of President Bush and his various adventures around the globe, both ongoing (Iraq) and "coming soon to a theater near you" (Iran). I'm not sure this will happen, frankly. Maybe it will. But two points: first, every single review of United 93 I've read makes it crystal clear that this film is absolutely, rigidly tight in its focus on the events on that plane, and on that plane alone. There is no exploration of the geopolitics of 9-11, either before or after, and there is no real effort to depict the backgrounds of the doomed passengers or to make truly villainous the efforts of the hijackers. As propaganda, United 93 as I've seen it described sounds wanting.

Secondly, if the hope that United 93 reminds Americans of the importance of "this war" (to use that sloppy, ill-defined phrase) exists, such a hope tacitly grants the premise that most Americans think the "war on terror" has gone awry, if it was ever on target in the first place. Consider what that means to the myth of George W. Bush as a war-leader of Churchillian brilliance, if he needs a movie to lead the nation where he has proven increasingly unable to get it to go.

Do I think that it's "too soon" for a 9-11 movie? I do not. Storytelling is probably the most inate human means of responding to events, whether mundane or traumatic. It wasn't "too soon" for comic books to meditate on 9-11 (albeit with mixed results); and I myself wrote a short story about 9-11 (and James Morrow wrote a better one). United 93 is different, of course, in that it dramatizes the actual events, rather than ruminating in story form on the emotional aftermath. The only "too soon" that matters is if the artists involved had enough time to really focus on what it was they were trying to accomplish with their particular work. For United 93, it is, according to reviewers, exactly soon enough.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

If you can't say something nice....

A blogger named John Bruce has been on something of a crusade about Glenn Reynolds, and transhumanism, and nanotechnology, and the Vingean singularity, for months. He seems to be trying to poke Reynolds with a bigger and bigger stick each time out, and he also seems to genuinely believe that Reynolds is somehow a driving force behind blogging, or something. Watching all of this unfold over the last couple of months, I almost get the idea of someone really hankering for an Instalanche.

But then, in this post, he goes over the line into stunning churlishness. He chooses to attack the way Terry Heaton (of whom I don't recall ever hearing before I read Mr. Bruce's post) dared to post about an awful turn of events in his personal life.

Short version: Mr. Heaton's wife died suddenly and unexpectedly. Mr. Heaton wrote a fairly brief post about this, in which he expresses his terrible grief and tries to say, in what I can only assume felt like far too few words, what his wife meant to him. He doesn't really write anything particularly out of the norm for such events. There is nothing in his post that one wouldn't expect to find in a post by a man who's just lost his wife.

Nothing one wouldn't expect, that is, unless one is John Bruce, in which case the whole post is horribly inappropriate and an illustration of everything that is wrong with Blogistan in general and Glenn Reynolds in particular. So there goes Mr. Bruce, speculating that Mr. Heaton's wife actually committed suicide, attacking the language Mr. Heaton used to describe his wife (calling it a "Righteous Brothers cover"), intimating that Mr. Heaton immediately followed up his post with an e-mail to Glenn Reynolds, attacking Reynolds for suggesting that his readers offer Mr. Heaton "their prayers" (since Reynolds apparently isn't a believer in prayer), and intimating that Reynolds is seeking to salve Mr. Heaton's grief by "giving him an Instalanche. That'll make him feel better!"

And his final salvo:

But I’m left with a sense that the social mechanisms that ought to have helped Terry Heaton deal with sudden bereavement, and would likely have functioned effectively in earlier decades, simply weren’t there in his case. The blogosphere is not a replacement for real institutions.

How Mr. Bruce can divine the role in Mr. Heaton's life of those "social mechanisms", I cannot say. But he seems to immediately assume this, without any evidence at all that this is true. Bruce is just assuming whatever he wants to assume, shoehorning it all into his preconceived notion of the problems that ail the blogging medium and community.

As my own readers know, I can write about this with some experience. Last November, we lost our fifteen-month old son. And, horror of horrors, I posted about it -- and yes, I got some traffic from it, mainly via PZ Myers, TBogg, and Lance Mannion. And yes, the large flood of condolences left in my comments and in my e-mails were very comforting. But I, in no way, considered it a replacement for the social mechanisms Mr. Bruce is kvetching about. I only posted to the blog about Little Quinn's death after we'd already spoken to our families, people in our church, at our workplaces, and plain friends. The blogging community didn't replace anything, nor did it substitute for anything that failed to function as it should have. The blogging community was, as it has always been, just another part of life.

This, then, is the ultimately nauseating kernel of Mr. Bruce's post:

But if I were in similar circumstances, I've got to say that the last thing that would be on my mind would be "Oh, golly, I've got to post about this right away!" And consider that, once he'd put up his post, his next move had to have been to e-mail Reynolds and get the link put in Instapundit. If friends, neighbors, family, church members, or others counted for anything in this poor man's life, they should have been keeping him away from the keyboard at such a time.

There's no reason to suggest that his "next move had to have been to e-mail Reynolds". I didn't e-mail a soul after I wrote my own post about Little Quinn. Sometimes, things get around Blogistan all by themselves. That's just a shitty thing for Bruce to say, and he says it for no other reason than to make a shitty point about Glenn Reynolds and how much Bruce apparently hates the social aspects of blogging. And witness again Bruce's assumption that blogging about his wife's death indicates that "this poor man's life" has nobody in it but other bloggers.

Finally, this "Why, the last thing on my mind would be...." notion is ludicrous. Believe me, folks, the only way to find out what you'd do in a situation like that is to actually experience a situation like that. And they're all unique. I'm not about to take my reactions to Little Quinn's death as any kind of indicator of what I would do if something happened to The Daughter. Mr. Bruce is appointing himself to some kind of moral authority status, and frankly, it's disgusting. I can't say what the last thing on my mind would be to do if someone close to me died. But I can say that if I learned that someone died, the last thing on my mind would be to cherry pick that person's subsequent actions for details that seemingly support my own personal crusade.

(And my deepest condolences to Mr. Heaton.)

The Power of the List

Via Mental Multivitamin, I find one of the list-quiz things that I like so much, but that I haven't done in a while.

Instructions: Review the following list of books. Boldface the books you've read, italicize those you might read, cross out the ones you won’t, put an asterisk * beside the ones on your bookshelves, and place [brackets] around the ones you’ve never even heard of.

* The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
* To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
[The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)]
* His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman) (I've only read the first volume.)
* Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J. K. Rowling)
The Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (George Orwell)
Catch 22 (Joseph Heller)
* The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)
[The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon)]
Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
* Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
1984 (George Orwell)
* Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J. K. Rowling)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
[The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)]
[The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)]
Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
* The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis)
Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)
[Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell)]
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
[Atonement (Ian McEwan)]
[The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)]
* The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)
* Dune (Frank Herbert)
Sula (Toni Morrison)
Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier)
The Alchemist (Paulo Coehlo)
[White Teeth (Zadie Smith)]
The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)

When I strike the books above, indicating that I won't read them, I'm meaning this in the "probably not" sense, not the "I hear that's a crappy book and I want nothing to do with it" sense. Basically, I'm just assuming that with my current interests being what they are, I don't see myself making those books priorities any time soon. All of this may change, however, in the next five years. Maybe I'll revisit this list in 2011, if I'm still blogging.

(And I'm not going to apologize for my intention to read The Da Vinci Code. I love goofy-assed conspiracy theories, especially those involving Jesus and whatnot. Sue me.)

I'll get you next time, Nevins!

Jess Nevins recently informed me that if I bought his book, The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, he would reimburse me the cost of the book if I didn't like it.

Well, he probably chuckled to himself the whole time, thinking, "Yeah, like that's gonna happen, because I wrote a good book and it's right up his alley! Heh!"

And damned if it didn't work: I've had the book less than a day and I'm wondering why I haven't had it for years. So, round one to you, Mr. Nevins. But wait until my book comes out!

(Note to self: resume writing book.)

(BTW, I only just started using Amazon again, so how long have they been putting up these "Hey, you already bought this item!" messages? I find that kind of irritating. I know what I own, dammit!)

My wish, granted to someone else

Over at Adventures in Juggling, the last couple of posts detail the fact that her son just got his G-tube removed. I'm happy for them, if also a little wistful that Little Quinn never got to get rid of his.

Two steps forward, one step Bach

(Apologies to the audience for the horrible pun in this post's title. The parties responsible have been sacked.)

Lynn Sislo reports something of a shocker for the classical music world: a number of works that have for centuries been attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach may actually have been composed by Anna Magdalena Bach, Johann Sebastian's second wife.

My reaction is that, to a certain extent, I don't care.

Even if it can be conclusively established that the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello were not composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, it still in no way diminishes the works themselves: they are still miraculous. The music has stood the test of time, and I don't think that a change in attributed composership would impact the music at all.

But as for the historical record, at this point the idea that we've been crediting the wrong Bach for three hundred years certainly constitutes an extraordinary claim, and in the immortal words of Carl Sagan, "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence." I'm going to need to see a lot more evidence before I'll accept this idea.

To cite, as the article does, a mere stylistic difference in the Cello Suites from the rest of J.S. Bach's oeuvre establishes nothing, really, in itself, aside from a possible grounds for speculation. What's needed here is an autograph manuscript of the works in Bach's hand; or, failing that (since such a thing would not have existed if Anna Magdalena Bach had written the works), some kind of documentary evidence, in the form of a letter or a journal entry, in Bach's hand firmly establishing Anna Magdalena's compositions.

Likewise, I don't think that forensic analysis of the handwriting yields anything more than possible grounds for speculation. I can imagine any number of circumstances in Bach's life that would have explained the presence of Anna Magdalena before she became his wife. I just don't see any extraordinary evidence here, as yet.

But, just for a moment, suppose there was some extraordinary evidence that firmly established Anna Magdalena Bach as the composer of some of those great works.

Firstly, we're talking about J.S. Bach here. If we strike, say, one quarter of his most famous works from his oeuvre, the man was so prolific that we'd still be talking about one of the towering geniuses in all of classical music. Unless the "extraordinary evidence" took the form of a diary confession by Johann Sebastian -- "I have poison'd her, and all her divers works shall be mine forever! Haaa ha ha ha ha!", or something similarly nefarious-sounding -- I don't think it would diminish Bach that much. It might establish Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena as one of the great musical marriages, right up there with Robert and Clara Schumann. And it also might illustrate something about the role of women in classical music.

The fact is that the story of classical music is almost entirely a story of white men. Yes, there were important figures in classical music who were not white or male, but they were very infrequent. Obviously this is because women in classical music were usually steered toward performing roles as opposed to composition, and in music history, composition is where it's at. I've never been sure exactly about the fairness of that aspect of it, but there it is.

A question that often arises in classical music discussions is, "If Mozart came along today, would be recognize him?" And that's an interesting question, but it seems to me that since women were so frequently steered away from musical composition for whatever reasons, effectively fifty percent of the population was ruled out of composing. How many Mozarts have we missed, by the fact that women were pushed to the sidelines or onto the stages, as opposed to the composers' desks?

When I was in college, the woman who conducted our orchestra and taught music history was something of a feminist. I never found her terribly annoying about it; it was more that the role of women in classical music was a particular area of scholarly interest for her, as opposed to the focus of her being. One of our orchestra concerts was comprised of works by woman composers, and it was a pretty good concert -- all works worthy of being heard. And when I took music history from her, there were a couple of lectures on the topic, but nothing really rabid.

Some of my fellow students didn't see her this way, of course; it was a fairly conservative campus, and a lot of times, merely broaching the topic of women's roles in history drew a heavenward rolling of the eyes. When the prof handed out a list of suggested topics for papers, there were a handful of topics involving women in music; one of my classmates went through the list and circled all of these, marking them as "femme topics", whatever the hell that meant. And one guy who took the course a year previously warned those of us at the start of the semester thusly: "If a woman didn't compose it, we didn't study it." Well, unless the prof completely recasted her syllabus in the summertime, I don't see that as likely, especially since the textbook -- Grout and Palisca's History of Western Music, hardly a tome of feminist scholarship -- was the same for both years.

Hell, I don't know what point I'm trying to make here, except to note that as of now I find it highly unlikely that this conjecture about Anna Magdalena Bach is ever likely to rise beyond conjecture; but also to note that if it did rise to a level higher than conjecture, it wouldn't be terribly damaging to music.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Steven Den Beste has an article summing up his opinions on the films of Hayao Miyazaki. It's a good read. I'm a giant fan of Miyazaki's work myself, and SDB's post is interesting, even though I don't agree with him in all the particulars. In particular, I don't find Miyazaki's films terribly "preachy" at all -- but maybe I'm more simpatico with the general messages involved, so I tend to not find them heavy-handed in the first place. (Not that I'm immune to movie messages I agree with; as much as I love the Director's Cut of The Abyss, for example, that film drives its message home with all the subtlety of an Adam Sandler comedy.)

A couple of random points, only partially in response to SDB's article:

1. I love Castle in the Sky, but I have to grant SDB's point that the characters aren't the deepest that Miyazaki has created. Maybe with some stories, I'm more interested in the tale than I am in the characters? I'm not really sure here, but I know that I've greatly enjoyed, and counted more than a few among my absolute favorites, films whose characters aren't terribly interesting in themselves.

2. The Daughter just watched half of Totoro just this evening (turning it off at homework time). There just isn't a single misstep in this entire film. I find it immensely satisfying, and it doesn't leave me empty at all. I actually like the fact that this film gives just a tiny slice of one family's life, and doesn't even go more deeply than it needs to. We aren't forced to dwell on the mother's illness, and there's none of that "They could see Totoro while they were young and believed in magic, but as they aged they forgot" stuff that often turns up in magical stories about young children.

3. SDB doesn't mention another constant of Miyazaki's films: the music of composer Joe Hisaishi. I actually came to Miyazaki via the music of Hisaishi; I read a glowing review of the Princess Mononoke score and gave it a listen without seeing the film (longtime readers will know that I do not consider seeing the film to be prerequisite to enjoying a filmscore); the score became one of my all-time favorites more than a year before I had a chance to actually watch the film. The plucked strings and woodblocks of the kodamas sequence is an extraordinary passage of music.

Hisaishi has a very chameleonlike quality as a composer. He loves to use Eastern motifs in a Western musical idiom; these kinds of motifs abound in Totoro, Mononoke, and Spirited Away. For Kiki's Delivery Service, Hisaishi adopts an almost stereotypical French sound, with accordions and a lilting waltz for a main theme. His Castle in the Sky score is properly big and epic. (I have neither seen Howl's Moving Castle nor heard its score yet.)

4. To SDB's list of common Miyazaki themes, I'd add magical realism. All of Miyazaki's films involve fantastic elements to one degree or another (I did read one article once that argued fairly articulately that Castle in the Sky is even science fiction and not fantasy, but I'd still stick with the latter), but the treatment of magic is always very matter-of-fact. Miyazaki never stops the action for any kind of explanation of his magical events, and with the exception of Chihiro, no one is ever much surprised when magical things happen.

5. One of the things I most love about Miyazaki is the way he tosses tiny details into his films that are never remarked upon, never explained, and never figure into the main story at all. These little details are just there. Sometimes they greatly add to the depth of Miyazaki's universe, where other times they just add a small amount of "spice". Examples include Pazu's birds in Castle in the Sky and the dust-bunnies in Totoro. In this way, Miyazaki reminds me of George Lucas; the Star Wars films are chock full of small details that often mean less than fans seem to think they should. (Since Lucas is a known lover of Japanese cinema, perhaps someone can tell me if this is a facet of Japanese filmmaking in general, as opposed to being a unique quirk of Miyazaki's.)

6. Clouds. Seriously: I want to live in a world where the cities look like Lucas's Coruscant but boast Miyazaki's cloudscapes.

Sentential Links #47

Yup, it's that time of week again. Here goes:

:: Are we all hardwired to be idol worshippers? (Nope, I don't worship any idols. Nosiree Bob, not me! But that's not what she's talking about, anyway.)

:: Occasionally on my sandy walks I come across some remarkable man-made items. (Provisionally a very nice blog, by a composer who offers listening samples of her work. I haven't listened to any of them yet, but I will. Via ACD.)

:: I feel myself getting stupider every time I read that line, but the good news is that I have a long way to go before I would be actually stupid enough to say that line myself. (Maybe someday I'll inflict my own Star Wars fanfic upon the world. Ye Gods, what a disaster that would make -- I'd most certainly be banished to some sector of Blogistan frequented by old and dyslexic guys who keep trying to visit Polarwine and LFG.)

:: Trying to posthumously enlist Heinlein (or any dead author for that matter) in some modern political cause strikes me as a dubious enterprise.

:: So, I guess if men want to get it up, happily, they need to not keep us down. (Wow!)

:: I've nibbled on A; I've squished B; I've cavorted with C; but my favourite remains D. (This one might not be safe for work.)

:: How can you tell when the national immigration debate has reached saturation point and seeped too deeply into the public's consciousness? When your wife starts having dreams about it.

:: Is every Republican in Washington the emotional age of seven? (Oh, for the love of God. This shit cannot be for real.)

:: The SS Great Britain is cleverly designed to bring as much comfort to its passengers and crew members as possible. (This is part of a series of posts. Look at the photos; fascinating stuff!)

:: Set up an account and you’re automatically admitted to the futurismic bowels of the Monkey. (All together, now: "The filthy monkey, it plans!")

Enough for now. Tune in next week. And tomorrow. And...well, you know.

Traffic jams will be a thing of the past!

Over at City Comforts, David Sucher has been focusing a lot on a Seattle issue: what to do about the "Alaskan Way Viaduct". This is an elevated expressway in downtown Seattle that runs right along that city's waterfront. According to the Wikipedia article linked previously, the Viaduct has become an object of concern because of the threat of earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, especially following the collapse of the similar double-decker expressway in the Bay Area in 1989's major earthquake. I did some noodling about with Google Maps, and I was able to capture this bird's-eye view of the Viaduct:

The Viaduct

Looking at that photo, I was strongly reminded of something. And I hope that my Buffalo readers are reminded of the same thing: our own Interstate 190, which is also an elevated expressway in our downtown that runs right along the waterfront. Apparently a number of Seattlites are of the view that in addition to being unsafe in earthquakes, the Viaduct also cuts off easy access to the city's waterfront, which is an oft-made complaint about I-190 in Buffalo. Here's the bird's-eye view of the 190:


This is not to suggest, of course, that Seattle and Buffalo are in similar positions, since Seattle actually has an economy and Buffalo would sure like to get one of those someday iffen' we can get the nice folks in Albany to remember that we exist way out here, but still, it's heartening to know that the same kinds of issues exist elsewhere.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday Burst of Weirdness Greatness

Hey, wanna watch one of the greatest short films ever made? A nearly perfect blend of music and visuals, with comic timing that probably made Lucille Ball look like someone at Open Mike night at a club in Topeka?

Sure you do.

(Sorry, Google! We had some great times and I'll always love you, but YouTube's my girlfriend now.)

Rails? Who needs 'em?

It's hard for me to pick out exactly where this article transitions from slightly reasonable to friggin' whacko, but I'm guessing it's where the writer uses the word "f***" to describe someone.

A very public service message.

Last night, I got my first significant comments-spam attack, as some outfit left something like twenty comments here with links to...something. (Don't know what, don't care what. Didn't check.) After deleting all of those, I've now turned on YACCS's new moderating system, so no comments here will appear until I manually approve them. If this proves to be a larger pain-in-the-ass than I'm willing to deal with, then I may switch over to Blogger's commenting system, which has a CAPTCHA word-verification thing. Moderation isn't my first choice, but I'm willing to suffer with it for a while and see how it goes. Luckily, this blog doesn't tend to generate long comments threads, but my threads have trended longer recently and I'd hate to see that go by the wayside again just because I can't free myself up for large segments of the day to moderate things. We'll see.

If any of you Fine Readers have an opinion on this, feel free to e-mail it (or leave it in comments, since with the moderation turned on I'm pretty much guaranteed to see all comments now).

So now, on with our show. And please feel free to enjoy a fine beverage by the fine folks at Schweppes.

Still trekkin'?

I see that a new Star Trek movie is in the offing, to be produced and directed by J.J. Abrams. I used to really love Star Trek a whole lot (see the Star Trek Redux posts linked in my sidebar for more), but the franchise went out with nothing resembling any kind of bang whatsoever -- rather it limped out with a final movie that was so bad that it even managed to boast a dud of a score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Honestly, this smacks of desperation on Paramount's part. Here are a few reasons why I'm less than enthused about this (as opposed to, say, Hercules at AICN, who claims to be "having a geekgasm" over this:

:: First, I gotta be honest here: J.J. Abrams has yet to do anything that really makes me stand up and take notice. I know that he's one of the reigning god-emperors of geek stuff, but his previous projects have never caught my attention much at all. I bored quickly with Lost once I realized that the show's purpose was going to be to maximize the mystery for as long as humanly possible, and the few episodes I've seen since I stopped watching regularly (about a third of the way into the first season) have done nothing to dispel that: it's just people wandering around the island, speaking in hushed tones about mysterious stuff and lots of problems with trust intercut with flashbacks of which I only found a few interesting. Alias never caught my sustained interest, either, feeling to me like a blend of James Bond and The X-Files. Going back into Abrams's body of work, I see that he was behind Felicity, a show which slid in one eye and out the other (Keri Russell was cute, but that's about it), and that he was at least partly responsible, writing-wise, for two forgettable movies (Forever Young, Regarding Henry) and one downright bad one (Armageddon). And given what I know of Abrams's last attempt at reviving a moribund franchise, I'm kind of wary about what he'll do with Trek.

(Full disclosure: I definitely plan to see Mission: Impossible III, even if I generally don't think Abrams is a genius and even if I know that Tom Cruise has gone so far 'round the bend that he's coming back out the other side now.)

:: The film's purported subject matter bugs me a bit, on Trek geek grounds. According to the Variety article linked above, the film will be a prequel, and "will center on the early days of seminal "Trek" characters James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, including their first meeting at Starfleet Academy and first outer space mission." Now, no script has been written yet, so the resulting movie -- if a movie even results at all -- may not actually resemble this. But if this "Kirk and Spock: The Early Years" idea turns out to be true, here's my reaction.


Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Firstly, I don't care what the "official Trek timeline" says. I simply do not believe that Kirk and Spock were in the Academy together, at the same time. I just don't. If anyone can cite something from either a series episode or one of the films that contradicts me here, then fine, but I've never once had any other impression than that Spock is at least twenty years older than Kirk, or that Spock's been in Starfleet a lot longer than Kirk has.

There's no real problem here, timewise, that I can see. First of all, Kirk is something of a "wunderkind", one of the youngest Captains in Starfleet and a guy who's been driven by the idea of command his entire life. Spock is not driven by command at all; by the time he becomes a Captain, it's as the commander of a starship that's being used for training new cadets. And if we assume that the TOS episode "The Menagerie" happens early in Kirk's command of the Enterprise -- perhaps even in his first year -- then it's possible that Spock was already serving on the Enterprise, under Captain Pike, while Kirk was still at the Academy. (The events of "The Cage" are clearly stated to have taken place thirteen years earlier.

Additionally, the episodes "Journey to Babel" (TOS), "Sarek" (TNG), and "Reunification" (TNG) all clearly establish that Vulcans have significantly longer lifespans than humans. In "Babel", Dr. McCoy comments that Sarek is "only 102", clearly implying that for a Vulcan, 102 is sort of like what being 55 or 60 is for a human: middle to late-middleaged, but still with years of productive life ahead. Sarek lives another eighty years to die during TNG's run, and Spock is also alive and kicking vibrantly in TNG, as well. Putting this all together, it makes more sense to me that Spock is ten to twenty years older than Kirk, as opposed to being the same age as Kirk.

Of course, none of this is carved in any kind of stone; but then, neither (to me) are the "official timelines". It's always been really hard to nail Trek down as far as continuity and time go. A strict reading of the evidence of the shows, for instance, strongly implies that the Enterprise is around forty years old by the time Star Trek III: The Search for Spock rolls around, and yet there's Admiral Morrow, claiming in that film that the Enterprise is twenty years old. So even if I personally find the idea of Kirk and Spock being the same rough age (give or take a year or two), maybe that's just my problem. Fair enough.

But then there's another problem: the idea of exploring just Kirk and Spock's first meeting. And the big problem with that has a name: Leonard H.

In other words, where is Dr. McCoy?

Making a movie centering on Kirk and Spock alone commits a serious error, misunderstanding the character dynamic that made the Star Trek: TOS so iconic that it spawned decades of spinoffs and sequels. It's not the Kirk-and-Spock dynamic that lies at the dramatic heart of Star Trek; it's the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic. It was the way McCoy's passions and Spock's cool logic, often set in conflict, informed Kirk's eventual decisions that made the original show work. And the very best moments in Trek history so often involved these three characters. Making a movie about young Kirk and young Spock and their very first adventure together seems to me to potentially constitute a serious misreading of what made Star Trek so good in the first place.

Of course, as noted, I could end up being completely wrong here. We'll see.

(But really, isn't it pretty damned obvious that if anyone's going to resuscitate Star Trek, it should be Joss Whedon?)

What are these "playoffs" of which you speak?

From my vantage point as a Buffalo sports fan, I've accustomed myself to the grand old idea that it matters not whether you win or lose, but rather how you play the game. This has made slightly more palatable the reality that Buffalo sports teams, over the last half-decade, have tended to lose. A lot.

But now the Buffalo Sabres, a squad of men who routinely engage in something called "Hockey" in a national league of some sort, have uncovered a heretofore unrealized reality: that if you don't suck, and if you do play the game well enough to win quite a bit more than you lose, then, by Golly, you get one of a limited number of invitations to play some more games, after the scheduled end of the "regular season". And as long as you keep winning, you get to keep playing! And if you win enough until there's nobody left to beat, well, they give you an oversized drinking vessel made of silver and they engrave all your names on it and everybody basically dances into the streets with glee.

Who knew, eh? Go Sabres! Win that grail chalice mug stein snifter beaker cannikin goblet tumbler CUP!

(The Sabres won Game One of their playoff series against Philadelphia last night, by the way. 3-2, in double OT. Game on!)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Merchant of Rochester

Ever since I started working at The Store, it's been my policy in this space to mention as little as possible about my day-to-day doings there, because I don't want anything I write in this blog to be interpreted in any way as a "statement by an employee" of my company. I've taken this policy to such a degree that I do not even mention The Store by name in this space, although it doesn't really take an investigative mind of Colombo-like ability to figure out just where I work.

But I'm going to set that personal policy aside for just this post, because my company's chairman and, well, beloved patriarch died this afternoon. While this man wouldn't know me from Adam were I to approach him, he is directly responsible for the creation of a company in which I believe strongly and for a working environment which I'd never thought possible before I worked there. The people at The Store, both my supervisors and my co-workers, were of immeasurable support to me and to my family all during Little Quinn's life and in the terribly hard days that followed after Little Quinn's life ended, and it all began with the man who passed away today at the age of 87. I owe him my gratitude, and I honor him today.

So farewell, Mr. Wegman.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Iran, Iran so far away....

Matthew Yglesias on war with Iran:

The United States military is, for one thing, in much worse shape today than it was in March 2003 with far fewer resources at its disposal (see the Iraq War). The Iranian military, meanwhile, is in better shape than Iraq’s army was, since it hasn’t been subjected to more than a decade of stifling sanctions. Iran is geographically larger than Iraq. Its population is about twice as large as Iraq’s. Perhaps more to the point, the vast majority of the trouble in Iraq has been made by a distinct minority of the population -- the one Iraqi in five, more or less, who is Sunni Arab, the dominant group in the Baathist ancient regime. Fully half of Iranians are Shiite Persians, so we’re talking about a nationalist backlash with a population base about four or five times as large as the one we're facing in Iraq.

Michael Kinsley on the same subject:

So, after more than half a century of active meddling—protecting our interests, promoting our values, encouraging democracy, fighting terrorism, seeking stability, defending human rights, pushing peace—it's come to this. In Iraq we find ourselves unwilling regents of a society splitting into a gangland of warring militias and death squads, with our side (labeled "the government") outperforming the other side (labeled "the terrorists") in both the quantity and gruesome quality of its daily atrocities. In Iran, an irrational government that hates us with special passion is closer to getting the bomb than Iraq—the country we went to war with to keep from getting the bomb—ever was.

I'm truly astonished that we're actually discussing another war, when we haven't finished the last one -- and that one against a weaker foe.

I suspect that, a hundred years from now, someone will pen the definitive history of our time, and the title of that book will be Batshit Crazy.

Not what you think....

Steven Den Beste seems less than thrilled that Oliver Stone is making a 9-11 themed movie. Well, if SDB is assuming that Stone's going to make something along the lines of Fahrenheit 9-11, he can by all accounts stop worrying. Here's an original press release about the film, and everything I've read since bears this out: Stone's film focuses tightly on one tale of heroism from the World Trade Center attacks: the rescue of two Port Authority policemen who were trapped in the rubble. Maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but every report I've read about this film's production has gone out of its way to make clear that this will not be Oliver Stone in "left-wing conspiracy theorist" mode.

(Speaking of which, it's always bothered me when people refer to JFK as advancing a conspiracy theory, because it really doesn't advance a theory at all. It's more of a "fantasy on a theme", with that theme being "conspiracy". JFK doesn't so much advance a theory about the Kennedy assassination as it advances all of them -- minus the ones involving aliens and UFOs -- basically throwing everything up on a wall for all to see. Just watch JFK and try to sum up the film's "theory". It can't be done. Incidentally, JFK is one of my favorite films of all time. I've been for years in awe of how much Stone was able to pack into those three hours.)

Declaring War

Via Glenn Greenwald, I see that Glenn Reynolds thinks that the Congressional authorizations of military force in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq constitute "declarations of war". Reynolds tosses out a whole lot of legalistic stuff to argue that what we've got is a declared state of war, but -- well, he's wrong. By way of illustration, let's look at the actual language used in Congressional declarations of war.

Here are the texts of both joint resolutions of Congress declaring war on Germany and Japan in December, 1941 (World War II):


Declaring that a state of war exists between the Government of Germany and the government and the people of the United States and making provision to prosecute the same.

Whereas the Government of Germany has formally declared war against the government and the people of the United States of America:

Therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the state of war between the United States and the Government of Germany which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the government to carry on war against the Government of Germany; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.


Declaring that a state of war exists between the Imperial Government of Japan and the Government and the people of the United States and making provisions to prosecute the same.

Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America:

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.

Here is the text of the joint resolution of Congress declaring war on Germany in April, 1917 (World War I):

Whereas the Imperial German Government has committed repeated acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America; Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, that the state of war between the United States and the Imperial German Government which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and that the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all of the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States. (Emphasis added)

Here is the text of the joint resolution of Congress of war against Spain in 1898 (Spanish-American War):


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, First. That war be, and the same is hereby, declared to exist, and that war has existed since the 21st day of April, A. D. 1898, including said day, between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain.

Second. That the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, directed and empowered to use the entire land and naval forces of the United States and to call into the actual service of the United States the militia of the several States to such extent as may be necessary to carry this act into effect.

I couldn't find the text of Congress's war declaration with Mexico in 1846, but here's the resolution of Congress declaring war on Great Britain (the War of 1812):

An Act Declaring War Between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Dependencies Thereof and the United States of America and Their Territories.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That war be and the same is hereby declared to exist between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories; and that the President of the United States is hereby authorized to use the whole land and naval force of the United States to carry the same into effect, and to issue to private armed vessels of the United States commissions or letters of marque and general reprisal, in such form as he shall think proper, and under the seal of the United States, against the vessels, goods, and effects of the government of the said United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the subjects thereof.

By contrast, the text of the Congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force against Iraq can be read here. It's too long for me to quote here, but it's worth noting that the resolution never uses any of the turns of phrase common to the above declarations: the specific existence of a "state of war". No "state of war" has been declared to exist between the United States and the government of Iraq.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, this is mainly about a confusion of the difference between a formal declaration of war and an authorization of military force, and about Glenn Reynolds's insistence that the authorization of force against Iraq actually was a declaration of war.

My problem is with the whole way the Iraq war is being appreciated. In reading a lot of pro-war blogs, I see a lot of wiggle-language in reference to war in general. Specifically, the phrase "this war" is invoked a lot. Sometimes "this war" refers to Iraq; sometimes to Afghanistan; sometimes it refers in a larger, general sense to the entire "war on terror".

I'm bothered by the difference between "war" in the specific legal sense (World War II) and "war" in the historic sense (say, the Gulf War) and "war" in the metaphorical sense (see just about any major policy focus of the last thirty years -- our "wars" on terror, drugs, poverty, you name it). The "Global War on Terror" at times has the strange feel to it, as though it's being pushed as some kind of substitute for the Cold War (which was itself only a metaphorical entity), and that it will last for decades in some kind of hazy and undeclared state as we bounce from armed conflict to armed conflict, assured by the Glenn Reynoldses of the world that it's all good, it's just all part of the War on Terror. Somehow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Shoulder high, we bring you home

This article about the final homecoming of a Marine from Iraq is long. It's also profoundly moving.

Inside a limousine parked on the airport tarmac, Katherine Cathey looked out at the clear night sky and felt a kick.

"He's moving," she said. "Come feel him. He's moving."

Her two best friends leaned forward on the soft leather seats and put their hands on her stomach.

"I felt it," one of them said. "I felt it."

Outside, the whine of jet engines swelled.

"Oh, sweetie," her friend said. "I think this is his plane."

As the three young women peered through the tinted windows, Katherine squeezed a set of dog tags stamped with the same name as her unborn son:

James J. Cathey.

"He wasn't supposed to come home this way," she said, tightening her grip on the tags, which were linked by a necklace to her husband's wedding ring.

The women looked through the back window. Then the 23-year-old placed her hand on her pregnant belly.

"Everything that made me happy is on that plane," she said.

They watched as airport workers rolled a conveyor belt to the rear of the plane, followed by six solemn Marines.

Katherine turned from the window and closed her eyes.

"I don't want it to be dark right now. I wish it was daytime," she said. "I wish it was daytime for the rest of my life. The night is just too hard."

Suddenly, the car door opened. A white-gloved hand reached into the limousine from outside - the same hand that had knocked on Katherine's door in Brighton five days earlier.

The man in the deep blue uniform knelt down to meet her eyes, speaking in a soft, steady voice.

"Katherine," said Maj. Steve Beck, "it's time."

That's but a tiny portion of the piece. I strongly encourage reading the whole thing.

Sentential Links #46

This week's links abide:

:: To be sure, the delightful irony of a race that sold Manhattan Island for $24 bucks getting some of its own back from the Budweiser-bloated Bermuda shorts set is not lost on me, but that's not the sort of city I want to live in. Let the chumps go somewhere else to be fleeced. Let them go to Biloxi, or Davenport. Duluth, or Thackerville. There's no shortage of places to go to gamble, a fact that speaks volumes about the credulity of the American public-- we really don't need to have it here. (There's an anti-casino argument I haven't heard advanced much. To be honest, I don't see how a casino is going to do anything but hurt things here. Taking city land off the tax rolls, give the city a pittance of slot machine revenue, in all likelihood not spur any significant development that wouldn't happen anyway, enrich a few Indians but not much else, establish a casino that really won't be much of a tourist attraction since just about everybody lives within a few hours of a casino anyway no matter where they are -- screw the casino.)

:: I know I know, cool is elusive, undefinable. But when your personal style makes the cover of THAT magazine, you got it. (I'll be keeping an eye on that mag for the "long hair and overalls" look, then! Probably in vain, but you never know....)

:: I dreamed an episode of The Dick Van Dyke show last night. (I just don't know what to add to that....)

:: Refusing to do any extras whatsoever on a film that made this large a cultural impact is hubris, and it's that attitude that continues to leave a bad taste in my mouth about the movie. (Interesting criticism of the DVD package of the movie The Passion of the Christ. I watched the film a few weeks ago, and I was surprised that the film actually seemed less visceral than its reputation holds, and that Gibson apparently fell in love with slow-motion at some point, since I'd guess that a quarter of the film is shot that way. As a movie, it didn't move me one way or the other -- it was just kind of "there". Oh, and I hated the music.)

:: I am going to castrate the developers at Mircosoft and Apple. (Isn't there a whole club of people who want to do that? They could all get jackets!)

:: Anyhow, I got to thinking about which towns will never, ever have a vehicle model named after them; the kind of towns with a weird name that doesn't conjure up the kind of imagery that, say, Malibu or Seville does. (Go check out the ones he came up with, and add some yourself. For myself, I'd love to mosey about down behind the wheel of my trusty Tonawanda!)

:: Can oatmeal be consumed during Passover?

:: And poor Judas has been so reviled that no one will even name their dog Judas. He has been portrayed as this evil man, when even the gospels tell of his remorse. He did kill himself over it, after all. I'd say he was pretty damned sorry.

:: I speak to my wife nearly every day while I'm at work. It helps keep the relationship hot and steamy when we make sure to discuss the consistency of our boys' bowel movements and whether or not the living room furniture has acquired any more permanent stains in the past day.

:: Moreover, I've never seen anything supporting the idea that people who don't go to classical music concerts or who are ignorant of classical music don't do so because they think it's elitist or the music of a superior intellectual or culture class. (Exactly!)

:: Lately I've been reading of concerns that Lost is being plotted one episode at a time rather than with a long-range story planned. Yet this off-the-cuff creation is celebrated in jazz improvisation. (I stopped watching Lost a few episodes in because it just seemed directionless, but I'm not sure that the jazz metaphor is the best one, since even in jazz the improv is melodically based and revolves pretty strictly around the chart's chord progressions.)

All for this week. Tune in next week to hear someone say...well, something.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Sorry for the lack of content, folks, but in addition to some domestic stuff like picking up our sorry excuse for a living room, I had Firefox go belly-up for some strange reason, which forced me to re-download and re-install it. Back tomorrow. Look for "Sentential Links" then.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


I linked a QuickTime version of this a while back, but I found it today on YouTube: the classic "Mahna Mahna" skit from The Muppet Show.

To me, this one skit perfectly illustrates the utter genius of Jim Henson and company in the 70s. Here we have two pink muppets who seem female, although there's not really anything that indicates them as such (unless it's just that they're pink and they have giant eyelashes), singing a jazzy little tune -- and then in wanders a hippie-looking muppet with a beard, wild-ass hair, and shades for eyes, who tries repeatedly to derail the jazzy tune with something more rock-like, only to be worn down as the two pink ladies just look at each other and shake their heads every time the hippie breaks into his scat singing.

What gets me is that these two pink ladies, aside from being able to flex their mouths for enunciation of their song (whose one word is "doot"), have absolutely no other means of expression or movement. Their arms can't move, their eyes never waver from a bug-eyed stare -- and yet their reactions to the wandering hippie are always clear. It's all achieved through nothing but the way the muppets are moved by the "muppeteers". The humor of the sketch is achieved entirely through body language.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

This is probably not safe for work, but it just cracked me up repeatedly: a blog devoted to investigating the phenomenon of really attractive women being in the company of guys who are, well, a bit dorky.

(And no, I'm not discounting the possibility that I'm one of those dorky guys.)

Jed: The Final Days

Well, the Bartlet Administration is in its final days as it witnesses its transition period with President-elect Santos, who somehow managed to get elected despite picking an admitted alcoholic and drug addict with a history of heart trouble as his running mate, and then seeing that same running mate dying of a heart attack on Election Day. Luckily, he was able to pull out a squeaker of an election by carrying Texas and defeating a Republican nominee who had somehow won his party's nomination despite being a pro-choice non-church goer. Well, who ever said that TV needed plausibility? All that stuff is no less plausible than all those times Data or Wesley managed to save the Enterprise by reversing the flow of dekyon particles from the ship's Bussard collectors*.

Nothing much to say about the show, really, except that it just occurred to me that it would be funny if the very last scene of the last episode had President Santos, on his first day in office, sitting down at the Resolute Desk, taking a deep breath...and then a knock at the door:

SANTOS: Come in!

MANDY walks in, looking dissheveled and holding some kind of incredibly thick report.

MANDY: Mr. President, I know it's taken a while for me to get this done, but I've been working real hard in the basement on it and...I'm sorry, who are you?

Fade out.

Yeah, I know, it's lame. But then, I'm a guy who came away from the last episode of Happy Days wondering whatever happened to Chuck Cunningham.

* When he got the notice from Starfleet Academy that Wesley was to leave the ship and actually, you know, earn a spot in Starfleet by actually attending the Academy, do you suppose Captain Picard went alone into his ready-room and said to himself, "My God, I gotta fly this thing by myself? We're all f***ed!"?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Contraceptives for Me, but not for Thee

Another thing I suddenly thought of regarding the whole "Pharamacists versus Morals" thing: I read, a while back, that the Target Corporation was actually going to allow its pharmacists to behave in this moralizing way.

Funny thing is: even while a Target pharmacist could be denying the pill to women, the Target health products section -- which is not run by the pharamacists -- carries condoms.

Tell me again how this isn't about punishing women and paternalistic moralizing.

An Easter Interrogative

After he rose from the dead, why didn't Jesus appear to Caiaphas and say something like, "Here is the Temple I have rebuilt"?

Buffalo in the Spring

It appears that spring has finally arrived in Buffalo, pretty much when it always does: mid-April, when the temperatures start reliably hitting the 60s more often than not and we get to see that big yellow thing in the sky more often than not.

I've long maintained that spring is Buffalo's worst season, seeing as how it's more of a gray and muddy two-month segue from winter to summer, but it is nice when the spring weather that the rest of the country is enjoying finally blossoms here.

Up for today: finding an Easter bunny, so we can take part in the pagan parts of the ritual celebration of Easter. And then, some laundry. Tomorrow, we take part in the non-pagan ritual celebration of Easter. And then, some ham and more laundry. And maybe a walk in the sun or something similar.

(And if I could trust these lumbering oafs in cat-form whom I actually suspect are some kind of fiendish crossbreed of a Siamese cat with an Irish setter to not push out the screens, maybe I could even open our windows more than an inch or two.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Maybe we should license Internet surfers?

Steven Den Beste reported something amusing in his referral logs. In a political debate that cropped up on this message board, a poster tries to draw a historical analogy in defense of George W. Bush:

May I remind people that Teddy Roosevelt was promptly despised and voted out of office after winning WW1.

And this person apparently hails from Texas. I guess that was one child that got left behind.

Thank God for the Moral Guardians

Via Bitch Ph. D I note a new wrinkle in the thing about pharmacists refusing to fill certain prescriptions to women, such as the "morning after" pill, birth control, and other women's health drugs, on "moral" grounds: now they may be refusing to fill prescriptions for drugs they do actually carry because they don't approve of the medical professional writing the script.

What nauseating rubbish that is. And I really wish reporters covering stories like these would ask these moralizing pharmacists if they fill men's prescriptions for Viagra.

And frankly, the argument that pharmacies are businesses and businesses should be allowed to decide for themselves what products they'll sell is crap. Yes, pharmacies are businesses -- but they're not like the corner 7-11, and this isn't like Wal-Mart deciding to not stock nudie rags in the magazine section. Pharmacists are medical professionals who have to undergo a lot of schooling to attain their license, and there are ethical guidelines for medical professionals. If you don't want to fill certain prescriptions, then don't become a pharmacist. It's that simple.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Buffalo Bills?

Over at Random Thoughts, the question is posed: Will the Bills still be here in five years?

Honestly, I don't know. If the Western New York economy is still something resembling then what it is now, then I'd suspect they're gone unless something very dramatic happens -- say, a Tom Golisano/Tim Russert partnership buys the team. But there will be a new Governor next year, and the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan seems to alternate between heady optimism for the city's future and a sense of fatalistic doom for same, so...I don't know.

I'd pose a follow-up question, though: If the team does get moved, will you still follow the fortunes of the franchise?

And still one more follow-up: How will you react if the Bills leave town and then win a Super Bowl within two or three years of leaving?

A retroactive gripe

I forgot to bitch about this a few weeks ago, but a few Thursdays back, one of our fine local TV stations ran promos all night about "an animal that has escaped from the Buffalo Zoo! Details at eleven!"

And I'm thinking, Cool!. So I dutifully tuned in at eleven, to hear all about the terror of the beastie on the loose, our mighty wayward...

(wait for it)


Man, talk about a letdown. A peacock was on the loose. If you want to see a peacock on the loose, just go to the Toronto Zoo -- they just let their peacock wander freely around the grounds, and it's about as threatening as a sleeping Ernest Borgnine.

I, of course, was envisioning that the escaped animal was an underfed Bengal tiger. Who'd maybe found his way into a school. A school for the blind.

Yeah, that would have been a show.

Stupid news promos: "If it bleeds, it leads -- unless we got nothin' in the 'bleeding' department, in which case we grab something that we can make people think might bleed."

(And for you Buffalo viewers: how thick do you think that stack of e-mails they keep displaying on Channel 2 will get before they stop having Scott Levin hold it up every night as a display of our public outrage about the tolls on the 190? I'm thinking, four and a half inches.)

Exploring the CD Collection #13

Resurrecting a series....

Alexander Borodin: String quartet #2 in D major
Bedrich Smetana: String quartet #1 in E minor, "From My LIfe"
The Cleveland Quartet

As I've noted in this space before, as much as I love classical music, there are great whacks of it with which I am almost completely unfamiliar. By far the largest of these realms is the giant category known as "chamber music". I've always adored the large-scale symphonic works -- as might be expected by my now-nearly twenty year obsession with Hector Berlioz -- but the smaller scale works for small ensembles just seem to always elude my interest.

Actually, "elude my interest" isn't even a fair way to put it. It's not that I'm not interested in chamber music, it's that my other musical interests so outweigh my putative chamber music interest that I just end up continually putting the chamber stuff off for another day. Well, I've started to slowly rectify that a bit. After all, it's not as if I'm totally adverse to the small ensemble; much of Celtic music is performed by groups of precisely the scale one normally encounters in classical chamber music.

I've started with the string quartet, which is arguably the "basic" chamber ensemble, in that more music has been composed for the string quartet, much of it by the great masters, than anyone else. I actually got to hear a local string quartet live at my church's Christmas Eve service, and I was struck by the warmth of the ensemble, the singing tone that comes from the seamless blending of four distinct voices.

Why start my quartet collection with this disc, with one quartet each by Borodin and Smetana? Well, I can't lie: it was cheap, for one thing. Budget-price CDs are a good thing. For another, I want to save, for now, the "Mount Olympus" of string quartets (the ones by Beethoven, especially the later ones, of which I have heard naught but superlatives over the years). I've always responded well to the Russian Nationalist composers of the nineteenth century, and I already had a small familiarity with the Borodin quartet in D owing to its use in the James Bond film The Living Daylights. (Yeah, so what? The Bond girl was a cellist in that movie. It makes sense.) And yes, the Borodin quartet is a wonderful example of Russian Romanticism in music. I've already listened to the Borodin twice. It's absolutely captivating.

I've only listened to the Smetana partway through, so I can't comment much on it as of this point, except to note that it too has been used in an espionage movie: Sneakers. Small world, eh?

One thing of special interest with regard to this particular recording: at the time it was made, in 1990, the Cleveland Quartet was performing with the "Paganini quartet" instruments. These were four instruments -- two violins, a viola, and a cello -- owned by the great violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini in the 1800s, and made by none other than Antonio Stradivari in the 1600s. (These instruments are now being used by the Tokyo String Quartet.) Of these four instruments, it's the viola that is of particular interest to me.

This is the viola that, upon its acquisition, inspired Paganini to commission a work for viola and orchestra from Hector Berlioz. The resulting work, Harold in Italy, was Berlioz's second symphony. Paganini never played it, judging the work not virtuosic enough; I've always found it surprising that Paganini didn't realize in the first place that Berlioz was not particularly well suited to a concerted work. But even though Paganini didn't perform the work, he did eventually hear it -- and judged it so fine that he gifted Berlioz with 20,000 francs. Without that monetary gift, it's unlikely that Berlioz would ever have composed Romeo et Juliet -- which is my favorite Berlioz work.

So when I was listening to this CD, I was listening to the very viola that set in motion, almost 170 years ago, a chain of events that resulted in two of Berlioz's greatest masterpieces.

There's just so much synchronicity to be found in the following of classical music.