Thursday, June 29, 2006

For Jor-el so loved the world that he gave....

So I saw Superman Returns last night.

I thought it was a terrific entertainment, a wonderful time, and I loved it. Seriously: this movie felt like a warm, fuzzy blanket for the eight-year-old geek who lives inside me. But wow, it could have been utterly great. In the film's zeal to recreate the magic of the 1978 Richard Donner film, it missed a number of opportunities. But it was so damned cheerful in missing those opportunities that most of me is saying, "Meh, who cares? They can do all that next time."

(Spoilers follow, by the way. I make no effort to pussyfoot around stuff, so if you're trying to preserve a "virgin" Superman experience, don't read this post.)

OK. Spoiler time, in "grab-bag" bullet-point style:

:: This is twice in a week that I've seen a movie that took its sweet time telling its story. (Cars was the first. I'll post about that one in a day or two.) And you know what? I found it really refreshing. Superman Returns involved me in its world, pulled me in, and held me there for a while. So many times I get the feeling that movies want to shake me up a bit and then toss me out into the street, like a really fun roller coaster for which you wait ninety minutes in line for a ride that lasts two minutes.

I'm probably the ideal person for whom this movie was made: for me, the 1978 Superman film sets the icon of Superman in stone. That's how I view the character, it's how I envision Krypton and Smallville and Lex Luthor and all the rest of it. This movie goes to occasionally astonishing lengths to recapture that "world", instead of just coming up with a totally new retelling of the Superman story. I liked that, a lot. In terms of influence on my love of the fantastic, Superman: The Movie is very close to Star Wars with me, so much so that I'm more interested in that movie than the character of Superman in general. When DC Comics relaunched the character in the late 80s with John Byrne's Man of Steel series, my basic reaction was, "Well, OK" -- even though it postulated a Clark Kent who'd actually been allowed to play high school football.

So if you can take or leave Superman: The Movie, you may not get what Superman Returns is attempting.

:: Brandon Routh was perfectly fine as Superman. I would have liked to have seen less of "Clark Kent, bumbling buttoned-down nerd", though.

:: Lex Luthor's plot makes absolutely no sense, of course. But I liked that he's still obsessed with real estate. (In the 1978 film, did he really think that if he'd succeeded in knocking California into the Pacific, the US Government wouldn't have seized all that land he'd just bought under eminent domain? That's the kind of stuff you're not supposed to think about in a Superman movie.)

:: In the Batman movies, it's always blatantly clear that Gotham doesn't exist anywhere. It's a totally fanciful creation. (I haven't seen Batman Begins in its entirety, so I can't vouch for Gotham in that film.) But Metropolis is different, isn't it? In the first four Superman films, Metropolis is clearly New York City. Superman and Lois Lane fly over the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty; there are aerial shots of Manhattan; one sequence takes place in Grand Central Station; and so on.

But in Superman Returns, the "Metropolis as NYC" angle is no longer there. It took me a while to realize it, but that isn't Manhattan in this movie. In fact, it isn't any city. It's a pure digital creation, and it looks totally real, for the most part.

I wonder if director Bryan Singer made it this way in order to visually deflect the inevitable question of whether 9-11 happened while Superman was away.

:: The Kid didn't bother me. He did pretty well, actually, and I am supremely grateful that the script didn't give the kid a "Wesley saves the Enterprise" moment, except for the single moment when he kills a baddie with a piano. Still, I hope that The Kid isn't a centerpiece for the plots of future Superman movies.

The way Superman echoes to his son the last things that Jor-El said to him, as a baby on Krypton before being launched into space, was a wonderful moment.

:: Still on the Kid: the manner in which he ends up captive along with Lois Lane may well rank among the top five stupidest things I've ever seen a movie character do. Jee-bus, Lois, get a friggin' clue.

:: Loose threads department: so, did Superman push the Growing Hunk o' Kryptonite into the sun, or is that thing now in the Solar System too? Is it still growing? Will its orbit bring it periodically close enough to Earth to disrupt Superman's powers? Will that thing be a plot point in future movies?

:: Frank Langella was terrific. And he also appears to have really long fingers. (The things you notice!)

:: When Superman first arrives on the scene again, after the plane rescue, he stands there and basks in the glory. Heavens, he seems to enjoy it. What happened to the "Don't thank me, we're all part of the same team!" guy? And what was up with the scene in which he's pretty much of a Super Stalker, spying on Lois's family? The subtext there was pretty creepy, if you ask me.

:: OK, here's the thing. Lots of made of how hurt Lois Lane was that Superman went away for five years, but what about the world? Wouldn't people be resentful? They've just awarded Lois Lane a Pulitzer for telling the world that they don't need Superman, after all.

And how did he leave, anyway? Did he make an announcement to the world, or did he just up and go, leaving everyone to figure out that he'd gone when the crime rate in Metropolis suddenly went up? There's a whole interesting tale to be told not in Superman's return, but in his absence. None of that is here.

:: Finally, how much of the continuity from the original films are in play? It's pretty clear that the events of Superman II happened, so are General Zod and friends still around?

:: Over on the FSM boards, lots of people are burning the score for this film in effigy, but I rather enjoyed it. I liked hearing the "Growing Up" theme from the first film, especially since it's one of John Williams's most gorgeous melodies and it only occurs in one scene of one movie. I also loved how John Ottman scored this film's "Superman and Lois flying" sequence -- since Lois is now resisting her attraction to Superman, it made perfect sense to me that the music for this sequence kept referencing the classic "Can You Read My Mind" love theme without coming out and giving it a full-throated statement.

I'm strangely conflicted about Superman Returns. Part of me sees lots of problems with it, while another part was just so damned satisfied with it! Strange.

Now, if we can just get that Wonder Woman movie....

(Oh, and I saw a trailer for Spiderman 3. It pisses me off that apparently they have enough footage to make a trailer that good, and still we have to wait until next May for the damn movie. Yeesh.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sentential Links #54

At last, it's that time again for a short hop around Blogistan, or at least my little sector of it.

:: The more naive members of the environmental sector have been suckered into this line of thinking, too -- especially the college kids, who imagine we can just divert x-amount of acreage from Cheez Doodle production and re-direct it to crops devoted to making liquid fuels for Honda Elements. They need to get some alt.brains.

:: The media is guilty of publishing stories which might harm the political interests of the President, not which could harm the national security of the United States. But Bush supporters recognize no such distinction. Harming the "Commander-in-Chief in a time of war" is, to them, synonymous with treason. Hence, we have calls for the imprisonment of our national media for reporting stories which tell terrorists nothing of significance which they did not already know, but which instead, merely provoke long-overdue democratic debates about whether we want to be a country in which we place blind trust in the administration to act in total secrecy.

:: No one has challenged these stories or other similar ones on any major point of fact; to the contrary, the reporting is widely viewed as being entirely correct on the main issues, and further revelations have confirmed their accuracy. So the crime -- and remember that Barone and others are speaking of crimes here -- is that the press is reporting stories contrary to the administration's wishes.

:: This ought to finally convince the liberals and the MSM of the dire threat that Saddam presented in the fall of 2002. (I'm convinced!)

:: Let’s clear this up once and for all: cowboys are gay. Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. Hobbits, on the other hand, just like going on extended backpacking holidays with their live-in male gardeners, during which they exchange soulful and significant glances and cry and hug and say “oh, Sam!” in a way which, if they were cowboys, would be totally gay, but, seeing as they are hobbits, just totally isn’t. Then the gardener marries the girl from scene 2 who didn’t get any lines, and then Frodo, the confirmed bachelor, goes on a permanent boating holiday with a bunch of “elves”. Dead butch behavior if you ask me.

:: Talking on a cell phone while driving is like mixing Valium and Jack Daniels – not a good idea. (I don't even own a cell phone, and I've already decided that text messaging was invented by the f***ing Devil. Seriously, folks -- nothing is so important that you have to sit there typing on this tiny-assed keyboard to someone else to say it, and it's certainly not important enough to do while walking in public.)

:: On reading the WEST WING Scriptbooks, you come to realise that the legends about Aaron Sorkin are true. Specifically, the one about directors having to lean on the actors to speak faster. (I was crushed the other day to discover that for some reason, the interactive tour of the West Wing White House set on the Season Two DVD doesn't work on my player. Dammit!)

:: What is with JKR? Does she get so lonely writing away in her study that she feels the need to pop out on occasion wailing "Death, Death!" (Well, it's kind of like what the big comic book companies used to do -- whenever there'd be a Big Massive Storyline in the offing, they'd preface it by assuring us of the forthcoming tale's gravitas by promising that characters would die. It got to the point where the most effective deaths in comics weren't presaged at all, like when Detective Jean DeWolff was bumped off in Spiderman.)

:: Every day is like a kid’s drawing, offered to you with a strange mixture of ceremoniousness and offhand disregard, yours for the keeping. Some of them are rich and complicated, others inscrutable, others barely more than a stray gray mark on a ragged page. Some of them you manage to hang on to, though your reasons for doing so often seem hard to fathom. But most of them you just ball up and throw away.

All for this week.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Sorry, folks, but I'm bushed this evening. I assisted with a Big Special Project at The Store today, which required my presence there at 5:00 a.m. So right now my impetus for blogging is consists of little more than staring slack-jawed at the computer, clicking the mouse, and keeping that glob of drool from plummeting from my mouth to the tabletop. So I'll be doing Sentential Links tomorrow, when I have a bit more wind beneath my sails.

For now, just a couple items:

:: Man, is anyone else out there a new user who finds the whole thing a tad creepy? The only reason I signed up was to basically stick a link from there to here, on the off chance that any old friends with whom I've lost contact over the years are also MySpace users. Hasn't turned out that way, really. I've added some people who have requested "friend" status, but I'm wondering why I bothered, because I have yet to see a single hit in my referrals from MySpace. And one person actually phrased his friends-request to me that I seem cute and funny, which baffled me because "cute" isn't generally something that guys cite about other guys, and this person's profile indicates that he is straight. Can it be that he looked at my name and my long hair in the photo and assumed that I'm a woman? Aieee!!! Granted, my beard isn't all that prominent in the photo I use there, but my profile clearly indicates that I'm male and my blurb-thing refers to The Wife. Color me confoozled. Anyway, MySpace doesn't strike me as being terribly useful or even much fun, aside from my ability to search out folks who attended my high school and college. It's certainly not going to replace my Blogger account, by any means.

:: Scotty has details on BloggerCon Episode IV: Bloggers in the Park. Check out his suggestions and comment. Our shelter will be near the hill from which the view of the Buffalo-Niagara region is spectacular, so hope for a non-humid day so the view will be special! I've already stated that I'll bring a lot of plates, cups, utensils, and napkins; and I'll also use this event as my reason to thaw out the Polish sausage that's sitting in my freezer.

(I should note that, during the height of the recent Sabres playoff run -- before the Injury Gods decided to set up permanent camp in HSBC Arena -- I thought it would be wicked cool if somehow we could convince a Sabre or two to drop by the BloggerCon, with the Cup. That would have been the coolest thing ever.)

:: Another article in the News today about Niagara Falls International Airport as an air cargo hub. I would love to see this happen. It would be a beginning to a new industry in this region. I read a few weeks back about shipping from Canada becoming more important in the future, because the Port of Halifax will become a major port in itself by virtue of that most quintessential of reasons for economic development: geography. The harbor at Halifax is the deepest harbor north of Virginia, apparently. That will become important as cargo ships get bigger and bigger.

:: Sean is a fan of Lenox Tools. I'm unfamiliar with them -- but I lean back in my chair, twirl my ten-in-one Klein screwdriver in my hand, and scoff at Sean's measly six-in-one. Heh! (Kidding aside, it's more than worth the money to buy good tools and keep them clean than to keep buying cheap tools when the old ones break or wear out. And yes, I'm becoming a tool nerd. How did that happen!)

:: Notes from the childhood: while idly surfing the Web last week, I happened upon a site devoted to an eatery my family used to occasionally visit when we lived in Portland, OR. Imagine a Chuck E. Cheese-type joint with a giant pipe organ and a guy who'd come out intermittently to play it, and you had the Organ Grinder:

There's no easy way to describe this late, great pizzeria. The exterior resembled a spaceship owned by a clown with a fetish for custom design work. The interior recalled Hunter S. Thompson's fever dreams of Las Vegas' Circus Circus casino, sans high-wire wolverines.

I can't say I remember the place terribly fondly; it was a nifty joint we went to once in a while. I always figured that was because the place was on the other side of town from where we lived, but now that I see what a bare-bones affair at Chuck E. Cheese costs, I have other suspicions as to why the Organ Grinder was never a staple of dining out for us. More regular destinations were joints called "Pizza Caboose" (railroad themed; lots of fun there) and the Sunshine Pizza Exchange, which I don't much remember except for...nah, I don't much remember it. I don't even know why I remember the name.

:: What the hell is going on in Left Blogistan these days? Everyone's talking about whether or not left-wing bloggers take orders from Markos Moulitsas or some such thing. WTF?!

:: "Erasing the Smell of Sci-Fi":

Sean Maher, who played Simon Tam, the ship's doctor, in both Firefly and Serenity, also once tried to dodge the sci-fi stench. He told a Scottish newspaper that "I feel like Firefly and Serenity are their own genre. It's not science fiction so much as it's about humanity and characters and dynamics between people."

So, if it's got dynamic characterizations and solid storytelling, it therefore can't really be SF? Well, shit. I'm waisting my reading time, then.

That's all the blogging from me today. More tomorrow.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

This Halloween, why limit your decorations to fake tombstones in the lawn, orange lights, jack o'lanterns, and plastic skeletons? Get yourself a corpse!

(No, they're not real. I wouldn't link something like that.)

The Dawning of a New Era -- 2003!

It seems that the Buffalo News might be looking at relaunching its Web operation, which has long been an absolute joke. Alan and BuffaloGeek both comment on this today. I say, Great -- although I have to note that this potential "new portal" frankly sounds a lot like, which has been in existence in its current state for several years. They've got blogs and RSS and all that good stuff already, while the News is still operating its crappy, hard-to-navigate, not-updated-until-midmorning 1998-era website.

It is heartening, a little, to see that Margaret Sullivan's article mentions blogs without stopping to say "Hey, there's these new website thingamajig's called 'blogs'!", which used to be the only way the News would approach Blogistan. And it's even more heartening to see Jennifer actually quoted in a story that just treats her blog for what it is: a resource that pertains to the story in question. This, I think, is when we know that blogs have started to really become effective: when newspaper articles can cite them in a way that assumes that the readership already knows what the hell a blog is. Now that is progress.

(And while the News now apparently has clickable URLs in its online versions of articles, there's still a lot of ineptitude there. The story that links Jen's blog also has a sidebar, here, which can't be accessed at all from the Web version of the article; and neither can the main article be accessed via the sidebar, if you come to the sidebar first. If you're reading the News online exclusively, you might well never realize these two articles are meant to go together. Whoever the News is paying to do their website had better be really worried about the possibility of the News finding out just how ineptly the job has been done, lo these many years.)

"Still haven't found what I'm looking for...."

Everyone who blogs sooner or later discovers that people will arrive on our blogs through some really whacky Google searches. It's one of the big "given" facts about Blogistan -- people are looking for really weird stuff, and so doing, find us. Lots of times we'll report on the weirdest of these searches that show up in our referrers, too, and share a hearty laugh.

But like anything, we get a bit jaded, and the longer we blog, the more prosaic the weird search-engine hits get, until it takes a truly bizarre one to make us take notice. And I had three of these just this morning!

First off, there's our wedding pictures luther college 02. I'm sure I've mentioned Luther College at some point in my archives, as Luther was the big rival of my own alma mater, Wartburg College, which is why this blog ended up in those search results. But what caught my eye here is the "our wedding pictures" bit, as though the searcher assumes that Google is so all-knowing as to know who the searchers are and thus isolate their wedding pictures as opposed to some other person's wedding pictures from Luther. It would be like me searching for "who directed my favorite movie", and expecting to receive the answer "George Lucas". (Actually, I've just tried this out just for kicks. Luckily, it doesn't answer "George Lucas", which would have really creeped me out.)

Then there was the really funny one: i hate jason and i hope he dies because he is a dummy and nobody likes him and he touches himself at night ewwwwww. It's OK, Jason, whoever you are. I got your back. (And in the "it's a small world" category, I note that while I'm the number one hit for this search, number two is Sgt. Stryker, who was a participant in Idol Tongues over at A Small Victory last season. Cool!)

And finally, we have someone who apparently is unaware of the order in which George Lucas made the Star Wars movies, because they arrived here wondering does Anakin Skywalker die in revenge of the sith. The answer, of course, is yes, he does -- from a certain point of view.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Making the Right sound Right!

A few years ago I did a post wherein I took a lengthy Steven Den Beste post and ran it through Babelfish, translating it to Japanese and then back into English. The results were...odd, to say the least. (This was when "Shorter SDB" was all the rage.) Well, I remembered that post out of the blue a short while ago, and I figure, why not make a regular game of it for a while?

So, every once in a while I'll take a bit of a post from a right-wing blog and translate it to Japanese and then back into English. So we'll start with one of my favorites, John Derbyshire. (This is the guy who believes that women peak, in terms of physical attractiveness, at puberty.)

Original passage, in which Derb insists that the data still doesn't support global warming and that what we have here are scientists propagandizing:

On the point about climate scientists misbehaving and politicking—what's surprising? There is stuff we know for sure, where the data all points one way, and the theory has passed every observational test we can think up. There is stuff we are less sure about. There is stuff totally fuzzy—like, trying to measure the overall mean temperature of the earth to a fraction of a degree, and then repeat the measurement for the earth of 50 or 100 years ago. The data points in all directions. Naturally scientists, who are human beings, will favor the direction that suits their inclinations and preconceptions, and propagandize on that basis. If the data gets clearer, the ones proved wrong by it will fall silent, or face the ridicule of their peers. That's how it goes when the science is real fuzzy. It doesn't tell you anything about science at large. A water molecule is still two hydrogen atoms, one oxygen. Moving electric charges still generate magnetic fields. The earth still goes round the sun. Human beings still evolved from nonhuman predecessors. E still equals M C squared. We know these things, and lots of other things, to as high a degree of certainty as it is possible to know anything outside our own sensations. Is anthropogenic global warming going on? That we do not know.

This passage, enhanced:

The point and unexpected politicking what immoral behavior concerning the scientist of the climate which the ? ? is? The data everything points to one-way, theory being the place where it passes to all observation tests which we can think, there are raw materials where we have known because truly. We to be less are secure approximately raw materials. The raw materials completely like ambiguity, it repeats, there are times when extensive intermediate temperature of the earth is measured in one part and next 50 try the measurement for the earth of 100 years before. Datum points of all directions. The scientist who is the human naturally their inclinations and supports the direction which is suited for preconception, advertises in the foundation. If the data becomes clearer, the thing it goes down by mistake with that, it proved silently, or coldhearted of the equal person die and face. That is science goes substance is ambiguous with how. As for that being large, concerning science you do not inform with anything. The water molecule is two hydrogen atoms, 1 oxygen still. Portable electric charge generates the magnetic field still. The earth goes still around the sun. The human made develop from the predecessor who still is not the human. As for E it is a match to M C where still square it is done. As for us as for in precision having known with anything when they are our itself feelings outside possibility, you know these things and many of other thing, in the same way high. It is and continues terrestrial warming which receives the influence of the mankind? We do not know.

Yup, makes more sense to me!

A tomb by the sounding sea

Over the years I've been maintaining this blog, one constant has been that I get lots of search engine hits for commentary on the poem "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe, which I wrote about way-back-when. Now, via Erin, I find a blog by another who loves this poem, who has written her own commentary on it and who has just become engaged.

Congrats to her, a complete stranger who also enjoys Poe.

I'm surprised they didn't make Shatner more "buff"....

I didn't know this, but apparently a few years ago Paramount kicked around the notion of "updating" Star Trek (The Original Series) (hereafter referenced as "TOS"), by giving the show's visual effects the George Lucas treatment. They clearly abandoned this idea, but some prep work for the project was done as a trial-balloon by two different SFX outfits, and you can see portions of their results here and here. They're both clips of the classic episode "The Doomsday Machine". (I prefer the first one, myself.)

For those who aren't geeky enough to know their classic Trek episodes by title, "The Doomsday Machine" is the one where the Enterprise happens upon the wreck of its sister ship, the Constellation, whose crew is dead except for her commanding officer, Commodore Matthew Decker, who is rambling about some kind of horrible "planet killer". Of course, the "planet killer" turns out to be all too real: a gigantic cigar-shaped automaton that does nothing but go around destroying planets and powering itself with the remains. It's speculated that this machine is a doomsday weapon that had been unleashed by an alien race locked in a devastating war, and that the planet killer had performed its job all too well*. The episode is one of the most memorable of TOS: I watched it on a VHS tape I checked out of the library a year or so ago, and it was still absolutely riveting, right down to that classic Trek chestnut of the transporter malfunctioning at a very inopportune moment. (For all the fun-making of William Shatner's scenery-chewing over the years, his matter-of-fact delivery of the line "Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard" is classic.)

Anyway, how do the "new" effects look? Well, it's not as jarring as I had expected. I figured it would just look horrendously bad, but they really seem to have made an effort to stick with the basic look of TOS, and simply provide better-looking planets and some new ship movements and "camera angles" in outer space that weren't possible back in 1967. I remember reading once that the reason the Enterprise in TOS is only ever seen from its right side (think about it, and you realize it's true) is that the electrical wiring that powered the lights on the original model came in through the ship's left-hand side. That's not a concern now, obviously, so you get to see the ship from some really unusual angles. (Unusual for Trek, that is. From the standpoint of SF effects in general, none of this stuff is unusual.) You also get to see smaller effects like the Enterprise's tractor beam, some electrical fires still arcing on the wreck of the Constellation, and the like.

I'm kind of glad, though, that Paramount never went through with this, as it all seems a bit pointless. This stance feels a bit hypocritical for me, as I've never been one to complain much about the Star Wars Special Editions. But Trek TOS never really bothered me in the effects department, and it was the scripts that made the show so good, anyway. I mean, really: "Doomsday" is a great episode regardless of its effects, and other episodes -- comedies like "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "A Piece of the Action", or the stunning "City on the Edge of Forever", which to me might just be the finest episode of a TV series ever filmed -- don't rely on effects anyway.

Now, if someone wants to re-do the effects in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, that would be fine with me.

* Extra-geeky detail: a Next Generation novel that came out in the early 90s postulated that the planet-killers were devised as a response to, those ubiquitous TNG villains, the Borg. I wasn't wild about that idea; the planet-killer is a lot more creepy if its history is left totally unexplained, and there's something haunting about the idea of a civilization's sole remaining existing artifact being a horrible weapon.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"Spandex is supposed to blouse."

Roger Ebert has provided a handy list of links to pretty much every superhero movie review he's ever written. I wouldn't classify Flash Gordon as a superhero movie, but there it is.

The undependable poor

Craig may be right here when he notes that the businesses that cash checks for the poor may simply stop doing so if New York State begins to more stringently regulate the fees these businesses charge for such services, but that's neither here nor there. I'd just like to respond to something Craig writes in his post:

The Democrats (and all this type of regulation comes from them) still cling to the notion that the poor and irresponsible actually vote.

No, the Democrats still cling to the notion that the poor are people. That makes a difference.

I'll save for another day my ongoing irritation with the continual philosophical stance of those on the Right toward the poor -- i.e., "You made your bed, now lie in it and stop bothering me." I've never understood the idea that every bed is a self-made one.

The Official Hand Tool Manufacturer of This Blog!

Just a quick bit o' pimpage (for which I have not received any financial consideration, thus preserving my stance as a Blogger o' Squeaky Clean Ethicalness): at The Store, my job as late has taken me into more involved maintenance duties. As such, I've been allowed to put together a pretty impressive, if I do say so myself, collection of hand tools for the job. And by far, the best products I've found thus far come from the good folks at Klein Tools.

I've been very impressed with the workmanship of these tools, and I heartily recommend them. And if the only tool you think you need to have around is a multi-function screwdriver, Klein makes a great one of those, too. It's a ten-in-one (two Philips, two flathead, two star-head, two square-head, two nut-driver) that never leaves my person when I'm at work.

I also strongly recommend voting Democratic.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bow down before your new god!

May this bunny procreate with abundance unknown even to his prolific species. He's earned it.

Airbus jet, heh -- I got a bunny, bitches.

Sentential Links #53

[Annoying passive voice]

The drill is known by you:

[/Annoying passive voice]

:: Maybe we are approaching...something. But I can't see how we're going to get there. All I see ahead is conflict - some violent but mostly just loud, stressful, annoying conflict. On and on...forever.

:: Thinking about her tonight, it occured to me that Diane Chambers, wherever she is, working on the 15th draft of her unpublishable novel, must have a blog by now. She has the perfect temperament for a blogger. She's a know-it-all, an intellectual show off, opinionated, judgmental, endlessly self-referential, and a wee bit, um, self-absorbed? (Odd. I have a blog, and I'm none of those things. [blinks] What?)

:: In gaining what I most deeply needed, I have lost so very much.

:: Simple words, a demanding life.

:: The thrill of being on the brink of discovery is second only to being madly in love.

OK, now comes the distasteful part. The following Sentential Links all deal, in some way, with the odious and vile Ann Coulter.

:: Now look: I've been telling you all about how you, with negligible effort, can find buckets of evidence for evolution. I haven't actually recited any of that evidence yet, and that's because I and many other biologists have been telling everyone about that evidence for years: there comes a point where you have to recognize that the other side has simply put their hands over their ears and are shouting "LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA" at the top of their lungs.

:: Millions of people buy and read Ann Coulter's books and the national media repeatedly give her a platform. They represent the views of millions of Bush followers. To believe that they will just quietly fade away if they are ignored is pure wishful thinking, dangerous fantasy.

:: Coulter to "liberal": You should be killed, traitor.
"Liberal": F_ck you.
Malkin: See? The luny left moonbats are unhinged.
(Same blog as the preceding, but a different author.)

:: The Right’s best counter to the obvious and indisputable evidence that the conservative movement is rife with unhinged, hatemongering lunatics is to reinforce the fallacy that both sides are just as bad. This is patently false. And we need to start calling it for the bullshit it is every single time we hear it.

:: This self-obsessed woman seems genuinely unaware that there was a flesh-and-blood human toll taken on 9/11, people to whom it really happened, and vicarious watchers like Ann Coulter, whose experience of it came from watching it on TV, act as if it happened to them too.

There is no person in American public life whom I loathe more than Ann Coulter. Not one.

Oh well. More next week.

Save the tissue! Save the tissue! Save the tissue!

We have, in our home, a Vile Scourge against which The Wife and I have been largely ineffective. Luckily for us, we introduced to our home one Cat (well, one particular Cat), who has proved more than up to the challenge of ridding us of this Vile Scourge. And now, thanks to the unceasing vigil of the Cat, we can sleep safely again, secure in the knowledge that we are once again safe from....

....Toilet Paper.

Here's our Intrepid Feline, just after ripping the heart out of his natural enemy:

Cat versus TP

What would we do without him!

(Oh, and a Very Public Service Announcement: if you make a habit of keeping the bathroom door closed while out, in order to protect the TP supply from the Intrepid Feline, make sure that said Intrepid Feline is actually out of the bathroom before closing the door. Otherwise, the TP just doesn't have a prayer. Seriously. We're talking "hobbled cow dipped into the pirahna pool" territory here.)

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Can anyone tell me why Paul T. Riddell, who formerly had the LiveJournal residing here, has deleted his journal? If he's done blogging, fine, but is there anything worse going on? I've enjoyed his work for years, even though he always struck me as a guy with enough self-loathing for ten people.

Treasure Hunting

So I'm watching this NBC show Treasure Hunters right now, and I'm not really enjoying it all that much. It's pretty much of a pure rip-off of The Amazing Race, but after one hour, the contestants have been in four or five different locations, only stopping long enough to uncover a clue in the treasure hunt. But the clues only lead onto the next clue, and still, the show ends with everybody in the same place at the same time. So what's the point? So far the show doesn't seem to have any of the geographical love that made me get obsessive about TAR.

This show should have been designed to be non-linear. Apparently there are seven "artefacts" that eventually lead to "the treasure", but the teams are all spending each episode heading for the same "artefact". I'd rather just see them handed a bunch of clues at the outset as to where the artefacts might be in the US, and then just step back and say, "Go find them." That would be interesting.

(I'm not sure my complaint makes sense, as I've written it here. If anyone's befuddled by what I mean, leave a comment to that effect. I'm having one of those "I know what I want to say but I'm not sure how to say it just yet" moments. Normally, I'd solve this problem by not posting until I've figured it out. Sue me!)

Pardon the Dust

Blogging rule #37: When in doubt, mess around with the template. I'm going to be tinkering around with different color combinations here for a bit. Nothing major. If you experience seizures, it isn't my fault!

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I know that my general sense of fashion trends toward the eccentric, but even I have some limits. Under no circumstances will I buy these.


"Leo, were you born at the age of fifty?"

It seems that the Democratic Party has abandoned the slogan "Together America can do better" (which I lampooned here), in favor of "A New Direction for America". That's slightly better, but as Steven Den Beste points out (scroll down; it was a few days ago and SDB doesn't do the permalink thing), it can be heard as "A nude erection for America". Well, now.

I was wondering if anyone at the Democratic National Comittee had realized the phonic problem inherent in their new slogan, so I gave them a call. Sadly, I was not able to reach any of the four people I'd hoped could clarify this: I. P. Freleigh, Amanda Hugginkiss, Stu Pidass, or Heywood Jablome.

Thank God the pan does a dozen of 'em....

I've just spent over three hours baking cupcakes for The Daughter. She gets to take them into her school tomorrow to celebrate her birthday (she'll be seven!), but she wants to take both chocolate and vanilla ones since some kids don't dig chocolate, and she wants to take enough to not only distribute to her class but also to her teacher this year, her teacher last year, her principal, her gym teacher, her bus driver, her music teacher, and who knows, maybe even the custodian.

So I dug out recipes for devil's food cake and for plain white cake, whipped up a batch of each batter, and then doled them into the cupcake wrappers for baking. However, we only own one cupcake/muffin pan, and it only has a dozen "spots". And each batch of batter turns out to yield 24 cupcakes. Plus it takes half an hour to bake them. Factor in the cleaning of the mixing bowls and measuring utensils before and after each batch, plus the general slow-down in the procedure because The Daughter wanted to help (thus turning the whole job into a lesson in Baking 101), and we're over three hours in doing this job.

Oh, yeah, it's a very hot day and I've been running a 350-degree oven for three hours. Thank God for the central air.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Back in my day, we had this thing called Geocities and it was good and we LIKED it!

I've launched one of those MySpace things, here. No real need to bookmark it or check in on it on a regular basis, as my main action on the Interweb will still be right here. It's mainly there to direct people who search for me there to come over here. Because I'm sure that I've got thousands of people searching for me who can't find me. Yup. I'm both popular and obscure! Take that, Gossamer!


OK. Last week I had to replace my Norelco shaver. Not a big deal, that, but it was still thirty bucks I didn't care to spend at that moment. (Or rather, something on which I didn't want to spend that thirty bucks.)

And recently, the computer's been acting highly flakey, locking up at random intervals with no warning, necessitating a cold boot by turning the power off via the surge protector and then back on again. However, last time this happened, the subsequent reboot actually brought up a message screen reading "The system has recovered from a serious error", and when I clicked through for details, the resulting screen informed me that the culprit was something in the AOL software that was conflicting with...something else. So I followed a few more links to a downloadable AOL fix, which I then applied. Much knocking of wood, of course, but that was three days ago and I haven't locked up since. We'll see. Maybe I can keep the computer functioning until wintertime, and then upgrade for a new one.

But then, yesterday, something went awry with the digital camera. Damn it all to hell! It turned on nice and normal, but then the zoom caused something to go haywire inside, and now the viewfinder is stuck out of focus and the lens casing no longer moves in and out of the camera casing upon turning it on or off. Arrgghhhh! I've e-mailed the Olympus people about a repair estimate, but I'd really rather not have to buy a whole new camera. Yes, we still have our old 35mm film camera which works fine, but we've become spoiled by the digital one. So, depending on the price of the repair, I may just get a new digital camera. Looking at prices, I note that for not a whole lot more money than I paid for this one two years ago, I can get twice the resolution, which would be nice. My one real sticking point is that I insist on having optical zoom, because digital zoom just isn't the same. But anywhere, there would go another $150.00 or so -- and when I bought the first camera, it was a planned expenditure and I saved up for it.

So maybe we'll just revert to film for a while until I can set aside enough to make the new digital camera worth it. But it's still annoying.

My point? Hell, I don't know. I'm just ramblin'. A guy's gotta ramble once in a while, you know.

But if you poke him with a needle made of Kryptonite....

Lots of young kids, at one point or another, get a costume -- probably for Halloween -- of their favorite superhero. While it's fun to play pretend when so attired, there's the inevitable smashup of make-believe and reality when the little tykes realize that just putting on a replica of Superman's blue suit doesn't make one's muscles fill it out the way Superman's do.

Well, an enterprising toymaker has finally hit upon the solution to this problem: it's a Superman costume that comes with a battery-operated air pump that inflates the suit, so all of a sudden little seven-year-old Billy will have these gigantic, Man o' Steel-style bulging pecs, abs, deltoids, and biceps!

And of course, we can never start too early in showing young kids what blow-up dolls are all about. As Lex Luthor might say, Heh heh heh....

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I give it 98 cheers, actually

I watched the AFI's latest subjective trek through movie history last night. This year is was the "One Hundred Most Inspirational Movies", called One Hundred Years, One Hundred Cheers. You can read their rankings here. I continue to find these annual specials inspired; they're clearly not meant to be taken seriously as rankings but rather as commercials for movies that are older than whatever's on the "New Releases" section at Blockbuster.

So some random quibbles, in the spirit of not taking the thing too seriously:

:: Sorry, I don't find Saving Private Ryan, Gone With the Wind, or It's A Wonderful Life particularly inspirational at all. In fact, I think that all three are stunningly overrated. I've never understood the classic status afforded to any of these films.

:: I can never remember if these lists are geared toward specifically American films, so that would partially explain it, but I find the Lord of the Rings films to be one inspiration after another -- especially Samwise Gamgee's two great moments (his wonderful speech at the end of The Two Towers, and when he picks up Frodo whilst climbing Mount Doom -- "I can't carry it [the Ring] for you...but I can carry you!").

:: I know, I know. I said I'm not taking this too seriously. And I'm really not. Really.

So why in the hell is The Shawshank Redemption only 23rd???

:: What the hell does the AFI have against Cameron Crowe, anyway? They left Say Anything... off their list of the 100 most romantic movies, and I would have included either Jerry Maguire or Almost Famous on the "100 Cheers" list. (Elizabethtown, not so much. I liked that movie, but damn, did Crowe flirt with utter disaster all through that thing....)

:: Yup, there's Dead Poets Society, which ends with the most falsely-uplifting gesture in movie history. And yet, Mel Gibson's far superior film on a similar theme, The Man Without a Face, languishes in relative obscurity.

:: Superman. My Fair Lady. Witness. The American President. Contact. I could go on.

:: Two of the top ten feature scores by John Williams. Cool.

Lynn Sislo also comments.

Welcome to teh Internets!

Every time SDB links Dork Tower, I get a big laugh out of it, and yet, I keep forgetting to bookmark it. It's a comic strip that focuses on geek humor. Read this one first, and then this one.

Buzz? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....

Alan already made fun of it, but I can't let today's Buffalo News "Buzz" column by Mary Kunz Goldman go by without noting what may just be the worst single paragraph I've ever read in a professional publication:

Foolishly optimistic, Buzz recently approached a Metro Rail ticket machine with our round-trip fare already counted out in quarters. The machine spit back four of five quarters before we gave up and began fishing for dollar bills. Our first single came back. We fed in another. Helpless, we heard a train clattering past below. The second single came back. We were getting nowhere fast! Almost as fast as a group of about 50 eighth-graders spotted at the Allen Street station, arguing about the fare. "It's free!" some were insisting. "It's not free!" others yelled. Finally a guy walked over and told them yes, you had to pay. And they were shepherded out, still squalling, "It's free!" "It's not free!" "It's free!" Ah, life's hard lessons.

Usually when we make fun of Goldman, it's on the grounds that her tone is usually insufferably peppy and her subject matter usually insufferably trite. But here's a graf that's just plain bad, bad, bad bad bad bad writing, from the prepositional mashup of "a train clattering past below" to the hairpin turn from one whine (the ticket machine's bill accepter) to the next (a bunch of kids). Do the editors at the News not understand why they have a coffee cup full of blue pencils on their desks?

And really, "life's hard lessons"? What hard lessons? Sometimes the bill acceptor won't take your dollar? Kids tend to not know shit about stuff?

Bad writer. Very bad writer. Abysmal writer. In the words of Professor Henry Higgins (via Alan Jay Lerner): "By right, she should be taken out and hung, for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue!"

Who's bringing the beer?

Jennifer posts again about the upcoming Buffalo Blogger Con, to be held at Chestnut Ridge Park on Saturday, July 15, 2006. It's a "bring-a-dish-to-pass" kind of thing, but I'm not sure if anyone's supposed to bring charcoal or anything like that to do hot dogs or burgers or whatnot. (Which makes me think that this might be a good place for me to use those two pounds or so of Polish sausage I have in my freezer; I'd be happy to thaw it out and bring it up to the Ridge if anyone desires.)

So, Buffalo Bloggers, head on over to Jen's and leave a comment updating your status on attendance. I've already volunteered to bring plates, cups, napkins and utensils. And mega-kudos to LCScotty, who has ponied up the cash to reserve a shelter or pavilion for our use that day. Erie County thanks you for your money, Scott! I'm sure Giambra will spend it wisely!

(Oh, and Northtowners, getting to Chestnut Ridge isn't that big a deal. Just take I-90 West to where the 219 splits off, then go to the Armor-Duells exit. When off the 219, turn right and go down to the next light; turn right again and proceed directly to the Ridge. Once you're on the I-90, it's pretty much four lanes all the way to the Ridge. It's really no harder to get to than the County Fairgrounds or Ralph Wilson Stadium, so don't let the distance to Orchard Park be a factor!)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Via Jason Bennion I see that Tim Hildebrandt, one of the famed Brothers Hildebrandt, has died.

That's sad news. The Hildebrandts have been big names in the fantasy art for decades, and their most famous work is practically iconic: their poster for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. (I wrote a bit about this poster here.)

I read an interview with the Hildebrandts years ago -- in Starlog, if I recall correctly -- in which they came off as, well, happy hippie types. They spoke of a very strong artistic bond that existed between them, to the point where one would rest from working on a painting while the other simply picked up right where the other had left off. They also wrote a book, if I remember correctly, called Urshurak. I suppose I should track down a copy one of these days. It always looked pleasantly pulpy.

My own artistic tastes in fantasy tend toward people like Alan Lee, but I've long admired the work of the Hildebrandts.

Thank you, come again!

A few days ago I saw this post by Michael Blowhard, in which Michael briefly describes his efforts to cancel an AOL account he no longer wants. (He even provides a key phone number, 1-800-827-6364, which is apparently the key number to call for such business (as well as a very hard number to find, in any case).

And then today, via BuffaloGeek, I see this post on a different blog on the same subject, that goes Michael Blowhard one better: this guy actually recorded his call to the AOL operator. It's pretty breathtaking; go give it a listen, and note how at the point when Our Hero becomes exasperated enough to simply interrupt the operator repeatedly ("Cancel. The. Account. Cancel! The! Account!"), the call is only little more than halfway over.

Now, this particular operator most certainly does go way over the line in dealing with a customer -- we can all agree on that -- but what interests me isn't so much that this call shows how far customer service has fallen in today's business world, but rather what today's business world thinks customer service is.

For companies, it boils down to one simple rule: Service equals sales. Seriously, that's how companies view service today. Customer service is indistinguishable from sales, and every interaction with the customer is to be approached as an opportunity to sell.

I saw this both when I was in the restaurant business and in the telesales industry. Training materials always focused on sales, and they always couched sales as part of service. That's why you can't make a call to a customer service hotline, to any company, without hearing a sales pitch: the business people now equate sales with service.

When I worked at Pizza Hut, it was as simple as the "second pizza pricing" thing we always had. At the time, a second medium pizza on an order always cost $5.00, and a second large pizza cost $7.00. And when we were trained to make those offers, it was always presented as performing customer service, and not as sales: "If a customer orders a medium pepperoni, maybe they'd really like another one for just five bucks more! And if they don't know we offer that, by informing them -- i.e., by making a sales pitch -- we are providing them a service!" A fundamental aspect of the sales culture in American business is the idea that customers never really know what they want.

Funny thing was, at Pizza Hut, sometimes I'd put a spin on it. The regular price for a one-topping medium pizza at the time was $8.99, so if someone would call us up and ask, "What specials do you have tonight?", I might say, "Right now we're offering two medium one-topping pizzas for $13.99." See, it gets that second pizza for five bucks in there without suggestive-selling it, and it very often worked. But occasionally our phone calls were monitored by corporate for "quality assurance purposes", and invariably they'd be miffed that I didn't directly offer the second pizza for five bucks. Of course, I did offer it, in a different way -- and in fact, I did it in a better way, because my way was a perfect example of what salesfolk call "assuming the sale".

The AOL-cancellation thing is a special case. If you look in just about any book on basic sales skills (and in all sincerity, this book is pretty good, if you're looking for that sort of thing), you'll find a chapter or two devoted to "overcoming objections". This is where the "pushiness" of sales people comes from. The tactics salespeople use to overcome objections are intended to push people from the "I'm not buying" or the "I'd like to think it over" positions to signing the dotted line. So you see what the approach is that AOL takes to people wanting to cancel: they are viewing these calls not as instances in which they need to do what the customer is telling them they need, but as sales calls with the objections already predetermined. But the fundamental assumption is still there: that this customer service call can be transmogrified into a sales call.

Of course, this isn't a defense in any way of the behavior of this particular operator. He starts off OK, but when he looks up the customer's account usage history, he immediately takes a combative tone, from which he never recovers. How should he have gone about this, from the company's POV? Something like this:

REP: Hmmm...I'm showing 70 hours last month used on this account. Are you the only one using it?

OUR HERO: Yes, and I don't use it. Maybe that's AIM usage.

REP: That's probably it. Have you had any problems with the AOL software?

OUR HERO: No. I just don't want to have the account anymore.

REP: OK. I'd just hate to lose your business if it's a tech issue we could solve on our end, you know? If you prefer, sir, we do have several pricing plans that are cheaper than your current one, with fewer features available, if you wish. Would you like to step down to a cheaper, basic plan?

OUR HERO: No. I just want to cancel AOL entirely.

REP: OK. I'm sorry to hear that, but I'll process your cancellation right now. I'd just like you to know that as a courtesy to our long-term customers, your AOL e-mail address will remain available to you, through, at no expense to you at all, although you will no longer have unlimited storage space for e-mail purposes. You should receive a message at that address within twenty-four hours. Thank you for your business, and I hope AOL can serve you again in the future.

OUR HERO: Thanks.

Given the company's assumption that service equals sales, that's how it should have been done. Attempts are made to overcome objections, a pitch is made to keep the customer active, and then at the customer's insistence otherwise the rep closes out the call in a way that at least won't leave the customer angry.

However, even that isn't what we, the customers, think of when we consider the idea of "customer service", is it? That call would have gone something like this:

OUR HERO: I want to cancel my AOL account.

REP: OK, sir. Name?

OUR HERO: Bob Falfa.

REP: OK. Last four digits of the credit card you pay this account with?

OUR HERO: 0000.

REP: [clicks mouse] OK. You're done. Thanks for using AOL, Mr. Falfa.[click]

That sounds great, but it won't really happen anytime soon. Today, service equals sales, and "service" is the quoted reason behind every annoying business habit today, from AOL's cancellation maze to Toys-r-Us asking for my home phone number when I go in to buy The Daughter a box of Legos.

Monday, June 12, 2006

If it's nae Scottish, IT'S CRAP!

Via Fred, I see that the Royal Scottish National Orchestra wants Scotland to stop using "God Save the Queen" as its anthem. GStQ is a nice enough tune, but we can't really expect the Scots to sing the sixth verse with any real fervor:

Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the King!

Yup. They sure wouldn't like that, would they? So the RSNO has picked five possible replacements, and are soliciting people to listen to them and then vote for a favorite.

I've already heard most of these before -- you run into this kind of thing a lot when you listen to a lot of Celtic music -- but I wonder why they didn't offer Dougie MacLean's wonderful "Caledonia"?

(Speaking of anthems, I've never been wild about "The Star Spangled Banner". I'd personally go with "America the Beautiful" or "This Land Is Your Land". As for the big "unofficial" anthems we seem to have these days, I'm pretty tired of "God Bless America", and I could live my whole life and very happily never hear "God Bless the USA" again.)

Sentential Links #52

[Jack Bauer]

Click the link, dammit! We're running out of time!

[/Jack Bauer]

:: Focusing on ethnic cleansing of/by Indian tribes or the sad manipulation of Indian tribes in our quest for manifest destiny is neither a presuasive nor logical argument as to why the Senecas have a right to slot machines.

:: But there are other lessons. And today’s lesson was that some grown-ups are not good sports.

:: I swear, I don't think there's any other place in the world where a work crew going around filling small potholes with asphalt consists of twelve men in four trucks. (I haven't seen it that bad here, I must admit -- although we've got our own little road crew niceties. For instance: suppose some work is being done on a single bridge on an Interstate highway. One bridge only. We're talking maybe a couple hundred feet worth of roadwork. An area of about two miles on either side of the bridge will be designated a "work area", which means that the speeding tickets incurred therein are an even nicer chunk of change for the state.)

(Note to self: play with the Road Sign Generator mentioned in the above link sometime.)

:: Why is no one asking the right wingers the hard questions, like "Why do you want to damage my family?" Shove that at Bill Frist, loudly and publicly and often. I'd love to hear his answer.

:: What happens, as near as I can tell, is that through some combination of intentional partisan framing by political operatives and the press corps' pre-existing feelings toward a candidate, a narrative is born. (And many are still succumbing to that narrative, aren't they? The overwhelming reaction I hear from people regarding the prospect of Al Gore running in 2008 is, "Oh, God, not him again!", as if we'd be seeing the second coming of Michael Dukakis, as opposed to a guy who, in his last candidacy, was such a horrible candidate that he merely inspired more people to vote for him than the other guy and only lost through the combination of some shenanigans and our stupid-assed Electoral College system.)

:: This is one of the reasons why I'm optimistic about classical music -- it is doing much better on the Internet than in the record shops and in the concert halls.

:: I’ve never been a quiet person when experiencing joy or any other emotion. In fact you could truly say restraint and humility have never been my strong suits. When something wonderful happens either to me or for me, my YES! rings from the rafters [and my beloved is wreathed in smiles].

:: That is one of the wierd things about doing business. The mechanics of doing it well are interchangeable regardless of the product. You can be selling crack cocaine, or drawing pins, you still have to look after your customers and make sure you run a tight and efficient operation.

:: I think this is a winning theme for the 2006 midterm elections.

:: F*** the World Cup. (Hallelujah!)

Time to close it up. Tune back in next week for more.


Composer Gyorgi Ligeti has died. I don't know much about him, really, aside from the use of a portion of several of his works in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey:

:: Atmospheres is used as an overture to the film (before the opening titles and Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra.

:: The Requiem for soprano, mezzo-soprano, two mixed choirs and orchestra is heard during the "Dawn of Man" sequence as the monolith appears to early man in Africa.

:: Ligeti's Lux Aeterna is heard during the sequence when Heywood Floyd and a number of scientists venture out to confront the monolith on the moon.

:: The Requiem and Atmospheres are both reprised during the film's Jupiter sequences, when the Discovery spaceship arrives at Jupiter and then when David Bowman leaves the ship and travels across space and time to...wherever it is that Bowman ends up.

Many film music afficionados believe that the film would actually have been better served by the score that composer Alex North wrote for it, but I've never agreed. Stanley Kubrick may not have handled that situation tactfully (apparently he didn't tell North about his decision to stick with his original "temp track" of classical works), but I can't imagine the film without the music Kubrick eventually used. Ligeti is a big part of that.


I'll update this more later on after I've read through the information about it, but some details on Guy Gavriel Kay's next novel are available here. Looks like Ysabel will be a marked departure from the kind of thing he's written before.

(But will it have a map???)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Give me numbers.

I've just finished watching the second season of The West Wing on DVD.

This was when the show was at its best. This was when Aaron Sorkin was at the height of his powers, when the characters were still fresh enough to surprise but also well-established enough to be endearing, when the cast was really starting to become comfortable, and when the show's direction was at its best.

If you don't remember the second season, it starts with the brilliant two-parter "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen", which picks up with the aftermath of the assassination attempt on the President that concluded season one. It also established what would become a favorite trick of Sorkin's: interweaving a present-day storyline with flashbacks to past events. In "Shadow of Two Gunman", we flash back to the early days of the Bartlet campaign when the staff is still meeting one another, and in the season's final episode, "Two Cathedrals", we flash back to when Bartlet as a schoolboy met Mrs. Landingham.

I could cite specific wonderful examples from season two, as well as some glaring flaws (Mandy's disappearance was never explained; Felicity Huffman was introduced as a political rival to Toby Ziegler and then never seen again; "The Stackhouse Filibuster" was the show's first outright bad episode), but what stood out to me in watching the entire season over a few weeks was the way Sorkin and company gradually move the MS storyline to the front and center.

Again for those who don't remember the specifics, in an episode in the middle of the first season, it had been revealed that President Bartlet had been diagnosed some years earlier with Multiple Sclerosis and not divulged it during his campaign for the White House. Season two ends with a sequence of four amazing episodes in which Bartlet has to go public with his condition. But what's so impressive is that so many of that storyline's building blocks are maneuvered into place much, much earlier.

Well before the MS plotline takes center stage, it's established that the President is loathe to switch into campaign mode just two years into his first term. Republican rivals begin to take precedence. Bartlet's State of the Union address is established as an attempt by the President to move toward the political center. So well before MS is really mentioned, we're already watching the White House gearing up for a campaign.

But it doesn't end there: a whole other level of conflict is set up when it's revealed that Bartlet had made a promise to his wife before his initial election as President that, because of his disease, he would only serve a single term. Now he is leaning to break that promise, which puts marital strife in the air also well before the MS storyline heats up.

And finally, even in the course of the real meat of the MS story, the show doesn't let up anywhere else, either. In addition to that, we have a diplomatic crisis in Haiti and a domestic political hot potato in the form of the Federal Government's lawsuit against the big tobacco companies. And then things get even worse when Mrs. Landingham, the person who's been in Bartlet's life longer than anyone else (even Mrs. Bartlet), is killed in a car crash.

Watching these episodes again, I found myself getting swept away again. I'm looking forward to watching Season Three now. I haven't seen any of Season Three since those episodes first ran, and I recall the resolution of the MS tale feeling somewhat lackluster in comparison with the setup. But that may be an artifact of the times in which those episodes aired; when Season Three first aired, 9-11 had just happened and the MS storyline felt a lot less real. I also think that Aaron Sorkin started to lose a bit of steam in Season Three; that's when he started doing things like introducing fictitious countries (Qumar, Equatorial Khundu). That wonderful sense, inherent in the first two seasons, that the show depicted events that really could happen in the real world, faded away a bit when they started inventing countries out of whole cloth.

But maybe I'm being unfair to Season Three. I'll know in a few weeks.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

This may not be work-safe, but it's not pornographic or anything. It's a web-based comic strip dedicated to one particular subset of male junior-high type humor. Yes, it's all very stupid. Yes, I laughed at a few of them.

And along the same lines, here's a compilation of clips of "Sean Connery" appearing on Saturday Night Live's recurring Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Astronomers have recently determined that our galactic neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, boasts about one trillion stars. That's about two-and-a-half times as many stars as our own Milky Way.

Stuff like this really makes me miss Carl Sagan.

More broken stuff....

My Norelco shaver finally died this week. The motor still works, but something snapped inside the mechanism that drives the rotary heads, so one of the heads spins freely while the other two just sit there, not doing anything. So I had to go to Target yesterday and replace that, as well. Damn electronic doodads!

But that shaver's longevity impresses me. I got it before my sophomore year of college, back in summer of 1990, and it last all the way up to last week. That's almost sixteen years. Sure, I had to change the blades a couple of times, but it certainly can't be argued that I didn't get my money's worth out of that shaver.

Now, in terms of "continuous service", the shaver wasn't actually sixteen years old, since I grew a beard for the second half of my college career and since I've had a beard for two years now. But for the first year, and then the eleven years between college and my working at The Store, I used that shaver at least four times a week, and I still use it now to trim the beardline once or twice a week. So that shaver got used quite a lot.

I'm always amazed at the frequency with which folks replace perfectly functional items in their households. I just replaced a sixteen-year-old shaver; my toaster oven is the same age as the shaver and is still going strong; my drip coffee maker is twelve years old and still works perfectly; I still listen to music on a shelf stereo system or a Sony Discman, both of which I bought in 1995; the lamp that sat in my bedroom through high school and then went to college with me now sits beside The Daughter's bed; The Wife prepares waffles on a decades-old waffle iron that she actually acquired from her mother.

I wonder why it is that in all the articles about how to save money and stretch budgets and all that kind of thing, I rarely read this simple piece of advice: "When you buy a gadget, use it until it dies."

My God! It's like being back in...1998!

Just this morning, the scroll wheel on my mouse has decided that it's had a good run and been useful and stuff, but now it's time to give up the ghost and wander off to the great Circuit City in the Sky.

So now I gotta use my friggin' arrow keys. Talk about retrogressing technology.

I can still depress the scroll wheel and thus get the drag-and-scroll, which I suppose I'll start doing, and it'll probably feel natural after a few days, but for right now I feel like one of those American tourists who goes to Paris, checks into the hotel room, and then wonders why on Earth the toilet has a button that squirts water up. It just ain't right.

And on top of that, the computer itself has developed a tendency to lock up, requiring a BruteBoot (that's what I call clicking off the power via the switch on the surge protector) to get things going again. The machine is pushing four and a half years old, so I know it's had a good life. I suspect it'll be time to look into a new machine within a few months. If I can stretch this machine's lifetime out to, say, autumn, I'll be happy. But it doesn't do well with The Daughter's games anymore (and her games are all pretty old), the letters on half the keys are worn away from constant use (not usually a problem for me, since I've been able to type for years without looking, but it sure makes things tough for those word-verification doohickeys on many blog commenting systems), and now the scroll wheel is apparently down for the count.

Hopefully I'll be able to get a good deal, since all I'll really want is a CPU, mouse and keyboard; I won't need a monitor since that's still going strong, as is the printer. Again, I'm hoping to keep the current machine active for a while longer, with six months being ideal, but we all well know that may not work out.

(This would be the time, of course, for that super wealthy reader of mine to hit the tip jar. I've gotta have one rich reader, right? One?)

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Feel like crying? Then read this post


Maybe this will mark me as one of them unpatriotic leftie types, but I found the news of Zarqawi's death in an air raid this morning to roughly analogous to the Bills beating the Dolphins in the middle of a 7-9 season. Yes, it's welcome news; but no, it doesn't feel like any kind of major turning point.

I have a feeling this will be just another blip of good news in the middle of a long and pointless slog through a violent war on an idea that no one can really tell what it is anyway. We could have killed this guy years ago, but didn't; and you name the "turning point" in the last three years, and without exception each has turned out to not be any kind of turning point at all. "Mission accomplished", and the war goes on. Saddam is captured, and the war goes on. Every single purported discovery of WMDs turns out to be false, and the war goes on. Elections are held, constitutions are "ratified", major terrorist figures are killed -- and this bloody lunacy of a botched war goes on.

Will Zarqawi's death even prove to be a major disruption in Al Qaeda? Who knows? I'd bet not. A very evil man died this morning -- but since we're in the course of a disaster of a war that, if nothing else, is almost certain to catalyze the birth of a whole new generation of Zarqawi's, I find it hard to get all that gleeful about it.

Cool, it's open mike night! (So where's the mike?)

Man -- the last few days, when I've felt like posting something, Blogger's been down because something broke at Blogger Central Command; and when Blogger's presumably been working fine, I haven't felt like posting (or didn't have the opportunity, being at that work-type place and stuff).

Anyhow, the silence of the last few days wasn't a planned silence.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Sentential Links #52

It's that time again! Click for context. Click, or the kitten gets it.

:: At this point, asking 'what graphic novels should I read?' has become a question equivalent to 'what movies should I watch?'. There is no general answer to the latter question, not only because there is simply too much good stuff out there, but also because it depends on your taste. Where do you start with movies? 8 ½, Citizen Kane or Casablanca? Or with the latest blockbusters, the latest Oscar winners, the latest art films? Depends who you are and what you want. (Terrific post. I only wish that graphic novels weren't so damned expensive. If I buy the entire Sandman saga, all ten volumes of it, at full cover price, I will have dropped somewhere around $150. I'm constantly seeing graphic novels I'd like to read, but I find price tags like $29.95 hard to swallow. The pricing structure of graphic novels tends to put a real damper on relying on serendipity to explore the medium, and I'm a reader who loves to rely on serendipity to go from one book to the next. There's always the library, of course, but the library doesn't have all the graphic novels I'd like to read.

This is an Upstate NY blog, by the way -- its writer dwells in Ithaca.)

:: They are going to hell, of course, but only because they smell like pee.

:: It looks like Harry Reid has begun ending his e-mails with the Democrats' dreaded 2006 catchphrase: "Together, America can do better." (God, what the hell kind of slogan is that?! It makes me think of Jean Hagen's immortal line from Singin' in the Rain: "Why, I make more money than...than...than Calvin Coolidge! PUT TOGETHER!!" Personally, I'd go with something like this: "Vote Democratic in '06. Because we gotta clean this shit up sooner or later.")

:: Apparently working from the curious assumption that coffee should be a refreshing jangle rather than a muddy, hostile punch in the mouth, Nescafe recently started selling Sparkling Cafe: coffee plus carbonation. Generations of European philosophers are jittering in their graves. (Just found this blog. Can't remember where.)

:: I’m finally learning what every 12-year old farm kid from Mississippi knows. (No idea how this blog got into my bookmarks -- I blame the Dutch -- but I like it.)

:: My purpose here is to point out that June 6, 2006 is an arbitrary date in a numbering system created by man that has been fiddled and fudged with over and over again across the course of centuries. (Yup. And the arbitrary nature of our calendar is why I always got irritated with people who would sagely pronounce that "The Millennium began on January 1, 2001 because there was no year Zero!" I'm thinking, "OK, let's just say that there was a year zero. Bam, now there was a year zero. Who cares! We made the whole thing up!")

:: An African-American and a Colombian serenading a Taiwanese woman with a forty-year old song by four guys from England, in a suburb of the Nation's Capital on Memorial Day/Black Gay Pride Weekend: Welcome to The United States of America, 2006. (That is just great.)

:: There are a few reasons why Hooters hits a sore spot with women.

:: I drove to Michaels the next day and I'll be damned if the whole store wasn't full of supplies for home crafts projects. I had no idea. (Michael's rules. It's like Lowe's, only with crafts and stuff.)

:: Don’t spend your time on the bus to basic reading Sun Tzu. (A lot of people have been screwed up by reading Sun Tzu....)

All for this week. Return next week for more. Or the kitten gets it.

"Concert with attached visuals"

That metaphor is invoked in this list of twelve "noteworthy" filmscores (describing the film North by Northwest). I see this list via Scott Spiegelberg, who offers it as food for snark. But I don't see the list as all that snarkworthy, maybe because it's just called "Twelve Noteworthy Scores", which I take to mean, "Here are twelve of the better scores that have been written". Rather than snark about this list, I could as easily offer up another list of twelve noteworthy scores.

So here's another list of twelve noteworthy scores:

1. The Adventures of Robin Hood, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
2. Spellbound, Miklos Rozsa.
3. The Day the Earth Stood Still, Bernard Herrmann.
4. Spartacus, Alex North.
5. The Ten Commandments, Elmer Bernstein.
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service, John Barry.
7. Chinatown, Jerry Goldsmith.
8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, John Williams.
9. Ran, Toru Takemitsu.
9. Interview with the Vampire, Eliott Goldenthal.
10. Legends of the Fall, James Horner.
11. Quo Vadis, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
12. The Lord of the Rings, Howard Shore.

Scott also links an article about how bad film music is these days. I've read this kind of thing over and over and over again in my years in film music fandom, and nothing said here is really any different: today's composers rely too heavily on computers and keyboards, too few are classically trained in orchestration, too many are lacking in extensive knowledge of harmony and thus rely on small numbers of chord progressions, the nature of filmmaking has reduced the creative role of the composer to a staggering degree, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But then I recall other things I've read in the past: critical opinions of the music of the past, at the time when the music of the past was the music of the day. There has never been a period when you couldn't find people arguing strenuously that their own contemporary music was disastrously bad and that it had never been worse and so on and so forth, which is why I rarely take these kinds of articles all that seriously. Fifty years from now, there will be some unquestioned masterpieces of film music recognized from our era, and they will be written by composers like Elliott Goldenthal, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard (whose abilities are far in excess of the lukewarm reception his King Kong score received), Gabriel Yared, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Michael Giacchino, and others.

Of course, this particular author lost me completely when he "defies anyone to whistle a theme from any of the Lord of the Rings movies". Well, if this guy has an hour or two, I'll whistle -- well, hum, actually, since my whistling sucks -- a ton of 'em. Anyone who is going to use those particular scores as Exhibit A in their "Today's composers suck" argument isn't going to get very far with me. I consider those scores to be magnificent achievements that stand up among the great scores of all time.

Besides, "Whistle me a tune from movie X" is a stupid argument, anyway. The fact is that very, very few melodies become cultural milestones that most people can whistle or hum or recognize upon hearing. If you ask random people on the street to whistle the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, you'll probably get a pretty decent rate of success. But I'd wager that rate would drop like a rock if you then say: "OK, now whistle any of the melodies from Beethoven's Seventh." That doesn't make the Seventh a lesser work in some way. And film music is quite the same: a tune does not a filmscore make. Everybody knows those first foreboding notes of Jaws, but does anyone aside from score freaks know the "Shark Cage Fugue", which is another bit of extremely effective scoring from later in the movie?

Finally, I note that the article quotes a Warner Bros. executive who is apparently angry at the current state of film music. Well, to this executive, I'd point out that maybe if he feels that strongly about it, then maybe he could use his power in the business to stop throwing assignments at the Hans Zimmer's of the world; to stop rejecting scores simply because the movie isn't doing well in post-production; to roll back the fetishization of sound effects that drown out the music; and basically to push the pendulum back in the direction of respecting the music more. For this guy to take the "Blame the composers" position is too easy.

Is film music dying? It's certainly changing. But so is all of music, and I'm still finding gems every year. I'd rather celebrate those.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Tell me that pregnant women are scheduling inductions and C-sections in order to avoid giving birth on 6-6-06.

Actually, don't bother. I know they're doing it. But really, folks -- I know that we've come to think of C-sections as being routine, but it's a serious abdominal procedure that requires substantial recovery time and has more than a little risk involved. It's not a frivolous thing to be done for reasons of vanity or half-assed superstition.


Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Wink Martindale is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Nothing against Martindale, really -- he's a fine game show host, and as a kid I really loved the game shows. And I remember watching Tic Tac Dough when Thom McKee was a contestant, setting gameshow records that would last for years. I just think it's funny that he's on the Walk of Fame.


OK, forget all about all of President Bush's scandals and misdeeds. What I want Congress to investigate is how this golf shot happened. Wow. Seems to me that about twelve things Isaac Newton said get violated there.

(I suspect the Dutch.)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Oh NO! The NIPPLES! Won't someone PLEASE think of THE CHILDREN!!!


Six Apart, creators of Movable Type and, more recently, owners of LiveJournal, have decided to harrass LiveJournal users whose default icons depict breastfeeding.

There are few issues on which I am dead-set, hardline, and utterly unwilling to grant any compromise whatsoever. Breastfeeding is one. It's natural, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing it anywhere at all, this would literally be a healthier society if we could set aside our pseudo-Victorian claptrap about keeping the breasts covered at all times, and anyone who floats the "Hey, breastfeed all you want, just go to the bathroom to do it and don't just whip a boob out in public because it makes me go all squicky inside" crap can kiss my ass. They can kiss my ass twice if the same people who say that get all excited at action movies where people are constantly getting shot and blown up. I'm continually amazed at the way this country fetishizes violence but insists that anything connected with the natural functioning of the human body be kept carefully secret behind a veil of "morality".

I signed up for LiveJournal a while back, because I intended to set up a LiveJournal feed of this blog. I never did anything with it, and mainly it only serves to allow me to leave comments on LJ's that don't accept comments from "outsiders"; the only post at my LJ basically directs people over here where the good stuff is. So I can't really join the protest blackout. But I'm here in spirit, folks. As PNH writes over at Making Light:

And it’s not amusing at all when any corporation decides to endorse the view that breastfeeding is something scandalous that must happen only in private.

Amen to that. The Wife breastfed The Daughter, and I am absolutely convinced that this is why her first two years were so healthy. Aside from a couple of minor bouts of the sniffles, The Daughter didn't get really and truly sick for the first time until six months after she'd been weaned, six months after she turned two. (Little Quinn, of course, was a different story -- he never took any food by mouth, but he got breastmilk through his G-tube for as long as The Wife could produce enough by exclusively pumping.) We were never confronted in public by the anti-boob crowd when feeding time came round, but if we had, I can absolutely guarantee that my response would have been some variant of "If it bothers you, then f***ing look at something else." And that will most certainly be my response if the subject ever arises again. (No, that's not indicating anything, before anyone asks. I'm just saying, you never know.)

(And you know what? Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd be willing to bet that this new policy at LJ is in response to a very small number of complaints. I am getting more and more tired every day of this idea that's somehow taken root in our society that any complaint must be taken seriously. Why can't we just admit that some people just aren't reasonable, and that their complaints do not warrant being taken seriously?)

When Republicans swoon

Craig notes a colossally stupid thing that a New York State Democrat said the other day, which is pretty unremarkable except for Craig's apparent belief that saying things that stupid is exclusive to those angry Democrats.

Well, unlike some Republicans, my political memory actually extends a bit farther back than 12:00 noon on January 20, 2001.

What Helms said then was stupid, and what Hevesi said the other day was equally stupid. Frankly, neither was that big a deal, and also frankly, I don't think either comment speaks to any tendency of Democrats or Republicans to say stupid things but rather to the universal tendency of people to say stupid things. I've said lots of stupid stuff myself. Look in my archives here if you don't believe me.

Back into their scabbards for another day

Two nights ago, the NHL season ended for the Buffalo Sabres when they lost Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It was impossible not to get swept up in the excitement in these parts while the Sabres made their run, even for a guy like me who has never much got into hockey. It's not that I'm not interested in hockey, exactly, but rather that my opportunities to get into it have been rather limited in recent years. The Sabres were rebuilding, there was the loss of an entire season to labor strife, most hockey games are televised on cable and we don't have cable, et cetera. Here's the thing: I'm the guy whose ability to follow the game on TV was enhanced when they did that "hovering blue light" thing superimposed on the puck, and when they had that funky Tron-like streak effect when the puck was shot. So when people ask me if I'm a hockey fan, my typical response has generally been: "I don't know much about the game, really, so I just follow hockey until the Sabres are eliminated."

So this year they came within one period of playing for the Stanley Cup. And I've never seen anything close to the level of excitement around here as what surrounded this team's run. It just built and built and built and built, as the regular season started and then ground on and the suspicion dawned that maybe this was a pretty good team after all; and then the suspicion that this might be a damn good team; and then the suspicion that this team might just be the team to win it all. And I've seen that excitement around the area in so many ways. In the afternoons, I can't drive anywhere without interrupting some bunch of kids and their pickup hockey game in the street. Everywhere you look, people are wearing Sabres regalia and everywhere you look, formerly clean-shaven men are letting their playoff beards grow. A lot of razors in Western New York got some use yesterday morning.

Thinking of the way things were a year ago, when the NHL was still picking up the pieces in its disastrous labor dispute, the climate around here was completely different. On the local sports-talk radio station (WGR), the shows tended to stumble around a lot as there was no hockey to talk about and there's just only so many ways one can make three hours of talking about the Bills interesting. Now, as the Sabres are the young team that came oh so close but will return next year with the nucleus intact while the Bills are restarting a rebuilding process that's already six years old, the Bills have become Buffalo's other sports team.

What's really amazing about the Sabres' run this year is the way its premature ending has been approached. Everybody is talking Sabres, but even so, I can count on one hand the number of people I've heard couch their Game Seven loss in the light of Buffalo's long history of pro-sports futility. The only comparable example of optimism for the next season I can recall is from back when the Bills lost Super Bowl XXV. The Sabres lost, but this isn't remotely like the "No Goal" loss in the Cup Finals in 1998. I haven't met a single soul who doesn't think that this year's Sabre team is just the start of something special, and I have yet to talk to a single hockey-knowledgable Sabre fan who doesn't want to drop the puck on the 2006-2007 right now. Since I don't know much about the game, what I'm going to remember from this year's run is the sense of magic that was in the air in this town.

Yes, I'm tired of having phrases like "Wait 'til next year" and "Hey, they had a great run" in my lexicon. I want to be able to look around and say, "Hey, Boston and New York and Chicago and LA: we've won it all, too." But just think, Buffalo, of how much sweeter it's gonna be next June when the Sabres win the Cup, having come oh so close this year.

And when they win that thing, this city will dance in the streets for months.

Thanks for the magic, Sabres. Get some rest. Heal up. And then: Game on!

(Oh, one more thing: Yes, the Hurricanes earned their trip to the Finals, all right, but screw 'em anyway -- go Oilers!)