Friday, September 29, 2006
(No, no real point here. I just hate that ad.)
UPDATE: In comments, Scotty asks what movie it is that The Gap pillaged for its ad. The flick is the musical Funny Face, which also starred Fred Astaire. The plot was kind of convoluted, as I recall -- Astaire is a fashion photographer who is scouting locations for a shoot when he decides to shoot in a particular bookstore where Hepburn is a clerk. Somehow, Hepburn consents to becoming a fashion model herself, because it will result in a trip to Paris, where she can then meet some kind of Bohemian beatnik poet or something like that. The scene featured in The Gap's ad is a bit of beatnik performance poetry, if memory serves. Yeah, it sounds dumb, but the movie's got a witty script and all of the songs are Gershwin classics, and hey, it's Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn!
I don't recall it ever happening before, but apparently a reader had a strong negative reaction to my blog this evening and left comments to that effect on a couple of posts (the ones immediately following this one, if you're curious). Hey, to each his own and all that; nobody is universally loved, after all. I mean, Gandhi came pretty close -- and he got assassinated.
But the comments left give me cause to revisit my comments policy, which I now realize I haven't revised since I switched from the YACCS system to the Blogger one.
1. This is a blog, not a message board. And it's my blog, so I am the only one with the right to post whatever I wish in this space.
2. Comment moderation is ACTIVATED; no comment will be published here until I personally approve it. If you want to attack me and tell me that I'm fat and I'm stupid and only an idiot would wear overalls in public much less post photos of same on the Web, fine, but the comments will not be published, and I probably won't even read them all the way through before rejecting them.
2a. I find attacks on my girth fairly pathetic. First of all, the photos don't convey accurately what my body shape really is (I recently had someone tell me that they thought, by my photos, that I was well over six feet tall, when I'm only five-ten). Second, I'm overweight but fairly strong and in good health. Third, the last time I can remember being made fun of for my weight was when I was in seventh grade, and that was twenty-two years ago. So, while I'm mildly intrigued by the possibility that I'm either being made fun of by an actual seventh grader or by an adult who's failed to mature at all since they were in seventh grade, I'm not that intrigued by those possibilities. Again, I shall click the "delete" button and move right on.
3. As of this writing, Blogger's commenting system does not seem to currently allow for tracking and banning of ISPs, so all I can do to people whose comments are deemed by me to be unwelcome is delete the comments. But rest assured, if Blogger changes the comment system to allow for wholesale ISP banning, I'll use that option if I see fit.
That said, ANONYMOUS COMMENTS ARE NOT ALLOWED. Sorry. I used to allow them, but certain parties found it too difficult to play well with other children, so I made this change. If you wish to comment, you are required to have an account either with Google or with one of the services recognized by the OpenID initiative. I realize that may be a pain in the ass for some, but that's the rule here as of 1-30-10.
If I should decide to "ban" you from commenting, then I will simply reject all of your comments starting from my decision to ban. This is important: the comments will be rejected unread. Once I decide that you are not worth my time and thus no longer allowed access to my comments, there is really no way for you to rectify the situation. Live, learn, and find some other blog to pester. And if you feel compelled to keep firing shots across the bow, by all means, keep doing so. It's your time you're wasting, not mine.
4. Don't bother crying to me about "free speech". There is nothing inconsistent with my commitment to free speech and my refusal to allow people to trash the forum that I own. That you have a right to speak does not imply that you have a right to an audience, nor does it imply a right to use any forum that exists as you see fit. The rule here is: Want free speech for yourself? Get your own blog.
5. Please restrict comments to the topic of the post at hand. If there's something you really want to call to my attention, my e-mail addresses are posted in the sidebar. Off-topic comments stand a good chance of being deleted.
6. If you want me to take your comment seriously, then consider that tone matters. Any insulting or condescending tone taken with me, or any implication that something I've said is not to be taken seriously, will not help conversation along; persistent use of such a tone will only push me closer to banning you.
And if I decide that I'm on the verge of banning you, you will get ONE warning, and it will consist simply of a message from me along the lines of "You're being a dick; stop it or the next dickish comment you post will be the last." I will not take time to explain the dickishness of your behavior; the task of figuring out why I think you're being a dick will be left to you.
7. Occasionally I will close comments -- possibly on threads where dialog is becoming more heated than I care to entertain, or on other posts where I am simply not interested in debating the point of the post in the first place. If I close comments, that does NOT mean that one is free to respond to that post in comments on another thread. Any comments in this vein will be deleted as soon as I learn of their existence.
And trying to shame me about closing comments by suggesting that I'm not comfortable with opposing views will be ignored completely. I consider opposing viewpoints before I write something; if you have something legitimately new to bring to conversation, that's one thing, but I am under no obligation or moral duty to allow people who disagree with my political views space in my comments to air their talking points.
8. Comments that seem "on topic", but include a commercial link of some sort that is unrelated to the post at hand, will be considered spam comments and deleted accordingly.
Basically, what it all boils down to is simply this: I will be the one to set the rules on my own blog, and if my rules aren't to someone's liking, then their main -- and only -- recourse is the "back" button on their browser.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Not giving up on JP yet!
I'm not making excuses for Losman yesterday; he looked great for a lot of the game but looked terrible on three key plays that resulted in the points for the Jets that sank the Bills. And, yes, the decision by the Bills on that 75-minute drive to start with short-yardage pass plays didn't make a whole lot of sense on a day when Losman had been throwing the ball very well (again, two or three passes excepted) all along. But it's not like Losman was calling his own plays in that situation, so I have difficulty blaming him for not really being familiar with that game situation in the first place.
One radio person said that Losman looked like he didn't want the win at that point, which made absolutely no sense to me. He sure looked like he wanted to score when he ran it in himself moments before, and he sure looked disappointed when his last fourth-down pass fell incomplete to the ground.
Here's my position on Losman: right now, he is neither a good quarterback nor a bad quarterback. He is a physically gifted quarterback who I think is showing signs of growth over last year, but I think that many peoples' expectations at this point are not well-considered.
As of today, JP Losman has started a grand total of eleven NFL games. Yes, he's in his third year in the league, but so what? Watching on the sideline doesn't mean a whole lot -- in fact, it doesn't mean much of anything at all. Guys who aren't going to be starting don't get reps in practice time, and if merely watching NFL action was somehow equivalent in some degree with a certain amount of actual game play, then my two decades of football watching means that I'm ready for at least a spot on an NFL practice roster, right?
Eleven starts. That's all Losman's had. An NFL season is sixteen games, which means that Losman has actually played less than three quarters of an NFL season. I'm forever pointing this out: The first two full seasons of Troy Aikman's Hall of Fame career yielded a record of eight wins and twenty-four losses.
Many football fans seem to have been blinded by the lights of Tom Brady's amazing success from the first time he was named the starter for the StuPats, and by Ben Roethlisberger's stunning success since he went 15-1 in his first season in the NFL and won the Super Bowl in his second. Those guys are freakish exceptions to the rule, and Bills fans really need to remember that. Developing a quarterback usually takes two or more seasons worth of actual play. Losman hasn't even played the equivalent of one season yet. Let's quit the handwringing for now, OK? I've seen nothing as of yet to make me think that if the Bills had a really top-tier defense, and if they had an offensive line that could really dominate the line of scrimmage consistently, Losman would be fine.
(On the subject of comebacks, I'd note that the King of Comebacks, John Elway, didn't lead his first one until almost the very end of his first season, and perusing the list, it appears that's what are always termed as Elway's "comebacks" include quite a few garden-variety drives for game-winning FGs with the score tied. I'd also note that while every Buffalo Bills fan knows that Frank Reich led the greatest comeback in NFL history, the third-greatest comeback in NFL history -- from a deficit of 26 points -- was led by Buffalo's own Todd Collins in 1997.)
Sentential Links #67
:: I'm impressed by MKG's ability to dumb down any issue, making it seem as if the solution is as easy as instant pudding, and everyone has just been standing around the kitchen waiting for her to show up and add the milk. (MKG is Buffalo News columnist Mary Kunz Goldman, a favorite target of those of us inhabiting the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan.)
:: Other Chicago notes: this is the third or forth time I have been to this city, and I have finally had a Chicago-style hot dog. (Never had a Chicago hot dog before. Their deep-dish pizza, yes, but never a hot dog. Gotta try it.)
:: There is an interesting study to be written about US Attorney Generals, I think. They seem to come in three basic flavors: Crook, Crony, and Parson. (I know, two links to the same blog, a rarity for Sentential Links.)
:: Consequently, for months and months the administration has reacted to the report not by trying to improve its policies, but rather by covering up the NIE. Same sorry old story, but it's an absolute disaster for the country. Meanwhile, much of our press continues to identify national security "toughness" with stubborn refusal to see what's lying right before everyone's eyes: The invasion of Iraq has been a gigantic, years-long rolling catastrophe for American security.
:: It is hard to think of this as a compromise, unless your idea of a compromise is being asked by your child for a million dollars, telling them no, and then agreeing to give them $998,000.
:: I wasn't done talking to you, dammit. I wouldn't ever have been done talking. (I never read anything by John M. Ford. Still, this is sad. More here.)
Tune in next week!
I'll take "Composers and Librettists of Light English Operetta" for $200, Alex
Folks, if ever a TV show is going to make my head explode, Studio 60 is going to be the one. I love watching it, basking in Aaron Sorkin's wordplay and noting his ever-apparent mastery of the four-act structure. But at the same time, man, does it piss me off.
(Spoilers below for Episode II, "The Cold Open".)
First off, I'm just not sold on the Amanda Peet character. She seems, frankly, rather lacking in gravitas.
Secondly, this episode falls right in line with what I said about the pilot episode: this show is shaping up as Aaron Sorkin's major descent into self-indulgence. Granted, one has to have already been a pretty studious observer of Sorkin's writing over the years to pick up on a lot of it, but Sorkin recycles so many tropes from his own writing, over and over and over again, that the effect is increasingly jarring. And it's not just phrases repeated verbatim from one series to the next, but entire rhythms of scenes and conversations mirrored almost exactly from one series to the next, and even entire themes. A constant refrain on The West Wing was the idea of how much nicer things would be in this country if people acted the way that Aaron Sorkin depicts them acting as opposed to the way they really do act, and sure enough, that crops up in a big way in the first half of "The Cold Open" (especially in a press conference).
But the really self-indulgent stuff comes in the show's second half, when writer Matt (Matthew Perry) can't figure out how to start his show off. He's struggling with ideas on what his opening sketch should be -- and then, suddenly, someone says something in an offhand fashion that jars him into his idea, which turns out to be a re-writing of "The Very Model of a Modern Major General" from The Pirates of Penzance.
I think I actually let out a groan when I realized that Sorkin was yet again going to mine his obsession with Gilbert and Sullivan, which he employed a number of times in various West Wing episodes, most notably "And It's Surely To Their Credit", which indicated that Jed Bartlet staffed his White House exclusively with people who had encyclopedic knowledge of G&S. (And the title of that episode was itself an allusion to Pinafore.)
So my reaction, as noted, continues to be wildly mixed. On the one hand, I could listen to Sorkin's stuff all day. On the other, I just want to slap Sorkin and say, "Yeah, we get it already. Say something else!"
Sunday, September 24, 2006
How loud is the THUD when 53 guys hit the ground?
The Bills looked talented to me today, but not seasoned. JP Losman's two fumbles resulted from his failing to react to pressure. (His interception was a deep pass on which his arm was hit as he released, so I'm cutting him a little slack there.) Still, Losman showed to me a lot of heart in the way he kept battling until the very end -- he scored a rushing touchdown himself with little more than a minute left, and then tried to do a tying drive after the Bills recovered an onside kick, but he couldn't pull it out.
Since a lot of people were mentally pencilling the Bills in for a playoff spot after they beat Miami last week, I fully expect them to go off the deep end the other way this week and bitch up a storm about Losman. And yes, he made mistakes that were probably the biggest reason the Bills lost today. But he did a lot of good stuff in this game, stuff I've been waiting to see him do, and the fact still remains that good teams find a way to overcome mistakes like the ones he made today.
The defense didn't record a single turnover. Nate Clements, the overrated cornerback who dubbed himself "playmaker" two years ago, once again didn't figure in a single play until he got called on a tripping penalty that helped a Jets scoring drive. The defensive line failed to generate any consistent pressure on Chad Pennington. The tackling was often poor.
And the offensive line? Well, Losman's protection was better than usual, and Willis McGahee had a good day running the ball. But on a crucial goal-line situation in the fourth quarter, the line couldn't command the line of scrimmage enough to get the ball through to the end zone.
So today, the Bills showed a lot of talent and a bit of heart at the end. But when the real chances were before them to either respond to a big play with one of their own or to get back in the game, they failed.
Like I said, I'm down on Losman's results today, but I'm not getting down on him as a player. He's still young, and even in spite of the bad mistakes he made today, he did a lot of good things that I've been looking for (big passing plays, mostly). He showed a ton of ability today; now we need to start seeing some growth.
Reading about life? Reading IS life!
First I read Piano Girl: Lessons in Life, Music, and the Perfect Blue Hawaiian. This book reads as something of a companion piece to the movie Mr. Holland's Opus, in which a guy who wanted to be a serious composer ends up taking a job as a music teacher, just for a little while, to pay the bills until he can make money composing -- and next thing he knows, he's been teaching his entire life and found a life of meaning in it. The author of Piano Girl, Robin Meloy Goldsby (official site), tells how she fell in love with the piano, learned to play it well, looked to become a classical musician for a time -- but instead made a career out of playing the piano in cocktail lounges all over the country, and later, the world.
Goldsby's book is basically a collection of short vignettes relating tales from her life as a cocktail lounge pianist, and she tells these stories mostly with a lot of charm and wit. She is openly aware that her work does not require tremendous musical skill, but she also reveals that being a fine lounge musician requires entirely different sets of skills -- voluminous knowledge of the songs, social skills for dealing with patrons and management, and so on. I'd always figured that places like the Hyatt in Manhattan just hired any old out-of-work pianist to play in their bars; I had no idea that such musicians are also represented by agents in a highly competitive environment. Not a profound book, but an entertaining look into a musical world we usually don't much consider.
Then there was Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris, by Sarah Turnbull. Turnbull was a journalist from Sydney, Australia who was traveling in Europe when, while in Bucharest, she met an intriguing Frenchman named Frederic. First she agrees to spend a week with him in Paris, and then she ends up moving in with him and, eventually, marrying him.
Almost French focuses less on Turnbull's relationship with Frederic than on her relationship with Paris and with France itself, although there is a great deal of relationship stuff here. France is well known for being less than cordial to foreigners, and Turnbull's experience is no different. Much of the book details missteps Turnbull takes in her attempts to break the ice with various French acquaintances, and her growing realization that she can live to ripe old age in Paris and she will still always be a foreigner.
If you don't like France, nothing in this book will change your mind. (Anyone tells me what kind of pants I should wear just because it's not nice for the bakery guy, my response is, "F*** the bakery guy".) I certainly have less interest in visiting Paris after reading Almost French; Turnbull makes it seem like a society where one is supposed to simultaneously rigidly conform to social norms and still not care one whit what other people think of you. It's a strange thing. But I did like this book.
And just this morning I finished a wonderful book, Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town, and the Search for What Matters Most, written by Gwendolyn Bounds (official site). Bounds is a writer for the Wall Street Journal who lived in an apartment building in lower Manhattan when 9-11-01 happened. With her apartment rendered unlivable after the attacks, Bounds and her room-mate end up moving to a little town called Garrison, fifty miles up the Hudson River from NYC, where Bounds becomes part of the daily life in a bar and convenience store called Guinan's.
Little Chapel on the River poses an interesting contrast with Almost French. Where Sarah Turnbull can never become a part of Parisian culture, Wendy Bounds becomes part of Garrison's culture very easily, and her gift for making that little bar come alive shines on every page. Seriously, folks, this book is as good an evocation of a setting as any I've ever read. We're talking Lord of the Rings quality here: in the same way that I come from Tolkien feeling like I've physically been in Middle Earth, I come away from Bounds's book feeling like I've been in Garrison, and that I've met the denizens of Guinan's bar: Fitz the ex-Marine, Jane the hard-luck woman who helps out, Walter the next-door neighbor who constantly toes the fine line between "frugal" and "skinflint", and above it all, Jim Guinan the aging bar-owner and his adult children with whom he doesn't always get along so well.
This book is funny, bittersweet, and encouraging; it is one of the best books I've read in a long time.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Mr. Jaw, meet Mr. Floor.
Basically, NBC has decided to put VeggieTales on its Saturday morning lineup, but has required that the show's overt Christian content be removed before each episode airs. Now, it's true that the show can be appreciated on plenty of levels besides the Christian one -- unlike Bozell, I think VT is successful not because it's Christian but because it's good -- but it's still a show that's mainly centered on a certain set of premises, and NBC has basically cut most of that loose. Ugh.
And to think that just twenty years ago NBC was the network of Little House on the Prairie. Boy, we've come a long way. I don't think that we need more Christianity on network TV, or less Christianity on network TV. I'd just like to have more quality stuff on TV, and less attention paid to who's going to be offended by what.
I learned this via Shamus, whose take on this I pretty much completely agree with. Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, has his own blog, and looking it over, he seems perfectly happy to have his creation neutered just so it reaches a bigger audience ("Kids are going to be meeting Bob and Larry on network TV! Yay!"). This seems kind of sad, but it's worth remembering that as wonderful a creation as VT is, Vischer himself has a history of apparent cluelessness. Just read his version of how Big Idea Productions ran into trouble, and you'll see a frightening blend of naivete combined with a lack of business sense. Go here and read the series of posts entitled "What happened to Big Idea?"
"Just give me a pot of boiling water so I can do it myself, you stupid computer!"
In Star Trek you drink a lot of Earl Grey. Do you see that as a man's tea?
When it first came up that Captain Picard was going to drink a lot of tea I suggested lapsang souchong, but the producers thought that nobody would know what it was. I must urge people not to send me any more Earl Grey. I've got so much of it now I could open a tea shop.
So there we have it: Stewart did indeed suggest lapsang souchong tea. (I've never tried that tea, myself.) Of course, that was a pretty dumb thing for producers to do; I'm sure audiences would have figured it out. But what always baffled me about Captain Picard was that he was a Frenchman, and yet, all of his passions are for British stuff! What was that about? He was always reading Shakespeare whilst sipping Earl Grey. Shouldn't he have been reading Proust over glasses of red wine?
There's other good stuff in that interview, by the way. For instance:
Have you ever had a comb-over?
Oh God, I did that for a while and it was horrible.
What's your least favourite synonym for 'bald'?
When I accepted the job on Star Trek in 1987 my daughter, who was then 15, used the expression "To baldly go where no man has gone before". I thought that was tremendously funny. I actually find the whole subject of my head really boring. I've also got a big nose, but people don't ask me about that because it would be rude. Somehow it's always open season with baldness.
I've always thought that Stewart was blessed with the perfect noggin for baldness, but that's just me.
:: Ensign Flandry, a space opera novel by Poul Anderson. Now I need to track down the other titles in the Flandry sequence. This book was quite a bit of fun.
(But as an aside, let's talk about cover art for a moment. Apparently the book has been repackaged as part of a series called Flandry of Terra, and via Amazon, here's the cover art for that repackaging:
That looks pretty dour, serious, and frankly, a little dull. My review copy of the book, though, sported this cover:
Frankly, if I see these two books adjacent one another on the shelf at Borders, I know which one I'm picking up, if I'm looking for an SF adventure yarn. That's what that second cover indicates (and it's actually pretty reflective of events in the story itself, too, which isn't always the case with SF cover art). That first cover says to me "Serious Hard-SF here", which isn't what Ensign Flandry is, and it says it in fairly generic fashion, too. Lots of SF novels look like that, and the gleaming eye-thing actually makes me think that Locutus of Borg had kids. When did we decide that SF novels have to have cover art that's so dull?)
:: A Chalice of Wind is the first book in a young-adult horror series. Not bad, if you like that sort of thing. Better characterization that most YA stuff I've read recently.
:: The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca is a wonderful read in a genre I've recently developed a fascination for. I'm not sure what you'd even call this particular genre, but it involves people who are unsatisfied with their current lives, so they uproot and move to someplace completely different. This fellow moved his family from London to Morocco, and his memoir of that year is by turns hilarious and harrowing. (This is also one of the few books about which I ever found myself thinking as I was reading, "This would make a great movie.)
Oh yeah, they did play last week....
That game, coupled with the Bills' surprisingly tough play in a loss at New England on opening day, seems to have fueled a lot of optimism over the Bills in these parts, with some people on the radio talk shows saying things like, "Hey, if the defense keeps playing like this, and the offense keeps playing OK without making any huge bonehead mistakes, and if the division is really as bad as it looks, and if the Bills sacrifice a live chicken to Jo'Bu every full moon, maybe they can make the playoffs this year!"
Well, not so fast. They got a surprising road win, which is huge -- it's also JP Losman's first road win, which is nice to see, even if he did throw for only 83 yards on a handful of pass attempts. Hey, whatever works. And for the guys at FootballOutsiders.com who are making fun of the Bills for taking the same general approach to offense that last year's Chicago Bears took, I'd only point out that based on last year, I didn't read a single good thing about Rex Grossman heading into this year -- and that guy, with some experience and some winning under his belt went out last week and threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. So, if Losman follows the same path, you know, I'm fine with it.
Of course, the Bills won't follow the Chicago blueprint to the playoffs, because their defense isn't nearly as good as the Bears' was last year. I still think a 6-10 record is realistic for this team. But if eight or nine of those losses look like the loss to the StuPats, and if the wins look like the Miami game, I'll be pretty optimistic for 2007. Especially if the Bills can finally address the offensive line, once and for all, next offseason. (Yeah, we're rid of Bennie Anderson and Mike Williams, which are both good developments -- but the current line is still only good enough to kind-of hold its own at the line of scrimmage, and from what I've seen thus far, Melvin Fowler is just Trey Teague in a different body.)
Like many Bills fans, I did chuckle at the sight of Mike Mularkey in the Dolphins' coaching booth, staring cluelessly at his clipboard as he tried to send in a play that would work, and I suddenly realized what his problem is: Mularkey focuses on one play at a time, to absolute exclusion of everything else. The guy has no offensive or coaching philosophy whatsoever; he has no general approach to anything. He literally picks one play at a time, completely regardless of situation or what his team's strengths or weaknesses are. For Mike Mularkey, it's as if every single play in a football game is a discrete unit in itself, and he makes his calls on that basis alone. That's why he refuses to take advantages of obvious mismatches, such as pounding the ball against a team with an undersized offensive line, and that's why he abandons the run in situations that scream out for it. The thought never even occurs to the guy to react to what the opposing defense is giving him.
And I think that's the biggest difference I can see with this year's Bills over last year's, made all the clearer by being able to see Mularkey in action for the other team. This coaching staff has an approach, and they're sticking with it. Will it work out by producing a playoff-caliber team in either 2007 or 2008? Who knows -- but I'm feeling optimistic. For me, the 2006 season is all about how I'm going to feel heading into 2007.
(And I think Takeo Spikes should relax. Yes, he's on a rebuilding team. But if you have a coaching staff and a front office who are on the same page and who know what they're doing, which based on early returns may well be the case in Buffalo, rebuilding in today's NFL only takes a season or two. So bring on the Jets!)
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
What's on the Tee-Vee
8:00: Deal or No Deal. The Daughter likes this show; I mainly do computer stuff or read while it's on. If it's not on at all, I may watch Antiques Roadshow.
9:00: Nothing. That's usually bed time, so I'm reading to the Daughter and doing whatever afterwards. I might leave the CBS sitcom lineup on; that Charlie Sheen show is usually good for a laugh or two, but I can take it or leave it. (Isn't this to be the Heroes timeslot? I may give that a try.)
10:00: CSI: Miami. I was discussing this show at work today, actually -- David Caruso's acting is absolutely absurd, but it's either absurd in a way that you love it or in a way that you hate it. I, personally, love it -- he's the heir-apparent to the William Shatner school of emotive line delivery, where it's as if every syllable he utters is part of a soliloquy, no matter whether he's on screen with anyone else or not. When my interlocutor pointed out that Shatner's got some respect lately and has long since realized he's very spoofable, I decided that Caruso is Shatner circa 1982 or so. Caruso is now enjoying his TJ Hooker phase.
Case in point: For reasons too involved to go into in depth, this season's premiere of CSI: Miami took place in Rio de Janeiro. The opening scene had Caruso's character, Horatio Caine, striking his uber-dramatic Carusonic pose in front of that giant statue of Jesus that overlooks Rio from a mountaintop. Was there evidence of some sort up there? Was that statue's base a crime scene? Nope. It had no relevance at all to the story. Someone with the show simply decided that they couldn't film in Rio without having Caruso act all Carusonic in front of the giant Jesus statue. It was awesome, let me tell you.
(And when Caruso's not on the screen, there's a good chance that Emily Procter is. So I still win!)
8:00: House. (Or Nova, if it's interesting and House isn't on.) I like House a good deal, although I do think they need to start shaking up the format a bit; the way it is now, you know that the main medical mystery won't be resolved at all until about 8:50.
9:00 - 11:00: Gee, nothing, really. Tuesday's a wasteland, although that will change in January when American Idol returns. (Also if Scrubs is still on Tuesdays when it gets back.)
8:00 - 10:00: Again, nothing as of yet, although Jericho sounds interesting, so I may give that a whirl.
10:00: CSI: NY. My least favorite CSI show, really. I tend to read while it's on. Might give The Nine a try; might not.
8:00: My Name is Earl, followed by The Office. I'll watch these two shows in reruns, even.
9:00: CSI. Still the best of the CSIs, with the best characters and the most dark humor.
10:00: Gray's Anatomy, which I taped an hour before whilst watching CSI. I'm frankly a bit tired of the whole "Meredith and Dr. McDreamy" subplot, but I still like this show. ER died for good in my mind last year, although it limped along for The Wife. But then she finally lost patience too when they did yet another "Send some character to Africa" story that was just like all the other "Send some character to Africa" stories, and then the worst cliffhanger episode on a network drama since Dynasty's "Moldavian Wedding Massacre". And since I recently saw that the show's idea-dry producers are bringing Sally Field back yet again, we're both done. I doubt we'll even watch the season opener to see if Nurse Sam and her brat kid finally die horribly. In its heyday, one of the best shows on TV ever. Now, a total embarrassment.
8:00 - 11:00: Nothing at all. If The Wife is off, this will be catch-up-on-stuff-on-tape night; otherwise, it'll be movie night. (Although I may give this Men in Trees show a try, if it sticks around at all.)
8:00 - 11:00: Again, nothing at all. I don't much care about college football. This will be another movie night or taped-shows night, unless something else that I like ends up in a Saturday time slot. But even then I might not care enough to follow a show to Saturday night, which can even become a "no TV of any kind" night on occasion in our home. Seriously: at 6:00 pm, NPR here has Thistle and Shamrock on until 8:00, when Marian McPartland's wonderful Piano Jazz takes over. But starting at 10:00, I can indulge a wonderful two hours of comedy: our local FOX affiliate has back-to-back Simpsons eps then, followed by the local PBS station at 11:00, with Monty Python's Flying Circus.
1:00 pm: The Buffalo Bills, or playoff football after the regular season ends.
7:00 pm: America's Funniest Home Videos. Yeah, yeah. Another show the Daughter gets to pick.
8:00 pm: Whatever's on until The Amazing Race starts around 8:30. Best reality show of them all; I'm kicking myself for missing the first seven or so seasons.
10:00: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, courtesy of the good folks of Toronto. Will the show have legs? Who knows?
So that's it. I have to admit that more and more I'm thinking, "Screw the original telecasts of shows -- I'll watch them on DVD when they come out." I like immersing myself in a show's world for multiple episodes at a time; especially with shows that have ongoing arcs or storylines.
What you call "trendy", I call "following like sheep"! Harumph!
Har har! I suppose I could be trendy, but in the words of Aaron Sorkin, I don't have that kind of time!
I've never seen Cow and Boy before, and will have to check it out. (Being honest, though, I must note that "Cow and Boy" sounds like a title Gary Larsen might have thought up before settling on The Far Side!)
Monday, September 18, 2006
Sentential Links #66
:: A little birdy once told me that the meaning of life is to acheive perfect roundness so we can launch into orbit around the great and bountiful Harvest Lord. (The solution to this problem is: Get rid of cable. That's how we did it!)
:: Corporate Conspiracy # 3,068: Whatever you do, don't get your hands dirty! Dirt is dirty! Germy, must sterilize, gross. Here are 5 billion toxic chemical products to clean and sterilize you. (Shades of George Carlin: "What are you gonna do when some supervirus comes along and turns your vital organs into liquid shit? You're gonna die and you're gonna deserve it 'cause you're f***ing weak, and you got a f***ing weak immune system!")
:: I've learned it too many times when I'm hungry and haven't eaten all day and can't decide whether to get Taco Bell or Jack in the Box so I get both and figure I'm hungry enough to eat eggrolls, a cheeseburger, soft tacos, and a combo burrito only to be completely stuffed about 60% of the way through, leaving me to not only throw away food for which I paid good money, but also popping Target's storebrand equivalent of Tums and feeling miserable the rest of the night.
:: So, to end where I began: anyone who wants to make, or is making, comics should read this book. (Scott McCloud has a new book out! I'll probably read it, even though my only ability at comics creation would be scripting, since my art is freaking laughable.)
:: Marvel's summer 2007 event will be written by Greg Pak and entitled World War Hulk. (The title alone is cool on about nine different levels.) Apparently, it's a miniseries (not a crossover), and will basically feature the Hulk vs. the entire Marvel Universe, which in my mind should be the premise of pretty much every single Hulk comic ever, so...sold! (Man, have I got comics on the brain lately. Not good. Comics are too freakin' expensive.)
:: Remember what I said before about maybe we'd be better off if the Wonder Woman movie wasn't made?
Well, fuck that. We need that movie, and we need it now. And we need it to make a bazillion bucks so that a bunch of knockoffs get made the next year. (Preach it! They made a Daredevil movie and an Elektra movie, for God's sake -- where the hell is Wonder Woman!)
:: This is my stuff bag. Sure, I got it free when I joined the Book of the Month club, but it doesn't really matter what king of freakin' bag it is. Just that the bag works for you.
:: Yes, you can—right this instant—read about the goings-on of this august body when it was populated with the likes of Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke and Robert Boyle, with cameos by such luminaries as Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Gottfried Leibniz and Giovanni Domenico Cassini. (I swear, the Internet is getting closer and closer to being the Library Computer from Star Trek.)
All for this week. Good blogging this week, folks! Let's keep it up! We can win this thing!
If they bring it to my door in a flat, square box, then IT'S A PIZZA!
Initiated by this site (which I saw on MeFi, but hadn't got round to blogging yet, and which is as of this writing down because it got FARK'd and BoingBoing'd and MeFi'd all in the same weekend -- but mirror links are provided there) wherein some fellow relates his obsessive effort to produce a New York City-style pizza, Alan and BuffaloGeek take their shots.
However, there is nothing we disagree more vehemently on than the definition of good pizza. As you know, Pundito is a a fan of thin crust Neapolitan style and foldable NY Style Pizza…both are crimes against pizza.
I’m a fan of local Buffalo pizza for one reason only, it’s what I grew up eating. Nino’s, Bob & Johns, Bocce Club, Abbott, Avenue, Mister Pizza…all pizzas of my youth. While tasty and laden with crispy pepperoni memories, these pizzas fail the test of “Best Pizza in America”
When asked who makes the best pizza in the country, my answer is very simple. Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago institution and purveyor of fine deep dish pizza.
If God came back to Earth and asked to see evidence of gastrological perfection, I would take him to Lou’s for a slice of buttercrust deep dish pepperoni with mushrooms and hot giardiniera. If God is a vegetarian, I’d get him “The Lou”, which comes with basil and garlic spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes covered with a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese. Pizza perfection.
He calls New York style / Neapolitan pizza a "crime against pizza". Oh, no you di’int. Since the Neapolitans invented it, it is the default; the standard by which all other pizzas are measured.
"Stop the Madness!" says I.
We actually had a mini-discussion of this before in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan, back in the days when Alan was still on Blogger. My thoughts, encapsulated here and here, have not changed:
Personally, I like NYC-style pizza just fine. But then, I like all styles of pizza just fine, really. Thin, foldable crust? Sure. Deep-dish Chicago-style, with the cheese tiled at the bottom and the tomatoes on top? Great. All styles in between? Bring 'em on.
"There are more pizzas in Heaven and Earth than are dream't of in our philosophy," wrote Shakespeare. And he was right. (Although, now that I think of it, I'm not sure the Bard was talking about pizza at all. Hmmmm.)
And a bit later on:
But what interests me is this (as I comment on his blog): everybody I've ever met who grew up on NYC-style pizza, with that type of pizza being their virginal pizza experience, loves it to the point of loathing every other kind of pizza that exists, anywhere. On the other hand, every person I've ever met who loves pizza but did not encounter NYC-style pizza first tends to love NYC-style pizza when they discover it, but they don't drop every other style of pizza in its favor. I don't know why this is, but it's true. Talk to a native eater of NYC-style pizza, and they'll react with horror at the idea of consuming any other kind of pizza. But talk to a non-native eater of pizza, and if they'll likely say, "NYC-style? Yeah, that's pretty good. So's Chicago...."
I think that's still the case. I'm always baffled by the notion that NYC-style pizza is some kind of Platonic ideal when it comes to pizza; pizza is a food that has evolved over many centuries, starting long before the folks in Naples with spices and meats served atop flatbread. There is no more a "standard" for pizza than there is a "standard" for chili, to name another food that varies wildly by region. (Don't believe me? Order chili in Dallas sometime, and compare what they serve you to what comes in the bowl when you order chili in Cincinnati.) Or wine. Or beer.
Note my verb there: pizza evolved. Nobody "invented" pizza. The folks in Naples may have developed the historical dish that's closest to what we now call "pizza", but they didn't "invent" pizza. At least, they didn't in the same sense that Thomas Edison "invented" the incandescent light bulb and the phonograph.
As an aside, though, would it matter anyway if the Neopolitans actually did "invent" pizza? Who ever said that inventions should never change? I used to listen to music on my record player, but no one ever told me that I wasn't really utilizing Thomas Edison's invention just because the record was a flat disc as opposed to a wax cylinder. And as another aside, Neapolitan pizza wouldn't exist at all as such if not for the importation into Italy of the tomato, which is originally indigenous to the Americas. (In fact, tomatoes were thought poisonous in Italy when they first arrived there, brought back from the Americas by the Spaniards; they were grown strictly as ornamental plants before they found their way into peasant food. Pizza, like so many other dishes, is originally a peasant dish that is now being fought over by the gourmet types!
So I'd say that the Neapolitan pizza is not the "standard by which all others are judged", since the Neapolitans did not "invent" pizza and even if they did, merely being the inventor of something doesn't imply that the thing will remain the exact same for the Rest of Recorded Time. So there.
I'd also take exception to Alan's contention that a Chicago deep-dish pizza is not a pizza at all, but rather a casserole. I don't frankly see on what basis deep-dish pizza can be denied to be a pizza, or on what basis it is a casserole. It's a leavened flatbread-style crust onto which is loaded cheese and whatever other toppings are used. It is casserole-like in that it is baked in a dish and then typically served in that same dish, but merely sharing some qualities with a thing doesn't make it that thing, right? An apple pie is baked in a baking dish, but that doesn't make it a casserole. Neither is a quiche. Chicago deep-dish pizza is pizza, and like all pizza, it stands squarely in the pie family of dishes, and not in the casseroles. QED. (Heck, I have some recipes for "casseroles" that aren't baked at all, but cooked in a slow cooker! Take that, Rigid Food Definition Police!)
Not, however, that I'd endorse Geek's view that NYC-style pizza is a "crime against pizza". I love a good NYC pizza. I also love Chicago deep-dish. Although, frankly, my personal preference tends toward the Chicago, because I adore that flaky crust. Oh man, that crust is just beautiful. But I'm not going to turn my nose up at a NYC pizza, either. And I love Buffalo's pizzas too. (Well, most of 'em, anyway.) So I get the best of all worlds: I don't have to turn up my nose at entire categories of pizza goodness! So, once again, I am supreme in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan. 'Twas ever thus!
And now, judging by the chirping crickets, I shall change the subject.
UPDATE 1-23-07: This post has been receiving several search engine hits per day for a while now, so for readers just coming, I more recently wrote -- with photos -- a post wherein I made my own Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Enjoy!
Who the hell is Paddy Chayefsky?
It's a very, very, very good show. The production values are amazing, and the acting is first-rate across the board. This was a big worry of mine, but take it from me: you'll be able to watch Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford without once thinking of Chandler Bing or Josh Lyman.
Yes, I said "but".
If you've read any buzz about Studio 60 at all, you know that its basic concept is that it's a backstage show, set in and around the production of a Saturday Night Live-type sketch comedy show that's been on for twenty years, produced groundbreaking comedy and satire in its early years, but has since become safe and boring and -- the ultimate comedy crime -- unfunny. The producer-creator, played by Judd Hirsch (an actor I always love), finally snaps and walks right onto the stage during the live broadcast, whereupon he gives a long, rambling diatribe to the live national audience about the stunning wasteland that is television today. Network execs explode, exit the old producer, and the mess is dumped into the lap of the new network president (Amanda Peet), who decides to rehire the show's old head writer (Matthew Perry) and director (Bradley Whitford), who apparently quit or were fired from the show four years earlier.
The show features all the features you'd expect from a Sorkin/Schlamme show: dialogue that happens so fast you miss it if you so much as sip your beverage, long tracking shots that follow the actors through the winding corridors of a very complex set while they recite said dialogue that happens so fast yada yada yada, name-dropping galore to create a sense that this show actually is taking place in the real world, and so on. And yes, it's wonderful to have all that Sorkin/Schlamme goodness back again, four years after their departure from The West Wing (and, frankly, five years after their best TWW work was already behind them).
But here's the thing: it's almost too Sorkinesque, if that makes any sense. Watching Studio 60, I got the same sensation that I felt when I caught a couple of episodes of SportsNight on syndication a few years back. I'd never seen SportsNight in its original run, so I saw an episode of it after I'd seen three or four years' worth of West Wing. And the feeling I got was that I was hearing TWW dialogue, but not about TWW stuff. Same thing here: the tone of the dialogue is exactly the same, but the topic is TV and not politics. It may take me an episode or two to fully recalibrate myself to Studio 60.
And, of course, people like me who are pretty intimately familiar with Sorkin's writing will recognize those little "Sorkinisms" when they pop up. Phrases like "I hate your breathing guts". Someone telling a higher-up at length about this great idea they have, and when the higher-up says, "Great, when do we start?", being told something like "I already did." Characters not batting an eye when told bluntly by someone else about their own character flaws, or even seeming proud of them. Every affirmative answer to an interrogative being "Yeah". Never "yes", "uh-huh", "mmm-hmmm", "you bet your bippy", but "yeah". It's only a matter of time, I suppose, before someone on Studio 60 relates a bad experience with the metaphor, "I got screwed with my pants on", or until someone rigidly insists: "No, I didn't do that. I would never do that. It would be unthinkable for me to do that. [beat] But yes, I did that."
I once read a scathing critique of Aaron Sorkin's writing (don't remember where, or I'd look for a link) that pointed out how just about every character in his shows talks the same, with the same phrasings, the same long-winded sentences that occasionally become exercises in recursion. I can't totally deny the point, but when Sorkin's on his game, I'm left thinking, "Yeah, isn't it great!" On this pilot episode, at least, Sorkin's had time to hone this script to the typical sharpness that one expects from a Sorkin script when he's had time to hone it thusly. We'll see what happens later in the season.
And there's where some of my skepticism about this show comes into play: later in the season. The West Wing, being set in the political world of the White House, offered tremendous dramatic potential. The canvas on Studio 60, though, seems at my first glance to be substantially more limited. I'm just not sure how many stories there are to tell with a show like this, and I'm not sure how long it can go on before it starts feeling a bit stale. I'm sure we'll have stories about actor difficulties, and problems with the writing staff, and clashes with network executives, and cost overruns, and so on. There's no reason why that kind of thing can't remain interesting for a long time, but to do so, Sorkin may need to vary his writing style a bit. As much as I love to see the old Sorkin/Schlamme magic at work again, that can't be the sole thing keeping Studio 60 going.
And I'm already a little unsure of the degree to which Sorkin appears to be mining from his own personal experiences for this project: a show set in TV land about a writer-director team that left their old project under less-than-ideal circumstances, one of whom has a recurring addiction problem. There's a very definite feeling that Studio 60 is Sorkin's roman a clef, and it's very hard not to look at the show's constant indication that the fictional sketch comedy show sucked hard in the absence of its brilliant writer/director team as a slap at the three seasons of The West Wing that followed the Sorkin/Schlamme exit from that series.
But at the same time, I'm glad that Sorkin and Schlamme appear to be openly embracing the fact that show business is seedy as hell, that it really is populated with people who look for dead bodies so they can steal the coins off their eyes, and that it is a business of metaphorical incest where everybody knows everybody else and has slept with a good number of them. The West Wing somehow managed to blend a romanticized notion of politics, where public service is honorable and so are most of the people in it, with the old adage about how you shouldn't inquire too closely into the makings of laws and sausages. That same blend of tropes can't work with Studio 60; nobody really romanticizes Hollywood anymore, and certainly nobody really romanticizes television.
And there's the rub: I suspect Studio 60 will be a show that's much admired for its sheer quality. But I doubt that it'll be loved as its politically-themed predecessor was. So don't watch Studio 60 with The West Wing in mind. Instead, think of a seedy Hollywood tell-all book. Think You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again. And don't look for a Jed Bartlet in this show. There isn't one.
CLARIFICATION: I didn't dislike SportsNight on the limited basis in which I saw it. But what I did see made me wonder (along with movies like The American President and A Few Good Men, also written by Sorkin) if Sorkin might not be a one-trick pony, albeit with a really amazing trick. His output is excellent, no doubt about that, but his dialogue really does sound the same from one thing to the next.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Sunday Burst of Weirdness
There's JP Losman's numbers on the left, and Daunte Culpepper's on the right. But note: there's a headshot of Culpepper, but none of Losman!
Hey, FOX Sports, what the hell is up with that?! Sure, Losman's still a young player who may or may not blossom in the NFL; and sure, the consensus opinion going into this season seems to be that Losman's a major bust of a first-round draft pick waiting to happen; but he's not a bust yet, he's a third-year player, and he is still for the moment a starting quarterback for a team in the National Football League. Shouldn't you guys have a friggin' headshot for the guy by now? Sheesh.
"In a different reality, I might have called you 'friend'."
And "Balance of Terror" is still a hell of an episode. I'd actually forgotten how good it is.
(Speaking of the Horta, the old DC Comics Star Trek book actually had a Horta as an officer on the Enterprise. In one hilarious moment, a feline-like alien used that Horta officer as a scratching post.
OK, I guess you had to be there.)
Just when they had him in the crushing grip of reason....
Basically, it seems that Germany has a law that makes homeschooling illegal. Setting aside the merits of that policy, Alan took exception to someone's rhetoric in discussing a legal case that arose from that German policy. Hitler outlawed homeschooling in his regime, and then the post-WWII German government also decided to outlaw homeschooling, so some Libertarians are calling the current German ban on homeschooling "Hitler's ban on homeschooling". Alan points out that Hitler also had the Autobahn built, but nobody calls that road "Hitler's highway", and he also points out that Germans are quite capable of discussing the current homeschooling policy without bringing Hitler into it.
The logical train seems to go like this:
1. I like trains to operate in tight accordance with their schedules.
2. Mussolini made the trains run on time.
3. Therefore, I like Mussolini.
Or, "It should make you uncomfortable to prefer your trains to being on time because Mussolini made the trains run on time."
And yet, nowhere does Alan either endorse or condemn the German homeschooling ban, and nothing he writes can even be reasonably construed as doing so. He's only talking about the rhetorical device of plugging Hitler into a discussion, and yet here come the misreadings, goofy accusations, and that favorite insult of Libertarians everywhere, calling Alan a "statist".
I love it when they drag "statist" out of the arsenal -- it reminds me of when I was debating the Objectivist loon over that the FSM boards, and he solemnly intoned: "You, sir, are a Subjectivist!" Heck, it reminds me of that scene at the bus stop in ET: The Extra-terrestrial, when Elliot gets into a verbal fight with an older kid, and they trade barbs back and forth: "You're so immature!" "And you're such a sinus supremus!" "Zero charisma!" "Sinus supremus!" "Zero charisma!" "Sinus supremus!"
It's all very odd, coming from folks whose flagship magazine is called "Reason".
(BTW, can anyone tell me what the hell a "sinus supremus" is? Seriously, I've always wondered. "Zero charisma" I get, having been a D&D player back in the day, but I've never been able to figure out "sinus supremus". It seems to imply very large sinuses, but that can't be it. Hell, if that were the case, there are plenty of mornings when I'd give my right arm to be a sinus supremus.)
A very public service message.
UPDATE: Crap! It's CTV out of Toronto, not whatever station's out of Hamilton. But it is Channel Nine on my dial, here in Buffalo.
Test. Check. Check. Test. Check.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Sentential Links #65
:: Once and Again: Oh, YAWN! Gorgeous, well-to-do suburbanites with minuscule problems examined in detail once and again and over and over again. I could not care less. (Aieee!)
:: In my undergrad years I was part of an intense small theatre group that has remained in touch and sometimes close for nearly half a century. I had thought a church might be like repertory theatre and that ministers might be like English actors, moving from part to part smoothly. One for all and all for one.
:: September 11, 2001 was Primary Day in New York State, ultimately postponed. As the law stands now, it will be Primary Day (for all races except the Presidency) on average every seven years. Some people think it ought to be changed to a week later, in order to "Honor the dead". I don't. September 11 is a GREAT day to exercise one's freedom.
:: I don't know about you, but I'm coming to the conclusion that the Pentagon subcontracted this job to the same guys that James Bond's enemies always hired to design their headquarters — you know, the one with the prominently labelled SELF DESTRUCT button.
:: Plus, a guy carries around a hammer that can end the world - how cool is that? (Gotta start reading this series....)
:: Which brings us to STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP, NBC’s great white hope from Sorkin and director/producer Tommy Schlamme, the SPORTSNIGHT/WEST WING team. (I've heard pretty much unanimous opinion that the Studio 60 pilot is brilliant; what concerns me is the show being consistently brilliant.)
:: In what sense does an event that features four Republicans but excludes the two senators who were representing New York at the time of the event, but who happen to be Democrats, leave aside partisan rancor?
:: My biggest disappointment of the past five years — the biggest by a very long way — has been the way that George Bush transformed 9/11 from an opportunity to bring the country together into a cynical and partisan cudgel useful primarily for winning a few more votes in national elections. (Mine too. I wanted to believe in George W. Bush after 9-11. Aside from the odd business of him sitting in that classroom for so long, I never had a problem with his conduct on 9-11, or in the days after; his speech to Congress a week later was as good a Presidential address as I've ever heard, and I strongly supported our invasion of Afghanistan. But the man has been one disappointment after another ever since, and "Mission Accomplished" is when he pretty much lost me forever.)
:: So, in just five short months in Rich Lowry World, we went from "The debate over troop levels" is "somewhat beside the point" and "to think that higher troop levels would have been a magic bullet is to indulge a very American faith in the power of mass to overcome anything" to "There is no mystery as to what can make the crucial difference in the battle of Baghdad: American troops" and "The bottom line is this: More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment." It's not just profoundly wrong; it's worse than that. It's ludicrous. (I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that Lowry was calling for more troops as the solution to Iraq. It's just astonishing. Maybe the Army Fairy will stick a few brand new armored divisions under his pillow or something.)
:: As we wrap up another ten songs and move ever so slowly toward our ultimate goal, I'd dare you to denigrate my musical taste, but for two things: you can't because it's so awesome, and nobody reads this anyway! I can expound on great songs according to me with impunity! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!
:: THWUCK! That's just plain good writing...although it sounds like someone will be needing a moist towelette later. (This is actually an old post by the Tensor, but I'm linking it because I finished reading Galactic Patrol the other day and I have all this close at mind. I loved the book, I have to admit -- I figured I'd enjoy it, but man, it was just a terrifically fun read. I'll post more about the Lensmen series one day, but for now, I'd note that if anyone out there is looking to read this iconic space opera, start with Galactic Patrol, and not with Triplanetary. Ignore the fact that Triplanetary may be indicated as the first book in the Lensmen series. That may be true in terms of the chronology of the story, but that's not the order in which E.E. Smith wrote the books, and publishing order is almost always the best reading order. Also, the references in GP to the "ether" struck me as interesting as the book was written several decades after the Michaelson-Morley experiments disproved the existence of the luminiferous aether.)
All for this week. Clear ether!
Monday, September 11, 2006
Five years hence. So much the same, so much not.
(Images from here.)
Normal blogging, including Sentential Links, returns tomorrow.
Fading Into Memory (a repost)
The first major historical event of my lifetime was probably the resignation of President Nixon. I was just shy of three years old when that happened, and I have utterly no memory of it. In fact, I have no memory of President Ford, either. The first historical figure of whom I have any distinct memory is President Carter. Thus, the first five years of history through which I lived does not exist for me as memory. They're just pages in the history books, no less so because I lived through them than they are for my daughter who did not.
And for her, 9-11-01 will be the same way. I'll be able to describe to her the incredible sadness of that day; I'll be able to tell her where I was when I heard the news begin to unfold; I'll be able to relate how the news got worse and worse and worse. I'll be able to tell her how, for three days afterward, the skies were clear and unbroken by jet-plane contrails as air traffic was halted. I'll be able to tell her about Buffalo firemen standing in every intersection, taking donations for their brethren in NYC. All that and more, I'll be able to tell her. But it will never be as real for her as it was and is for me. For her, it will be like the Kennedy assassination or Nixon resignation are for me, and how Pearl Harbor was for my parents (Dad was two, Mom was four months).
We tell ourselves that we must never forget, that we must keep the pain real, that we must never allow those terrible moments to recede into history like everything else. But we fool ourselves if we think we can. September 11, 2001 is already receding into history, faster than we realize. And I believe that this is as it should be.
There have been so many horrible days in our nation's history, days when the darkness seemed ready to overwhelm us and threaten the very fabric of our nation. Each time, America has moved on, incorporating the bad days into the tapestry of its history. There will come a time when September 11, 2001 will be just another seminal event in history, more known than remembered. And it won't be a hundred years from now. It's already starting.
I've seen some complaints, online and off, that we aren't doing enough to mark the occasion. Perhaps it's unseemly to many that NBC should air reruns of its Thursday night lineup on such a momentous day, and in truth, it does seem odd to me that not a single prime-time special is devoted to the 9-11-01 anniversary, even though I don't believe that all three networks should devote their entire schedules to it. If this year's observance is less-than-satisfying, I'm still one who found last year's "All 9-11, all the time" approach, even in the days preceding the actual date, to be simply too much. I suppose that I no longer wish to partake in public mourning; and it does not strike me as particularly healthy to try each year to recapture or regenerate the anger and shock and desperation of that day.
For myself, I plan to do much as I did last year. I'll read some American poetry, listen to some American music, and perhaps watch an American movie or an American television show. It just seems right to me to take a bit of time to reflect on American cultural artifacts tomorrow, since it was not just America but American culture that was attacked two years ago. That is how I choose to remember and honor those who died: by reminding myself that America is still here, that our contributions to the world and our species are real, and that they will last far, far longer than Osama Bin Laden's hatred ever possibly can - - even if he crashes a thousand planes into our thousand tallest buildings.
There is more sanctity - - true sanctity, that which celebrates beauty in the face of a harsh world and an unforgiving universe - - in a Gene Kelly dance number, in a Frank Lloyd Wright building, in a Lerner-and-Loewe song, in the taste of a grilled hot dog, in the crack of a baseball bat, in the spiral of a perfectly-thrown football, and in a Robert Heinlein short story than there are in the hearts of a million terrorists who are prepared to immolate themselves and a thousand innocents in the name of a hating God.
"The CIty of Dead Works" (a repost)
There is never any rest for me, the Ferryman of the Dead.
I pole my barge across the black waters and up to the pier. So many wait this time, many more than usual. I wonder what has happened, what event has sent me this many. "Come aboard," I say. "I will take your coin for passage." One by one they file past me, each handing to me the coin that they never knew they had. It is the coin which determines where they shall be taken to rest, its metal shaped and determined by life. The coins of these dead are gold, every one of them purest gold. Six thousand come aboard my barge, and each has passage for the farthest and greatest of destinations. In that moment I know that something truly dark has happened; the gold coins are always forged in moments of darkness. I am the Ferryman. I can give them no answers to what lies behind their haunted, questioning eyes. I can only take them on this, the last of all journeys.
When they are all aboard I take up the pole and push away from the pier. The barge always feels the same, no matter how many stand upon its decks. Whether six or six thousand, it is all the same to me. I guide us out onto the River Styx. Some of the people look worried, but there is no need for fear. This river can do them no harm. They are already dead.
This is to be a long journey, I know – it always is, to this destination. As I guide the barge through the black waters, I look on the faces of those who have come to me. As different as these people all look, they all have the same expressions of shock, disbelief, and withering sadness. Here is a man of business, talking into a cell phone. He is trying to call someone, anyone, who will tell him that it’s all a dream, that it didn’t happen, that he didn’t die in a blast of fire, smoke, glass and steel. There is a mother who is explaining to her daughter that they won’t be going to Disneyland after all. And there, a group of firemen stand together, realizing that soon they will meet all their brothers-in-arms who have gone into the infernos before them. So many now – colleagues once in business and now colleagues in death, people who have never before met but now have the gravest thing in common. As the current takes hold, I look back at the pier. There are more gathering there. There are always more. They will wait. Time does not exist for the dead.
"Please," a young man says as he turns to me, "I have to go home to my daughters."
"You are going home now," I reply. "To the home where all eventually return." Two black rocks slide past on either side, the rocks that mark the passage of the circling Styx.
"This can’t be," a woman cries out. "My mother needs me."
"She will be with you soon enough."
"When?" Her voice pleads, and yet there is no solace that is mine to give.
"I cannot say," I reply. "The Ferryman has no hand in Fate."
The tears come then, tears from the six thousand that run over the gunwales and into the river which has been fed by tears for centuries. All tears are born in the River Styx.
"Where will you take us?" someone asks.
"To the place you are promised," I answer. I recall the words of a poet: Will there be beds for all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come.
One our left we approach the Hills of the Damned, an endless stretch of shattered lands which reach away into the blackness. The waters echo with the cries of all those who have been taken to the Hills for the agony they have brought on the living. I consider the bag of six thousand gold coins, and I realize that I will have to journey to the Hills this day. There will be a person, perhaps more, who will pay me with a coin of black tin; but not on this journey. As the hills recede behind us, the unending cries of the damned become fainter and fainter until they are drowned out by the lapping of the waters upon the sides of the boat and the marker stones that we pass. The six thousand fall silent, each realizing that it is not a dream. I would offer solace, but as ever I cannot. I am the Ferryman.
We come around a particularly dark bend, and before us lies a very wide expanse of water, as if the Styx has become an ocean – which in some sense it probably has. And beyond that expanse are the thousands of twinkling lights that I have come to know so well. One man, a fireman, sees them too. "What is that?" he asks.
"It is the City of Dead Works," I reply. The lights of the city glow on the horizon, and every one of the six thousand turns toward them as the Styx impels us onward. As we come ever closer to the city, the glittering lights reflect off the black water.
"I don’t understand," someone else says. "The City of Dead Works?"
"Aye," I reply. "Behold!"
From behind us, golden light: the Sun of the Dead is rising as it always does when the dead come near the City. Above us the firmament is turning purple, then blue; soon the light of the Sun will illuminate the City of Dead Works. As the sky lightens, the true scope of that city becomes plain: it stretches away into the land, farther than any eye could see. Not even the highest-soaring raven, cavorting in the breezes and zephyrs of the dead, could take it all in. It is bigger by far than any one city ever built by the hand of men, because it encompasses some part of all of them. Perhaps it is bigger than all of the cities ever built. Now the sun’s first rays come up behind us, and the first buildings can be seen down by the water.
"That one looks Egyptian," a woman says.
"The Great Library of Alexandria," I tell her. "Once the greatest repository of learning the world had ever seen, now only a memory to the living and a reality only to the dead."
A man points to a building high upon a rock. I nod.
"The Temple of Solomon," I say.
"There are ships in the harbor," says another. Thus for him I name the ships: Arizona, Indianapolis, Lusitania, Bismarck, Wilhelm Gustloff, Cap Arcona. And many, many others. I scan over the impossibly vast city and spot Dresden, as it was; and beside it the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And how many smaller villages, tucked into the hills beyond the City? None can say. The Sun of the Dead shines upon those hills now, and the great stone statues in the likeness of Siddhartha Gautama.
"I don’t understand," a young man says. "Why this City? Why here?"
I only shake my head as we continue to float by the City. I do not point out the fairly small, nondescript office building that sits near the water. It is not a particularly remarkable building; nor was it, really, until the fuse was lit. The six thousand almost don’t recognize it.
Not one word is uttered as we slide past the Alfred Murrah Federal Building. Then we turn away from the City of Dead Works, and head again down the waters of the Styx toward distant hills and the place where these people will join their brethren.
"Who lives in that city?" It is a priest in a fireman’s coat.
"No one lives there," I tell him. "The City of Dead Works is not for people. It is for the buildings and the ships. It is for the books and the music, the sculptures and the paintings which are gone forever. It is for everything destroyed by craven people in the name of foolish wars, for everything judged forfeit in the face of transitory desires."
The Styx takes us into the Golden Hills. Soon we will be there, and the six thousand will go where they belong. And then the Styx will complete its circle, taking me back to the pier where more dead await.
"We will be there soon," I say. "Soon we will be at the Elysian Fields, where all heroes go – for that is what you all are. It is what you have bought with your lives, with the shaping of your coins into gold." No one replies. We near the last bend now, and before us lie the Elysian Fields, where peace reigns and where heroes dwell; where all is light and voices are always raised in song. The Sun of the Dead shines warmly on Elysium.
But they do not see it. They, the six thousand, all gaze back behind us upon the City of Dead Works. It will soon be behind us forever as we round the last bend of the River Styx into Elysium. I know they all need one last look upon that City, and I do not grudge them that. For myself, I do not look back; the eyes of the Ferryman are ever forward. But I know. I know that the City of Dead Works is different now. I know that it has changed. I know that the people who come with me now to Elysium, the dead around me, look back on the two soaring towers of steel that now rise above the City where there had been no towers before.
I know these things.
I am the Ferryman of the Dead.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Now, given the Godless MSM's adoration for All Things Brady, I'm sure the coverage of this game will focus on how the StuPats mounted a courageous comeback and how they showed amazing poise and how they overcame adversity in their own park and blah blah blah, as opposed to the team in disarray going on the road to the reigning dynasty's house, very nearly beating them, and making them look frankly ordinary in the process.
The Bills are still a losing team. Losing teams have chances to win and fail to convert. That's what the Bills did. But there are still distinctions to be made there: teams that are really downright bad just flail about and never look competent at all, but losing teams that have some pride, work hard, and are really trying to improve at least create a few chances along the way. I've been listening to a bit of the talk radio reaction over the past few minutes, and it's all the same old "They had their chances and they blew it!" stuff. But there's the rub: the Bills made their own chances today, in a way that they never really did last year.
The Bills lost this game because they weren't good enough to overcome a few dumb mistakes (Robert Royal's block in the back was a killer) and, in one extremely important play, simply weren't physical enough to make the smashmouth stuff happen. Today, they were nearly good enough to play with New England in New England. Who thought that would be the case yesterday? Last week? Last spring? At the end of last season? Who would have predicted JP Losman completing sixty-five percent of his passes in a season-opening road game against the StuPats, with no interceptions, several big third-down conversions after escaping pressure, and showing genuine awareness of the field most of the time?
In my NFL predictions post, I noted that I expected the Bills to lose more often than not this year, but I also noted that I hoped that their losses would be of a type where the teams that beat them come away knowing that they very well could have lost, and that they had to play a full game in order to win. That's what the Bills gave today. So even though they lost, call me optimistic for the team in the long term.
And for all the New England lovers out there, just think: they've got a lot of better teams than the Bills ahead of them. It wasn't Losman who completed under fifty percent of his passes today; that was the great Tom Brady, against about as green adn inexperienced a defense as he's likely to face. And when's the last time anyone heard the StuPats getting booed by the hometown faithful, as they were at halftime today?
Pick on the Bills while you can, NFL, because a few more games like today's might just indicate that their days in the darkness may be numbered.
Sunday Burst of Weirdness (and Coolness!)
What's a smoot, you ask? Why, it's the height of one Oliver R. Smoot. How did Mr. Smoot's height become a unit of measurement? For that answer, go check out the various links provided in this MeFi post by Steven Den Beste, who gets credit for the best MeFi post I've ever seen in the three or four years I've been following that site.
The funniest part of the tale, for me, is how the pledges measuring the bridge were set to use a string measured to Smoot's height until an upper classman happened to come by and make them do the task using Smoot himself as the measuring stick.
(BTW, it turns out that I am 1.03886799 Smoots tall.)
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Time for REAL football!
It's time for the National Football League!
I'm using too many exclamation points!
Here you'll find my starting opinions for the upcoming season. Some of these opinions may prove strong, and thus hold their positions; others may prove weak or ineffectual, and get benched for new opinions. Rookie opinions will have to prove themselves by working hard and learning from the veteran opinions, while some long-held opinions may be challenged and some of those may even hear those fateful words, "The coach wants to see you, and bring your playbook."
As always, before I delve into my prognostications, predictions, and poorly-planned provocations, let me note that when I write about football, I take the general approach of a smart and literate guy at the local bar who, despite being smart and literate and having a pretty decent vocabulary and a wealth of pop-cultural knowledge on which to draw for fancy allusions, has nevertheless quaffed a little too muhc Yuengling's to make sense all the time, and may in turn be given to ranting in a way that's unbecoming so smart and literate a personage. If you were keeping count, yes, I called myself "smart" and "literate" three times in that sentence, but that was mainly an attempt to innoculate myself against my inevitable detour into stupidity. So basically: read my football rantings with the same attention you'd give to a mildly buzzed guy at a bar who's watching SportsCenter when he should be at home massaging the wife's feet. OK?
So here we go, using a Q&A format:
:: On a scale of one to ten, with one being the '91 Redskins and with ten being the inaugural season of the Buccaneers, how much will the Buffalo Bills suck in 2006?
Five. Next question.
Oh. OK. Well, they sucked last year. No doubt about that. The Bills went into last year boasting madly about how awesome their defense was going to be, how that D was going to remind people of the '85 Bears or the '00 Ravens, how JP Losman would be OK because that D would carry the team to a few wins while Losman was learning the ropes of starting in the NFL, how they'd make the playoffs on the basis of that amazing D.
So the Bills prompty went 5-11 on the year, with that amazing D coming in almost dead last in points allowed, yardage, pride maintained -- just about any statistic you can name.
But the D is only half the story, right? Sure -- and the offense was equally bad, if not worse. Everybody knew that Losman would struggle as a secord-year player, first-time starter; everybody, that is, except the Bills' coaching staff, who were apparently astonished that Losman wasn't ready to lead a winner of a team. So they panicked and put in Kelly Holcomb, a guy who's perfectly nice and may make a decent QB coach some day but who is clearly not going to lead anybody to an NFL title anytime soon. This decision had the effect of pleasing certain unhappy veterans on the Bills, which in turn undermined the coaching staff even further. So the staff got even more desperate. Head coach Mike Mularkey took playcalling duties away from his own offensive coordinator, and then he did things like pull the team's best offensive player, running back Willis McGahee, out of games in third-down and goal-line situations. He called gimick plays in games in which the running game had been working, frequently resulting in stalled drives for no points. His rosters might as well have not even included any tight ends at all, so small a role did they play in his years here, despite the fact that Mularkey was an NFL tight end himself and the fact that for a raw young quarterback, the best thing to have after a good offensive line is a tight end who can make those short, safe catches in order to keep the chains moving.
And then there was my personal obsession: the offensive line.
For what must have been the fifth consecutive year, the Bills fielded the worst offensive line in football. (Or second worst, after Houston's.) Mike Williams, taken fourth overall in the 2001 draft, finally stopped hovering in the "May one day realize his potential" category and sank, hippopotamus-like, into the mud of Major Draft Bust-dom. Standing at his side, watching opposing defensive lineman go right through his collander-like grasp, was Bennie Anderson. JP Losman was frequently dodging defenders by the time he'd even finished dropping back to throw.
So we had a defensive line that rarely generated pressure on opposing QB's and couldn't stop the run; a linebacking corps hindered by the tear of Takeo Spikes's ACL; and a secondary that was anchored by a selfish has-been (Lawyer Milloy, who once wisely intoned that "You can't feed your family Super Bowl rings"), and a selfish wanna-be (Nate Clements, who dubbed himself "the playmaker" and then got taken to school by every good receiver the Bills faced). We had a green quarterback who was undermined within the locker room and by the coaching staff. We had a running back who, despite unquestionable talent, seemed lackadaisical much of the time. We had a receiving corps led by an increasingly pouty veteran (Eric Moulds, whom I'm sure will find the state of the Houston Texans much more to his liking), and a group of tight ends whose existence I confirm by looking them up in Street and Smith's (because I sure never saw them on the field).
What a mess. Five years of Tom Donahoe's inattention to parts of the team combined with his failed efforts to fix other parts of the team led to a broken mess of a franchise.
Enter Marv Levy as General Manager, who then hired Dick Jauron as head coach, and then said goodbye to Mike Williams, Lawyer Milloy, Bennie Anderson, Eric Moulds, Sam Adams, Mark Campbell, and Trey Teague. Levy then said "Hello" to Robert Royal (TE), Craig Nall (QB), Larry Tripplett (DT), Melvin Fowler (C), and Peerless Price (WR). In the draft, after stunning Buffalo by saying "pass" to Matt Leinart, Levy said "Hello" to Donte Whitner, John McCargo, and a number of other defensive prospects. Levy addressed defense in his draft, once again ignoring, to my chagrin, the offensive line. He gave strangely large contracts to Peerless Price, a receiver who has had exactly one good year in his six-year career, and Craig Nall, a QB who has never done anything but back up Brett Favre. So the jury's still out on Marv Levy as GM, of course. But if most of his initial draft picks pan out, maybe the Bills will turn the franchise around sooner rather than later. (Tom Donahoe's drafts were pretty much "Meh", even with McGahee and potentially Losman included in the consideration.)
As a Bills fan, it's hard not to fall into the "Geez, they can't get worse!" way of thinking. If nothing else, the atmosphere of the locker room heading into this season is far healthier than the atmosphere of last year's locker room, which started out cocky and brash and then finished up bitter and dysfunctional. The Bills know that they're going to be underdogs every time they take the field, that no one expects them to be any good. So they have that going for them, at least. They're a young team again, so if they avoid injuries and everyone progresses OK, this might be the equivalent of the 1986 Bills, who went 4-12 but who also planted that year the seeds of eventual AFC dominance.
Can Losman succeed? Maybe, maybe not. He played poorly last year, but he played in about as bad a situation as an NFL QB can face. I won't be demanding giant accomplishments from Losman -- just more pose and better decision making. If he can complete more than fifty percent of his passes (which he didn't do last year, but has done this preseason), show more poise in the pocket, and cut down on the bad mental errors, I'll be happy.
The team is pretty thin in experience up front, on both sides of the ball. The receiving corps, on paper, is nothing to write home about. The defense might be OK, but the line is still lacking a forceful presence after Pat Williams left two years ago.
The fact is that a lot of things would have to break in the Bills' favor for them to not be under .500 this season. My prediction for them is 6-10, but my hope is that they'll turn from being the bad team that everybody wants to play to the losing team that nobody wants to play. If we get to December and they're sitting on a 3-9 record, but their average margin of defeat is, say, seven or eight points, and they're consistently moving the ball and scoring, then even a final 6-10 record might not indicate a wasted season, as last year's 5-11 did.
:: OK, so have you come around to loving Tom Brady and the team from New England yet?
Never! Stupid Patriots they are, and Stupid Patriots they remain. I will never bow before them! To capitulate would mean to embolden the StuPat fans. I will stay the course, and they shall be the StuPats until they post a record of 6-10 or worse once again, thus putting all to right once more in the football universe.
:: Uhhhh...OK. So you don't think the 'StuPats' will win the Super Bowl this year, then?
Oh, they'll win the AFC East, certainly. And they may win it all once more before age and the salary cap inevitably cut them back to size, sometime in the next year or two. But I don't think they will, because I don't think their much-lauded "intangibles" are still there. Since they actually lost a playoff game last year, and looked bad in doing so, the rest of the league now knows that the StuPats are human after all. And more than that, I'm reminded of something else from the playoffs last year: the tone set by the StuPats in their public statements. In years past, they had always maintained that air of "Gee whiz, even we can't believe our good fortune" image, the "We just work hard and good things happen" air. Instead, there they were, talking in the press about whether or not they were getting enough "respect". And with that, the StuPats were just like every other pro sports franchise.
Besides, I don't think you can see that much attrition in the coaching staff and not see the chemistry suffer in the end.
So, yes, the StuPats are still quite good, and they might be good enough to win it all. But they're no longer "special".
:: OK, then, who is going to win the Super Bowl?
And now I predict the rest of the NFL! Hooray! Here, after much thought, is how I see the divisions ending:
AFC East: New England
AFC North: Pittsburgh
AFC South: Jacksonville
AFC West: Denver
AFC Wildcards: Indianapolis, Cincinnati
NFC East: Dallas
NFC North: Minnesota
NFC South: Carolina
NFC West: Seattle
NFC Wildcards: Philadelphia, Tampa Bay
Note that this year I've managed to avoid a repeat of my lunacy from last year, when I picked Arizona to make the playoffs. Ick. As much I'd love to see Kurt Warner have one more stellar year to prove that he's still got it and those three amazing years he had weren't the biggest fluke in NFL history, I think that's over with. And I'm not jumping on the Matt Leinart bandwagon yet, because I'm not jumping on the bandwagon of anybody who hangs out with Paris Hilton.
I'm also finding it hard to maintain the Indy love. Last year should have been their year, and they still failed when it mattered most. The Seahawks may suffer from a post-Super Bowl hangover, but I don't think they will, really, because they came out of that game pissed off and believing they'd been screwed out of their win. I don't agree with their assessment, but hey, I think they'll still be hungry.
So who do I predict, then? The AFC is pretty hard; I can honestly see any of the teams I've picked to get to the AFC playoffs making the Super Bowl. In the NFC, though, I think it's either Carolina or Seattle to beat.
So I'll take Carolina, and I'll take them to beat, oh, Jacksonville in the Super Bowl. Might as well go out on a limb, right? The two expansion clubs from 1994 will meet in the Super Bowl, and the Panthers will win it.
So let's kick off, already!
:: Jacksonville? Really?
Bite me. It's my blog. You wanna pick the Chiefs and Redskins, get your own blog!