Thursday, July 31, 2008

Something for Thursday

For years I thought I hated the Beatles, until I realized that a bunch of songs that I've always loved are actually Beatles songs, and I thus concluded that while I don't care for the Beatles as performers, I think they were brilliant songwriters. I love the Beatles, it turns out. It's just that I love them when somebody else is singing their songs.

Here's my favorite of all Beatles songs, "In My Life", sung by Canadian singer-songwriter Alison Crowe.

Alison Crowe's website is here; I reviewed a couple of her CDs for GMR a while back, here and here. I like Ms. Crowe's work immensely, but I must admit that due to my own tendency to be forgetful about things I discover, I forgot about her -- and I've got an unlistened CD of hers sitting around here somewhere. I've got work to do....

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bloggus Apatheticus

I haven't blogged much lately because...because...well, I just haven't felt much like blogging. I'm quite tired lately, there's a lot on the plate in Real Life, and I find with each year that battery recharging takes longer and longer. So that's why I haven't been round much, and why I probably won't be round much for a little while longer. But, some stuff that's been taking up space in the cranium:

:: Yeah, Unidentified Earth 47 turned out to be a very easy one, indeed: those are the bleacher seats in straightaway center field at Wrigley Field in Chicago, home of a baseball team whose enduring popularity is totally inexplicable. Go figure. Give yourselves 1000 Quatloos each, winners.

:: Sorry, no Burst of Weirdness this week.

:: Obviously, no Sentential Links either. Maybe next week, unless I'm still of the "Blogging? Meh..." attitude when those days roll up.

:: Remember the xkcd comic that parodies the Discovery Channel's "Boom de yada!" commercial? Well, now someone has actually made a live-action version of the xkcd cartoon. Great stuff. (I've toyed with the idea of creating my own version of the "Boom de yada" tune, but I'm sure as hell not singing it on the blog!)

:: Every time SDB posts about his local population of ducks, I can't help but think of Bart's People. "One man. No ducks."

:: Bond Blogging: Mr. Jones has been blogging his way through quite a few of the original Ian Fleming Bond novels, while I Expect You To Die! is where "Snell" is blogging his way through the entire Bond film series. His reviews are fun and exhaustive, and he wins in my book by being highly admiring of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the best of all Bond films.

:: I've been kicking around a template change, but I haven't decided on anything yet (or even decided on trying anything new yet). So, anyone with strong opinions as to the way things look here, speak now. Or not.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hey! It's not just us!!!

I've noticed that Buffalonians tend to think that one of our little quirks is referring to various highways in the region by affixing a definite article to them. We don't drive on Interstate 90; instead we take "the mainline 90". We don't take I-290 to Amherst, we take "the 290", and so on. Well, guess what? Kevin Drum reports that they also do this in Orange County, California!

Last month, when he was in town, I had dinner with Matt Yglesias, and when we were about done we got to talking about directions back to his hotel (this was a few minutes before I got lost taking him there). He noted that I, like other Californians, refer to freeways using the definite article: "the 5," "the 405," "the 10," etc. Back east, I guess, you don't do this, do you? It's — what? "Highway 5"? Or just no identifier at all, as in "Take 10 west until you fall into the ocean and you're there"?

Kevin's wondering why this is the case. Someone apparently speculates that maybe it came from some kind of Spanish usage, given California's history, but since we do that here too, could Orange County have been originally populated by ex-pat Buffalonians? And given the constant stampede of Buffalonians to North Carolina, are they talking that way in Charlotte now?

All I can say to people not living in Buffalo is this: Youse all sure do talk funny.

Then you may take me to the Faire....

Ah, Jenny, you saucy wench:

Yup, 'twas that time of year again yesterday: our kinda-sorta annual voyage to the Sterling Renaissance Festival. Much fun was had by all, even with a large rainstorm that came through at about 5:00. We ducked into an artisan's shop and perused the wares closely while the storm expended itself, which took about a half hour, but in the fifteen minutes before the storm, there was a mass exodus of less-than-hardy folk for the gates, owing to the thunder. This was nice in that it made the last hour, and our own departure from the Festival, much easier, with smaller crowds to navigate.

I'd say more, but well, just about everything I said two years ago still applies. I am happy to report that an entire day at the Festival transpired without me having to hear a single git quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail; maybe that was because this weekend was "Pirate Weekend", so walking around going ARRRRR! was the order of the day. But hey, I do like me some pirates. We also watched more of the live entertainment than usual, with a highlight being this guy, whose fire-twirling and juggling act we literally lucked into, having chosen the seats in front of his stage to sit upon while we ate the food we'd just bought, not knowing that a show was minutes away from starting:

Yeah, always a big fan of fire. If I ever embark on a life of criminal activity, I'll definitely be some kind of pyromaniac. (I probably shouldn't say this kind of thing on the blog...I'll almost certainly be a Person of Interest in something soon.)

Here's the Knight, Sir William Something-or-other, who fought for our honor in the joust. (Our honor and that of everyone else standing on that particular corner of the jousting field.) The choreographed combat was actually enhanced by the downpour an hour earlier, which turned the middle of the combat field into a muddy quagmire.

Also, alert readers may recall my 100 Things I Love post from a couple of months ago, on which Number 38 was "Older woman with long hair". Here's a good example thereof:

There's just something about an older woman with long hair that always makes me wonder what kind of life she's lived to have opted to keep her hair long, and this woman was very lovely. Her companion was a big guy with long silver hair of his own, and matching thick beard and mustache; he was dressed in very fine period costume as well of black with gold and silver highlighting on the sleeves, massive brown leather boots, and a black leather hat. In truth, he looked the way I plan to look in five or ten years' time. (I didn't get his picture because he was never facing the right way when I came across these two, and frankly, he probably could have kicked my ass if I'd taken his picture when he didn't want it taken.)

But anyway, it was a day of fire-juggling, bawdy jokes, turkey legs, fried dough with maple syrup, rain, jousting, cinnamon almonds and cashews, watching glass-blowing, listening to pipers and drummers, watching people get dunked in the pond, and admiring busty women going to great effort to make themselves look even more busty. Yeah, a good day.

(Oh, for the person who came here an hour or so ago wanting to know if the Festival allows water bottles to be carried in, yes, they do. I carried in an entire cooler bag filled with them, as I've done each time we've gone.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Something for Thursday

I've never seen the show, but I love this song. Here's "The Last Night of the World", from Miss Saigon.

(BTW, I likely won't be posting again until Sunday at the earliest, owing to a full weekend lineup. Enjoy.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Arte y Pico

This is another one of those "nominate your fellow bloggers" award things, which I have a bad habit of forgetting to pass on whenever someone gives me one, so if you've previously awarded me with something of this nature and I've seemingly ignored it, I haven't really -- I've just forgotten it until the point where it seems too late to post about it. But this one's new to me (thanks, SamuraiFrog!), so here are the rules:

1) Pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of “Arte y Pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award which is here: Arte y Pico.

So here are my nominees, a few of which I've awarded before for stuff like this, but you know, I'm a broken record on a great many topics....

1. Lynn Sislo over at Violins and Starships has a terrific handle on what blogging's all about. (And she should, since she's been blogging for an impressively long time.) Music, SF, life in the southern heartland, the occasional "Wow, are our politics ever screwed up" observation, and enough linkage to sink the Bismarck.

2. Nettl at Life in Shades of F-Major is all about the beautiful things (although she can uncork an impressive rant when she needs to, as well). She recently linked John Williams in her ongoing "World's Most Beautiful Music" series, which elevates her even more in my view. (Also from Oklahoma. Must be something in the water there.)

3. And then there's Nettl's significant other, Steph of Incurable Insomniac. Music, wine, all kinds of good stuff.

4. Judith HeartSong is all about living a life of beauty.

5. Well...I just don't know what to say about Jeff over at Psychosomatic Wit right now. I haven't spent as much time reading blogs lately, so I hadn't checked him out in a while, but I figured as soon as I started kicking this post around that I should give him this award. That, of course, meant that I should go see how things are going for him -- and I discover that his life has completely derailed since I last looked in. This is a guy who blogs with his heart on his sleeve, and he deserves better than what dominates his front page right now.

So there we are. And as always, I could do this again and nominate five completely different bloggers, so maybe if this thing comes my way again....

What? Someone said something bad about Uncle George? NEVER!!!

Here's something I haven't done in a while: ranted about a smug anti-Star Wars article that shows up online somewhere. Seen via SFSignal, the article is about Where Star Wars Went Wrong. (I, of course, don't even grant the premise that it went wrong at all, but hey, we've covered that before.) Rather than trash the whole thing, I'm just going to cull out a few nuggets of particular contention for me:

The Ewoks were over-used and certainly over-marketed, but they didn't ruin the movie in and of themselves. Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars movie where spectacle started to overwhelm plot. It's the movie where the effects became more important than anything else. It's also the point at which Lucas seems to begin to believe his own press.

I hear this a lot, and I genuinely have no idea what it means. The whole "Ewoks were a cynical attempt to cash in by making plush toys" canard continues to be as silly as ever (anybody who thinks the Wookiees would have been less marketed had the film involved them instead of Ewoks is delusional), and I don't really see where the effects are overwhelming everything else. Story is always front and center in ROTJ; the plot is always crystal clear and easy to follow. The notion that somehow the film should have had less special effects in it is pretty silly, really; no Star Wars fan would have accepted a movie that didn't end with a titanic space battle, for instance. I've never understood this objection.

That problem became much more evident with the special edition re-releases in 1997 when George Lucas not only re-worked the special effects largely unnecessarily but also tweaked some plot points to the annoyance of many long time fans. This set the pattern for the next 10 years and the tweaking continued and special effects came to dominate even more.

What plot points were tweaked in the Special Editions? I don't remember the plots unfolding in any way other than they'd ever unfolded before. You can claim that Lucas tweaked a couple of character moments (although I've never believed that the whole "Han shot first!" thing represented an emasculation of Han Solo anyway), but not plot. The stories are still the same.

The culmination was of course Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith where we are subjected to an opening sequence which is both breathtaking in its CGI sophistication and completely impossible for the brain to actually follow. By this stage special effects seemed to have become a reason by themselves with no plot justification needed.

And here's a shibboleth that I've heard an awful lot over the last couple of years, and to be honest, I find it totally silly.

First off, I'm thinking of a movie that started with a long battle sequence that's so gigantic and filled with mayhem and destruction that it's "impossible for the brain to follow", and that sequence is uniformly hailed as filmmaking genius. I'm referring to Saving Private Ryan, of course. The Sith battle is, I think, equally ambitious.

The larger problem I have with this statement is that, unless you're afflicted with some kind of vision problem or mental malady, it just isn't true. Seriously, if you couldn't follow the opening space battle in Sith, I accuse you of just not trying very hard. Consider: I get up for work at 6:00 am, and I worked a full shift on the day that ended with me going to the theater to see Sith at a midnight showing. So, when the lights dimmed and the movie started, I'd been up for over eighteen hours, and I was able to follow that battle scene just fine.

It's because Lucas knew what he was doing. I know, we don't like to grant that anymore; our standard narrative now is that George Lucas is a bumbling twit who only manages to sporadically bumble into making something good by virtue of his accidental hiring of quality people. But for all the mayhem and madness that explodes across the screen in that space battle, Lucas specifically takes a large number of measures to make sure we can follow things.

First, there's a long tracking shot as we follow the two Jedi fighters into the battle, first following them over the hull of a Republic cruiser before they drop into the battle itself. Thus Lucas gives us about thirty seconds to look at these two ships and register them in our brains, which also helps when it turns out that with all the CGI hell breaking loose, those two Jedi fighters are the only ships of that type in the entire battle. They're patterned on TIE fighters, so they're familiar-looking to us on that score as well, and they're also the only ships in the entire battle whose thrusters fire blue flame instead of red. The action constantly brings us back to these two ships, focusing us not on the battle itself but on Anakin and Obi Wan's progress through the battle.

Maybe I'm speaking too strongly here, but the idea of any experienced film-goer, especially in this day and age of massive special effects battles throwing up their hands at Revenge of the Sith and yelping "I can't follow this!" doesn't wash. If you can follow any of the large battles in the Lord of the Rings movies (especially Helm's Deep, which takes place at night in rain), you have no excuse for not being able to follow Sith. I suspect people who claim otherwise of being deliberately obtuse in order to bitch about something in Star Wars.

If that wasn't bad enough Lucas grew increasingly insistent that the 6 part Star Wars saga we now have is what he envisaged from the beginning. Never mind plenty of documentary evidence that at one point a sequel trilogy was floated. Never mind the fact it's perfectly obvious that Leia was not Luke's sister in the original Star Wars movie. Never mind that the prequel trilogy does not mesh well with the original trilogy even after all the tinkering.

One bad assertion after another. I know that everybody is totally convinced that Lucas's "only six movies were intended" stance is revisionism, but the man said as much back in 1979, for God's sake: the whole idea was originally for six movies, with the notion of a "sequel trilogy" floated after the fact. (The recent book The Making of Star Wars reinforces this point as well: the concept of the series that Lucas finally settled on, after all the drafts he wrote, was of two trilogies: the one with Luke's story, and the one filling in the tale of Kenobi and the genesis of Darth Vader. Now, it didn't become immediately apparent that the overall saga is really Vader's tale until a bit later, but stories do evolve in the mind of their creators as they tell them. Witness Tolkien's oft-cited remark about The Lord of the Rings: "This tale grew in the telling."

It's also far from "perfectly obvious" that Leia was not Luke's sister in the original movie. Sure, Lucas could have gone the other way without contradicting anything in A New Hope, but that's not the same thing, is it? Nothing, not a single thing, in ANH is inconsistent with Luke and Leia later turning out to be brother and sister.

As for the Prequel Trilogy "not meshing well with the Original Trilogy", the writer just drops this assertion out there with no supporting statements at all, so I'm not sure what's bothering him. Maybe it's that there's some stuff from the OT that isn't adequately explained by the PT, but how big a deal is that, really? Do we really need a canonical explanation of why Dagobah seems familiar to Luke in TESB? Or Leia's incredibly vague memories of "her real mother"? (Seems to me that the latter could be explained by Leia's own gifts with The Force, which she's never been trained to use in any concrete way. Surely people with affinities to The Force aren't all skilled in the exact same ways.) If so, that's pretty weak tea – and anyway, how bad is it if the continuities don't line up exactly, anyway? I don't think that the PT had any real obligation to line up exactly with what the OT had to say about the events that took place in that time period, since in the OT we're dealing with the memories people have of terribly stressful times over two decades previous, memories which can be faulty and colored by people's own natural tendencies to inflate the importance of their points-of-view.

I suppose that's it. The rest of the article is just more silliness like that, in which the point constantly gets missed. The writer is apparently annoyed that Star Wars got away from its pulp origins, when anyone who gives a moment's thought to the matter can see that it's pure pulp all the way. I'd only note that just because you didn't have fun at the Prequel Trilogy doesn't imply that they weren't intended to be fun. Just because The Family Guy doesn't make me laugh doesn't give me the right to claim that it's not a comedy show.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Punnery! Got yet punnery here!

Via James Nicoll I found a joke on a Usenet group that, well, surely indicates something about my character in that I (a) got the joke and (b) found it funny. The joke?

So a recent Advance Reader Copy from Dondaldson would be considered an
ARC of the Covenant?

My work here is done....

Recent Reading

It's been a while since I recapped what I've been reading lately, so here's a, well, a recap of what I've been reading lately. (Reading a lot makes me a gooder writer, apparently.)

:: Do other readers have writers who never quite reach the level of "Favorite Writers" but rather stay at the level of "Oh, yeah, that writer, I should really read more of him/her soon"? And it's not even the writer's fault that they stay at that level just under our radar screen of "Holy S***, a new book by XXX!"; it's that I'm often-times so all-over-the-map in my reading choices that few writers ever get a real chance to ascend to the "OMG a new one in hardcover SQUEEEEE!!!" position on my own personal Mt. Olympus of writers. Anyway, one of those writers for me is Michael Flynn. A few months ago I read The Wreck of the River of Stars.

Flynn does near-future hard-SF very, very well; he's right up there with Kim Stanley Robinson (yeah, there's another one of those almost-to-the-top writers), and I think he's actually quite better at managing the infodumps and creating characters to boot. Flynn's Falling Stars quartet (which I've only read three books of, yeesh!) is pretty damned riveting stuff, epic in scope in detailing one possible vision of how humanity starts to establish a permanent presence in space. The Wreck of the River of Stars is something quite different. Flynn assumes that humans have populated the Solar System, and that we have large ships ferrying people and cargo from planet to planet; and he also notes something that would obviously be the case, once one thinks of it: there would be the space equivalent of maritime disasters. Shipwrecks, with the ships being giant spaceships. As humans colonize the stars, sooner or later there will be the space-age analogue of the Titanic disaster, or the Andrea Doria, or the Lusitania, or any other great disaster. This is the tale of how one such disaster unfolds: the fate awaiting the River of Stars.

It's not really a spoiler, I guess; the title of the book establishes that the River ends up as a wreck. The River is an old vessel, nearing the end of her useful life; once an opulent passenger liner that used its gigantic solar sail to ferry the rich and wealthy around the System, the ship is now a retro-fitted cargo ship that is soon to be mothballed. On what the crew suspects is to be the ship's last voyage, though, a series of events occur to lead the crew to plot to bring the ship into Jupiter not under normal propulsion but by using the ship's long-dormant sails; it's a desire to taste the ship's glory days one last time in an age when solar sails have fallen out of fashion. Unfortunately, as the title establishes, the scheme fails, and the book tracks the efforts of the crew first to deploy the sail and then to stave off utter disaster. Flynn expertly ratchets up the tension as the desperation becomes more and more palpable. Some of the book's blurb quotes draw an analogy to Greek tragedy, and there is some of that here, as the crew is undone by its own hubris.

:: My Boring-Ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith is also exactly what the title says it is. Movie writer/director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, etc.) was once asked what a "day in the life of Kevin Smith" is like, and he genuinely had no idea how to respond, so he kept a written diary for a year of what he did. I like Smith, so I enjoyed the diary, although I ended up skimming over large parts of it, as certain things get pretty repetitive. (Smith starts every day by getting up, defecating, letting the dogs out, seeing what the kid is up to, etc.; every day pretty much ends the same as well, with Smith and his wife Jen falling asleep to teevee shows on teevoe.) The more interesting stuff, as expected, focuses on Smith's tales from his filmmaking days during 2005 and 2006, when he was preparing for Clerks II (which I haven't seen) and gearing up for his first major acting job (for a flick called Catch and Release, which I also haven't seen). Along the way Smith sees an advance screening for Revenge of the Sith which he loved, discusses the sudden death of his father two years earlier, relates his failed effort to do a Fletch sequel with Chevy Chase (a guy who is legendary for being difficult to work with), discusses the drug addiction of his best friend, bitches about AICN talkbackers, and relates some pretty uncomfortable detail about his bout with anal fissures. (I really could have done without that whole last sequence.)

This book is witty if you, like me, have a high tolerance for the profane; other readers will likely find it tiresome quickly and end up throwing the book against a wall.

(BTW, here's Kevin Smith and his wife:

Looking at her, and thinking about all the other guys I know in life, myself included, who were "the unpopular with girls fat kid" in grade school who later ended up with really pretty women, I almost believe it should be my mission in life to go to every fat kid in every grade school in this country, every one of them who is despairing over their lack of any kind of dating life at all, and just say to them: "Guys, hang in there. It sucks now, but you get through another ten years and you'll reach this magical point where beautiful women suddenly realize that they actually dig the fat kid.")

:: One graphic novel that I've heard a lot about through the years, but never read, was The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller. Apparently this book was something of a relaunch for the Batman character, returning the character to his noir roots, or something like that. Batman has never been my favorite comics character – not that I've disliked him, but I've never really been all that entranced with him, either. There's always this uncomfortable mix of noir and camp in Batman that rarely, for me, comes off entirely successfully (although the movie Batman Begins, I think, got it right, and I'm really looking forward to The Dark Knight).

So, what of The Dark Knight Returns? Well, I don't know, really. Yeah, it's a good book, but it's not as good as I was hoping. In his introduction, Miller notes that Batman has never really aged, so that's his starting point: Batman when Bruce Wayne is in his last years of being middle-aged, or in his first years of being elderly. That's an intriguing conceit, but for me it ended up straining credulity toward the end, when we're still supposed to buy into Batman, whom we must remember is just an ordinary guy with some really cool tools at his disposal, going toe-to-toe with Superman, who is anything but an ordinary guy. I just couldn't believe that. Comics do this kind of thing all the time, having superheroes win fights that by any rights they shouldn't even be able to compete in (one example I've always remembered was when one of the Spiderman books had the Black Cat beating the crap out of Sabretooth).

I was disappointed anyway when Superman showed up, and I also felt the book overselling the whole "Will Batman cross the line he's constantly treading between good and evil?" thing. Mostly, though, I found the book too episodic for my tastes. Is it good? Sure. But "classic"? I'm not seeing it.

:: And then there's Life Sucks, a graphic novel that sort of blends Kevin Smith (Clerks) with Christopher Moore (Bloodsucking Fiends). A businessman whose main concern is his twenty-four hour convenience store finds that the best way of hiring reliable overnight clerks is to turn them into vampires. Our focus is on Dave Miller, overnight clerk who doesn't want to feed on fresh blood so he only drinks stolen plasma, who falls in love with the goth chick who comes into the store one night for orange juice. However, he also ends up in a wager for the girl's affections with Wes, another vampire who is a blond surfer-type. Hilarity ensues.

It's all pretty typical stuff for a vampire tale; lots of black humor involving death and blood. The story is well-drawn and nicely paced, and the dialogue is sharp and witty. Recommended.

:: Finally, one writer who is very near to cracking my "Screw the new iPhone, I'm camping out for the new book by XXX!" list is Anthony Bourdain. I read three of his books in rapid succession a while back, and now I've found his latest, a glossy photo book called No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, in which Bourdain shares a lot of photos and stories from the making of his teevee show of the same name. The tone Bourdain strikes here isn't the typical "companion book to the PBS series" sort of thing; it's more like if Bourdain personally showed you his photos from each location, with the occasional backstory thrown in. Bourdain is also a wonderful writer, so much so that I'm now starting to give serious thought to tracking down his novels, since I've exhausted his current non-fiction output. Here are some quotes:

Bourdain on drinking with Russians: In Russia people are not outgoing, or cheerful, or even particularly friendly. The women greet you with a look that says, "I could snap your collarbone without blinking. Why are you here?" And the men are equally gloomy – until you get halfway down the vodka bottle, that is. And you will. There's no way out. Each paint-peeling shot, inevitably from a whole bottle, plunked down on your table as automatically as the ketchup at a burger stand, is accompanied by a specific toast. To refuse the ninth toast of "To our mothers!" is to say, in effect, "F*** your mothers." Whatever relationship you might have had with the locals, it ended right there. Stick with it, however, and you are rewarded with a slow reveal of the beautiful Russian soul, a flowering of heartfelt declarations, poetry, song, and expressions of comradely affection. Centuries of Russian history and culture open up to you, make you a part. Soon you begin to understand the magic of the birch forests, the fierce Russian winters, the sad majesty of black crows on snow-covered fields. You vow to reread Tolstoy, to read Gogol – in Russian. The you throw up in your shoes.

On bathrooms in Japan: If you're comparing plumbing around the world, there's no contest. Japan wins. The Japanese like to be clean. Very clean. This is a nation of people who advocate showering – and scrubbing with a bristle brush – before getting into the bath.

On bathrooms in Uzbekistan: Fighting off carnivorous insects while squatting with one's pants around one's ankles, trying not to slip in the muck while at the same time nervously monitoring the unlocked "door" and tearing a piece out of the local newspaper – this is a skill set one must quickly master in the steppes of central Asia.

He doesn't say it as such, but here's Bourdain on why cooking is Art, as much as painting or music or poetry: When someone feeds you, they're saying something, they are telling you something about themselves. If you can't hear a voice, or if the voice is confused, chances are, you're eating at a "big box" faux-fusion restaurant – or a chain, or a hotel – where the menu and recipes were arrived at long ago, by consensus of committee. But when you hear a whisper in your ear with every plate that arrives at your table, or totilla wrapped personally by your host and placed directly in your hands, a bowl of pho, handed to you with a silent grin, then you feel...part of something...privy to a secret language, an ongoing, worldwide dialogue that's been going on since the very beginning.

From time to time, standing in an airport, some queasy fan will approach me and ask, "How do you eat all that stuff?" I think; So many people are trying to tell me things; why would I want to shut my ears to what they are saying? Particularly these days – when so much of what you hear coming out of people's mouths is bullshit? There is no lying with food. You either can or can't make an omelet. No amount of skill with words can conceal the truth of the matter. If you can cook, your soup is seasoned one of two ways: the way you like it, or the way your guests will like it. Both scenarios contain simple, inescapable truths.

Yeah, Anthony Bourdain rocks.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sentential Links #147

Before we get to the actual Sentential Links, let me first draw attention to this post by SamuraiFrog, which I couldn't figure out how to quote in my usual fashion for this series, but which I most definitely wanted to draw attention to. Titled "21st Century Political Discourse", here's a taste:

BARACK OBAMA: The surge has not worked. Everyone knows it has not worked. I intend to end the occupation of Iraq and have troops withdrawn within 16 months of assuming the presidency.

JOHN McCAIN: The surge is working! You'd know that if you went there for yourself and saw what was going on, you traitor! I dare you to go! This is not politically motivated!

LIBERAL BLOGGER: Bliss, bliss, attend Barack Obama and step into the light!

UNAFFILIATED BLOGGER: Inflation is the worst it's been in 27 years! The Euro is stronger than the dollar! GM is having another wholesale downsizing! Experts say more banks will fail in the coming year!

CONSERVATIVE BLOGGER: George W. Bush saved this country! Let me lie with statistics to show you how no one is poorer than they were 30 years ago without adjusting for inflation!

SUPPOSEDLY LIBERAL MEDIA: Hey, look how much money The Dark Knight has made!

Heh indeed, read the whole thing, etc. (Only I must not be reading the right liberal blogs, because while the ones I read most definitely support Obama, they don't believe he's the second coming of Klaatu, come to rescue us from Darkness or something.)

Anyway, the rest of the links await! Away we go....

:: I had to run up to Fargo the other night.

:: I saw WALL-E tonight. If you're hooked on dialogue, madly in love with the consume/dispose/pollute cycle, and vehemently angry at the [choice ignorant slur directed at robots] for taking jobs away from humans, then this movie is not for you. Otherwise, it's probably worth seeing. I don't mean to give anything away, but it has a Thomas Newman soundtrack and a Peter Gabriel song at the end. (I'm sold!)

:: That's the problem with satire. People for centuries have failed to "get it" - as Pitts points out when he mentions that people in 1729 took Jonathan Swift seriously when he suggested that starving people should eat babies - but these days, with the proliferation of media outlets and voices from the fringe being taken seriously, it's harder for people to see when someone is poking fun at the conceits. (I, personally, thought the New Yorker cover was really funny. I really did; it made me laugh. I particularly liked the "Heh heh heh" expression on Michelle Obama's face, and the way they have Barack Obama glancing backward, over his shoulder, at us, as if to say, "Suckers!")

:: And what drug was John Cougar Mellencamp on when he named his son Spec Wildhorse?

:: You can like both Chicago and NY pizza, just like you can like the Beatles and the Stones. (Not from the post itself, but from the comments thread, where lots of people sing the praises of Chicago deep dish pizza, only one or two people claim to prefer New York pizza, and neither of those try to argue to goofy notion that New York's pizza is what God intended when he said "Let there be pizza!", and not a single crack about the fatally erroneous notion that a Chicago deep dish pizza is a "casserole" -- and all this on one of the more heavily trafficked blogs out there. Wow!)

:: To the older gentleman three rows in front of us: dude, when your back hair is lush enough to have a part in it, you really shouldn't wear tanktops to public events. Especially ones that may involve the consumption of food. That's just wrong.

:: Think of this another way: if we don't help people understand how to protect themselves from spammers and phishers, how can we expect them to understand the importance of network neutrality?

:: So, what's a girl to do with a few hundred grams of hastenlingly overripe strawberries and a banana that needs to go to a better place? (What a great blog title, by the way! New blog to me.)

:: I recognized than either way I went I could be happy. Either way I went I could make a positive contribution. Both jobs had some very definite advantages. Both jobs had some not-so-shiny aspects to them. I could spend the next two days agonizing over the relative merits and then forever second guess myself over whether I had made the right decision. Or not. So I decided to just leave it up to the universe to choose which path for me to take. (Wow. See, I'd go the other way: I'd turn the whole thing into an episode of soul-searching existential crisis.)

:: When Indians' designated cutup Trot Nixon first channeled the ghost of Moe Howard and smooshed a plate of whip cream into the mug of a fellow Tribesman, he couldn't have known the cholesterol-rich history of pie tossing. (This one's for you, Belladonna! BTW, who cares how much cholesterol is in the things? Do you absorb cholesterol through your skin?)

All for this week....

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hang in there, America

In exactly six months, we'll have a new President. The Reign of Monstrous Ineptitude is almost over.

(Although I'm really dreading the bag of tricks the current guy is going to open up once we're in the post-election, pre-Inauguration phase. I'm sure his list of pardons is going to be a fun-fest, not to mention the Executive Orders he'll push through.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

[Broken link fixed]

Oddities for a hot Sunday afternoon (Lord, I hate July; I don't know how you people south of the 42nd parallel do it):

:: The onward march of technology has had a lot of impact on architecture and the way our cities and towns look; one of the more notable effects is the erection of broadcast towers everywhere. The effect is especially pronounced in "old world" European cities like Prague; check out this TV tower there, rising above the staid old buildings.

But that tower's not even the weird part, oh no. Scroll down for a closer look at the things attached to that tower....


:: The wonderful world of Russian advertising through the years.

:: Not weirdness per se, but wow, the teaser poster for the new Star Trek reboot movie is awful. Seriously, that is one bad poster, and not "bad" as in "good". How many people, other than hard-core geeks, even recognize the StarFleet insignia anymore? About the only real iconic thing from Trek anymore is the Enterprise herself, and apparently that's being kept under wraps. I remain, as ever, unenthusiastic about this whole project, and this poster does nothing to get the blood pumping.

All for this week....

Unidentified Earth 47

Here we go. I think we're all caught up now: UI 44 is the MI6 Headquarters in London, England; otherwise known as the Home Base of James Bond, 007. (Although they didn't start showing this building in the movies until GoldenEye; prior to that, Bond's part of the operation -- if not MI6 in its entirety -- operated out of some other building, using the corporate name "Universal Exports" as a front.) And UI 46? That's the 18th green at Augusta National, where some prominent golf thing is held yearly. The Masterfuls, or something like that. It's the one where you get to wear a vermillion jacket if you win, I think. Two thousand Quatloos to the winners!

And now for the new one:

This is probably quite easy too, but you never know! Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses, folks.

The years of my life (in music and movies)

So there's this meme-thing percolating about in which you go through and pick your favorite album from each year you've been alive up to the present; I've been kicking that around for a while, long enough that now you're supposed to do the same thing with movies. So, I guess I'll combine them into one single post, although I won't be picking exactly favorites, but things I'm very fond of from each year. (A few may be favorites, though.)

A key resource here is Wikipedia's Years in music and Years in Film articles. In each case I'll list an album first, followed by a movie. For albums, though, these aren't necessarily albums I own, since the lists are heavily skewed to pop and rock. Rather they're albums with which I am at least fairly familiar. And for the movies, just to make things a bit more interesting, I will not do the extremely obvious and pick the Star Wars movies released in 1977, 1980, 1983, 1999, 2002, or 2005. OK? OK!


Tapestry, Carole King
The French Connection (I almost named Harold and Maude, which I saw for the first time just last week...I'll be commenting on that film soon.)


Hot August Night, Neil Diamond
The Poseidon Adventure


The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
American Graffiti


Rush, Rush
The Three Musketeers (Tough choice here!)


Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen (chosen after a coin flip; the loser was ABBA by, well, ABBA.)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (GAHHH! This year was tough!)


Boston, Boston
Rocky (I haven't seen much from that year, apparently)


Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf
Saturday Night Fever (If you haven't seen this, and you think it's just camp disco fluff, see it. It's one of the most cynical and bleak films I know.)


Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack (It's got "How Deep Is Your Love" on it....)
Superman (still the best superhero movie ever made...but that could change very soon now, with what I'm hearing about The Dark Knight....)


The Wall, Pink Floyd
Time After Time (Just a terrific movie! I almost picked Moonraker, just because that was the first Bond movie I ever saw.)


Flash Gordon, Queen
The Blues Brothers (Cheating, I guess, since I've only seen it in bits and pieces but lots of times, so I've probably seen well over eighty percent of it but I can only vaguely stitch it all together in my head into a whole movie.)


Face Value, Phil Collins
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Had to go with this. No contest.)


Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen


Sports, Huey Lewis and the News (yeah, I liked these guys.)


MCMLXXXIV, Van Halen (DLR's swan song with the band)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension


No Jacket Required, Phil Collins
Back to the Future


Invisible Touch, Genesis (One of my favorite albums ever. Almost went with 5150 by Van Halen; I refuse to choose between DLR and Sammy. Both were terrific for different reasons.)
Laputa: Castle in the Sky (I had no idea the movie was that old)


The Joshua Tree, U2 (Not a huge U2 fan, but I really like this album)
Broadcast News ("I'll meet you at the place by the thing where we met that time" is one of my favorite movie lines ever. That, and "A lot of alliteration from anxious anchormen placed in powerful posts.")


Irish Heartbeat, Van Morrison and the Chieftains
Die Hard (even though I didn't see it until it came out on video)


Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls (I had a hard time with this year, and picked this because I remember liking them some years ago, but I haven't given the Indigo Girls a second thought in a long time.)
The Abyss


Reflections of Passion, Yanni (Shut up.)
Dances With Wolves


The Silence of the Lambs, score by Howard Shore (I couldn't pick anything from the album list)
Grand Canyon (Wow, that was a good year for movies...lots of titles on there I like a lot, so I picked this one randomly from the ones I like.)


Unplugged, Eric Clapton


Tuesday Night Music Club, Sheryl Crow
The Fugitive (But this was a good year for movies! I nearly picked Jurassic Park or In the Line of Fire.)


Live at the Acropolis, Yanni (I'm serious, folks. To this day I love this album.)
Legends of the Fall (I really think this movie is underrated.)


The Tyranny of Beauty, Tangerine Dream (I used to really love TD, but I haven't listened to them in a long time. They're about due for a re-exploration, I think.)
Apollo 13 (Wow, there were a ton of good movies that year. I could as easily have picked Braveheart, Rob Roy, and a bunch of others.)


Falling Into You, Celine Dion (Because, hey, as if my credibility wasn't already circling the drain....)
That Thing You Do! (Did anybody besides me really like this flick? I remember mentioning it at work when it was out, and everybody in earshot went Ewwwww! What gives?!)


Princess Mononoke, film score (Nothing on the pop list stood out for me...but I can't believe it's been that long since Pat Boone's heavy metal experiment. I thought that was just a few years ago!)
Titanic (Yeah, yeah....)


Shakespeare in Love (movie and score)


Tears of Stone, the Chieftains
The Iron Giant


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (score)
Almost Famous


The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (movie and score)


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (movie and score)


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (movie and score)

(OK, I know, that probably seems to be cheating, especially when up above I swore I would eschew the Star Wars movies on this meme-thing. Oh well. My blog, my rules!)


Beyond the Sunset: The Romantic Collection, Blackmore's Night (my first Blackmore's Night album. This group rocks my world.)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (score by John Williams. I didn't say I couldn't pick the score albums for the music portions of this quiz!)
Kingdom of Heaven


The Village Lanterne, Blackmore's Night (See?)
Casino Royale


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (movie and score)

For the most recent years, I should point out that I tend to be quite behind-the-times as far as the latest stuff to come out. I rarely explore stuff as it happens, preferring to follow a few things I like a lot but in most cases allow a consensus to form as to what's really worth my time. (And even then, I'll often ignore that consensus anyway.)

So there you are: my life in music and movies, or something like that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Something for Thursday

Here's one of my favorite classical works, the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 by Georges Enescu. It's nothing more than a collection of Romanian folk songs in orchestral form, and it's just wonderful.

Rapsodia romana Nr. 1 - George Enescu

It's twelve minutes long, but hey, what else are you doing now, anyway?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


It's been a while since I bitched about For Better or For Worse, and since the strip is apparently "ending" sometime soon (next month, I believe), I won't have too many more opportunities.

So! One of the annoying tics of this strip (one of oh so many) is the way Lynn Johnston so often seems to find it funny to close out a strip with a really lame pun, like so:

And when these lame puns take place, everyone involved in that strip ends up standing there, grinning like idiots at the lame wordplay. It took me a while to figure out what this reminded me of, but it finally hit me a few hours ago: these are the comic strip version of the final scene of an episode of CHiPS! Skip to the three-minute mark and you'll see what I mean.

Of course, this kind of thing was done definitively on Police Squad!:

I should figure out a way to end my posts with lame freeze-frames!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


A man I went to college with, Rick Tibbott, died the other day. He'd been battling cancer for some time, and the cancer finally won. Rick was older than me, by a year or two or three. That means that he was too damned young to go.

Rick and I were more than acquaintances, although we were never really friends either; we shared some good friends in common, but he and I were never particularly close. Sometimes I even got the feeling that he plain didn't like me all that much, which frankly wouldn't bother me, given what I know of the person I was in college. To this day I'm amazed to have reached graduation with a number of friends and a future wife.

Rick and I were in the band together, and we were both music majors for a time (before I switched to Philosophy). We shared the trumpet as our major instruments, although our band director had the odd habit of converting a trumpet player or two to the euphonium if that section was hurting for players, so as far as the band went, Rick was our lead euphonium player. I don't much recall that I ever got to hear his trumpet playing, but I recall him being pretty decent on the euphonium.

(For those only familiar with symphony orchestras, you've likely never seen a euphonium before. It's kind of an odd instrument, meant I suppose to add another voice to the brass choir in the typical concert band or wind ensemble. It is sometimes called the "baritone", and that's pretty much what it is: a valved instrument whose sound is a sort-of cross between a trombone and a French horn.)

I'm trying hard to come up with stuff to say about Rick. He's a person I knew, and I well remember his face and his voice. He was the director of the college Pep Band for the time he was there, and he used to get freakishly angry with me when I would ignore his tempos and charge ahead on my own; the rest of the band would follow me because I was the loudest player there, and Rick would fume and fume and fume some more. (With good reason, obviously. Like I said above: in college I was, putting it mildly, a putz.)

Rick was also the utter stereotype of a small-town Iowa kid. He wore overalls a lot, and when I started wearing mine as well a few years later, more than a few people asked me if I was going for the "Rick Tibbott look". He also was the small-town person who had never been to a large town of any sort until his college years. When I was a sophomore, our annual band tour's itinerary was announced one day, in some detail. That year we were touring mainly in Colorado, with a couple of stops on the way in Nebraska, the first of those being Omaha. Our day in Omaha was to include a visit to the Omaha Zoo, and on the itinerary, the guy planning the tour, who was one of Rick's best friends, had written: "Ricky has never been to a zoo before! Wheeeeee!" Upon reading that in the band rehearsal, Rick immediately raised his hand and insisted that he couldn't possibly be the only member of the band (eighty or so members strong) to have never been to a zoo. Rick was not amused when the show of hands he demanded failed to materialize. He really was the only person in the band who had never seen a zoo before. I think he enjoyed it. It was more than eighteen years ago, but at that time at least, the Omaha Zoo was pretty impressive.

I don't really know what became of Rick after he graduated, aside from that he became a music teacher somewhere in Iowa. I think I saw him last the next fall after his graduation, when he returned for Homecoming. Maybe once more too, but I don't know. For some reason he always found it important to try and remember the name of my hometown (Allegany), and when I saw him that Homecoming, he greeted me: "Allegany, right? I found it on a map!" I was never sure why that interested him so, but it did. I think that Rick was genuinely surprised that the town I came from, in New York, wasn't much bigger than the town he'd grown up in himself. My town was closer to more stuff, and that's pretty much the entire difference.

Over the last week or so, I've received a number of forwarded e-mails from people in Rick's circle that his health was deteriorating, that he'd entered hospice care at his home, and finally, on Sunday afternoon, that he had finally died, also at his home. He died too damned young, but he at least died surrounded by people who loved him. So, in the end, Rick Tibbott got about the only real consolation prize this life of ours offers.

So long, Rick. I'll think of you next time I'm walking around a zoo.

(Since writing this I've filled myself in on details from Rick's life from his obituary. I didn't know he had three children. Sigh.)

Monday, July 14, 2008


UPDATE: Broken link fixed (thanks, Paul!).

tilapia, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

As part of my "Less of me in 2008" regimen, I've adopted quite a few healthier eating habits, one of which is leaner protein obtained from more diverse sources. So here are two of my newest loves, in one plate: two filets of tilapia (lightly floured and then pan-sauteed in herbed oil), served atop a bed of Quinoa. I'm really digging Quinoa: its texture is very close to that of couscous (which I adore), with a nuttier flavor that also soaks up sauces very well (like barbecue). Quinoa is also a good source of protein. Yay protein! (No, I'm not on any kind of Atkins diet, but I have upped my protein intake and lowered my carbohydrate intake accordingly.)

On another food note, I've been amused by the existence at Wendy's of a burger called the Baconator, which has two beef patties, two slices of cheese, and six slices of bacon. One of these burgers has 830 calories. Yeah, I want to have one someday. But only under very special circumstances -- such as, say, if I find myself on Death Row and I'm picking my last meal.

But I've despaired of having a Baconator, because a burger of that bacony magnitude can't be washed down with a mere large Coke, right? A burger like that cries out for a beverage also sent from the highest slopes of Mt. Olympus.

Well, such a drink exists. Behold, my friends, the Large Heath Shake from Baskin Robbins.

A large one of these, at 32 oz, contains 2,310 calories. Imagine that: there is a drink in existence at a prominent national chain that has almost three times the calories of the Wendy's Baconator.

That would be a meal to end all meals, wouldn't it? I mean, literally. If I'm ever on Death Row, this is my last meal: a Baconator and a large Heath shake. Of course, if I wanted to do this meal right now, the burger would be pretty easy, since there's a Wendy's a mile down the road. Unfortunately, my nearest Baskin Robbins is...hmmmm, it's only about 4 miles away...and there's another Wendy's right near there....

Gotta go.

Sentential Links #146

Here we go:

:: Add this to the potpourri of border crossing identification options available to people crossing between the US and Canada by land. (This may be right up my family's alley; the only "international travel" we ever do is to drive to Canada on occasion. Obviously if we'd have to get real passports if we were to ever do some real international traveling, but I don't foresee that happening anytime in the foreseeable future, so maybe we'll look into these.)

(BTW, Alan: your commenters are lunatics. When did that happen, anyway? And why are the post titles of WNYMedia blogs displayed using some kind of Flash player thing, thus disabling Firefox's handy-dandy right-click menu? Specifically, its "Copy Link Location" function? That's kinda goofy, if you ask me. Which you didn't. Oh well....)

:: Skipping this particular aspect of traditional schooling (i.e., the preoccupation with and emphasis on looks, teen trends, and the rest) has been good for my wallet, I'll tell you. (The Daughter has never yet become afflicted with the whole "fashion" thing...but I'm sure it's coming, he said with dread....)

:: I AM self-centered. I LOVE writing about myself, and my thoughts. It is WHY I do it. If you don't like that kind of writing, then that is totally cool - but don't get angry at me because I don't sit in a pile of my own outrage every day after reading the New York Times and then blog about it. (Elsewhere in this post Sheila says that she keeps 98% of her life off her blog. I'm not sure how to feel about that, because she's so amazing in the way she writes about that little two percent...but then, many things are better when their mysteries are kept as such, no?)

:: What did the drummer get on his IQ test ? (Ahhh, musician jokes! Sheets full of these were always passed around various rehearsals back in the college days. My favorite was "What's worse than a flute?" New blog found via Lynn, by the way.)

:: Somehow I can’t imagine the Apple design engineers all getting together and saying, “Women won’t date us for some completely unknown reason. What can we do to get back at them?” (I'll bet that's exactly what happened!)

:: Of course, at the other end of the political scale we have the “pro-life” pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions. It seems to me this is also civil disobedience, since pharmacists are licensed by their states to fill prescriptions. If filling birth control prescriptions violates a pharmacist’s conscience I respect that, but the penalty should be loss of his license and a new career path. Instead, such pharmacists want to keep their jobs and play God with other peoples’ lives.

:: Next time y’all hear from me, I’ll be a Mrs. (Well, we still haven't heard from her, so she must not be a Missus yet, right? No? That's not how that logic works? Oh well...congrats and best of all possible wishes to Erin and Rand. I've not met Rand personally, but Erin sure is a swell person, so that's at least one half of a terrific couple.)

All for this week. Back next week with more. Unless I come to my senses.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Unidentified Earth 46

No guesses on UI 44 yet? That's odd, especially considering how many times the world has been saved by a guy who works here....

But UI 45 was pegged, as I thought it would be, as Land's End in Cornwall, Great Britain. Five hundred Quatloos to the winner!

And now for this week's location. It's immediately obvious what kind of location this is, so we're looking for the most specific answer possible:

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

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

I wasn't online much this week, so I didn't see a whole lot of weirdness. But:

:: Someone made a trombone out of glass. It's a really cool video to watch, but the background music is lousy. (via)

:: I suppose that in the current housing market, actually putting effort into selling the house is probably useless, huh? Hence a blog of nothing but bad photos from real estate listings. Wow. (also via)

:: I was looking for weirdness at Warren Ellis's site, and while it isn't weird, I sure do like this picture.

OK, that's all.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Something for Thursday

This is one of the most achingly beautiful settings of a traditional song I have ever heard. It is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Shenandoah". It was used in the end credits of the movie Nixon, but I first heard this setting my freshman year of college when our choir did it.

Shenandoah - Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Try and find something wrong with the world after listening to that.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Ewwwwww! (teevee edition)

I was going to do a lot of comment on the various EW lists that they've got circulating, but I think I'll do this one last post and call it a day on that subject. (Unless anyone's really dying to hear what I think of, say, the "New Classic Death Scenes" or something similar.) I'm just doing the teevee list now; I won't be doing the music list because I own exactly five of the albums on that list. (For fun and kicks, try and guess which ones!)

Anyhow, here are my thoughts on the teevee list. (For comparison, check out SamuraiFrog. His teevee tastes diverge sharply from mine on a number of instances, but on others we're in total sync. Which is what you'd expect, I guess.) I won't be bolding anything; just the list plus comment.

1. The Simpsons

Yeah, it's a great show. That's granted. No, I'm not going to state what everybody already knows – that its greatest years are now far in the past (imagine, this show is going to reach a point next year where two full Presidencies will have elapsed since its strongest episodes aired), but it's still pretty funny and of generally high enough quality to warrant continued watching.

2 The Sopranos

I never saw a single episode. I've long noted that my interest in mob stories is practically non-existent. Whenever I say this to people, the invariable response is "But it's so good!" Well, I'm sure it is. I'm still not interested.

3 Seinfeld

I'm a huge fan of Seinfeld. I even liked the much-maligned ninth season, and I didn't think the finale sucked that badly (although it wasn't nearly as funny as it should have been, with that premise). One great moment after another, and lines that I still quote and have recognized when I do so.

4 The X-Files

I loved this show too. Did it go on too long? Certainly, but I don't think its fall from grace happened nearly as early as everybody else seems to think. I loved the show's production values, the character chemistry between Mulder and Scully, and all the little touches therein. I loved the impenetrable mytharc too, and the Monsters-of-the-week.

5 Sex and the City

(Never saw a single episode, not once. Although for obvious reasons there's one episode I might have liked, had I seen it.

6 Survivor

I hate this show. I've only watched two seasons of it all the way through, because a couple of years back The Daughter decided that she liked watching the games on the beach, so we ended up watching it. (That was when Rupert was on, and then a season or two later when a guy named Terry went on this big streak of winning every challenge for weeks on end, only to fall short of the million bucks in the finale, losing to some dopey little jerkoff named Aras. I haven't watched the show since.) I didn't like how the show basically rewards people who are complete jerks for being able to be the biggest, sneakiest of jerks. The skill set that makes people contenders to win Survivor also makes them complete asses in real life; why root for an ass to win a million bucks?

7 The Cosby Show

I watched a handful of episodes, found it amusing enough, but was never a big fan. Although, I do recall one hilarious bit that had Cosby describing the most horrifyingly inept Little League game in history, "a game which was broken open on a grand-slam bunt".

8 Lost

Meh. Lots of people wandering around a mysterious island, acting all mysterious and stuff. I'm not a big fan of JJ Abrams.

9 Friends

One of my favorite shows of all time, and I'm not apologizing for that, either. It should have ended a year or two earlier, but I think it's actually become underrated. At its best it was as funny as anything I can remember on teevee.

10 Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This is continually high on my "get the DVDs and watch it one of these days" list. I saw a few episodes here and there and I was always impressed, but by the time the show came on my radar screen it had already been around for a few years and I just didn't want to invest the time to get up to speed on a show that had a dense mythology behind it. But I really do want to watch the thing.

11 The Wire Never seen it; not a lot of interest, really.

12 South Park

I was a big fan for a while but then I just fell away from it. I didn't stop liking it, I just gravitated away. I'm a little surprised it's still around, though.

13 Freaks and Geeks

I really need to see this.

14 The Daily Show

I love it when I see it, which isn't often.

15 The Oprah Winfrey Show

Meh. I've never understood how Oprah's become the 800-lb gorilla of, well, everything.

16 Arrested Development

I always missed it during its brief stay on the networks because its time slot always coincided with either something else or The Daughter's bed time. I'd like to see what the fuss was about.

17 The Office (U.K. Version)

I've seen a few episodes and liked it.

18 American Idol

OK, I'm still a fan. And I liked Taylor Hicks. And that clicking sound you hear is my readers now clicking the "Back" button on their browsers. (This season of AI was pretty disappointing, though.)

19 ER

When it was good, it was great. It had seven or so really terrific seasons, then a few years where it fell on hard times, and then it just started to downright stink. Two major events on the show made me start to lean away from it: the death of Dr. Romano (as horrifyingly bad a moment as I've ever seen on a scripted teevee show, from a writing standpoint), and the resolution of the Reese Benton custody battle. But I hung in there a few more seasons anyway before I finally admitted that the show was a shell of its former self, with old interesting characters replaced by boring new ones; increasing reliance on the stunt-casting of older notable actors as "terminally ill geezers of the month" (always in time to provide epiphanies to whichever cast regular was in most need of an epiphany at that moment); lazy shit like the "Let's send some other character for a life-changing stint in Africa!"; and so on. Ensemble shows are hard to keep going over the course of many years, even if, as in the case of ER, they're designed to allow for the rotation in of new ensemble members to replace old ones. New characters have proven interesting (Dr. Pratt, for example), but at times the cast has become so bloated that newer characters simply blended together, and in any case, no ER cast has ever had the same mix of chemistry that the original group did. ER is apparently ending this coming season, but it should have ended five or six years ago.

20 Beverly Hills, 90210

Never watched it.

21 Roseanne

I hated this show. I never once found it funny, and to this day, when I catch it in reruns, I still fail to laugh.

22 The Real World

I watched three seasons: LA (season two), San Francisco (season three, the one with Pedro and Puck), and London. Then I pretty much stopped. I liked the show well enough, but I finally got irritated with that little doofus from the London cast, the playwright kid, who spent all of his five months in London sleeping. Dude, you're in London. WTF?! (The other American guy, the one who was befuddled because he couldn't find Ranch dressing in London, was pretty amusing for a while.)

23 The West Wing

It was my favorite show for a while. The first two seasons and a chunk of the third were brilliant, but then Aaron Sorkin started to peter out. Season Five had a couple of strong episodes and a lot of "Meh" episodes, but the last two years seemed to figure things out again.

24 Star Trek: The Next Generation

Ahhh, I loved me some TNG! We always watched it in college, with the new episodes on Sunday nights and re-runs the rest of the time. Quite a bit of it doesn't hold up quite as well nowadays, but quite a lot of it holds up damn well indeed.

25 Miami Vice

I watched an episode or two. I didn't get it.

26 Chappelle's Show

Huh? Don't know it.

27 Law & Order

Not a big fan. I tend to see an episode a year, and I'm good.

28 The Larry Sanders Show

Heard good things, but never saw it.

29 The Shield


30 Late Show With David Letterman

I love Letterman, although I don't watch him often anymore at all because it's hard for me to stay up that late. I've always liked his off-kilter sense of humor. True, he was probably funnier ten years ago than he is now, but so's anybody.

31 The Civil War

I never watched this, mainly because I've never been terribly interested in the Civil War. I know that it's a period of history that commands immense fascination for many people in America, but it leaves me cold. (Civil War enthusiasm also seems to run hand-in-hand with Confederacy fetishism, which is always something that confuses me since the Confederacy was, by definition, treasonous.)

32 Gilmore Girls

I never watched it, but I've been told repeatedly that it's very well written, so I want to check it out one of these years.

33 My So-Called Life

I adored this show, even as ambivalent as I was about my own high school experience. MSCL was brilliant work, but even though it's better remembered now for its single, nineteen-episode season, I tend to view it as a dry-run for the deeply brilliant Once and Again that would come along six years later.

34 24

I saw seasons Two and Three, and I haven't much bothered since then. I admire the show's production values, but from what I hear the last couple of years the writing has suffered. I also find the Jack Bauer fetishization that you see in the commentary of the political Right in this country astonishingly creepy. "Jack Bauer has to torture people!" goes the refrain. But I'd like to see a show that details what everyday life in Jack Bauer's America would be like after the country has witnessed nuclear terrorism, a President declining to run for a second term after a scandal, his successor dying aboard Air Force One, his successor being removed from office after criminal activity, the assassination of that first President after he's left office, and the rise to power of that first President's own brother. I think the country would be really messed up if that stuff all happened.

35 CSI

I used to be a big fan, but kind of fell by the wayside the last couple of years. The original show's the best, but the one I watch faithfully now is CSI: Miami, mainly because I like looking at Emily Procter and Eva LaRue, and because I derive enormous entertainment pleasure from David Caruso's overacting and posing. It also featured my single favorite "Oh, bulls***!" moment in CSI crime investigations: in one episode, the killer had taken a photo with his finger partially covering the lens; they were able to resolve that smudge into a readable fingerprint. Yeah, right. This last season ended beautifully, though: since the iconic image of the show is Horatio Caine putting on his sunglasses, they did a cliffhanger where Horatio is shot on an airport runway, and as he's lying on the ground bleeding profusely, the camera pulls back away from him...and through the broken lens of his sunglasses!

36 thirtysomething

Never saw it, but want to, seeing as how it's by the same creative team as My So-Called Life and Once and Again.

38 Beavis and Butt-head

I loved it and found it terribly funny. Thing is, there really are kids like this in our schools. Kids who aren't really dangerous, who don't pose much of a threat to anyone, but who also just aren't ever going to amount to anything much at all and who don't really care about that either. Their antics can be hilarious, as this show demonstrated. My favorite episode had the boys participating in their school's fundraising candy sale; they have to sell candy bars for two bucks each, but they don't want to do the legwork to sell these things, so their elegant solution is to sell candy bars back and forth to one another for the same two dollars. That cracks me up just to think about it.

39 Six Feet Under
40 Mr. Show

I don't know either of these.

41 Frasier

I loved this show for a long time, too. I think it went on too long, but I don't think it slid into badness the way so many shows that outlive themselves do; it just kind of settled into a bit of routine for its last two or three seasons where it was dependably amusing but never as good as in its earlier years. Still, it provided many, many wonderful moments in the time it had, and I do think it went out on a very strong note, with Frasier's romance with Laura Linney and one of the best series finales I've ever seen.

42 L.A. Law

It was a really good show for a few years, and then it started to bog down, much in the same way that ER did: cast bloat, interesting characters swapped for not-interesting ones, increasingly bizarre storylines, and one of the most staggeringly awful moments in teevee history (the death of Rosalind Shays, of course). I hung with it until the end, but man, was that last season bad.

43 Late Night With Conan O'Brien

I see it so rarely that it doesn't even make sense to discuss it. I have a DVD of highlights from it around somewhere; I should watch that one of these days.

44 Jeopardy!

Yeah. Ken Jennings? I coulda taken him. I know this because on at least twenty of the seventy-eight nights (or however many there were), from the non-studio lit and no-audience and no-cameras friendly confines of my living room, I whipped his ass!

45 Curb Your Enthusiasm

Never saw it.

46 Homicide: Life on the Street

I watched a couple of episodes and was uniformly underwhelmed. It felt like BaltimorePDBlue to me.

47 30 Rock

I'm not sure if it's been around enough to be a "new classic", but it's one of my favorites of shows on now. Not only do I think Tina Fey is one of the cutest women on the planet, but I think it speaks greatly of her that this, her big moment on teevee as a creative force, cheerfully makes her the butt of many, if not most, of the jokes. (Contrast with the same season's Studio 60, in which Aaron Sorkin created a monument to Aaron Sorkin.) I actually wrote a bit of rant here first, having misread the title as 3rd Rock from the Sun, which I didn't like very much.

48 Ally McBeal

Bleeccchhhh! I hated this show, as I tend to seriously dislike anything David E. Kelley does. I don't like his writing.

49 Twin Peaks
50 Baywatch
51. Melrose Place

Didn't watch any of these.

52. Felicity

More "Meh" from the pen of JJ Abrams.

53. Will & Grace

Funny for a season or two. After that, just shrill and repetitive.

54. Moonlighting

I never understood the fuss over this show.

55. Pee-wee's Playhouse

Or this one.

56. Desperate Housewives

I actually liked the first season. Everything since was dull, and I stopped watching entirely last year.

57. The Amazing Race

My current favorite reality show! My only wish is that they'd put in a new rule that when you get to a locale, you are forbidden to get locals to either drive you to your destination, ride with you to show you the way, or drive ahead of you so you can follow them. Had this been the case, there's no way the loathsome Dustin-Kandace duo would have ever been near-winners twice on the show.

58. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno

I like Letterman better. I also found it appalling that The Tonight Show was Arnold Schwarzenegger's forum of choice for announcing his gubernatorial run.

59. Battlestar Galactica

I've got to see this. I was highly impressed with the pilot TV movie.

60. Xena: Warrior Princess


61. The Office

Also not sure if it's a classic already, but I sure like it. But how much of that is Jenna Fischer's presence? Hmmmm.

62. House

Like it. New classic? Dunno, but I like it.

63. Mystery Science Theater 3000

Loved it, once I figured out what the concept was. Like everybody, I spent a year channel-surfing past MST3K and wondering why these crappy movies were always on with these shadows in front.

64. The Osbournes

Never watched it.

65. Family Guy

I hate this show. The only times it's made me laugh were in moments involving the evil-plotting baby; everything else is stupid Simpsons retread crap.

66. Grey’s Anatomy

Now here we have the opposite problem with ensemble shows: the ensemble isn't big enough, which led this past season to some real dramatic constipation on the show. They added two new characters of consequence, but that wasn't enough since they only replaced another character who'd already left for spin-off heaven. I still think that Grey's beats the pants off ER right now, but I can see it seriously falling from grace if it doesn't add some spice next year. They've been playing the same storylines for too long now.

67. Planet Earth
68. Jackass
69. The Colbert Report

I've never seen these. Colbert's on too late.

70. Everybody Loves Raymond

Now, it was often a very funny show. It really was. Its characters were quirky and played off each other in fun ways, and the cast had real chemistry which helped. But the show was just a well-done sitcom. Maybe it stands out because it was just about the only traditional sitcom that was being done well (aside from Friends) in the time it was around. When it went off the air (it too had a well-done finale episode), someone on a message board I wrote described it was "the show that changed the sitcom forever". That could only be uttered by someone who'd never seen any other sitcoms before.

71. Friday Night Lights

Never watched it.

72. NewsRadio

Obviously it wasn't as good after Phil Hartman's death. But then, my favorite character was always Stephen Root as the owner of the station. Maura Tierney was also a standout.

73. Oz
74. Wiseguy
75. Project Runway
76. In Living Color

Never watched these.

77. The Golden Girls

Ick. Never liked it.

78. I'll Fly Away

Saw it occasionally in college. Nice, but forgettable. The cute blonde girl would later do a couple of seasons of ER, which ended when a crazy patient stabbed her to death.

79. The Comeback

Never even heard of this.

80. King of the Hill

I think this show is underrated, or was in its prime. I haven't seen a new episode in several years.

81. Murphy Brown

Funny for a while, then became boring.

82. The Hills
83. Absolutely Fabulous

Never saw them.

84. Northern Exposure

It took me a while to figure this show out. The Girlfriend (later The Wife) loved it, so I watched it by proxy, but it really took me a season or two to get into it. Then I loved it.

85. The Kids in the Hall
86. Prime Suspect
87. Deadwood

More in the "never watched" category.

88. Malcolm in the Middle

Now this was a funny, funny show in its first few seasons. I fell away from it after a while, but it was a favorite for a while. It had this habit of being mildly amusing for most of an episode, with one truly inspired moment that would make the entire show.

89. SpongeBob SquarePants

Weirdly amusing, in my opinion. I can totally understand why some people hate it.

90. Dawson's Creek

Crap. Total crap. Kevin Williamson's writing annoys the hell out of me.

91. Mad Men
92. The Ben Stiller Show
93. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Yet more that I never watched.

94. Married...With Children

Meh. Amusing, but not great.

95. Designing Women

Didn't like it.

96. The Arsenio Hall Show

This was very popular in college; it was always on at that timeslot in the dorm lounges. I don't remember why.

97. Party of Five

Aside from letting me look at Neve Campbell, I don't remember much about this show.

98. MacGyver

This was silly, silly fun. Years ago The Girlfriend (later The Wife) and I visited The Future In-Laws at their home, and I discovered that The Future Sister-In-Law was so big a fan of MacGyver that she could, using the satellite dish, watch the show for four consecutive hours on weekday afternoons, on teevee stations from all over the country, and she often did. (BTW: xkcd from the other day. Heh!)

99. The Bachelor

Stupid, stupid, stupid crap, this is. Remember when everybody was in vapors over FOX's one-off Who Wants to Marry a Multi-millionaire? Well, now The Bachelor is in its eighth year or something like that. WTF?

100. Saved by the Bell

Oh, come on. Just because we all watched it because TBS had it on for two hours solid each day during the mid-1990s, when we were all being slackers because it was cool to be slackers and all, and thus because of that we all know who Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowsky are, doesn't make it a great show. Watch it now, and try telling me it's not complete crap. I dare you. I double dare you!

So Saved By the Bell is on the list. But not Once and Again or Firefly? NYPD Blue? Scrubs? Millennium? What about cooking shows? Like him or hate him, Emeril Lagasse's shows put Food Network on the map in large part, and Alton Brown's show is really good. This list stinks.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sentential Links #145

This week's linkage, certified content-rich:

:: I have a big head, apparently.

:: As the comic book movie genre blossoms into a franchise, it’s important to look back at an oddball flick that made a significant contribution to the body of work that is exploding onto the screen.

:: Ah the Adam West Batman...was there a better show ever? Certainly none have been as silly! In any case here is a short list of some of the me ridiculous gizmos and gadgets featured on the show.

:: I inserted the DVD in the machine, pressed "play," and settled back to watch it. The first shot is a close-up of a man's face, a doctor, who tells someone she has advanced ovarian cancer. The next shot is a close-up of the woman he is speaking to, saying "yes?" or "and?" I forget which. I turned off the TV. I realized I actually could not watch the movie. (How do I keep forgetting that Roger Ebert is blogging now?!)

:: And I'm tired of the blogs I come to love going dark, and feeling - irrationally - that somehow it's my linking to them that killed them. (Heh! Let's see if it works in reverse!)

:: I walked a few yards past the sign to this table, looked up, and lo and behold, right on cue for their cameo montage segment right out of an Esther Williams movie, were about 18 Orca whales close to the shore. Truth in advertising. First shot outta the box.

:: Must be able to talk and work at the same time. (As a former restaurant manager, let me say, HUZZAH!!!)

All for this week. Tune in next week, to hear the Burglar say....

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Unidentified Earth 45

OK, I think we're at last caught up with all the still-Unidentified locations. It took a while, and many hints, but UI 40 was finally pegged as the Illinois State Police Station in Des Plaines, IL. What's significant about this location is that, before the building was made into a police station, it was a high school: specifically, Maine North High School, which was where the movie The Breakfast Club was shot. That's the exterior of the school where the kids are dropped off for their detentions. The library, however, didn't exist: it was a set built in that school's gymnasium. (BTW, my favorite bit of Breakfast Club trivia is that the film was shot entirely in sequence.) I'm rather surprised that this one remained Unidentified for so long; I thought my hints were staggeringly obvious.

I'm quite pleased that UI 41 went Unidentified for a while; this one was one of favorite installments of this series so far, and I'm glad it didn't get pegged in hours like some other ones that I thought might be stumpers and then, well, weren't. If you watch a lot of summertime ESPN, then you see the occasional baseball game or highlight reel from a game at Boston's Fenway Park; and aside from the Green Monster, what's the most notable thing you see in shots of that park, facing left field? Yup: it's the giant Citgo sign! (BTW, there's a gorgeous aerial shot of Fenway in the companion book to Ken Burns's Baseball teevee documentary that includes the Citgo sign, and I was stunned to see just how far from Fenway that sign really is. The shots from inside the park, showing the sign looming over the left field wall, make it look like that Citgo station is pretty much right across the street from Fenway, but that's not the case: you could pretty much stick another Fenway Park between the actual Fenway and the Citgo sign. Here's a good aerial photo that shows how distant that Citgo sign really is.)

Finally, it only took one hint for UI 43 to be pegged as the Pike Place Public Market in Seattle. So congrats to the winners; give yourselves all one hundred Quatloos.

However, UI 44 is still Unidentified! Hooray for me! This location may, or may not, figure in an upcoming movie. I won't know until the movie comes out, but I suspect at least one scene may take place here, although whether there's an establishing exterior shot of this locale will be unknown.

And now, at long last, the new installment:

Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses!