Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I dream of verse, but live in prose

All month I've been aware that it's National Poetry Month, and all month I've been thinking, "Hey, it's all month long, I can post something about it at some point." And wouldn't you know: now it's the last day of the month, so I'm just getting this in under the wire.

I always want to post more about poetry, but somehow I don't; maybe this is because poetry is, for me, the most personal of literary regions, and there are ways in which it almost feels unseemly to discuss the poems that mean most to me, like I'm sharing something deeply private that shouldn't be spoken of in a forum such as this, even though it is (mostly) read by friends. But I do love the poetry.

I tend to read poetry in spurts. I will go a month or two without reading any poetry, and then I'll binge on it, taking a poetry book to work with me every day to read during breaks. I'm probably due for another such binge in the near future; I suppose it's a testament to my contrary nature that I am feeling poetic as Poetry Month draws to a close.

Have I written poetry? Yes, I have. Will I post any of my poems here? Not at present. This goes back to my very personal relationship with poetry. The poems that I've written in the past have, in almost every case, been written as gifts for loved ones, and I don't feel that those poems are mine to share here, even though I wrote them. Most of them – and there have only been a few, really – refer to things that only the recipient would know about, and would thus be impenetrable to readers here. (Plus, I'm not at all certain that my poems are any good! Especially the ones where I actually try to work within the confines of an actual form. Sonnets are hard to write, folks.)

But setting all that aside, I figure I could at least share here a few poems that I've found most meaningful to me over the years. I'm sure this too will come as no surprise to longtime readers here or those who know me, but the poems that move me most are almost exclusively love poems. Here are a few.

"Love's Philosophy"
Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river
   And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
   With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single,
   All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
   Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high heaven
   And the waves clasp one another:
No sister-flower would be forgiven
   if it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
   And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
   If thou kiss not me?

One of the poets nearest to my heart is Robert Burns:

"A Red, Red Rose"

O, my luve is like a red, red rose,
   That's newly sprung in June;
O, my luve is like the melodie
   That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
   So deep in luve am I,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
   Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
   And the rocks melt wi' the sun,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
   While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
   And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my luve,
   Tho' it were ten thousand mile!

This is an anonymous poem, very short. It served as the inspiration for one of the band directors at the high school music camp I attended to compose a piece of music:

O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
   the small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
   and I in my bed again!

I've never really felt that the poems JRR Tolkien wrote for The Lord of the Rings are as bad as many commentators seem to think; I actually like quite a few of them, none moreso than this, one version of the "Old Walking Song" that crops up throughout the trilogy, the last version:

The Road goes ever on and on,
   Out from the door where it began.
Still round the corner there may wait
   A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
   A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
   West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

The novels of Guy Gavriel Kay, my favorite living writer, are full of poetry and verse, though as in Tolkien, the verse mainly appears in the form of brief quotations from what in the novels are reported to be longer songs. I would so dearly love to hear the full version of the song that contains this lyric, from A Song for Arbonne:

Even the birds above the lake
   are singing of my love;
And even the flowers along the shore
   are growing for her sake.

Another poet whose work often speaks directly to my own heart is Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

"The Miller's Daughter" (excerpt)

It is the miller’s daughter,
   And she is grown so dear, so dear,
That I would be the jewel
   That trembles in her ear:
For hid in ringlets day and night,
I’d touch her neck so warm and white.

And I would be the girdle
   About her dainty dainty waist,
And her heart would beat against me,
   In sorrow and in rest:
And I should know if it beat right,
I’d clasp it round so close and tight.

And I would be the necklace,
   And all day long to fall and rise
Upon her balmy bosom,
   With her laughter or her sighs,
And I would lie so light, so light,
I scarce should be unclasp’d at night.

And of course, there's no other way to conclude a post of love poetry than by turning to the Bard himself:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
   For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
   That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Poetry is why we invented language, I think.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

White Shores

Just in case anybody's wondering, this is my current wallpaper on the laptop:

I dearly love Ted Nasmith's work; I've even used it as the art on several hand-made greeting cards.

TeeVee notes

:: Last night's Deal or No Deal was a Star Wars themed show, with two contestants who are big Star Wars fans. One was a woman whose hero as a kid was Princess Leia, and she nearly burst into tears when Carrie Fisher turned up. The other contestant was a guy who went to see Star Wars in 1977 with his father, when he was just a kid. What was nice about the show wasn't just all the fun Star Wars stuff (for the woman, the briefcase toting models were replaced by stormtroopers, while for the guy, the models were there and all were dressed in the famous gold bikini), but that they didn't make fun of these people for being Star Wars fans. They allowed the two contestants to be what they are: two normal people with jobs and families who happen to love Star Wars. I appreciate that.

:: American Idol's theme night tonight is Neil Diamond. That's pretty cool -- I love me some Neil Diamond -- but the remaining Idol contestants are my least favorite of any grouping at this point in the show since I've been watching it. David Cook's the best one remaining, but he doesn't really "Wow" me at all; I think the whole "rocker dude doing brooding arrangements" thing was done better by Chris Daughtry a few years back, and his "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera last week just didn't impress me. I seem to be alone in this view, but I remember when that show came out, and I remember how every school choir, amateur community chorus, college chorus, all-state or all-county chorus, or vocal ensemble of any kind was doing Phantom, and I remember how "Music of the Night" became so ubiquitous a selection by amateur baritones that the song just started to sound clicheed within a year or two of the show's debut. That's what Cook sounded like, to me: he didn't make me think of Phantom, but of all those kids and amateur adult singers I heard back in the day doing Phantom.

Then there's David Archuleta, who I suspect will make the final two with David Cook. I can't imagine why he gets wild praise every week, because there is nothing convincing about him at all. He's Kevin Covais with a better voice; he's the male Diana DiGarmo. (GAHHHH!!! This kid's doing my two favorite Neil Diamond songs, "Sweet Caroline" and "America"! NOOOOOO!!!) I get no sense at all that this kid connects with the songs on any emotional level whatsoever. Maybe in ten years when he's been drunk a bunch of times and vomited in public places and been dumped by better looking girls than he deserves to date and failed a class or two in school and been bluntly told that he has no future, his singing will be convincing.

(Oh God, he just murdered "Sweet Caroline". It made me want to throw three bricks through my teevee, in time with the "Bum Bum Bum"s. Ack.)

Syesha has bored me each week, except for last week, when she was awesome singing an Andrew Lloyd Webber tune I don't know. Maybe she's this year's Kimberly Locke, who flew under the radar in Season Two to nearly steal the spotlight from Clay and Ruben.

Brooke? She's immensely likable, and she's toast. She should be singing soulful songs in coffee bars somewhere. Oh my God, it just hit me: Brooke is Phoebe Buffay, with a decent voice and without material like "Smelly Cat"!

And the dreadlocked Jason? Meh. Meh, meh, meh. Meh.

It's weird: the Idol people clearly wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having another Sanjaya on the show, but in succeeding there, they've also avoided having another Jordin Sparks or Melinda Doolittle. My favorite singers this year were Michael Johns (gone three weeks ago), and Carly Smithson (gone last week). David Cook is the favorite to win, but I'm not excited at all. He's the best of a weak bunch. In football terms, he's the 9-7 team that wins the NFC South.

Whacking. I'm hell at whacking.

Sheila waxes poetic on one of my favorite movies, Witness. (Yeah, I didn't rank it highly enough.) Here's Sheila:

Let's look at how delicately things are set up in this film - so much so that you don't notice them. John Book has recovered (somewhat) from his wound and Samuel Lapp takes him on a tour of the farm. He shows him the well. ("It goes ... it makes ... it goes ..." so cute) He shows him the silo and tells him how it works. He shows him the trap door. All of this will become crucial in the final scenes, as John Book sneaks around, trying to evade the murderers. But what becomes clear, beautifully, in subsequent viewings - is that it is SAMUEL who showed Book the way. It is SAMUEL who, innocently, gave John Book the tools for survival in those crucial end moments. And so the title of the film takes on even more meaning, more depth. WITNESS. "What's up there?" asks John Book. "Corn," answers Samuel. Notice the grace and simplicity of how that information is imparted. You might not even notice it. A lesser film would have just had John Book figuring out how the silo worked while he was under the gun (which is how so many thrillers operate - they ARE their plots. That's it.) ... but in Witness we are introduced, via Samuel, to "the way things work". And he's excited to show John Book around and to show him the well and also to show him how much he knows. It isn't until later that we realize what Samuel Lapp has done, in that innocent tour.

She's absolutely right. The exposition there is handled so well. Problems can often arise with this kind of thing, in movies like this; they've got to get that gun onto the mantle in Act One so it can go off in Act Three, but so many times, the filmmakers go overboard, making it blindingly obvious that they're setting up something for later. This quiet scene between Samuel and Book, where Sam's just showing Book around the farm, helps us get our bearings, and we never realize that we're being set up for the climax.

Done wrong, this sort of scene-setting stands out like a sore thumb. A perfect example is in James Cameron's Aliens, where we have that early scene where the one female Marine is demonstrating the robotic forklift-you-can-wear thing: there's never one iota of doubt that Ripley will be putting that thing on and using it as a weapon by film's end. That's just badly done. Of course, Cameron would later get it right in Titanic, where he knew that he would have to make clear to the audience what exactly was going on at each stage of the ship's sinking, but he also know that he couldn't stop the tension of Rose and Jack's harrowing exploits in the ship's water-filled lower decks to explain it all, so he gives us the computer simulation of the sinking early in the movie. We never have to stop the action so Jack can tell Rose something like "See, the ship is going down by the head, so the stern's going to rise up. I just hope the ship's hull can withstand that pressure, because if it can't, the ship will break in two!" Likewise, in Witness, we're spared John Book talking to himself (us), saying things like "This is a silo! I'll bet there's corn up there!"

Sheila's post also gives an appreciation for Harrison Ford's work in Witness, a performance that Ford has never since come close to equaling. His work in this film is as good an example of character creation as I've ever seen. There's not one moment in the film where Ford in the slightest way echoes something he did as Han Solo or Indiana Jones. His performance is full of tiny little touches, moments it's so easy to miss, that add up to John Book being a real person, and not just a guy on a screen. I commented over there as follows (fixing my own typos):

Every time I watch this film I get a little more sad that this appears to be the last time Harrison Ford really used his talent to great effect. His performance is full of so many little details. I love how, after Eli interrupts his dancing with Rachel, he heartbreakingly wipes the sweat of his forehead on his shoulder. I love how the first time he's handed a glass of lemonade (by Rachel) he downs the whole thing in one gulp, but the next time (by Hochleitner) he takes a single small sip and hands it back. I love how at the end, after he's beaten the bad guys and all the cops are there on the farm, he's standing there, leaning exhaustedly against a police car, having a much needed cigarette, when we haven't seen him smoke at all in the whole film to that point.

I think that a good test for people I meet is to see if they give me a knowing smile when I tell them to "Be careful out among them English."

Of course, I could go on. I love the bashful smile that Rachel gives John Book when they're in the workshop and Book's working on fixing the birdhouse he'd earlier driven into. She's smiled at him politely before, usually with her lips, but this is different; she shows her teeth here in a full smile that's at once more revealing and yet more shy than she's been to that point. I think that's when she first starts realizing her attraction to Book, because of the line that accompanies that smile, a very simple observation on her part: "You know carpentry." In that moment I think that Book stops being something alien to her, some being almost literally from another world she can never know. I think that's where it starts. Witness really is full of tiny moments of magic that you don't even realize are there until you think about them.

On another tangent, a recent thread over at FSM included speculation on the relative lack of eroticism in the scores of John Williams. While only a couple of readers make the obvious point that John Williams really hasn't scored any movies much at all that would call for an erotic kind of tone, others bring up as an example of a "sexy" score Jerry Goldsmith's Basic Instinct. Now, that is a terrific thriller score, but I'm not sure how sexy it is. Basic Instinct, for all its kinky subject matter, just isn't sexy to me. In the whole of that film, with all its nudity and violent sex and infamous shots of Sharon Stone's privates, there is nothing at all that is nearly as erotic and beautiful and sexy as in Witness when John Book and Rachel Lapp dance in the barn to a golden oldie, with no clothing being removed at all.

(One of my favorite bits of trivia about Witness is that the barn dance was filmed during daylight in the middle of summer. Since it had to be night, the crew basically draped tarps over every entrance to the barn, thus creating the necessary darkness, but also making it really really hot in there; hence the sweating that only highlights the emotion of the moment.)

For me, just about the only flaw in Witness is the film's score, by Maurice Jarre. It was the mid-80s, and at the time Jarre was into heavy synthesizer use, and this score is just about entirely on synth, if not entirely outright. Some of the atmospheric music early on works nicely, but it's all mostly long chords that set a tone, and of course, the barn-raising scene is a wonderfully scored sequence. (When watching it, there's a bit early on where John Book introduces himself to a new group of Amish men he hasn't met before. The first one whose hand he shakes, the one in the light green shirt? That's a young Viggo Mortensen, there, fifteen years before he'd take up his role as Aragorn son of Arathorn, King of Gondor.) The score's "suspense" material is all fairly routine and a bit repetitive; none of the music hurts the film, but I've always thought that the film would have been better served with a more strong touch of melody, excepting that great barn raising set piece. (Speaking of which, "Building the Barn" is done brilliantly by full orchestra on the Jarre compilation album The Emotion and the Strength. You can listen to a different recording of that orchestral arrangement here. On a more personal note, this bit of music reminds me strongly of one of my favorite days of my recent years.)

Anyway, you all be careful, out among them English.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Life Day

I was just reading a post on some other blog, and I saw the umpteenth assertion that the Star Wars Holiday Special was Godawful dreck, and I got to wondering, " it possible that it really wasn't quite that bad? Could it have been kind of good, in a kitschy way?" So it was off to YouTube, and...

Hoo boy. If you'll excuse me, I have to go lay down in bed and quiver in existential horror.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Stuff of the weird sort:

:: Via SDB comes a great motivational poster.

:: Via Jason comes a great montage of old Saturday morning teevee characters. I can't name them all, but I can sure look at a lot of them and say, "Hey, I watched that!" But Jason names them all, so check that out. (The montage is done by this guy.)

:: I try not to laugh at people who dress up for SF cons and whatnot, but geez...squash that guy with a Recognizer!

:: The Lord's Prayer in leet-speak. Via.

All for this week.

Unidentified Earth 36 takers thus far on UI 35, which in a way doesn't surprise me all that much, since in this game, I have absolute power. Heh!

But anyway, here's one that I assume will be guessed very quickly. But it's such a cool view of this location, I had to use it!

Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bloggus Domesticus

Sorry about the recent silence, folks, but real life has been hectic of late and not terribly conducive to blogging, for many reasons. This may continue for a few more days, or it may not. With me, you never know. Heh heh heh. Anyhow, here's a bit of what's been going on:

:: We, the Family and I, spent a few hours last weekend at Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora. If you're looking for a great place to have a picnic lunch and then a nice walk with your clan and/or loved ones, this is yet another of the Buffalo area's great places to do it, and it's free to get in. I can't recommend this place highly enough. Add it to the list of great places in this area that you don't have to pay to get into. I put some photos up on Flickr, but here's one that The Daughter took of The Wife and I. My hair's all messed up there, but note that I'm not wearing overalls. It was pretty hot that day.

:: I've been going through the archives of xkcd, one comic at a time, and bookmarking all of the ones that I particularly enjoy in a special folder. Why? Because xkcd rocks, that's why.

I'm especially tickled that I get the joke on this one:

Hee hee!

:: I'm slowly converting Casa Jaquandor into a home completely illuminated by compact fluorescent light bulbs. I bought my first CFL bulb way back in 1992, for my main lamp in my college room, and I remember that one being fairly harsh in tone, but they've improved immensely since then, and aside from the waiting for them to warm up to full brightness, I don't miss the incandescents one bit (except for the two lamps we have that can't be converted, due to the types of bulbs they require). And really, that wait for full brightness can be a nice thing, actually; a good example thereof is when one uses the bathroom in the middle of the night. At that point it's nice that one can turn on the lights without becoming blinded.

:: Jesse L. Martin's off Law and Order. I don't really care about L&O, but I like Martin a lot. For me, his most memorable turn is in the X-Files episode "The Unnatural", where he plays a baseball player in 1947 who turns out to be an alien. I tried finding my favorite clip from that episode on YouTube, but no luck. (It's a nice dialogue scene that takes place on the team bus, and ends with Martin's character, Exley, singing a spiritual with some of his teammates. I love that episode.)

:: Does anybody know of any online musical notation applications? I just want to plunk down some notes on a stave and save the results.

:: Mary Kunz Goldman, classical music critic for The Buffalo News, has a blog. I'm not the biggest fan of hers; her writing style is, shall we say, a tad mockable -- but hey, it's a new voice in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan, and I've always found MKG at her best when she's writing about classical music.

:: Shakespeare's birthday was the other day. In a couple of hundred years, this will be a major holiday in the Klingon Empire.

:: Hey! Wanna see a hilarious photo? Here you go. Whoopsies!

:: In a boring note from mundane existence that nobody will care about, I have now decided that I like cottage cheese. Yes, this was a lame attempt to pad out an already boring post, so I'll leave off there. Posting will probably be light for another few days, but you never know.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sentential Links #137

Linking the linkable, lest they go unlinked (more politics than usual this week):

:: America almost seems like it’s finally had enough of the non-celebrities being taken seriously in some way (the entire media is like a giant, uncontained Gong Show these days). I find it funny that Heather Mills has finally figured out that the British hate her and plans to follow some sort of obscure famous-for-being-famous career in America. (Adult content advisory. Do not click if you're under sixteen, easily offended, or Dutch. You have been warned.)

:: The Maverick and Commander is one of the vainest human beings to run for President in my lifetime. One of the vainest that I have ever read about. He is pathologically obsessed with his image as the straight-shooter, the most honest man in Washington, the only one of the whole lot who is his own person and calls his own shots, the only one who speaks his mind and damns the consequences. It's all a lie and he probably knows it, but that only makes him more desperate to see himself as what he pretends to be. He is Snow White's step-mother going three or four times a day to her magic mirror to ask the same question and hear the same answer, and fortunately for him the Insider Journalists are happy to act the part of the magic mirror.

:: I don't wear a flag pin on my lapel. Never have. And while I won't rule out the possibility of doing so in the future, I probably won't. And, yes, this is because I hate my country. But not as much as Jeremiah Wright hates it. (That's the entire post, actually. But I agree with the sentiment: kvetching over Obama's lack of a lapel pin is just about the stupidest thing I can imagine.)

:: You really have to wonder what is wrong with these people that their rage richters are constantly cranked up to 11. These are the kind of people you read about whose crushed lifeless bodies are found underneath capsized vending machines all because they went DefCon 1 when their Zagnut refused to fall. (Michelle Malkin: complete raving lunatic. Isn't there some twelve year old kid she can stalk or something?)

:: Barack Obama's comments about the white working class have thrown the political campaign into a particularly comic spasm of pretense and hypocrisy, but I was planning to let it go, I really was, until George F. Will decided to leap to the defense of the proletariat. Yes, that George F. Will. The fabulously wealthy, bow tie-wearing, pretentious reference-mongering, Anglophilic fop who grew up in a university town as a professor's son, earned two advanced degrees, has a designated table at a French restaurant in Georgetown, and, had he dwelt for any extended time among the working class, would be lucky to escape without his underwear being yanked up over his ears. Will devoted his column to expressing his displeasure at Obama's "condescension" toward the working class. (Heh.)

:: It's kinda ironic ain't it? Your record company employed their little copy protection schemes in an effort to prevent illegal downloading of your music. Instead, they have encouraged it. You might wanna talk to them about that.

:: It's been three years. I didn't know I stung that much.

:: Look out change - Ready or not, here I come! (Best of luck on the interview and the decision-making!)

:: In the first scene in Titanic where we see old Rose at her pottery wheel... And I just like to notice her earrings.

:: I offended a sweetheart once when I said "If I ever get really sick I'm not going to let you come visit me in the hospital." Now I see that was vanity talking; I hope when the time comes I'll have the courage - or humility - to Be Here Now for the people I love even when pieces of me are flaking and falling off.

All for this week.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Not a whole lot this week, but here's some stuff:

:: Something I never thought about: Pac-man's need, given all that dot-consumption, to void his bowels.

:: Why I Avoid Objectivists If At All Possible, entry #47382: I wandered onto the FilmScoreMonthly message boards, as I do once a while, just to see if there's any nifty film music news in the offing, and against my better judgment, I checked a thread devoted to the question of who might score the upcoming movie of Atlas Shrugged. Sure enough, the incredibly creepy fellow (initials 'DH') with whom I used to cross swords when I used to post there, is holding forth in grand fashion. He's apparently planning to tell John Williams personally that he hates his approach to film scoring (an act which, given Williams's years of success and reported high level of graciousness as a person, will likely be forgotten by Williams within minutes of its occurrence), and some, well, self-massage of the ego. A representative quote:

Objectivism inevitably separates the men from the boys, so to speak. I'd rather just speed up the process. Fact is, my no-nonsense--yet completely fair--attitude, along with the wisdom I'm able to wield, will draw most people [i.e., honest people] to Objectivism all the more. To those it repels, I say this: leave that copy of Atlas Shrugged on the shelf; somebody else deserves it, and you don't.

That's what talking to Objectivists tends to be like, in my experience, folks.

:: China's reputation, as far as respecting intellectual property, isn't very good. Here's the latest example of it. Wow. (Via Warren Ellis.)

OMG! I get to correct Ken Jennings!!!

Apparently, Ken Jennings is in Seattle, where it's snowing a lot. Not to leave his commentary at that, however, Ken goes on to make a pretty obscure pop cultural reference:

Maybe we’re victims of that crazy weather machine that Elizabeth Taylor was using to freeze Port Charles back on General Hospital in the early ’80s. Yeah, there’s a reference that exactly nobody will get.

Au contraire, Ken! Not only do I get the reference, but I get to point out your error: it wasn't Liz Taylor's character (yes, she was on GH), Helena Cassadine, who was tormenting Port Charles with the weather machine, but rather her husband Mikkos, who was played by John Colicos. Helena Cassadine didn't come along until Luke and Laura's wedding, which was well after Luke's thwarting of Mikkos's plot.

Colicos is an actor well-known to geekdom of that period, having played Commander Kor, one of the more memorable Klingons on Star Trek (TOS) and then reprised the role on a couple of episodes of Deep Space Nine (by which time Kor had gone from looking like a TOS Klingon to looking like a regular old ridged-forehead Klingon), and the villainous Baltar on the original incarnation of Battlestar Galactica.

But anyway, Ken's got the right nefarious plot to destroy Port Charles, but the wrong villain. Good thing that was never the "Final Jeopardy!" answer while he was on the show!

(And here's a trivia question: when Luke Spencer was trying to access the control panel that would deactivate the weather machine, he had to type in the password that Mikkos Cassadine had chosen. What was that password?)

The Big Red Cheese (and that other guy)

I have a couple of new reviews up at Green Man Review. First I look at Jeff Smith's recent graphic novel treatment of Captain Marvel, SHAZAM! The Monster Society of Evil, which I liked a lot, and Kevin J. Anderson's recent prose-novel treatment of the last days of Superman's home planet of Krypton, titled appropriately enough, The Last Days of Krypton. This one I didn't like as much, although I'm not sure it's totally Anderson's fault as he probably did the best he could with the task at hand. Anyway, check out the reviews. Or don't. Hey, it's your mouse. I can't make you click the links!

Whills, and the Journals they keep

Star Wars poster draft, originally uploaded by Michael Heilemann.

THE date for Star Wars fans is, of course, May 25, 1977, when the very first film was released way back when; but I see via The Dude that there's actually an earlier date: April 17, 1973, which is when Lord George, Duke of Lucas, sat down with legal pad and No. 2 pencil in hand to start cobbling together his first draft of The Star Wars.

For we obsessives who have delved into those early drafts (The Jedi Bendu Script Site is an invaluable resource), it's fascinating to see which elements of Lucas's first writings made it into the first films, and then to further see everything come full circle as some of those very early notions, set aside for the Original Trilogy, eventually turned up in the Prequel Trilogy (the planet Utapau, Darth Maul's attack on Qui Gon in the Tatooine desert, and so on). It all started coming together way back in 1973.

(By the way, the image here is taken from a Flickr gallery of Ralph McQuarrie's amazing conceptual art for the Star Wars films. His art was instrumental in selling the concept to the studios, and is well-worth checking out. Be sure to click through to the large version of this early poster concept, just to read the dummy credits at the bottom. Try to imagine Star Wars with songs sung by Andy Williams!)

Unidentified Earth 35

Well, we're now officially caught up: UI 33 was identified (after a hint from me) as the Temple of Hera near Olympia, Greece (where the Olympic torch is always initially lit), and last week's UI 34 was pegged very quickly as the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea (fascinating story behind this location). Congrats to the winners! I'm sorry that the standard prize, 1000 Quatloos, are pretty much useless now that gas stations have stopped accepting Quatloos as payment for fuel, but there may be an outpost in the Australian Outback that still accepts Quatloos in exchange for large vats of Vegemite. I have been unable to substantiate this rumor, though.

Anyhoo, onto this week's location:

Where are we? Rot-13 thy guesses!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cazenovia Creek

Cazenovia 3, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

The other day I took my camera again to Cazenovia Creek (last visited in November), but this time, rather than take my photos from the bridge over the creek, I walked down to its very banks, which I'd never done before, despite my love of this particular spot. The water was green and clear in the light of late afternoon, and the sun reflected bright off the surface.

This particular photo is my favorite of the ones I took that afternoon (the rest are on Flickr). I need to buy some nice wading shoes one of these days.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I want to believe

Apparently the new X-Files movie will be subtitled I Want To Believe, which as any good TXF fan knows, is the slogan on the famous poster on Fox Mulder's office wall. I like the title.

So am I excited for the return of TXF? I wasn't at first, although I wasn't not excited either; just "Huh. I hope it's good." Well, now I'm starting to hope it's pretty darn good after all.

But just one thing: I hope the producers toned down Gillian Anderson a bit for the movie, because I've just spent some time surfing through this extensive Gillian Anderson photo collection, and let me say, if she looks like this in the movie:

...I may have some difficulty concentrating on the plot. Or the dialogue. Or my popcorn. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fixing the Prequels: The Phantom Menace (part eight)

part one
part two
part three
part four
part five
part six
part seven

Returning to repairing The Phantom Menace, we're still on Coruscant, but not for much longer. Qui Gon and Obi Wan stand before the Jedi council to hear the decision on Anakin's future. Initially, the Council decides to reject Anakin as a Jedi pupil. I like this scene, but I like how it reads in the original script a little bit more. Here's how that works, with a few alterations of my own:

YODA: Correct you were, Qui-Gon.

MACE WINDU: His cells do contain a high concentration of midichlorians.

KI-ADI: And the Force is indeed very strong with him.

QUI GON: Then he is to be trained.

The Council members look at one another....

MACE WINDU: No. He will not be trained.

Anakin's eyes fill with tears.


MACE WINDU: He is too old, and there is too much anger and fear in him.

ANAKIN: (angrily) I am not afraid!

KI-ADI: Silence, young Skywalker.

QUI GON: He is the Chosen One. You must see that.

YODA: Clouded his future is, masked by his youth.

QUI GON: I will train hem, then. I take Anakin Skywalker as my Padawan learner.

Obi Wan looks on with surprise.

YODA: An apprentice you have, Qui Gon. Impossible to take on a second.

MACE WINDU: The Jedi code forbids it.

QUI GON: Obi Wan is ready.

OBI WAN: (stepping forward) I am ready to face the Trials.

YODA: Ready, are you? What know you of ready?

QUI GON: Obi Wan is headstrong, and he has much to learn of the Living Force. But he is capable. There is little more he can learn from me.

YODA: Our own counsel we will keep on who is ready, Qui Gon. More to learn, Obi Wan has. He still reckless.

QUI GON: No less so that was I, when I faced the Trials.

MACE WINDU: Now is not the time for this. Young Skywalker's destiny is clouded and will require much meditation to discover. But for now, the Senate is voting for a new Supreme Chancellor, and Queen Amidala is returning home, which will put pressure on the Trade Federation. This could widen the conflict.

KI-ADI: And draw out the Queen's attacker.

MACE WINDU: Accompany the Queen back to Naboo, and discover the identity of the dark warrior. This is the clue we need to unravel the mystery of the Sith.

YODA: When settled the situation is on Naboo, decide young Skywalker's future, we will.

QUI GON: I will keep him in my charge. He has nowhere else to go.

YODA: Correct, you are. Keep him safe, but train him not!

MACE WINDU: Protect the Queen, but do not intercede if it comes to war until we have the Senate's approval. May the Force be with you.

One thing that's always bugged me about TPM is the way Qui Gon takes Anakin, a ten-year-old kid, into a war zone. Of course, this all turns out well, but he has no way of knowing that. The original script turns out to partially address this problem, which seems to be a recurring theme as I do these posts; to reiterate a point I've made before, I really do think that George Lucas tends to shackle himself a bit too strongly to his pre-conceived notion of a proper running time for his movies. My version of TPM would be quite a bit longer, but I don't think any fans would have complained about that, had certain things in the story been handled more deftly.

Anyhow, the next scene is on the landing platform, where the Queen's party is getting ready to launch. I like the bit where Obi Wan tries to talk Qui Gon out of his insistence on training Anakin, and Qui Gon's response that it's merely Obi Wan's point of view, presaging Obi Wan's later bit about point-of-view to Luke in ROTJ. I'd revise the whole scene just a bit:

QUI-GON, OBI-WAN, and ANAKIN stand on the landing platform outside the ship. Anakin is mainly trying to stay out of the way. Technicians bustle about, preparing the ship for liftoff.

OBI-WAN: It is not disrespect, Master, it is the truth.

QUI-GON: From your point of view....

OBI-WAN: The boy is dangerous...they all sense it. Why can't you?

QUI-GON: His future is uncertain, Obi Wan, as are all futures, including yours and mine. The Council will decide Anakin's future...that should be enough for you. Now get on board!

OBI-WAN reluctantly boards the Naboo spacecraft followed by ARTOO. A shuttle arrives, bearing the Queen's party. CAPTAIN PANAKA, SENATOR PALPATINE, TWENTY OR SO TROOPS, GUARDS, and OFFICERS walk briskly toward the ship, followed by QUEEN AMIDALA, PADME, EIRTAE, and finally, JAR JAR. AMIDALA and her HANDMAIDENS stop before the JEDI.

QUI-GON: Your Highness, it is our pleasure to continue to serve and protect you.

QUEEN AMIDALA: I welcome your help. Senator Palptaine fears the Federation means to destroy me.

QUI GON: I promise you, My Lady, we will not let that happen.

Anakin steps forward a bit as the Queen's party moves by, hoping to catch a glance from Padme, but she and the Queen are busily holding a whispered conference, and she moves past Anakin and onto the ship without even noticing that he's standing there. Anakin looks a bit crestfallen.

QUI GON: Anakin! Come on board, my boy.

Anakin follows Qui Gon onto the ship. Last to board are JAR JAR and Artoo.

JAR JAR: Wesa goen home!

EXT: Space – Coruscant.

The ship blasts away from the planet and disappears into hyperspace.

Yup, the conversation about the midichlorians is gone from this scene. I'm getting there, but I always thought that was a very odd place to have that conversation in the first place: "Sure, kid, we're about to lift off and fly back to a war zone, but let me take a minute to explain the nature of the Universe to you." So we'll get there in a bit.

Next is a brief scene between Darth Sidious and the Federation guys on Naboo. I'd change this as follows:

INT: Sith spacecraft – meditation chamber.

DARTH MAUL kneels in his dark meditation chamber before a hologram of DARTH SIDIOUS.

SIDIOUS: So the Queen is returning to Naboo after all. This is not what I predicted, but it will work out in our favor. I can use her actions on Coruscant to my advantage. She has changed the political will in the Senate, but she is turning into a random element who cannot be trusted. I will instruct the Viceroy to destroy her when she arrives, but you shall have your way with her Jedi warriors. The Council has become arrogant. It is time for them to feel the wrath of the Sith.

Darth Maul bows as the hologram fades from view.

EXT: Space.

The Sith spacecraft arcs toward the surface of Naboo.

At this point, in the film, the Queen arrives back on Naboo. However, we need to do something first:

INT: Queen's ship – main hold.

Qui Gon walks past a sleeping Obi Wan, and he stops to glance into a small room where ANAKIN sits, staring at a computer screen.

QUI GON: You are reading about Tatooine?

ANAKIN: There's not much here. I suppose that's because it's not much of a planet.

QUI GON: There is never any predicting which worlds will shape history, Anakin. My own homeworld isn't much more impressive than yours, at first glance.

Qui Gon sits down beside the boy.

QUI GON: You handled yourself well before the Council.

ANAKIN: They talked about me like I wasn't even there. And they're not going to let me become a Jedi. I can't go back home because I'm free and my mother is still a slave. So what will I do?

QUI GON: You will do what we all do: you will trust the Force to guide you.

ANAKIN: Everyone was talking about destinies and blood and "midichlorians". I don't even know what those are.

QUI GON: Well, that is a question that even the Jedi have not settled. Midichlorians are a microscopic life form that exist within all living cells, for the most part. There are only a handful of species in the Galaxy we know of whose cells do not contain them. They live in me, they live in the Queen, in Jar Jar – everyone. They live in you.

ANAKIN: But why are they so important?

QUI GON: Finding people who could become Jedi Knights used to be a matter of instinct. We can sense the Force, and we can feel when we are in the presence of someone who is strong with it. That is what led me to you: I can feel the Force strong within you, as strongly as I have ever felt it with anyone. The problem with relying on intuition, as we did in the past, was that sometimes we were wrong. We would train people as Jedi who simply weren't powerful enough, or who weren't strong enough to control the Force. The danger of temptation by the Dark Side was always present. But two hundred years ago, a Jedi scientist discovered that people who are strong with the Force are also host to much greater concentrations of midichlorians in their blood. He could not explain why this was so: are the midichlorians attracted to the Force, or created by it? Why do some individuals with very high concentration of midichlorians in their blood – Naboo's own Senator Palpatine is one – fail to show any aptitude at all for the Force? And it didn't help matters that this particular scientist disappeared while on an expedition to a secret planet which he thought to be the birthplace of the midichlorians. Much of his research was lost, and our own scientists have followed his footsteps ever since. And ever since we have used blood samples more than our own intimations of the Living Force to seek out Jedi padawans.

ANAKIN: You say that like it's a bad thing.

QUI GON: The reliance on midichlorians has its own problems, Anakin. Even those who put great importance on them cannot agree if were are communing with the Force ourselves, or if we are communing with the midichlorians who are in turn communing with the Force. Also, having a high midichlorian count does not necessarily mean that a person is strong with the Force, so much time has been wasted trying to train people who could not become Jedi at all. Naboo's own Senator Palpatine has an unusually high midichlorian count for a human, and he has never shown the slightest aptitude for the Force. And there are some who believe that the reliance on a simple blood test to choose Jedi means that in a very real way the Jedi have turned away from the Force itself, and have stopped relying upon it to lead us in the way we are supposed to go. My own teacher believed this, and he eventually left the Jedi order because of this disagreement. It is an issue that divides the Jedi to this day.

ANAKIN: What do you believe?

QUI GON: I prefer to trust the living Force. It has never guided me wrong. I only took your blood sample to convince those on the Council who disagree with me on such matters.

Anakin shakes his head.

ANAKIN: I thought the Jedi knew everything.

Qui Gon smiles.

QUI GON: Again, I wish that were so.

OBI WAN sticks his head in the door.

OBI WAN: Master? We are entering the Naboo system.

QUI GON: Thank you, Obi Wan.

He turns back to Anakin.

QUI GON: Anakin, we are heading into a dangerous situation. This planet is at war. We will take you to someplace safe, and you must stay there. I will leave the droid, Artoo, with you. He is resourceful, as able a droid as I have seen.

ANAKIN: Does he have a high midichlorian count, too?

Qui Gon laughs.

So that's what I'd do with regard to the midichlorians. I wouldn't strike them entirely from the record, but I'd make them more ambiguous, and thus a part of the background story of why the Jedi have started to fall on hard times. A point that sometimes gets lost is that the Prequel Trilogy does not present the Jedi at their greatest, in their glory, but in a time when they are sliding toward failure, and that they don't even know it until their fate is already sealed. Positing a division within the Jedi, over something fairly esoteric like midichlorians, would help that notion along.

(By the way, I really like that little aside I throw in there about Palpatine having a high midichlorian count but no apparent Force skill. And the disappearing scientist? There could be a tale there. Maybe the secret planet is Dagobah...and maybe he was killed by Darth Plagueis....)

The truth is, I was never bothered all that much by the idea of the midichlorians. I know that many Star Wars fans actively detest the whole idea, thinking that sticking some sort of half-baked scientific basis for The Force utterly negates all of the pleasant mysticism of the Original Trilogy, but I don't think it has to be seen that way at all. The problem is that the midichlorian thing in the PT never really goes anywhere, other than to add a bit of nomenclature to something that didn't really need it. That being the case, I assumed from the outset of their mention in TPM that Lucas had something in mind, someplace he was going with all this midichlorian stuff. It turned out that he didn't. My supposition is that Lucas was somehow influenced by all those episodes of Star Trek's various series in the 1990s, when everything always ended up being explained by a careful appeal to the Subatomic Particle of the Week.

Actually, that's not entirely fair to Lucas, who has long been interested in Eastern religion and mysticism. Now that I think it over, I suspect that the whole midichlorian thing reflects some of the attempts over the last few decades by various thinkers and writers to showcase parallels between Western science and Eastern mysticism (in books like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters). So I don't have a philosophical problem with Lucas's attempt to blend science and mysticism in the PT per se, but I do have a story problem with it. It doesn't really help move the story along, and it could have.

That's probably a good place to leave off for now. The next installment will likely bring my examination of TPM to a close. Stay tuned, Star Warriors!

Monday, April 14, 2008

I know what you're thinking, and you're right.

The Top Ten Episodes of Magnum PI

This post is suggested by a recent post by Jason, wherein he reports that in the inevitable movie version of this old teevee show from the 1980s (because if it was on teevee in the 1980s, it'll be on a movie screen soon enough, so bring on that Riptide movie! And Simon and Simon!), the role of Thomas Sullivan Magnum will be played by Matthew McConnaughey. Personally, I don't have much of a problem with McConnaughey as an actor, but he's got his own thing going on, and I don't see him recreating the air that Tom Selleck brought to Magnum. Jason has the goods on Magnum as a character: at first glance, he's a ne'er-do-well beach bum slacker, but underneath the exterior of shorts, floral shirts and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap is a fiercely intelligent, piercingly observant, and forceful man who can even descend into some pretty dark places. Can Matthew McConnaughey capture this? I don't know. He's been the doofus in a lot of doofus comedies, but he was also pretty good dramatically in Contact and Amistad, so, who knows.

Anyway, back to the show. Magnum, PI was a staple of Thursday night teevee in our home for pretty much the entirety of its run, although in its last couple of seasons it tended to be a little darker than my parents found to their liking. At its best, though, Magnum was always a terribly entertaining show. It had nifty detective stuff, nice action sequences here and there, some terrific cast chemistry, and a lot of wonderful character-driven conflict and humor. The continual battle of wills between Thomas Magnum and Jonathan Quayle Higgins was often played for laughs, but underneath it all was the fact that as different as these two men were and as crazy as they could drive one another, in the end, each would walk through fire for the other if they needed to.

So yeah, I was a big fan of Magnum, PI. Here's a list of my favorite ten episodes. My summaries below are spoilerish, so if you're watching the show on DVD for the first time, skip this post.

1. Memories Are Forever, parts one and two

Magnum established fairly early on that Magnum was married while in Vietnam to a French nurse, who was later killed in a hospital explosion. In this two-part episode, she turns up alive, and married to a Vietnamese general. It's a thrilling episode, filled with intrigue and the tragedy of two lovers who cannot be together. (Hmmm...they should make a movie like that. Maybe get someone Bogart-esque to play the lead....)

2. Unfinished Business

The flip-side to the episode above, years later it turns out that Magnum has fathered a little girl with his former wife, Michelle. Both are murdered by yet another Vietnamese general (there were lots of these throughout the show's run), and Magnum sets out for revenge. This is a gritty and intense episode, made especially memorable by Magnum's standard voiceovers, which here take the form of letters he can no longer send to his daughter. (Of course, the series finale would establish that Lily, Magnum's daughter, wasn't killed after all.) Also notable is the performance by Lance LeGault as Colonel Buck Greene, a Navy Intelligence officer who recurs a number of times throught the series's run to clash heads with Magnum.

3. Did You See the Sunrise, parts one and two

Another two-parter (or maybe it was a two-hour episode later split into two parts for syndication; remember when teevee shows had actual episodes of double length, as opposed to being regular-length episodes with extra commercials, or just two episodes run together end-on-end?) dealing with the Vietnam exploits of Magnum and friends (he, helicopter pilot TC, and club operator Rick all served there together). Here, a brutal Russian prison guard named Ivan they had the misfortune of meeting in Nam comes to Hawaii, having run up the ranks and become a diplomat. TC is brainwashed into attempting to kill Ivan, but the plot is more nefarious than that, and in the course of things, Magnum's friend from the Navy, Lt. MacReynolds ("Mac"), whom Thomas is always bribing with food to get him classified information, is killed when the bad guys bomb Magnum's Ferrari (without him inside, of course). The final scene, where Magnum finally confronts Ivan directly, presents the series's most surprising ending.

4. Home From the Sea

This episode has no case for Magnum to solve. Instead, on the Fourth of July, Magnum is out at sea, paddling his surf-ski as part of his personal tradition of spending Independence Day alone. A speedboat knocks him off his surf-ski, and Magnum is alone in the ocean, during which he flashes back to his father's last days. Meanwhile, his friends all have premonitions that Magnum is in serious danger. It's a very effective episode.

5. I Witness

Magnum wasn't always a serious show, however; often it put its tongue-in-cheek sense of humor on display. This episode is a good case in point: the King Kamehameha Club is the scene of an armed robbery, and Magnum has to figure out who did it, based on the clues buried in the varying accounts of the robbery he is given by his friends, whose clothes were stolen in the course of the robbery. The whole Rashomon thing may be something of a cliché these days, but here, as each person tells his story in a way that makes him look the best, the result is hilarious.

6. Luther Gillis: File 521

This episode pairs Magnum's 1980s Hawaiian gumshoe with Luther Gillis, a St. Louis gumshoe who talks like he's right out of a Dashiell Hammet novel. Gillis is working a missing persons case, and he ends up working with Magnum, much to Magnum's chagrin. It's pretty much the old "Two guys who can't stand each other forced to work together" buddy story, but it's done infectiously well. Gillis was a fan favorite, so he returned a few more times over the show's run, but this first appearance was his best.

7. Laura

Like any popular teevee series, Magnum PI would occasionally feature big-name guest stars. Carol Burnett appeared a couple of times, for instance, but this grim episode brought in Frank Sinatra. The climactic sequence takes place without dialogue; just the sounds of the Honolulu streetscape backed by the throbbing chords of "Tonight Tonight Tonight" by Genesis (a stylistic riff, perhaps, on Miami Vice's use of "In the Air Tonight"). I only saw this episode a couple of times, but it is a standout.

8. Paper War

During the last season or two, there was a running gag involving Magnum's hypothesis that Jonathan Higgins, the Major Domo of writer Robin Masters's Hawaii estate (called "Robin's Nest"), actually is Robin Masters. This is the episode where Magnum first draws that conjecture, as the occasionally combative relationship between the two men escalates into a fairly nasty prank war, culminating in one of the most hilarious bits in the show's history: Magnum blowing up Higgins's matchstick model of the Bridge on the River Kwai, while he's whistling "Colonel Bogey" to Higgins over the phone. Later, in a standard bit of plot handling, when the two have decided that they can no longer coexist in any way, they're locked together inside an elevator in an abandoned building, which is where Magnum starts suggesting that Higgins is Robin Masters. (The show would never officially clear up this point; it's a pleasant notion, but it was clearly cooked up after the fact, when a number of earlier episodes establish people from Robin Masters's past speaking to Robin as if he actually is Robin. But Higgins-as-Robin is a lot more satisfying, so...I dunno.)

9. Holmes Is Where the Heart Is

Another Special Guest Star episode here: Patrick Macnee, as an old friend of Higgins's. Higgins has locked himself in the study at Robin's Nest and is typing away on his old typewriter, while Magnum is desperately trying to figure out what it is that has Higgins behaving so obsessively. The story he's writing is told in flashback: when his friend, played by Macnee, came to visit him some years earlier (before Higgins met Magnum), and turned out to be mentally ill, believing himself to be Sherlock Holmes. It's a fun episode that has a very touching ending, and the framing story works because of the show's great chemistry between Magnum and Higgins as adversarial friends.

10. Deja Vu, parts one and two

In lieu of the Special Guest Star, Magnum PI would indulge that other great stunt of hit teevee shows everywhere: the Special Location! Here, Magnum and friends travel to Great Britain, ostensibly to help set up the newest of Robin Masters's estates, an English castle he's calling "Robin's Keep". Here, while Higgins tries to train the ineffectual British guy who's to do the same job here that Higgins does in Hawaii (this fellow played by Peter Davison, who is most famous as the Fifth Doctor on Doctor Who), Magnum becomes involved in some intrigue involving an old buddy of his from the Vietnam days who did assassination work in that war, and who turns out to have stayed in that line of work after it. There's also a subplot involving Higgins's reticence to drop in and visit his father, since the two haven't spoken in years.

So there they are: ten episodes of Magnum PI. Funny thing is, I left out a bunch of episodes that I like a lot as well, so if I were to re-write this post tomorrow, I'd probably include nine completely new episodes (my Number One is pretty much a constant; that's a truly great episode). Maybe the one, originally intended for the series finale until the show got picked up for another year, where Magnum is critically wounded in a gun battle and spends the episode as a ghost, hovering on the edge of death; or the one where a psychologically fragile Magnum thinks he's seen his old friend Mac, dead for several years, very much alive on the streets of Honolulu; or the one where Magnum is paired with a modern day Samurai warrior (played by Mako). What a great show that was.

As a wrap-up, here are the show's opening credits. It feels like Thursday nights on CBS again!

(Trivia question: Everyone knows that Magnum's favorite baseball team was the Detroit Tigers. But what was his favorite beer?)

Sentential Links #136

Linkage, for the link-deprived, the link-depressed, the link-addicted, and just plain people who like themselves some links!

:: This may smack too much of a stage magician revealing his tricks, but I actually have been asked, a few times, how I find the things I do, especially with some of the obscurities I’ve uncovered for The Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes (due out Spring 2009 from MonkeyBrain Books), so it occurred to me to describe my Monday afternoon for you, Dear Reader, as an example of how I find the characters I do in my research into pop culture, and why modern research is fractal in nature. (Terrific post by Jess Nevins, who cheerfully wades through literary currents long deemed to go nowhere navigable, and thus finds amazing places in the backwaters of pop culture. And wow, did I just write a crappy metaphor or what!)

:: Oh look, Dennis is walking barefoot through raw sewage.

:: Comic books shouldn't make you wish they came with a suicide pill.

:: Miss De la Bolsa Meets a Lusty Scotsman (OK, not a sentence, but the post is a series of hilarious potential book titles. I'd like to read at least a few of these!)

:: Here's my look at CGI and who I think did it well, and who didn't. (Hey! I like Jar Jar! Poor Jar Jar....)

:: Now see what you did, Juno? You turned me against indie rock! For shame, Juno. For shame. (Hmmmm. I liked Juno, too...and that reminds me, I still need to write about it.)

:: Mariah Carey now has more number one singles than Elvis Presley. (But how many records has she sold, total? Is she anywhere near Elvis on that metric?)

:: It took the human race several thousand years to come around to the idea of fiction. (Long post that becomes a Doctor Who review eventually. I skipped that stuff because I know nothing about Doctor Who these days, but the stuff leading up to that is all pretty interesting.)

:: What do you think? More to the point, what do you hear? And are there any volunteers? (I've been remiss in linking this, the Tenser's response to my post about Peter Lorre's enunciation in Casablanca from a few weeks back. I really can see the Tenser's point -- I'd forgotten that 'Weygand' would not start with an actual 'W' sound, for one thing -- but I'm still hearing 'De Gaulle', I'm afraid; while the second syllable could conceivably go either way, I still hear Lorre's initial consonant as being a fairly percussive 'D' sound, rather than a softer 'V' sound. But who knows, maybe I'm full of bird poop.)

That'll do it for this week. Tune in next week, around this time, for further exciting adventures in Blogistan!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Unidentified Earth 34

Well, last week's installment has no guesses at all. I find that interesting; surely someone carries a torch for this spot!

But anyhow, here's the new installment:

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

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Weirdness abounds....

:: Remember that Stuff White People Like website? And remember how lots of us found the concept goofy (but still good for a quiz-thing)? Well, the joke's on us, because that guy's got himself a book deal.

You know, you'd think there would be a market out there for a book of George Lucas hero-worship. I'm just sayin', folks.

:: On a related note, we have Stuff Nobody Likes. Where's this guy's book deal? Huh? Huh?!

:: Via Warren Ellis, we have Russian skydiving. This cracked me up.

:: You may remember that the Soviet Union was crafting its own space shuttle during the 1980s, with said program being scuttled when the USSR collapsed; the Russian space program since has continued to rely on capsule-like craft. But if you've ever wondered what became of the prototype orbiters the Soviets built, Jason's got the goods, along with a terrific photograph. Check it out.

Yup, I love me some weird stuff. Thank God we've got Teh Interweb!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Can you put the couch back where it was?

I'm considering doing a bit of template-jiggering, so if anyone has any strong opinions as to how things should look around here, go ahead and voice them now, so I can completely ignore them!

Strapping young lad, isn't he!

A while back I decided that instead of monitoring my body-reshaping progress by the use of a scale, I'd use the metric of the shoulder straps of my overalls. Well, today I reached for the "official" pair I've designated for this odd exercise, and sure enough, I had to draw in the straps by about an inch. Here's where things stand right now:

That doesn't seem like much, but another development is that I can now fasten the upper set of side buttons on this pair without sucking my gut in too much:

I am sucking in a little, but it's more like William Shatner as Captain Kirk gut-sucking, as opposed to, say, William Shatner as TJ Hooker gut-sucking. I still won't fasten those side buttons as a rule for a while yet, but this is still exciting progress.

I'm also getting stronger, slowly and steadily; I have increased the weight on every weight-training exercise I do several times since I started the program back in January, and I am noticing some pleasing curvature to my upper arms and my legs. That's a deeply satisfying feeling. I can't wait to be able to compare myself in January 2009 to the one who showed up at the Y in January 2008, and so on.

In the course of my renewed devotion to health, I remembered a website I used to follow back when I last embarked on a weight loss program. This was back in the waning days of 2001, starting a month or so before I launched this blog and continuing for more than a year afterward, a period over which I lost slightly more than fifty pounds. The site is called One Phat Man, and it's the self-told story of a guy who, through changes in diet and exercise, took himself from over 350 pounds to down near 200. (He hasn't updated in a long time, but his archives are all there.) It was quite a story, and I found it pretty inspirational at the time: there was no gimick, no "take this powder and swallow this pill" stuff, nor any "Stick to this hyper-regimented diet plan for eight months to lose weight" rigamarole, nor any "Eat nothing but protein, that's the ticket!" weirdness: just a simple message that basically boils down to "Choose which life you want to lead, and then live it." I love that message: sure, it takes work to get healthy, but if it really matters, it won't really feel like work. He also has the ideal response to the whole "But when your program ends you'll just gain the weight back" arguments: If you continue to do the things that transformed you, you will continue to stay transformed. That's exactly right.

That's what I'm doing, as well. Am I eating more protein? Yes I am, because I've learned that it requires more energy from the body to digest, and because I'm not so much concentrating on losing weight as removing fat and adding muscle at the same time. I'm also eating a lot more salads; I've ditched all dressings except for extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar; I'm eating breakfast regularly (usually a whole-grain, high-fiber cereal like shredded wheat with a half-cup of blueberries and a glass of OJ). I'm making my lunch to take to work every day, which is both healthier and much less costly.

But there are things I'm not doing. I'm not eliminating things from my diet completely. Once a week I skip my usual mid-morning snack of yogurt-and-granola and substitute a coconut donut (pure heaven). I haven't cut back at all on my coffee consumption. I'm eating more fish; we keep frozen tilapia filets around as a staple now (just thaw, dust with flour, and then pan-fry in a bit of seasoned oil). As healthy as we're trying to eat now, though, we still go out to the Chinese Buffet once or twice a month; last week we drowned our sorrows in maple syrup; the other night neither The Wife nor I felt like cooking, so we got a pizza and breadsticks from Capelli's. I still eat chocolate, but in much smaller quantities. I'm discovering that I can feel satisfied with just three gingersnap cookies, as opposed to grabbing half the package. I have a box of Thin Mints that I've been working on for a month now; time was when a box of those would be gone in a matter more of hours than days. I've vastly reduced the amount of pop I drink each week, but I still grab a bottle of Cherry Coke for Saturday afternoons, which I drink in the evening after putting the groceries away (just finished it, whilst writing this post) and we still enjoy the union of Caffeine-free Pepsi and spiced rum. For snacking, I keep apples around, and peanut butter; mixed nuts and pistachios. Crackers and potato chips? Not so much. Tortilla chips, though? Still here, just not consumed all that often.

That's how I'm doing it, a little at a time. Onward and upward. Or downward, as the case may be.


According to not one but two bloggers -- Lynn Sislo and Steph Waller -- this blog is Excellent! Ha! In your face, Flanders! But now I have to identify some other "Excellent" blogs, and here's the thing: they all stink. Ha! I'm the only one!

OK, I'm kidding there. Here are some real nominations. (I'll avoid any common nominations, but I'll note that of the blogs on Lynn's and Steph's lists than I know, they are, in fact, excellent. I'll also not nominate those who nominated me, although both Lynn and Steph are excellent with a capital X.)

:: In terms of blogging, Sir Matthew Jones the Indestructible, who blogs at A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy, is like one of those comatose people who slumbers for a year or more and then awakes for a few days, talks constantly about anything and everything, and then goes dormant once again. (This is because he's got one of them "important jobs" and a "social life", enemies numbers One and Two for regular blogging.) He's currently enjoying a burst of blogging activity, so if you're into first-class geekitude, get thee hence. (Matt and I have known each other since fifth grade, way back in 1981, so aside from my direct family members, I've known him longer than anybody.)

:: Angela Martini is hard to pin down. She is an illustrator who lives in New York City, and she spreads her content over multiple websites, some of which are infrequently-updated blogs and some of which are not. She's most active on Flickr, though, and her posting regularity there, combined with her own comment on her photos, is very blog-like. She's a lovely person, she wears overalls, and I'm supremely jealous of her hair. (Yeah, I said it. Many a photo she's posted makes me think, "Wow, I wonder how I get my hair to do that!" A good example is here.)

:: Jeff of Psychosomatic Wit is a guy who really puts his heart out there, for all to see. His type of blogging takes a bit of bravery to do. (He's also in a rough spot right now, which had been a long time coming and which had been hoped by all of his regular readers to not be coming at all.

:: Another terrific source of high-quality geekitude, Jason at Simple Tricks and Nonsense always brings the goods. Sometimes we agree on stuff, sometimes we don't.

:: Blue Girl in a Red State mostly writes short-and-sweet posts: small glimpses into a life that all add up, the more you read.

:: The Sheila Variations is the kind of blog I wish this one could be, if I was a bit more fearless in my posting and a hell of a lot better read.

:: All Things Jennifer is a Buffalo blog that's the kind of thing I most like to read: it's about someone living their life in Buffalo. Not a whole lot of "Here's why New York State/Erie County/City of Buffalo politics are Teh Suck", just a whole lot of life.

:: What I said about All Things Jennifer? Ditto for Erin Go Blog.

That's all the ones I'm picking for now. But there are tons that I could choose, and I probably will, next time this thing rolls 'round again!

(Image of Montgomery Burns snagged from here, after a Google image search)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I promise I won't make a habit of this.

The Wife e-mailed me this one today:

humorous pictures
see more crazy cat pics

Embarrassingly, it took me a few hours before I got the joke. Some fan I turn out to be.

Six Things!!!

A short while back, Will Duquette tagged me with the "Six Things" meme thing, which is just like the venerable "Seven Things" meme thing, except that this time it's "Six Things". So I'm supposed to come up with six things about me. This gets harder each time it comes around; six years of bloggorhea will do that to you. I'm more and more hard-pressed to discuss stuff that I don't discuss here, and that would be too horrifying for words. So here are six things about me, and if I repeat anything from a former iteration of this particular meme-thing, well, you might want to consider finding another blog to memorize!

:: It scares me that I'm well-versed enough on the show Saved By the Bell to say with some conviction that I think Tori was cuter than Kelly Kapowski.

(BTW, according to IMDb's SBtB page, Lisa Turtle actually appeared in six more episodes than Zack Morris! How did that happen?!)

(Also BTW, Mark-Paul Gosselar was really quite effective in his role on NYPD Blue. I never once looked at him on that show and thought about Zack Morris.)

:: The closest I ever came to pulling an all-nighter in college was staying up until 6:00 am. This was not to finish a project, a paper, or study for a test. It was a Friday night and we were drinking beer and watching movies until 4:00, when one of us (I don't remember if it was me or my room-mate) said, "Hey, we should watch The Wall now."

:: As a function of a movie's actual quality compared with my expectations going into it, I found Highlander 2: The Quickening far less disappointing than the original Highlander. I expected the former to be a steaming bowl of suck, and thus was able to kind of have fun with it, while the original had been so built up in my mind by a bunch of friends of mine who were huge fans of it that when I finally watched it I thought, "That's it?"

(Clancy Brown, though, rules in any number of ways.)

:: I wish somebody would make a paper bag large enough for a human to crawl inside, so I could see just what it is that cats love so much about getting inside paper bags. Then I'd like to have another person jump on top of the paper bag while I'm inside the paper bag, just like the cats do.

:: I was very glad when The Daughter outgrew CandyLand, because it always bugged me that aside from the shuffling of the deck, that game has no element of chance whatsoever.

:: My favorite chain restaurant dessert of all time is the apple pie at Don Pablo's, which I'm unlikely to ever get to eat again since the chain no longer exists in Western New York (hmmm, I wonder if it exists at all?). They would serve the slice of pie on a sizzling hot skillet, and it would be drenched in a hot brandy sauce and then topped with a scoop of ice cream. It was wonderful stuff, truly wonderful.

OK, that's that. Who to tag? Hmmmmm.

Still thinkin'. Hmmmm. Well, tag yourselves, folks!

Monday, April 07, 2008


I enjoy a clever LOLCat photo as much as the next person, but I don't post many of 'em here because, well, that's really kind of picking the low fruit when it comes to blogging, isn't it?

But hey, once in a while one comes along that really hits my funny bone right on the sweet spot, and this is one such case:

Humorous Pictures
see more crazy cat pics


Sentential Links #135

This will be the Charlton Heston edition of Sentential Links, in honor of...well, Charlton Heston. Duh!

:: He parted the Red Sea. What more can you ask for?

:: Heston's was a beauty uniquely suited to epics, so striking, symmetrical and sculpted that no matter how wide you made the screen, how much period paraphernalia you hung around the set or how many good-looking extras you had milling around, he held the gaze.

:: Let's get one thing straight first: every news outlet I've seen report this story so far has one detail wrong: Charlton Heston died yesterday at the age of 83. He wasn't 84, as I keep seeing.

:: This is something NO actors have today - NONE - it is no longer the "style" of acting, and no longer in vogue. And that's fine. Things don't have to stay the same forever. But at least we could look back at one of the greats and say, "Ah. There. That is how it was done. That is how it should have been done." (This is actually two posts in one, as it contains a further tribute by Richard Dreyfuss that I'd never read before. Check it out.)

:: It's funny—a few years back, one could really surprise people by pulling out that Michel Mourlet bit about Heston being an "axiom of cinema;" now, thanks to the internet, almost everyone knows it.

:: So, goodbye, Chuck; maybe you'll meet Moses and compare notes.

:: Charlton Heston is a true hero’s, hero.
Who do we have today: Keanu Reeves?

More next week.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Unidentified Earth 33

Well, the last two Unidentified Installments have been identified! UI 30 is the Frist Campus Center, the Princeton building that serves as the exterior for the hospital where Dr. Gregory House belligerently treats people and undermines coworkers on the show House MD. UI 32 is Haystack Rock, the defining feature of Oregon's Cannon Beach. We went there many times when I was kid, and Haystack Rock is a truly stunning object. And yet, I never knew that at low tide, you can actually walk right up to the thing. I always assumed that it was forever looming a couple of hundred feet off the actual shoreline. Anyhow, congrats to reader CAC, who now wins 1000 Quatloos.

Anyhow, now that we're all caught up, time for the new installment!

Where are we? Rot-13 thy guesses!

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Here we go:

:: From the "Our school principal may be a moron, but he's our moron!" file, we have the tale of the eight-year-old kid who was suspended for three days from school (later reduced to one day) for the transgression of sniffing a Sharpie marker. Despite a toxicologist's testimony that one cannot get high from a Sharpie marker, this Bold Administrator of Staggering Backbone is sticking to his guns, and is banning permanent markers from school. Thank God this fellow is seeing to the needs of the children!


:: It appears that the world record for underwater ironing has been broken. I've been wondering when that record was going to fall. All that's left is DiMaggio's streak, and all the records of old will be gone!

:: Hockey playoffs without the Buffalo Sabres. That's pretty friggin' weird, I must say. Harumph.

:: Found yesterday at The Store, in our Bulk section: Gummi Army Guys. I can't tell you how much I think this rules.

All for this week. More next week!

Sweet, sweet maple

We missed Maple Weekend by one week here at Casa Jaquandor, but fear not: yesterday morning we got up early and departed for the hills south of Arcade, NY, where on one hilltop the intrepid will find Moore's Maple Shack. After stuffing ourselves with pancakes (three times we took advantage of the "All You Can Eat" policy") drenched with pure maple syrup, two sausage patties each, and more coffee than I usually consume on any day of the week, we purchased a large bottle of syrup to bring home, along with a jar of maple cream (itself a wondrous substance) and a package of maple sugar candies.

About ten hours later we were finally hungry for dinner.

Pure maple syrup is obviously expensive, but ever since we made the switch, I cannot go back to Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth's or any other imitation maple-flavored syrup. The only way I eat anything of that nature on my pancakes, waffles, or French toast is if I'm in a restaurant where the genuine article is not an option.

For any WNY-based readers who may still want a morning of maple-soaked pancakey gluttonous goodness, Moore's Maple Shack will still be open for business for a few more weeks. But get there early: we got there in time to get the last open table, and from that moment on, there was a line out the door. And don't wear nice shoes, as the place is very rustic and thus has a quite muddy parking lot.

"So far, this is not blowing my skirt up, gentlemen."

Ach! Charlton Heston is dead!

Being a firm admirer of actors who chew the scenery with wild abandon, I always liked Charlton Heston a great deal, even when I didn't like the movie. The Ten Commandments tends to have the same soporific effect on me as a big turkey dinner with two glasses of wine, without the comforting feeling of having eaten a big turkey dinner with two glasses of wine, but that's not Heston's fault, and I really love Ben-Hur. In his later years, Heston took on a lot of small roles that played off his image of a tough-as-nails guy you don't mess with, and I like that sense of humor he showed.

His political views? Didn't share them, obviously, and I don't much care what actors believe, anyway. I'll just cheerfully watch the chariot race from Ben-Hur again:

So long, Omega Man!