Monday, April 30, 2007


Tim Page on Mstislav Rostropovich, who died the other day:

Mstislav Rostropovich died this morning in the city he had always considered his home -- in Moscow, where he had been flown from Paris by private jet in February after it became apparent that he could not long survive.

"Music and art are a whole spiritual world in Russia," he once said. "In Russia, when people go to a concert, they don't go to it as an attraction, as an entertainment, but to feel life."

I don't currently own any of Rostropovich's recordings, but I owned several of him conducting various works back when my music collection was in its LP-and-cassette days. I also performed Leonard Bernstein's concert overture Slava! one year at music camp, a typically joyous and jazzy Bernstein piece along the lines of his far-more-famous overture to Candide.

For now, here's something eternal: Rostropovich performing the Prelude to Bach's Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello.

Bon voyage, Slava.

Let's not let this become a quadrennial event.

May 1, four years ago:

Today: Al Qaeda is getting stronger. The "surge" isn't working yet. Four years into the War on Terror, terrorist attacks are sharply up. More than 100 soldiers in Iraq dead this month alone. Setting self-defense and self-policing aside, Iraqis are increasingly unable to reconstruct their own country. Four years after we "ousted" the Taliban, we're still launching major offensives against them. American dead in Iraq outnumber American dead in the attacks on 9-11-01, with no end in sight.

Four years. There's your legacy, Mr. President: a stunt flight, a banner, bombs, death, and failure.

Sentential Links #97

Ninety-seven. That's the frequency -- well, 96.9 -- of a Buffalo radio station. Other than that, I'm not sure what ninety-seven signifies. So on with the links.

:: If you’re in a team of hundreds of people building a skyscraper, you can probably sneak off for a nap and let everyone else pick up your slack. But if you’re the only bricklayer working on a particular house then goofing off is just self-defeating. The carpenter isn’t going to start laying bricks when he sees you dozing.

:: Now only a sucker would let themselves get hooked on a Fox show early on: chances are if it's good, they'll can it.

:: I don’t sense a sense of panic, or even a feeling of fear, amongst the Buffalo faithful. The general feeling of those I have talked to is simple: the Rangers needed double-overtime at home to pull out a win in a must-win game. (Well, some people I talk too sound a bit jittery, so can anyone confirm for me what a friend told me this morning: No NHL team has ever run the table in the playoffs, going 16-0 on their way to the Cup?)

:: I’m all for hugs, but I’m just not sold on this angle, is what I’m saying. (What is it about Family Circus that demands that I read it?!)

:: Remember that others quite different from you are also looking for a place of love and shelter behind a hedge guarding them from a hostile world. (Link to this blog originally via David Trowbridge. I find the Quaker faith enormously appealing on a number of levels, although I haven't as yet done any exploration of it at all. But one of my favorite spiritual vignettes comes from Quakerism: Someone walks into a Quaker church and asks a Quaker, "When does the service begin?" And the Quaker responds: "When the worship ends." I love the sentiment there.)

:: While I was upset at losing the little one that I saw on those ultrasounds, it did not feel even 1/100th of how I'd have felt if we'd lost my then 17 month old daughter. Not even close.

:: And I tell him, "I want you to remember that a liberal atheist has forgiven you today. I don't want you to ever forget that, as long as you live, do not forget what happened here. I don't have God behind me, but I speak for myself, and I forgive you for myself, and for you. Never forget this." (Actually, read this post first for the whole story. If you watch the YouTube clip, be aware that were this a film, the rating would be R.

:: And now I am nearly forty-three, and it feels as young as dandelions and unopened presents and a new straw hat. (Happy birthday to one of my unfailing daily reads -- "unfailing" in that I never fail to read her, and she never fails to make me either smile, think, or want to step away from the computer and pick up a book.)

:: In other news, Kelly and I are expecting our first baby, and the new arrival should be here around Thanksgiving. (I just hope he doesn't get confused at grilling babies and big hunks of brisket look disturbingly similar....)

All for this week. Keep the faith, or something like that....

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hey! I know them!

The folks on the front page of the Buffalo News looked familiar to me, and sure enough, they were: Kevin and Val were there, as part of an article on how Blogistan has abetted the efforts of Sabres fans in building a virtual community therein. Very cool, and congrats to them; I always assumed that if Kevin and Val made the front page of the News, it would be as they were carried away in handcuffs by police officers after they protested something George Bush did.

UPDATE: OK, I just perused the article online, and only then did I realize that while the article specifically mentions Kevin and Val prominently, the name of their blog is never mentioned, nor is a URL given. And down the page, they again omit a URL -- for the Sabre Rattling blog -- even though they at least mention that blog's name.

Come on, Buffalo News. If you're going to mention a blog, you have to mention the blog names, and you have to give the URLs. Someone is going to read that story and wonder just how they can find all these nifty Sabres blogs, and they're not going to know how. This is basic stuff. Could we please get it right, someday?!

Gettin' drafty in here!

While I wait for the Sabres to dump the Rangers (they're in OT right now as I write this), I figure I should toss up some reaction to the NFL Draft. Because hey, it's the NFL Draft. Wheeeee. (Usually the draft is more exciting around here, but right now, the Sabres have such a command on the Buffalo sports consciousness that I truly think that if it were announced that Jim Kelly had been cloned and then the Bills had drafted him, the reaction around here would be, "That's nice. Now how 'bout that Sabres power play!")

First, about the Bills: Looks like another standard Bills draft. Some needs filled, others not so much. What's nice is the general lack in the Marv Levy era of the old standby of Tom Donahoe's drafts: the general focus on solid athleticism on the part of the guys they pick, and the general sense that the organization has done its homework, come into the draft with a group of players in mind, and then gone about the task of getting as many of those players as possible without making a lot of gonzo trades with draft picks. Yes, they did move some picks around in order to grab the guys they wanted, but none of it really struck me as insane moving around.

So, the good: they got their new running back (Marshawn Lynch) and stud linebacker (Paul Posluzsny). As is a long-standing practice of theirs, they took a defensive back in a later round (safety John Wendling, sixth round) who is apparently a very fine athlete. In fact, the drafts of the 90s under Bill Polian and John Butler tended to emphasize strong athletes in the lower rounds, guys who could be groomed into starters over a couple of years, and it was that draft strategy in part that had the Bills as one of the league's best teams of that era. Tom Donahoe didn't seem to draft those kinds of prospects very well, which is one big reason the Bills haven't made the playoffs since the Donahoe era began. (It should be noted here that Butler, not Donahoe, presided over the Bills' 2000 draft, which may well be the worst draft in team history. Not a single one of those players panned out, and in the NFL today, if you have an entire draft fail to pan out, it usually spells several years of disaster for a franchise.)

The not-so-good: the Bills virtually ignored the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, not taking a single lineman until their second pick in the seventh round, when they took a defensive lineman who may have already peaked. True, the Bills signed several new offensive linemen already, but they've been very poor at developing O-line talent in this decade (Jason Peters is the lone standout), which is a trend that has to reverse if the team really wants to be a power again in the NFL.

:: The Miami Dolphins are getting older and older at the positions that make a good football team. That organization's in trouble.

:: Does Matt Millen not remember that he was an offensive lineman? And does he not remember spending his final year as a player on the 1991 Redskins, the team that had the best offensive line I've ever seen? Why does Millen keep insisting that taking wide receivers in the top five is a good idea? Why does Millen still have a job? What is going on in Detroit?!

:: Boy, Bill Belichick really thinks he's some kind of football deity, doesn't he? The StuPats have traded for Randy Moss, of all people, who is an aging player with bags of character concerns; plus, New England drafted in the first round a guy who also comes with bags of character concerns. This, plus Belichick's boorish behavior after his boys choked in the AFC Championship Game and the slide of Tom Brady's halo over the last few years make pretty clear that if the StuPats win the Super Bowl this year -- and they very well might -- they'll look more like the Cowboys of the 90s in doing so, when everybody starting hating them.

:: Geez, now the Sabres and Rangers are in the second OT. I'm going to wrap this up now.

:: And as I wrote that sentence, apparently the Rangers won. Well, that's OK. The Sabres let the Islanders have a win in their series, too. That just means we'll take 'em in five.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I won't even try to describe it. I think it's safe for work, but it's fairly demented.

Here it is.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ow! My credulity! It burns!!

Just a brief note about tonight's episode of The Office: this show had better come up with a really convincing explanation of just how Michael avoids getting fired for this debacle. I often have trouble maintaining my suspension of disbelief regarding Michael's ability to get away with some of the stuff he does, but tonight? The only people in real life who screw up this badly and keep their jobs work for George W. Bush.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sarcasm in Print

I'm seeing linked all over the place a letter that appeared in an Arkansas newspaper:

You may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand that it was the hottest March since the beginning of the last century. All of the trees were fully leafed out and legions of bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when, on a normal year, we might see a snowflake or two. This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they ?

Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.

However, according to, the writer of this letter has in the past written some highly sarcastic letters to the editors of that same paper, so it's likely that what's going on here is a bit of "Modest Proposal"-type satire. (I didn't say it was good satire, but it probably is satire.)

Ask Me Anything! (an extremely belated conclusion)

I swear that I must have the most polite readers of anyone in all of Blogistan, because I solicited questions for a round of Ask Me Anything! way back in February, and then I only answered a little more than half of them; and still, no one has said to me anything along the lines of "Hey, turkey, howzabout answering those questions!" You all knew I'd get round to it sometime, after all. And here I am, because in these parts, it's all about you!

:: From Roger: What 2006 death affected you most deeply?

Well, we're now sufficiently far into 2007 that I don't remember who all died in 2006! So it's off to Wikipedia, which helpfully lists deaths by year (I assume that I can trust Wikipedia on the subject of someone being dead, right?). Here are a few names that leap out: Jack Williamson, Ed Bradley, Buck O'Neil, Tetsuro Tamba, Malcolm Arnold, Ann Richards, Maynard Ferguson, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Mako, Jim Baen, Gyorgi Ligeti, Timothy Hildebrandt, Leslie Alcock, Lloyd Bentsen, William Sloane Coffin, Stanislaw Lem, Buck Owens, Kirby Puckett, Octavia Butler, Dennis Weaver, Robert E. Rich Sr., Phil Brown, Coretta Scott King. (That's a partial list, of course. If I didn't list someone, that doesn't mean that I don't care that they died!)

:: From Traci: How much snow have you gotten this winter?

Now that winter's over and the ever-present spectre of April snowfall seems to have finally moved on, it seems that we can fill in the blanks on snowfall 2006-2007. According to the Buffalo News from this past Sunday, Buffalo had received 89 inches of snow this season to date; and remember, around 30 of that came in a single instance: the "surprise storm" of October. Had that storm not transpired, this would have been one of the mildest winters, in terms of snowfall, that anyone could remember.

By comparison, as of that same date Rochester had recorded 106.9 inches (almost exactly a foot-and-a-half more than Buffalo), and Syracuse had recorded 140.2 inches (over four feet more than Buffalo).

:: From Jason: Who said, "I'd rather read the worst book ever written than watch the best movie ever made?"

I had to resort to Google for this one, and now that I know it, I'm surprised that I didn't recognize the quote. Bummer. I'll leave this one unanswered for those of you who want to Google it yourselves.

:: From Simon: From your ROWR feature (and going back to when it went under a different name I can't recall right now), can you cull your top five?

Top five? Wow, that's tough. Hmmmmm....I guess I'd go with Gillian Anderson, Sela Ward, Kate Winslett, Sophie Marceau, and from the "Retro" selections, Audrey Hepburn.

:: From Charlie: If you could become (in a poof-your-wish-is-granted sort of instantaneous fashion) the most talented person in the world at any one thing, what thing would you choose?

This is a tricky question, I must admit: it's tempting to say "Writing" or whatever other passions I have, but if I became spontaneously talented as such, I'd lose out on the whole "thrill of discovery" that comes with exploring a new hobby or vocation, and the lessons learned via experience. So I wouldn't want to spontaneously become the next Gene Wolfe or Guy Gavriel Kay.

However, as a kid I was always terrible at any game or sporting activity that involved throwing. I had a poor arm combined with miserable aim. So I'd like to be able to throw something and always be able to hit my target. How would this be useful? Heck, I don't know. But it would be cool.

And maybe speed-reading, although I'm not sure that if I had the best reading speed on Earth, that in the course of reading War and Peace in an hour I'd miss some pretty important stuff.

:: From Mrs. Mind-Muffins:

What's the best advice you ever received? Did you follow it?

Not so much advice per se, but as the doctors were breaking to us the likely severity of Little Quinn's medical problems (about a month after his birth), one of them kept saying over and over again, "No one is giving up on him."


What would like to be doing n your life five years from now?

Writing, reading, carpentry, a little gardening, listening to music, cooking, eating pizza and chicken wings, talking Star Wars with friends, basking in the afterglow of the Sabres winning the Cup and the Bills winning the Super Bowl, enjoying apple pie (and the occasional coconut cream), walking with The Wife and the Daughter, watching as Buffalo's population begins climbing again, looking pretty damned prescient when overalls come back in fashion (but screw fasion, anyway). Living.

And with that, I think I'm done. Thanks to all who participated, and next time, I'll actually get the answering done in timely fashion!

I'm not putting MY lips there!

I don't usually blog about work, but this seems fairly harmless. In the back of our store, roughly in the middle of the Grocery area, we have a display spot that we always use for various promotions that are going on at any one time. Last month we had a NCAA Final Four-themed display, for instance. And right now, that small display area is devoted to various items that we carry whose manufacturers are doing promotional tie-ins with the impending release of Shrek the Third.

We always have special decorative signage for these displays. Some of these signs we make ourselves; others are provided by our vendors. Right now we have a giant inflatable Shrek hanging from the ceiling; this came from a vendor. When I say "giant", I mean, this thing is big. We're talking about seven feet tall. "Life-size", I suppose; Shrek always looks like a pretty big fellow in the movies.

Note that I said that Shrek is inflatable. Which means that he's made of that thick plastic that they make beach balls out of, and which also means that somewhere on his body is a little plastic valve and nozzle where one engages in the act of, well, blowing Shrek up.

And when they were manufacturing these giant inflatable Shreks, where do you suppose they located that little plastic valve? At the center of his posterior, obviously. So when we eventually deflate him, there's a good chance that our big Shrek will turn out to be a giant whoopee cushion.

I swear I am not making this up.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Letter to a Mother, Gone to Sea

Today is International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, a holiday decreed by fantasy author Jo Walton in response to Howard Hendrix, a guy who views people who put their written work online as equivalent to union scabs, or something like that. I, of course, have been putting fiction of mine online for quite a while now; see the links in the sidebar (under "Notable Dispatches") and, of course, Book One of The Promised King.

Here is a story I wrote a couple of years ago, submitted once, and then forgot about after I stamped all over the rejection slip and cursed the editor who passed on it and vowed eternal vengeance upon him and his children. (Well, not really. But I was disappointed; I rather like the tale.) If you're a newer reader who hasn't read any of my fiction, I hope you like it and peruse some of my other stuff.


"Letter to a Mother, Gone to Sea"

Dearest Mother,

Father is gone now, and I can finally come down to the Sea. The Sisters do not know that I have come here. I know that I will have to say extra penance for taking leave, but I had to come down and offer this message to the Sea. It may never reach you, and even if it does, I may never hear your reply. I know that has to be the way of it. You are from the Sea, and Father was from the Land, and there are laws governing such unions. We don't speak of those laws, we who now serve the One God. But some of us remember them.

I have never told anyone the truth of my birth, of what my mother truly was. Anyone I told, like Father, would wonder if I belong to the Sea, or to the Land, or perhaps both. Maybe that's the real reason I wrote this letter, and why I have braved the anger of the Sisters to come down and give this message to the receding tide. I wonder myself which is the greater part of my soul, the Water or the Earth.

My last memory of you is probably the last memory you have of me: on the morning I turned nine, you came to the side of my bed, and you kissed me and cried one tear. Then Father carried you down to the Sea, and I never saw you again. The next day Father and I left our little home by the Sea and went to the Mountains. When I asked, he would only tell me that you were gone to your true home. I saw that the question hurt him, and for that reason I didn't ask him again. But I long wondered why your true home was not with him or with me. Part of me still wonders that.

I watched the Sea disappear behind our wagon, a little bit at a time as the hills surrounded us, until the last bit of blue water vanished behind one more hill. The moment when I will give this message to the water will be the first time in all the days since then that I have laid my gaze upon the Sea. There are times, however, when I keep vigil in the tower chapel and the wind shifts from the north and the west, and I catch the tiniest whisper of salt on the air, and I think of you. I don't know if any of the Sisters realize if that bit of salt on the air is even there.

Father, it turned out, had cousins up in the high country, kinsmen of whom I had never known until we arrived there. He paid what little gold he had for a tiny parcel of land, and he pledged to them the fruits of his labor for the first two years in exchange for three cattle. Father knew cattle.

The days became routine very quickly, even in the colder months. There was work, always work, and there was prayer. And we read from Father's books. He only had the eight books to read from, but how we read from them, both of us, by the light of the candles. After three years of such work, when I was twelve, Father and I went to sell our best cattle at market, and he bought two new books. Those books, perhaps even moreso than the provisions we bought, sustained us through a very cold winter. I like to think that you and he read those books together.

But even when we read the books, Father would become very sad whenever the words would speak of the Sea.

I didn't ask him about the Sea until I turned thirteen. It was the only time he ever became truly angry. He forbade me to ever mention the Sea again, and he made me vow to never journey to the Sea until after he was dead. I feared at first that he might actually strike me, but he didn't. He never raised a hand to me in the years we had together. I think he was always afraid to show anger toward me, and now I know why: he was afraid that I would leave him and follow you to the Sea. Even though he took me up into the Mountains, he always knew that my way would be clear, if I needed it to be. I would merely need to follow the streams and the rivers down to the Sea. Down to you.

What else of our life up there? Sometimes we gathered with other clans. The stories that we told around their fires were tales of magic, of beasts living in the mists, of mountain hollows where thieves and brigands and outlaws lived. Father knew so many tales. Is that one reason you loved him?

And one time a King's Man actually came riding up our road. How handsome he was in his finery! But he had come only to give us news that the old King had died, and his son had been crowned the new King. Tidings came slowly to us. Wars were over before we ever learned they had begun.

Our only other connection with an outside world was through the Brothers in the Monastery and the Sisters in their Convent. Father never really trusted them, but how I loved the music that echoed through their halls, music that had been brought here from a place called Rome, on the other side of the world, and that hadn't been changed in something like a thousand years. In that way their music is much like the song of the Highland folk. Do you have music in your world, out there beneath the waves?

Father first became sick two winters ago, and he was never truly strong again. I think he knew from the first night of coughing that he was going to die, but he never let me see the fear in his eyes or hear the sadness in his voice. That is, he didn't think I saw those things. But I did. He tried to hide it from me, but I always saw the pain in his body and in his heart. Sometimes he would spend a long while just gazing off into the distance. I know now that he was really looking down the Mountains, down toward the Sea.

Father became weaker and weaker as the days and months went on. He called it "the Fever", but I think he started getting truly sick when he took you back to the Sea. I could see that Father was wasting away, and I finally knew that he was never going to get stronger when he sat down beside my bed one night and, before blowing out the candle, spoke to me of you.

I think that we both wanted to speak of you many times before that, and maybe if we had, Father's heart might have been stronger when the Fever came, and maybe I would have found my place between the Waters and the Earth. But I was afraid that speaking of you would cause Father too much pain, and he was afraid that speaking of you would kindle in me an unquenchable yearning for the Sea. And thus he would lose me, as he lost you.

He told me how on a stormier day than the other fishermen would brave, he took his nets to sea anyway, and how he was caught in a terrible squall within sight of land. He told me how his boat sank from beneath him, and how when he himself was swamped by the waves, you came to him. He told me of the strength he felt in your arms and in your tail as you propelled him forward, toward the shore; he told me that fighting the seas and the tides and the waves and the winds nearly killed you. When he pulled himself up onto the shore at last, and took air into his lungs again, he found you beside him, near death. And though he had been told throughout his childhood that mermaids are dangerous creatures – "To care for a mermaid is to lose your heart to her forever," the fishermen say – he brought you to his cottage and to his hearth, where he brought you back to health.

He told me how you soon took the form of a human woman and exacted that fabled price from him: you laid claim to his heart. But what the legends didn't reveal was that a man could lay claim to the heart of a mermaid in equal measure, and that you thus became his wife, and that you bore him a child...a daughter. Me.

Father began to weep when he told how you became weaker and weaker with each passing winter that you spent on the land, within sight of the Sea but never returning to it, and he told me how he finally realized that you would have to return to the waters if you were to live. Thus he sacrificed a life with his love that she might live, though it meant that he could never see her again. Even so, the memory was too painful for him at first, and that was why he brought me to the Mountains. That, and the fear that I would be more mermaid than maiden and that I would follow you into whatever realm lies beneath the waves.

It never occurred to me, until after Father told me all this, how it must have hurt you as well. If you had decided to stay, you would have died. If you had decided to stay, you and Father would have no more been together than if you left. I suppose that Father's choice was between you living and you dying, but to still be with you was forbidden. That is the true law of unions between man and mermaid.

Father died on the first day of Spring, as we reckoned it up there in a place where the snow still falls and ice still forms on the pools in the streams in the heights of summer. The Sisters came to us in his final hours, that he might not die unshriven, and they took me in after they buried him in the yard within their walls. They gave me sanctuary, and have asked me to become one of them. I have not yet decided. I am not certain if that is my way, or even if I shall return. I do not know what I shall feel, when I stand once more at the side of the Sea.

Father knew that I would come to the Sea, though, for his last words to me told me something that you had told him. "If you wish to speak to the mermaids," he said, "you can only wait until one of them comes unbidden to you. But it is also said that the mermaids read the messages that are written by those true at heart, who then seal their words within a bottle and throw the bottle into the Sea. Do that, sweet Daughter. She will find your message, so long as you are true at heart."

Father's words are all I have now, Mother. I do not know if I am true at heart, but I hope that I am and that these words find their way to you. But you are just one mermaid, and I am just one girl, and the Sea is so very wide.

I hope that when I stand beside the waters, I realize my place. Perhaps it is beneath the waves with you, or perhaps it is amongst the hills of the Highlands. Soon I shall know. I set out for the Sea as soon as I write these last words. Perhaps you will be there, waiting for me. Perhaps.

Your Daughter

(This is the text of a letter found inside a corked bottle on a beach near Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1957. Scientific analysis suggests that the paper on which the letter is written is over two hundred years old. It has been hypothesized that the two spots of water damage on the paper are tearmarks, but residue in one of the spots suggests that this spot may not be the tear of a human.)


Sentential Links #96

Ninety-six, as in, the last full calendar year in which I was a bachelor: 1996. O how time flies!

Anyhow, the linkage for this week ensues....

:: I saw empathy on my little girl’s face as she handed a hungry person soup and crackers leftover from her lunch downtown today. And a few minutes later, while holding my hand and walking through the canyons of the financial district, she told me she loved me. (Completely random blog find.)

:: Knowing full well the nature of the Internet, I have always kept this blog below the radar. The door is open, the fire is lit, and there are comfy chairs aplenty. There is, however, no listing in the phone book, no neon sign to point the way here. (Maybe not, but here's a guy saying, "Go there." Heh!)

:: Since the junior Pattersons don’t own any skilled rescue beasts, perhaps Deanna is hoping that a couple quick drownings, Mike’s subsequent suicide, and a sale at market rates of a house they bought at a steep family discount add up to her ticket to sweet, sweet freedom. (Yeah, For Better or For Worse snark is slowly becoming a regular feature here. Hey, I need something to vent on, and FBoFW is as good a target as anyway. And even as much as I think Calvin and Hobbes is a masterwork of late-20th century art of any kind, I've decided that "Everyone calls me Clambake" is the greatest thing that anybody has ever said in a comic strip, ever. Yes, I used 'ever' twice in one sentence. That's how strongly I feel about this!)

:: He also talked about his preferred equipment -- a typewriter. For you kids out there who don't understand this word, it's that thing Stephen Cannell pounded away on before victoriously yanking out the last page of the best episode of "The A-Team" and flinging it away.

:: So with that said, finding my name on this post “Congratulations, Nominees” was somewhat shocking (and a wee bit exhilarating) AND proof that every vote counts, because I’m certain that my lone wee self-nomination as a moment of weakness is not deserving of a slot in this category. Personal Blog? Maybe... (You know what, folks? The "personal blog" doesn't get nearly enough love, and I'll shout as much from the rooftops. If you're a generally single-issue blogger, you'll generally get more notice than if you're just all over the damn place, and I have to admit to finding this frustrating. And I'd like ArtVoice to explain why BuffaloRising wasn't a blog last year, but is a blog this year? Huh? But anyway: congrats to Jen, who deserves it just on the basis that a few months ago I was in Rochester, and someone recognized me because they had seen my blog through hers. I don't know how she does that. I half expect that if I were running The Amazing Race, and if my team was somewhere in India, I'd meet someone bathing in the Ganges who would say, "Hey! I've read you! All Things Jennifer!")

:: I somehow managed to drive home while in a fetal position. (He's a TV writer, folks. One of my favorite blogs now.)

:: It has always seemed to me to be an artistic refuge for composers who don't have any ideas, who decide to make an artistic virtue out of their faults, and to wear proudly the shroud of their creative bankrupcy. (Scroll down to the post dated "20070422.1430". He's talking about Minimalism here, with specific regard to an anime whose score he dislikes. I'm not a huge fan of minimalism either, but then, I don't know a great deal about it.)

:: As the Sabres enjoy some rest and start preparing for the next round they should look back at this series and realize that their regular season record means nothing in the playoffs. (Amen to that! And check out the photos he has from Game Five of the Islanders series.)

:: But this fracking takes the gorram cake. Wikipedia has deleted its list of fictional expletives!! All of their reasons are total kark -- various smeg about it being "indiscriminate", "unverifiable"... a lot of which seem to boil down to it not having the Dignity of An Encyclopedia Topic. (Wow, that's pretty toktru stupid.)

Well, that's about it for now, I suppose. Rock on, folks.

Parking, parking, parking!

In this post from yesterday, I discussed my belief that parking garages need not be disastrous ugly buildings that destroy cityscapes. In comments, "Bill" responds:

The problem is not the ugliness, per se-- it is really more that the street life disappears around parking structures. There is no pedestrian activity, and a big block of space becomes the urban equivalent of a desert. Worse, actually-- the lack of activity can make these areas more dangerous. We have plenty of parking-- and plenty of arid desert in downtown Buffalo.

But again, my point is that this doesn't have to be the way it is around parking garages. It just doesn't. I'm not suggesting building a prettier parking garage that is still just a parking garage. Here's what I'm thinking of:

That's Eaton Centre in Toronto, facing south on Yonge Street. (Photo filched from this Toronto blog.)

See all that street facade, there? You can make out the actual parking structure lurking behind that, and in the middle of the photo you can also see the entrance to the garage where the cars go in. But flanking that garage entrance, and in front of the parking garage itself, is a regular old streetscape, with stores and, therefore, pedestrian activity. If the new waterfront/Central Wharf project is going to have its own parking -- and it will have to, nobody's going to walk all the way from the parking at HSBC Arena or farther into downtown to this thing, no matter how much parking exists in downtown already -- that's the way to build it.

A building that is primarily parking garage doesn't have to just be parking garage, and it certainly doesn't have to be a big gray box. (And note that there's nothing mysterious about this: it's just simple urban design principle at work. Build to the street, and hide your parking.)

To arms!

I often wonder just what it would take to get Americans to rise up and storm the gates of their corporate masters. Maybe...the threat to chocolate could do it!

The federal Food and Drug Administration is proposing to redefine the very essence of chocolate and to allow big manufacturers such as Hershey to sell a bar devoid of a key ingredient — cocoa butter. The butter's natural texture could be replaced with inferior alternatives, such as vegetable fats. And consumers would never know.

Chocolatier Gary Guittard said it best: "No one can afford to sit back and eat bonbons while America's great passion for chocolate is threatened."

For every defender of traditional chocolate, there are powerful proponents who want to replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil: the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Snack Food Association. These industry titans have filed a "citizens petition" to the FDA, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, as if there were some groundswell in society to water down chocolate.

At the moment, chocolate requires two basic ingredients — cocoa and cocoa butter. Cocoa provides much of the flavor; cocoa butter, the texture. So if, say, Hershey wanted to make a chocolate bar without cocoa butter, it can under today's rules. The product has to be labeled "chocolate flavored" (for it still has the cocoa in it) rather than "chocolate." That gives the consumer a signal that something less than chocolate lies beneath the wrapping. To help defend chocolate, visit and learn how to submit feedback to the FDA.

Well, of course it's a done deal, because we're in an era in which whatever Giant Company A asks the government to do, the government does.

But dammit, leave chocolate alone!


Sunday, April 22, 2007


A few lazy links:

:: It somehow escaped my notice until just a few days ago that one of the Buffalo News's new blogs is devoted to poetry. That's pretty cool.

:: Good article in the News today by Larry Quinn, one of the big wheels behind the eternal project of developing Buffalo's waterfront, whose big thing right now is the Bass Pro project. A sample:

They want to fight about where the plaza ought to be, as if there is a substantial difference between the new and old location.

They don’t want parking, as if any project could conceivably be successful without it.

They don’t want big-box stores, as if reconstructing the Central Wharf is analogous to erecting a single-story cinder-block building in a sea of asphalt.

They think the project costs the public too much, as if leaving the ground vacant for the last 70 years didn’t cost us millions upon millions. They ignore the tens of millions of dollars to be generated in sales and property taxes and the economic impact of new jobs.

They don’t like the process; we apparently didn’t consult with the “right” people or the so-called business leaders who shoot arrows while hiding behind a veil of anonymity and offer nothing but criticism.

And on and on we go. With all due respect to Esmonde and Company, they really are missing the point.

What I never get is the whole objection to parking garages. It's true that garages in Buffalo tend to be giant structures of ugly gray concrete, but that's not true of other places. I sometimes wonder if people who complain about parking garages have ever been to, say, Toronto, where there are lots of parking garages that are virtually invisible as such from the street. Eaton Centre's a good example, and I recall another such example in the vicinity of the Royal Ontario Museum. They don't have to look like this:

:: I have a new review up at GMR of Caitlin R. Kiernan's novel Daughter of Hounds. Short version: the book is excellent.

That's all!

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Wow, what nice weather we've had the last couple of days. That plus The Wife being out of town for a couple of days, leaving me alone with The Daughter, made blogging less of a priority for a bit. In Buffalo, our springs are generally dismal, so we have to take our nice weather as we get it for these few months, and this year the spring has been even more dismal than usual. So this weekend I finally gave the grill its maiden voyage with a couple of steaks. Mmmmm, steak.

So where's the weirdness? Well, I didn't really notice a whole lot of outright weirdness this week, because I didn't spend as much time trolling the Interweb for links. But I did find a few things of varying degrees of weirdness.

:: As a submission for a film class, a film student remade one of the most harrowing scenes from 24, the death of Ryan Chappelle. It's easy to critique the acting -- that's the filmmaker playing Chappelle -- but he indicates that his original Chappelle backed out, leaving him to do it. What's interesting is how closely he got the background stuff, even going so far as to shoot his scene at the same location as the original.

And here's the original, for the sake of comparison.

:: This is an older article, but I'm only just seeing it now (via). It's twenty-five great installments from Calvin and Hobbes. Sadly, my own personal favorite storyline from that strip -- when Calvin was paired with Susie for a school project -- didn't make their cut, but hey, Calvin was rarely less than brilliant.

:: Rich Little was the main entertainment at the Correspondents Dinner in Washington this year. Rich Little. The main entertainment. Apparently Soupy Sales was booked?

:: Sometimes I'm willing to wax poetic about how much better stuff was when I was a kid, but not on the subject of playgrounds. Hard steel jungle gyms and slides on hard rubber (or even bare concrete), whose component parts would reach tremendously hellish temperatures in the baking hot sun of summer, such that the sound of kids coming down the slide was more often the screech of agony when inadvertently bare skin contacted metal than the squeal of thrilled delight at attaining speeds of maybe a mile an hour coming down those speed-challenged slides. Yeah, playgrounds back then were pretty bogus affairs.

Not so much anymore. These kids today will never realize how good they got it!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Some enchanted evening...."

Oops, wrong thing set in the South Pacific. Jason Bennion reminds me of a show I really liked as a kid, Tales of the Gold Monkey. This was a high-adventure pulp show that aired in the 1982-1983 season on ABC, undoubtedly greenlighted in light of the smash 1981 box office success of Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, Gold Monkey wasn't a mere Raiders knock-off, any more than Battlestar Galactica was a Star Wars rip.

Here's a Gold Monkey website, with plenty of relevant lore for the show (including the citation of a film to which Gold Monkey was far more indebted inspirationally than Raiders). Gold Monkey only lasted a single season, but it made a far better impression than the high-adventure pulp show that aired on CBS that same season, the Bruce Boxleitner vehicle Bring 'Em Back Alive, which was based on the exploits in Southeast Asia of big-game hunter Frank Buck. I faithfully watched both shows, but I must admit that Gold Monkey was a lot more fun.

(I never watched Voyagers!, though. I vaguely recall it being on in a timeslot during which we were watching something else, and sure enough, a glance at the Voyagers! IMDb entry confirms this: it was on Sundays at 7:00. In my household, as a ten-year-old geek I knew that suggesting that my parents forego 60 Minutes was a non-starter.)

And just to get my early-80s high-adventure pulp mini-craze credentials really in order, I owned all three issues of this Marvel series. And it was in the year after Raiders came out that something really seminal for me happened. This was back in the days before infomercials, when TV stations would show old movies on Saturday afternoons. There was one period where Buffalo's Channel 7 ran, each Saturday afternoon, an Errol Flynn movie. Now, Mara Maru was not a particularly good movie. But The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood? I was wounded for life when I saw those, and in a good way.

Fun times, those were!

The way of the gun

I hope Teresa Nielsen Hayden doesn't mind, but this comment that was put into a thread at Making Light, and was then posted in full to her own front page, is sufficiently sobering and well-considered that I'm quoting it in full here. (Let me know, TNH, if you want me to remove it.)

UPDATE: TNH requests that I credit the comment's author, who goes by the handle "Old Jarhead". While he doesn't seem to have a blog or site of his own, his entire commenting history at Making Light (a short history thus far, but insightful) can be perused here.

If you intend to get a carry permit and pack heat for self protection, you should keep several things close to mind:

1. Unless you have invested the time and money to be well trained in the defensive use of a handgun, don’t carry one.

2. Unless you are willing to spend the money and time to go to the range and fire your weapon at least monthly and at least a box of ammo at that time, don’t carry one.

3. Unless you are certain that you have the emotional and psychological ability to shoot another human being dead, don’t carry one. Do not count on “brandishing” the weapon to frighten the other party into submission - it is far more likely to dramatically increase the level of violence. Do not even consider “shooting to injure”. Unless you are willing to put two rounds, center of mass, into the other person and kill him (usually) dead, you are far more likely to end up the dead or grievously injured one.

4. A handgun is not a magic wand. Displaying it will not cast a spell of caution or calmness on the various parties. A loaded weapon makes people crazy - the person at which it is aimed, the persons who are witnesses, and often the person who is holding it.

5. Unless you are willing to purchase and practice with a handgun that is large enough and packs a sufficient punch to put an attacker down and down now, don’t carry one. In the early 70s a female student at [University] was in her apartment with her daughter when an attacker burst through the door. She had a .22 pistol and shot him 4 or 5 times. He had a .45 and shot her once. He was arrested at the hospital. She was dead.

There are lots of sources of good advice on combination of caliber, proper ammo, and frame size for control.

What it comes down to is that there is no way to prepare for the first time you point a loaded weapon at an identifiable human being and have to pull the trigger. The reason the military does repetitive, mind-numbing training is to try and ingrain the muscle memory and develop the reflexes so that brain does NOT interfere, because if you give it a vote it will pause and then it is too late. Soldiers call the enemy by racial or ethnic names to depersonalize them so that they don’t have to think about the fact that they are killing other people with mothers, fathers, kids, wives, and families. Troops assigned to Special Operations forces or Delta Force fire hundreds of rounds a month because in their job they have to be able to make a split second decision on whether the human in their sights is a target or a hostage or innocent.

The passive defensive measures discussed herein are excellent approaches and will be far more effective in providing security than a sign that says “This family law attorney is protected by Smith & Wesson”.

When I was a young Marine we lived in southern Cal, and one night about 2 am my wife said that she had heard a sound in the garage. I scoffed of course (husbandly response #1), but then I heard the sliding door of the VW van. There WAS someone in the garage. I got up and sneaked to the garage door and peeked - the dome light was on. Heart beat at 120, adrenaline everywhere. As I whispered for my wife to call the cops I saw an arm - a little arm. A 5 y/o girl’s arm! I stormed out into the garage to confront my little daughter and as I demanded an explanation she sobbed that she couldn’t find her bunny rabbit and was looking in the car.

I had numerous weapons in the house - all locked up. After that I asked myself - “If I had had a weapon quickly available would I have gotten it and had it ready?” My answer was “yes”. And then I realized that if I had, I would have been confronting my little girl with a .357 in my hand. Accordingly I have never kept a weapon out of the safe in the house.

Given my background I obviously am not an anti-gun crusader. I believe, however, that the decision to carry a weapon in the office or on the street places an enormous responsibility upon the bearer to obtain excellent training, to commit to frequent practice and refresher training, to choose a weapon ideally suited for you and the purpose, and to stare into the mirror and ask yourself if you could really use it - and if you would make its use a truly last resort.

If you shoot and kill someone in the office you are not going to be celebrated as “Annie Oakley” and carried around the Family Law convention on a sedan chair. You are going to go to a private place and vomit until you don’t think you will ever be able to stand up straight again.

I have never had any problem with gun ownership, but I do have a problem with the idea that the more people are packing heat, the safer we'll all be. I personally do not own a gun, nor do I have any desire to own one. Guns give me the willies.


Time for another quiz, via Tosy (or was it Cosh?):

What was the first recorded music you bought?

The soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back. Holy crap, I played that thing into the ground over the next nine years or so. I played it so much that it has taken years of listening to subsequent CD releases to get to the point where I no longer hear the music the way that it was edited together for that album. (The tracks were not in film order, and some bits of score from different scenes were edited together into longer tracks.)

What was the last?

The 4-disc set of the scores to the Karate Kid movies, music by Bill Conti. Wonderful 80s cheese for the most part, but there's one track in The Karate Kid Part Two (underscoring the tea ceremony between Daniel and Kumiko) that I consider to be among the finest bits of love music in all films.

What was the first "professional" music show you ever went to?

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, when I was ten or eleven. My sister was taking French horn lessons from a then-member of the orchestra. I don't recall what was on the program, but Julius Rudel was the conductor, I believe.

What was the last?

I haven't been to any live music in so long that it's really very depressing.

What's your "desert island" album?

Lord, I can't name one. Truly. The LOTR scores? Geez, I dunno.

What's your favorite album/song title?

Album title? Maybe Fire in the Kitchen by the Chieftains (amazing album, by the way). Song title? I'll go with "Seven Spanish Angels". A song with a title like that can't help but be gorgeous.

What's your favorite album art (include an image of it if you can)?

I always loved this cover to the Solti/VPO recording of Das Rheingold:

The version I own has this dull cover:

(OK, that's for Gotterdammerung, but the art's the same, just with the right name for the opera.)

Ideal choice for a karaoke song?

Lord, I don't know.

Song you don't like that WILL NOT LEAVE YOUR HEAD if you hear it.

"Hey Jude". I absolutely detest that song. And yet if I hear it, I end up hearing that interminable "Na na na nanana naaaa..." crap in my head for hours.

Which is cooler? -- Vinyl? CD? Cassette? 8-track?

CD. I like having a physical object, and I'm not wild about the idea that if your hard drive goes kerblooey, there goes your music.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A quiz thing

Geez, two angry rants in a row in this space. I need a quiz to push them down a bit, and here's just the thing! I saw this on Andrew Wheeler's blog. (Bad enough that I keep giving the guy my money -- he's one of the honchos with the SF Book Club -- but now I'm giving him traffic, too!)

What do you think about Ouija boards? Complete nonsense.

Your favorite TV shows? Scrubs, American Idol, Grey's Anatomy, The Office. I'm also enjoying NBC's midseason show Raines, but I'm not holding my breath since the spectacular failure of the last midseason show I liked, Eyes (the Tim Daly private-eye caper show -- did anybody besides me watch that?).

What’s on your mouse pad? My mouse. Duh.

Favorite board game: We just taught The Daughter checkers, so that's probably it right now. Chess will come in a year or two. But I love Chinese checkers. Othello is fun, too. Some day I want to learn Go.

Favorite magazine: Just subscribed to Mental Floss, and that mag is just a ton of fun to read. I wish it came more often. I also still faithfully read WIRED (even though I still find their "Digital good, not-digital BAD" stance annoying at times).

Favorite smells: Cooking garlic and meat. The Chinese restaurant when I walk in. The main food alleys at the Erie County Fair. Maple. Tilled earth. Freshly-cut wood.

Worst feeling in the world: Losing a child.

Best feeling in the world: Ask me again when the Sabres win the Cup! But for now, noticing that The Daughter has learned something new, or getting a smile from a pretty woman. Good thing I married one.

Favorite soundtrack: Star Wars (all six), Lord of the Rings (all three).

What is the first thing you think when you wake in the morning: If I'm getting up for work: Ihatetheworldandeverythinginit. On my days off: Huh. I could sleep a little more. Think I will.

Roller coaster - scary or exciting? Fun, but I don't like the upside-down ones.

How many rings before you answer the phone? Zero. We don't answer the phone, and the ringer is shut off. If it's important, we'll get back to you. (Seriously. Why should I feel any requirement to answer the phone?)

Future daughter’s name:

Future son’s name: (You know, I'm going to avoid these ones for now.)

Favorite foods: See here. Not enough space here.

Chocolate or vanilla? Both! I reject your dichotomy! (But Dark Chocolate over Milk Chocolate; and French Vanilla or Vanilla Bean over regular vanilla.)

Do you like to drive? Yes.

Do you sleep with a stuffed animal? No.

Storms - cool or scary? Thrilling, actually. Except the ones that destroy stuff. Those aren't very much fun at all.

What type was your first car: 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit with a diesel engine.

If you could meet one person dead or alive - who would it be? You know, I think I will now vow to never answer this question in any blog quiz again.

Favorite alcoholic drink: Spum-and-Coke. ("Spum" being "spiced rum", of course. Since Spam is "spiced ham".)

What is your zodiac sign? The Avenging Sword of Dismay and Doom. (I got bored with Libra, so I made up my own.)

Who is your favorite poet? Alfred Lord Tennyson

Do you eat the stems of broccoli? Broccoli is a vile, hateful thing that should be expunged forever from the Universe.

If you could have any job you wanted, what would it be? Keeper of one of the Beacon Fires of Gondor.

If you could dye your hair any color, what would it be? Fiery red that might strike fear into the hearts of my foes.

Have you ever been in love? Are you kidding? My default reaction with stuff is to fall in love with it.

What is on your walls in your room? For the purposes of this quiz, I'll assume "my room" to be my work area at home. I have two maps of the world, one a print of an antique Renaissance map and the other a National Geographic map of the world (both are now partially obscured by bookshelves), a wall sconce bearing a candle, and posters for Casablanca and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Is the glass half empty or half full? The glass is always in flux. But the bottle? Ahhhh, that's too empty. Gotta get to the store this weekend.

What is your favorite Snapple? Oddly, I no longer drink Snapple. No real reason; I just like other stuff now. Like that Vitamin Water stuff. And pomegranate juice, but that crap is expensive. Boy howdy.

Favorite movie(s): Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, My Fair Lady, Casablanca, and so on.

Are you a lefty, righty, or ambidextrous? Right handed.

Do you type with your fingers on the proper keys? No. And I still type at around 70 wpm.

What’s under your bed? The bodies. Oh yes, the bodies....

What is your favorite number? Pi, because it rhymes with pie and I like pie.

Favorite sport to watch: Football and figure skating. (Were the World Championships even televised this year? Did I miss them that completely?) And here's an embarrassing admission for a Buffalonian: I've always had a hard time watching hockey on TV, so much so that I actually liked it when they superimposed that little dot over the puck for a while and did this "streaking laser" thing when the puck was shot.

Say one nice thing about the person who sent this to you: Well, I don't know him personally, but I'll ask a favor that he go a few months without putting books I want into the SFBC flyer, so I can get caught up on some reading and bills? Please?

[Two questions from this quiz's original e-mail circulation genesis removed]

Favorite quote: Too many to list, but I'll note one thing I once read in a book of funny quotes. Apparently there was once a photo in a sports magazine of the officials with the stop watches in a track-and-field event, which was captioned thusly: "These are the souls that time men's tries". I love that.

Mr. Jaw, meet Mr. Floor (part deux)

I often think that the Right in this country is living in some kind of dream world, and the reason why is stuff like this idiotic thought by John Derbyshire:

As NRO's designated chickenhawk, let me be the one to ask: Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren't bad.

"Count the shots"? "Just jump him"? "Even if hit, your chances aren't bad"?!

My God, this guy -- and anyone who has thought anything like this -- is just living in a delusional fantasyworld where the things that people do in action movies or shows like 24 are actual options in real life. We might as well wonder why anyone didn't just slip on a Ring of Power and then use the resulting invisibility to sneak up behind the shooter and then eviscerate him with their lightsaber. He probably thinks that in the face of a massive explosion people can outrun fireballs, too.

I hate this kind of crap. I really do. I hated it a few weeks ago when those British soldiers were released by Iran, and a number of right-wing bloggers actually seemed disappointed that they hadn't been murdered. I hate that Derbyshire has the audacity to bring up Flight 93 ("Did we learn nothing?"), as if the situations were in any way similar. I hate the impulse, the ever-constant reflex, to blame victims for everything: it's your fault for not leaving the city when the hurricane came, even if you had no means and nowhere to go if you did. It's your fault for not getting a better job, even if you applied and applied and applied and no one was hiring.

And it's your fault this guy was able to shoot as many people as he did, because your actions didn't match the hypothetical macho-man fantasies of a guy who once engaged in a conversation with Jonah Goldberg (Mr. "I'll have my book done just as soon as my readers are done researching it for me") about why the victims of the Titanic didn't just float to safety on armoires and hutches, and who thinks that women hit their peak of attractiveness just after puberty.

Tell me again about right-wing civility. Please.

Mr. Jaw, meet Mr. Floor

[Brief political rant here]

You know all the sanctimonious crap we always have to endure from Republicans over the manners of Democrats at funerals? The whole "They got political in a time of mourning!" thing?

Yeah, I love that.

Fox "News". "Fair and balanced". Right.

Sentential Links #95 (the Martin Luther edition)

One Sentential Links post for each thesis that Martin Luther nailed to the door of...wherever it was that he nailed them to the door. Crap, I used to know this. There was college tuition money well-spent....

[off to Google!]

Ah, he nailed them to a church door at Wittenberg, Germany. Not to be confused with Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German from the original Klingon (and thus provided a handy name to some people in Iowa centuries later who needed to name a college).


:: Will the demands for authenticity expand to a ban on flush toilets? Shall the sewers be open? How about no electricity or phone? Candles and torches only. (Local issue here, but I'm generally a lot more sympathetic to preservationists' arguments when there is something to preserve.)

:: Some things are so titanically great that we can even loose sight of how amazing they truly are: living for too long in their shadow, we come to underestimate their size. (What a friggin' truth this is. I think of this every time I listen to Beethoven's Seventh: everybody knows that it might be the greatest of all symphonies, and yet to listen to it anew as I do every year or two is to amaze myself again at how stunning it still is. But he's talking about something else; go find out.)

:: And whenever we've called in repairmen they always begin by saying the exact same thing:

"Well, that's weird."
(Interestingly, in my job I'm now getting experienced to the point that I'm starting to recognize instances in which it's appropriate to say, "Well, that's weird".)

:: This is a full shot of the character concept from a few posts ago. (Wow, nifty art here. For obvious reasons, I really dig the ones for the Space Opera project he's working on.)

:: $2,600 each. Chump change for the rock jawed captains of industry running American Airlines, I'm sure, but probably not to the flight attendants.

:: Do you know how we can tell the difference between people who were wearing their seatbelts and those who weren’t, at the scene of an automobile accident? The ones who were wearing their seatbelts are standing around saying "This really sucks," and the ones who weren’t are kinda just lying there.

:: There’s something both bizarre and funny about giving the house tour, walking into my master bathroom with one of these celebrities and pointing out the virtues of the new hot water heater or the large storage closet. But yes, it’s true, the famous and wealthy have plumbing needs, just like the rest of us.

Tune in next week, as always.

The Unnamed Hero Cometh!

OK, folks, I just saw this "Make Your Own Superhero" gizmo over at Aurora Walking Vacation, and I just had to give it a try, using his suggestion of creating a superhero based on myself. Here it is!

How about that! Lightning from my right hand, and a blaster in my left; long hair blowing in the wind; some kind of green energy crackling 'round my Eyes Of Hot Instant Death; nifty wristguards that may or may not have extra powers within them; and on my feet, Rollerblades of LightSpeed! Note the battle scars on my powerfully-muscled arms, and the necklace made from the teeth of my vanquished Rigelian foes! Note my faithful companion through many dangers, Ozzy the Avenging Ocelot! Zap! Pow!

(Yeah, my alter-ego is a smoker, I'm sorry to say. Maybe the cigarettes deliver some kind of super-duper battle drugs into my bloodstream or something. And yeah, I was surprised that overalls were a clothing option there, too.)

I did have a problem, though. See that empty text box at the bottom? That's where the name of your Superhero goes. Problem is, I couldn't think of a name for this guy. That's where you all come in. Put your suggestion in the comments!

Monday, April 16, 2007

I don't understand the world

I just don't get this world we live in sometimes.

Actually, I never get this world we live in. Not one bit.

UPDATE: Oh, my God:


More here.

UPDATE II: Sorry, folks, but this pretty much kills my mood for blogging today. I'll have Sentential Links and some other stuff up tomorrow.

It seems trite to offer condolences, but I offer them anyway to the families and friends and neighbors of those killed or injured today.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

This apparently happened a couple of weeks ago, but I'm seeing it now, so it counts. In the For Better or For Worse comic strip, April Patterson turned sixteen a couple of weeks ago, and here's how that Sunday's strip began, for those whose Sunday papers don't include the "big splash panel" thing that many Sunday strips use:

What's weird about that? April's a young musician, right?

Well, what's weird is that they actually recorded that song she's playing and put it on the FBoFW official site.

Listen, if you dare. Aieee!


River of the Monks

I recently read Bill Bryson's latest book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, in which Bryson recounts his experiences as a kid in 1950s America (Des Moines, IA, specifically). This was one of the more delightful reads I've enjoyed in a long time, full of the kind of loving naivete that marked, say, the funnier episodes of The Wonder Years or the less-serious parts of Stand By Me.

People [in the 50s] looked forward to the future, too, in ways they never would again. Soon, according to every magazine, we were going to have underwater cities off every coast, space colonies inside giant spheres of glass, atomic trains and airliners, personal jet packs, a gyrocopter in every driveway, cars that turned into boats or even submarines, moving sidewalks to whisk us effortlessly to schools and offices, dome-roofed automobiles that drove themselves along sleek superhighways allowing Mom, Dad, and the two boys (Chip and Bud or Skip and Scooter) to play a board game or wave to a neighbor in a passing gyrocopter or just sit back and enjoy some of those splendid words that existed in the fifties and are no longer heard: mimeograph, rotisserie, stenographer, icebox, dime store, rutabaga, Studebaker, panty raid, bobby socks, Sputnik, beatnik, canasta, Cinerama, Moose Lodge, pinochle, daddy-o.

(Well, a couple of those words are still around, aren't they? Just last week at The Store I had to help move our rotisserie, and believe me, that damn thing is heavy, so much so that when we have to move it, we then refer to it by its official name, "the f***ing rotisserie".)

This book was often laugh-out-loud funny, and it describes a world that is not only gone but that we also seem to admit is gone and thus try to preserve or recapture as best we can. Just last week in a Buffalo suburb, an injunction was sought by some preservationists in order to preserve a drive-in movie theater. The only mis-step in the book comes in a chapter toward the middle where Bryson delves into the dark underbelly of 1950s America (McCarthyism and the Red Scare, the dawn of the arms race, the seeds of Vietnam, race relations); it's a well-written chapter, but it doesn't really fit the rest of the book at all, and as such that chapter stands out like a sore thumb.

As usual with books like this, toward the end it takes on an elegiac tone about the passing of an age. Here's the final passage:

That's the way of the world, of course. Possessions get discarded. Life moves on. But I often think what a shame it is that we didn't keep the things that made us different and special and attractive in the fifties. Imagine those palatial downtown movie theaters with their vast screens and Egyptian decor, but thrillingly livened with Dolby sound and slick computer graphics. Now that would be magic. Imagine having all of public life -- offices, stores, restaurants, entertainments -- conveniently clustered in the heart of the city and experiencing fresh air and daylight each time you moved from one to another. Imagine having a cafeteria with atomic toilets [you have to read the book to know what the hell Bryson's talking about here], a celebrated tea room that gave away gifts to young customers, a clothing store with a grand staircase and a mezzanine, a Kiddie Corral where you could read comics to your heart's content. Imagine having a city full of things that no other city had.

What a wonderful world that would be. What a wonderful world it was. We won't see its like again, I'm afraid.

You see faint hints of that old world every now and then in American cities these days. Obviously things will never be like that again, but maybe as we move forward, we will draw inspiration from the best of that time? Who knows?

Anyway, this was a good book. I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson's writing.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

We Believe!

Thanks to Buffalo Hodgepodge for pointing out this wonderful Sports Illustrated article about Buffalo and the Sabres.

Weather was the last thing on our minds on Jan. 27, 1991. Not with paradise a mere 47 yards away in Tampa. I looked at the clock to preserve the moment: 9:37 p.m. Around town, similar scenes played out. Byron Brown, then the director of Equal Employment Opportunity for Erie County and now the mayor of Buffalo, was at a Super Bowl party at his mother-in-law's house on Blaine Avenue in Hamlin Park. Mark Hutchinson, the chef and owner of Hutch's, one of the city's most popular eateries, watched with his pals above Casa Di Pizza on the Elmwood Strip. Finally, it was Buffalo's time. Adam Lingner's snap was pure, and when the ball arrived in the hands of backup quarterback Frank Reich, I felt a tug on my hand. Our group stood up as one and screamed. Scott Norwood gave it a ride.

You know the rest. SUPER HEARTBREAK The Buffalo News declared on its front page the next day. They wept at Byron Brown's party. Hutch recalled how one of his friends kicked a table across the floor, stormed out of the restaurant, and locked himself inside his home for seven days. On Montrose Avenue, we were all numb. Barely anyone spoke a word after the kick as we headed out into the darkness, a journey that became all too familiar for Buffalonians in the 1990s.

Tell me about it. I do not doubt for one second that every year on January 27, late in the evening, if you venture out into the still of an wintry Iowa cornfield, and if you listen as hard as it's possible to listen, you'll still hear my scream of NOOOOOO!!! echoing across the icy prairie.

What began as a magic ride for an underdog last season has morphed into a collective confidence that hasn't been felt among Buffalonians since the kickoff of Super Bowl XXV against the Giants. This season the Sabres clinched their first Presidents' Trophy title and set a franchise record with 53 victories. They hold home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

But the euphoria surrounding this Sabres team comes from more than just the winning. It's the manner in which they have won. In a league that now rewards skating over brawn, the Sabres are the fastest team on the ice. They play with flair and panache, traits normally not associated with rust-belt Buffalo. They win games by coming from behind -- 10 times they have overcome a two-goal deficit -- which plays to a city predisposed to the underdog role.

By unanimous accounts the locker room consists of character guys. ("They are the most accountable team I have ever been around," says Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason. "And they don't have much to be accountable for.")

For seven consecutive months Buffalo has been the top-selling team on Sales of Sabres merchandise in March increased 657 percent compared with last year. In mid-December there was a 12-week waiting list for a Sabres jersey; the wait has now receded to eight weeks. All 41 home games this season were sold out (as is every playoff game), and 90 percent of the team's season-ticket holders have already renewed for next year.

Let's go Buffalo!

Games as Art

I recall a while back reading Demosthenes take on Roger Ebert's contention that video games may display a lot of craft, but they're not art:

I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

Demosthenes meditated on this here and here. I never weighed in myself because I just don't know enough about games to make a coherent argument in their favor, although my sympathies lie in their favor.

But today Mary checked in with quite a wonderful post on game-as-art, although she doesn't cast it as such. Here's how her post starts:

Okay, I am not your average video game reviewer. Mostly because I suck at video games. It's my total lack of hand-eye coordination and my low frustration-threshold that does it. So what I am, is a video game spectator.

But there's only one game that I've ever asked someone to play just so I can watch. It's called "Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion." And I want people who don't play video games to know what game designers are capable of, these days.

Do read the whole thing. (I didn't read the spoilers, but they're minimal and don't seem to impact the main point.)

(And I'll bet Shamus has some thoughts on this whole thing! How about it, Shamus? Are games art?)

Mahna Mahna!

Longtime readers will remember my unreasoning love of the Greatest Thing to Ever Feature Muppets Ever, the classic nonsense tune "Mahna Mahna!". The Muppet Show version, as ever, can be seen here.

However, I always knew that the song was actually heard several years earlier, on Sesame Street, which in its elder days used to feature some niftily surreal stuff -- i.e., the show wasn't "All Elmo, All The Time".

Here's the original "Mahna Mahna". I still prefer the Muppet Show version, as it distills the song down and shows off the significant growth in the understanding of "Muppet Body Language" that marks the greatest work of Jim Henson and company. But it's still fascinating to see the original, no?

UPDATE: In comments, local blogger Derek Punaro levels the shocking accusation that the song was actually used originally in an Italian porn movie. This is, of course, a libelous statement of the worst kind, and to think that Derek would dare imply that Jim Henson, one of the finest purveyors of entertainment for the young at heart ever, would even think of using a song from an Italian porn movie is just so terrible as to...oh. Never mind, then.

Wow, the things you learn on Teh Internets!

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I see via Electronic Cerebrectomy that character actor Roscoe Lee Browne has died. He had a long and productive career on TV and in voiceover work; for me, his most memorable role was in an episode of Magnum, PI in which some eccentric and mean rich guy fakes his own death to find out which of his mansion staff is out to get him, or something like that; Browne played the butler. I first knew of Browne by his voice on, of all things, a record album called The Story of Star Wars. This was an album that told the tale of the film through bits of dialogue, sound effects, music, and Browne's narration to tie the whole thing together.

I'm not sure when the last time was that I saw Browne in something, but that's the point of good character acting, I suppose. Filmed entertainment would grind to a halt if not for all the "Hey, it's that guy!" or "Hey, it's that lady!" actors, many of whom I sometimes suspect are actually more talented than the top-billed "stars".

Sixteen more wins!

It seems that the Buffalo Sabres are pretty good. Lots of people seem to think that this might be their year.

Seriously, this is the most excited I've seen Buffalo about a sports team ever. I can't really compare this level of excitement to the Bills' run of four straight Super Bowl appearances, because for the first three of those, I wasn't in Buffalo during the playoff runs. I was in college, in Iowa. So the Super Bowl run was a big deal for me, but in a different way; the Bills at that point were my main reminder of home, the way I "spiritually" kept in touch with Western New York. Those teams are special to me for that very reason. For three years I would watch the Bills play at Rich Stadium and say, "That's my home."

(I was back in the area for the last of the Super Bowl runs, but by that time the excitement didn't quite seem as real. I'm not sure that anybody really expected the Bills to be able to beat Dallas in that game; we were happy just to get back for the fourth time in a row, something nobody else has ever done. The iconic image of the fourth time was the guys at the stadium who brought the sign reading, "We're Back! Deal with it, America".)

So I can't say that the excitement surrounding the Sabres this year is similar to the Bills' run. Maybe it's more exciting, maybe it's the same. I suspect that it's most like the 1990 Bills run, which was the first of the Super Bowl appearances -- that was when it most felt like they were on the cusp of winning it all. And that's the feeling right now, that this is it, and that when this set of games is over, we'll all know what it feels like to live where the local team really has won it all. Let me tell you, folks: I personally have never felt this pervasive a sense of optimism around these parts, about anything. That means something. We Buffalonians are a hearty bunch, but optimism doesn't tend to be our strong suit. We tend to be the chip-on-our-shoulders types, the ones who find it advisable to give The Fates the finger before they give us the shaft.

But right now? None of that applies. It's a new season, and the team that wins sixteen games wins the Stanley Cup. So go Sabres, and get those sixteen W's. And to everyone else watching, this is the city of chicken wings, beef-on-weck, Sahlen's hot dogs, and Labatt's beer. When they win that Cup, we're going to throw a party for the Ages. The kind of party that Homer would have composed a 6,000 line poem about.

Go Sabres!


Of all the authors out there whose work I have to admit to never having read at all, Kurt Vonnegut is probably the one of whom I'm most embarrassed to say that I've never read. And when I say I've never read him, I mean it -- not a single word, to the best of my knowledge. This bothers me because plenty of people whose judgment I trust on such topics speak very highly of Vonnegut.

So I'll read him, OK? Someday.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Paging Dr. Wertham

Apparently there's some kind of discussion going on about a "Blogger's Code of Conduct" somewhere. I didn't know about it because I didn't hear about it until John Scalzi wrote about it in a response that basically boils down to "Yeah, whatever." (Like the title of his blog!)

Anyhow, my take is pretty much the same as his: this is my blog, and I'll make the rules here. (Which, by the way, can be found here.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Probably the weirdest thing ever:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Whether one believes or not, that whole thing certainly fits the definition of "weirdness". Either one believes, in which case the Son of God came back from the dead; or one does not, in which case a man claiming to be the Son of God did not come back from the dead but still inspired billions of people over two thousand years to believe that he did.

What do I believe? I just don't know yet. I may not figure it out in this lifetime.

Anyway, Happy Easter, everyone.

Easter follies

I was charged with the task of acquiring candy for The Daughter's Easter basket, which was easy enough -- a box of those awful Peeps things, an egg-shaped plastic doodad filled with Hershey Kisses, and some jelly beans.

But not just any jelly beans, mind you. No, I had to indulge her enjoyment of All Things Harry Potter and get her the box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, which according to the box contain beans of flavors like grass, soap, bacon, rotten egg, vomit, and booger. "Never fear!" thought I. "I'm sure those are fake names for beans that taste like normal old jelly beans."

Not so.

"Alas, ear wax!" Dumbledore said once when trying a bean. Alas, ear wax, indeed.