Thursday, June 28, 2007

A few notes from Hiatus-land

I had originally figured on returning to regular blogging today, but I've decided that I don't much feel like it yet, so I'm not. However, I want to note a couple of things:

:: Last week's Unidentified Earth was guessed correctly as Southfork Ranch, near Dallas, Texas. I'm not putting up an installment this week, but they'll start again when I start again.

:: For Better or For Worse has completely lost it. Seriously, it's just a joke now, between Michael moving into the family home with his former grade school sweetheart (now his wife), and Lizzie clearly gearing up to get back together with her grade school sweetheart, and April providing the local special needs kid with her Dead Poets Society moment, complete with standing on the desk. This strip is now officially embarrassing.

:: When the hell is the Season Three set of Once and Again going to come out?!

:: Earlier today this blog reached 300,000 hits, according to SiteMeter. Thanks to that small number of regular readers of mine, and thanks also to the much larger number of people who come here by searching for photos of beautiful women. (Not so much the people who come here looking for "overalls porn", "overalls spanking", or any of the other such search terms that show up in the referrals. I sympathize and all, but this ain't the place for that.)

That's it. Back when I feel like it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Until its rhythm you have found

I'm not feeling too much like blogging at the moment, so I'm going to take a few days off. Could be the heat; it's pretty hot in Buffalo right now. Could be something else.

For now, I'll leave you with a song that's been haunting me for several weeks now. It's "Scythe Song", by Scots great Dougie Maclean. It can be heard here here, the song starts up at about the 1:40 mark. (Don't worry about the sound at the outset; it clears up before the music starts and for YouTube sound, it's fine. And don't worry about watching the video. It's just an unchanging title card.)

The song is a meditation on the kind of learning that takes place when you undertake a craft that may look simple, but whose mastery eludes everyone but those who work at it alongside a giving teacher. The idea, I think, is that learning is as much a function of someone teaching us as finding the secrets on our own.

The lyrics:

O I still remember when
I first watched him work the blade.
'Twas down in the Buckney den
my questions tumbled and he said:
"O this is not a thing to learn inside a day!
Stand closely by me and I’ll try to show the way.

You’ve got to hold it right,
feel the distance to the ground.
Move with a touch so light,
until its rhythm you have found.
Then you’ll know what I know.

O wild are the ways we run
when at last untethered out we fly!
Straight into the burning sun;
need no direction, no, not I!
But it is not a thing to learn inside a day....
Stand closely by me and I’ll try to show the way.

You’ve got to hold it right,
feel the distance to the ground.
Move with a touch so light,
until its rhythm you have found.
Then you’ll know what I know.

And so, little dancing girl,
you want to learn to play a tune?
One that your heart can fill
to help you shine under the moon?
Well it is not a thing to learn inside a day!
Stand closely by me and I’ll try to show the way.

You’ve got to hold it right,
feel the distance to the sound....
Move with a touch so light,
until its rhythm you have found.
Then you’ll know what I know.

Then you'll know...what I know.

I'll be back soon...but right now, I need to move with a touch so light.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Not a great week for weirdness, unfortunately -- I didn't see anything that really grabbed me as weird. But for sheer amusement, there's always AC Douglas's spittle-flecking of his monitor in response to the AFI's Top 100 films list. He can cry "O tempora! O mores!" from the rooftops as much as he likes, of course, but reading his brief roster of films he thinks get too much recognition, as well as those which don't get enough, pretty much make clear that he considers "detestable pop culture" to basically boil down to "that set of things he doesn't like".

Buy. Buy. Buy.

Hey, wanna buy some books? I've just listed a few on eBay, with more to come in the next few weeks. There's a link in the sidebar. Do it for the trees.

Hector Rules!

Earlier this week Lynn e-mailed me a notice about a comment left on this post over at Serenade in Green, about who the Greatest Composer of All Time might be. The comment (by this blogger) is lengthy and refers to several composers, but the part about Berlioz is quite the shot across my particular bow:

To back up my orchestral music is easy to impress with, consider the example of Hector Berlioz, a name that would never be praised if it wasn't for his orchestral innovations. Berlioz's music was almost completely vacuous, and had only smatterings of moments of quality. In fact, Berlioz is one of the only well known composers I'd list below Mozart, and we've had the Mozart conversation before [flashes the secret handshake].

I'm actually more irritated by the idea that Mozart is so low in esteem as to only allow one or two composers to be placed beneath him, but this is just another of those "To each his own" sorts of things.

But as for Berlioz, this opinion is hardly uncommon, I must admit. I'm a long-confirmed Berlioz obsessive (look for my series of posts, linked in the sidebar, in honor of his bicentenary), but I've also seen first-hand how many people who love classical music just don't get Berlioz, for whatever reason. I have a friend with whom I occasionally share music; I send him stuff and he sends me stuff in return (actually, he sends me a lot more stuff than I send him because he's twenty years older than me and it's thus a major challenge finding stuff that he hasn't heard already). Some years ago I sent him some Berlioz -- Romeo et Juliet, if I recall correctly -- and his response was a very polite "Meh". And this I've heard from many others. But I've also heard from people who, like me, utterly adore Berlioz. (To this day it irritates me that at the Impressions de France film at Epcot Center's World Showcase, the film -- a series of stunning images of France set to French classical music -- includes not a single note of Berlioz.)

It's generally been my experience that Berlioz gets two responses: "Meh", and "Oh my God, I've just had an orgasm." (Rachmaninov is in a similar boat, although he gets more of a range of reactions.) This is not new, either. Here is Harold Schonberg, writing in his grand old book The Lives of the Great Composers:

Perhaps Berlioz will always remain the object of veneration by a strong and articulate minority. He could not speak to Everyman. But there is not one piece of his that lacks its incandescent moments. And then Berlioz is seen plain, his eagle beak defiantly thrust at the heavens, glorifying in a kind of tonal magnificence and an ideal of self-expression that make the concept of Romanticism very clear.

And, more recently, David Dubal expresses the same sentiment in his Essential Canon of Classical Music:

Still, it took most of the twentieth century to place Berlioz's art in perspective. He has always irked many people. He refuses to fit into a convenient niche. His works as a whole are not graceful; they do not have the kind of melodies that stick in the mind. His harmonies can sound primitive, and his content empty. But for those who are temperamentally attuned to him, he is shattering. He has a subtlety of construction that goes beyond technique, and his orchestrations have proved to be models for generations to come.


Whenever I hear any of Berlioz's music, I think of the poet Heine's statement: "He is an immense nightingale, a lark as great as an eagle...the music causes me to dream of fabulous empires filled with fabulous sins."

And there you have it.

(Oh, and the Greatest Composer of All Time? The best historical case can probably be made for Johann Sebastian Bach, but even then, I still believe that the sentence "Bach was the greatest composer" can never be a true statement in the same sense that "Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System" can.)

He must have forgotten to have his readers Google it for him.

Matthew Yglesias has yet another in a long series of utterances by Jonah Goldberg that fail to live up to facts about the world. I know, it's not a news flash when Goldberg turns out to have his head squarely planted right around the location of his own colon, but sometimes it's downright amusing.

Oh heck, while I'm at it, Kevin Drum's got Glenn Reynolds being a damn moron too. Not a news flash either, since Reynolds is also a complete idiot. "If things go badly in Iraq"? By what possible intellectual gymnastics can people like Reynolds continue to convince themselves that things are going well in Iraq?

UPDATE: Well, let's make it a Trifecta, shall we? Sadly, No has a nice quote from one of the indistinguishable idiots of Powerline:

E.J. Dionne argues that the “center” in American politics is moving towards the left. I think he’s correct, though we may be one major terrorist attack and/or recession on a Democratic president’s watch away from having to revisit that view.

Hmmmm. Sounds to me like the Right actually wants the US to get attacked, as long as a Democrat is in office when it happens! Isn't that what that means? If what Glenn Reynolds says in his quote is fair game, why isn't this a fair reading of Powerline?

Making it up as he goes....

OK, this is all over the place, but I'm probably not a geek in good standing if I don't post it too, so: Indy's back.

I've generally been ambivalent about a fourth Indiana Jones movie, but if they can make another good one, then I'm fine with it. I loved all three of the originals, although I don't like Last Crusade as much as I did initially and I've found that Temple of Doom is actually better than I thought it was when it first came out. Raiders is, of course, a classic -- and by pure chance, I listened to its score last week and was struck anew by how good John Williams was between 1975 (Jaws) and 1985, when he was just cranking out one amazing score after another with almost no let-downs.

I'm also kind of curious to see what happens when Indy IV comes out. If it's good, we'll hear about how Spielberg and Harrison Ford still got it, but if it's a clunker, I'd bet real money that the villain is somehow George Lucas.

A Very Public Service Message

[Icky topic ahead]

OK, folks, as someone whose day job actually involves cleaning public toilets, let me say that this practice, as demonstrated by Tyra Banks, should be outlawed by Constitutional Amendment. (If you don't want to watch the video, it's the practice of "hovering" above the toilet seat so as to avoid making physical contact with it, on the deluded notion that the toilet seat is swarming with germs by the billions.)

First, "hovering" above the toilet seat does nothing to "protect" you from "germs", since in a normally-maintained public bathroom, the toilet seat is not even close to harboring the most germs. In point of fact, if you go into the bathroom, do your hover thing, and then exit the stall by touching the stall handle with your hand, you've exchanged more germs by touching the stall or bathroom door by far than you've avoided by not allowing your delicate posterior to contact the toilet seat. And guess where the most germs are found? Why, on the floor -- so if you dutifully put your purse or shopping bags or whatever on the floor, you've just picked up even more germs than by touching the door handle!

(And I'll bet you toilet-hoverers go right from your hovering to handling shopping carts, right?)

And second, all hovering accomplishes, in most cases, is urine all over the toilet seat, which someone has to go in and clean up.

So stop hovering. All it does is make a mess and it doesn't spare you any significant germ activity at all. Thank you.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eight Things (again!!)

Zounds, I've been tagged by PZ Myers for the "Eight Things" quiz-meme thing. I could just link the answers I gave when someone else tagged me with this a couple of weeks ago with the fine phrase from Prime Minister's Questions in Britain, "I refer the right honorable gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago", but hey, that's the lazy way out and I'm all about...well, that's not true, I have nothing against being lazy. But anyway, eight things:

1. The first baseball game (MLB) I attended in person? 1984, I think. Phillies 2, Pirates 1, at Three Rivers Stadium. Early in the season, so it was cold and I ran my father's wallet down by drinking a hot chocolate every inning. In college, I would discover a drinking game called "Beer an Inning", in which you do exactly that: you must consume a beer each inning, and if the inning ends while you've got beer in your bottle, you must chug it. Sounds easy, but a couple of double-plays will mess you up hard.

2. The first football game (NFL) I attended in person? 1997 season at Rich Stadium. Broncos 23, Bills 20, OT. The Bills were behind 20-0 when Todd Collins got benched and Alex Van Pelt came in and nearly rallied the Bills to the win. This was about halfway through the season, so it was really cold and drizzly and unpleasant in the stadium...and the hot chocolates had to come out of my wallet, so we only had one or two. I gave up on Todd Collins as a player during this game, when he threw an interception that was returned by a 300-plus pound defensive lineman more than seventy yards for a touchdown, and all Collins did was lay down on the field and watch the guy go the distance. The Broncos went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

3. I'm done apologizing for the fact that I like to eat at Applebee's.

4. I make pretty good fried chicken. Not that often, because you know, that stuff'll kill you if you eat it too often and still, no matter how good your chicken is, it's never quite as good as any that comes in a paper bucket. But still, my chicken's pretty damn good.

5. I like rum. (OK, I used that one next time. I like Southern Comfort too, then.)

6. I have to admit that I envisioned Digby as a male, but I think that's because I knew a guy in college whose nickname was Digby. There's nothing particularly male or female in Digby's blog writing, so I just went with my personal association with the name.

7. I know I linked Charlie Stross's essay on space colonization the other day in Sentential Links, but let me just note that my general instinctive response to well-reasoned, scientifically-sound arguments that we are likely to never leave this Solar System is a very immature, "LAA LAA LA LA LA LA I can't hear you LA LA LA LAAAAA!"

8. For lack of anything else: The Daughter just turned eight the other day. Her best friend, who lived next door, moved with her family to Alabama this morning. Unless something dramatic changes, she's never gonna be a big sister again. Her last report card this year was excellent. She likes to read. She can't swim yet, but she learned at age five how to run a feeding pump. She likes anime. And many are the days when she's the sole reason why I don't elect to elevate from this sorry plain of existence for something more to my liking.

I'm supposed to tag people, but I won't do so specifically. I'll just let this suffice: if you're a Buffalo-blogger, consider yourself tagged. Heh.

Unidentified Earth 8

Last week's entry took us out of the United States, all the way to Gibraltar (which I didn't realize was that heavily wooded). This week's takes us to...well, you tell me!

Where are we?

Movies, movies, movies

OK, I should comment on the revised version of the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Movies.

:: First, what the hell is an "American" movie, anyway? I'm befuddled by how Lord of the Rings can be considered an American movie. Is it because New Line's an American company? Well, so what? Disney owns distribution rights to Studio Ghibli movies, so let's get Princess Mononoke on the list.

:: Second, like Roger Ebert, I was wondering what happened to Fargo. When I first saw Fargo, my initial reaction was, "OK, it's good. Not that good, but good." But it sure stuck in my head, and now I'm of the "Yup, it's that good" mindset.

:: Here's a good article about the list that sums up some stuff. Before I get to the movies actually on the list, here's a list of the movies that were on the original list but fell off this time around. I've bolded the titles whose fall from grace piss me off, for lack of a better term:

Dr. Zhivago
The Birth of a Nation
From Here to Eternity (Great, great movie.)
Amadeus (Ditto.)
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Third Man
Rebel Without a Cause
Stagecoach (My favorite John Wayne movie.)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Manchurian Candidate (The original, duh.)
An American in Paris
Wuthering Heights
Dances With Wolves (I know, I'm alone in pretty much the entire world in thinking that this movie's better than Goodfellas, but that's my story and I'm sticking with it.)
Mutiny on the Bounty
The Jazz Singer
My Fair Lady (Yeah, I like West Side Story too, but I'll take MFL over WSS any day of the month.)
A Place in the Sun
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

And next, the entire list, with occasional comment:

1. "Citizen Kane" (1941) (I know, iconic movie that was staggeringly influential. For me, it's a "see it once and that's about it" kind of thing.)

2. "The Godfather" (1972) (I've got to admit, I've never seen this all the way through and I have virtually no interest in doing so. I just don't get the allure of mob stories, whether it's this or The Sopranos or whatever. These aren't honorable people, they're not good people living morally within some kind of code, they're bad people, and I'm just not interested.)

3. "Casablanca" (1942) (This should be number 2, for me.)

4. "Raging Bull" (1980) (Not a fan of boxing, either, really. I heard a comedian on TV once say something along the lines of, "You gotta wonder about a society that considers masturbation 'self-abuse' and boxing a sport." I'm sure this is a great movie, but not a priority of mine.)

5. "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) (Best musical ever.)

6. "Gone With the Wind" (1939) (Three hours of my life I'll never get back. I do not understand this movie's beloved status.)

7. "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) (I'm buying this on DVD tomorrow. We've got it at The Store for eight bucks.)

8. "Schindler's List" (1993) (Thank God this placed above Saving Private Ryan, which I consider staggeringly overrated.)

9. "Vertigo" (1958)
10. "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) (Top twenty? OK. Above Star Wars? Not on your life!)

11. "City Lights" (1931) (For me, a little Charlie Chaplin goes a long way. I'd have been fine with including Modern Times, and calling it good.)

12. "The Searchers" (1956) (Another one of those iconic movies that's full of iconicky goodness and that I didn't much enjoy watching.)

13. "Star Wars" (1977) (Number One, dammit. And I do not want any of what George R.R. Martin is smoking.)

14. "Psycho" (1960) (Not even close to my favorite Hitchcock movie. More icon than movie, for me.)

15. "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) (No argument from me. Haven't seen it in far too long. I adore this movie.)

16. "Sunset Boulevard" (1950)
17. "The Graduate" (1967)
18. "The General" (1927)
19. "On the Waterfront" (1954)
20. "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) (How can I have a sentimental streak as wide as I know my sentimental streak to be, and yet not like this movie? How can that be possible? And yet, 'tis true. Don't like it.)

21. "Chinatown" (1974) (Heresy to say this is some circles, but Jerry Goldsmith never wrote a score as good as this again. Great film; haven't seen it in far too long.)

22. "Some Like It Hot" (1959)
23. "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)
24. "E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) (Yup.)

25. "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) (Should have been quite a bit higher.)

26. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939) (Never seen the whole thing. I only mention it in light of the hilarious Mel Gibson remake from that episode of The Simpsons.)

27. "High Noon" (1952)
28. "All About Eve" (1950)
29. "Double Indemnity" (1944)
30. "Apocalypse Now" (1979)
31. "The Maltese Falcon" (1941)
32. "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) (OK, here's a sequel. So why not The Empire Strikes Back?)

33. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)
34. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) (OK.)

35. "Annie Hall" (1977) (I just don't get Woody Allen. And this movie beat out Star Wars for Best Picture. On that basis it is an evil, evil movie.)

36. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957)
37. "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946)
38. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948)
39. "Dr. Strangelove" (1964)
40. "The Sound of Music" (1965) (Fine by me. This movie is adored.)

41. "King Kong" (1933)
42. "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)
43. "Midnight Cowboy" (1969)
44. "The Philadelphia Story" (1940)
45. "Shane" (1953)
46. "It Happened One Night" (1934)
47. "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)
48. "Rear Window" (1954)
49. "Intolerance" (1916)
50. "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001) (OK, I got this list from the afore-linked Roger Ebert article. The show did not specify Fellowship, but quite properly identified The Lord of the Rings as a whole. Apparently I was wrong, and they just faded the title out because they couldn't get the whole thing onscreen at once, which negates my point here. These aren't three separate movies, and for the AFI to treat them as such is idiotic.)

51. "West Side Story" (1961) (Fine, fine film. Truly great. And I can name a dozen musicals I love more, and several I think should outpace it on this list.)

52. "Taxi Driver" (1976)
53. "The Deer Hunter" (1978) (Watched this in college when my roommate Chris had to watch it for a history class about the Vietnam war. This movie made me want to kill myself.)

54. "M*A*S*H" (1970) (Loved it.)

55. "North by Northwest" (1959) (Loved it. Need to watch it again.)

56. "Jaws" (1975) (Ditto.)

57. "Rocky" (1976) (OK, here's the exception for boxing. Like this one. Don't love it. It's good.)

58. "The Gold Rush" (1925)
59. "Nashville" (1975)
60. "Duck Soup" (1933)
61. "Sullivan's Travels" (1941)
62. "American Graffiti" (1973) (Haven't seen this is far too long, either. I think it's great.)

63. "Cabaret" (1972)
64. "Network" (1976)
65. "The African Queen" (1951) (OK, does Bogart get enough love as an actor? Just compare him in this movie to Rick in Casablanca. I'm thinking of that bashful grin Bogey does when he admits to Katherine Hepburn that his first name is "Charley". There's some range for you!)

66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) (Well, duh.)

67. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966)
68. "Unforgiven" (1992) (This is when I realized that Eastwood wasn't just the guy from Every Which Way But Loose.)

69. "Tootsie" (1982)
70. "A Clockwork Orange" (1971)
71. "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) (Sigh. The D-Day stuff is stunningly great. Everything after that? Meh followed by treacle.)

72. "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994) (Not nearly high enough.)

73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969)
74. "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991)

75. "In the Heat of the Night" (1967)
76. "Forrest Gump" (1994) (OK, I'll admit to liking this movie. I don't think it's quite the indictment of the Left that many think it is, and I find it absorbing every time I see it. But still: it's on the list and Fargo's not? I call shenanigans.)

77. "All the President's Men" (1976)
78. "Modern Times" (1936) (As I said. This is legitimately great.)

79. "The Wild Bunch" (1969)
80. "The Apartment" (1960)
81. "Spartacus" (1960)
82. "Sunrise" (1927)
83. "Titanic" (1997) (I've blogged about this before in greater depth somewhere, but let me just say that I still don't get the angry backlash against this movie that's pretty much held sway ever since, oh, the day after it won "Best Picture". Sure, the love story is pure melodrama, but there's nothing wrong with melodrama sometimes, and all the stuff about the ship sinking is just amazing stuff. Great movie, in my opinion.)

84. "Easy Rider" (1969)
85. "A Night at the Opera" (1935)
86. "Platoon" (1986)
87. "12 Angry Men" (1957)
88. "Bringing Up Baby" (1938)
89. "The Sixth Sense" (1999) (Well...really? Top 100? It's good, but...well, really? If this movie is on the list again in ten years, I'll be shocked.)

90. "Swing Time" (1936)
91. "Sophie's Choice" (1982)
92. "Goodfellas" (1990) (Meh.)

93. "The French Connection" (1971)
94. "Pulp Fiction" (1994) (OK, here's my exception to my general antipathy toward movies with criminals as protagonists. But this is because of the film's theme of redemption, when Jules realizes he must leave the life and "try real hard to be the shepherd".)

95. "The Last Picture Show" (1971)
96. "Do the Right Thing" (1989)
97. "Blade Runner" (1982) (Sorry, Yes, its production design is amazing, but the story isn't all that interesting, to me. I always find this movie uninvolving and kind of dull. Roy Batty's final speech before he dies is pretty poetic, I'll admit, but it's preceded by two hours of "Meh".)

98. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942)
99. "Toy Story" (1995) (I think they picked this because it was Pixar's first, as opposed to Pixar's best. Finding Nemo is far, far better. So is The Incredibles.)

100. "Ben-Hur" (1959) (Yes! My favorite biblical or "sword-and-sandal" epic.)

And finally, here are some movies that haven't made either list that, in my mind, damned well should have made at least one:

The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Sea Hawk
The Empire Strikes Back
An Affair to Remember (Oh, stop. It makes me cry like a little girl, and that's fine by me.)
When Harry Met Sally...
The Music Man
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
As Good As It Gets
The Princess Bride
Say Anything (Shut up. It makes me cry like a little girl too.)
The Iron Giant
Somewhere In Time (OK, maybe not. But it too makes me cry like a little girl.)
Bull Durham (Hey, wait a minute -- there's no baseball anywhere in the official list! What the hell--!)
Heavy Metal (OK, definitely not. But oh, my beloved Taarna....)

OK, I think I'm done now. We'll revisit this in 2017, when this blog is beamed directly into your brain.

Look at all the pretty spaceships....

I was just reading a message board thread somewhere -- never mind where, not important -- where several folks hold forth on the notion that the opening space battle in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is hard to follow because there's so much visual stuff going on. I can only read that and wonder if they bothered trying to pay attention, or if they just closed their eyes and thought of England or something.

I saw that thing twice in the theaters on opening day, and even on DVD at reduced size, I've never had problems following that space battle. In fact, Lucas makes it easy to follow by putting his two hero Jedi in spaceships that are totally unique in the entire battle, designing those ships so their cockpits resemble those of the TIE fighters we know so well from the original trilogy, giving those two ships helpful little tongues of blue flame jetting from the engines (possible because the battle takes place in upper atmosphere), and he cuts to dialogue that explains what the hell's going on. Anakin says something like, "We're heading for the ship that's crawling with vulture droids!", and then the very next shot shows a ship that's crawling with droids, and so on.

What I actually admire most about that space battle is that it seems to correct a problem I had with the spaceship effects in The Phantom Menace, in that too often the ships appear to move in a way that's independent of the fact that the ships have mass. Compare the Queen's starship lifting off from Naboo with, say, the Millennium Falcon lifting off from Mos Eisley or Hoth and you see what I mean. However, by the time of Revenge, the ships all seem to have quite a bit of weight involved. If that makes sense.

Anyway, geek moment over.

The shoulder straps dig in a bit when I shrug nonchalantly....

Mrs. M-Mv links some guy who apparently hates overalls.

Fine by me. I don't dress to impress that guy, anyway. Who gives a shit? Moving on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A belated link

I meant to link this a couple of weeks ago when SamuraiFrog wrote it, but I forgot. Anyhow, check out his terrific post on the filmography of Studio Ghibli. There are still a few Ghibli films I haven't seen, but I intend to make up for that as soon as I can.

Well, I think she's beautiful....

God, I hate the assumption behind this advertisement for light yogurt. (Not work-safe; it's a woman who is wearing nothing but rose petals. And I think she's utterly beautiful.)

Books, books, books!

Recently read items here at Casa Jaquandor:

:: How could I not read The Making of Star Wars? Written in honor of the original film's thirtieth anniversary, J.W. Rinzler's book more than lives up to its subtitle: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. The book pretty much starts at about the earliest possible point, when young filmmaker George Lucas starts kicking around the notion of making a science fiction movie. There's just an astonishing amount of information here, and the book is actually a fairly dense read -- so much so, in fact, that I suspect that had the book not also been lavishly illustrated with photos and art from the production, it would have been a lot less enjoyable.

A lot of what's in the book is already known -- the nearly fruitless search for a studio to bankroll the film, the struggles Lucas had with writing his original script, the struggles Lucas had with his British crew who didn't take the film all that seriously, the way the film probably would never have happened had Lucas not used the conceptual art of Ralph McQuarrie in his studio pitches. The book fleshes out a lot of the narrative, though, and I found it fascinating to see just how many ideas that eventually showed up more than twenty years later in the prequel trilogy had their genesis way back in 1974 when Lucas was writing his original story treatments.

:: The Making of Comics by Scott McCloud is the third volume in what I think of as his "meta-comics trilogy", which began with Understanding Comics and continued with Re-inventing Comics. Understanding Comics is an essential read for anyone interested in the medium's history and background; Reinventing may not be quite essential reading, but it's a valuable follow-up. Making is a different animal: this is basically the comics equivalent of, say, Stephen King's On Writing. Here are the thoughts on a specific kind of creative process by a person who has spent significant amounts of time over his career thinking about that creative process and the work that goes on behind it, so there's value to reading this book even if you, as do I, have little interest in making comics.

(Actually, let me qualify that. I wouldn't mind writing comics, but my drawing skills are about as bad as a person's drawing skills can be without that person actually being dead.)

This is a "Thoughts of a master craftsman" kind of book, and I found great value in it on that basis. He won't teach you how to tell stories, but rather, how to use comics as a medium in storytelling. Great stuff.

:: I watched The English Patient years ago on TBS, and I found it generally dull, drawn-out, and for the most part, really pretty boring. But having just finished Michael Ondaatje's original novel, I'm wondering if maybe I failed to appreciate the film fairly, or if my tastes have simply changed since 1999 or whenever it was that I watched it. Hey, it happens.

The novel captivated me in a way the film didn't, with its depiction in close proximity of four people, all damaged in various ways (all emotionally, and some physically as well), whose lives intersect in a fairly mysterious way. The mystery of the story -- the identity of the unidentifiable English patient, burned almost to unrecognizability in a plane crash -- unfolds in unpredictable ways, and I greatly appreciated the way his story isn't allowed to totally dominate the entire novel. In fact, only the English patient's status as the book's title character really indicates at all that he's the most important character in the book at all. Ondaatje writes from constantly shifting viewpoints, and he switches seemlessly from present tense to past and back again, making for what I found to be a fairly hypnotic read.

I'm thinking I should watch the movie again.

:: Speaking of movies from books: I've long loved the Richard Lester-directed version of The Three Musketeers, and I've recently read the original Alexandre Dumas novel. I know this will come as absolutely no surprise, but this book is just one big swashbuckling delight from start to finish. Dumas's blend of court politics with sword-crossed derring-do is...well, the book's just a blast. After finishing it, I felt the way one should feel when finishing a classic work: I felt better for having read it. (I read Lowell Bair's translation for Bantam Books, if anyone's wondering.)

Surprisingly, the phrase that should leap to anyone's mind when hearing the words "Three Musketeers" -- "All for one and one for all" -- are, if memory serves, only uttered once in the book!

(BTW, if you need to watch a filmed version of the book, go with the afore-mentioned Richard Lester version. The one from 1994 or thereabouts, starring Keifer Sutherland and others, was a mildly entertaining flick but turns out to bear almost no relation to the book. It's got a cracking good score by Michael Kamen, though.)

Things you can do with three-by-five cards

Jason Bennion links Indexed, which is a blog with a fairly clever conceit: each post is a single pithy idea, expressed graphically as a sketch of some sort on an index card. Fun exploring.

Here's a recruiting tool for Buffalo!

Via PZ Myers, I see this map, which denotes locations in the United States where singles of one gender significantly outnumber singles on the other:

Jobs, schmobs. We've got single women. (And you know what? They're beautiful. I love them all. Every one. Well, not that one. She's just mean. But all the others.)

I hate our political discourse.

[I feel like ranting about politics a bit, so rant I shall. Move on if you don't like it when I get in this mood.]

I don't read Glenn Greenwald all that much anymore these days, primarily because it gets so depressing. I'm glad he delves into the cesspools of what constitutes political discourse in this country, because hey, every dirty job's gotta get done by somebody, but still, eventually I just can't watch anymore. So I actually followed a link from Lance Mannion to one of Mr. Greenwald's posts, and sure enough, I wanted to vomit about halfway through it. I'm not sure if it was the quotes from actual transcriptions of "professional" journalists almost swooning over the manliness of Fred Thompson or the idea of Rush Limbaugh, he who cannot seem to make a marriage work at all, lecturing America on how they should be raising their children. (And then there's the appalling rejoinder to Greenwald spat out by Ace of Spades, who is apparently some sort of "humorist" on the Right.)

And this comes minutes after I read this article about Antonin Scalia's fetish for Jack Bauer, who is as completely fictional as any of Fred Thompson's "manly" movie or TV roles. Because, you know, look how many times Jack saved the world by doing questionable things. (Hey, Scalia, there are these people in TV called writers, and stuff happens on TV shows not because someone in the show does something, but because the writers wrote it that way. That second-season moment when Jack threatens to kill the terrorist guy's family on TV? The one that's faked? That tactic worked because the writers wrote it that way. So if you're wondering "What would Jack Bauer do?", the answer is simple: he'd do whatever the f***ing script tells him to do.)

And before that, I read Rudy Giuliani blathering on about how when he's President, we're going to "stay on offense" in the "War on Terror", as if the geopolitics of terrorism and fundamentalism can be reduced to the sides of a sporting event (and heaven forbid he actually spell out what "staying on offense" actually means, since I don't think anybody can seriously maintain that we've spent the last six years doing nothing but playing defense, and to less than encouraging results, either). And don't get me started on my confusion about just where Giuliani's national security gravitas came from, because I'm damned if I can figure that out.

And way back when we had the "Why didn't the men rush the guy! After all, I certainly would have!" crap over the Virginia Tech shooter. And so on, and so forth, ad infinitum.

I am so staggeringly tired of macho fantasy masquerading as serious political discussion these days.

OK, rant's done. Back to more mild-mannered stuff.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wakka wakka wakka

John Scalzi asks: Is Pac-Man a mammal?

Well, obviously, no, he's not, so far as we can tell from the evidence. There's no hint that Pac-persons nurse their young, and one of the cartoons in Ms. Pac-Man clearly establishes that Pac-babies are not born to Pac-persons at all, but are delivered by Pac-storks.

Pac-people are not mammals. So what are they? Who knows? He didn't ask that!

Sentential Links #103

Here we are, yet again. This time, you won't win so easily. BWAAA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!

Oh, sorry. Wrong post...we're doing Sentential Links, not Confrontations with Ultimate Evil. Whoops!

:: Outsmarted by the undead! Another proud moment for our band of heroes. (Come on, folks, if you're not reading "DM of the Rings" yet, then you're just not worth the trouble. Harumph.)

:: Anyway, I think as I've been more willing to embrace my sadness, anxiety, shame, and so on, my ability to be joyful has really grown. I laugh more because I cry more...I feel more authentic and at peace for letting the whole range of emotions surface.

:: "How many cat years are in a human year?"

:: What drives me nuts about this residual force stuff, aside from how arbitrary it is, is that there's never any thought to exactly what these 50,000 should do. Basically, as the violence rages around them they're supposed to sit there to ensure that... there isn't even more violence raging around them. But it isn't really enough people to actually intervene, especially given that not even close to that many would be combat troops.

:: This weekend, I joined Niall and Graham on arguably the ultimate in bookish roadtrips: to a certain small town just over the Welsh border, Hay-on-Wye.

:: My theory is that, in fact, women's money isn't as "good" as men's - that it carries with it the inescapable taint of our double-XX DNA and/or Unclean Plumbing, which for brevity I will henceforth refer to as "cooties", since that is an old and familiar paradigm; and that no True Male will risk catching Girl Cooties from our tainted dollars, because as every Traditional Boy under the age of nine knows, associating voluntarily with girls is not only icky in itself, but gives you the dreaded Cooties, which will inevitably turn you into a girl, or at least make you less than fully human, that is to say, True Male--

:: Buddhist-Quakers, Wiccan-Quakers, Jewish-Quakers, what sort of religion has this become?

:: That's right, people, this is what it is coming down to: you need to break the law to do science. We're criminalizing nerds.

:: Colonize the Gobi desert, colonise the North Atlantic in winter — then get back to me about the rest of the solar system!

We'll return next week with some all-new links....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Oh my God....

Utterly stunning. It's a computer application demo that makes me think that we're not 300 years away from Star Trek's library computer, but 47 months or so. I can't believe the stuff they can do.

Via Shamus.

Economy? What's that?

The Family and I made a trek into the wilds of Western New York's Southern Tier today. Nothing really to say about that, except that if one sees one of those omnipresent "dollar stores" decked out with giant banners indicating a "Clearance Sale" -- well, setting aside the troubling thought that things are so bad in that town that a friggin' dollar store can't make it, how does a friggin' dollar store do a "Clearance Sale", anyway? All items for fifty cents? Can they even call themselves a Dollar Store if they do this?

On a more positive (and more serious) note about economic matters, I read in today's Syracuse Post-Standard that the Central New York region is facing a labor crunch. More firms are apparently planning to hire this month than this same month a year ago; the region has added more jobs this month than the same month a year ago; and employers may find that hiring is actually more difficult now as the work-force shrinks (apparently due to the retirement of baby boomers, a trend which will only accelerate in the coming years). Maybe someone out there who knows more than I about economics can say something more about this, but it seems to me a pretty good sign, right?

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

You know how retailers these days will sometimes solicit customer feedback by handing you a coupon along with your receipt that can only be activated if you call a toll-free number and answer some questions? Well, turns out that DC Comics once tried something similar by including an opt-in survey in its comics. You fill it out and send it in, and theoretically, DC analyzes the information and...well, I don't know. Comes up with new comics, maybe, or adjusts existing titles, or something like that.

What makes this funny is that DC did it in the early 1970s. Go look. It's absolutely hilarious.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Mark Freeland, a big name in the local Buffalo rock music scene, died this week after a lengthy battle with cancer. Buffalo News rock critic Jeff Miers writes about Freeland here and here, while local rock bloggers Val and Kevin post about him here, here, and here. Another remembrance, by Beth, can be found here.

Personally, I knew nothing about Mark Freeland until I learned of his passing...but having seen a photo of him, I can't help but think there's something about him that I like....

A brief sporting thought

The other day, on my drive home from work, I heard the sports-talk guys (Schopp and the Bulldog, for you Buffalonians) discussing sports and TV, along the specific example of the apparently-awful ratings this year's NBA Finals received. The general gist of the discussion -- as much as I heard of it, anyway, on my fifteen-minute drive -- was that with the burgeoning of the Internet as well as other time demands, watching entire sporting events on television has become, well, passe. Bulldog noted that he loves golf and considers the US Open to be one of the most important events on his calendar of major sporting events to follow -- and yet he also admitted that he will actually watch almost none of it.

I didn't listen really any farther than that, but it occurred to me that in a way, we've managed to turn the clock back again. Baseball's been "our national pastime" for decades, but widespread baseball on TV only came along, when? In the 1950s or maybe even the 1960s, I'm guessing. Same with football, and the other sports. Baseball was on radio for a few decades before that, but for the great majority of the country, the first half of baseball's existence was one in which one followed the game pretty much exclusively third-hand, by reading reports in the paper and analyzing the box scores. But then TV came along, and along with it, the TV ratings money that has been the engine driving the staggering rise of the player salaries.

And now we're heading back the other way. Baseball's ratings have been declining for years, and now the NBA is suffering the same fate. Hockey has already disappeared from TV almost completely, except for a handful of games that NBC televises almost grudgingly and a cable channel that not a lot of people get in the first place. The NFL is still going strong, of course, which I'm guessing is part of the game's nature: they're on once a week when they're on, and that's it, so there's usually not nearly as strong a sense of, "Well, I can skip this game, because there's another in a day or two", coupled with the fact that we've made the Super Bowl a virtual national holiday (which I still think should be on Saturdays and not Sundays, but that's just me).

It seems to me that with the onset of the Internet, we now follow sports a lot of the time in a very similar way to that which our grandparents followed sports. The question I have, then, is what will this do to player salaries? As the main source of the cash that ultimately justifies multi-million dollar contracts, the TV money, shrinks, will that be what ultimately therefore causes the player salaries to start trending in the opposite direction? Or will the salaries keep going up, up, and still up, even as the TV money shrinks, causing teams in small markets to either abandon their markets entirely or simply field inferior teams because that's what they can afford?

Make ready my ship, general!

I keep meaning to post about various books I've read lately, and I keep putting off the post. So now I've got several such posts to write! First, three recent reads on the Space Opera front:

:: Dread Empire's Fall: The Praxis, by Walter Jon Williams. The basic idea behind the Dread Empire's Fall trilogy is that much of the galaxy has been conquered and brought into the Empire of the Shaa, a fairly mysterious alien race, under a guiding philosophy called "the Praxis". But as The Praxis opens, the last of the Shaa rulers is about to die, which means that their Empire is about to undergo some serious change -- change that one of the Empire's dominant races, the insectoid Naxid, are plotting to exacerbate by basically rising up and taking over. In this book, Williams engages in the good old standard plot where one minor military officer recognizes the signs of enemy conspiracy but can't convince his higher-ups that there's anything going he has to take matters into his own hands. (None of this is spoiler, really, since it's all spelled out on the back cover blurb.)

What's good about the book is? Well, Williams's universe has more of a sense of hard-SF plausibility about it than most "space opera war-in-a-Galactic-empire" tales. The movements of starship fleets take weeks and sometimes months to execute, and the battles aren't matters of giant ships getting really close to one another and then firing lasers back and forth, but rather ships from great distances firing missiles and then waiting hours to see if they hit anything. The combat sequences are really well done here, and they're a nice change from things like the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi. Particularly welcome is the way Williams can set up these kinds of space battles without devolving into the kind of terminal infodumps that cause the books of, say, David Weber to grind to a halt when they should instead be ramping up to real excitement.

Williams's characterizations tend to be limited, I found. The two "lead" characters -- Lt. Gareth Martinez and pinnace pilot Caroline Sula -- are sharply drawn, with lots of motivation behind them. Few of the other characters are so three-dimensional, I found.

The biggest problems I had with this book were in the world-building and in the pacing. This first book of the trilogy is called The Praxis, and yet we learn very little about this guiding religion of the Shaa empire. I suppose it's at the heart of the way the society Williams creates is almost entirely stratified according to class, but "the Praxis" itself doesn't seem to factor much into the story. Additionally, little is learned of the Shaa themselves. Williams does an excellent job of showing us his world, but I found too little sense of just why this world is the way it is.

The pacing was the biggest problem. Too much of this first volume feels like wandering through backstory -- and, in the case of pilot Caroline Sula, it actually is wandering through backstory, as her past is shown through long flashbacks into her earlier life. There's literally more than two hundred pages of set-up and character stuff before we ever actually get to the meat of the story, and I have to admit that I came close to setting the book aside several times before the tale finally kicked in.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the second half of The Praxis sufficiently that I plan to read the second installment (and, unless that one completely blows, eventually finish the trilogy). If you decide to pick this one up, just keep plowing through those first 230 pages or so. It gets a lot more interesting later on.

:: Sigil is a comics series that I've picked up in TPB format, starting Mark of Power. Thus far, what happens is that a group of four wildly-different individuals are brought together by circumstance in the midst of a war between humanity and a reptilian race called the Saurians. Our hero, Samandahl Rey, is for some reason branded on his chest with the mark of the Sigil, some kind of mark of great power, which he uses in a moment of rage to annihilate a large part of a city. Rey and his three new cohorts have to flee, all the while seeking revenge on an old Saurian enemy of Rey's, whilst also fleeing government agents who want to acquire this new weapon that can destroy entire cities.

At least as far as the first volume goes (containing eight or so issues of the original comic), this thing is just about all-action, all the time. So far I've found it a fun read, and I've already picked up the next two volumes in the series. The art thus far is pretty good, although I found the action sequences a bit hard to follow, artistically.

:: I really got a kick out of The Metabarons, though. This series relates the sprawling saga of a race of genetically-perfect warriors called the Metabarons. Imagine if the Jedi had been warriors along the lines of Conan the Barbarian, and you'll have it.

These stories are full of lust, blood, war, sacrifice, and exactly the kind of Big! Bold! Gestures! that I tend to crave in story. If melodrama isn't your thing, then avoid The Metabarons like the plague. But there's just something hugely operatic about this series, in a Wagnerian way. The art is stunning -- panoramic and beautiful. It took me twice as long to read Book One of Metabarons as it did to read Book One of Sigil, because the art is so intricate. (It must also be admitted that the dialogue of Metabarons tends to the dense, and almost stilted, language of The Big Epic. Partly this may be due to the fact that the story was originally written in French and then translated, but while I had no problem with it, other readers may find the dialogue not to their liking either.)

I'm a bit confused about the publishing history of the Metabarons series in TPB format. There seems to have been two separate publications of these tales, under two different titles, so one has to pay careful attention when buying these to make sure that one's actually buying the right volumes and not simply buying the same volumes with different names. Book One, for example, seems to exist as both The Path of the Warrior and Othon and Honorata, published by two different companies (Humanoids Publishing versus DC Comics). I'm also not sure if each book contains the same groupings of issues, so if one mixes and matches from both -- which I'm doing -- there's a possibility of either duplicating material, or missing material entirely.

Fixing the Interpipes

For a while now I've had problems with the blog loading; none of my readers have complained of same, but I can only assume they've had a problem as well, at least in part. Anyway, I finally got off my arse and tried hunting down the problem. Turns out that the site is not working, and that the Blogwise widget I had in my sidebar (a hotlinked image of one of those button-things that links back to them) was therefore unavailable, and thus gumming up my Interpipes. So I ditched the widget. No great loss, really; to my knowledge, nobody ever arrived here via Blogwise.

The Blogarama widget was still working, but I figured since nobody's ever come here from there either, might as well dump it as well. I don't even recall when I signed on for those services, but generally speaking, sites of the "Join our directory and see your traffic grow!" sort tend to be totally useless as drivers of traffic.

(If you want to see traffic growth, just post photos of beautiful women and wait for Google's image search to index them and move a few of them to the front of their search results for those particular names. That's where just about all of my traffic comes from these days: I'm up to over 600 hits a day, but I'd say that at least 475 of those daily hits are image searches for various ROWR! designates.)

Anyway, if anyone's been experiencing trouble loading this blog, I hope I've just solved the problem.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Behind the curve, as always

Steven Den Beste posts something he's learned from watching anime. I'm a little surprised; he's always struck me as being fairly conversant in SF stuff, and I learned this particular tidbit watching Star Trek!

Get that man a hair shirt.

I'm not big on mocking people's religious beliefs, generally, but I've just seen in this FSM Message Board thread where some guy declares that he's so conservative a Christian that he refuses to see Return of the Jedi. Why? Because of Princess Leia's five minutes of screen time in that gold bikini. To this person, that constitutes "soft porn".

I'm sorry, but I just cannot take seriously any person's religious convictions when those convictions have them running screaming from any possible hint of Teh Boobiez. (Of course, I'm also a person who found Princess Leia's Ewok dress a lot more my speed...and that long, long hair....)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Unidentified Earth 7

Last week's turned out to be quite the stumper, didn't it? I call that a win for me, since I had to hand out a couple of hints. Hoo-ray!

So, let's see how we do this week:

Where are we?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Saying Mean Things about Piers Morgan

Ahhh, America's Got Talent is on, and it's time to say something mean about Piers Morgan. Even though he just praised an animal act that includes a trained cat, I still hope that cat deposits a hairball the size of a grapefruit in Piers's shoes.

Sentential Links #102

In a change of pace, I'm gathering links from blogs on SamuraiFrog's blogroll. These are blogs I have never seen before.

:: Attention, people of Earth! You will give us tribute, or we will release powerful weapons!

:: At 76 years old we can only wonder what lies in store for Bill in '08.

:: I'm convinced that what this country needs is another sociological goosing like we got from the musical "Hair" back in the sixties.

:: Do you think Zoe will laugh at this picture when she is older or be embarrassed long after I am gone?

:: Anyway, the one thing I love about both versions is the intelligent, rebellious, and unmotivated character that terrorizes one of his coworkers and fantasizes about the receptionist. Yep, I’m talking about Jim Halpert and Tim Canterbury.

:: I’ve never in my life seen these machines so used. They should put fruit in them so people would get some vitamins and minerals occasionally.

:: It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that "Night and Day" represents the centerpiece of both Astaire's and Porter's movie careers.

:: For The Action Heroine Blog-A-Thon, I ask this question. Does a woman need to be in an action movie to be a heroine?

:: How many technological advances have happened since the last brood of cicadas emerged seventeen years ago?

:: Going by the Diplomat, though, in it's seedy incarnation, was like running into an old buddy from your club days, and you're both middle-aged, but you've got your wife and kids with you on the way to miniature golfing or to the zoo, and he's with some woman 15 years younger than he is and still dressing funny and hanging out in the clubs. It's nice to see him, but a little awkward-- it doesn't suit him anymore. It makes him look even older than you.

:: I don’t think that we’re going to see another big pirate movie in the theaters for a long time, so my recommendation would be to get out there and see this one in the theaters while you can and enjoy it for what it is: a pretty damn good pirate movie.

:: Judd Apatow is quickly becoming the master of making raunchy comedies that actually enforce personal responsibility and eschew the typical frat mentality that idolizes sloth in favor of a straight-laced, mature, and even moralistic lifestyle.

All for this week. Great stuff out there, as always.

Still identifying Earth?

We're now just two days away from the next Unidentified Earth post, and last week's remains Unidentified! Thus, I have now posted therein a second hint.

How 'bout a sequel series called "The Mezzos"?

I never watched a single episode if The Sopranos, because quite frankly I'm just not interested in stories about the Mob or organized crime. I just find those kinds of tales generally wearisome and uninteresting. I know, The Sopranos was incredibly well-done and all and I should and could like it on that basis, but mob stuff just isn't my cup of tea. (The only mob tale I remember really liking was Road to Perdition, and I remember getting really frustrated when it turned out that the shadowy force behind the law firm in Grisham's The Firm was just your typical mob family.)

Having said all that, I find it interesting that so many people were shocked by the show's apparent non-end ending. The best characterization I've read -- and I can't remember where -- is that it's still going on, we just can't watch. This is apparently stunning creativity at work -- but then, it isn't, really. Both Cheers and Frasier ended on similar notes that made us wonder what happened after the final fade-out, and fantasy readers have debated what happens after three men see a riselka ever since Tigana came out. Heck, in eighth grade I remember having to read "The Lady and the Tiger", which is the canonical non-ending ending.

I'm not expressing an opinion of any kind here, except to note with bemusement that all the debate about how it would end never seemed to consider the possibility that maybe it wouldn't end at all.

Monday, June 11, 2007


I don't really feel like blogging tonight, so I'm not going to. Back tomorrow, maybe.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

A grab-bag this week:

:: OK, this really isn't weird at all, but it's interesting and I thought I'd plop the link here. Bill Altreuter has a link to the 25 best movies you've never seen. For me, it's the 23 best movies I've never seen, since I've actually seen two of the ones on this list. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension is in my opinion one of the touchstone flicks of geekdom, in that you can't claim to be an SF geek if you haven't seen it. I'll even use one of its lines ("Whoa, don't tug on that! You never know what it might be attached to.") in everyday conversation in hopes that someone will recognize it, but so far, no dice. The other one that I've seen is the wonderful Time After Time, in which Jack the Ripper flees capture in 1890s London via a time machine that his friend, HG Wells (yes, that HG Wells) has built, and ends up in 1979 San Francisco. This film deserves classic status, in my opinion -- it's a smart, taut thriller.

:: Greg of Delenda Est Carthago links Strange Maps, which is a blog about exactly what it says: strange maps. I'd link a favorite, but they're all just so cool; I plan to some serious archive-digging over there in the next few days. If there's a surer way to make me think you're a complete weirdo than saying "I don't like maps", I haven't found it. (I could go off on a rant here about fantasy novels these days not including maps of their made-up worlds, but I won't. Nor will I rant about fantasy novels that include maps that don't have the locations of the novel indicated within them. Grrrr.)

(Obviously this blog is quite graphics-heavy.)

:: Tom the Dog chronicles the thespianic exploits of Neil Flynn, the Janitor from Scrubs, wherein it turns out that he's played a lot of cops. Curiously, he omits Flynn's appearance on That 70s Show as the disco bouncer who lets all of Eric's friends in, but keeps Eric outside because Eric's...Eric.

:: Via Warren Ellis: Apparently the Pentagon has confirmed that it spent $7.5 million trying to develop a chemical bomb that, when dropped on enemy soldiers, would make those And they did this in the 1990s. Seven point five million dollars. I just can't say anything more than that. How stupid are we, anyway?

:: Finally, in honor of the impending telecast of Bob Barker's departure from The Price is Right, here are the three of the luckiest people who have ever been on that show. First, check out this finish from a very old show (in the 1970s, probably), remembering that in the Showcase at the end, if you're the winning bidder and you're closer than $100 to the actual price without going over, you win both Showcases:

Then there's this guy, who decided to spice up the Showcase Showdown thing -- that's where you spin the big wheel -- with a marriage proposal. (No, not to Bob Barker.) They'll be telling this tale 'round the Thanksgiving dinner table for many years to come:

And finally, a longer segment that highlights the fact that sometimes pure guessing can actually triumph over complete cluelessness:

Wouldn't it suck if Barker's last show were to end in a double overbid?

Identifying Earth?

Wow! So far, no guesses at all on this week's installment of Unidentified Earth. Either no one's looking, or I've actually managed to come up with a difficult one, since only one of the first five went unidentified for more than a day, and most of those were identified in mere hours after posting.

So, I guess I'll have to update that post with a subtle hint, then.

Good causes....

In a roundabout way, John Scalzi is raising money for some organization that works for the separation of church and state. What he's doing is pledging that if he raises at least $250 by the end of this week, he'll go to that new Creationist Museum that's apparently quite near where he lives and blog about it afterwards (and he'll donate all the money he raises to the organization he describes). Personally, I think that if he raises over $2,000, he should have to purchase a T-shirt from that museum's gift shop and then wear it for one whole day next time he attends a WorldCon. Now that ought to be a hootenanny!

The natural question is, of course, how much money it would take to entice PZ Myers to go to that museum....

Saturday, June 09, 2007


I know they're still ironing out details and whatnot, but I really don't like the way the new WNYMedia site looks.

1. I don't like the colors. I have no great objection to light text on a dark background; my own blog had such a color scheme for a large chunk of its early existence, after all. But the colors they've chosen are unpleasant to my eyes.

2. I don't like how every post that's longer than a couple of lines now goes to a "after the cut" type of thing. In fact, I've never been a big fan of "Read the rest of this post" widgets on any blog, but seems to be applying it to every post on any of its blogs that's literally more than three or four lines long.

2a. As of this writing, there's not even a "Click here for the rest of the post" link. You're supposed to automatically know to click the post's permalink to bring up the whole thing.

3. And my big complaint is that WNYMedia now forces a single blog template upon each of its member blogs. Frankly, this cuts down a great deal on the sense of individuality amongst the blogs there. Now, this isn't some new thing they've done; large media organizations that have numerous blogs under their imprints all tend to use roughly the same templates between them -- good examples are all the Buffalo News blogs, or Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias and the rest of the pros at The Atlantic. But the thing is that little word, pros. These are all professional journalists who are being paid to blog by a larger media company, so it makes perfect sense that those companies would want some branding going on. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but it's my understanding that the WNYMedia bloggers are not professionals, and thus I see no earthly reason why every one of their blogs should have to look the same. For a media outlet that has in the past indicated that "independence" is its great strength, this degree of conformity being exerted on its members, in my opinion, hurts the experience.

Welcome back, I guess.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

100 Things that I love about The Simpsons

Tosy and Cosh just did this. It's not a blog-meme thing, but it's just too good an idea to let pass. Soooo, here we go! (Quotes are approximate.)

1. "You must avenge my death, Kimba -- I mean, Simba."

2. "Check it out, Lis! If you play it one frame at a time, you can freeze the exact moment his heart breaks in pieces."

3. Maggie's enemy, the baby with one eyebrow.

4. Gerald R. Ford moving in across the street: "Homer, would you like to come over for beer and nachos?"

5. Homer's inability to stop thinking of Flanders in his ski suit: "It's almost like I'm wearing nothing at all!"

6. "An all-syrup Super Squishy? Such a thing has not been done!"

7. "Remove the Stone of Shame. Attach the Stone of Triumph!"

8. Leonard Nimoy's introduction of the X-Files crossover episode: "All the things you are about to see are true. And by 'true', I mean, 'false'."

9. Tomacco.

10. "Me, fail English? That's unpossible!"

11. "Come on, people! This poetry isn't gonna appreciate itself!"

12. "Oh look, there's Mount Carlmore." "What does Carl think of that?" "Strangely, we've never discussed it."

13. "For fifty bucks, this better be the best beer ever! [sips] You got lucky there, Moe!"

14. The Flaming Moe.

15. She-Hulk versus Leon Spinks: "Worst crossover ever."

16. "Pray for Mojo...."

17. Homer walking through the paper walls in Japan.

18. "Hi, ev'reebody!" "Hi, Dr. Nick!"

19. Bart, human interest reporter: "Joe Banks... 82 years young has come to this pond every day for the past 17 years, to feed the ducks. But last month, Joe made a discovery... the ducks... were gone! Some say the ducks went to Canada, others say Toronto. And some people think, that joe used to sit down there, near those ducks. But it could be, that there is just no room in this modern world, for an old man... and... his ducks..."

20. "Yar, she blows!"

21. Springy, the Springfield Spring.

22. "Smithers, there's a rocket in my pocket!"

23. Mr. Burns, after listening to The Ramones: "Have the Rolling Stones killed."

24. "Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore?"

25. "Press any key? Where's the 'any' key?"

26. Nelson's rationale for letting Bart handle his BB gun: "Sure, it never hurts to have another set of prints on a gun."

27. Nelson turning out to be a devoted fan of Andy Williams.

28. Mel Gibson's ultra-violent remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

29. Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel.

30. Kwyjibo.

31. "And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords!"

32. "Yoink!"

33. "Ahoy hoy!"

34. Bart gets a nice photo of himself made for his mom for Christmas.

35. Jasper as a substitute teacher during the teachers' strike: "That's a paddlin'."

36. Any time Homer screams.

37. "Okily-dokily!"

38. The church congregation holding up candles and lighters in honor of the organist's rendition of "In-a-gadda-da-vida".

39. Great opening sequence: the "Powers of Ten" zoom, from the Simpson's living room out into space and then back into the world of the microscopic and back in the Simpsons' living room. Homer: "Wow."

40. The verb "embiggen".

41. Principle Skinner trying to convince Superintendent Chalmers that he refers to hamburgers as "Steamed Hams".

42. "We're gonna paint that wagon, we're gonna paint it good!"

43. "Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do! We do!"

44. Bart distracting Sideshow Bob by betting him he can't sing the entire score to The HMS Pinafore.

45. Sideshow Bob and rakes.

46. The Simpsons enter the Witness Protection Program: The Thompsons!

47. Yvan eht nioj!

48. Homer's run as Springfield Garbage Commissioner: "I can't believe we're moving the whole town!"

49. Barney gives up Moe gets him addicted to cappuccino.

50. The 'J' in Homer J. Simpson stands for...Jay!

51. "Homer, this is the worst thing you've ever done!" "Marge, you've said that so much it's lost all meaning."

52. "Dad, do you even have a job anymore?" "I think it's pretty obvious that I don't!"

53. Flanders, after Homer's raided his garden: "But did you have to salt the earth so that nothing will ever grow there again?" "Heh heh...yeah."

54. Homer as football coach: "This is the easiest part of the coach's job: the cuts!"

55. "Luke be a Jedi, tonight!"

56. Ralph Wiggum: "That's where the leprechauns tell me to burn things!"

57. Y2K: Dick Clark's robot self melts and explodes.

58. Bart trying to impress his older female babysitter by wearing a smoking jacket and "smoking" his bubble-pipe.

59. The Springfield Isotopes.

60. Homer's inventions: electric hammer, recliner/toilet, chair that won't tip over.

61. Homer's sub crew singing "In the Navy".

62. "We're in international waters now, Bart! Look over there! That boat is rebroadcasting Major League Baseball with implied oral consent, not expressed written consent!"

63. Smithers feeding Mr. Burns spanish peanuts: "Skin!"

64. Frank Grimes.

65. Homer walking backwards all the way home after he sees Apu having an affair.

66. Jasper freezing himself at the Kwik-E-Mart.

67. Krusty's Comeback Special: "Send in...the clowns...."

68. Bart drinking twelve glasses of water to ensure he gets up early Christmas morning, and his ensuing surreal dream about having to go to the bathroom, with cheerleaders screaming, "Give me a P! We're number One! Go go go!"

69. Nelson as Lisa's first boyfriend.

70. "Marge, I'm not gonna lie to you. Well, goodbye!"

71. The Simpsons run out on Jeopardy! after running up a huge tab. One of Trebek's goons: "She ain't gettin' the home version."

72. The Springfield Symphony Orchestra, playing the shower scene from Psycho on the bus home.

73. The missile destroying the only bridge out of town when a meteor is going to hit Springfield.

74. Homer's bowling-ball beer bootlegging scheme.

75. Stealing the Springfield lemon tree.

76. Personages from PBS, including the Teletubbies, chasing Homer after he welches on his pledge-drive pledge.

77. "Listen to those bassoons! John Williams is rolling over in his grave!"

78. The Canyonero.

79. "Bart, do you think you can stop the casual swearing?" "Hell, no!"

80. The little city Lisa grows in a petri dish, which later dispatches a tiny spaceship to destroy Bart.

81. "Well, crying isn’t gonna bring him back, unless your tears smell like dog food. So you can either sit there crying and eating can after can of dog food until your tears smell enough like dog food to make your dog come back - or you can go out there and find your dog!"

82. "The Simpsons are going to ______!"

83. Homer on medicinal marijuana; he cuts himself shaving and bleeds little rainbows.

84. Abe Simpson dosing little Homer with Ny-Quil.

85. Maggie's first word, unheard by anyone else.

86. That Texan guy who fires off his two six-shooters pretty much at the end of every sentence.

87. Fox Mulder's ID badge, juxtaposed with a photo of himself in a Speedo.

88. Dana Scully, watching Homer on a treadmill: "His's like watching a lava lamp."

89. Homer's failure to get Mr. Burns to remember who he is.

90. Homer's ill-advised attempt to demonstrate to Lisa that Simpsons are not doomed to failure: "Should've researched this plan a little, eh, Dad?"

91. Bart gets a credit card.

92. Homer, after seeing Maggie all made-up by Lisa and her slumber-party friends: "OK, I'm goin' to Moe's."

93. Homer's time-traveling toaster, in which he flees a timeline where it rains donuts.

94. Bart as The Fly.

95. Lisa on jazz: "You have to listen to the notes that he isn't playing!"

96. Marge's crush on the Brawny paper-towel guy.

97. Maude Flanders's dream, the amusement park Praiseland, with the ride where a giant animatronic King David reads all of the Psalms to the captive riders.

98. Bleeding Gums Murphy.

99. Abe Simpson always falling asleep in mid-sentence.

100. Slurm. (Oh, that's Futurama. My bad.)

I'll take Door Number Three, Monty!

The other day I posted about my take from my local library's quarterly book sale, a post which I titled "Monty Haul". In comments there, Redsneakz asks about that title:

Is the phrase "Monty Haul" common koine? The only place I've seen it used is the infamous and uproarious "Bimbos of the Death Sun" by Sharyn McCrumb.

I'm not familiar with "Bimbos of the Death Sun", but I came across the term "Monty Haul" in some of the old Advanced Dungeons and Dragons literature I used to own. I don't remember which book this was specifically in, but the term refers to an AD&D campaign which basically boils down to "Kill the beastie with relative ease, take home the enormous treasure, lather, rinse, repeat", with no real attention to storytelling or plot or role-playing. An extreme example would be a party of third-level characters coming across three or four kobolds, killing them in three or four combat rounds, and then finding that the kobolds had a million gold pieces and five scrolls each with one "Wish" spell on them.

A more detailed explanation of "Monty Haul" can be found here. I was lucky in that neither of the campaigns I played in college were "Monty Haul" campaigns. My first DM placed a far higher premium on role-playing (his earlier, high-school experiences with AD&D involved him and his fellow friends from the drama club using AD&D to hone their improvisational theatrical skills) than my second DM, who was more into action and puzzles. But both were good at making the rewards for action commensurate with the difficulties involved in the struggles.

Unidentified Earth 6

[Updated below, with the solution!]

Well, I'd love it if one of these would stump my readers for more than a day! Last week's entry was the Little Big Horn National Monument, which when I stopped there on a cross-country move as a kid, was still called "Custer's Last Stand". Of course, naming it for the Battle of the Little Big Horn is better than Custer's Last Stand, but if we were really going for historical accuracy in naming, we'd call it "Custer's Last Monumental F***-Up".

Anyway, I have yet to come up with anything close to a genuine stumper in this series...but let's try again, shall we?

Where are we?

UPDATE 6-10-07: Well, three days have passed since I posted this, and nary a guess in sight, so maybe a hint is called for. Here it is: had Google been able to take a photo of this location say, thirty years ago, it would have looked significantly different.

UPDATE 6-12-07: Hmmm, still nothing. Here's another hint: scientists were amazed to discover life in this body of water so soon after the event that made this place look the way it does.

UPDATE II, 6-12-07: We have a winner! It is, as Paul tells us, Spirit Lake, which is located north of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State. Here's an overall photo of the whole area:

And here's the Google Maps location.

All that debris that in my original photo looks like a bunch of matchsticks dumped into a rain puddle? Those are trees that were leveled in the stunning blast of Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980. Twenty-seven years later, and the lake is still partially covered with debris.

In the second hint, I point out that scientists discovered life in the waters of Spirit Lake far earlier than they ever thought possible. Since Spirit Lake pretty much lies in the direct line of fire of the eruption of that day -- notice how it's just off the direction of the clear slope of that day's blast -- it was literally sterilized by the heat and violence of the cataclysm. However, Spirit Lake today is home to fish.

My next hint, had it remained unidentified another day, would have been that so violent was the geologic upheaval of the May 18 eruption that today, Spirit Lake's bottom is actually at a higher altitude than its surface was before the eruption.

Always remember, folks: this planet can shrug us off anytime it wants to!

(Also remember, Buffalonians: shoveling six inches of snow is easier than clearing one's driveway of one inch of volcanic ash. As my family lived in the Portland, OR area when St. Helens was going through its 1980 eruptions, I know whereof I speak!)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Eight Things

Lynn tags me with a meme where I'm to reveal eight things about myself, or give eight facts about myself, or reveal eight habits, or something like that. After more than five years of blogging, coming up with new stuff that I actually want to reveal here is kind of hard.

1. Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine dates the guy who zones out every time "Desperado" comes on the radio? I'm the same way with Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 1.

2. Musical instruments I feel like I should like, but which I really don't: the harpsichord, the classical guitar, the harmonica.

3. I listen to The Daughter talk about her collection of Pokemon cards, and it hits me that this is what I sounded like to my parents when I talked nonstop about Star Wars.

4. I think there should be a national restaurant chain that does nothing but sell those regional specialties that are beloved in one place but completely unknown just fifty or a hundred miles away. I'm thinking of beef on weck, scrapple, spiedies, Maid-Rites, broasted chicken, and so on. The restaurant could be funded with Piers Morgan's money, after the dingoes eat him.

5. I believe that rum makes the world a better place.

6. It's been over a year since the last time I set foot in a Wal-Mart.

7. I don't recall how it happened, but my family has now become spoiled: we can no longer consume pancake syrups like Mrs. Butterworth's or Log Cabin. We pay the hefty price for real maple syrup, and we do so cheerfully.

8. I'm the only member of my family who enjoys the flavor of coconut. This means that I can load up on Mounds bars and not feel the slightest bit guilty for not sharing.

I'm supposed to tag people, but I'm not going to. Grab it and post away if you like, folks!

Saying Mean Things about Piers Morgan

So we're watching the first episode of this year's iteration of America's Got Talent, a show which I enjoyed last year because I like goofy acts of the sort that get featured on shows like this; the things that people discover they can do and then hone to a fine talent can be really touching, amazing, or hilarious in the best (and, frankly, worst) way. But I'm reminded also of what a colossal ass Piers Morgan is, and I was about to write a big rant about the degree of his assness, but then I remembered that I ranted about him last year, so I figure this year I'll just satisfy myself each week by writing something mean about Piers Morgan.

For those who aren't watching the show, Piers is the resident BluntBrit of America's Got Talent. Every competition-style reality show, it seems, must have a BluntBrit amongst its judges, because, obviously, Simon Cowell was the original BluntBrit. Never mind that Simon Cowell is a record producer who fronted the show Pop Idol in Britain, the show that actually inspired American producers to come up with American Idol. Anyone who actually watches American Idol knows that (a) Simon knows what he's talking about, and (b) he's not nearly as mean as his reputation suggests. Not so Piers Morgan, who is only there because he's got the British accent. He's there for no other reason than to be a BluntBrit.

So anyway, here's this week's Something Mean about him: I hope that Piers Morgan is bludgeoned into unconsciousness and then dropped naked into the Australian outback, where his body would be slathered with enough beef gravy to attract a pack of starving feral dingoes.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sentential Links #101

Wow, I've done this series for over two years now. How time flies!

:: So at your next orchestra rehearsal, Tupperware party, city council meeting, ice cream social, wedding reception... whip out Terror -- Again... Now, more than ever.

:: Super-human TeeVee critic Brian Lowry wrote an interesting defense of critics. It's curious that entertainment critics find it necessary to continue defending their jobs. It's beginning to come off as more than mere "you just don't understand what we do" bullshit, though. It sounds defensive.

:: But the point is, I don't think my operating system should display such an alarming and annoying mind of its own. I do not purchase an OS just so it can one day up and decide that the settings I've put in place aren't good enough anymore.

:: I really wanted to type the actual f-word, but my mom (Hi, Mom!) reads this blog and she hates that word with a passion.

:: In the '40s, when Wonder Woman was first introduced, she left the Amazon's to help fight Nazis. It was a admirable reason and nobody questioned it. I don't think anyone today would question it either. But in the mid-'80s when Perez rebooted the concept, there wasn't an easy enemy like that who needed a Wonder Woman butt-whoopin'. So, Perez gave her the Mission.

:: This is what it takes to be President, according to one of the most influential journalists in America: The ability to be passively accepted in a part someone else has written for you, someone else has directed your performance in, someone else has dressed you for, someone else has photographed to make you look like what you're playing, and someone else has edited to make sure only the very best of what you said and did makes it onto the screen, proves you are what you appeared to be and that then qualifies you to be President of the United States.

:: What does it mean for the universe...when a GOD DIES? (It makes sense in the context of the post.)

:: Homeownership sucks. Responsibility sucks. Nothing like homeownership — particularly in a market with declining real-estate values — to make one yearn for the simpler days of an apartment, a mailbox with everyone else’s by the front entrance, a community pool and a call to Maintenance when things went wrong.

:: Today is the 33rd anniversary of one of the most staggering promotional failures in American sports history.

:: But any way you look at it, 11 years is a heck of a long time for two people to live together and not strangle each other (Lisa insists those times I've woken up late at night with her pushing a pillow down over my face doesn't count as "strangling"). So, hey, I'm up for another decade-plus-one. Who's with me? (Well, I'm certainly not. Jayme screams in his sleep, I'm told. But congrats on the anniversary!)

All for now. Tune in next week.