Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Halloween Quiz Thing!

Hooray! A Halloween quiz-thing! This one comes courtesy SamuraiFrog and Messrs. Tosy and Cosh.

1. What is your favorite work of horror fiction?

As is my typical form, I can't name a single one. In terms of novels, Steven King's 'Salem's Lot was truly unnerving. I also admire Robert Cormier's Fade, a young-adult novel about a not-so-nice kid who develops the power of invisibility. John Bellairs's Gothic novels for young readers have more than a few unsettling moments; the scariest ones are The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring and The Curse of the Blue Figurine. (By the way, Hollywood, if you're looking for a good author to mine for movies, Bellairs is just sitting there, waiting.)

I've read a lot of horror short fiction as well, and the one story that has stuck in my head for years is Graham Masterton's "The Secret Shih-Tan". It's not supernatural, but it's damned creepy.

2. Who is your favorite monster?

Monsters, eh? Well, let's see -- I'll go with the Flukeman from that episode of The X-Files.

3. What horror movie gives you the most chills?

The Exorcist.

4. Freddy versus Jason?

Freddy. He's an actual character, not an unstoppable doofus in a mask.

5. Ghosts or goblins?

Well, that depends, doesn't it? You can do great things with either, although ghosts tend to be more creepy in an unsettling way than pure goblins. Goblins you know are made-up beasties, but ghosts have that human quality.

6. What is your scariest encounter with the paranormal?

I don't believe I've ever had an encounter with the paranormal, so probably typical stuff like bumps in the night after I've watched a scary movie or teevee show.

7. Do you believe in ghosts?

No, but I'd like to live in a world where they were real.

8. Favorite Halloween costume?

My mother made me an awesome Captain Marvel costume when I was a kid. That thing ruled.

9. If you had an unlimited budget, what would your fantasy costume be for this Halloween?

I'd love to be one of the Riders of Rohan.

10. When was the last time you went trick or treating?

For myself? First grade, I think. After that I preferred to stay in and hand out the candy. We take The Daughter out each year, obviously.

11. What's your favorite Halloween candy?

I'm the only one in the household who likes candy corn. I buy myself a bag every year and grin as The Wife and The Daughter whine about how gross the stuff is.

12. Tell us about a scary nightmare you had.

I genuinely don't remember any scary nightmares, although I do recall going to my grandmother's house in Pittsburgh on overnight stays and being terrified when this awful sound rose up from the basement. Turned out it was the automatic garage door opener; my uncle was a mailman and left for work really early each day.

13. What is your supernatural fear?

I don't have any.

14. What is your creepy-crawlie fear?

I'm not a big fan of insects. Spiders don't bother me, so long as they don't try to board me as a passenger. Large bugs, though, trigger my often-overpowering Squish 'em! instinct.

15. Would you ever stay in a real haunted house overnight?

You mean, a house reputed to be haunted? Sure. I don't believe in the supernatural, as far as houses go.

16. Are you a traditionalist (just a face) Jack O'Lantern carver, or do you get really creative with your pumpkins?

Oh, who the hell knows. Every year we buy a gorgeous, wonderful pumpkin that would make an outstanding Jack O'Lantern, and every year we forget to carve the damned thing until November 1. And sure enough, we did the same thing this year. Pity, because I love the toasted seeds.

17. How much do you decorate your home for Halloween?

We have an apartment, so not much at all. We should. I love that there are Halloween lights these days.

18. Do you think Halloween is too commercial these days?

No, but it bugs me that on Halloween you can't buy Halloween candy anymore because stores have the Christmas stuff up already. Come on, folks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

We're the Fugowee!

Hmmmmm...Unidentified Earth 21 is still unidentified. Here's a hint: I cut the notable feature of this location in half for the image used in the original post.

Also, Unidentified Earth 20 has been identified -- actually this happened last week, and I was remiss in noting it. It is the ancient city of Petra, located in present-day Jordan. In the second hint, I noted that part of the Unidentified Earth location, but not the part I used for the puzzler, was used in a famous movie, but as a totally different location. The film is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, wherein the most famous part of Petra -- the buildings carved directly out of solid cliff face -- are said to be the lost Temple in the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, wherein lies the final resting place of the Holy Grail.

The winner? Shawn, who now earns ten thousand Quatloos.

A new puzzle will run on Thursday.

One Hundred Movies!!! (61 through 70)

Returning to our excursion through one hundred movies that I consider favorites (or, the Greatest Movies Ever If I Had My Way), we find ourselves counting down from 70 to 61. Or, at least I find myself counting them down thusly. You're just reading this, not counting down anything. Yeesh.


70. Independence Day (ID4)

I don't care how implausible it is. I don't care that an entire starfaring species, capable of interstellar travel and able to construct spaceships whose force shields can withstand direct hits by tactical nuclear weapons, are nevertheless undone by a computer virus uploaded via an Apple Powerbook. I don't care that Will Smith somehow manages to learn of Area 51's existence, a secret kept for fifty years, when he flies over it in his jet fighter while in a combat situation. I don't care that Smith later ups and goes to his old military base which he's told has been destroyed, for no other reason than that's how he gets reunited with his girlfriend. I don't care that the movie has people outrunning fireballs and surviving firestorms by ducking into maintenance closets. I don't care that Bill Pullman plays the President of the United States and delivers a pseudo-Churchillian pep talk before getting into a fighter jet to attack the alien ship. I don't care that the movie gets the orientation of the Empire State Building wrong. I don't care that the script tells us that the Communications Director for the President of the United States has her cell phone number listed in the phone book "in case of emergencies". I don't care how much of this movie makes absolutely no sense. Why? Because the movie is so infectiously fun that it makes me not care about any of those things. So there.

Signature moment: When the alien ships open fire.

69. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

I keep trying to think of where this movie makes a mis-step, and I'm not thinking of one. I love its reversal of the original Terminator, with Arnold as the good Terminator. It's too bad that the advertising and reviewers gave away the game prior to the film's release, because the first act is constructed to keep us in the dark as to which of these Terminators is the good one and which is the bad one, right up to the moment when Arnold grabs John Connor and whips the boy around so he can shield Connor with his own back. Oh well.

Signature moment: Arnold, naked, walks into the biker bar.

68. Total Recall

Remember, these are in no particular order in the "lower" half; I tried to rank titles for the top twenty or so and then I just listed titles as they came to me. That's why I have two of Arnold's best SF action flicks back to back. I've decided that this movie is almost underrated. Its premise is loads of fun, keeping us guessing as to which Arnold is the real Arnold and with some cool SF gee-whizzery at work. I also like the Paul Verhoeven SF violence – nobody does blood-spattering gunfights like Verhoeven. Oh, and in my opinion, this film boasts the last truly great score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Signature moment: "Get your ahss to Mahs!" (By the way, there are times when my sinuses feel like they could really benefit from the use of the gadget Arnold uses to pull the bug out of his nose.)

67. Witness

Come to think of it, I should probably bump this up a bit, but here it is. I love this movie, and when I watch it now, it takes on a different note as I watch Harrison Ford back then and realize what a talented actor was lost when Ford decided, roughly in the early to mid 1990s, to stop challenging himself. John Book is John Book, with nothing at all of Indiana Jones or Han Solo visible in the character. The "fish out of water" story is as old as anything, but it seems so fresh here by virtue of the Amish setting and by virtue of the script that finds gentle comedy in those scenarios but still treats both cultures with respect. The chemistry between Ford and Kelly McGillis is terrific, and the crime thriller plot is well executed. The film also contains two of the most memorable scenes I can remember in a film: Book dancing with Rachel in the barn, and the barn raising. Seriously, the only blemish on the film that I can ever find is in the rather dull score by Maurice Jarre. The barn raising scene is scored well, but it's done with all synths; a recent compilation album of Jarre themes has the cue arranged for full orchestra, and it is stunning. Too bad they didn't go with that for the movie.

Signature moment: "You be careful out among them English."

66. Ben Hur

Biblical epics are kind of like...Christmas fruitcake. They're all heavy and leaden affairs that sit in your stomach like a rock after you consume them, but some of them taste good enough that you don't mind that feeling that the thing just won't end. Ben Hur is one of the best, vastly superior to The Ten Commandments in my view. Yes, it's long and parts of it drag to a degree that would bring a stampeding herd of bison to its knees, but those parts are offset by a number of thrilling set pieces, the best of which is (obviously) the famous chariot race. I like this movie...but like Christmas fruitcake, I can pretty much only indulge it once a year. (Its score, by Miklos Rozsa, is one of the great classics of film music.)

Signature moment: The chariot race is justly famous, but I always like the sea battle a little more.

65. Far and Away

This movie is pure, pure cheese. It's a romance novel writ large on the screen; if it were an actual romance novel, the title on its cover would be done in large, looping cursive script over an image of the leads on horseback or something similar. The movie is totally predictable; there is not a single plot development in it that can't be seen a mile away. It's the tale of a young Irishman and a young Irish woman who emigrate to the United States, thrust together even though they're from different classes and they at first don't even like one another. It's Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman doing faux-Irish accents. It's got bare-knuckle boxing, pistols at dawn, and the big Oklahoma land race at the end. It's got a big John Williams score that features the Chieftains and Enya. And I love it so! This is partly pure sentiment; when The Wife and I were dating in college, we spent our summers apart, and we always went to see a movie on our last day together for three months. This was one of those movies, and our favorite.

Signature moment: The land race, obviously. Terrific music in that sequence.

64. Eating Raoul

This is a weird movie, all right. It features a married couple whose dream is to open a restaurant, but they just don't have enough money, so they decide to raise money by posing as swingers, and then when people come over to "swing", they kill them by beaning them with a frying pan and then steal their wallets. It's a black comedy, obviously. Not the kind of subject matter I'd usually choose for myself; actually, if not for my sister, I'd have never chosen this movie for myself. But I do think it's pretty funny. Although I do have the bad feeling that I'm someday going to pay a price for actually having watched this movie with my grandmother.

Signature moment: The couple's surprise windfall at the swingers' party.

63. The Hunt for Red October

I remember reading a review of this movie before I saw it. Released in 1990, a year after the Fall of Communism, the review wondered if a movie like this could possibly still be exciting in a post-Cold War world. The answer is an obvious Yes; I still find it riveting every time I watch it. What's better than a good cat-and-mouse movie? A movie with about half-a-dozen cat-and-mouse games going on.

Signature moment: "We get the right sort of American, this will work. But if we get some buckaroo...."

62. Amadeus

If there is a movie out there that recreates a specific time and place better than Amadeus, I don't know what it is. The creation of late 1700s Vienna is as complete a cinematic illusion as I can think of. The famous story of the rivalry between the freakishly gifted Mozart and the desperately ungifted Salieri is well known; I simply note that the film holds up as well now as it did in its original release. I reviewed this film for GMR here.

Signature moment: Mozart on his deathbed, dictating his Requiem to Salieri, and Salieri's struggle to understand Mozart's compositional genius.

61. The Adventures of Robin Hood

What a great, great movie this is – it should probably be farther up this list. Oops. Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHavilland, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Nathan Hale; one of the all-time great scores by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. It's such a classic that further comment here seems pointless, so I'll just leave off there.

Signature moment: "What say you to that, Baron of Lockesley?" "May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, Sire!"

Fixing the Prequels - The Phantom Menace (part one)

Long-time readers will know that I am a member of that terribly small, but incredibly zealous, band of folk: those who admire and enjoy the Star Wars prequel trilogy. I enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, each one of them, and I refuse to view them as disastrous films done in by George Lucas's money-grubbing hubris. The Daughter and I just watched The Phantom Menace this past weekend, and damned if I still can't see what it is about that movie that everybody hates with such fury.

But while I do openly admit to loving these films – long posts about each film can be found linked in my sidebar – I do also admit that the films are flawed. Not fatally flawed, in my view, but there are things in each prequel film that could have been done better. So, in this series of posts, I'm going to set out exactly what I think should have been done differently. We'll start, obviously, with The Phantom Menace, and then proceed on to Attack of the Clones and, finally, Revenge of the Sith.

First, a couple of points about this fairly Quixotic project. One, I'm not going to be bitching a lot about who should have been cast in this or that role (well, with one exception, but that's less about the actual performance given and more about the character in question) or directed. This isn't going to be a “Lucas is Teh Suck as a director!” kind of thing, OK? Two, I'm not going to vastly rewrite the prequel stories, because I think the stories and plotting of the prequels are quite solid and well done. What I'm more about here is fleshing out the stories themselves so they work better, not tossing them out entirely. I'm not doing fanfic here. Lastly, for the sake of brevity, I shall employ the following abbreviations:

TPM = The Phantom Menace
AOTC = Attack of the Clones
ROTS = Revenge of the Sith
ANH = A New Hope
TESB = The Empire Strikes Back
ROTJ = Return of the Jedi
PT = Prequel Trilogy
CT = Classic Trilogy

So, on to The Phantom Menace. Here's how TPM would look if I'd made it.

Intro scenes.

I remember when the backlash started against this film, quite a few commentators complained about the text of the opening crawl, about trade routes and taxation and whatnot. “The film's thirty seconds old, and I'm already bored!” went the refrain, and frankly, what a stupid refrain that was. The American Revolution, after all, had its routes in clashes and quarrels over taxation and trade routes and the like, and yet no one complains about American Revolution stories on an a priori basis. So the opening crawl stays.

Next, the sequence with the Republic ship landing on the Trade Federation cruiser. I actually like this opening too, and I wouldn't change anything about it, save one small detail: the accents of the Trade Federation guys. Not because of all that idiotic stuff about them looking and sounding “Chinese” (for my money, they always sounded less Chinese and more like Count Dracula – I kept waiting for them to express their desire to “sok your blod”), but because they're frankly hard to understand much of the time. The only time in TPM that Darth Sidious is actually referred to by name comes in one of these early scenes, and the accent makes the name almost unintelligible.

There's also a bit in the original script where two worker droids in the landing bay note the arrival of the Republic ambassadors; one says something like “A Republic cruiser! Do you think that's trouble?” And the other replies, “I'm not made to think.” I like that exchange and I wish it had been included in the movie.

So, the Republic ship has landed, and the two Jedi ambassadors have been escorted into a waiting room. Here's where the first thing I'd correct about the prequels crops up: the relationship of Obi Wan Kenobi and Qui Gon Jinn. What's wrong here is that the script, as filmed, doesn't really draw the student-teacher relationship strongly enough. This is the young Obi Wan, the impulsive one who would make some bad decisions later on; this is the young Obi Wan on whom the older Obi Wan in the Classic Trilogy would look back somewhat ruefully. We don't get enough of a view of Obi Wan as the student who doesn't know everything.

This scene has Obi Wan noting that he feels something strange out there in the Force, something “elsewhere...elusive”. This should have been given to Qui Gon; his greater experience with the Force should make him the one feeling that something is amiss with this otherwise simple-looking matter of a trade dispute. It should have gone like this:

QUI GON: I have a bad feeling about this.

OBI WAN: I don't sense anything.

QUI GON: This is supposed to be a simple trade dispute, and yet there's something elsewhere...elusive. Learn to listen to the living Force, young Padawan, and it will tell you things that are not readily apparent.

OBI WAN: Master Yoda has said that I should focus my attention on where I am, and what I'm doing. The future is always in motion.

QUI GON: Yes, well...Master Yoda and I have had our disagreements.

OBI WAN: How do you think the Trade Viceroy will react to the Chancellor's demands?

QUI GON: These Federation types are cowards. Blockading a planet with minimal defenses is one thing, but defying two Jedi ambassadors? The negotiations will be short.

Something like this would establish Qui Gon as the clearly superior Jedi in this scenario, as well as plant the notion of Qui Gon as something of a Jedi rogue. One of the underappreciated aspects of the entire Prequel trilogy, in my view, has always been the extent to which the Jedi are depicted: many commentators seem to miss the fact that the PT depicts not the Jedi in their prime, but the Jedi when they are in serious decline as an order, when their focuses have become too inward and when they have become too arrogant and decadent in their own power. Here we'd highlight the notion that all is not perfect in the Jedi world, by establishing the notion of a Jedi Master disagreeing with Yoda, who at the time TPM came out was the only true Jedi master (along with Obi Wan Kenobi) with whom we were familiar.

I also like the opportunity to have Obi Wan's lines reflect a bit of dialogue spoken to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. In truth, I think that the PT did a fair job of harkening back to the CT, but I'd make the parallels even stronger.

Next, we have the Trade Federation guys confer with Darth Sidious. This scene works pretty well, I think, except that again it's undermined a bit by the thick accents of the Federation baddies. Also, there's some dialogue from the original script that didn't make it into the final scene. Additionally, I'd have the Federation guys show some fear and fealty to Sidious when his hologram appears, something like this:

A hologram of DARTH SIDIOUS appears before Viceroy Gunray and his lackies.

SIDIOUS: I instructed you to not contact me except in the event of emergency, Viceroy.

GUNRAY: Forgive me, Lord Sidious, but the Chancellor's ambassadors have arrived, and they are Jedi knights.

SIDIOUS: The Chancellor involved the Jedi? That was unexpected.

DOFINE: [this is the other Federation guy] Your plan has failed, My Lord. We cannot go against the Jedi.

SIDIOUS: You fear two Jedi more than you fear me, Dofine? Viceroy, I don't want this stunted slime in my sight again!

Dofine slinks away.

GUNRAY: Then what shall we do, My Lord?

SIDIOUS: Nothing has changed. A confrontation with the Jedi was inevitable, so we must act now. Begin landing your troops on Naboo.

GUNRAY: Invasion? So soon? Is

SIDIOUS: I will make it legal.

GUNRAY: And the Jedi?

SIDIOUS: The Chancellor should never have involved them in this matter. Kill them immediately.

The hologram fades. Gunray turns to his subordinates.

GUNRAY: Begin jamming the communications from the planet, and prepare the armies for invasion.

DOFINE: Yes, Viceroy...but how will we kill the Jedi?

GUNRAY: Droids. Lots of droids.

Then cut back to the rest of this sequence as it unfolds in the film; I've always found this whole sequence pretty effective. The only change I'd make is that when the destroyer droids arrive, I'd draw attention to Obi Wan's suddenly being overmatched: he would try to hold them off himself for a moment or two while Qui Gon continues to cut through the door. This would highlight the notion that he's young and impulsive. Qui Gon would thus have to stop cutting through the door in order to bail out his young Padawan.

There's also a line that I like in the original script; Obi Wan remarks, as they're fighting battle droids, "Offhand I'd say that this mission is past the negotiation phase."

Oh, and the business with the two Jedi suddenly displaying super speed in escaping the destroyer droids? I'd ditch that and have them escape in some other way – maybe by cutting open a coolant pipe or something to make a distraction. The super speed thing doesn't really work; it's a Jedi ability that is only seen this one time and never really comes into play again even though there are times when it seems just what the doctor ordered. The less of that, the better.

Finally, the two Jedi arrive in the landing bay, where they discover the droid armies boarding their ships for the invasion of Naboo. Here I'd highlight the Jedi's surprise that the Trade Federation is actually invading.

OBI WAN: Battle droids?

QUI GON: It's an invasion force. They're invading Naboo.

OBI WAN: From a dispute over trade routes to invasion? I don't understand.

QUI GON: Nor do I. They destroy our ship, try to kill us, and now an invasion...something else is at work here. We have to warn the Naboo and contact Chancellor Valorum. Stow aboard separate ships, and we'll meet on the planet.

OBI WAN: Yes, Master. At least you were right about one thing: the negotiations were short!

And then we're on to Naboo. Next up...the rehabilitation of Jar Jar Binks.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Sentential Links #116

Here we go, folks!

:: I have never lived in a community that was so obsessed with its past. (Good post on the lack of retail in downtown Buffalo. My suggestion for remedying this? Forget it. Don't do anything specifically to bring retail downtown. Instead, work on getting businesses downtown, and getting people living downtown. Retail will follow; it always goes where people work and live.)

:: Too many people around here have wanted instant gratification; in reality, building new business takes both nurturing and time. We are about to reach a tipping point where everything is starting to happen at once, and where the renaissance will soon become obvious, even to the most cynical. (It's also worth remembering that many things are never predictable. Since no one in the 1980s could have predicted the 1990s tech boom, it follows that no one could have therefore predicted the rise of the Austin, TX area as a result of that boom.)

:: As far as I’m concerned, every day is bread day.

:: Why is it necessary to do another Star Trek, especially one featuring the original characters? What possibly can be left to say or do in this universe that hasn't been fully explored over five TV series and ten feature films? (I personally wouldn't mind one more Trek movie, if for no other reason than to make it so that the franchise didn't end with Nemesis, which is staggeringly bad.)

:: With all the cameras Fox had capturing the reactions of every person imaginable, I’m only sorry they didn’t have a camera in Johnny Damon’s house.

:: Choosing the best presidential candidate among the 2008 contenders is a tough job. Picking the worst is easy. Rudy Giuliani is the guy you'd get if you put George Bush and Dick Cheney into a wine press and squeezed out their pure combined essence: unbounded arrogance and self-righteousness, a chip on his shoulder the size of a redwood, a studied contempt for anybody's opinion but his own, a vindictive streak a mile wide, and a devotion to secrecy and executive power unmatched in presidential history. He is a disaster waiting to happen.

:: And on Saturday I got a note from...well, never mind. Let's just say it was a fan note from someone whose work I admire a great deal. Always nice to get those.

:: Science fiction is going to lose at least one of these magazines in the next five years.

:: The real trouble with our schools is that, basically, Americans hate school.

We don't think it's really necessary. We like schools and support them to the degree they provide cheap and easy day care and during football and basketball season give us somewhere to go on Friday nights.

All for now....

Bills 13, Jets 3

We're on a roll! Playoffs or bust! (Yeah, I know which of those is more likely, but still....)


:: The Bills' defense had a pretty good game, although they were helped out by the Jets' coaching staff and its decision to not run the ball as much as they should have. Going on the road and holding the opposition to three points is superb, though.

:: JP Losman. I'm still a fan of his, and I'm glad to see him come in and succeed. No, he didn't set the world on fire, but he completed one long bomb and very nearly completed another (he put the ball right where Roscoe Parrish needed it to be, and Parrish simply dropped it). Now, if the Bills are convinced that Trent Edwards is the future and needs to play, then I'm fine with that. I just hope they're able to trade Losman in the offseason and get something good in return -- a draft pick or two. If Losman gets more time this year that looks like yesterday, the chances of that happening go up.

I'm not convinced that Losman is a bust in the NFL. Is he the next Jim Kelly or Brett Favre? Probably not. But I wouldn't at all rule out the thought of him having a career like, oh, Brad Johnson, Jeff Hostetler, Mark Rypien, or Rich Gannon. All of those guys were around a long time, none of them is a Hall-of-Famer, but all went to Super Bowls and three of them won it.

:: Lee Evans. Wow, did he want to make a play or what?


:: Marshawn Lynch. Not Lynch himself, actually; just the fact that he's trying so hard to have a big game and he keeps running into eight-man fronts every time he touches the ball. He's a draft-horse type of player, but for one reason or another he hasn't got the results yet. He will, though.

:: Offensive line. This is the main reason why Lynch hasn't excelled yet. They should be "gelling" by now, and yet...they don't look like they're gelling. They still aren't asserting command over the line of scrimmage. And how many consecutive corner blitzes did the Jets run yesterday, with none of them being picked up at all, even when the TV guys are saying, "Here comes another corner blitz!" before the ball was even snapped?


:: Throwing a long bomb in an obvious running situation again. Yes, it worked out well this time, but it didn't have to, and I'd really like to see the Bills not have to contain a last-gasp comeback attempt in the final moment in a game. I'd like to see them get the ball with 3:30 or so left and never give up the ball again. That's when I'll start believing that the O-line is coming together.

:: The Washington Redskins. Were you guys even on the field? And you know what: if you're pissed about the Stupid Patriots running up the score on you, then why not take a few shots at Brady? Why not take some jabs at Moss? It's not like the penalty yards are going to hurt you anymore than you're already hurt, since you're already bleeding points all over the field anyway. Do what they do in baseball: take some shots at 'em. You're getting paid millions of dollars to play football anyway, so either dish out some punishment in return, or shut up about being rung up for 52 points. As far as I'm concerned, the right to complain about running up the score ends when you're making what an NFL player makes.

:: That game in London. How lame was that???

Next week: the Bengals come to town. And go Colts! Only you can stop evil from becoming truly ascendant.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Not much to report, weirdness-wise -- I wasn't on the Net as much as usual last week, which cut into the looking-for-oddities. Here are a few I snagged from MeFi:

:: Re-enacting iconic photographs from the twentieth century -- with old people.

:: Top your next pizza with the contents of a Happy Meal.

Sadly, that's about it for now. Lame, I realize. Oh well -- we'll try harder next week.

Don't go in the water....

PZ Myers has tagged me with a quiz-thing where I'm supposed to list the ocean or seafaring movies that I've found scariest. This is, I suppose, because of Halloween coming up and Dr. Myers's general fetish for many-tentacled sea beasties. Anyway, to indulge him:

:: Pinocchio. There's some really spooky stuff in this movie, to be honest, and the whole Monstro the Whale sequence is pretty intense. The scariest part of the movie has nothing really to do with the ocean, of course -- that would be the Pleasure Island sequence, and especially Lampwick's creepy fate -- but there's a lot of material in this movie to put the lie to the notion of Disney being all-cuteness, all the time.

[Yes, I screwed up and typed Peter Pan originally. Sue me, you lubbers!]

:: Jaws II. This is a better movie than many tend to think nowadays, even if it really is nowhere near as good as its classic preceding film. But it does amp up the horror a bit. The original movie just posits a great white shark finding a spot where there's some particularly nice and tender feeding; Jaws II has another shark that seems to be actually hunting all these teenagers on their boats. Some of their demises are particularly grisly, especially one poor girl who gets chomped whole as a young boy sits on the hull of the capsized boat looking on, about five feet away. And later on, the shark manages to take out a helicopter.

:: Deep Blue Sea. This is actually a pretty silly movie. OK, it's an extremely silly movie. There's not a moment in it that is in the least bit plausible. The special effects are pretty laughable. So why do I list it? Because it's one of the few movies of the "lock some characters in an enclosed space with a ravenous beastie" type that actually plays by the rule of "Anyone in this movie can die."

:: The X-Files: "Piper Maru" and "Apocrypha". These are two memorable mytharc episodes from Season Three that deal with black oil being found at the bottom of the sea.

Anyone who wants to list some movies, go right ahead. Keep 'em ocean-themed, though!

Yeah, but how do they get the scores to run across the bottom of the screen?

Today's Buffalo News ran an interesting article, believe it or not, on the technical challenges posed to the TV people in superimposing the yellow first-down line on the screen during football games. Unfortunately, I can't for the life of me find that article on the News's website (maybe it's not even there, given that it didn't originate with them), so here's a page that details the process. Cool!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Shhhh! Writer at work!

Writer at work, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Stop botherin' me. I'm writin' here.

Sorry about the dearth of posting the last few days, folks, but the week here at Casa Jaquandor got a bit unexpectedly busy over the last few days. Not bad busy, just a whole lot of stuff that ended up on the plate and being more time-consuming than I'd figured at the time. Plus, I've been fending off a minor head cold. Regular posting should begin again tomorrow.

By way of a progress report: I've been doing a lot more fiction writing lately -- I finished a draft of a horror story a few weeks ago (which is now laying fallow for a time before I edit it) and I've started my first-ever actual attempt at a SF story (about two-thirds of the way through the first draft). I've also started noodling about with a space opera novel concept I've had percolating about my head for a few years now (this one, actually, although I started it over completely) and, believe it or not, a screenplay. And I also mean, once the Halloween festivities are over, to finally get back on track with The Promised King. I've also been doing some more reading, movie-watching, music-listening, and I have some longer essays in the hopper for eventual appearance in this space. So, fear not, regular readers: new content is in the offing!

I'd like to thank everyone who has delurked already, and welcome any other lurkers to do likewise, if you're comfortable. I truly appreciate the fact that anyone at all thinks this blog worth following!

In closing, here's a nifty item: the Top Ten Sound Effects of the Star Wars movies:

This list is almost perfect: One sound is, in my opinion, inexplicably absent. Which one? Why -- that's for you all to guess! (For extra credit, guess which one I'd replace.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Into the light, lurkers!

One year ago I ran my first annual Delurking Week here at Byzantium's Shores, and I figure it's time to run one again. So, if you will, lurkers, please feel free to drop a note in comments! You can do so anonymously if you wish, of the "Shout-out from Walla Walla, Washington" variety; you can also do so via e-mail if so desired. Feel free to comment, ask something, whatever. I'm curious as to who's out there!

(I'm especially curious about you. No, not you, you. Yeah, you. What are you doing with that chainsaw?)

Where are we?

Wow -- as yet, both of the last two Unidentified Earth installments, numbers 20 and 21, remain unidentified. Time for another hint for number 20, I guess. Part of this location -- but not the part featured -- appeared in a pretty well-known film, albeit as a different location within the film. Confused? I thought so! In other words, in the movie this location was referred to as someplace else.

I'll hold off on hints about Number 21 until after it's gone unidentified for more than a week.


For those of you who are not in the continual company of a kid in the 6 to 9 years old range, you won't understand this. Those of you who are acquainted with the vagaries of said age group, however, will certainly agree with me when I say:

Evil, thy name is Webkinz.

That is all.

Bills 19, Ravens 14

Wow -- a win! I get to post about a win! Woo-hoo!


:: The Bills' defense, which played exceptionally hard yet again and this time didn't fold in the closing minutes.

:: Trent Edwards, who didn't play spectacularly but played with a good deal of poise. I'm not terribly wild about Edwards yet, but it does say something that in his third career start he's roughly doing what Buffalo fans hoped JP Losman would be able to do in his second season.


:: The quarterback "controversy". Last week, in naming Edwards the starter this week, Dick Jauron cited JP Losman's knee injury, an excuse which everyone knows is bogus and only puts off the actual moment when Jauron has to admit that he thinks Edwards is the best hope for the Bills' future. That was dumb.

:: Losman's career in Buffalo possibly being over. I'm pretty bummed that Losman apparently hasn't panned out as a starter and is likely on his way out, because frankly I like the guy enormously. You have to go with who wins, obviously, or who appears more likely to become the guy you're looking for. If Losman's not the guy, then Losman's not the guy, and so be it. But the way the staff is letting him twist in the wind is pretty cold, since he's never shown himself to be anything other than a team player and a community guy.

And if Losman's time here in Buffalo is at an end, I do hope that he becomes a quality starter someplace else. I still hope he has success and isn't just a career backup. And I hope that's in the NFC, so we don't have to see him all that often.


:: Is offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild going to call a dumb pass play in every late-game obvious running situation that comes up this year??? He made such a call again, and it hurt the Bills tremendously: leading by twelve and deep in their own territory, the Bills faced a third-and-eight situation. Obviously you run the ball, grind more time off the clock, and then punt. Fairchild, however, calls a pass. Which the rookie QB misfires, resulting in a pick that later gets converted into a touchdown. Ugh.

:: The lack of size on the defensive line. If this team had a big run-stopper in the middle, imagine how good things would be right now.

:: Tom Effing Brady and the rest of his evil, stinking team. God, I am the biggest Colts fan on Earth right now.

Next up: at the Jets, with a late kickoff. That'll be cool; I like the occasional late kickoff.

Sentential Links #115

Without ado of any kind:

[Oh crud, by announcing that I was going to commence the linkage without ado of any kind, I actually employed some ado after all. Bummer. Oh well, I suppose we'll have to wait for next week to have our first truly ado-free installment of Sentential Links. My apologies, and now, without any ado now, here are the links. I've carefully culled these, so I hope you'll enjoy...oh bugger, there's some more ado. Darn it all anyway! Blogging without ado turns out to be like McDonalds without deep fryers. How can it possibly work? Anyhow. No more ado. Seriously. We're going right into the links, with no ado.]


:: A general rule for actors is: If YOU cry, more often than not the audience WON'T. If you do your damndest NOT to cry, if you work to hold BACK the tears, then you'll have to mop the audience up off the aisles. (This is an older post of Sheila's, which she linked in the midst of remembering Deborah Kerr. I loved this examination of An Affair to Remember, a film which has already made my 100 Movies list.)

:: The other day I performed the idiotic newbie-author ritual of hanging around by the table where my book was displayed to see if anyone would pick it up. When someone eventually reached for a copy, I fled, fearing he would recognize me from the author photo and make the mistake of thinking that I was simply hanging around to see if anyone would pick it up. (Geez, they put Alex's book next to a book by William F. Buckley and directly beneath a book by Dinesh D'Souza! Doesn't Alex deserve better literary company than that? BTW, I've already bought my copy, and I plan to read it sometime in the next month.

:: Simple, slick, painless, and foolproof. Typical Microsoft. (See, this is why I use OpenOffice, even if it's occasionally buggy and sometimes very clunky to use. I couldn't quite bring myself to believe AC's post, though, so I Google'd a bit to see if this was really true, and if Microsoft had come up with packaging so bizarre as to require people to go online to figure out just how to open the box in the first place, and, well, wouldn't you know it. Of course, I, being in the field of Maintenance in my day life, would simply spend about ninety seconds with the box and then say the hell with it and reach for Mr. Utility Knife.)

:: I've been trying and trying to understand how so many of the warbloggers have managed to convince themselves that they are doing something as brave and patriotic as actually fighting in Iraq by typing about it. I'm trying even harder to understand how they could be content with that.

:: Do I really believe in Jesus at all, or do I just like Christianity? There’s a big difference between the two, and unfortunately I think I may just like Christianity.

:: I remember the opening night party, saying to David Stiers that as of tomorrow his whole life was about to change. I was right, of course. Thankfully, it changed for the better.

:: I noticed that Billboard has listed my new album under the category of rock. And a radio show in the midwest aired a track from it on their jazz program. And tomorrow I’ll be live in L.A. on a classical show. (Note to self: order Alex's new CD one of these days.)

:: People want to live in a world where, when you have a medical problem, you locate a doctor and that doctor either does what needs doing, or else points you to an appropriate specialist doctor who does what needs doing. Shopping around for gadgets or browsing bookstores is fun for those of us who are into them; others like clothes-shopping or shoes. But nobody wants to shop around for medical treatment. That sucks. Sick people want treatment.

And that does it for this week. Tune in again next week.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Eerie coincidences

A bit of a postscript to my post the other day about my online friend who died last week.

Over the course of commiserating with other online friends who knew Gummy well, I learned that his last full name was Gregory Twyman. With this piece of information and my knowledge that he lived in the Pittsburgh area, I was able to find Gregory's obituary in the Pittsburgh newspapers. What was odd was that I happened to glance down the page of obits and saw another name that I knew.

My grandmother on my father's side was a schoolteacher, many years ago, in a Pittsburgh school district. Now, all the time I knew her she'd been retired, but by trade that's what she had been: a teacher. I come, actually, from a long line of teachers -- in fact, I'm almost the odd one out in not being a teacher myself. But anyway, my grandmother had a friend named Esther Yessel. I only met Esther a single time that I remember, when she and my grandmother both visited us in the first years we lived in Western New York. This was around 1982 or 1983, I suppose.

Well, my grandmother turned 80 in 1986, and she died about six months later. In truth, I suppose I've generally assumed that Esther had also died sometime since then -- but it turned out that she only passed away last week, at the age of 95. That was utterly stunning to me -- not that she had been alive all those years (more than twenty since my grandmother's passing), but that she died only last week, and that only by virtue of looking for my friend's obituary did I learn of Esther's own death.

What a spooky, spooky world.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

OK, here we go with this week's oddities of the Web. Fair warning first, though: both of the first two are kind of gross. In fact, these are all kinds of icky. Proceed at your own risk!

:: Guy who claims to have very little tolerance for spicy food decides to take a swig of the hottest hot sauce he can find at the store. I'm not sure if this video is real or not, but his reaction is intriguing. He seems to have come prepared with lots of stuff at hand to stem the heat. I'm surprised that's the hottest sauce he can find, also -- I'm not familiar with that stuff, but it can't be hotter than Dave's Insanity Sauce, can it?


:: This is even ickier. It's exactly what the URL says it is. So don't say I didn't warn you.


:: This isn't icky at all; for fans of the departed series That 70s Show, it's just Red Foreman issuing a number of variants of his favorite threat: his foot in your ass.

OK, that's it. Sorry for the ick.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Unidentified Earth 21

Well, well, well! It seems that either I've come up with a stumper, or no one's following this series anymore...anyway, Unidentified Earth 20 has gone as yet unidentified, with only one guess offered. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I suppose I should offer a hint, is in the Middle East.

Ah well, the show goes on; time for the next puzzler.

Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses, please!

One Hundred Movies!!! (71 through 80)

It's been a while since the last entry in this series, so let's get going again! Here are the next ten of my favorite movies (give or take a few I may have forgotten about), starting at #80 and going to #71.

80. Forrest Gump

I'm not sure which movie has suffered the greater backlash, Titanic or Gump. (Come to that, Dances With Wolves also always has to be mentioned in the topic of backlashes against once-beloved movies.) I can sort of understand the backlash, but the sheer hatred that both movies now seem to inspire amazes me. I've never found Gump to be what its detractors say it is; I've never found it to be an apologetic film for either a conservative or a liberal mindset. In fact, I've never much found it to be an mouthpiece kind of film for any real viewpoint at all. I just think it's a very well-made film with a well-told story about characters who are sympathetic, but not too sympathetic. For a film that takes the basic form and feel of a fable, it really doesn't offer much by way of easy answers, and Gump's own answer to the central question of the movie basically boils down to "I dunno."

Signature moment: Lieutenant Dan's final "reconciliation" with God, if that's even what it is.

79. Every Which Way But Loose

Yes, I am openly admitting to loving this incredibly goofy flick. It stars Clint Eastwood as Philo Beddoe, a truck driver who earns extra money by bare-knuckle boxing in the backlots of southern California, with his buddy Orville (the always wonderful Geoffrey Lewis) and his pet orangutan at his side. Yes, this is a movie whose main characters include an orangutan named Clyde. And it's full of country music, barroom brawls, and a motorcycle gang that's only slightly less competent than the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. I've never really believed in the idea of a "guilty pleasure", but darn it, this movie might just well qualify. This is about as goofy a movie as you're likely to find. (I also like its sequel, Any Which Way You Can, although the first film is better by virtue of its bittersweet ending.)

Signature moment: When Philo finally meets Tank Murdock.

78. Braveheart

I wonder sometimes if this film gets its due, with the current renewal of interest in fantasy filmmaking. Granted, Braveheart isn't fantasy (although it certainly isn't history, either), but its approach to depicting the realities of a medieval kind of life turned out to be enormously influential. No suits of armor here that shine in the morning sun and somehow remain clean throughout days of travel; no banners of brightly colored cloth. Instead, everything is mud-spattered and worn, and the atmosphere of the exteriors is one of chill. The battle scenes of The Lord of the Rings would look very different if this film hadn't pioneered the brutally violent approach to such sequences.

I love this film's first half, with its dreamy appearance and pacing and dialogue that occasionally rises to poetry. The film slows down a bit in the second half as the court intrigues take over, but that's fine by me. This film deserved the plaudits it got.

Signature moment: It would be easy to note the Battle of Stirling, with Wallace's "Sons of Scotland!" speech, but for me, the film's essential sequence is the courtship and secret wedding of Murron. Without those scenes, the rest of the film would be a dull exercise in medieval history.

77. Bull Durham

Almost my favorite baseball movie of all time! This is just one great moment after another, one of those movies that takes us to an offbeat location (a minor-league baseball team) and lets us live alongside the offbeat characters who live there. The film just oozes authenticity in its setting, which helps us to overlook the frankly bizarre nature of Annie Savoy's approach to dating ("Within the confines of the baseball season, I am, strictly speaking, monogamous."). Crash Davis is one of the great characters in moviedom, as far as I'm concerned.

Signature moment: So many, but I'll take one little touch of minor league baseball lore that may or may not be the way things are done, but it just feels so right that if I found out that this never actually happened at all, I'd be disappointed. I'm referring to when the Durham Bulls' radio broadcasters have to do an away game, so they get the game action via a teletype, and when there's a hit, the guy takes a mallet and smacks a block of wood, as if to fool the listeners that they're hearing the crack of the bats. I love that.

76. Field of Dreams

Definitely my favorite baseball movie of all time! It's just a great piece of American fantasy. Yes, that's exactly what it is: a fantasy. What else to call it? The film's approach to the supernatural is as refreshing as the unlikely subject matter. No one ever sits around drearily theorizing as to just what particular power is at work in Ray Kinsella's corn field, or why this particular power is steering Ray toward a reconciliation with his father. I love it when a film has enough confidence in its story to simply posit whatever it needs to posit, and then proceeds accordingly.

Years ago, during my college years, The Girlfriend (now The Wife) and I went to the Field of Dreams itself, in Dyersville, Iowa. It seems trite to say so, but it really does look like that, and yes, I was a bit disappointed when I walked out into the corn and found a field of corn.

Signature moment: My favorite part of this movie has always been the scene when Burt Lancaster as Doc Graham describes his one half-inning of play in the Majors, which was enough of a baseball career for him to put down his glove and return home to be a doctor.

75. The Poseidon Adventure

Ahhhh, the cheesy 70s disaster flicks! And this one's just so much fun, with everyone in scenery-chewing form. One can almost sense the director saying, "OK everybody, overact as much as you want, just as long as you don't overact more than Hackman or Borgnine!" As engrossing as the post-disaster stuff is, I also find something sweetly engaging about the first half hour or so, when we're being introduced to the cast. This is definitely the only movie you'll ever see where one of the characters offers the bit of wisdom to "Don't let your son grow up to be a haberdasher!".

Signature moment: Any of the arguments between the Preacher and Mr. Rogo. (I changed my Signature Moment for this movie after it was pointed out in comments that the first one I had up here was, really, a big spoiler for the movie.)

74. Breakfast at Tiffany's

I heart Audrey Hepburn. End of story.

Signature moment: "Moon River."

73. For Your Eyes Only

I always cite this movie to people who insist that Roger Moore played James Bond for laughs most of the time. After the Bond films of the 70s, which were all studies in various kinds of excess and self-parody, the producers returned to the sorts of lesser-scaled espionage that marked the first couple of films in the series, resulting in FYEO, which was the strongest Bond film to come from Moore's tenure in the role. It's just a very well-made thriller, very welcome after Moonraker.

Signature moment: Bond's final confrontation with Locque. In this scene, Moore is as ruthless and cold as Sean Connery ever was.

72. The Living Daylights

Timothy Dalton took over as Bond for TLD in 1987, which turned out to be another instance in which the producers had to dial down the previous film's excesses (1985's A View to a Kill). Dalton based his portrayal of Bond on the character as actually written in the books by Ian Fleming, resulting in a fascinatingly vulnerable type of James Bond. The plot is a complex espionage tale, seemingly more in league with a Robert Ludlum novel than a typical Bond flick. It also features one of the series's best heroines.

Signature moment: The fight in the cargo plane at the end.

71. The Abyss

Perennially overshadowed by Aliens, but not in my book, as this is one of the finest SF films ever made. Seriously, this movie's got it all – a unique setting, a mystery, loads of conflict between interesting characters, and some terrific "sensawunda" to boot. I actually prefer the Director's Cut, although that version of the film does tend to lay on the preaching of the film's "message" a bit thick. Still, this is one wonderful film.

Signature moment: Bud and Lindsay, trapped on a flooding submersible, with one functioning set of SCUBA gear, and too far from the undersea rig to swim for it. I always find this sequence harrowing.

And there we are. Next up: Numbers 70 down to 61!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Internet is made of people

Always remember that, folks: The Internet is made of people. I got that from Warren Ellis, and it's totally and utterly true. There are good people on the Internet, and bad people; people you'd follow once more unto the breach, and people you'd toss into the breach head-first and then walk away. There are winners and losers, friends and enemies, casual acquaintances and even lovers.

This is about an online friend of mine who went by the moniker "Gumdrops".

Gumdrops, or "Gummy" for short, was a film music fan. And by "fan", I mean, "rabid hobbyist". I'm a gatherer of film music, but Gummy was a collector. He amassed a pretty impressive collection, many of the discs of which were quite rare. His collection includes, to give just one example, a copy of David Shire's score to Return to Oz. Just try finding a copy of this. You'll pay through the nose.

Longtime readers will know that before this blog, my main outlet for online blatherings was the Usenet group I gradually became disenchanted over there, and when that disenchantment lined up with my discovery of the blogging medium, the writing was on the wall (or the Web), and I departed r.m.m. pretty quickly after launching this blog. For a time, I also posted at the FilmScoreMonthly message boards, and it was there that I met Gummy.

He was a jovial soul, who usually signed off his posts with "Yuk yuk!". He had a way of disarming many heated discussions with a quip or two, and it might have been tempting at first to not take Gummy very seriously as a film music fan, but one quickly learned otherwise: this guy knew his stuff. He was conversant on many composers and their works, and he knew far more about film than I do. But through it all, he never took it all that seriously -- or, more properly, he never took it so seriously that he lost sight of the passion of his film music, and he never forgot what music is for. He looked for music that moved him, that made him feel something. He was the guy who's constantly coming up to you, discman and earphones held out, grinning wildly and practically tripping over his own feet as he tells you, "Wow, you gotta hear this!!!"

That was Gummy.

When the FSM boards finally became too generically unpleasant for me and some others to stick around there -- it happens, you know -- we went back to, which had become pretty much of a wasteland. Posts were rare, and posts that were about film music and not about where we might procure cheap CIAL!$ were rarer still. But we started posting, a tiny little community, and gradually things picked up. Not to the point of r.m.m.'s hey-day back around 1999 or 2000, but we got some nice discussion going. Often the discussions were sparked by Gummy's thread-launching posts, when he'd throw out single questions or provocative statements.

Gummy also loved to share his music, and he cheerfully made copies of just about any score in his collection that anyone asked for. I was the recipient of more than a few of his mailings. Scores that I now own, thanks to him, include the afore-mentioned Return to Oz, Howard Shore's Soul of Ultimate Nation and The Last Mimzy, John Williams's Jane Eyre, and a large number of Japanese filmscores as well. His generosity was stunning, and it often bothered me that my own film music collection is not nearly as extensive as his, not because I was jealous of what he had, but because I couldn't really return the favor. Some time ago he told me about some items he was looking for, and by sheer miracle, it turned out that I own them. Last week I finally got around to burning copies.

You can probably tell by my use of past tense in this post that he's never going to hear them.

Gregory -- "Gumdrops" -- became suddenly ill last week, and by the time he became ill enough to require hospitalization, his fate was set. He finally died today. I never met him in person; to me, he was "only" a set of words on a screen, and an occasionaly envelope in my mailbox. But remember: The Internet is made of people, and Gumdrops was one of them.

Other friends from r.m.m. have been in contact with his wife, and we've learned Gregory's passion for film music was a lonely passion until he first went on the Internet and discovered that there are other such-passionate people around, all over the world. And amidst all the cantankerous discussions that take place in Internet forums on any topic, Gregory was a person motivated solely by the fact that the music, and the act of sharing it, just plain made him happy. His vocation, it turns out, was furnace installation. He loved the Pittsburgh Steelers (he lived in that area), and he lustily cheered their Super Bowl win from two seasons ago. But he didn't trash-talk a few weeks back when his Steelers tossed my Bills around like rag-dolls. That's the kind of person he was. He took joy in things, and appeared to have no patience at all for the joyless side of the very same things.

So yeah, I'll miss him. He was a friend. Tonight I'll listen to some of the music he shared with me.

Goodbye, Greg. Yuk yuk.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Still active after all these years

In the hallway at The Store that leads to the public restrooms, the walls are adorned with prints of old photographs from the community (West Seneca, NY), which I assume were procured from the local historical society. I've looked at each of these photographs in the time I've worked there, since part of my job involves cleaning those restrooms; one of those photos, though, has been particularly interesting to me in that time. Mainly this is because it is on the wall directly opposite the Ladies' Room, and I often have to stand outside this room for several minutes while those persons inside finish their duties, thus giving me time to study this photograph.

I've looked at the faces in that photograph many times, and I've come to see personalities within them, just from the way the people look: their postures, their expressions. The photograph is of a schoolroom, and the people are the schoolkids -- probably in the ten to eleven year old range -- and their teacher. I see things about these kids, and I'm always wanting to discuss these observations of mine with someone else, but restroom cleaning's a pretty solitary job, and none of the women exiting the restroom (or entering, come to that) are ever much inclined to listen to the musings of the maintenance guy on the old photo.

This, in short, is a job that blogging was meant for. But how?

Well, today I'm standing there as usual, waiting for my opportunity to tidy up that restroom, and it suddenly occurred to me that my cell phone has a camera. I took a shot of the old photograph, e-mailed it to myself, and now I can at last present it here:

First, all of the kids are in the back of the room with a bunch of empty desks at the front, which makes it clear that they all moved to different desks to accommodate the photographer. Also, no one is smiling, which is the way things usually are in old photographs like this -- when did smiling become the standard behavior for photographs, anyway? But maybe there's a tendency to assume that a lack of a smile means a lack of display of personality, and it turns out, that's just not the case.

The teacher, standing in the rear, looks like a fairly stern fellow, but this might not be the case. In any event, he's totally focused on the photo being taken: his suit is in perfect order, his posture is straight, and with his hands folded behind his back, he looks like he's in confident command of this classroom.

A lot of the kids are in similarly straight, controlled postures. But not all of them. Look at that girl just to the teacher's right: she's turned slightly toward the back, she has her elbow rested on the back of her chair, and she's leaning her head against her hand. Also at the back of the room (rear seat, second column from the right) is a girl who is leaning forward with her arms folded on the top of her desk. That interests me, since most everyone else has their arms carefully down, out of view. It's interesting to contrast those two girls with, say, the one in the second seat back on the rightmost column: that girl is the very model of the posture one expects from a photograph in this era. Her back is utterly straight, her head is held precisely forward, her arms and hands out of view.

Turning to the boys in the photograph, other interesting things appear as I look at this. All of the boys have open schoolbooks on their desks. (In fairness, the angle makes it hard to determine conclusively if the girls are sitting without books on their desks, but I don't think they are.) I don't think this says anything about boys and girls, necessarily. Or maybe it does. I'm no historian of education, after all; does it mean anything that the boys have the books?

Again I turn to posture and clothing. All of the boys wear ties, either long ties or bowties. Of the seven, four wear jackets. That boy at the far left is wearing a sweater, it appears, and his left arm is cocked back onto the desk of the girl behind him, and he's holding his book in what appears to be an exaggerated pose. Nobody's going to do much reading of a book that size from that posture, so it seems to me that this guy's showing off a bit. Maybe he's the cocky one, the class clown.

Moving rightward, we have two boys in jackets and bowties. Nothing about the boy in front really stands out, but there's something about the boy behind him that's stronger, more assured. This kid always looks confident as hell to me, and there's something about him that says "rich kid" to me -- maybe it's his jacket and upright, strong posture. Frankly, he looks like George Will a bit, doesn't he? Yup, this is the banker's son, I'll bet. Here's the class Republican. (I kid, there -- but he does have that upper-crust air about him, even however-many-years later.)

Of the other four boys in this photograph, the two that interest me are the ones sitting in the front of the right two columns. Taking the boy in the dark shirt and light tie, it interests me that he sits kind-of slumped down fashion, with his arms flopped down at his side. He isn't even feigning an interest in the book on his desk, the way all of the other boys are holding their books as if to suggest that their actual studies are being photographed. This kid is having none of that. This kid looks to me like a blunt, working-class type: not dumb, but rather of the mindset that this particular exercise is just another example of the kind of BS in life that's best got done with right fast.

The boy at the far right is terribly interesting to me. First, he's not sitting in the center of that desk; he's edged all the way to the right of the seat. This is probably because it's not his normal seat at all, for the reason stated above, but it makes him look terribly uncomfortable anyway, especially in light of the way he is holding his book at an angle and looking up at the camera in a terribly sheepish way. Whereas the last boy wanted to get the photograph done with because it's all just a dumb waste of time, this kid doesn't want to be photographed at all. This kid looks scared to me, timid, as if he's the kid who spends every moment of his school day praying, over and over again, like a mantra: "Please don't call on me. Please don't call on me. Please don't call on me." He's in the front of his column, and he looks totally ill-at-ease with this.

What else about this photograph interests me? Well, there's the total lack of decoration in this classroom. I know it was an earlier time, but no hanging skeleton, if it's a science class? No wall maps? No chart of the proper forms of the letters of the alphabet? What's with the apparent netting on the walls? Are there decorations that were removed for some reason at the time of photography?

I also love the desks. I remember desks where chair and desktop were one unit, but these somehow reverse it: the chair is attached to the desktop for the student behind, not the student sitting in the chair. And, of course, this was the era when iron furniture had all kinds of ornate stuff going on in and around the framework. There's a real sense of craft here.

Unfortunately, the tag that was once attached to the photograph, thus identifying its time and place (in the lower right corner you can see where the tag once was), is long-gone, so I can't speculate on how old any of these kids might be if they were alive today (or if that might be feasible in the first place). It's still a fascinating window into an earlier time, when even the apparent formality of a schoolroom photograph couldn't totally suppress the individual personalities of the children.

Sentential Links #114

One hundred fourteen! Woot! Or something like that. Anyhow, on with the links....

:: Never open a book with weather.

:: When you have lost hope, when your world feels broken, it is so important to remember what a tremendous difference a year can make. Anything is possible. Sometimes the universe surprises you. (Isn't that the truth....)

:: You know, all in a day's work.

:: The 3-story rowhouse at #9 Hillsleigh Road in the Notting Hill borough of London is a house I never lived in. Despite this one tiny, insignificant fact, I have some great memories of the years I called it home.

:: Ah, yes, settling Soviet hash through a massive war during which, one assumes, no bloodshed or suffering or any other unpleasantness would have taken place. Too bad we listened to weak-kneed Harry Truman. (And here. I swear....)

:: Most of us are grateful that we got through the Cold War without a nuclear cataclysm; these people see it as a missed opportunity.

:: Al Gore has a habit of bringing out the worst in conservatives -- especially their eagerness to smear and their self-imposed ignorance about the nature of science and how the world really works.

No doubt, if they were ever self-aware enough to recognize this, though, they'd just find a way to blame Gore for it.

:: I have many words to explain how very much I loved my father, but none to capture how much I miss him already.

:: Part of the fun of watching new series is seeing how the writing staff experiments and shapes it. BACK TO YOU has top people at the helm. My guess is they’re only going to make the show better.

:: It’s good to see that Deanna, who has long be consigned to child-raising and house-maintenance duties, has accepted her position as a mere employee in Michael Patterson’s Wonderful Life and has agreed to wear a name tag. OR.... He kind of looks like the victim of a drive-by prostate exam. (That last is, technically, a comment by a reader of that blog. But wow, that's funny.)

:: According to Entertainment Weekly, George Lucas is currently on the hunt for a number of writers to script 13 episodes of his planned live-action Star Wars TV series. (I'm here, George! And I'm not doing anything! I can be out there the day after tomorrow, if you want! Wife? Daughter? Pagh!)

OK, we're done now. Tune in next week. Because if you don't, you're a poopyhead.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. If anyone you know has suffered a loss of this sort, let them know today that you are thinking of them, and if possible, consider lighting a candle this evening in memory and tribute to those lives that were either too short or never lived at all.

We first heard the following song, "Held" by Natalie Grant, performed in our church, a few weeks or so after Little Quinn's funeral:

It's a Christian Contemporary song, and the imagery in the video is overtly Christian, but the best of art, even religious art, can cross over those lines between faiths and non-faiths. This song has become deeply meaningful for our family.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

And away we go!

:: It always interests me how many times a pretty obvious idea just never gets acted upon, until someone finally realizes, "Hey, no one's ever actually done that, even though everybody's thought of it!"

I mean, really: who hasn't opened up a fortune cookie and thought that it would be funny if the fortunes were pessimistic?

:: A bad disco arrangement of the Main Theme from Star Wars. Bad interpretive dancing. Bad trumpet playing. All together in one moment of awful goodness. On some kind of meta-level, this is certainly George Lucas's fault. Curse you, Miss Douglas, for making me doubt The Flanneled One!

:: This is clearly an example of plucking the low-hanging fruit, but I'm always a sucker for news anchors who lose their composure and start giggling uncontrollably on the air. (The slow motion of that model falling is priceless, though -- especially the second time, when she gets all wobbly before finally going down.) Of course, for the ESPN lovers among us, the canonical instance of this sort of thing is Charlie Steiner's reaction to Carl Lewis singing the National Anthem before an NBA game. (Actually, Steiner lost it a bunch of times on air, but the Carl Lewis one was the best.)

Tune in again next week.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One ring to rule them all....

It's coming out three weeks from this Tuesday. Mine's pre-ordered already. I'm carrying around a cloth with me to wipe up the drool.


The other night, the Buffalo News gathered a few of the Usual Suspects from the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan to talk about blogging. You can hear the entire presentation, via a series of podcasts, starting here. It's all interesting stuff, and as always, it's entertaining to hear what bloggers actually sound like when they're not typing. Check it out.

Also, it's clear to me that the Buffalo section of my blogroll is fairly out-of-date, so if anyone has suggestions as to what needs to be added here, feel free to drop a link in comments. I'm gearing up to do an overhaul of the entire blogroll soon anyway.

Finally, remember that we're trying to get a Blogging Christmas Party together for Saturday, December 8, in the evening. Time and location aren't totally settled yet -- I've tossed out the Buffalo Sports Garden in Orchard Park at 7:00 pm, but that's open to debate as always (someone pointed out that their menu isn't very vegetarian-friendly, for instance). I'll try cobbling together an invitation-type thing sometime soon, but if anyone seriously disagrees with that tentative location, now's the time to speak up!

One Year Ago

Destructive weather II, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

This was the scene at One Jaquandor Way, one year ago this morning, when a massive lake-effect snow storm hit the Buffalo area very early in the year, destroying many still-leafy trees in the process and knocking out power to thousands of people, many of whom suffered thusly for more than a week.

Here's my post from the day after the storm. Oddly enough, except for a few flickerings of our lights, we never lost power at Casa Jaquandor. But what a strange, strange week that was: lines outside the gas stations that looked like something out of a 1978-era news film; The Store was powered entirely by a generator truck for at least five days after the storm; the general look of weariness that marked anyone whose power hadn't been restored yet; convoys of giant power trucks dominating the roads.

And in the middle of it all, the Sabres were opening their season 10-0. Wow, what a time!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bass Pro...and counting....

It's a "Done deal".

Bass Pro is coming to Buffalo, where they'll be building in the same location they were originally going to build, but which they then decided not to in favor of a second location that was then scuttled when a bunch of preservationists decided that we needed to preserve some stuff that isn't there to be preserved anyway, at which point they decided to go back to Location A but with a different plan for a building to build anyway.

Do I have that right?

I'm wondering in what order these events will happen:

1. American troops leave Iraq.
2. A manned mission lands on Mars.
3. The Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl.
4. The Buffalo Sabres win a Stanley Cup.
5. Bass Pro opens in Buffalo.

I love the new design. But then, I loved the last design. I just want something, anything, built. I'm just afraid that at this rate, they'll end up building a new 7-11 down there with one of those vending machines out back that dispense nightcrawlers for a buck.

Unidentified Earth 20

And here we are again, after last week's abject failure to keep up. Unidentified Earth 19 proved to be the easiest one to date, apparently; my readers beat it up and took its lunch money. It was, of course, St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. I'm probably supposed to award Quatloos to everyone who got it right, but it turns out that nobody used the church's official name, the Cathedral of Intercession of the Virgin on the Moat. So no Quatloos for anyone! Ha! (Sure, that's unfair, but they're my Quatloos, dammit.)

By the way, it turns out that the Cathedral isn't part of the Kremlin at all, but merely resides next door to the Kremlin. I always thought it was on the Kremlin grounds, but both the Cathedral and the Kremlin are on Red Square. OK then.

Anyhoo, time for this week's puzzler:

Where are we?

As always, rot-13 your answers, please!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cowboys 25, Bills 24

I guess I need to say something about this game, which has already attained legendary status in Buffalo's annals of negative sports outcomes. I tend to have a sunnier outlook on stuff than most Bills fans, so here it is: I don't think Dick Jauron should be fired (yet), and I think that this game may turn out to be a key foundational event in building the character of a good team to come.

How's that?

The offensive play-calling is baffling, and of this current coaching staff, if there's anyone whom I think should be on a "Job Endangered" list, it's offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. I don't understand running a reverse on third-and-one; I don't understand the continued refusal to take shots downfield; I certainly don't understand his continued refusal to run the ball in obvious running situations late in games. This was the third time this season that the Bills went "pass-wacky" in a late-game situation:

:: There was the long bomb at about three minutes to go in the Denver game, which the Bills led at the time, 14-12. Had they simply run the ball and kept the clocking going, and everything else had unfolded the same way, the Broncos would have run out of time before kicking the FG to win 15-14.

:: The Bills threw in a similar situation in the Jets game, thus failing to run any time off the clock. This left the Jets enough time to attempt a drive for a tying FG. They came up short when Pennington threw an interception, but it wouldn't -- and needn't -- have ever come to that.

:: And in this game the Bills led 24-16 with six minutes to go. Third-and-eight from the Dallas 11-yard line, so they're easily within FG range. Instead of running, grinding away a minute or so of game time, and getting three points in the bargain to go up by 11, Fairchild called 'pass'. The pass was picked off. The Cowboys didn't get points off that turnover, but they preserved clock and the more manageable point margin they needed to overcome.

I genuinely don't understand why the Bills' coaches keep doing this stuff. It makes no sense. I don't know a single Bills fan who would rather have the offense score touchdowns than have the whole team win games.

On the quarterbacks: I personally think that JP Losman has to be put back in now, if he's healthy, but with the proviso that he's got to show his stuff, now. He had time for growth last year. If the Bills go another four or five games and he still looks the way he did in the first two games this year (when he didn't so much play poorly as barely play at all), then bring on the Edwards Era. (Of course, if some other team wants to offer up a compelling trade offer for Losman, including one or two high draft picks, I'd hope the Bills would take it.) I've been rooting for Losman because, frankly, I like the guy and hope he has a great career. Losman just seems like a good guy, and I like that. But production's production, right?

(However, some perspective is always helpful: if Losman had been under center Monday night and produced the exact same result -- 150 yards or so passing, 0 TDs and a very bad INT, leading the offense to producing just three points -- Bills fans would be calling for his immediate one-way ticket to the waiver wire.)

Finally, I'm hearing a lot of negative stuff about Dick Jauron, how he's too stoic and he's not that good on the X's and O's and how his press conferences can be maddening affairs. (His defense of that third-and-eight pass play? "Well, you don't know that if we run the ball, the back doesn't fumble." Huh?!) I agree to a point. But then I think of how lackadaisical and just plain apathetic the Bills looked through large whacks of the Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey "eras", where this year's team (and last year's), play with as much fire and heart as I've seen a Bills team even during the glory days. They come up short because of talent, injuries, and yes, poor strategy. But when I look at the way this supposedly overmatched team came out and very nearly knocked off the NFC's best team, I wonder if we're not selling Dick Jauron short as far as his motivational skills go.

Anyway, this week's a bye week. Next up, the Baltimore Ravens, with former underachiever Willis McGahee making his return to Buffalo. I hope they kept his old hotel room and video game controller warm for him.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Pharyngula mutating genre meme

PZ Myers has created a new blog-meme thing, and he's tagged me as part of his initial attempt to turn Blogistan into his own personal petri dish. How appalling!!!

Oh well, here are the rules:

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...". Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

* You can leave them exactly as is.

* You can delete any one question.

* You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".

* You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".

* You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

OK then. PZ gives his own set of questions to start with:

1. The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is...

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers.

2. The best romantic movie in historical fiction is...

Cold Mountain.

3. The best sexy song in rock is...

Gloria, by Patti Smith.

OK, time for my modifications, with my own answers:

1. The best near-future novel in SF/Fantasy is...

Firestar, by Michael Flynn.

2. The best romantic movie in historical fiction is...

Shakespeare in Love.

3. [deleted original] The best opera recording in classical music is...

Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, Sir Georg Solti/VPO.

OK, I hope I did that right. Now, to do this right, some tags: Tosy and Cosh, Samurai Frog, TeflonJedi, Lynn Sislo, and -- in an further experiment with plugging memes into collectives -- the crowd at No Fear of the Future.

(Not that I would have anytime soon, anyway)

I will never, ever, ever, vote for another Republican candidate for anything, as long as I draw breath.


Ezra Klein:

Something has gone wrong on the Right. Become sick and twisted and tumorous and ugly. To visit Michelle Malkin's cave is to see politics at its most savage, its most ferocious, its most rageful. They say they've spent the past week smearing a child and his family because that child was fair game -- he and his family spoke of their experience receiving health care through the State Children's Health Insurance Program. For this, right wingers travel to their home, insinuate that the family is engaged in large-scale fraud, make threatening phone calls to the family, interrogate the neighbors as to the family's character and financial state.

This is the politics of hate. Screaming, sobbing, inchoate, hate. It would never, not in a million years, occur to me to drive to the home of a Republican small business owner to see if he "really" needed that tax cut. It would never, not in a million years, occur to me to call his family and demand their personal information. It would never occur to me to interrogate his neighbors. It would never occur to me to his smear his children.

John Cole:

I simply can not believe this is what the Republican party has become. I just can’t. It just makes me sick to think all those years of supporting this party, and this is what it has become. Even if you don’t like the S-Chip expansion, it is hard to deny what Republicans are- a bunch of bitter, nasty, petty, snarling, sneering, vicious thugs, peering through people’s windows so they can make fun of their misfortune.

Oh, and for the "You guys do it too!" crowd, here's Ezra again:

And here's another question: Does anyone remember DailyKos launching a feeding frenzy trying to smear or discredit Ashley? Anyone hear of Markos Moulitsas camping out outside her house to see if Ashley was really grieving? His readers interviewing her teachers to see if her academic performance had actually improved as a result of the President's hug? Did any of that happen? Or did the Left raise some questions about the political appropriateness of the ad without trying to destroy the family's name and reputation?

There's a difference here. And it's not in which side elevates sympathetic stories and individuals into the public eye. They both do that. It's in how low the other side stoops in response.

I could vomit, I really could.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Quiz!

I knicked this from Still Life with Soup Can. I don't remember doing this one before, so here it is. It's!

1. How do you like your eggs? Scrambled, with cheese or without, with a liberal sprinkling of black pepper and hot sauce. Or as an omelet with many, many kinds of fillings.

2. How do you take your coffee/tea? Black with quite a bit of sugar. I'll use a creamer now and again as a change of pace, but mostly, I subscribe to the wonderful Turkish proverb: Coffee should be black as Hell, strong as Death, and sweet as Love. (I've never tried real Turkish coffee, though.)

3. Favorite breakfast food? My love of pancakes and waffles knows no bounds, but at a restaurant I'm likely to order some kind of combo plate with eggs, meat, and toast. These days, though, my main breakfast meal tends to be a bowl of frosted shredded wheat, topped with blueberries (fresh if possible and not expensive, frozen otherwise), with a glass of orange juice.

4. Peanut butter - smooth or crunchy? Smooth, because that's the preference of the WomenFolk of Casa Jaquandor. I personally have no great preference either way.

5. What kind of dressing on your salad? My favorite is poppyseed dressing. For some reason, in restaurants I reflexively order ranch, even though it's boring. At home, I'm switching to extra virgin olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar. Eventually I'll start doing things like making my own vinaigrettes.

6. Coke or Pepsi? Usually Pepsi, but I like Coke too. I wish I could get Passover Coke in these parts (although in truth I haven't tried any of the stores in the Jewish neighborhoods of Buffalo). I've pretty much stopped drinking diet pop, because I'm told the chemicals in them are all kinds of bad. Have I researched this matter myself? Of course not. Because I just do what I'm told, that's why.

7. You’re feeling lazy, what do you make? A couple hot dogs, or maybe a bowl of Ramen.

8. You’re feeling really lazy. What kind of pizza do you order? Italian sausage and onions. Or pepperoni and banana peppers. Or ham and mushrooms on a white crust. (By the way: Chicago pizza is pizza. Deal with it, you NYC-style pizza crybabies!)

9. You feel like cooking. What do you make? Depends on my mood, really. If I'm feeling ambitious, I make a mean Pastitsio (just made one last week, as a matter of fact). I do good fried chicken, although I do that maybe once a year. My mac-and-cheese is good.

10. Do any foods bring back good memories? Ramen noodles, which I ate from a very early age -- especially if I have any rye crisp bread to butter and then dip in the Ramen broth. Spanish rice and corn bread is a stand-by dish from when The Wife and I were first dating. And, of course, a roasted turkey.

11. Do any foods bring back bad memories? Hmmmm...can't think of any off the top of my head.

12. Do any foods remind you of someone? Spanish rice. See above. And ditto the also afore-mentioned Ramen with rye crisp; that reminds me of my father.

13. Is there a food you refuse to eat? Broccoli. I consider anyone who claims to genuinely like the flavor of broccoli to be delusional.

14. What was your favorite food as a child? Totino's frozen pizza.

15. Is there a food that you hated as a child but now like? I'm coming to enjoy mushrooms, although not to the point of eating them by themselves, or having stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer. But I do like them in stuff, like on a pizza. That used to be a dealbreaker for me, but now, I'll cheerfully eat a pizza with shrooms on it. Oh, and squash.

16. Is there a food that you liked as a child but now hate? Not hate, per se, but there's stuff that while I don't dislike it I genuinely wonder what I thought the fuss was -- like those dirt-cheap frozen pot pies, for instance. For a frozen pot pie, Pepperidge Farm or Marie Callender's make much better ones; and really, if I'm really hungry for pot pie, I'll make one myself.

From my college years, though? I can't fathom how I went for a year consuming Easy Cheese on a regular basis. Ewwwwwww.

17. Favorite fruit and vegetable: Blueberries; Green peppers.

18. Favorite junk food: Chips of just about any kind (except that horrible "Dill Pickle" flavor), chocolate chip cookies, ice cream.

19. Favorite between meal snack: These days? A couple ounces of mixed nuts, or a cup of yogurt, or a granola bar.

20. Do you have any weird food habits? With chicken wings, I tend to eat the "drummies" before I eat the "wing" section. When we make any kind of baked pasta dish, I have to get a serving from the edge of the pan, where that crusty goo forms. And whenever we get pizza, I start eating it with a knife and fork, until I eventually decide to just pick it up like you're supposed to do.

21. You’re on a diet. What food(s) do you fill up on? I don't do diets; rather, I try to build new eating habits. I love peanut butter spread on celery, though.

22. You’re off your diet. Now what would you like? Everything!

23. How spicy do you order Indian/Thai? I don't order Indian or Thai. Why? Because I never make it a priority to get off my arse and go sample Indian and Thai. I admit that this is a serious flaw in my food education.

24. Can I get you a drink? Yeungling lager; or Blue Moon pumpkin ale; or Sam Adams Cherry Wheat; or a rum-and-coke but only if it's Captain Morgan; vanilla rum and root beer.

25. Red wine or white? Red. Especially if it's Port -- I love Port.

26. Favorite dessert? Ice cream. Or cake. Or both.

27. The perfect nightcap? A cup of herbal tea with honey.

Hmmm...for some reason I'm hungry now.