Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Covering up

Lynn comments about a blog devoted to "bad" F/SF book cover art. I put "bad" in quotes because, well, not all of them strike me as being bad.

What interested me, though, is that I had to go all the way to page 19 of the blog to find a book that I actually own. I have that cover. Wouldn't call it "bad", just strangely uncompelling. And in fact, if you hate that cover to Carpe Diem, then you can probably rip on any of the other covers in those particular reprints of the Liaden Universe novels, because they all have the same kind of theme: a man, a woman, and a SFnal backdrop like a planet or a spaceship.

The Final Answers

Oooooh, I can just get these last answers in before the month ends. Only four questions remain. Two are from Roger:

What is your favorite reference book?

I don't rely on reference books as much as I once did these days, but I do have some on the shelves. There is the Merriam and Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, which is wonderfully useful for a reader, in looking up literary terms and small entries on various literary works. I have a full-sized Rand McNally World Atlas, as well as a smaller, abridged one that's useful for quick checks of locations. I greatly love my Historical Atlas, which is actually a old volume that I liberated from a discard pile years ago when I worked at the library at St. Bonaventure University. Historical atlases are wonderful things: maps of old national boundaries, maps depicting various military campaigns, maps of ancient kingdoms and empires, maps of the spread of human society across the world. If you like history at all, get yourself a Historical Atlas!

Somewhere I have a dictionary of musical terms that dates from my college years. David Dubal's Essential Canon of Classical Music is an amazing reference work, not just for those looking for something new to hear, but for those looking for quick information about the history of classical music.

There are lots of reference works relating to genre-specific subjects as well. I have the Star Trek Encyclopedia, as well as a Star Wars Galactic Atlas. These kinds of books are so much fun to thumb through -- as well as a couple of reference books pertaining to The Lord of the Rings, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, Jess Nevins's Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, an Arthurian Encyclopedia, and the like.

Stretching the usual notion of a "reference book", there is also my study Bible (TNIV), two copies of The Oxford Book of English Verse (printed sixty years apart, so the contents are different), and various other large collections of poetry. I consider these to be reference books.

So which is my favorite reference book? Ummmm...Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare. At least, that's the answer I'm giving today.

What is your favorite biopic about a musician? (Singer, instrumentalist, composer.) In fact if you made a list, that would be grand.

I don't see very many musical biopics, because a lot of them tend to fall a bit short. (Dennis Quaid's Great Balls of Fire was painful.) The line to tread is a fine one indeed: lay off the bad stuff in the person's life and the movie feels too reverential, but dwell too much on the bad stuff and it just seems like a tell-all expose. It's hard to strike that right balance.

Some films do, however, get it right. Chief among these is the utterly magnificent Amadeus, which is not only brilliantly made just in terms of craft (the acting, photography, and musical direction are all first-rate), but also wonderfully done in terms of story. The film actually manages to make the enmity between Mozart and Salieri into a compelling story. Of course, in order to tell that story, the film (and the play it's based on) must take a number of liberties with the real history. But so be it.

I've always liked La Bamba a great deal, although it's somewhat flawed, in my view, by the constant fatalism that hangs over the movie, by way of very foreboding airplane imagery throughout. We all know how Richie Valens's life ended, but the film treats the plane crash as a constant motif. I think it was Roger Ebert who described the film's tone by saying, "Watching the movie you almost get the feeling that Richie Valens would have been shocked to die in any way other than a plane crash."

One biopic I loved -- and haven't seen in years -- is Coal Miner's Daughter. I saw it with my mother when I was eight years old; I recall actually wanting to see it, which some might find surprising. ("What's the movie about? A country singer who grew up in poverty in Kentucky? Sure, I'll go!") I can't really say anything about the movie right now, because it's been a long time since I last watched it.

I only saw Shine -- starring Geoffrey Rush as a pianist with some mental problems -- once, but I recall finding it enjoyable.

Again stretching definitions a bit: Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous is totally fictionalized, but it's also heavily drawn from Crowe's own experiences as a young journalist writing about rock music in the 1970s. There's a wonderful British comedy called Hear My Song, which is also a fictionalized story based on a real event, in this case an Irish tenor who had to flee his country due to tax problems, and the young and brash and nearly penniless owner of a failing nightclub who decides to save his business by bringing that tenor back. And for totally fictionalized music movies that don't seem entirely fictional, there are Tom Hanks's underrated That Thing You Do!, Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap, and the effervescent Once, featuring Glen Mansard and Markita Irglova.

Biopics I need to see? Ray, Walk the Line, Backbeat, The Doors. Oh, and Dreamgirls.

And Roger didn't ask this, but musicians who should have movies about them? In classical music: I know he's my beloved favorite composer, but Ye Gods, there's a great movie to be made about Hector Berlioz. Maybe I should write it. And I also think that there's a wonderful film waiting to be made about the romance of Robert and Clara Schumann. Rock musicians? Well, I don't really know a whole lot about the lives of many rock figures at all. Neil Peart of Rush, maybe. And Celine Dion. (OK, I'm kidding about Celine Dion. I think.)

What are your top 10 (or 5 or 20) favorite Beatles songs as performed by the Beatles? As performed by someone else?

OK, a random list. But I'm now thinking of a regular series of posts devoted to exploring Beatles songs. Hmmmm...good idea? Bad idea? Anyway, the list of songs that I like a lot:

Across the Universe
Let It Be
Hey Jude
Octopus's Garden
Don't Let Me Down
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Come Together
Hello, Goodbye
In My Life
With a Little Help From My Friends

And more. (I've never been a huge fan of "Yesterday", although I have warmed to it more of late.)

For years it was my general stance that I liked the Beatles as song writers more than as performers, because I tended to like cover versions more than the originals. I actually can't think of too many cover versions off the top of my head, except for Judy Collins's wonderful take on "In My Life". And the film Across the Universe is just one amazing Beatles cover after another.

And now, the final question, which is a pretty serious one. From Redsneakz:

With your losing Quinn, is it still hard (five years later) to read of babies and such?

Sometimes, very occasionally. It's nothing predictable, but once in a while, there's the "Where the hell is our happy ending?" reaction. I must admit that I have fairly strong internal reactions when I hear about some young guy getting a young girl pregnant, and then she has a gorgeous healthy baby, and I wonder about that. We did things the way they're supposed to be done; they did not. So why do they get the healthy baby, when we got fifteen months of medical struggle followed by death?

I'm almost always happy for people when I see them with their beautiful babies. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that, once in a while, my reaction to seeing a baby is to think, "Hey, God? What the F***?!"

One thing that happened as a result of Quinn's life and death was that my tolerance for a lot of standard religious platitudes is now nonexistent. When I hear things like "God has a plan, and sadly, his plan for you doesn't involve more than one child", I immediately think, "What kind of God is it who comes up with plans that involve making a baby suffer a life where he never eats and he has to fight for every breath and then dies at fifteen months?" And then I think, "Gee, if God's got his plan, then what's the point of all this prayer I'm supposed to be doing?" Because I imagine God saying: "Hmmmm, this fellow wants his son to be healthy. Let me check the plan. Hmmmm...oh dear...sorry, dude, I'd help if I could, but see, I've got this plan." One well-meaning person said something to the effect of, "Well, maybe God knew that Quinn was going to have serious problems and wanted him to have parents who could love him." And I'm thinking, "That's his only option? He's God. How about fixing the health problems?!"

I still struggle with those questions. In fact, I suspect I'm likely to be struggling with those questions for the rest of my life. The main consolation is that I'm sure I'm not alone.

And with that, Ask Me Anything! August 2010 draws to a close. We'll play again in February! Thanks for participating, folks.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sentential Links, deferred

Folks, I had a pretty busy Sunday and an even busier Monday is on tap, so I'm skipping Sentential Links for the week. We're gearing up for the new school year here at Casa Jaquandor, so bear with! (No hiatus, but posting may be a tad light, depending on how the spirit moves me in the time I have.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound....

Only one thing this week, though. My usual traipsing 'round the Interweb didn't take me into too many weird places. This, though, I liked a lot:

It's amazing how descriptive this is, for any specific referent of the word "project". I've got my own project that I've been struggling with for a while now. I made a breakthrough of sorts this very weekend, though -- getting a scene finally right, I think, in the space opera novel.

By way of talking about writing process a bit: I don't like to do a whole lot of revising while I'm cobbling a first draft together, but for this particular work, I've found myself doing more than usual. Occasionally it's for prosaic reasons, such as when I decided to slightly change a couple of characters' names (both gained a single letter, but one of them, by virtue of that added letter, got an entire new syllable out of it!); others when I decided that I needed to go back and set up in Chapter Two something I'd decided to throw into Chapter Six on a whim (as in, "Hey, I know what would be cool here!"). The scene I just got done wrestling with is a First Contact scene, where My Heroes first meet the inhabitants of the planet they've just arrived upon. There's just no getting around the fact that this scene has to be right before I move on, because it sets the tone for so much of what is to come. Or I think it does. You never know.

Anyway, that's what's Weird and Awesome. Now, back to the project!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Alas, poor Yori! I knew her, Horatio....

Via Cultural Compulsive Disorder, I see this poster for TRON Legacy. It's a Hungarian poster, actually. Apparently the marketing strategy in Hungary for this movie is a bit different from the one in this country so far:

But I also found this one out there somewhere, so maybe the marketing will now focus on the wimminfolk of TRON as opposed to the teaser posters to date, which have been all-lightcycles, all the time.

I'm looking forward to this movie, even with my trepidation that it may end up feeling more Matrix than TRON. That would be disappointing, given that I'm a big fan of the latter and not a very big fan at all of the former.

Questioning the Answers!

Or is that answering the questions? I get so confused....

Anyhow, continuing the answers to the Ask Me Anything! August 2010 edition submissions.

Glenn asks: In Mirror, Mirror, the evil Capt. Kirk has a device that allows him to destroy anyone he wants to, quickly and cleanly. There is not chance of detection -- the perfect crime. If you had been given this device years ago, say when you were 20, would you have used it by now?

Hmmmmm. Questions like this are always intriguing. Could the Magic Killing Device (MKD for short) do away with anyone on the planet with whom I want done away? Or is it someone I actually have to have met? Because it's not so easy to kill someone you've met, is it? (Or maybe I'm wrong here -- I'm pretty sure that most murders are committed by someone who actually does know their victim, so maybe just going around randomly killing people is harder, which is what makes it conversely more scary.)

Anyway, there are lots of easy answers, such as "I could've eliminated Osama Bin Laden in 1993." That certainly would have solved some problems, wouldn't it. Someone like that, someone deeply dangerous and likely to pose a danger for years to come. I wouldn't have used the MKD on, say, Timothy McVeigh after his capture and trial, because what would have been the point?

But then, there's obviously no way to know, but I suspect that simply removing Osama Bin Laden from the scene without a trace might have ended up having a whole bunch of other effects that were, possibly, equally distasteful. This was, actually, one of my big problems with invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein -- the question of "Do we have any idea what we're going to replace this guy with?" Because we can never underestimate the Universe: things can always get worse.

As for people I've actually known -- well, probably not. There have been people in my life whom I've disliked; in fact, there have been people in my life whom I've disliked with some degree of intensity. But I'm glad to say that there are no people in my life whom I've disliked to the point of sincerely thinking that the world would just be an all-around better place if they were busy fertilizing the daffodils, rather than exerting their carbon footprint upon the world.

So...would I use the device? To rid the world of a truly evil person, maybe. But I'm not sure.

>Redsneakz asks: Are there any kosher restaurants in the Buffalo prefecture of Blogistan, should I be moved to come that way?

I honestly never gave it much thought until just now. I don't think that Buffalo has an especially large Jewish population, for one thing. There's only one synagogue in the area that I specifically know of, and Googling some others, I see that there are others, but they're mainly in the city and/or the northern suburbs. There appear to be none at all in the Southtowns, where I live, and the Kosher section at The Store (the location where I work) consists of a single 4-foot section of grocery shelving. And we never carry Passover Coke. I'm not sure why Buffalo doesn't have more of a Jewish population, but Buffalo is heavily Catholic. I don't know if the one has anything to do with the other.

So, answering the original question, I again had to do a bit of Googling, and what I found doesn't seem terribly encouraging to the Kosher traveler. There just does not seem to be much that's Kosher 'round these parts, at all. A couple of delis, maybe a dairy place, and a couple of eateries in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I'm not surprised by this, really, given the small size of Buffalo's Jewish population and the somewhat spotty nature of Buffalo's ethnic cuisine. (If one includes "Kosher" among the general category of "ethnic", which I'm not sure is totally fair, but I'm only doing it here to illustrate the point.) Buffalo tends to have a lot of good places in some categories of ethnic food (Italian, Indian, Thai), maybe a handful of good places in other categories (sushi), and some styles are woefully underrepresented here (Kosher, dim sum).

In conclusion: a person observing a Kosher diet can eat here, but it will probably involve a bit of effort and not a great deal of variety.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Something for Thursday

Quinn, Blogging, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Little Quinn would have been six today. He should be getting ready for first grade and listening to me complain about the expense of school supplies for two kids. Instead....

Here is "This Is Neverland", from Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's score to Finding Neverland:

For various reasons, I strongly associate the music of this film with Quinn. I can barely hear a bar of this score without thinking of him.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I suppose Princess Leia is Suzy Derkins?

Some Star Wars stuff:

:: Han Solo and Chewbacca done Calvin and Hobbes style:

:: I don't remember where I got this from, so if any of you had it first (SamuraiFrog, maybe?), let me know. It's Chewbacca as a baby:

:: I thought producer Gary Kurtz came off like a bitter old man in an interview I linked a week or so back, but that interview's got nothing on this one. He beats his hobby horses into the ground -- "George just wanted to sell toys! George doesn't care about quality!" -- along with some new ones, such as that it was a mistake for Lucas to spearhead the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark because it's just a roller-coaster movie with no story. This interview is eight years old, but man, Kurtz does not look good here. The whole thing reads like a child's tantrum: "I didn't get my way! Feel sorry for me!" Well...no.

Continuing the Answers

More answers to more questions! As usual, most questions end up coming from Roger, which is fine because he comes up with good questions. Here's another:

What do you think will happen with issues involving US gay rights in the next three to five years: gay marriage; Don't Ask, Don't tell; the Defense of Marriage Act?

I'm not sure I can predict so small a timeframe, but the long-range trend with respect to homosexuality is clear: acceptance is growing, and it's going to keep right on growing. There's very little doubt in my mind that gay marriage is going to come to pass, as will allowing gays to serve in the military without having to hide the fact that they're gay. It's coming; it can't be stopped.

And that's a good thing.

I remember when I was a kid I had the standard homophobia that I suppose you'll find in any young kid growing up in a small town; one of the harshest insults with which you could strike another kid in your class was to call him "gay", "faggot", or "fairy". (I have to admit here, though, that when I first heard "fairy" used as a synonym for "gay", I was dumb enough to think that the word was "ferry". I couldn't figure out for the life of me what a passenger boat for taking people across a body of water had to do with sexual orientation, but I went with it because I wanted to fit in. Sometimes I wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box.) I don't remember when I came to the realization that homosexuality isn't wrong at all, but I did. And thank heavens for that.

So, the specifics of how it all might unfold? I have no idea. There will likely be more setbacks, such as more crap like Prop 8 in California. It's going to be a struggle, but I'm convinced that it's a struggle the gays are going to win.

A couple of questions come from one of my Flickr contacts, Artist of Life, who posts wonderfully quirky and evocative photos (many self-portraits) that relate to various issues of life she grapples with. She can be serious and whimsical and is one of my favorite people on Teh Interweb. Her questions:

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?

Oh, many! Most books, in fact, change my life in some way or other, I suspect. Each one alters the trajectory of what I plan to read in the future. If I find myself loving a book by an author who's new to me, there's that. Or if I'm reading a book that I'm finding I deeply love -- then I am likely to read something in a completely different genre next, because anything in the same genre might well pale in comparison.

But I think what my friend is asking is for those books that really shifted things in my head, the books that made real, permanent marks on my soul. Here, we're talking about some very special books indeed. A partial list:

The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien (Well, yeah!)

The Prydain Chronicles, Alexander (Before Tolkien, actually. My first foray into epic fantasy.)

2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke (The first true SF book that I remember reading. I didn't get all of it, but it was endlessly fascinating to me.)

Cosmos, Sagan (I didn't really understand much of this book at all when I got it when I was nine, but I read it all the way through in college, at long last -- and it rocked my world. In fact, I'm due for a re-read.)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig (Not sure how I feel about it now, but this book fueled a lot of my thought processes in college.)

Macbeth, Shakespeare (when I first realized that the Bard was not boring!)

On Writing, King. (Still the best book on writing I've read yet.)

What were you doing the last time you really had a good laugh?

I'm lucky in that I tend to laugh a lot! I laughed earlier tonight because I got to annoy The Daughter by working titles of songs from The Phantom of the Opera into conversation. (It's her favorite movie now, and she listens to the music constantly. So it bugs her when I say things like, "I'd like you to do the dishes and sweep the kitchen floor. That's all I ask of you!" Then she yells at me, so I say, "Oh, I'm sorry, didn't mean to offend. Did I cross the point of no return?" Torturing one's kid is one of life's finest pleasures. I understand so much of my own father's shenanigans nowadays!)

There's a video on YouTube right now that made me laugh a lot. It's about a young girl and her infatuation with SF writer Ray Bradbury. You can watch it here. Warning: it is not safe for work, and it includes a very dirty word right in its title! But yes, it made me laugh and laugh hard.

I also laugh when The Wife forwards me particularly interesting LOLCat photos, which are usually ones that look disturbingly like one of our own cats. Such as this one, which I'm almost convinced actually is Lester.

Finally: How many pairs of Over-Alls do you own? :) :) :) :) You did say ANYTHING :)

Yup, that I did! And I'm kind of surprised that in all the times I've done Ask Me Anything!, this question has never been asked. And the answer is...well, it'll sound weird, but then, I suppose that bridge is already crossed, innit? So, here's a rundown...oh boy....

Dickies, stonewashed blue: 4
Dickies, regular blue: 2
Dickies, Hickory stripe: 3
Dickies, black: 2

Vintage Lee, blue: 2
Vintage Lee, hickory stripe: 1

Gap, blue: 3
Gap, brown: 1

Old Navy, blue: 3

Key, blue: 1
Key, Hickory stripe: 1

And that's not all...there are a few more whose brand names I don't recall or which I don't count because they don't currently fit very well (yup, time to start losing weight again). Maybe it's a little less weird if I call it a "collection", though. Hey, you name it, somebody out there is collecting it, right?

In terms of expense, most of these I bought cheaply on eBay, which is mostly a matter of luck and timing. The blue vintage Lee ones (this pair, and one just like it only a little darker blue) was a very surprising find; by some miracle I was the only bidder in the single auction for both of them and ended up paying less than twenty bucks total for both. That was pretty shocking; believe it or not, vintage overalls can fetch surprisingly high prices. I've seen some auctions that set their starting bid at $349.99! That is crazy. As much as I love my overalls, there's no way I'd pay that much for a single pair!

OK, more answers to come. There aren't too many questions left!

Monday, August 23, 2010

More answers....

Continuing the answering from Ask Me Anything! August 2010, with a few queries from Roger:

TIME magazine put on its cover recently a picture of a young woman with her nose cut off, presumably by the Taliban. Appropriate or not to put on a national magazine? Is it advocacy journalism?

I can't really say if putting such a photo on the cover is advocacy journalism or not, but it's definitely highly provocative. I think the question of "advocacy" would hinge on whatever slant exists, if any, in the article corresponding to that cover image.

As for being appropriate to a national magazine, I'm even less sure. It's certainly a disturbing image, but having just searched it out online (I found it here), I must say that it's not the most disturbing thing I've ever seen on a magazine cover. But...well, I have a hard time with it being on the cover of one of the most prominent magazines in the country. It just seems...a little much to me. Putting the image in the magazine? Fine. On the cover? That does seem a bit exploitative to me.

Who is going to be in, and win (pick one or both) the next World Series and/or the next Super Bowl?

Not the Pirates or the Bills!

I don't pay enough attention to baseball anymore to really be able to make any kind of confident prediction there. As for the Super Bowl, well, I'm not ready to make my annual prediction yet (I do this the week before the regular season starts), but right now, Indianapolis and Green Bay seem like good bets to me.

Who will be President of the United States in 2013?

Barack Obama.

More answers to come!

Tales I Cannot Believe

This can't be true. No city can possibly be this stupid.

It goes like this: Philadelphia is, like just about every city out there, having money problems. Philly has bloggers. Philly gets the idea that since any blog can have ad space, whether the blog actually has ad space or not and whether the blog actually makes money via ads or not, the blog is a potential revenue stream. And therefore, Philly has decided that blog owners have to pony up to buy a business license to operate their blogs.

Unbelievable. Totally unbelievable. This has got to be a joke, right?


Sentential Links #218

Linkage! Getcher linkage here!

:: High Speed Rail is not only really cool – something supporters should certainly capitalize on – it’s also an extension of the greatness of America’s rail history. The railroad was a huge driver in our emerging economy, connecting a vast geographical distance and allowing commerce to flourish. High-speed rail will be a driving force in our future economy, and a necessary component of that economy. Unless, of course, it turns out that we actually do have an infinite supply of oil.

:: I should be painting kitchen cabinets and measuring counter tops to get quotes on replacing them. But I've been watching butterflies.

:: I’m going through relationship issues right now. A very good and solid friend is changing and I feel betrayed. The support I have always counted on isn’t there as much. I try to put on a good face and act as though things are the same, but deep down, I know they’re not. This relationship has been one of the longest and best relationships in my life. Yes, it has caused me grief, but those times were usually caused by my own stupid actions or the crazy actions of someone else… until now… now it’s the other that is changing and I’m having a hard time going along with it. It was something I never thought would be asked of me. It was one of those areas where I confidently checked off “insecurity in this area does not pertain to you”. (New blog to me, huzzah! She did the Things I've Done list that I did the other day.)

:: What's worse than vicious pirates? Walking dead vicious pirates. (Another new blog to me, huzzah!)

:: I have a weak ness for insane peo ple who live their insan ity pub licly, and try to dress it up as some thing else. True (and doubt less retold) story: I first heard Rush Lim baugh months before he broke out nation ally; our local talk sta tion was run by the two cheap est peo ple in the world, and they were among the very first to take a chance on this new talker. I lis tened for five min utes and said, “This is a fat guy who can not score with chicks.” For Dr. Laura, I said, “Sounds like some­one is still chasing daddy’s approval, and the fact daddy is dead and buried isn’t going to stop her.”

:: I do enjoy Branson but I have one complaint about it. The main tourist area is not pedestrian friendly at all. In fact, you might say it’s downright pedestrian hateful. (My in-laws were kicking around an all-the-family type of meet-up in Branson a few years back, which we would have attended, had not pancreatic cancer derailed those plans and, eventually, my mother-in-law's life entirely.)

:: Ha ha! It’s funny because Funky can’t feel joy, due to his crippling emotional problems. (I swear, Funky Winkerbean has gone so far into despair and emotional distress that it's close to passing all the way through the region of "unintentionally funny" right into "He's gotta be joking with this stuff". On the one hand, we have Funky's bitter reaction to everything after he's survived a bad car wreck; on the other, we have a server at the pizza place dragging the Iraq vet with some pretty bad PTSD issues to, of all places, a county fair. Which reminds me: the strip has pretty much forgotten about Les's love triangle, involving two women who are trying to fill the void in his heart left behind by the wife that Cancer took away from him! I tell you, Funky Winkerbean is wild, wacky stuff!)

:: In brief, here’s my history with Star Wars fandom. (I really wish I could read someone's postings about Star Wars anywhere out there on the Interweb anymore without one of the first posts in the comments thread mentioning that Red Letter Media guy. Seriously, folks: f*** the Red Letter Media guy.)

More next week.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Obtaining the Unobtainable

The Wife and I watched Avatar the other day. My reaction to the film is still pretty much what it was: I liked it as a well-made, beautiful-to-look-at SF adventure flick. Nothing earth-shattering from the story standpoint, but just an extremely well-crafted popcorn movie. And you know what? There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and in truth, I'm even kind of OK with the film's Best Picture nomination, since William Goldman has long noted that adventure films and comedies are the hardest movies to get right, and yet, those are the kinds of films that get snubbed left and right at Oscar-time.

I do want to note one thing, though. I remember lots of reviews either lightly making fun of James Cameron, or ripping him outright, for his naming the elusive mineral the mining company in the movie is looking for unobtainium. Well, a few weeks ago I was reading David Brin's Startide Rising (which I ended up bouncing off and stopping in the middle, despite the book's somewhat classic status), and I found this passage on page 93:

None of the other moons in the Kthsemenee had the one attribute this one possessed: a core of almost one percent unobtainium. [Emphasis added]

Well, lookee there. Cameron just used a term that David Brin used in a highly-regarded novel years before. What a yutz!

How dumb are we?

Here are two Google Maps shots of Lower Manhattan:

In the course of all the idiotic folderol regarding the "mosque" that's proposed for Lower Manhattan -- which the idiots refer to as the "Mosque at Ground Zero", because well, it's close enough to being that even though it's not really a mosque and it's not really at Ground Zero -- I've been reminded by the saner voices out there that there are millions of Muslims who are actually American citizens, and that there are thousands of those very American Muslims who live and work in New York City, and that some of those folks were unlucky enough to die on 9-11-01 too, no matter how much the Sarah Palins of the world like to think that only white Christian blood was spilled that day.

It also occurred to me, therefore, that if there are Muslims working in lower Manhattan, those Muslims probably need places to pray. Maybe there's something already there! So I checked Google, and sure enough, there is.

That first Google Maps image up there? That's the proposed location of the Islamic Cultural Center on Park Place. Now, note the two blocks' worth of giant buildings between that location and the World Trade Center site. It's not on Ground Zero, is it? Nope. In fact, if you're worshiping there and you duck out the front door for a cigarette, you won't even be able to see the WTC site from there.

The second Maps image? That's the location of Masjid Manhattan, an Islamic center that's been located in Lower Manhattan since -- wait for it! -- 1970. And it's just two blocks farther away from Ground Zero than the proposed Islamic Cultural Center! So, while we're demonizing the people who want to build a new center, shouldn't we be consistent and demand the immediate closure of the old one? Or is Murray Street, between Park Place and Warren Street, the boundary line below which every inch of Lower Manhattan is "hallowed ground" (which really means, "Only Christians need apply")? (Although, according to the Masjid Manhattan website, they're looking for a new location themselves, so maybe we're just figuring that they'll go away all on their own.)

Anyway, my point is this: there has been a place for Muslims to congregate in Lower Manhattan, within a thousand feet of the World Trade Center site, since the same year the WTC opened for business. "Hallowed ground", my ass -- what's at work here is bigotry, pure and simple, whether it's "No Muslims allowed!" or "Well, we're used to the ones already here, but we don't want no new Muslims hangin' about raisin' trouble."

Here's Jon Stewart on this topic:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Extremist Makeover - Homeland Edition
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

I especially like the parallels Stewart draws to the Charlton Heston NRA speech.

UPDATE: Oh, holy crap. I can't believe this country sometimes, I really can't. The anti-mosque folks had themselves a rally and harassed some black guy who wandered through the crowd because...well, I guess it's because you can't really tell blacks from Muslims. They all look alike, don't they?

We keep pushing the Bar of Crazy down so far, I think it should be popping out of the ground in China by now.

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: There was a hoax last week regarding KFC, which claimed that the makers of the "Double Down" sandwich, which substitutes fried chicken breasts for the bun, had come up with a sandwich that actually did use a bun -- with the main sandwich ingredient being Original Recipe chicken skins.

Well, it seems that someone was a bit disappointed that this was a hoax, so they took matters into their own hands and made their own KFC "Skinwich".

I love these people. It's this kind of thinking that's going to end the recession once and for all, folks!

:: I'll bet you all never thought you'd feel sorry for a common, annoying housefly. Well, you will when you watch this video. You can almost see the flies thinking, "Oh God I am so f***ed...."

:: It's always weird when this happens: I write about something from years ago, a movie or a book or something, and then within weeks I find out something new and weird about it. Case in point: the movie Krull. It seems that way back in 1983, the studio behind Krull was willing to try some interesting publicity stunts, like inviting a bunch of couples to a movie theater to have Krull-themed weddings. Before the movie even opened.

Sadly, the article doesn't include any thoughts from actual Krull-wedding participants. I'd love to know the same things the writer would like to know. (The writer certainly seems unfairly down on Krull as a movie, though. I, for one, think it would be really cool to have one of the Glaives from the movie!)

:: Note to my readers in the Beaverton, OR area or anyone planning to visit: Beware the buttocks grabber! Via Steven Den Beste, who seems a bit defensive about this. Hmmmmm.

More next week!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


To the planet Neptune, that is -- the very-distant gas giant, eighth planet from the Sun (and possibly the last planet from the Sun, depending on whether or not you abide by the pinheaded decision to demote Pluto to less-than-a-planet status), is about to complete its first orbit since it was visually discovered.

In 1846.

So, set your calendars for July 12, 2011 -- Neptune's New Year's Day!

Gregg, you ignorant slut

I can't stop reading Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, even though he invariably says something in each installment that is so staggeringly full of crap that I end up wondering if he throws it in there just to see how many people tell him how full of crap he is. In the first regular installment of his 2010 season of columns, he weighs in on a topic that I have for years found amazing for its ability to turn seemingly rational people into Geysers O'Crap. That topic is, of course, former Vice President Al Gore.

Here's Easterbrook:

Deciding to divorce, Al and Tipper Gore released -- via e-mail -- a statement calling the split a "mutually supportive decision that we have made together." Dear, I am supporting you by leaving you. Now Al can fulfill his furtive desire to listen to rap music with dirty lyrics, while Tipper has her revenge by leaving the engine running on her SUV. My advice to couples hoping for a long marriage: Don't make out on national television. These two did, at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, and look where it got them.

In retrospect, could that nationally televised kiss have been more evidence that everything about Al Gore is phony? When Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansson played tongue hockey at the MTV Movie Awards, their mega-smooch was obviously done for publicity; they didn't claim to be in love. Al, on the other hand, wanted us to believe his feelings for Tipper were genuine.

That's a lot of crap in two paragraphs, innit? First Easterbrook seems to believe that Al left Tipper, even though there's nothing to support that; maybe Easterbrook is unaware that couples really do make mutual decisions to divorce. But it's the second paragraph that is pretty amazingly creepy. Easterbrook is stating outright that since they're divorcing now, in 2010, then by Golly, Al could never have actually loved his wife. Especially not ten years ago.

Easterbrook's faulty assumptions here run a pretty impressive gamut, don't they? He thinks he's qualified to pass comment on the emotional lives of two people I can only assume he doesn't know very well, and he seems to be assuming that a marriage that ends in divorce can never have been a marriage based on love at all. Married people might love each other now but divorce in the future? To Easterbrook, this is unthinkable. Heck, don't tell him that some couples that divorce actually still love one another and divorce because of other emotional complexities; I don't think Easterbrook could wrap his head around that concept. Do Al and Tipper Gore still love each other, in spite of their separation? Have they loved each other all along and are now separated for complex reasons? Or have they never really loved each other at all? I have no idea, because I don't know either one of them. But Gregg Easterbrook has seen all he needs to see in order to divine the workings of Al Gore's emotional life.

What the heck is it about Al Gore that turns people into raving idiots? I've been wondering this for years.

Every NFL season, Easterbrook keeps an eye out for the worst play of the season thus far committed by an NFL team. This year, I'm doing the same thing -- but I'll be tracking the stupidest thing said by Gregg Easterbrook thus far this season. Can he get dumber than this? We'll see!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Something for Thursday

In memory of Bill Roosa's passing, here is one of the best marches we ever played under his baton in high school. It's the Washington Grays March, written by Claudio Grafulla. (Ignore the Union Jack in the video. It's an American march, dating from the early years of the Civil War.)

Here's another piece we played, the Post Horn Galop for band and a bugle-like instrument called the Post Horn. We had a special soloist with us for this particular concert, but I don't remember his name for the life of me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wham! A homah! Wham! Anuddah homah!

Jim Caple selects the top ten fictional home runs of all time. Here's one of them:

3. Charlie Brown finally homers ("Peanuts," March 30, 1993). After 43 years of futility, Charlie Brown finally tastes success when he hits the first home run of his career. Responds sister Sally when he tells her: "YOU?!?!?" By the way, this marks the official beginning of baseball's steroid era. I mean, c'mon. Look at the size of his head.

Heh! Although I'm surprised that none of the homers on Caple's list come from this classic bit of baseball history:

(The sound sync is a bit off on the video, or at least it was for me. Still, one of the all-time great cartoon shorts.)

Providing more answers

Continuing the address the queries posed in Ask Me Anything!, I received this one via e-mail from a longtime reader who prefers to remain anonymous:

"Imagine that you’ve just inherited $20 million free and clear, but you only have 10 years to live. What would you do differently? Specifically, what would you stop doing?"

I'd buy a house, establish a savings account for The Daughter's college and for the comfort of the entire Family Unit once my ten years are up. What would I do differently? I'm not sure. Knowing that I had the financial ability to do mostly whatever I wanted for the time I know I have left on the planet, I'd do pretty much precisely that. I'd spend my time writing, reading, teaching myself woodworking, and being with the family.

What would I stop doing? What others want me to do, except on my terms. While the prospect of ten, and only ten, years left to live would be somewhat of a downer, I have to think that in some ways it would be incredibly liberating. Time would be both removed as a factor in life in some ways, and pushed to the forefront of all factors in other ways, wouldn't it? The impulse to waste time would become my greatest enemy.

My most important thing would be getting some stuff written. It's easier to waste time when you have no idea how much you have, isn't it?

Paul asks this:

What, if anything would prompt you to cut your hair and shave your beard?

A cancer diagnosis might do the trick. Or an offer of a huge sum of money, provided that I'm allowed to let it grow right back. If it's "A hundred million bucks but you have to pay it back if your hair is ever longer than one inch again", then I'm saying, "Yeah, thanks but no thanks."

I suppose it's conceivable that I might someday decide I want to have short hair and be clean shaven again, but for now, I have no desire whatsoever to go that route. So here I am, happily hirsute.

(Now, obviously, if The Company was to adopt new appearance standards that mandated short hair and no facial hair, then that's that. Luckily, I don't see that happening.)

More to come!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

You're having eggs this morning. How do you want them?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mr. Roosa

My first high school band director, Bill Roosa, died over the weekend.

My feelings on Mr. Roosa were always somewhat conflicted. There was a pretty big dispute between him and my parents, regarding my older sister when she was in his band, with the end result being her quitting band in her senior year. I don't recall the particulars, but my parents felt a certain loathing for Mr. Roosa that I'm not sure ever abated. And I'm not sure those feelings are unjustified.

But then, Mr. Roosa was for the most part completely OK with me. For a time he took a very active interest in my musical education, even taking time to give me individual trumpet lessons when I wasn't even in his band yet (Mr. Roosa directed the Senior High Band; Jim Beach had the Jr. High group.) I can't deny that he taught me a great deal; I can't deny that he loved music; I can't deny that he had a lot of impact on a lot of music students who came under his baton; and I can't deny that he could be a first-class son-of-a-bitch. I think he might even be somewhat proud of that last. It wouldn't surprise me if some people -- a smallish number, but real nonetheless -- attended his funeral just to make sure he was really dead.

Bill Roosa was a big man with a very deep and raspy voice. He was also loud and liked to command attention. The Senior Band at my high school had a somewhat glowing reputation when I was coming up through the ranks, but the program suffered a bit as I approached it. I never really understood why, but band membership dropped like a rock, and for a time, Mr. Roosa seemed almost apathetic about the whole thing. My guess is that he was a very "old school" kind of teacher at a time when his style of pedagogy was, to put it mildly, falling out of style. He was of the mind that it wasn't the worst thing in the world if a teacher shoved a student around a bit and maybe even struck him in the course of administering discipline; that kind of thing wouldn't last more than a day in schools nowadays. I think he felt a growing sense of frustration over his final years of teaching, and I think to a great degree a lot of what he felt was the fun of the job got sucked out of it. (To be clear, this is all guessing on my part.)

When I entered junior high school, the district had for years been run by the same tiny group of crusty white men who all retired right around the same time. I suspect that Mr. Roosa didn't get along nearly as well with the subsequent administration, in part because he was an old-school type and they were not. (And, I should note, also probably in part because as far as I could tell, the new group of folks running the show were, quite frankly, complete pinheads.) Mr. Roosa's teaching career came to an abrupt end during my senior year. He had already butted heads a few times with administrators, but a month or two into that year, something transpired that I never found out any details about, but Mr. Roosa started cashing in all of his sick days he'd accrued over the years (this was back when teachers could roll them over, and the more wily and healthy ones would bank them for years, to the point where they could call in sick for two months near the end of their careers), and then he simply stopped showing up for work entirely. The band just kind of twisted in space for most of the remainder of that year, led for a time by a substitute who was not a music teacher at all before finally being taken over in the spring by a twenty-three year old guy who had just graduated college. I've always wondered what the final straw was that caused Mr. Roosa to say "The hell with this." No doubt he felt emboldened by the fact that his family was, at the time, making tons of money off their own small chain of video rental stores.

(The video store thing was kind of interesting -- his stores were bought out seven or eight years later by Blockbuster. I asked him about that business once and he bluntly said, "There's no future in this. Sometime in the next fifteen years they'll be beaming movies right to your TV and you won't be renting anything on a tape. But we'll have made our money by then, so it's fine." And, aside from his timeframe being a bit on the short side, he was exactly right, wasn't he? Now, a bit more than twenty years after I had that conversation with him, you can stream movies over the Interweb via your Wii.)

Mr. Roosa was utterly beloved by nearly every alumnus of his band that I ever met, and I always wondered what it might have been like to play in the band during the years when he wasn't as disengaged as he was when I was under his baton. He did have his moments during my years, though. In my junior year, membership of the Senior Band had fallen to about thirty kids, which is terribly low -- with a really healthy instrumental music program, the band should have had at least fifty kids. Mr. Roosa took what I've always thought was a pretty creative approach that year, accommodating the fact that his band was so small: he decided that the year's focus would be on Civil War band music. Now, the bands of the Civil War era were terribly small, and the music of that era -- predating the big marches of John Philip Sousa and Karl King -- had a very raw feel to it, with nearly every piece being full of folk tunes and popular songs of the time. It was, to be honest, a terribly fascinating year of band music, deeply steeped in an era of music that to this day very few people know anything about.

The next year was my senior year, when the wheels finally came off. Shortly before that happened, though, I asked Mr. Roosa if we'd be doing Civil War music again, and he said "No, I'm kind of thinking of looking through some of those books of German military music we have laying about." We had complete sets of German band books there -- where they came from, I have no idea -- and the idea of exploring another obscure world of esoteric band music was extremely appealing. Alas, that never came to be.

Mr. Roosa's musical tastes tended to be very heavily skewed toward marches, which it must be said, sometimes got to be a little much. But he also loved the great band transcriptions of orchestral masterpieces that dominated concert band programs during the "glory years" of the American bands, around the turn of the 20th century. It's because of Mr. Roosa, for example, that I love the light opera overtures of Franz Von Suppe, even though to this day I can't hear the Jolly Robbers overture without remembering one particular explosive rehearsal when Mr. Roosa lost his temper over our continuing inability to get a particularly technical passage right. (Or the fact that the same overture begins with the trumpets sounding a high F, which is for various reasons pertaining to the physical and acoustic nature of the trumpet a very difficult note to hit dead on.) And it was during my freshman year in Mr. Roosa's senior band that a piece landed on the program that had a very peculiar title: "March to the Scaffold". Mr. Roosa introduced me to Hector Berlioz. For that alone he'll have my eternal gratitude. It now occurs to me that he was already gone from teaching when I discovered my other great musical passion, Sergei Rachmaninov. I have no idea at all if Mr. Roosa liked the Russian Romantics.

Mr. Roosa was, as far as I knew, not terribly interested at all in new music. We played no modern music whatsoever. The music he chose might not have been terribly balanced, but what he chose was invariably good. I don't recall hating a single piece we ever played. That's something. His big passion, actually, was circus music, and he was very active in a national group of circus music afficionados called the "Windjammers". When I was in eighth grade -- and thus still in the Junior Band -- he somehow arranged for the Senior Band's spring concert to be nothing but circus music, an entire program of it, complete with introductions by a ringmaster and to be guest-conducted by a man named Merle Evans, who is one of the legendary figures in the music of the three-ring circus. I attended that concert, and I wish to this day that it had happened a year later so I could play in it.

He was also the type of person who liked to test students by, well, being a colossal jerk to them for a time. I myself landed on his shit list one year -- I think it was my sophomore year, actually -- and I stayed there for a solid month, during which he rode me hard at every opportunity. Every screw-up I made in rehearsal became a moment for him to stop the band and berate me, and I remember one time when I was rubbing my lips during a break in rehearsal (your lips can really start to hurt when you're a brass player and you're working hard), he spotted me doing it and launched into a tirade on how no real trumpet player would even admit to pain while playing. Funny thing is, after about a month of this, it stopped almost immediately, and from that moment on, Mr. Roosa never rode me again. He'd point out when I would screw up, obviously, but there was never that sense of maliciousness that had been there during my "Hell Month with Bill Roosa". I don't know if there is something I did to earn his respect or if he just got bored and figured it was time to let me out of the doghouse, but we were fine after that, and soon we'd be back to swapping funny stories about great musicians. (He knew a ton of these, and he could crack the best jokes that only musicians would get or find funny. One of them was when he was trying to pick another march for our concert program, and he said, "I've got an American march, a British march, a German march, a French march, and a Polish march. I'm not sure which one I should do." Another kid, who was something of a wise-acre, said, "Hey, have you got any Hungarian marches?" Mr. Roosa didn't bat an eye as he said, "Yeah, I've got a Hungarian march right here. It was written by a Czech." OK, you had to be there, but to this day, I think that was funny.)

I don't really know much of anything about what became of Mr. Roosa after he left teaching and after I graduated later that year. I know that his family formed some kind of real estate developing business that was somewhat successful; I also know that his son faced some sort of legal trouble, but what that was about, I have no idea. It's not really important, anyway.

Finally, I often think of Mr. Roosa whenever the Olympics are taking place. In 1988, when the US Olympic teams performed poorly (especially at the Winter Games in Calgary), Mr. Roosa ranted several times during rehearsals about how discouraging he found the Olympics because they represented to him a fading of a work ethic in American youth. I wonder if he watched subsequent Olympics, when the US teams bounced right back, and ever thought to himself, "Maybe the kids are all right."

In Mr. Roosa's memory, here's the Suppe overture that gave me nightmares in my sophomore year, "Jolly Robbers". It's the original orchestral version, but it's all there. (The part that terrified us all starts at the 5:38 mark.)

And, since Mr. Roosa and I would talk a lot about Wagner, here is Siegried's Funeral March.

Stuff I've Done

I found this list a while back and forgot about it. It's the usual drill: stuff I've done in bold.

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath
08. Said I love you and meant it
09. Hugged a tree

10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game

16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby's diaper

21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne

24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight

28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can

32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster

35. Hit a home run
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Had two hard drives for your computer

40. Visited all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was too drunk
42. Had amazing friends
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched wild whales
45. Stolen a sign

46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing

49. Midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger's table and had a meal with them

54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow
56. Alphabetized your CDs.
57. Pretended to be a superhero

58 . Sung karaoke
59. Lounged around in bed all day
60. Posed nude in front of strangers
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain
65. Gone to a drive-in theater

66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites

70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played a Computer game for more than 6 hours straight
72. Gotten married

73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Snake River
82. Been on television news programs as an "expert"
83. Got flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage
85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark

88. Had a one-night stand
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one/both of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently
95. Performed in Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn't stop when you knew someone was looking
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldnt have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication
106. Lost over 100 pounds
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Petted a stingray
110. Broken someone's heart
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a T.V. game show
113. Broken a bone
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a body part of yours below the neck pierced
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper
129. Changed someone's mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school

131. Parasailed
132. Petted a cockroach
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes
134. Read The Iliad
135. Selected one "important" author who you missed in school, and read

136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you're living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn't know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair
147. Been a DJ
148. Shaved your head
149. Caused a car accident
150. Saved someone's life
151. Changed your own oil
152. Changed your own brake pads
153. Made pizza from scratch
154. Stood atop the highest point in your home state

155. Gone swimming in a rock quarry
156. Gone on a trip of more than two days to an unfamiliar place and not eaten at a single chain restaurant
157. Grown your hair long
158. Made your own cheese
159. Re-established contact with an old flame many years later
160. Bought a car new and driven it until well past 150000 miles
161. Sewn a complete garment
162. Uttered a curse word in front of a clergyperson
163. Blown your rent money at your favorite store
164. Seen your car being towed
165. Phoned in a vote on some reality TV show competition
166. Seriously considered living in a different country
167. Served in the armed forces
168. Been kicked out of a movie theater
169. Seen a classic film on the big screen
170. Eaten haggis
171. Eaten dim sum in a traditional setting
172. Prepared an entire Thanksgiving dinner
173. Gone swimming fully clothed

174. Gone swimming not clothed at all
175. Driven across the country taking shifts so the trip only takes a few days
176. Explored a construction site in the dark
177. Ridden an elephant
178. Attended a Major League Baseball game
179. Attended an NFL game

180. Attended an NHL game
181. Attended an NBA game
182. Seen a US President live
183. Actually met a sitting US President
184. Auditioned for a reality TV show
185. Been hit in the face with a pie
186. Stood in line on the release date of a product
187. Worked aboard a fishing boat
188. Cut down a fully mature tree
189. Seen the Mona Lisa
190. Seen the Sistine Chapel
191. Eaten fugu
192. Paddled a canoe or kayak
193. Held the control stick of an aircraft in flight
194. Asked a librarian for help finding a book
195. Personally acquired the autograph of a person you admire

196. Locked your keys in your car in a strange city
197. Had to break into your own home
198. Seen a space shuttle launch
199. Attended a NASCAR race
200. Marched in a parade


Monday, August 16, 2010


I'd be remiss as a Star Wars blogger if I didn't note this item, which showed up at the Star Wars Celebration event last week. It's a brief scene that was cut from Return of the Jedi. Darth Vader is using the Force to contact Luke Skywalker, whom we see on Tatooine, finishing up his new lightsaber. This scene was to come immediately after the opening scene in the film (where Vader arrives on the Death Star II and tells Moff Jerjerrod that he'd best get construction going faster lest he get on the Emperor's bad side). In the finished film, the Death Star scene cuts to C-3PO and R2-D2 approaching Jabba's palace.

I've known of this scene's existence for years and wondered if it might show up someday, since the music for it was actually released in 1997 on the Special Edition of the Jedi score. It's a cool little tidbit that I'm not sure as to the reason for its cutting, as it's barely a minute long.

This was part of an announcement that the Star Wars films will be released on Blu-ray sometime next year. That's pretty cool, although I don't own a Blu-ray player and won't buy one just for this; I won't be getting a Blu-ray player until the current DVD player dies, mainly because I still do not see the overwhelming need for yet another digital media format. If I have Blu-ray by the time Star Wars comes out, great; if not, then I'll wait for both.

Apparently the original releases won't be part of the package, because they need a lot of restoration work. I'm generally fine with that. In truth, I haven't even watched the original releases since the Special Editions came out; with a couple of small exceptions, I'm generally OK with the changes Lucas and company made in 1997. It would be nice to have the originals out for archival reasons, though. Same reason I still have my theatrical cuts of the Lord of the Rings films, even though I don't watch them.

And of course, since this is George Lucas we're talking about, in every forum where I've seen discussion of Star Wars on Blu-ray, I see the same tired old kvetching about how "There goes Fat George again, double-dipping and making his fans buy his stuff all over again." That this is standard operating procedure for all of the movie industry is apparently no excuse when it comes to George Lucas, who literally can't win: "Why the hell isn't Star Wars on Blu-ray? Oh, it is? Well, thanks for the double-dip, you jerk!"

Oh well. I still love you, Uncle George!

(Oh, might as well mention this article on original Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz that I read a few days ago. Kurtz, it seems, is breaking silence, and frankly, he sounds rather like a bitter old man who is still angry that he didn't get his way all those years ago when George Lucas didn't want to make the version of Return of the Jedi that Kurtz did. But Geez, look at how Kurtz wanted things to go in the third film:

“We had an outline and George changed everything in it," Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

Rescue Han Solo, only to kill him forty minutes later? End with the Rebel forces in tatters? Sounds like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back to me. And frankly, Lucas's desire for a happy and upbeat ending to Jedi shouldn't have come as a surprise, since Lucas was giving interviews in 1977 about how a big part of why he made Star Wars: A New Hope the way he did was that he was tired of depressing, dystopic movies that dominated the early 1970s. Plus, by this time Lucas had his notions for two trilogies, one telling the tale of Luke Skywalker and the other that of Anakin, much more firmly in his mind, even if he didn't have many details ironed out. He knew that the first trilogy would by definition end on the same note that Kurtz had wanted the second to end on, which would have seemed fairly silly.

I also note Kurtz's weird belief that Lucas refused to allow main characters to be killed off because of toy merchandising. Well, Yoda dies in Jedi, and that didn't stop Yoda figures from being made, did it? In fact, lots of movies that have action figures have figures of characters who die. This objection of Kurtz's makes zero sense; but then, I've never found the whole "Lucas decided that all he cares about is making toys" argument terribly convincing.

Finally, I reject his notion that making prequels is somehow "limiting" to story, presumably because we know how it ends. So what? People didn't flock to The Passion of the Christ out of suspense for its ending. I know how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will end, but you'd better believe I'm seeing that movie. Knowing how a story ends is in no way an impediment to enjoying a story, or being able to tell it well. Kurtz should know that.

OK, now I'm done. Whew....)

Ask Me Anything! Answers the First.

It's time to begin answering the queries posed in this August edition of Ask Me Anything! Here we go:

Maura asks: Which is the best country to which one flees come the conservative revolution? Canada is too cold, English must be understood, and I'll need a good internet connection.

It's still Canada. Sorry! Or maybe France. But I'm not terribly worried about the "conservative revolution". I survived Reagan and George W. Bush, so I think I can survive whatever comes. (Unless it's President Palin, in which case I'm looking for property in Fort Erie, ON.)

Andy asks: How many INNOCENT sub-contractors perished when those rebel SCUM destroyed the death star???

Bah. They're defense contractors in the middle of a Galactic Civil War, and they're building an enormous military construct and weapon. What did they think might happen!

Incidentally, though, I've occasionally thought that maybe George Lucas was making a sly reference to this question (raised in Clerks) when he revealed in Attack of the Clones that the original designers of the Death Star are creepy, insectoid Geonosans. Nobody cares if they die when the Death Star goes up, right?

And finally Quince asks: If I send you $50 via pay pal will you give me an honest review the outline of a novel I am working on?

No, for a couple of reasons. First, I'm not at all certain that my input on such matters would be worth any particular sum of money. I'd feel a bit funny accepting cash for that. But secondly, and more importantly, an outline isn't a novel. Critiquing an outline isn't likely to be of use, because it's the actual writing that makes the book. Any judgments of a story that's in outline form run the risk of greatly missing the point. It would be like deciding if a person is attractive or not based on an X-ray of their skeleton or deciding if a building is a good one based on the architectural renderings. An outline won't convey dialog, voice, pacing, description, and all the other goodies that come into play in good writing. Of course, with an architectural rendering, you can still see things like "Hey Bob, did you intentionally leave the roof unsupported by any kind of truss structure?", but a novel outline is unlikely to make any such novelistic flaws stand out as such -- and if it does, well, you're probably not writing seriously in the first place.

So don't obsess over the outline -- figure out the story you want to tell, and then tell it. That's where the proof lies.

More to come!

A Day at the Fair -- the report!

So, the other day we enacted one of our favorite annual rituals: a day at the Erie County Fair.

We've been going to the Fair ever since 2001 or 2002, the first year we actually lived in the Buffalo area. It's always been one of our favorite things about living in this area. Our county is populous enough to have a big fair, but it's also got enough farmland to have a fair that's got a really nicely agricultural feel to it. We love most things about the fair: walking the Midway, seeing the farm animals, noting the expressions of boredom on the faces of the farmers who have little to do but sit with their animals all day for two weeks, wandering through the various Crafts buildings, sending The Daughter on rides, engaging in lots of Crass Commercialism, and of course, eating a ton of food that really isn't all that healthy at all. A good day at the Erie County Fair is among the best days one can have, in my opinion. I just wish that the fair was a little bit later each year so it would be a bit cooler. The fair is almost made for overalls -- and yet it's always too hot for overalls when I'm there! Bummer.

We always like to get to the fair early on, before 11:00, when the admission prices are half-off. County fairs are amazing bargains, really, and if you can cut that in half, it's even more of a bargain. Our first order of business is to walk across the fair to where our favorite corndog stand is located; by tradition, corndogs are always the first thing we eat at the fair.

This year, though, our favorite corndog stand wasn't where it's been for the last few years! It seems that they did some offseason renovating and stuff at that end of the Fair, where the animals and the rides for smaller kids are located, so our favorite corndog stand was moved somewhere else. I didn't see where until later...but luckily, there was still a different corndog place not that far from where our favorite used to be, so that's where we went. Unfortunately, the corndogs at the new places are smaller than the ones we're used to, but they were still tasty.

Erie County Fair: The Corndog Girls

After this, it was off to see animals. We always wander quickly through the pig and cow exhibition buildings, because...well, there's just so much staring at pork or beef (or milk) one can stand. Of greater interest to us each year, though, is the building that hosts ducks, swans, chickens, and The Wife's beloved rabbits.

Erie County Fair: Baby bunnies!

The Wife raised rabbits in her youth, so she always has a good time checking those out. We also check out the goats and sheep, which I never find all that interesting (but The Wife and The Daughter do). Somehow we missed llamas this year. No idea where they were. I love llamas. Llamas rule!

Shortly after seeing the animals (and a new show this year featuring Sea Lions), it was the first of many snack times. One snack we always get at the fair is a bag of freshly made kettle corn. A big bag.

A big bag.

Erie County Fair: Popcorn!

No, we don't eat the whole thing. Not even close! We still have about half the bag left, and that's after The Wife and I had some more last night when she got home from work. (Kettle corn stays tasty for a surprisingly long time.)

Essential every year is the Crafts building, which is always chock full of wonderful items. This is where people who grow orchids and African violets and ivy topiaries display their creations, as well as lots of floral arrangements and gladiolas. There are displays of sewing, knitting, and crocheting; there are paintings and quilting and photography. We always linger in this building for quite a while (and not just because it's air conditioned!).

One favorite thing of mine in this building, which I only really noticed last year, are the dioramas and the place settings, which are always organized around specific themes. This year, one of the themes was Star Wars! This was terrific. I loved these:

Erie County Fair: Dioramas and Place Settings I

The big flower is, I suppose, meant to suggest the planet from Revenge of the Sith with the enormous flowers that obscure our view of the clone troopers' murder of that female Jedi. Cool!

Erie County Fair: Dioramas and Place Settings II

Erie County Fair: Dioramas and Place Settings III

Next up were the place settings, which were themed "Lunch with Luke". I loved this one:

Erie County Fair: Dioramas and Place Settings IV

Black and white for the Good and Dark Sides of the Force, obviously -- and the napkin is folded in the shape of a Star Destroyer! That's awesome.

Here's another that I liked:

Erie County Fair: Dioramas and Place Settings V

One of the critical notes on the little card there reads, "Mug is slightly oversized". This struck me as silly, since the stoneware is obviously a set. What was the artist supposed to do? Shrink the mug?

Then there were the table displays which were themed to different movies. This one, I think, really got the idea of American Graffiti:

Erie County Fair: Dioramas and Place Settings VIII

When I saw this one, however, I laughed out loud:

Erie County Fair: Dioramas and Place Settings VII

If the movie being themed were, say, Julie and Julia, I could see what's being done here. But the actual movie being themed here was The French Connection. I can only assume the author didn't see the movie, or even look up what it was about?

Another favorite place of ours (which we actually missed last year) is the Woodcarving building. There is some stunning work being done out there. I was amazed at some of it, like this:

Erie County Fair: Wood carvings II

And this:

Erie County Fair: Wood carvings V

Later on, while we waited for the daily parade, we decided to have The Daughter take our picture. This, proved a bit problematic, though, as The Daughter tends to not say anything to indicate when she's about to snap the photo, so we end up with results like this:

Erie County Fair: Couple photo, take 1

Erie County Fair: Couple photo, take 2

But we got the kinks ironed out:

Erie County Fair: OK, this one's fine

Then the parade started, with the mounted cops, the marching band, Shriners in little cars:

Erie County Fair: Shriner hot rod

And horse-drawn wagons such as this calliope organ:

Erie County Fair: Calliope wagon

After the parade, it was time to check out the horse barns (which are on the side of the fairgrounds completely opposite the rest of the farm animals):

Erie County Fair: Horses

By this time, night was setting, so after a dinner of Chiavetta's barbecue chicken (and a couple of hours after a snack of pizza for the kid and a pulled pork sandwich for The Wife and I), it was time for rides on the Midway:

Erie County Fair: Bumper cars

"Rides", for us, translates to watching The Daughter do the bumper cars ten times. That is no exaggeration: she did those things ten times. Kids do the bumper cars and then, when the ride ends, get out and sprint for the entrance to go on again. Wow.

The one ride we all do as a family is riding the Giant Wheel, which I love but which I suspect The Wife and Daughter don't love quite as much as I do. I just think the Midway is beautiful from above:

Erie County Fair: Midway at Night I

Erie County Fair: Midway at Night II

And, toward the end of the night, one final culinary indulgence: the amazing wonder that is a giant plate of Ribbon Fries!

Erie County Fair: Ribbon fries!

So...what else? Well, there's the Antique Mall, where we always spend a bit of time looking at old stuff. This is actually a small satellite location of a much larger antiques store that is located just a mile from Casa Jaquandor. I bought The Wife a pair of earrings there this time (pearls, to match the pearl necklace I bought her last Christmas). There were the other buildings full of Wares Being Hawked, although I did notice that the selling this time was more geared toward demonstration-type sales than actual booths selling stuff. We missed out on some vendors we've enjoyed in years past, only to find them missing this time. We also omitted our customary trip through the Native American "village" (a section of the park devoted to Native American art and culture). Not sure why we skipped this, other than that we just decided to do other stuff and never found time to make it back there.

I'm sure I'm forgetting about some stuff, but I think that sums up the day we had at the Erie County Fair pretty well. I'm sad that it's over for another year...but hey, next up is the Ithaca Apple Festival in October! Huzzah!

(See my Flickr photostream for more photos that I didn't use in this post.)