Sunday, February 28, 2010


I assume that NBC, in a story about the Georgian luger killed the day the Olympics began, just quoted the AE Housman poem that I quote in this old post, because I'm suddenly getting lots of search engine hits for the phrase "Shoulder high we bring you home". The poem is "To an Athlete Dying Young", and can be read in its entirety here.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddities abound! And some lazy linkage that's not really odd at all.

:: Distracted by Star Wars ran a bunch of pictures yesterday, all themed around Princess Leia's slave-girl bikini; start here and keep clicking "older". For myself, I was always more attracted to Leia's Ewok dress than the gold bikini, but...well, there it is.

:: Years ago a guy created an art book that also contained a puzzle with clues as to the whereabouts of a golden rabbit that he had hidden...somewhere. Here's a fascinating article about Masquerade, the artist, the golden rabbit, and the times since the puzzle's solving.

:: Interesting item on how pirating DVDs differs from buying them. I, too, hate unskippable crap on my discs.

:: Ever wonder what happens to retired military aircraft? Sure you did...and now you know. This is fascinating.

:: In the "Blogs you never thought the world needed but now that you see them, you realize that the world needed them all along" Department, we have Centaur-a-day, featuring daily drawings of centaurs. Really.

More next week!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A couple more answers!

Knocking off two more questions on Ask Me Anything! 2010.

LC Scotty asks, easily enough: What is lemon curd? It sounds like something I should be eating.

Actually, I'm not sure if it's something Scotty should be eating, if he's asking from a health standpoint. Not that it's necessarily bad for you, either, but it's definitely something that you should be eating if you like things that taste good and if you file lemon under your personal label of "Things That Taste Good".

But what is lemon curd? It's a lemon-flavored spread that is made with eggs, sugar, and flavorings whipped together. The lemon flavor is pleasantly intense, but with enough sweetness to offset the lemon just enough. I spread mine on toast and English muffins. The flavor is strong enough that one doesn't need a giant amount on the bread to make it taste good. It's a very pleasant change of pace from jelly or jam. (I can't get behind marmalade. Never liked the stuff.)

Here's a recipe, but I'll buying the stuff in a jar just the same. I've read that fruit curds don't have to be lemon, but lemon's what I see all the time.

Kerry asks: Why has no one ever discovered a Bigfoot (or a carcass thereof), when the creature has been written about and spoken of in native American culture for thousands of years??

Probably for the same reasons that no one's ever found a mermaid at sea or discovered the Loch Ness Monster, and probably for the same reason that no one has ever captured or photographed one of the "Hidden Folk" or Iceland...the legends behind these beasts almost surely have roots in something real from way back when, but what it was? No one now knows, and it was also almost surely something not akin to what legendary creature would later accrue around it.

In the case of mermaids, the prevailing theory is that what was originally taken to be a mermaid was actually a manatee. In the case of Sasquatch, I suspect something similar. Maybe a particularly enormous bear, seen rearing onto its back legs. But thinking about it more, the notion of a giant human lurking somewhere "out there" is not limited to the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest; virtually every human culture on Earth has at one time had some kind of similar legend. (The Yeti of the Himalayas is a good example.) They are among the most enduring of all legends.

Paul has a lengthy query about my favorite book, Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan. Part one: You mentioned the historical underpinnings of Kay's novel The Lions of Al Rassan. Were you familiar with the historical facts before you read Lions the first time, or did you research that after? How did that knowledge affect your understanding and enjoyment of the novel?

The first time I read the book, I knew quite little about the period. Upon later re-reads...I don't know a whole lot more about the period, aside from the broad strokes of the era. I certainly am not in any kind of position to evaluate GGK's fidelity to the historical record, but as he is writing fantasy, to make such an evaluation would surely miss the point entirely.

I do know that history has rarely been driven by "larger than life" events and "larger than life" people as GGK depicts, but he has always admitted that he is not writing history after all. I find that GGK's historical works tend to affect my understanding and enjoyment of the real history, rather than the other way around.

Back to Paul:

My biggest beef with Lions (I'm sure you've heard me say this before) is that I felt manipulated by the author at two specific points in the narrative. Kay sets us up to believe one thing has occurred, and then, much later, reveals that something entirely different actually happened. His protestations that he did it consciously and intentionally to provoke a specific reaction in the reader notwithstanding, I found it disturbing to my willing suspension of disbelief. It distracted me from the narrative, and made the author very apparent to me. A cardinal sin in writing we are told. What was your reaction to the events in the book I am talking about? how did it affect you differently from me?

Hmmmm. Firstly, I'm honestly not sure of what events in the book Paul is referencing, although I suspect he's referring in part to the final duel of the novel? Without spoiling things, the conflicts come, in the end, to a single duel between the two principal men of the book. Which one wins? I won't tell...but GGK writes the duel in such a way that we don't even know which man is doing what in the fighting. I find it fascinating.

"Being aware of the author" isn't something that's ever much bothered me; in nearly every book I've ever read, I've been aware of the author at some point or other. Complete immersion in a story is something that rarely happens to me, and I almost always find myself aware of the author to one extent or another.

Not much of an answer, but without knowing specifically which events we're discussing, I can't go much farther into it.

Now boarding....

Orchard Park Library

I've waxed poetic about the library in my town a bit over the years. Truth to tell, one of my favorite places in any town is the library, and whenever I've moved, finding the local library has always been something I do very early on. So the Orchard Park Library has been a major part of my life -- our lives, I should say -- for all of the seven years we've lived here.

That photo, above, is the view I had a couple of weeks ago when I packed up the laptop and went to the library for an afternoon of writing and whatnot. I hadn't planned to take the photo, actually, but I did when I realized that I'd never seen the library from that vantage point before. Because the library doesn't have a ton of seating places that are in close proximity to power outlets, I had to sit way over on the far wall, by the fire exit. That's over in the Children's section, actually, which is another reason why I don't spend much time over there. (The Daughter does, but I don't.) Anyway, the vantage point struck me, the way the carpet pattern seems to mirror the grid of the new drop ceiling. (Our library was remodeled a year ago.)

After I left, when the library closed for the day, I decided to spend a few minutes exploring a place that I've often noticed but never really investigated. The library building is directly adjacent the old Orchard Park railroad station, which was pretty rundown when we moved here but has since received a lot of volunteer-based restoration work.

On the Fence

Behind me there is the library itself (and farther behind that, if I weren't in the way, is my church). If I'd had more foresight that day, maybe I'd have worn the more railroad-appropriate hickory-striped overalls over there, but we can't have everything, right? To the station itself:

The old railroad station in Orchard Park

Walking around the corner there, I found myself standing on the boarding platform, looking southeast:

Toward the South...Olean, maybe?

And, of course, the trains running the other way would go toward Buffalo, because all roads lead to Buffalo:

Toward Buffalo

Here's the front of the station:

The front of the station

The station has a second, smaller building, which is now the permanent home of an old passenger car and a box car. I assume this was a freight depot:

OPRR: The Freight Depot

I love the way the light is, on a late wintry afternoon when it's snowing so that the air looks like it has bits of starlight in it:

Posing at the old train station

By this point I was cold enough, and decided to go warm up with some soup at Panera Bread. But I kept thinking about the old trains that ran through here, so when I got home, to see where the trains ran, so I pulled up Google Maps. The first view is here, but here's a grab:

It's a bit hard to see from this resolution, but I wanted to give a hint of a few miles of train route here. On the screen grab, find South Buffalo St; the library and train station are located just up and left of the 'St.' label. You can see the train route very clearly, then, tacking off to the southeast, forming, for a short time, the northern boundary of the Orchard Park Country Club.

Tracing the train route from there, using Google Maps's satellite view, turned out to be a pretty interesting exercise, as the rail route is clearly not in use today. This means that as the route heads into the rural country south and east of the Buffalo-Niagara region, the rail route shows up as a line tracing thinly through forests and at the border of farm fields and so on. At times it seems to disappear altogether, such as where it comes into the small town of Colden. More than a few times I found that I was no longer following a train route and had instead found a stream or some other land feature, and had to double back.

The trick became obvious, once I thought of it: trains can't turn sharply, so train routes tend to make their curves very widely. This means that when the train route seems to vanish, all one really has to do to find it again is look in a straight line from where it disappeared. Then, finding a faint feature that might be the straight line of an old railroad right-of-way, all you do is follow that feature until you confirm it. Here's a good spot: note how the automobile road, Route 24, sticks close to the stream there, forming almost a right angle, while our railroad route makes the hypotenuse through the sudden forest there!

The train line stays easy to follow, for the most part, through much of the countryside. I love the way it looks in this spot, a few miles north of Springville, a town at the very southern edge of Erie County, where the Southern Tier begins (if you're heading south, that is; coming north, Springville is where the Southern Tier ends and Buffalo-Niagara begins). The route is marked by a double line of trees on each side of the rail line. Were those trees planted along the line like that? Or was that just natural tree-growth by virtue of farmers obeying limits on their fields bounded by the trains?

Exiting Springville, I lost the line again, because the terrain down there is hillier and because there are more distractions like roads and rights-of-way for power lines. I almost assumed the train there ended at Springville, but that just seemed odd to me -- surely a southbound train wouldn't stop there, for no apparent reason, and sure enough, it didn't. Part of my error was again assuming the trains would have run somewhat along the route traced by US Route 219, which it actually doesn't; a mile or two south of Springville, 219 jigs west a bit while our train route turns east, and crosses the Cattaraugus Creek gorge on a trestle that I never knew was there, even though I've driven Route 219 through that area more times than the best hypnotist could get me to remember:

I've always tended to assume that when the automobile arose, the roads tended to follow train routes pretty closely; I'd never really considered what now seems pretty obvious, that train routes would often wind through regions now almost never frequented by car. When I started following this route online, I figured the route would likely trace one of the two main southward routes out of the Buffalo-Niagara region, US 219 or NY 16 (which runs about ten miles east of 219). It turns out that the trains ran roughly between them, through towns I have rarely visited in nearly thirty years of living in this area.

Continuing south, I puzzled over the odd fixture here, just south of a town called West Valley. In addition to our railroad right-of-way, it appears that there used to be a couple of spurs that came off the line and back onto it. Those curving interchange-like lines must be artificial; they're too perfect to be natural. But I can't see any evidence of what must have once existed at that spot for trains to enter and exit the main line. Was there a factory here? A big granary? A mine? Who knows? If anyone in my readership is familiar with the history of West Valley, NY, let me know!

Anyway, our railroad line continues south until it "ends", not in a town, but at a junction of a larger rail line, which runs southwest into Ellicottville or northeast to...well, I didn't follow it that far. But again my assumptions were thwarted; I assumed that this train route out of Orchard Park might lead all the way to Olean in the Southern Tier, but it doesn't. It just goes to a spot in between, ending in another rail line somewhere in the middle of the hills of the Southern Tier.

I wish the trains still ran.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Something for The Wife's Birthday

Today is The Wife's birthday. Here's some music from the movie we saw for our first date, Edward Scissorhands.

Ignore the funky visuals -- this video has the best sound of the ones I looked at.

I honestly can't top last year's post, so...what I said then. I love you, Honey!

Something for Thursday

Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi is one of my favorite composers working today. He is best known as the composer of the music for all of Hayao Miyazaki's films, and he is as central to there emotional fabric as John Williams is to Stephen Spielberg's or George Lucas's films. Here is a wonderful piano and solo violin arrangement of a theme Hisaishi wrote for My Neighbor Totoro, called "Tunnel of Wind":

Here's another version that is much closer to what is actually heard in the film:

Interesting to hear the difference, eh?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Aim High! Leave yourself an out!

I just know that you, Dear Readers, have always wondered what I look like when I'm driving. So here are some photos taken whilst driving recently.

I'm a pretty paranoid driver, tending to assume the very worst about everyone else on the road. To my way of thinking, the only reasonable stance when driving is to adopt the belief that every other person on the road is a ne'er-do-well or, worse, a just plain malevolent soul looking to smash me with their vehicle. That leads me to looking like this:

Paranoid driver is paranoid.

I don't trust any of you. Nothing personal, but when you're on the road at the same time that I am on the road, you are now the enemy!

Now, one thing that frustrates me is when I get behind the Hesitant Turner. This is the person who is extremely hesitant about, you guessed it, turning. They'll sit at the intersection until there is absolutely zero traffic in either direction, rather than make a judgment on when they can go based on their knowledge of their own vehicle's ability to accelerate quickly. These people annoy me to no end, which leads to scenes like this, as I shout "GO GO GO GO GO!"


I've already established my loathing of people who refuse to turn right on red. Here's the look I tend to give such folks, hoping they'll look in their rear-view mirror and see the laser beams coming from my eyes to fry their brains, but they never do....

Stuck in slow driver hell

And here's the bored look I get when I'm stuck on a long straightaway behind a lot of slow-moving traffic:

Aim high, leave yourself an out, ummm....

The title of this post is taken, of course, from the "Rules of Driving" that many of us learned in Driver's Ed. (At least, those are the two I remember; the rest are here.) Try as I might, I don't recall Mr. Wilcox (my Driver's Ed teacher) telling me to not make contorted faces of extreme disdain at my enemy drivers, but he didn't say not to, either. So....

(OK, in all honesty, I didn't take any of these photos while the car was in motion. Heck, it wasn't even in "Drive"; the car was stationary at the time. No, I'm not driving around taking self-photos of me making goofy faces while I'm actually handling a car in motion!)

Answering a few more!

OK, this round of answers will be a bit more positively toned than yesterday's. But hey, someone asked a question about a topic guaranteed to set me a-rantin' -- kind of like the year someone basically gave me an engraved invitation to rip on the New England Patriots. Nobody did that this year! (And nobody asked any questions about overalls, either -- I think that's a first.)

Anyway, Charlie asks: What movie would you say is most soundtrack dependent (in other words, which movie would you most lose enjoyment of if you watched a soundtrack-free version)?

This is...a very hard question. The Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies would be terribly different with different scores, and if they were music-free, both franchises might well be disastrously unemotional. But the same can be said of many, many films with fine scores -- a musicless Ben Hur would be staggeringly silly, no?

To say that a film would be "soundtrack dependent" would be to say that without the music, the film would collapse like a house of cards. Obviously this would be true of any musical, so we'll just set those aside for the purposes of this discussion.

Lots of movies don't even have scores, but just collections of pop songs used in various places throughout the films. Sometimes these are of the "lather rinse repeat" variety; virtually any teen comedy suffices for mention here, where you could just switch out songs at random and the movie wouldn't suffer at all. But other films, where the pop songs are chosen by the filmmakers for specific reasons? Those obviously would suffer. Pulp Fiction, Love Actually, When Harry Met Sally..., and Sleepless in Seattle would all be laughable without their music, precisely because those films feature songs that are chosen with extreme care.

To return to traditional filmscores for a moment, when I was active in various fora online in discussing film music, there was one kind of topic that cropped up fairly often that always annoyed me, which generally took the form of "Who would you have liked to have scored [Film XXX]?" This always annoyed me a lot, because it would invariably devolve into various expressions of hero worship, especially from the Jerry Goldsmith fans, who tend to be keenly aware that their hero scored more than his fair share of crappy movies. So, in those threads you'd hear a lot of "What if Goldsmith had done the Indiana Jones movies!" or "What if Jerry had done Lord of the Rings!" To me, this always seemed about as useful a line of discussion as a bunch of football players discussing what the Bills might have been like if they'd managed to draft Drew Brees. Who cares? They didn't. Why talk about what might have happened?

All this is basically my way of admitting that I just don't have a good answer for Charlie's question. Truthfully, a movie without music would just be weird. Any movie. I found it unsettling when the Mimi Rogers film The Rapture closed with credits scrolling over no music at all. Which, I suppose, was entirely the point.

(Roger posted about movie music the other day and seeks comments.)

Speaking of Roger and speaking of film music, Roger asks: How do respond to people who think all of John Williams' scores sound alike?

Generally, I either roll my eyes, or say something pithy like "Get back to me when you get cochlear implants." It's a frankly idiotic thing to say. For a brief demonstration, one could just listen to the clips in this post of mine from earlier in the month.

Now, there are similarities in sound from one work to the next. How could there not be? Williams is an artist, and of course there will be stylistic similarities to be found. I do hear them, same as I hear stylistic similarities amongst the works of Berlioz, and Wagner, and, heck, the Beatles. But the idea that all Williams scores sound alike is one of those notions that just doesn't stand up to any serious scrutiny whatsoever.

The clips I chose in that post linked above are from different eras in Williams's work, but one doesn't even have to do that. One can listen to Williams scores from the same era and not hear anything more than superficial stylistic similarities. It would take a pretty sophisticated listener to recognize the main theme of Star Wars and the main theme of Dracula as coming from the pen of the same composer, and only two years separate those scores.

More answers to come!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Taking a cue from SDB: would pole dancing be a good Olympic sport?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do it! All the cool kids are!!!

Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan goes public with his addiction today:

Thank you for joining me today. Many of you have come to know me through the years. You have supported me in good columns and bad. Now, you have good reason to be critical of me. All I can say is I'm sorry for my irresponsible and foolish behavior.

I'm addicted to Sporcle.

Perhaps you've never heard of If so, it's only a matter of time. Sporcle is an on-line trivia site which is infiltrating the minds of tens of thousands of innocent, well-meaning people. Log on to it at your peril.

Do it. You know you want to. I'll even make it easy by giving you a link: Sporcle.

Click it and you'll be one of us!!!

(Sporcle's lots of fun. Really. If you have any love of trivia at all, you'll enjoy it.)

Fixing the Prequels: Attack of the Clones (part ten)

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

OK, Star Warriors, we're back into Attack of the Clones. After the Naboo sequences, which needed quite a bit of fixing, we're into the sections of the film that I consider the strongest; thus, we should be able to quicken the pace somewhat.

When last we left our adventurers in space, Anakin had (in my version) just thwarted another attack on Padme and made the Executive Jedi Decision to take her away from Naboo, since the assassins know she's there. Remember, though: he hasn't mentioned to her, yet, his fears about his mother. Plus, back on Kamino, Obi Wan has been ordered by Yoda to bring Jango Fett in for questioning.

That's where we start: with Obi Wan on his way to arrest Jango Fett. In the film, we cut right to Obi Wan charging onto the landing platform as the Fetts are about to leave, but in the script, there's a bit where Obi Wan goes back to the Fett's apartment and finds the place empty and looking like the Fetts have left in a hurry. I would have left that in, but I don't think the film suffers without it. And for all that, the fight scene between Obi Wan and Jango Fett is one of my favorite parts of the film; it's exciting and well-staged, and I like how evenly-matched Obi Wan and Jango are, even though Jango's is more a function of his having the niftiest utility belt since Batman and having his kid at the firing controls of his spaceship on the same platform. I can't think of a single thing I'd change in this sequence.

What's so nice about this is the fact that it illustrates anew that Jedi aren't superhuman warriors who can't be defeated. It further illustrates a fact that will later come back to haunt the Jedi badly: that while they can slice their way through armies of battle droids (unless they are undone by sheer numbers), fighting against humans is far less of a given.

After Slave I flies off, with Obi Wan's homing beacon secure about its hull, we cut to Tatooine, where a chrome-hulled Naboo ship is landing. Anakin and Padme venture out to find Watto, in order to seek out Shmi Skywalker. When they find Watto, he's not in his shop but just sitting in a little stall on the street of Mos Espa. He looks like hard times have befallen him. I actually like this little scene, and after a bit of consideration, I really wouldn't change it, except for a couple of tiny things:

ANAKIN and PADMÉ get down. Sitting on a stool in front of the shop is WATTO. He is using a small electronic screwdriver on a fiddly DROID. THREE PIT DROIDS are chattering away and are trying to help him, but they seem only to make him madder.

WATTO: (yelling, in Huttese) No, not that one - that one!

ANAKIN: (in Huttese) Excuse me, Watto.

WATTO: (in Huttese) What?

ANAKIN: (in Huttese) I said excuse me.

WATTO turns to the chattering PIT DROIDS.

WATTO: (in Huttese) Shut down.

The PIT DROIDS snap into their storage position.

ANAKIN: Let me help you with that.

ANAKIN takes the fiddly piece of equipment and starts to play with it. WATTO blinks in surprise.

WATTO: (continuing, in Huttese) What? I don't know you...What can I do for you? You look like a Jedi. Whatever it is... I didn't do it.

WATTO drops the screwdriver and curses loudly in Huttese.

ANAKIN: I'm looking for Shmi Skywalker.

WATTO looks at him suspiciously. He stares at PADMÉ, then back to ANAKIN.

WATTO: Annie?? Little Annie?? Naaah!!

Suddenly, the fiddly piece of equipment in Anakin's hands WHIRS into life. WATTO blinks at it.

See, in the movie, this doesn't happen! The thing that Anakin fixes just sits there, doing nothing. It's a very weird detail for George Lucas and company to have completely missed. Something needs to happen there! (I'm indebted to D. Trull for pointing this out.)

WATTO: You are Annie! It is you! Ya sure sprouted! Weehoo! A Jedi! Waddya know? Hey, maybe you couldda help wit some deadbeats who owe me a lot of money...

ANAKIN: My mother...

WATTO: Oh, yeah. Shmi... she's not mine no more. I sold her.

ANAKIN: Sold her?

WATTO: Years ago. Sorry, Annie, but you know, business is business. Sold her to a moisture farmer named Lars. Least I think it was Lars. Believe it or not, I heard he freed her and married her. Can ya beat that? Always wondered where he got the money for her....

That last bit is something I threw in there, in order to highlight something that will come in to play later on.

ANAKIN: Do you know where they are?

WATTO: Long way from here... someplace over on the other side of Mos Eisley, I think...

ANAKIN: I'd like to know.

Anakin holds out a small bag of coins, which Watto takes and examines.

WATTO: Republic credits? Annie, you know these aren't no good out here--

He stops when he sees that ANAKIN'S grim look means business, and gets the hint quickly.

WATTO: Yeah... sure... absolutely. Republic credits will be fine.
Let's go look in my records. Too bad you can't stay, eh? I just got in a YT-1300 freighter that needs some engine work....

PADME follows as ANAKIN and WATTO go into the shop.

I have to confess that Watto has always been one of my favorite supporting characters in the Prequel Trilogy. He's not mean or sadistic, but he's greedy enough to make him willing to make himself a pain in the ass on occasion, even if his greed never leads him to anything more than being a dealer in junk. (Of course, those of us out there who are self-programmed to find offensive things wherever we go might see Watto's big nose and his obvious monetary greed and assume therefore that George Lucas is making a statement about Jews. I'm not willing to see things that way and am uninterested in discussing that line of thought.)

Immediately after this, we cut to the planet Geonosis, where Slave I comes out of hyperspace and heads down toward the planet. (Geonosis is, by the way, beautiful from space: a red, ringed world.) Behind him, Obi Wan arrives in his own ship. Jango's scanners pick up Obi Wan's ship, and Jango decides to try to lose Obi Wan in the asteroid field (the rings). What ensues is a fairly brief action sequence that obviously has some echoes of the asteroid field chase in The Empire Strikes Back, but this one is briefer and more of a high-speed cat-and-mouse game. Also interestingly, the first two-thirds of the scene is unscored; no music at all. I wondered at this when I first saw it, until I heard the sound produced by the "seismic charges", which are for my money one of the coolest weapons ever unleashed in Star Wars.

Moments like this are why my general response to people who utter the constant refrain of SF whiners the world over, "There's no sound in space!", is basically "Oh, suck it."

(By the way, I love the way Boba Fett laughs evilly and plays "backseat driver" as his Dad tries to fight off a Jedi knight.)

Anyway, I love this action sequence, which ends quickly with Obi Wan making Jango believe he's been blown to bits and then hiding on an asteroid as Jango goes down to the planet surface. Obi Wan follows, and I like what follows here, as Obi Wan discovers during his flyover that Jango Fett has come to a planet where a lot of Trade Federation (the bad guys from The Phantom Menace) ships are landed. Then Obi Wan lands and proceeds to explore the happenings on Geonosis on foot.

We cut back to Tatooine, where Anakin and Padme arrive at the Lars homestead to learn that Shmi Skywalker has been abducted by Sandpeople. This all works very well for me; I love how the whole scene is shot near sunset, imbuing the scene with a sense that something is ending here on Tatooine. I also like the actor who plays Cliegg Lars, Shmi's husband; he's got this great grizzled and weary air about him. This whole sequence plays very well, with a sense of foreboding and impending doom. This whole subplot (an homage to the classic Western The Searchers) is very well done.

Anyway, Anakin decides that he's going after the Sandpeople who kidnapped Shmi, which leads to this brief scene of farewell between Anakin and Padme:


ANAKIN stands looking across the desert. PADMÉ comes running out of the homestead after him. ANAKIN turns to PADMÉ.

ANAKIN: You are going to have to stay here. These are good people, Padmé. You'll be safe.

PADMÉ: Anakin...

PADMÉ hugs him. ANAKIN walks over to OWEN'S speeder bike, which is standing close by.

ANAKIN: I won't be long.

ANAKIN swings onto the bike. The engine fires. He takes off across the desert. PADMÉ watches him go.

Again, in the context of the actual film, this is a very nice little scene. Visually it's inventive: Lucas doesn't show Anakin and Padme hugging, but rather he shows only their shadows, cast by the setting suns on the side of the white-domed Lars homestead farm building, as they embrace. I do need to make a change, though, owing to the fact that in my version of the film, Anakin has never actually told Padme that he's been dreaming about his mother.


ANAKIN stands looking across the desert. PADMÉ comes running out of the homestead after him. ANAKIN turns to PADMÉ.

ANAKIN: You are going to have to stay here. These are good people, Padmé. You'll be safe.

PADME: You know something like this was happening, didn't you?

ANAKIN: I...I feared it.

PADME: You saw it, didn't you? You saw it through the Force. Those dreams you've been having...that's why you brought me here.

ANAKIN: I brought you here to protect you.

PADME: But also to protect her.

She steps closer to him and takes his hand.

PADME: You know you can trust me, Anakin. You could have told me why you wanted to come here, of all the worlds you could have taken me to. I'd have come.

ANAKIN struggles for words, but finds he has none.

ANAKIN: I have to go. While it's still light.

PADMÉ nods and hugs him. ANAKIN walks over to OWEN'S speeder bike, which is standing close by.

ANAKIN: I won't be long.

ANAKIN swings onto the bike. The engine fires. He takes off across the desert. PADMÉ watches him go.

PADME: May the Force be with you.

I've always thought that a big part of Anakin's fall to the Dark Side stems from his desire to do the right thing coupled with his confusion about what the right thing actually is. He's in love with Padme, but he's not entirely trusting with her, either; he doesn't always let her in, until things have turned disastrous in the end. It would be entirely in keeping with his character to not tell her his underlying motivation for bringing her to Tatooine.

So Anakin speeds off on the speeder bike, whipping across the sands of Tatooine in search of the sandpeople who took his mother. This is very brief in the movie: a couple of shots of Anakin on the speeder bike, then Anakin conferring with some Jawas, and then we cut back to Obi Wan. In the script, however, there's a little more: Anakin comes across a campsite where three moisture farmers have been slaughtered by Sandpeople. Not surprisingly, I'd have left this in.

Also in the script is a brief scene where a worried Padme talks to C-3PO about her growing confusion over her feelings for Anakin. I wouldn't restore this, actually – it's a pretty clunkily-written scene, after all – but I would show Padme at night, gazing in the direction Anakin has gone, maybe again holding that little pendant he'd carved for her in TPM. For purposes of information, though, here's the scene as written:


PADMÉ enters the garage where C-3PO sits working.

C-3PO: Hello, Miss Padmé.

PADMÉ: Hello, Threepio.

C-3PO: You can't sleep?

PADMÉ: No, I have too many things on my mind, I guess.

C-3PO: Are you worried about your work in the Senate?

PADMÉ: No, I'm just concerned about Anakin. I saidthings... I'm afraid I may have hurt him. I don't know. Maybe I only hurt myself. For the first time in my life, I'm confused.

C-3PO: I'm not sure it will make you feel any better Miss Padmé, but I don't think there's been a time in my life when I haven't been confused.

PADMÉ: I want him to know I care about him. I do care about him.

C-3PO: Don't worry about Master Annie. He can take care of himself. Even in this awful place.

Yeah, not the best thing in the world. As noted, I wouldn't have included this entire thing -- a nicely shot scene with no dialogue at all would have served fine -- but its existence in the original script indicates that originally, Padme's feelings for Anakin didn't progress as quickly as they seem to in the finished film. Again I find myself wishing that George Lucas had realized that story should determine a film's running time, and not the other way around.

One last quibble: in the film, we cut from Anakin conferring with the Jawas back to Obi Wan on Geonosis. The problem here is that the Tatooine landscape and the Geonosis landscapes are pretty similar, so it takes a few seconds before we realize we're looking at Obi Wan and not Anakin (he's shown from a distance). I think that cutting back there after showing a worried Padme would help the transition a bit, making it less confusing.

And that's where we'll leave things for this time. Next time, the Sandpeople discover that if you kidnap a human woman, you'd best make sure her son isn't a Jedi Knight with a hair-trigger temper. Ah, the wisdom of Star Wars!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Answering some more!

More queries to answer from Ask Me Anything! 2010. Hooray!!!

Mark asks: Given a choice between Yes or the Who for a Super Bowl halftime show, who would you say yes to?


Roger asks: You have a nom de plume. But now your Facebook page, with your real name, shows up on your blog. So Jaquandor wasn't an attempt at some pseudonym-driven privacy?

It was, originally. I "came of age" on the Internet during the 90s, when pseudonym use was a lot more prevalent. When I launched the blog, I planned to write about a fairly narrow range of topics -- books, movies, and the occasional sports-related item if the whim struck. Problem was, that felt a bit limiting, so I started writing about more and more personal stuff, and over time, the need for pseudonymity and that type of privacy felt less and less important.

Additionally, in 2003 I started writing reviews for Green Man Review under my real name, and I wanted to specifically link my reviews there from my stuff on the blog and vice versa, so that's when I "officially" ditched "Jaquandor" as a permanent pseudonym, or as the only way I identified myself online.

I didn't ditch the name entirely, though, mainly because I liked the name, and plenty of other folks online -- in Blogistan and outside of it -- have done pretty much the same thing. So, basically, at this point it's pretty much of an affectation, although I have just now realized that by putting that Facebook widget on the blog, this is the first time my name has directly appeared here. (But it's always been present on The Promised King, demonstrating the somewhat ephemeral nature of this sort of thing.)

LC Scotty tempts me with a query about Ayn Rand: I know you have little but contempt for Ayn Rand. I'd be curious to hear your take on this criticism of her work?

It's an interesting article, I thought. Basically I read it as "Rand was on something of a right track, but she takes it way too far." A sampling:

While she was hardly the first philosopher to advocate a morality of individualism and rational self-interest, she formulated it in a uniquely accessible way and a uniquely passionate one, not as a dry economic construct but as a bold vision of struggle, creative achievement and romanticism.

All this accounts for much of Rand's appeal. But that appeal is severely limited by the flaws of her world-view.

One of those flaws is Rand's unwillingness to consider the possibility that the values of the free market can coexist with other, non-individualistic and non-market-based virtues--those of family and community, for example. Instead, Rand frames even human relations in terms of trade (our concern for loved ones is based on the positive things they bring to our lives) and offered at best lukewarm support for charitable aid. When charity is mentioned in Rand's fiction, it is nearly always in a negative context. In Atlas Shrugged, a club providing shelter to needy young women is ridiculed for offering help to alcoholics, drug users, and unwed mothers-to-be.

Family fares even worse in Rand's universe. In her 1964 Playboy interview Rand flatly declared that it was "immoral" to place family ties and friendship above productive work; in her fiction, family life is depicted as a stifling swamp.

Saying, as Scotty does, that I have "little but contempt" for Rand is something of an understatement. I consider Rand's philosophy to be utterly loathsome; I find Rand's writing to be appallingly bad both from a technical standpoint and from her nauseating view of human nature; and from what I've read of Rand as a person, she was a spectacularly horrible human being. (I'm not sure what word would best categorize her fascination with child murderer William Edward Hickman, but were I to learn that a living author today exhibited the same feelings for a criminal of today, that writer's books would almost immediately find their way off my bookshelves, were I to own any.)

More irritating -- or, I used to find them more irritating, before I just decided they were laughable -- are Rand's accolytes, most of whom I've encountered cite Rand in much the same way that certain fundamentalist Christians will ask "Have you spoken to Jesus today?" To hear Randites tell the tale, Western Philosophy can be reduced to a line connecting Plato, Aristotle, and then Rand. If Godwin's Law holds that as any Internet discussion gets longer the probability of Hitler or the Nazis being mentioned approaches one, a similar law could be made of Objectivists: as any discussion with an Objectivist progresses, the probability of the Objectivist saying "A can not be not-A!" approaches one. This always amuses me, as it nearly always demonstrates that at the heart of Objectivism lies a particularly childlike notion of duality. A or not-A are the only choices; the idea that a thing can embody qualities of A and not-A at the same time is not to be entertained at all. Randians, or "Randroids" as I like to think of them, simply pronounce themselves adherents to Pure Reason, and therefore, all their conclusions are automatically logical, valid, and informed by reason. Sure. Whatever.

The writer's take here seems to be that Rand is admirable in some way, but she goes too far. I suspect it's pretty obvious that I wouldn't credit Rand with even that much; I find in Rand a general contempt for humanity and a stunning lack of concern for human well-being that couldn't be more at odds with my own worldview. I also find in her a childlike faith in the notion that where a person ends up in life is a function of their own efforts. We Americans love to adhere to varying degrees of this notion, but the older I get, the more terrifying I find the degree to which pure, dumb luck dominates our lives. (Example: I have a good job now where I'm learning a lot of new skills. Yes, I work hard both to get my jobs done and to learn those skills, but had I not been lucky enough to put in my application at a time when my predecessor was someone who sucked, I'd be doing something else right now.)

The writer of the piece lauds Rand's status "as a promoter of the ideas of individual liberty, reason, and the free market". I find nothing admirable in Rand in any of those categories; her concept if individual liberty is infantile, "reason" for her is nothing more than a blunt instrument that leads to predetermined conclusions, and I can't see where anything good has ever come of worshiping the free market as a good inherent in itself.

Ultimately, I would respond to the RealClearPolitics article by quoting two others. First:

We all live every day with the victory of this fifth-rate Nietzsche of the mini-malls. Alan Greenspan was one of her strongest cult followers and even invited her to the Oval Office to witness his swearing-in when he joined the Ford administration. You can see how he carried this philosophy into the 1990s: Why should the Supermen of Wall Street be regulated to protected the lice of Main Street?

The figure Ayn Rand most resembles in American life is L. Ron Hubbard, another crazed, pitiable charlatan who used trashy potboilers to whip up a cult. Unfortunately, Rand's cult isn't confined to Tom Cruise and a rash of Hollywood dimwits. No, its ideas and its impulses have, by drilling into the basest human instincts, captured one of America's major political parties.

And second:

Rand’s particular intellectual contribution, the thing that makes her so popular and so American, is the way she managed to mass market elitism — to convince so many people, especially young people, that they could be geniuses without being in any concrete way distinguished. Or, rather, that they could distinguish themselves by the ardor of their commitment to Rand’s teaching. The very form of her novels makes the same point: they are as cartoonish and sexed-up as any best seller, yet they are constantly suggesting that the reader who appreciates them is one of the elect.

And I saw this just recently:

Unfair? Maybe...but it seems to me that the main freedom Rand symbolizes is nothing more than the freedom to be a boorish asshole. Sure, you have the freedom to be just that, but if you exercise that freedom,'re a boorish asshole. As for the Randroids, as I once responded to someone who told me that I shouldn't judge the book (Atlas Shrugged) by its cult, I'm not -- I'm judging the cult by its book.

I AM happy, darn it!!!

Redsneaks tags me with something about being happy. I'm supposed to list ten things that make me happy.

He notes that his blog probably presents a more morose tone to his life than is accurate (with good reason -- he's been through a lot). I note that I probably seem happier on the blog than I do in real life! Not that I'm unhappy, but I seem to have the kind of face that defaults to an expression that seems to display unhappiness that I don't feel. I've noticed that when I take self-portraits of myself (such as are visible over on Flickr), if I'm not outright grinning or making some other face, basically if I'm just sitting there doing stuff, I look annoyed or "in the dumps" or something. It's not at all uncommon for people to see me walking around my day and ask me if something's bothering me or what I'm pissed at, and my response is, "Huh? I'm fine! Really!"

So I'm not a person who makes internal peace outwardly obvious. Oh well. Maybe I'll work on that...or maybe not.

Oh yeah, I was supposed to do some kind of list for this post. Ten things that make me happy (minus the obvious mentions of The Wife, The Daughter, and Star Wars):

1. Hot pizza
2. The pleasant feeling after consuming a couple of adult beverages
3. That feeling when a really nifty idea pops into my head while writing
4. Get Fuzzy
5. The Olympic Games
6. Pies in the face
7. Fried chicken (hot for dinner, cold the next day for lunch)
8. The way used bookstores smell
9. The way hardware stores smell
10. Bib overalls!

And there you go. I'm not going to tag anyone, but I wouldn't mind seeing this one spread out through Blogistan!

Sentential Links #196

Weekly linkage! Beware!

:: If torture were really as effective as the Thiessen/Cheney wing of the conservative movement thinks, they'd hardly risk resorting to such obvious lies to defend it. They'd have so much good evidence in favor of it that they wouldn't need to bother. But apparently they don't.

:: Nobody knows what his views are on domestic policy, but it seems impossible at this point to imagine a Republican nominee who believes in the rule of law and humane treatment of detainees. And that, in turn, is obviously a sad state of affairs.

:: During the Bush years, Reynolds specialized in accusing Bush’s critics of wanting the country to lose militarily and collapse economically. I wondered why he thought so. Now I think I know: he was merely projecting onto his political adversaries the attitude that he and his friends expected to adopt if a liberal ever occupied the White House.

:: The Democrats may not win, but I'm pretty sure they're going to try. The conservative freakout is going to be something to behold. (I can't wait. They are going to shit their pants but good.)

:: I have been fascinated with curling ever since I first saw it in the 2002 Olympics. (My deep suspicion is that there are no rules in curling, and that is rather some kind of bizarre performance art thing that's only being portrayed as a sport. I further suspect that the medal winners' names are drawn from a hat.)

:: In a fairly empty theater don’t take a seat right in front of me. Especially when there are twenty seats on either side you could choose instead. (Holy shit, nothing irritates me more in movie theaters than when people do this. Actually this general notion can be extended to just about any joint with seating open to the public, but it's particularly annoying in theaters. Now, stadium seating mitigates this somewhat, but still, when someone's got virtually an entire theater to choose from and still sits right in front me, I always think, "Really?!")

:: Boot me!

:: Sex sells. Always has, and always will. And if customers can't buy it from you, they'll go to someone else who's willing to sell it to them.

:: When I was writing about The Door Into Summer, I kept finding myself thinking what a cheerful positive future it’s set in. I especially noticed because the future is 1970 and 2000. I also noticed because it isn’t a cliche SF future—no flying cars, no space colonies, no aliens, just people on Earth and progress progressing. Why is nobody writing books like this now?

:: "Remember kids, when you're attacked by a shark, just punch him on the inside of his mouth, because sharks are allergic to gold rings and their throats will close up.* And stay in school. And don't do drugs. Now, I'm gonna need a whole lotta tartar sauce!"

More next week.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Drowning in tabs!

OK, I just upgraded to Firefox 3.6, from 3.5.8. It's still the same, mostly, except one change that I have noticed is that tabs no longer open left to right in the order that you open them, across the top. Instead, tabs open left to right in the order opened, starting immediately to the right of the tab from which you opened them. This is going to take a bit of getting used to.

(In other words: if you have two tabs open, Tab #1 on the left and Tab #2 on the right, when you open a link from Tab #1 in a new tab, Tab #3 will appear to the right of Tab #2. Now, Tab #2 gets shifted over to become Tab #3, making Tab #2 the one you've just opened from Tab #1. I can see the logic for this, but it's one of those differences that's just different enough to frustrate for a little while.)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Oddities abound!

:: President Obama recently decided to shift gears for our nation's space program, which is nothing new; every President seems to shift gears for our nation's space program. GWBush wanted to go back to the Moon; Obama doesn't. And there it is. But why does Obama not wish to send America back to the moon? Let the true reason be heard!

:: I've long thought that one of the most Star Warsish locations on Earth has to be Dubai. An artist has proven me right.

(via -- I'd forgotten I bookmarked Dark Roasted Blend!)

:: A Flickr pool of cookies splashing into coffee. Cool, and weird!

More next week!!!

Driving me to distraction

I know that a lot of folks have had problems galore with Windows Vista, but it's never given me any major headaches. One thing it does that vexes, though, is that it seems to every so often reassign drive letters to USB storage devices I plug in, after long periods of those devices having the same letter.

I always discover that this has happened when I try to open a file I've been working on. For "ephemeral" writings of mine -- that is, blog posts, mostly -- I write a lot of my longer pieces in OpenOffice rather than Blogger's posting interface, and then, when finished, I just copy-and-paste the content into Blogger and hit "publish". For posts like book or movie reviews, I have files on the thumb drive I use most often called "Recent Reading" and "Recent Movie Watching", and I just write away in those files. (Same thing with "Fixing the Prequels", and with other longer posts on any number of topics, which I write in a constantly changing file called simply "Posts".) So, every so often, I'll just go under my Start menu to recent documents and click the one I want to write more into, and it'll open up nicely...unless the computer has recently reassigned my main flash drive's letter, in which case I get the fun error message, "File G:\Documents\Essays\ByzantiumShores\WhyPieThrowingIsCool.odt does not exist." So then I have to go through and open the file using the file-browsing dialogue box, discovering that my flash drive which has been the G: drive for two or three months is now the F: drive.

No, it's not the biggest issue in the world, at least with opening those files. With maintaining my music library in Windows Media Player, however, it's a total pain in the ass.

A while back, I decided to remove just about all of my music files from my computer's hard drive and put them on a 250GB external hard drive. (I've since even bought a second EHD that's 320GB; this I use purely for backup.) My "main" EHD, the 250GB one, is the one I use most often, and I actually have it over ninety percent full right now (although the big majority of that is actually movies and teevee shows I've put on it). The music takes up just under 55GB, which is why I wanted to get it off my main hard drive; I try to keep my main computer drive no more than one-third full at any time.

OK. So, when I moved all of that music over to the EHD, I had to add another location to Windows Media Player's library function. At the time, the EHD was my F: drive, and it remained my F: drive for months -- in fact, it was even more than a year. No problem. I'd rip a CD, move the files over to the EHD, and WMP would take care of everything.

Until, on fine day, I launched WMP and found that almost none of my library would play, because the computer had that day decided that my EHD, which had forever been the F: drive, was now the H: drive. So I set up WMP to scan the H: drive as well for library files, which it did, but it then had to go and clean itself up and remove its pointers to the F: files it could no longer find. This took quite a while, as we're talking about removing pointers to several thousand files.

And now, guess what -- it just did it to me again. My EHD is suddenly and inexplicably back to being my F: drive! So again, WMP has to go an completely reindex itself.

My question is, after a long-winded post, highly obvious: Is there a way in Vista to permanently assign a letter to a drive?

Adding to the Collection

Lee Detail

I haven't purchased any new overalls in some time, but one of the most recent pairs I acquired were these, via eBay: a nicely worn, vintage Hickory-striped pair by Lee. I don't own much by way of Hickory-striped overalls -- a couple of pairs of Dickies and one by Key was about it, before I got these. I've always been curious about the Hickory-striped cloth and its history. In my experience, Hickory-striped denim (I assume it's denim, or maybe it's twill) feels a bit lighter in weight than traditional denim, which makes the overalls a bit cooler in the wearing.

Vintage Lee Hickory Stripe Overalls!!!

Lee used to make great overalls back in the day, which is probably why they tend to be pretty expensive when vintage pairs show up on eBay. I've been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on several of these auctions, but these striped ones are awesome. I love 'em.

Looking down upon me....

This pair does need a little work, though. There are a couple of small holes in the legs, which isn't that big a deal. But I'm certainly not going to be wearing these in public while there's a hole near the back pocket, a bit closer to the butt than I'd like. Nobody needs to see that.

Overalls rule!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A very public service message

Just a note, folks: in this template, each post's comments link appears at the top of the post, instead of at the bottom. So if you click a comments link at the bottom of a post, you'll actually be leaving your comment on the wrong post. Which could get confusing.

(And yes, I would like to change this and put comments at the bottom of posts, but I haven't been able to figure out how this happens on this particular template. If anyone has any notion, feel free to let me know! I originally got the template from here. I wouldn't mind moving that entire thing above each post, with the labels and the comments link, to the bottom of each post, just below the timestamp.)

Poor Evgeni

It seems that Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko was not entirely happy about his Silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics, mainly because Plushenko landed a quadruple jump while Gold medalist Evan Lycasek (from the United States) did not. Plushenko made all manner of public comments about how he is surprised that one can win a Gold medal without doing a quad, and that without a quad, "men's figure skating" is reduced to ice dancing.

Well, cry me a river.

Many skating observers, even armchair ones myself who really can't tell a Salchow jump from a toe-loop jump unless the announcers tell me which is which, have thought for a number of years that skating has become too jump-focused, to the point where competitions ever since, say, Nagano in 1998 have basically boiled down to who lands the most quads without falling. When that was the reigning paradigm in skating, it was little trouble for a guy like Plushenko to win consistently, because -- and here's the dirty truth about him -- Plushenko is ultimately a one-trick pony.

Evgeni Plushenko is a skater who essentially turns in boring, personality-free performances into which he inserts spectacular jumps. He's an amazing jumper, maybe the best pure jumper ever, but everything else he does is just dull. This has tended, in my view, to be the case with Russian men in general; only Alexei Yagudin -- Gold in Salt Lake City in '02 -- of the recent Russian male domination didn't bore me with his programs. Other than him, all of the Russian men who have won since Brian Boitano's win in 1988 have been boring skaters who won by landing perfect jumps. (The most categorically insane Olympic victory was 1994's, when Alexei Urmanov sleepskated to Gold over Elvis Stojko's inifinitely more interesting programs.)

Now, finally, it seems that figure skating has started to push the pendulum back the other way, taking the emphasis back off jumps in general and the quad specifically, thus making the quad less of a silver bullet maneuver than it's been of late. That bugs Plushenko, obviously, but he'll just have to get over it. To flip his complaint around: it's called figure skating, not ice jumping. If he thinks that's what should determine the winners, then maybe a new event should take place featuring jumping and nothing else. Hell, we could even get rid of the music and the funky outfits and just have the skaters come out and do jumps in front of an audience. Then Plushenko could quad to his heart's content and dominate in the only way he really knows how.

Rapid Response Team!

Don't call me "Schneider"., originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

A while back I posted about my tool cart at work. Now, I don't push that cart around everywhere I go on the job; mostly I'll show up in a department sans cart if I'm just going to diagnose or examine the needs of a certain job. However, I don't go entirely tool-less -- there are tools I like to have with me pretty much at all times, so here's how that looks. It's a pouch that I hang off my belt.

The photo's Flickr page is annotated with what each tool is, so click through it you want to know. Yeah, I tend to be pretty loaded down at work!

I hope it tingles and tangles and prangles my transistors!

Remember my post a short while ago about the goofy 1980 B-movie space western Battle Beyond the Stars? I just figured that post represented a pleasant trip down geek memory lane for me and maybe a few others who recalled that obscure film. I certainly never figured that Battle was any kind of going concern.

Well, guess what: Battle actually is a going concern. It's being revisited, in the form of a prequel comic book!

I am so going to read this.

Details here. The world needs more space opera comic books!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A quick FYI

If anyone out there was, like me, wondering what music Takahiko Kozuka used during his long program at the Olympics, it's Michael Kamen's Guitar Concerto. I know it's been recorded, but I'm not sure where.

This is a public service provided by Byzantium's Shores!

A tale....

It begins with the arrival of a mysterious package. I wonder what's in it?

There is only one thing to do, obviously. I start to undo the tape and open the envelope.

Then, having rendered the envelope fully open, I look inside...

And I find something wonderful, which gives me cause to gloat at all of you folks, because none of you has one of these!

Time to clear off the reading schedule! Under Heaven, here I come! Looks like I won't be finishing by GGK re-read before the new book comes to my hands after all. I suppose I could stick to the schedule and only read this new one once the last two books (plus the poetry collection) are out of the way, but come on, now. That would be silly.

(This is a review copy for GMR, so my eventual review will be going there instead of here. I am also writing a review of The Sarantine Mosaic for GMR, and I'll have the link for it when it goes live, so that a link to it will still appear under the post label for my GGK re-read.)

Something for Thursday

A change of pace this week. Here's one of my favorite scenes from The West Wing. The set-up is that a death row prisoner is about to be executed, and somehow (I don't recall the particulars) it comes to pass that his only hope is a commutation from the President, who spends most of the day worrying about what to do. He asks several people for advice -- his Jewish commnications director, a visiting political consultant who is a Quaker, and finally his own parish priest. Ultimately, Bartlet does...what he does here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Time for a few more answers to questions poses in Ask Me Anything! 2010.

Longtime reader DavidS asks: What do you think about that guy who did the 70 minute youtube rant on Star Wars Phantom Menace do you agree or disagree?

I mentioned this in brief in a Fixing the Prequels: AOTC post, but to answer it here: I know it's out there, and I have little intention or inclination to watch the whole thing. Why?

Well, I've seen this thing discussed a lot in the various haunts I frequent around Blogistan, and I've even seen it discussed in places I didn't particularly expect to see it. To me, that last is the more interesting phenomenon here; there are folks out there who apparently just love it when they get a new reason to bitch about George Lucas. Here's a good example of what I'm talking about, from a post by one of my favorite political bloggers, Kevin Drum, in which he briefly decides to talk about LOST:

From Carlton Cuse, co-creator of Lost, explaining why they're going to leave a few things still mysterious when the show ends this season:

To sort of demystify that by trying to literally explain everything down to the last little sort of midi-chlorian of it all would be a mistake in our view.

It all sounded like a cop-out until he put it that way. Now I totally approve!

Ha ha! See, it's funny because it's a shot at George Lucas! See, if you want to tell a good story, just do the opposite of what George Lucas would do! Heh indeed!

Of course, never mind that the Prequels actually leave tons of stuff unexplained. Things are implied, but not stated outright, and even the hated midichlorians aren't really an explanation for anything. I'm always amazed by the tendency for people who hate the Prequel Trilogy to critique it on grounds that are simply wrong.

But back to the 70-minute review guy. As I note in the earlier post, I did watch a few minutes of it, and I found it terribly off-putting. The guy's voice is grossly unpleasant, and he lost me as soon as he made a joke about his son having committed suicide. From the commentary I've seen 'round the Interweb, it seems that grim stuff like that tends to form the backbone of this guy's sense of humor. Fine, I guess, but my understanding is that part of the video has the guy pretending to be a serial killer who keeps women prisoner in his basement? Huh?!

Also, the commentary I've read about the review is odd in that everyone cites as pure genius the way this guy makes criticisms that somehow they have never considered before -- and yet, with every cited example, I realize that I've heard these criticisms many times. There are no emotional stakes in the final battle! There's no main character! There's no Han Solo-esque character to root for! And so on.

The Phantom Menace is nearly eleven years old. I see no reason to view a 70-minute cavalcade of all the complaints about the movie that I've heard before, and rejected. Especially if there are jokes about child suicide and serial murder. I realize this sounds dismissive, and in all honesty, I suppose it is.

(Plus, there's my general jealousy and bitterness inherent in this guy's review shooting all over the Web while my own "Fixing the Prequels" series languishes in total obscurity! Why yes, I would like some cheese with my whine!)

Dave in Rocha asks: What's causing the noise coming from the right-side rear wheel of my car when I take a right turn?

Something is rubbing on something it shouldn't be rubbing on; or maybe, something that is supposed to be rubbing on something else has ceased to rub, thereby causing inappropriate rubbing someplace else.

The proper course of action is, of course, to take your car out back and shoot it.

(One thing to check, if you haven't already, is your mud flap. If it's loose, it may be making contact with your tire in certain situations or wheel configurations, such as a right turn. I actually had this problem myself a month or so back: my driver's side front mudflap lost all but one of its screws, so sometimes it would actually get twisted outward and stuck with its back surface against my tire. The sound this made was awful, until I just removed the flap entirely. But this probably isn't the problem on a rear wheel, since those don't turn. Hmmmm. Maybe a bad bearing or joint between the wheel and the drive shaft. Forget the mud flap thing and just shoot your car. It's the humanitarian thing to do.)

More answers to come! Good questions this year. Thanks, folks!

(Hmmmm...must remember to close off comments on the Submissions post, lest new questions keep showing up....)

Boom de yada!

OK, I need to get this all down in one place.

Here's the great original Discovery Channel commercial:

OK. Then came the always-wondrous xkcd:

xkcd loves the discovery channel

This, of course, needed to be set to music:

And then it got even better:

And all of this leads, naturally, to:

Boom de yada!!!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Johnny Weir's costume in last night's Men's Figure Skating short program at the Olympics:

Is this the worst costume in figure skating history, or not?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Once an islander....

Sheila O'Malley is one of my favorite bloggers, not just for the quality of her writing but for her apparent fearless willingness to dig deep within herself. She recently spent a period of time on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, and she's written several photo-heavy posts detailing facets of her time there. It's hauntingly beautiful stuff, so go spend some time looking.

The Theme was Hearts
Somewhere In Time
The End that is the North Light
Ice on the Sea
The Ferry Ride Out
The Ferry Ride Back

There is more of Block Island in her archives, but that's a start. Amazing.

The Answers!

OK, folks, it's time to start providing answers to the questions submitted for this year's version of Ask Me Anything! Some short and easy ones to start with.

"Quince" asks: Since the housing market is becoming very buyer friendly do you think you will buy a house anytime soon?

I don't know. I'd like to eventually, but we live in a pricier town, real estate-wise, and I'm loathe to move somewhere we can get a cheaper house because The Daughter is going to a wonderful school district and has a lot of friends. I'm not big on the idea of uprooting her just to get a house more cheaply. We'll see.

Mark wonders: Will the Bills' uniforms ever look good? Not just no teal, therefore good, but cohesive, distinctive and low on eyestrain good?

They do already, twice a year at least: their current "throwback" uniforms look pretty sweet:

Now, I've never been as down on their current "regular" uniform as many, but I never saw any rationale for change, except for the usual one: money, as in, getting fans to buy new jerseys.

(By the way, on the topic of fans buying jerseys, it really bugs me when people get their own names put on the back of a team jersey. Especially if it's a number long associated with a well-known player. So if you're a Bills fan named Schmidt, you don't get to put "Schmidt" on the back of a jersey whose number is 12. That doesn't work at all.)

LC Scotty asks: I've never read any Heinlein, and you being the skiffy expert around these parts I was wondering if you had a suggested order for diving in.

Sadly...I have no idea. I haven't read much Heinlein at all. I tried several of his novels several years ago and bounced off them all. Now, I was trying to read his more "serious", "adult" SF, and not the "juveniles" he was known for (like Starship Troopers), so maybe those would be a good place to start. Sorry!

(I have read some Heinlein short fiction, though, and liked it well enough, although I can't recall any titles.)

Glenn asks: If the average American family size is 3.14 people, and the average American consumes 0.73 gallons of ethanol from distilled spirituous beverages per year, and my favorite bourbon contains 45% alcohol by volume, what is is the combined cubic capacity of household freezers in any given 100 kilometer block, and should I serve it over ice?

This seems like a trick question, one of those questions my physics teacher used to put on exams that he would load up with what he called "confusion factors" -- i.e., numbers tossed into the question to act as red herrings for the students. In my opinion, bourbon should always be served over ice. I think it goes down better.

I prefer my rum at room temperature if straight, although cold rum is just fine, too.

More answers to come! Good questions this time out. (And if anyone tried to sneak in another question after I've already declared the submission period over, well, I might not notice until after I answered it....)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chickens? To the Roaster, Batman!

I've blogged this recipe several times over the years, but it always bears revisiting, because it's the easiest chicken recipe I know. You simply marinade the chicken in a mixture of equal parts honey, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

I made this dish a week or two back, here at Casa Jaquandor. Here's the chicken in the marinade:

Chicken and Roasted Potatoes I

You can use any piece of chicken for this, obviously. Heck, you can do it with a whole chicken -- I'll bet that would be really good, actually -- but here, I used thigh pieces. I've always been partial to the breast, but lately I've developed a greater appreciation for the thigh, which seems to stay moist more readily than the breast does.

For this meal, I also made roasted potatoes:

Chicken and Roasted Potatoes II

My method for roasted potatoes is to toss them in some oil, herbs and spices, depending on what kind of flavor I'm in the mood for. So this time I used a bottle of herbed oil that I already had on hand, plus garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, and a bit of cayenne. I spread the potatoes out on a foil-lined cookie sheet and then pop 'em in the oven.

My potatoes this time ended up a bit crunchier than I really like, because I wasn't sure whether the potatoes would cook completely in the same time the chicken would, so I put the potatoes in first. Next time, they go in at the same time. They were still edible -- quite yummy, in fact -- but a little too much crunch.

Still, it was a terrific meal:

Chicken and Roasted Potatoes III

Write down that marinade recipe (equal parts honey, soy sauce, and sesame oil). It's an always-helpful easy-as-pie recipe to have around!

What's wrong with this kid?

A kid gets lost at a comics convention and decides to ask for help from the obviously most likely source for it: a couple of superheroes.

Give him a couple of years, of course, and he's not looking at the Flash. He's looking at...a couple of other things there, just to the Flash's right.

(But I wonder if that woman has any acting chops? She looks perfect as Wonder Woman! Cast her now, and write the script later!)


Sentential Links #196


:: The Law is a blunt instrument. It's not a scalpel. It's a club. If there is something you consider indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible. (An essential post.)

:: The truth may sound rude, but in general, Tea Party activists have no idea what they're talking about. Their sincerity notwithstanding, this is a confused group of misled people.

:: It really is quite amazing what you can do with a group of people who are completely uninterested in the truth, unwilling to believe anything that comes from someone other than Rush or Glenn Beck or an “acceptable” source of information, and who have a vested interest in believing what they want to believe, reality be damned. It is why they can freak out about the stimulus bill as 800 BILLION IN PORK when damned near half of it was tax cuts and another 250 billion of it was simply money to prop up holes in state and local budgets. (I swear to God I've never encountered more rank ignorance than I've seen in the Teabaggers and their brethren -- the ones who never once uttered a single word in opposition to enormously massive deficits as long as a white Republican was in the White House. I recently got into an inadvertent discussion with an individual over the Health Care bill, and he said that he opposes it because it'll run our health care "the same way that Canada does". I just said "No it won't" and changed the subject to football.)

:: Yes, it does. Yes, you could. Maybe you should. But you won’t, and that’s probably the most important answer of the four.

:: It is a bedrock belief of all anti-tax types that they themselves are the only people in the United States paying taxes.

:: "I pity the ninja that tussles with Mr. T! Buy my cereal, kids! And don't do drugs!"

:: Originally a superheroine intended as a marketing gimmick in 1980 with Casablanca Records (much like the band Kiss had been a cross-media sensation), Dazzler is an oddity to say the least. Blue face paint that would look more at home on a Kiss groupie than a superhero, a skin tight bell-bottomed one-piece outfit and rhinestoned roller skates… Dazzler makes an impression right off the bat.

:: There are a lot of things that piss me off about Google Buzz. (I'm not pissed off about Google Buzz; I just don't understand why I'd want to use it when I'm already on Facebook and Twitter.)

Hmmmm...more politics than usual. Oh well, that's how I roll.