Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bring him Ice

SamuraiFrog comments favorably on Sean Bean's casting as Lord Eddard Stark in the forthcoming HBO series A Game of Thrones, adapting the first book in George RR Martin's pretty good, but I suspect doomed to eternal incompletion, Song of Ice and Fire series. Bean looks really good in this photo:

Looking at this pic, I have a new thought: [SPOILER, highlight to read]Maybe after this, Bean can play Uther Pendragon in a filmed adaptation of Mary Stewart's Arthurian books, so he can keep up his newfound habit of playing guys who die in the first books of the series whose filmed adaptation he's starring in.

In other Game of Thrones casting news, the part of Hodor has been cast. Talk about having it easy! (Hodor is a mentally-challenged character who only ever says his own name. That's it. His dialogue will consist of him doing nothing but saying "Hodor". In fact, I have a hope that in the unlikely event GRRM ever actually does finish the series, the book ends with "Hodor," said Hodor.)

I've had ENOUGH!

Ahhh, the tortures of Hell's Kitchen continue!

:: Sandwich day at Hell's Kitchen. Oy. I love sandwiches. Watching this show was painful, it made me so hungry! But interesting that Ramsay takes them to a place so they can eat French Dip sandwiches, and then criticizes Fran's sandwich because of a bit of soggy bread, saying that "You never want to see soggy bread in a sandwich." Except, apparently, the sandwiches that are dipped in broth at the place you took them to, Chef?

:: The 50th wedding anniversary hosted by Hell's Kitchen was kind of cool, although I'd never heard of "Steak Diane" before. No idea what that is. Chicken Kiev, though? Ewwww! Never been a big fan of the stuff.

:: Salvatore is gone. I had a feeling.

:: Siobhan is gone. Again, I had a feeling.

:: Remaining contestants: Holli got yelled at for the first time, I think. She's still safe, though. I expect Fran to go soon. Autumn had a low-key week in which she did not annoy me. The others on the Blue team -- Jason, Jay, and Ed -- all had rough weeks, though, probably because they got really drunk the night before service and were hung over. Oops!

:: Until this week, the main impression we'd been given of Benjamin was of a quiet and talented cook who just performed consistently and didn't speak up much. Well, all that was out of the water this week, as he revealed himself to be a Grade A ass. Yes, Siobhan deserved to go, but his arrogant and condescending vendetta towards her was disgusting to behold -- especially when he insisted that in his professional opinion, the sandwich she'd made was terrible even after Chef Ramsay himself pronounced it fine. I won't be rooting for Benjamin now. At all. I want him to lose, badly. He's an ugly little man, and I have to wonder if his new-found arrogance and outspokenness, now that he's gone from the all-male Blue Team to the all-female Red Team, is based just a bit in good old-fashioned male chauvinism.

Next week brings the ever-popular "Taste the ingredient and tell me what it is" challenge, which is always a devious one as Ramsay mixes prosaic ingredients like ham and onion with "gourmet", obscure stuff like watercress and...other stuff, which causes contestants to overthink and identify, say, bologna as "coconut".

A cautionary tale

So, like most kids, The Daughter is a fan o...The Twinkie. That snack cake of questionable worth, which is at once utterly insubstantial and heavy as a rock when one consumes it, and filled with a substance that is to whipped cream as...well, I'm struggling to come up with an analogy, so wildly inferior to the wonder of whipped cream is the stuff in the middle of a Twinkie.

Long story short, one weekend a couple of weeks back I bought a six-pack of Twinkies for The Kid's desserts for the week. Funny thing, though -- she still hasn't eaten them all. Not to worry, of course, as Twinkies are rumored to have a shelf-life best measured in terms reserved for the half-life of Plutonium.

But...I got to thinking about it, and I realized, maybe I've been unfair to the poor Twinkie. Maybe it's OK. I mean, yeah, it's mass-produced crap, but not all mass-produced crap is, well, crap, you know? And really, their "shelf life" is said to really be only twenty-five days, although what that means is open to debate -- is the twenty-five day for "best results", or is it a point beyond which consuming the little devils may give you food poisoning? Who's to say!

Back to the point, though: maybe I was unfair. Maybe the Twinkie isn't as bad as I remember it being from the last time I had one, well over twenty years ago. Only one way to find out, right? So I ate one.

First, one has to confront the beast.

The Twinkie

Truth to tell, I'm already questioning the wisdom of this exercise. I mean, the Twinkie is small, but it's disturbingly heavy for something that's basically yellow cake and cream filling. It looks like food, in some way, but in another way, it looks like one of those odd foods you see in the Japanese section of a big supermarket: "They eat this? Really?"

The Twinkie II

The Twinkie: International food of mystery!

Of course, investigation time is done. It's now time to commit ourselves to the Path of Inquiry on which we have set ourselves. In other words, it's time to open the wrapper.

The Twinkie III

The temptation to shrink away from the open wrapper, in the event that the souls of the Damned come streaming out of that plastic, their agonized screams echoing through your home, is nearly irresistible. But nothing comes out.

Not even an aroma. To open a sealed package containing a food and smell nothing is pretty odd, isn't it?

So now I open the wrapper far enough to allow the Twinkie to slide out nicely, into my hand. Except....

The Twinkie IV

It doesn't slide out. It doesn't budge. The Twinkie has adhesive properties that are reminiscent of construction adhesive. I remember, when I had Twinkies as a kid, that I always shredded the wrapper whilst opening it. I figured that was because I didn't have the finger dexterity to simply open the wrapper and slide the little bugger out; turns out that you can't simply open the wrapper and slide the little bugger out. You have to shred the wrapper to finally extract the Twinkie from its plastic prison.

Confronted with such an odd food item, I smell it first, and find that its aroma is very weak in the first place, and vaguely industrial in the second. The Twinkie's aroma is not any aroma that occurs in nature in any way.

I turn it over in my hand, noting again its surprising weight and noticing that the bloody tosser is really oily. Not only does the Twinkie itself shine a bit, but it leaves bits of that shine upon my fingertips as I hold it. Weird...but I can't dwell anymore on its physical characteristics. The time has come....

The Twinkie V

The tasting of the Twinkie is, at its heart, a moment of pure, abject terror. I wondered, for the briefest of seconds, if I was playing the food equivalent of Russian Roulette, or if I was re-enacting the last moments of Socrates, as he lifted the cup of hemlock to his lips. (Well, not really, if you believe Plato's version of events, in which Socrates basically says, "Oh, it's time? OK, gimme the cup. Stop crying, you bunch of pansies!" before he quaffs the poison. But then, Socrates never had to contend with the Twinkie.)

Finally, though, I decided to invoke the old adage "No guts, no glory", and took a nice, big bite of the Twinkie. The texture was some kind of odd hybrid of cake and cork, as I could feel my jaw rebounding a bit as my teeth clove through the cake and into the cream filling. How to describe that stuff? It tastes like...penance. Mixed with a bunch of sugar and whipped up.

Ultimately, the taste is...well, it's....

The Twinkie VI

It's not utterly awful -- the Twinkie has many levels of Hell to descend through before it approaches the awesome awfulness of broccoli -- but still, as I feel the bite of Twinkie sinking through my esophagus to descend into my digestive tract, I can feel something...the destruction of some small part of my soul, perhaps. Destroyed in an unholy encounter with The Twinkie.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Pacific or Atlantic?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I'd like to see the sugar packet

I hate that phone pole., originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I was driving home the other day from my weekly grocery shopping, and I noticed that a car a few vehicles ahead seemed to be carrying a big box on its hatch or something like that. Nothing terribly unusual; you see this kind of thing reasonably often, when people buy refrigerators or whatnot and decide to drive it home themselves rather than opt for delivery. But as other cars left and I got closer to this one, I realized that it was not a box, but rather a big mock-up of a coffee cup.

The car turned out to be a roving advertisement for Dunkin' Donuts. I've never seen such a vehicle before. I grabbed a pic with my phone (unfortunately failing to allow for that damned telephone pole). Now they need to make a truck in the shape of a big donut!


Time for some notes on a bit of recent reading!

:: As much as I love science fiction, I'm the first to admit that my reading history with it is full of holes, and that there are many, many authors who are pillars of the genre whom I have yet to read. I can scratch one off now, because I've finally read some Larry Niven. Specifically, the novel Ringworld.

I really don't know anything about Niven at all, except that he's done lots of work with Jerry Pournelle, and that he's mainly known for a series of books or stories called "Known Space". I'm not even sure if Ringworld is part of "Known Space", but the book does stand on its own, somewhat – although it is clearly intended to establish a ground-floor of sorts for a possible series. And now I see, according to Wikipedia, that Ringworld is certainly part of "Known Space", and boasts a number of direct sequels. It also won the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Ringworld is your archetypal "Team goes to investigate an anomaly" tale, and parts of it reminded me, in terms of mood, of Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. The Ringworld is a very strange object indeed: an enormous construct built around a far-off star, that basically looks like an impossibly long band of metal (or something) running completely around the star, with the side of the band facing the star terraformed into something akin to a planet surface. The result is a planetscape that is thousands of times roomier than, say, the surface of the Earth. Circadian cycles on the Ringworld are approximated by enormous black panels that likewise orbit the star farther in, which block out the star's light from points on the surface of Ringworld at regular intervals.

So our expedition quickly forms, consisting of four individuals: humans Louis Wu (a 200-year old man looking for some new solution to his boredom) and Teela Brown (a young woman with no particularly notable qualities, except her extraordinary luck); Nessus (a three-legged alien from a race called the Puppeteers); and Speaker-to-Animals of the warlike kzin race. How these individuals come together, and why, I'll leave to anyone who wants to read the book, but in just about any story like this, the main source of conflict arises from the differences between the main members of our cast. That is certainly true here.

I won't give anything away, except to note that the story unfolds in a lot of expected ways; the landing on Ringworld isn't quite according to plan, and our heroes find a lot on Ringworld that they couldn't have possibly expected. Niven does a good job of creating and sustaining mysteries on this world, and he also does a great job of conveying what the distances must be like on an object that is literally the size of Earth's orbit. The immensity of the Ringworld is its dominant characteristic, and as we internalize how huge the thing is, the more mysterious it becomes – especially its relative lack of inhabitants. The mystery becomes, if some alien race surely built the Ringworld so they would have enough room, then why is there almost no sign of them? Niven's possible answers to this question involve some interesting speculations on the psychology that would result in a species living on such a construct.

The four main characters are fairly interesting, but not tremendously so, and I found the whole notion of the Puppeteers genetically engineering people to select for their luck strained my credulity a bit. The biggest flaw in the book for me, though, was a linguistic tic: since Ringworld dates from an era when characters in SF weren't allowed to use actual swear words, authors had to either resort to just telling us that their characters had sworn, inventing their own new metaphors for expletives, or – as Niven does here – making up his own swear words. Sometimes in a series this can work, but other times it's almost nonsensical. In short, I had a very hard time with the word tanj, which is an acronym for "There ain't no justice". Every time someone would say "Tanj", or "Tanjing", or "Tanjit", or some variant thereof, I found myself momentarily ejected from the book.

Still, this was an entertaining and intriguing read. Will I read further into Niven, the Ringworld, and Known Space? I'm not sure. But I won't rule it out.

:: While I love to read comics, I find that I have almost no appetite for superhero comics anymore. At least, not the ones apparently being produced today, to judge by the collections I get from the library. It seems as though every title now, every hero, and every story about every hero, has to be some kind of depressing descent into the tremendous angst at that hero's heart. And frankly...all that superheroic angst gets a bit boring. I almost want to say, "Yeah, I get it. Loads of pressure on you. You feel responsible for the world but can't tell anyone because your identity is secret. You're terrified of a horrible fate befalling your loved ones when your enemies find out. And since you're a superhero, you're likely to outlive every one you love, anyway. Buck up and get over it! Have fun!" Where the heck is the spirit of fun adventure that used to be the dominant characteristic of superhero comics?

I'm not claiming that some angsty stuff isn't welcome. You can go too far the other way, too, and you need some inner conflict to keep the heroes interesting as characters. That's why Spiderman's always been one of my favorite superheroes: the very best Spidey stories always managed to blend that sense of fun with just the right amount of angst for Peter Parker. There are very dark things in Parker's life story, but they're not dominant and they don't color his view of the entire world and they don't cast his stories themselves into depressing light, as Batman's tend to do.

I think this all started, maybe, with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, which I didn't like nearly as much as I think I was supposed to. Batman, in his current incarnations, tends to be a deeply depressing character. He's the ultimate wet blanket on the superhero party. And I hate it when I read other titles that seem cut from that cloth. Hence, Spiderman: Reign. I was all prepared to be "Meh" on this book, but now I realize...I hated it.

Like Dark Knight Returns, Reign takes us forward in time, to Spiderman's elder years, when he's a white-haired, bearded Peter Parker whose personal life is every bit as much a wreck as it's ever been. For one reason or another, Parker takes on the Spidey suit again, all the while subjecting us to depressing monologue after depressing monologue about how much he misses Mary Jane, his wife, who is now dead. (I assume this was before Marvel's awful "Turning back of the clock" to before their marriage.) Why is she dead? I won't spoil it here, but suffice it to say that it's perfectly in keeping with the notion that the act of knowing Peter Parker is to commit oneself to an awful fate that's supposed to be ironic or something.

In Reign, about the only sense of any fun at all comes from Spiderman's never-ending habit of wisecracking with the people he's fighting. Other than that, the book is dank and depressing. It reads like if the guy who does Funky Winkerbean wrote a superhero comic.

:: I didn't hate Justice League: A League of One; I just found it kind of dull. Which is disappointing, because it's a Wonder Woman story. Sure, the title says "Justice League", but when Wonder Woman receives a prophecy that sounds like it's foretelling the death of whoever fights an ancient evil that has just returned to life, she incapacitates all of her Justice League friends, one by one, until she's left alone to face the threat. It was an interesting conceit, but it kind of illustrates another problem with these kinds of stories: if you want to tell a story about one hero in the DC Universe, you have to at some point explain why the other heroes who are all over the place, including the Man of Steel himself, either can't or won't pitch in to help.

This tale pits Wonder Woman against the most ancient of dragons, who had been slumbering beneath a mountain in Europe for centuries but who has now been awakened by some gnome-like creatures. The whole story feels a bit strange, really – as if Wonder Woman has been shoehorned into a tale from Teutonic myth. It doesn't really work all that well, and in fact, its resolution feels almost perfunctory. The book seems to spend more pages dealing with Wonder Woman's "betrayals" of her teammates than on her battle with the threat in the story.

:: Somewhat more successful, although still a bit less than the sum of its parts, is Wolverine: The Brotherhood. After Spiderman, Wolverine's probably my second favorite superhero, mainly because he's a bloodthirsty redneck with a sardonic sense of humor. I like that. He's deeply intelligent but nobody realizes it at first, so in addition to his extreme skill at combat and his unbreakable claws, he's got the built-in advantage in always being underestimated. When he's well-written, Wolverine is as entertaining as they come.

This story, apparently from a six-issue run of one of the comics titled Wolverine (I've utterly lost track of the publication history of these titles and where the solo Wolvie stories fit in with X-Men continuity), has Wolverine living in a crappy apartment in Portland, OR, where he spends his days sitting in a local diner, reading and drinking coffee. He makes a connection with his waitress, a seventeen-year-old girl who keeps a journal in which she refers to Wolvie as "Mean man". Before this friendship can blossom, Lucy (the girl) is murdered by a couple of machine-gun wielding hoodlums, who also riddle Wolvie with bullets when he comes out of his apartment to see what's going on. (Lucy had lived next door to Wolvie.) Of course, filling Wolverine with bullets is never a good idea, and now Wolvie's on the hunt.

His journey takes him into a world of illegal gun dealers and then to a compound somewhere in the mountains of Oregon, where a cultish figure is keeping a harem of kidnapped girls. This is all actually pretty intriguing stuff, and I like Wolverine's solo stories like this. It always seems a bit more believable than Wolvie squaring off against supervillains, for some reason. My favorite Wolverine story is the Wolverine limited series from the 1980s, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller, which delves into Wolvie's interactions with the Japanese culture and the idea of Wolvie as fallen Samurai; that tale doesn't even pit Wolvie against any kind of supervillain at all. Same with this one, although it's not as well written as the earlier series. The villain turns out to be simply garden variety, and the story seems to be set-up for a following plotline involving the Federal agent who is tailing Wolverine. The collected graphic novel comprises six issues of the series, of which the last consists of Wolverine sitting in a bar, talking with X-buddy Nightcrawler about...what else...his angsty issues. (With Wolverine, it's his balancing of his human and animal natures.) It's probably a bit unfair to judge this story on the basis that it's simply not a complete story, but the talk-over-a-beer-with-Elf issue pretty much brings the story's forward momentum to a halt. Kind of a shame.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Love was supposed to keep them together

Going to pick up Tennille, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I was leaving the local Target parking lot yesterday, and saw just beside me, this guy. You don't see that kind of hat much these days, do you? I wanted to pull up alongside and request a few bars of "Muskrat Love", but the light turned green and he was gone before I could. So long, Captain!

It's RAWWWW!!!

Ahhhh, Hell's Kitchen, how I love you. I'm enjoying the doubling-up of episodes this year, even if that means that the show will be finished much sooner than usual. Last week's episodes were full of entertainment:

:: One of the theme nights was a "Family Night" at Hell's Kitchen, which led Gordon Ramsay to point out to his charges that the dining room would be full of kids and therefore it would be nice if they didn't make him swear.

So what happened? The Red Team proceeded to muck things up so badly that Ramsay threw all of them out and had his trust sous chefs finish the service. And if you know Gordon Ramsay, you know he didn't break the news to the Reds by saying, "You have all underperformed, and now I would like you all to return to the dorms forthwith". Oh no.

As he would say a minute later, "So much for me not swearing tonight...."

:: It's not uncommon for Hell's Kitchen to make me hungry for a certain food. That said, I want some crab hushpuppies. NOW.

:: Scott, the endless know-it-all with the unimaginably inflated opinion of his own worth, got tossed out on his ear. He kept saying "None of you work in fine dining restaurants!", as though it meant something. It never occurred to him that since his food was constantly being sent back, since Ramsay was constantly having to yell at him for serving up raw food no matter what station he ran, that maybe he's not as good as he thinks. The guy was utterly, utterly delusional. But he talked a good game for a while, even to the point of getting Fran to not nominate him for elimination. (Ramsay saw through this and brought him up anyway, although he eventually sent Maria packing.)

Of the remaining contestants:

:: Siobhan seems ripe to go. I liked her a lot at first, and I still think she's really cute, but she's over her head in each service, and her results are similar to Scott's. The only difference is, Siobhan doesn't think she's God's gift.

:: Salvatore is not long for the show either, I suspect. He's got talent, but he lacks experience and his confidence has all the rigor of a skyscraper made of balsa wood. He can't go much farther than he has already.

:: Fran has gone surprisingly far. I was actually a bit shocked when Ramsay looked her in the eye a few weeks ago and said, "I can't teach an old dog new tricks." I have noticed over the years that he really does gravitate toward youth (such as a few years back when he chose a young woman over an older guy named Petrozza in the finale, when the two were really about equal in performance). I can't see Fran winning, but I can see her at least making it to the Black Jackets.

:: I can really see Nilka winning, although I know -- from the "This season on Hell's Kitchen!" thing that was part of the first episode -- that she appears to have a hell of a tantrum explosion coming up at some point. Of course, that, in itself, need not doom her. Nilka's got some game, though.

:: Benjamin also has some game, although I was disappointed to hear him start to show some ego and arrogance in the last episode. The humble and confident chefs tend to be the ones who excel on this show. Remember Dave from last year? That guy just shut up and cooked, week in and week out. That's what Benjamin had been doing, too, but now he's been appointed "Possible Savior of the Red Team". That's not going to help his chances. Two seasons ago, another strong Blue performer was sent to a disastrous Red Team to help pull them back together; he was gone two weeks later.

:: Ed? I have no impression of the guy. At all. I don't recall him even being yelled at yet. No read on him whatsoever.

:: Jay also seems a bit arrogant, but a bit quieter about it. He could be the type to reach the finale by outlasting everyone else.

:: Jason also seems to have a bit of skill, but I think he's going to fall apart at some point. He just always seems to have a chip on his shoulder, and that's never going to work out well.

:: Autumn? I don't like her at all. Still. She appears to have some skill in the kitchen, but she's a weasel. I didn't like the way she would screw things up on the Red Team and then find a way to avoid the blame that was hers, and I didn't like how, this past week, she tried to set the Red Team up for failure now that she was on the Blue Team. (One night, each team switched off kitchen and dining room service duties, so one team was waiting tables while the other cooked. Autumn was being really suggestive to customers that she could take their food back and have it re-cooked, she really really really could it was no problem at all. Ugh.

:: And then there's my favorite contestant, the beautiful Holli. And she seems to have some skill as well; she has not yet been in Chef Ramsay's line of fire, and she manages to pretty much stay out of the fray on a Red Team that gets more dysfunctional every week.

And she's just...immensely cute.

She even manages to look cute when all the chefs are required to wear butchering costumes for a challenge that doesn't even involve butchering!

Of course, that episode ultimately irritated me a bit. The Blue Team won a challenge involving using pork as an ingredient, so they all got to go to a spa where they got massages and sat in hot tubs and had mud baths, with lots of nicely lingering shots of the Blue Team members in their spa gear. There was a lot less footage of the Red Team's punishment, which involved dressing up appropriately for the job of washing a bunch of muddy pigs.

Which means that the episode featured a number of lingering shots of Autumn in a bikini, and only a couple of fleeting glimpses of wonderful Holli in overalls. Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal, Hell's Kitchen!


(Yeah, I'm weird. Your point?)

Sentential Links #210


:: Wow, uh, somehow even though I was joking about this prospect yesterday, I honestly did not think that Funky Winkerbean’s next hilariously grim twist would be a terrible car crash. ( Funky dead? Sleepin'? Pinin' for the fjords? Who knows!)

:: Look, I'll admit it--not every forgotten Golden Age hero is worthy of a modern revival. Sometimes, they're just, well, really lame.

:: I wish this didn't have to be stated. But nothing about this journal should indicate to you that I will be in any way receptive to your effusive love for objectivism, nor your dismissal of other humans who do not live up to your libertarian ideals. Because frankly, I find it unlikely that you yourself are a tower of industry, walking alone like Eliot's fucking cat through this fallen world of people not as awesome as you. We all need each other, I'm not your Dagny, and John Galt is a fuckmuppet of the first order.

:: LOVE STORY 2050 is one of the most melodramatic and cringe-inducing science fiction romance movies I’ve ever seen, but it’s also the most heartfelt and well intentioned. (A Bollywood science fiction romance movie? I gotta track this down, pronto!)

:: It's been a summer that has been marked by two bad sports calls-- the disallowed goal in the USA-Slovenia game and the nearly perfect game pitched by Armando Galarraga, and in both instances various commentators have used the event to call for replacing or supplementing the human official with some sort of technology. I'm not so sure I think that's a good idea, but after years of taking testimony in tort cases I am pretty convinced that people are bad at describing what they saw-- and that their descriptions are a poor basis for assigning liability. (It's like clockwork, really -- every time I read about some guy getting released from prison after XX years because DNA evidence finally ruled him out as a suspect, the story always says: "He was convicted on eyewitness testimony.")

:: I always thought I'd be flattered to have a photo good enough to be stolen. But it really doesn't feel so hot. (But what an amazing photo! What an item! I never thought there could be such a thing. I never even thought to think that there could be such a thing.)

:: I was in Anaheim Stadium the day Seattle outfielder, Kevin Mitchell (pictured left) ate a chili dog during a game and threw up in the dugout so violently that he went on the disabled list for two weeks with strained ribs. (Holy crap, I never heard of that before. That may be my new favorite stupidly self-inflicted sports injury, surging ahead of quarterback Gus Frerotte who was celebrating a touchdown pass by banging his head on a padded wall, resulting in an injury to his neck, and kicker Bill Gramatica, who celebrated a field goal by jumping up and down so hard that he tore his own ACL.)

Enough for this week. Tune in next!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fixing the Prequels: Attack of the Clones (part 13)

part twelve
part eleven
part ten
part nine
part eight
part seven
part six
part five
part four
part three
part two
part one

OK, I've been long enough in returning here, so let's go ahead and finish up with Attack of the Clones, shall we? I should be able to get through all of what's left in a single post, because we're up to the final act of the movie, and this is my favorite part of the film, actually. Most of this works extremely well, in my opinion, and this will mostly be more "running comment" than anything else.

Before I do, though, I should mention an interesting post over at, called "A Half-Hearted Defense of the "Star Wars" Prequels". I find it interesting because at least some of the thought process over there (by John Seavey, the writer of the post) mirrors my own long-held thought about these much-maligned movies. He's not willing, as I am, to openly proclaim the Prequels good movies, but that's what I'm here for, eh? And now, back to the film:

Now, when we'd left off, Anakin and Padme's attempt at rescuing Obi Wan had failed completely, with both being captured after some derring-do in the droid foundry. Padme confronts Dooku (in a deleted scene that I would restore), and now, it's time for an execution. We see a giant stadium, a coliseum of sorts, which is where the Geonosians put their prisoners to death. It's a packed house with thousands of spectators, giving us the second consecutive Star Wars film to depict a sporting event in the SW universe. Of course, this one's a tad bloodthirsty, but so be it. The design of the arena, by the way, intentionally echoes the famed Opera House in Sydney, as AOTC was filmed in Australia (the first SW movie not filmed in England).

Before we get to the executions, though, we have Padme and Anakin being brought together so they can be wheeled out onto the execution grounds. This is where Padme finally admits her feelings for him. It's a good scene that only feels a bit muted in the actual film because of the narrative missteps Lucas took with their romance earlier in the film, primarily in the Naboo scenes. I'd only alter the scene slightly (my additions in red:


In the gloomy tunnel, ANAKIN and PADMÉ are tossed into an open cart. The murmur of a vast crowd is heard offscreen. GUARDS extend their arms along the framework and tie them so that they stand facing each other. The DRIVER gets up onto his seat.

ANAKIN: I take it your negotiations didn't go well.

PADME: We'll try negotiating your way next time.

ANAKIN: I'm not really equipped for that right now. I broke another lightsaber.

PADME: Well, I won't tell Obi Wan if you won't. It can be--

ANAKIN: Our secret?

They smile.

PADME: It's been the Trade Federation all along, by the way. Nute Gunray is here. He's wanted me dead ever since the invasion of Naboo.

ANAKIN: Someday I'll make him pay for that.

One of the GUARDS shouts a command, and the others get ready to move.

ANAKIN: Don't be afraid.

PADMÉ: I'm not afraid to die. I've been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life.

ANAKIN: What are you talking about?

PADMÉ: I love you.

ANAKIN: You love me? You said you couldn't. That we were too different. That it would destroy me.

PADMÉ: I think our lives are about to be destroyed anyway. My love for you is a puzzle, Annie, for which I have no answers. I can't control it... but now I don't care. [This last bit is in the original script, not added by me.] I truly, deeply love you, and before we die I want you to know.

PADMÉ leans toward ANAKIN. By straining hard, it is just possible for their lips to meet. They kiss.

The DRIVER cracks his whip over the ORRAY harnessed between the shafts. The cart jerks forward. Suddenly, there is a HUGE ROAR and blinding sunlight as they emerge into the arena.

This is a really great moment in the movie, the way the camera follows the wagon through the dark tunnel and out into the brilliant sunlit death arena, as the score swells with the film's love theme. Love this part.

Anakin and Padme are taken to a series of stone pillars, where they are chained up beside a waiting Obi Wan. A terrific exchange between master and student happens here:

OBI-WAN: I was beginning to wonder if you had gotten my message.

ANAKIN: I retransmitted it as you requested, Master. Then we decided to come and rescue you.

OBI-WAN: Good job!

Hayden Christensen's line delivery there is spot-on perfect: first he's defensive ("See, I did what you told me to do!"), and then he pauses slightly before having to add the rest ("And then we did something else."). He says that line in just the way that a student would to a teacher he's just disappointed yet again.

Padme somehow manages to stick a piece of wire, or a lockpick, or something like that in her mouth before being chained up. This always struck me a bit curiously, but I'll get to that in a moment. The executions begin, which involve releasing some crazed omnivores into the arena. One looks like a giant lobster, another like a cat whose head is all teeth, and the third is the love-child of a rhinocerous in heat and the Merrill-Lynch bull. Anyway, the creatures lumber toward the three captives – thus giving Anakin the traditional "bad feeling about this" – as Obi Wan tells him to be calm, use the Force, yada yada yada. Padme is already using her chain to pull herself to the top of her column, where she starts to pick her locks.

Here I'd add something:

EXTERIOR: The Archducal box

Overlooking the execution grounds, Nute Gunray becomes quite angry.

NUTE: Your guards let her bring lock picks into the execution!

POGGLE THE LESSER says something.

DOOKU: Be calm, Viceroy. The Geonosians like their executions to take a bit of time. You're fortunate they didn't give her a blaster.

Anyway, the executions continue, with Anakin and Obi Wan managing to free themselves, and Padme using her chain to keep the mean cat (hereafter referred to as "Bucky") at bay, although not before Bucky manages to rake her back with his claws, drawing blood and making the Viceroy happy. Anakin uses the Force to calm the rhino-beast enough for him to actual get on its back and ride it; he thusly saves Padme by having his rhino trample Bucky. Padme jumps down onto the beast behind him, gives him a kiss, and they ride to pick up Obi Wan, who has just hit his lobster-beast with a spear, unfortunately to little effect (the look on Obi Wan's face when the beast simply pulls the spear out and smashes it in its jaws is pretty funny).

At this point the Jedi make for an escape, but now the Geonosians decide to quit messing around and send in destroyer droids. Things look grim...and that's when Mace Windu turns up in the Archducal box:

In the archducal box, amid the uproar, MACE WINDU ignites his lightsaber and holds it to JANGO FETT's neck. COUNT DOOKU turns to see MACE WINDU standing behind him. COUNT DOOKU masks his surprise elegantly.

COUNT DOOKU: Master Windu, how pleasant of you to join us. You're just in time for the moment of truth. I would think these two new boys of yours could use a little more training.

MACE WINDU: Sorry to disappoint you, Dooku.
This party's over.

MACE WINDU signals, and at strategic places around the arena there are sudden flashes of light as about ONE HUNDRED JEDI switch on their lightsabers. The crowd is suddenly silent. COUNT DOOKU's lips curl in slight amusement.

COUNT DOOKU: (to Mace Windu) Brave, but foolish, my old Jedi friend. You're impossibly outnumbered.

MACE WINDU: I don't think so. The Geonosians aren't warriors. One Jedi has to be worth a hundred Geonosians.

COUNT DOOKU looks around the great theater. His smile grows.

COUNT DOOKU: It wasn't the Geonosians I was thinking about. How well do you think one Jedi will hold up against a thousand Battle Droids?

COUNT DOOKU signals. THOUSANDS OF DROIDS start to pour into all parts of the arena.

JANGO FETT fires his flamethrower at MACE WINDU, igniting MACE's robe. MACE WINDU jumps into the arena. The battle begins.

Now all hell breaks loose. Jedi charge into battle against the droids, but there are just too many of them. Still, it's a very entertaining battle sequence, especially with two of the three execution monsters still alive on the field. There's a nice moment between Anakin and Padme:

ANAKIN: You call this 'diplomacy'?

PADME: No, I call it aggressive negotiations.

During the battle, Jango Fett is killed by Mace Windu, C-3PO's head and body enter the battle, only to have both fall and later be discovered by R2-D2, who will once again (for the first time, actually) fix the protocol droid. On Jango's demise: some fans feel that it happens too quickly (something that apparently runs in the Fett family), and while I'd have liked to see him post a little bit more of a challenge to Mace Windu, I like how this demonstrates the difference in skill between Obi Wan Kenobi (who has only been a Jedi Master for ten years) and Mace Windu (whose age is indeterminate, but who has clearly not been a Padawan for quite some time). This never bothered me all that much.

Anyway, the Jedi are worn down by the relentless attack of the battle droids until they are completely surrounded. Dooku offers them a chance to surrender, but Windu replies that they won't be held as hostages. The die is cast, and it seems that the battle is about to end in slaughter...when Master Yoda arrives with a clone army at his command to save what's left of the Jedi attack. (I love the line "Around the survivors, a perimeter create!") The remaining Jedi hop into the clone ships, and they all escape as a massive battle begins on the plains of Geonosis. The Separatists realize that they are now outmanned and outgunned and must make their escape.

Here's were I'd add a small something:

INTERIOR: Clone gunship.

The gunship is flying in formation with others toward the battle forming where the clone ships are landing. In the distance, Federation ships are starting to lift off. The ship rocks under fire from Geonosian cannons.

ANAKIN is kneeling beside PADME, tending to the wounds on her back from her cat-monster.

ANAKIN: There's some dirt in here. Hold still..

She winces as ANAKIN cleans the wounds.

PADME: That stings!

ANAKIN: Sorry.

PADME: It's all right. And I think I agree with you now.

ANAKIN: About what?

PADME: I don't like sand, either.

He looks at her and sees the familiar mischievous gleam in her eye. Both laugh.

See, that's why I wouldn't remove the much-derided "I don't like sand" line from earlier in the film: because it illustrates something important, and because it can be revisited later on as a source of humor once our characters have been through a lot.

So anyway, plowing through a lot, there's a massive battle taking place. I've seen some commenters on the film complain that in an era of massive space fleets engaging in battles in space, a ground battle seems a bit odd, but I'm fine with it. Why? Well, I could cook up some kind of science-fictional justification, but suffice it to say that...I just think the battle looks really cool, with armies of Jedi and clones charging against armies of droids, and the shots toward the end of the battle when there's so much dust in the air that the blaster fire makes the whole thing seem hellish, and at one point we can't even really tell where the clones are and where the Separatist droids are. Almost like Lucas is visually blurring the lines between the Separatists and the future storm troopers of the Empire!

Count Dooku escapes to his private hangar, where he's about to leave the planet on his ship, but Obi Wan and Anakin give pursuit, which almost comes to disaster when their gunship is hit and Padme falls out. I've always liked the moment when Obi Wan has to remind Anakin of where his priorities should lie, especially with Anakin having to push down his passions once more. They reach Dooku's hangar, where Anakin can no longer restrain himself, charging in to fight Dooku, who flicks him aside with The Force. And then the real battle begins, with Dooku first besting Obi Wan, then besting Anakin (cutting his arm off in the process), and confronting Yoda.

The only thing I would change in any of this is to lengthen it a bit, especially the fight between Obi Wan and Dooku, and between Yoda and Dooku. The Yoda moment is a blast – when I first saw the film, the entire theater erupted into cheers when Yoda came out to confront Dooku, and again when he drew his lightsaber – but it's over very quickly, isn't it? Still, it's interesting that Yoda allows Dooku to escape, preferring instead to save Obi Wan and Anakin from the giant falling object that Dooku had thrown at them. I seem to recall that Yoda later counsels Anakin to set aside his attachments to those he loves, and that Luke Skywalker should sacrifice Han and Leia "if he honors what they fight for".

I've always admired how the duels in the hangar are shot. It's a dark set to begin with, but then Anakin begins cutting the cables to the lights to darken it even further, to the point where there's a fairly surreal bit of dueling in which we only see the faces of Anakin and Dooku, illuminating by their flashing lightsaber blades. AOTC, and the Prequel Trilogy in general, never gets enough credit for some of the sheer invention and imagination in the visuals that George Lucas creates.

So the battle ends with the Separatists getting routed, but with Dooku escaping. (And with Anakin jumping up from having his arm chopped off – yeah, he should show a little more trauma there, shouldn't he?)

Dooku flies to Coruscant, where he meets with Darth Sidious to report that the war has begun. We have a couple of wrap-up scenes now. Obi Wan reports to Mace Windu and Yoda, expressing relief that without the clones, the Battle of Geonosis would not have been a victory. Yoda points out that it was only one battle, and that the larger war has begun. Illustrating his point, we cut to thousands upon thousands of clone troopers in formation, boarding their ships to head off to war, as Chancellor Palpatine and his highest advisers look on (including Bail Organa, who lightly pounds the railing with his fist in apparent frustration that the war he'd hoped to prevent has come to pass). As the armies mobilize, we hear, for the first time in the Prequel Trilogy, a full-throated statement of the Imperial March, making clear that this moment is when the Republic is irreversibly on the path to Empire. It's a chilling and amazing moment.

And finally we cut back to the lake retreat on Naboo, where, in a scene with no dialogue (John Williams's love theme is now blasting away) Anakin, who was supposed to just be taking Padme back to her home planet, is secretly marrying her. This, we all know, is not the best idea either has ever had. Their wedding guests are C-3PO and R2-D2 (which makes AOTC the only film in the Prequel Trilogy to have the two droids present in the final shot). It looks like a beautiful ceremony, even if we know it's pretty much going to result in utter disaster for the entire Galaxy.

And with that, I bring my version of Attack of the Clones to a finish. Next up, obviously, we'll be fixing Revenge of the Sith, which I've already been thinking a lot about. Until then, Excelsior!

In the wake

The other day I was wandering through Google Maps, using the satellite view to look at places I once lived and such. I was scrolling through the Portland, OR area, and I saw something that really caught my eye. Apparently the Google satellite managed to snap its shutter as a speedboat was completing a 180 degree turn on the Willamette River, creating a really neat wake captured from space:

I just thought that was really cool. The things we can do, eh?

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Jilted husbands across the land take whatever measure of revenge they can get, huh? Behold: My Ex-Wife's Wedding Dress! Wherein divorced men strike back at the gown their former spouse wore whilst exchanging vows. Funny, in that head-shaking kind of way.

:: I know where I want to stay if I ever go to Singapore. Coolest swimming pool ever.

:: An apparent submission for some sort of contest, this will be hard to beat. It's a buy on a unicycle, playing the Star Wars them, on the bagpipes! WIN!!!


More next week!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Something for Thursday

This song dates from the 1970s, and it has loopy lyrics to match, but the instrumental playing makes it one of the most infectious songs I've ever heard. We played a shortened version once at music camp -- mainly shortened in omitting a verse and the soprano sax solo -- and it was a blast. This is...well, it's the kind of song Dick Clark was talking about when he referred to a song's beat. The rhythm of this thing will keep you going for hours.

It's in two parts because of YouTube's time limits, but the person who did this picked a perfect spot for the break. Here's Chuck Mangione and friends with "Land of Make Believe". During the bigger passages, listen for quotes from children's songs, like "Old McDonald" and "The Farmer in the Dell".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Those horn things that are driving soccer fans to distraction: Quirky local custom, or hyper-annoying thing that should be banned from the stadium?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quizzery, again

Cal comes up with this, and I figured I'd play along, even though it covers a lot of old territory from quizzes of yesteryear:


Lord Kelly, Scourge of Orion (yeah, there's a story there...I should post about it someday)


"Hey you!"


Pittsburgh, PA


It's the one you're looking at. Unless you're reading this on Google Groups, in which case, it's not.


Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar (but I also like good old ranch).


Mint chocolate chip. Or vanilla bean. Or butter pecan. Or B&J's New York Brownie Super Fudge Chunk. Or H-D's coffee, which is miraculous stuff.


Writing tales of star-spanning epics.


Maintenance/repair/carpentry. (Which isn't at all bad, actually. Love what I do.)


Ummmm...just check the "Food" post label.

10.FAVORITE DRINK? (Non-alcoholic)

Lemonade, green tea, mint tea, coffee, Cherry Coke


Music, history, science, literature.


Any of the music groups in which I was a member.


Depending on the teachers, math. Good teacher equals good math class. Teacher I hate equals hellish math experience. Oh, and geology. That's the one science I've never been able to work up any enthusiasm for.


Gym class when it was wrestling, basketball, or "Hey, I'm the coach and I don't want to do much today so let's just go to the track and run a mile".


My little suburb is a beautiful little village.


I'm not as rich as some folks here? I guess? Hmmmmm.


Whitewater kayaking on the Youghigheny River in Pennsylvania.


So many, so many...telling the server at a restaurant on Cape Cod that it was our honeymoon.


Two. I use a third when I'm reading in bed, but I put it aside when it's time for sleep.


Lester, Julio and Comet.


Huh...I haven't seen a single 2010 release yet. I'm almost exclusively a wait-for-the-DVD person.


Star Wars: A New Hope, Casablanca, My Fair Lady


Grey's Anatomy, Hell's Kitchen, Castle


Star Trek, Seinfeld, The X-Files


Full House, The Bachelor, Touched By An Angel.


"Hallelujah", Leonard Cohen (but performed by kd lang); "On the Street Where You Live" by Lerner and Loewe (from My Fair Lady); "Let It Be" by Paul.


The Lord of the Rings scores, extended editions, by Howard Shore; Der Ring des Nibelungen, by Wagner (Solti, VPO); Invisible Touch by Genesis.


"Hot For Teacher", Van Halen; "People Get Ready", Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck; "Glory Days", Bruce Springsteen. (Honorable mentions to "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners, for the overalls, and "Fight For Your Right To Party" by the Beastie Boys for the pie fight.)


Frank Sinatra.


The London Symphony Orchestra. And Van Halen. And Pink Floyd. And Abba. And, of late, the Beatles.


I have Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs" on my MP3 player.


Nathan Fillion.


Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh.


Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford, Nathan Fillion.


Stana Katic, Chandra Wilson, Tina Fey


"Yeah, that's a good idea."


Flight, super strength, and adamantium claws.




I have got to know who, if anyone, was on that damned grassy knoll.


My reliability. I'm there, man.


My hair!


I'd ditch, permanently speaking, about fifty of the pounds I'm carrying about.


I'd like a house on a nice piece of land somewhere around East Aurora, NY.


Pizza with sausage and pepperoni, chicken wings from Duff's (medium), a couple of bottles of Yeungling Lager. Then a pint of ice cream.

(And if I'm on death row, I chase it all with a shot of ipecac.)


Crucifixion. It gets you out in the open air.


Nathan Fillion! (But he'd probably get sick of reciting Firefly lines on request.)


Abe Vigoda. Oh wait....


The Lord of the Rings (JRRT), The Lions of Al-Rassan (GGK), The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Or maybe Boat Building for Dummies, the 2nd edition with the new chapter on making boats from palm trees.


Am I leaving three people on the island, or do I want them with me? If the former, the folks named in Question 33. If the latter, The Wife, The Daughter, and Norm Abram.


Someone freakishly rich to buy the Buffalo Bills and keep them in Buffalo; New York State's government to be completely scrapped and started over; the discovery of whatever power source drives the United Federation of Planets.


I like the Star Wars Prequel trilogy.


Football. Real football, with absurdly large guys in contact gear. Not that thing that's going on in South Africa.


Biking, hiking.


I gather books.


My parents. They put up with an amazing amount of my shit!


The 1960s. I would have liked to see the beginning of the space age, the coming of the Beatles, and all the rest of it.


The lead pipe. Oh wait, that's Clue. The thimble, I guess.


Sorry. I should get off my butt and learn Settlers of Catan, though.


According to this quiz, it's a hawk.


Cats. And orcas. And bison.


Spaceships to the stars, yay! Everyone wearing gray jumpsuits and taking food in pill form, boo!


Cats. Dogs are OK, but I'm suspicious of them.


Jedi Spice.


You know...I really like both. Especially when they're sweetened with cane sugar.

OK, there we go. Another quiz-thing bites the dust!

Maybe it's the name "Rand"

(Warning: I'm annoyed and political here.)

Rand Paul has some awesome advice for the unemployed:

"As bad as it sounds, ultimately we do have to sometimes accept a wage that's less than we had at our previous job in order to get back to work and allow the economy to get started again," Paul explained. "Nobody likes that, but it may be one of the tough love things that has to happen."

Really. No shit. That's all it takes, because Rand Paul has told us that all you have to do is just snatch up one of the millions of jobs that are out there, ripe for the picking like the apples in fall. All you gotta do is swallow your pride and take less pay!

Mr. Paul? I'd just like to say: No, f*** you.

I was unemployed some years ago, from July, 2002 to January, 2004. To hear Rand Paul tell it, I must have clearly been spending my time sleeping in, watching teevee and surfing Teh Interweb, chowing down on Ramen Noodles and enjoying the scenery on the back of my small unemployment checks (which sure didn't run for eighteen months, either).

You know what I was really doing? Combing job classifieds in every local publication I could find. Searching online for jobs. Applying for all kinds of jobs that -- guess what! -- paid less than what I'd been making at the telesales job that had canned me. I tried lining up freelance work, and aside from a few nibbles and a few volunteer assignments, I found nothing. It took me eighteen months to finally land a job with a company that, in that time period, I applied with five times. And that was when the economy wasn't in the toilet.

Someday when I collate my list of Things You Can Say That Will Instantly Reveal That You Are In Fact An Asshole, I'm sure that any variation of the conservative "Unemployed? Go get a job!" meme will be high on the list. To conservatives, there are always tons of jobs out there. There are always great schools that you can get your kids into. There's always charity health care to be found, or, failing that, the ER. All millionaires should get tax breaks no matter what the economy is doing, science is something we should just ignore when we wanna, we can drill drill drill our way to energy independence, and our corporate overlords are demigods whose wisdom we should never, ever question.

(Hey, Rand? If you're still looking for a job come the day after Election Day, I've got one for you: You can go around and take your idiot father's Presidential campaign placards off all the telephone poles. Thanks.)

(Comments are closed.)


One of my favorite college professors, Dr. Warren Schmidt, died last week. I'm not really sad about it, because he lived a long, full life that was full of music. He was 89 years old.

I had Dr. Schmidt for music theory and ear training classes. He also taught organ, as well as serving as the college organist for worship services and the like. He was exactly what you would expect an old music professor to be like, in appearance and dress, and while he conducted classes at first in the same way, as you got to know him, he would gradually loosen up until you knew what everyone else who had already had him for class knew: that Dr. Schmidt was a terribly warm and compassionate man with a wickedly sharp sense of humor.

It's hard to remember too many specific examples of things he said, this long after I studied with him. (I was a freshman twenty years ago, after all!) One time, we were analyzing a chord progression that he had written on the blackboard, when one of my classmates raised her hand and said that the progression employed parallel octaves. "Parallel octaves" are when two voices in a chord progression move in such a way that they stay one octave apart. It's a "no-no" in music theory and composition circles, although I was never entirely clear on why. The problem with this particular example was that the two voices involved actually stayed on the same notes from one chord to the next. Dr. Schmidt pointed this out, and the girl argued the point, insisting that since it was a new chord and since those two voices had stayed on the same notes one octave apart, we were looking at parallel octaves. Finally Dr. Schmidt grinned and said, "But they don't move! They stay right there! In the example, nothing is moving! These aren't parallel octaves, they're constipated octaves!"

One other time, I was walking past his office when he called me inside. I couldn't fathom why, but in I went. Dr. Schmidt's office was the "homiest" of all the offices in the music department, with its carpeted floors and book-lined walls and the fact that he always kept the blinds drawn and the ceiling lights off, preferring instead to light the place with a couple of regular old lamps that looked like they'd come from a living room in the 1950s. Well, anyway, I went in, and he handed me a piece of paper and asks me what I see on the front of it. It was the bulletin from the campus worship service the day before, and on the front was the usual church bulletin stuff, plus a little picture in the middle, which was a stylized picture of the head of Jesus, wearing a crown. I was puzzled, but then Dr. Schmidt said, "Look!" And he covered the face of Crowned Jesus with his finger, so only the outline was visible: an elongated, spikey-headed face. "It's Bart Simpson! Ay caramba!" I laughed, more out of disbelief than anything else. Dr. Schmidt was up on The Simpsons. And at that time (fall of 1989 or spring of 1990), I wasn't even up on The Simpsons -- they were only just beginning to capture the pop cultural imagination of America, and my freshman year I didn't have a teevee at school anyway.

Dr. Schmidt's organ playing was something to behold. He was a big believer in the notion that if you have a big space to fill with sound, well then, you'd best be about the business of filling it. He'd play small and intimate organ works, but that's not what everyone wanted to hear when he was at the controls. When he would accompany a hymn during a service, he would up the ante with each verse, until at the last, he wouldn't just pull out all the stops (literally!), it was almost like he installed new stops just so he could pull those.

He was very good at improvising, too, which sometimes led to amusing results when he'd start improvising during the hymns at the services. Dr. Schmidt would cheerfully modulate into any key he wanted to, at any moment. A common question on the lips of Wartburg College music students after one of Dr. Schmidt's hymns was, "What key was that in?"

When he announced his retirement in 1991, and then gave his final recital in the spring, every single music major was there. It was one of the most emotional musical events I've ever experienced, although I couldn't tell you now what he played that night. He closed it out with one of his typically theatrical tour de force pieces, by which time everyone who knew this was his farewell recital was in tears. He gave a single encore (I think), and then, acknowledging the second ovation with a single nod, left the auditorium and didn't return.

After his retirement, Dr. Schmidt did some touring and traveling before eventually settling into a retirement facility in Waverly (the town where Wartburg is located). I was, in all honesty, a little surprised that he had still been alive last week. He'd been a regular smoker, and could often be found on the front steps of the music building, indulging himself. Once I asked him why he still smoked, given what we now knew about the habit, and he just shrugged and said, "None of us are getting out of this world alive, right?" I thought his response cynically funny, and preferable to the possibly more appropriate response to the question posed by a know-it-all college student: "Mind your f***ing business, dumb-ass."

I've been remembering other things about Dr. Schmidt: his neat and precise handwriting, which he kept aligned by writing along a straight-edge; this little ditty he would play in ear training classes when someone would fail to identify a perfect fourth (one of the most basic of all musical intervals); the day he suddenly broke off in the middle of a lecture because the musical example in the textbook was from Franck's Symphony in D minor, which Dr. Schmidt especially loved and proceeded to tell us why; talking about professors with a couple of other music students and having one girl say, "Do you have any idea how good looking he must have been when he was our age?"

Farewell, Dr. Schmidt.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dispatches from Popculturtopia

Some random stuff that I've seen around Teh Interweb:

:: Ridley Scott wants to make a couple of Alien prequels, apparently detailing the back story behind some visual thingie in the movie that fans have come to call the "Space Jockey". I'm sure I won't be queuing up for this when it comes out, as I've never been favorably impressed with the Alien movies, or, Attack of the Killer Space Vaginas, as I've come to think of them.

:: Ralph Macchio rules:

(Bad language alert!)

:: After a very long gestation process, Doug Adams's book The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films is nearing publication! Huzzah!

More here.

:: Apropos of that, an interesting article on Richard Wagner and his legacy in film music. It's kind of frustrating, though, to see a professor of music and a scholar of film music say something like this, referring to the leitmotif approach: "You can close your eyes and know who's on screen." No! No no no a thousand times NOOOO! A well-composed leitmotif-based film score is so much more than the composer simply saying, "Oh, Bob's on the screen, so here's Bob's theme." But it's still an interesting article, nevertheless.

:: Ummmm...what the hell is this?!

OK, that's enough of that, I suppose.

Sunday Stealing

I stole this from Sunday Stealing, even though I'm posting it on Monday. Weird, huh?

1. The phone rings; who don't you want it to be?

It can be anybody. Our home phone never rings anymore; we turned the ringer off years ago and now let the machine pick up all calls to that phone. As for the cell phones, I give the number to folks who are welcome to call, so it's fine!

2. When shopping at the grocery store, do you return your cart?

To the thingies in the parking lot, yes. Always. I find it rude not to.

3. In a social setting, are you more of a talker or a listener?


4. What was the last compliment that someone gave you?

"Hey, nice work on that thing you did that time!"

5. Do you play the lottery?

No. I used to play the occasional scratch-off, but even that was sporadic. Now, the only time I ever play anything lottery-related is if someone gives me a ticket. I did purchase a ticket for a basket-raffle a while back as a benefit to a coworker whose husband had passed, and I won a basket that was nothing but about three dozen lottery scratch-offs. I won $65.00 out of that. But no regular playing.

(And in truth, now that lottery scratch-off's come in automated machines, I find it very depressing to watch old people stuffing some portion of their fixed incomes into those damned things.)

6. If abandoned alone in the wilderness, who would you want with you?

Wolverine from The X-Men. (Nothing about this specified a real person, right?)

7. Do you like to ride horses?

I've never tried. Horses kind of freak me out a bit, because they're so friggin' big.

8. Did you ever go to camp as a kid?

Music camp, yes. The Bristol Hills Music Camp in the Finger Lakes region. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I should probably write a post about that sometime.

9. What is your favorite party game?

I'm not a big fan of party games. But then, I don't attend many parties, either.

10. If a sexy person was pursuing you, but you knew he/she was married, would you go for it?

Well, if I knew their marriage was already on the rocks and they were divorcing and her infidelity was unlikely to have any effect on that, then hey, why not OF COURSE NOT I'M MARRIED!!!

11. When was the last time that you lied?

Last night. It was one of those little white lies designed to throw The Daughter off the track of what our plans were for her birthday. She then went ahead and guessed what we were doing, anyway. Because she has an uncanny ability to guess surprises before we even say anything.

12. Could you date someone with different religious beliefs than you?

Sure, why not? (As long as they're not an Objectivist. And I'd probably have a tough time with a Scientologist.)

Speaking of that, one of the funnier episodes of Cheers involved a big fight between Woody and girlfriend (or maybe wife by that time) Kelly, when they discovered they believed in different religions. Kelly was an ELCA Lutheran, while Woody was a Missouri Synod Lutheran. Woody screaming "Heretic!" at Kelly when she referred to some obscure point of Lutheran theology was hilarious.

13. If you have a S/O, who pursued who? If not, do you like to pursue or be pursued?

I'm married. It was mutual pursuit. She proposed, though.

14. Use six words to describe yourself.

Evil genius bent on world domination. (Huh, looks like I just lied again!)

15. Name a song that could make you cry?

"I Can Only Imagine". We had it played at Little Quinn's funeral.

16. Are you pleased with your education?

Sure. Even if I don't use much of it for practical purposes.

17. How do you feel about gun control?

I don't have a strong opinion. On the one hand, I'm continually puzzled by America's odd gun fetish and the belief apparent in some segments of the Right that they need their guns to protect themselves from the Government. On the other hand, well...what's the problem with owning a gun? Seems to me most efforts to control guns run afoul of the Second Amendment, and I'm not at all interested in repealing that.

I am unlikely to ever own a gun, though. I have no desire to so much as touch one.

18. If your house was on fire, what thing would be the first thing you grabbed?

The cats. Followed by laptop, external hard drive, and wallet.

19. How often do you have a romantic weekend?

Not often enough. A whole weekend? Maybe once a year.

20. Do you think more about the past, present or future?

The future.

21. What was the last adult magazine that you have read?

I've never read one, except for the occasional flipping through one with a friend in grade school when I'd be at their house and they'd show me their father's stash that the father didn't know the kid knew about. Porn is, for me, like guns: hey, rock on if that's your thing, but I have no interest, myself.

22. What are you told about your eyes?

I'm told that every emotion I have shows in them.

23. How tall is just right?

Tall enough that your pants are neither dragging on the ground nor "flood pants". Of course, this can be alleviated by having one's pants at the right length. Therefore, I have no opinion on "correct" height.

24. Where is your dream house located?

Just a couple of miles away, actually.

The house across the street is for sale now. I floated the plan of buying that house, and then becoming sufficiently bad neighbors that the evil folks squatting in our dream house get the hell out. This plan was rejected by The Wife, for reasons passing understanding.

25. Do you have a secret fetish?

Let's see...well, there's that one, but I assume that one's out of the bag...and then there's that one, which is probably pretty obvious...nope, they're pretty much all right out there in the open!

26. Have you tried bourbon? If yes, what type?

Yup. Jack Daniel's, obviously, and a couple others. It was OK, but I remain a rum person.

27. Have you ever seen a male or female stripper?


28. When was the last time you were at TGI Fridays?

Years ago, for lunch following a meeting for work. It was when I worked with Pizza Hut, I think. It was OK.

29. When was the last time you were at Church?

This morning.

30. Where was the furthest place you traveled today?

Church. This morning.

31. What was your favorite job?

The one I'm working now! (And I'm not making this up just in case my bosses read this. It's the actual answer.)

32. What condiments do you like at your BBQ?

Depends on what all is being served. Mustard, if it's dogs and/or sausages; ketchup and mustard if it's burgers; barbecue sauce if it's that sort of thing.

33. Bud is hosting Thursday Thunks this week. Will you play?

Ummm...maybe? ("Thursday Thunks" is another weekly quiz-thing blog.)

34. Do you look like your mom or dad?

People always told me as a kid that I looked like my father, so I guess that's my answer here. Not sure how true that is. (He has neither long hair nor a beard.)

35. Who was the last person that you showered with (it's okay to leave out the name)?

Well, the answer here is who you think it would be, but I'm not saying that outright, because, well, you know....

Sentential Links #209

Linkage time! Hooray!!!

:: If Republicans gain control of the House, there is no question they will attempt to impeach Obama, for SestakGate, for iPodGate, for Henry Louis GatesGate. I don’t think there’s any question that much of the liberal media will support impeachment too. I am pretty confident that the public will not support it.

:: She still had a ways to go, but she was surely one lucky dove.

:: And you know what's so badass about my new BFF? He was really, really good at killing Nazis.

:: HAPLESS DUDE is ahead of me on line. He is stammering compliments to ADORABLE CASHIER. She is looking like she would rather be anywhere, even on the MOON, rather than being hit on by this guy.

:: Rather disturbingly, Wonder Woman herself also seems to enjoy anything to do with chains – they bring out a gleeful delight in her, mostly because she believes it’s great fun to break them.

:: So, most of the wars fought by the United States, starting with the Revolutionary War, included a subtext, even the promise, of justice for, and fair treatment of African-Americans. World War I and especially the Civil War brought the issue to the fore. But it was with World War II, with large numbers of black soldiers in uniform, that the contradiction between fighting for freedom for others and a lack of freedom back at home reached a tipping point.

:: When you're replacing a memory stick in your computer, there's a satisfying little slide-and-click sound that lets you know you not only did it right, you also got the right part. Writing is like that.

All for this week. More next week!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Food is now flying out of both kitchens

We got caught up on Hell's Kitchen last night, by watching the episodes that aired this past Tuesday night. Apparently they'll have two episodes again this Tuesday, so I suspect that FOX is trying to get through as much HK as they can before Gordon Ramsay's new show, Master Chef, debuts sometime in July.

Anyway, some random observations on where everyone stands and how the season is proceeding:

:: I liked seeing the Blue team (the men) use their "punishment" for losing a challenge as a way of building their teamwork. They had to go to a particularly nasty spot along the Los Angeles River and pick up trash, which wasn't just small crap but stuff like shopping carts. (The LA River, in LA, flows through a bunch of man-made flood-control channels made of concrete. Remember the "Thunder Road" race in Grease? That's one of the LA River channels.)

:: Strong contestants are emerging: Nilka on the Red team, and Benjamin on the Blue. Others are falling into the "making it interesting" category: Holli and Fran for the Red, Salvatore and Jason for the Blue.

:: Contestants I don't have a handle on yet: Siobhan and Maria for the Red team; Ed and Jay for the Blue. These folks haven't distinguished themselves one way or the other yet. Siobhan seems a bit fragile, but maybe she finds her strength and bounces back a bit. It's happened before on HK -- in fact, it might have happened already this year, with Salvatore. (And I still like her because of her red dreadlocks. I'm shallow.)

:: The contestants I'm unimpressed with: Scott for the Blue team, Autumn for the Red. Of course, now that's reversed, because both were nominated for elimination this week only to be simply switched to the other team. Scott is an obnoxious know-it-all whose high opinion of his own knowledge and ability is not yet backed up by any evidence, and Autumn has the same faults plus a bit of added backstabbery in action. She's the kind of person who is very quick to find someone else to blame for her screw-ups, like when she played dumb about the oversalted water last week and when she simply refused to speak up when Siobhan was getting pilloried by Chef Ramsay for not cooking all of her eggs herself, as she'd been instructed to do. (As soon as they went to the kitchen, Autumn said "Hey Siobhan, I'll cook some of your eggs for you.") Plus the way Autumn looked down her nose at the burgers-and-fries cooking challenge ("I cook at a much higher level than lunch stuff") was utterly obnoxious. Her "blame others" schtick may work for a while, but sooner or later Gordon Ramsay always sees through this.

:: Speaking of that, I find it gets annoying on these reality teevee shows when contestants don't show any evidence of having watched the show they're on before! It always bugs me on The Amazing Race when contestants flip out over what plane they'll take at the beginning of the episode, when the show is clearly set up to make sure that all contestants more or less get to the same place at the same time. Ditto Hell's Kitchen, when a week ago, the teams nominated contestants for elimination for reasons other than picking who had just had the worst dinner service. Every year someone tries the "I'll nominate the annoying person!" or "I'll nominate the person I really don't like!" or "I'll nominate the person I believe to be my toughest competition!" strategy, and every time, Gordon Ramsay ignores the nominations and gives the truly deserving person the boot.

:: In one of the episodes this week, two contestants -- Salvatore and Holli -- were sent out into the dining room to work that end of things. They were both put into identical suits, which reminds me that I just hate it when women are required to wear what is essentially a man's uniform. Neckties on women bug me. Always have.

:: Before last week's episodes, I had never heard of the vegetable "salsify" before. If I had seen that word on a page, I would assume it was a verb meaning, "to make salsa out of". As in, "Take these tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers and salsify them."

More observations as the season progresses!


So The Daughter turned eleven yesterday. Which meant that I got to embarrass her all day by pointing out things like, "Hey, eleven years ago today, I had to change your first diaper! I saw the first poo you ever made!" Happiness is, truly, torturing your own kids.

There were presents, obviously; the main one was that we took her to Best Buy and let her pick out the Wii game of her choice. After a few false-starts, she settled on Mario Kart, which turns out to be an utter blast. I haven't played it all that much myself yet, but just wait. Oh yes.

What's funny about the Mario games is their obvious Japanese sensibility. What I mean by this is the way they blend humor with addictively cartoonish sadism. I mean, in Mario Kart, you can take on the persona of a cute little princess, stick her in a rocket-powered go-kart, and drive her off cliffs repeatedly to her doom, all the while laughing at her cartoonish squeals of "AIEEE!!!" And since one can choose which vehicle to put her in, one can even do this in a rocket-powered baby stroller.

All this makes me think that the Mario games are the videogame equivalent of being on a Japanese game show.

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: This one's a bit scary, actually: apparently if you're a seismologist by trade in Italy, and you fail to predict a big earthquake, you can be indicted for manslaughter. I guess a lack of scientific literacy isn't prevalent just in America, huh?

:: What it's like to own an Apple product Heh, indeed.

:: The 15 cruelest deaths in Star Trek. That poor Yeoman who gets crumbled to dust really stuck with me, first time I saw that episode.

:: And finally, it's always fun to watch the planes come and go, so here are some planes, coming and going.

More next week!