Thursday, September 30, 2010

Billy Dee in Three Dee!

I'm not terribly interested, one way or the other, in George Lucas's plans to do a 3D conversion of the Star Wars movies. I dunno, just color me apathetic about the whole thing. Generally I'm not that interested in 3D to begin with, so this strikes me as more of a "novelty" project than anything else. I am amused by the upwelling of the same old chorus that pipes up every time George Lucas does anything at all that is Star Wars-related these days, the "Doesn't he have enough of my money!" wailing from people who, if they had a wildly successful franchise of their own that made more money every time they did something with it, would do the exact same thing. I just simply plan to not give Lucas my money this time around, and not because I'm mad at him, but because I'm simply not interested in Star Wars in 3D.

(Now, if there are concurrent 2D re-releases of the films in theaters, then, Uncle George will probably get some more of my money! I'd love to see the films on the silver screen again.)


A couple of book notes:

:: A while back, Michael May recommended a book called Napoleon's Pyramids, which sounded right up my alley:

I had high hopes for Napoleon’s Pyramids. It promised a lot: a swashbuckling hero, a mysterious medallion, an evil count, and an Indiana Jones-esque adventure to unlock the secrets of the pyramids. I’ve learned to be skeptical though about stories that sound too good to be true. There’s always something wrong. The hero is unlikable, the Maguffin is dull, the villain is unbelievable, or the adventure is a bait-and-switch that promises much more than it ever intended to deliver. Napoleon’s Pyramids has none of these problems. It’s exactly what it claims to be and so much more.

I'll second his recommendation, with one caveat. This book is like a cross between Indiana Jones and the National Treasure movies, set in the Napoleonic era. There are secret societies, ancient prophecies, present-day people who are guardians of ancient lore, exciting chases, thrilling escapes, and interesting characters. You have the French army, the English navy, American spies, mysterious Egyptians, and even Gypsies. All this is mixed together in a plot that is a lot of fun -- so much so that you expect to hear music by John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith while you read it.

The book's pacing slows down a bit as we move into the middle third of the book, but as soon as I became concerned about that, the book picked right back up again. There are twists that are predictable, but I think those are there to distract attention from the twists that are not predictable -- and there are quite a few of those.

My one caveat, that I mention above? Michael May did mention that the book is the start of a series. He did not mention that this one ends on a cliffhanger. Aieee!!!

:: Grease Monkey is fantastic. I loved it. What is Grease Monkey? It's a graphic novel, originally serialized online but now available in a trade paperback, about a young mechanic who comes to live on a giant space cruiser, where he hopes to get a job working on the fighter ships. He is assigned to work with Mac Gimbensky, the very experienced, and very crusty, older mechanic who just happens to be a gorilla.

All of this is in the wake of an alien invasion of Earth, and a subsequent visit by aliens who "uplift" gorillas to human levels of intelligence. The book tells the story of their unfolding relationship, and their trials and tribulations on an immense warship that is a society of its own, with competing squadrons, weaselly mechanics out to steal each others' secrets, cranky librarians, military officers who desperately want control over everything, and, as our young hero discovers, girls.

As a collected webcomic, Grease Monkey is pretty episodic in structure; there's no plot that ties everything together, but there are arcs to follow as creator Tim Eldred opens up more and more of his world. The entire story, though, takes place on this one ship, and the whole conceit is great; it's wonderfully refreshing to read a SF/space opera story where the Admirals and Captains are only supporting characters, and we instead focus on the mechanics who are just trying to keep the fighters flying and find time in between to have dates and read their favorite books.

Grease Monkey also has a wonderful sense of humor. I laughed out loud plenty of times while reading it, and some of the chapters turn out to be elaborate set-ups for jokes that only pay off in the very last panel or two.

Grease Monkey is great stuff. Read it!

Something for Thursday

Sheila O'Malley posted this a while back, and I just remembered it. It's a live performance recorded on a camcorder, so the sound isn't the best, but the energy and the beauty still comes through. It's an a capella group performing "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Holy crap....

A while back, my friend Kerry had her second baby, and she gave birth in an unplanned home birth. Shortly thereafter, she rode the ambulance with the baby to the hospital for follow-up stuff and...all the stuff they do with newborns and whatnot.

Kerry got billed for the two-mile ride $978. Ouch. (That's $.18 a foot.) I've long known that ambulance rides are a pretty stunning racket these days; we got a whopper of a bill for our two ambulance experiences, and we noticed that while the EMTs who drive and staff the ambulances are terrific people, their billing departments are staffed by ghouls and parasites. Not only do they get that bill into your hands nice and quick, they also turn the bill over to collections even nicer and quicker.

But what gets me about Kerry's story isn't the amount she was billed. It's that they billed the baby too. Come on, now.

In the stacks

DSC_0582, originally uploaded by St.Ku.

I saw this photo at Bookshelf Porn, and I liked it a lot, so I figured I'd use it here. But I wanted to credit it properly, so I had to follow a series of links from BookshelfPorn until I got to the place it originated. Still, though, it's a really nice photo!

Post hoc, ergo....

This morning, the TODAY Show (don't ask me why it was on, I loathe the morning shows) did a story about a chef in a New York City area restaurant who killed himself by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. It turns out that three years ago, this fellow came in for some pretty harsh criticism via Gordon Ramsay on the Kitchen Nightmares show. So of course, TODAY's segment focused almost entirely on the Ramsay angle, highlighting the fact that a contestant on Hell's Kitchen also killed herself after her appearance on that show. (Here's a CBS story with details.)

Now, the TODAY segment didn't come right out and imply that Ramsay's harsh criticism was a factor in the suicides, but it didn't really highlight any other thoughts about what might have driven these two people (of hundreds that Ramsay has interacted with on his shows) to suicide. So, did Ramsay's tough words and rants play a role? I'm inclined to doubt it. Take it from someone who knows: the restaurant industry is not exactly a biz where you'll find lots of well-adjusted folks working in low-stress environments.

Come to that, I wonder what the suicide rate is for restaurant workers, anyway. We only heard about these two by virtue of their connection with one of the most famous of all celebrity chefs, after all.

The Behaviors of Mr. Costanza

I've been a fan of Seinfeld for years – even the much-lamented ninth and final season. I didn't even hate the series finale, even though it wasn't nearly as funny as it should have been; I thought it was a nifty idea to wrap up the series, even if the execution wasn't what we might have hoped. I'm not sure I can name my favorite character, but there's a good chance that it would be George.

Why George? Well, everyone's there for a different version of insanity. From Elaine, we get female insanity; from Kramer, we get pure insanity that's not really grounded in any form of reality. From Jerry we get pure narcissism, and from George, there's the insanity that comes from being an eternal loser. I just tend to find the bizarre things that befall George, and the even more bizarre ways he responds to them, to be the heart of the show's humor. George is a guy who always mistakes opportunity for a chance to remain inert, and vice versa; so consistent is George in his instincts always being wrong that one of the show's better episodes actually had George consciously choosing to do the exact opposite of what his immediate instincts called him to do, with George tasting actual success as a result.

Throughout the show's run, George Costanza engaged in one bizarre act after another, suggesting an interesting exercise of the "What would you do?" variety. Let's examine some of these!

Scheme to see a woman naked after she saw me naked, and laughed.

No, I would not do this. It just can't work out the way you want.

Failing to see said woman naked, trick her into eating something that's against her religion.

Geez, no!

Eat something that was sitting on a piece of paper on the top of the pile of items in a garbage can.

Heavens, no. I've had many a moment of "Wow, why would someone throw that out? It's perfectly good!" But once it makes physical contact with something else in a garbage can, that's it. It's garbage.

After my parents are mis-informed of my "death", allow them to keep thinking I'm dead for a little while because "they need the break".

Well, my parents aren't lunatics, so clearly, no.

Try to sneak a loaf of marble rye into my future in-laws' home after my parents took the original marble rye home with them.

You know, I always felt bad for George in this spot. He's trying to cover the fact that his own parents are lunatics. If I had George's parents, I just might try something odd like this.

Wear sweat-pants in public.

Maybe it sounds odd coming from an unrepentant overalls-lover like myself, but the only time I ever wear sweat-pants in public is if I'm out for a walk or something like that in cold weather, or if I have to go out fairly late to pick something up from a store – like maybe if The Wife gets home from work and she's sick and we're out of cough medicine, or if I'm cooking dinner and I discover that I'm missing a key ingredient. But really, in cases like those, I'm just as likely to throw on the overalls as sweat pants. In college, sweat pants were a big part of my wardrobe, but not so much these days. I think I only own two or three pairs, each of which is more than ten years old.

Push women and children and elderly ladies with walkers out of the way in my haste to get to the door when I smell smoke and think there's a fire.

Gosh, I hope I'm a better person than this!

Scheme to get caught cheating on my current girlfriend, who refuses to break up with me.

This was one of my favorite George storylines. I wouldn't do this, but this was really funny.

Concoct an elaborate scheme to preserve my high score on a coin-op videogame that has stood for over ten years

Obviously not...but I keep meaning to ask my electricians at work if it would be possible to do what George wants!

(See, he and Jerry visit their old high school pizza place, where George discovers that the old Frogger machine in still there, sporting his fifteen-year-old high score. He decides he wants to buy the machine and take it home to preserve the score for all time, but Jerry points out that as soon as he unplugs the machine, his score will disappear. So George contracts some electricians to move the game without losing power. His scheme fails, obviously, because it's George, but I've always wondered if this could be done!)

Try to arrange my life so my significant other never interacts with my close friends.

Another classic episode that highlights the futility of George's existence. Would anybody other than George Costanza ever even try this?

Hire a carpenter to modify my desk at work so I can sleep underneath it.

What a great idea! What a great, lazy idea! I love this idea! And with my growing carpentry skills, I might be able to do this myself!

Fake a disability to get a job.

Never. Even though it backfires on George.

Try to manipulate my co-workers into giving me the nickname "T-Bone".

This was funny just because it was so gonzo on George's part. It would never occur to me to try this.

Eat a candy bar with a knife and fork.

Hmmmm...why not?

Take erotic photos of myself as a way of hitting on the girl at the photo developing place

I loved Jerry's response to this one: "Yeah, this plan can't miss." You could feel the disaster unfolding. (Of course, this one is completely out of date now, in the age of digital photography.)

Keep so much stuff in my wallet that I literally sit at an angle when it's in my back pocket

No! I can't stand an overly thick wallet. I cull it every so often.

Hide a suit in a men's store so it will still be there the next day when a sale starts

I honestly think this was a pretty savvy move on George's part!

Choose the cheapest possible wedding invitations.

Well, The Wife didn't drop dead from licking them, so I guess I did OK on this!

Wear a toupee.

This is unlikely to come up in my life.

Get caught by my mother with a copy of Glamour magazine. That's all I have to say about that.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Today I start a brief (five days) vacation in which I'm mostly sticking around the Home Unit, although The Wife and I are going on an overnighter/day trip Friday and Saturday. I've always liked these kinds of vacations; there's a lot to be said for just being off work, without all the rigmarole of traveling to a destination and doing travelly stuff. I've been indulging these kinds of vacations for years...but now they're calling them "staycations".

So, the Random Wednesday Conversation Starter is simply this: Is "staycation" a dumb word, or what?!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You can't go home again....

Here's a wonderful article about the literary genesis of two of the 20th century's most beloved characters, the Hardy Boys. Don't let the fact that the article is twelve years old dissuade you; it's a very entertaining and enlightening read. The guy who wrote those books led a fascinating, and surprising, life. But the article is also interesting in capturing a sensation I'm sure if familiar to all people who love to read:

I recently rediscovered my youth. It made me sneeze.

It lay unremembered at the top of a tall bookcase: 15 vintage Hardy Boys novels by Franklin W. Dixon. In getting them down I took a faceful of dust and beetle carapaces.

I carried the books to my favorite rocking chair, beside my favorite lamp, and reverently broke them open to revisit the literature that had inspired in me a lifelong love of language. The pages were as thick as a shirt collar and ochered with age. They smelled the way old books smell, faintly perfumed, quaintly mysterious, like the lining of Great-Grandma's alligator handbag out in the steamer trunk. I began to read.

Pretty soon a new smell entered the room.

The Hardy Boys stank.

Funny. Re-reading old favorites can be a deep, deep danger to us when we come back to books out of a sense of nostalgia. Yes, I've had this feeling myself, although no examples are leaping to mind just now. But then, I don't do as much direct re-reading as some other readers do. Only once in a while do I really re-read a book in its entirety; more often, I just "dip into" old favorites to refresh my memory on passages I recall enjoying. But yes, I've had the "Oh my God, this beloved old classic is actually a steaming bowl of suck!" feeling.

Which brings me to this wonderful post by Jo Walton about how this comes to pass:

The Suck Fairy is an artefact of re-reading. If you read a book for the first time and it sucks, it’s nothing to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading—well, it sucks. You can say that you have changed, you can hit your forehead dramatically and ask yourself how you could possibly have missed the suckiness the first time—or you can say that the Suck Fairy has been through while the book was sitting on the shelf and inserted the suck. The longer the book has been on the shelf unread, the more time she’s had to get into it. The advantage of this is exactly the same as the advantage of thinking of one’s once-beloved ex as having been eaten by a zombie, who is now shambling around using the name and body of the former person. It lets one keep one’s original love clear of the later betrayals.

Yup, I've met the Suck Fairy myself. She's an irritating lass, I gotta say. But I generally tend to be lucky in not remembering things I loved through rose-colored glasses, if that makes sense; I'm usually pretty good at realizing that things that weren't very good actually weren't very good, so by the time I come back to them later in life, I don't find that massive epiphany ("OMG, this is shite!"). In fact, I tend to err in the other way, which is how I watch movies like Krull or Battle Beyond the Stars now and end up thinking, "Huh...not as awful as I expected it to be."

But then, maybe I'm just generically pessimistic.

Racing for Watermelons!!!

The Amazing Race started up the other night. A few random thoughts:

:: I never know teams by name this early on. In fact, I won't know teams by name until half of them are gone. So I end up referring to them by characteristics or by things that happened to them.

:: I like that the teams had to drive themselves to places. That was great. Most of th time over the last few seasons, teams are told to rely on taxis or the like. This really started to grate on me in the consecutive seasons (a regular one, and an "All-Star" one) that featured Dustin and Kandace, the annoying blonde friends, who would invariably get right where they needed to go by hopping off the airplane and then flirting like crazy until they found some wide-eyed guy compelled by his Little General to personally drive them where they needed to go.

:: But I think this year's teams are stupid. A lot of 'em, anyway. Especially at the starting line: Phil has just told them they have to get to the airport fast, because only three teams will make the early flight to wherever it is they're going. So, time is of the essence right off the bat. Then he yells "Go!", and everyone's off. They run to their bags, and then each team stops right there to read the first clue. Huh?! Phil's just told you to move your asses, and you already know you're going to the airport! Grab your stuff, get in a car, and start driving! Read the clue in the car! Seriously, if anyone had done that, they would have had a 60-second head start, guaranteed.

:: I thought I'd like the biker team, until one of them said, "Wow, until today I'd never heard of Stonehenge. And it's a bunch of rocks!" Now I hate that team.

:: They may get annoying later on, but the one lady taking a watermelon right in the face from a misfired slingshot gets a ton of respect from me.

:: A new thing this year: an "Express Pass", which allows a team to skip a Detour or Roadblock if they don't want to do it. I wonder if this replaces the Fast Forward? And I wonder if they're allowed to use it to negate the effects of a U-Turn?

Next week they're in Ghana. From England to Ghana? They're not messing around this time!

The Beatles Song of the Week: "In My Life"

I've loved this song for years...many years. And I loved it years before I even knew that it was a Beatles song at all. The first time I remember hearing it was, of all places, at the end of an episode of Family Ties; Meredith Baxter-Birney sang it at the end of a clip show as her teevee family was gathered around. I heard it again a few years later, in a wonderful cover by Judy Collins, in an episode of The Wonder Years. I didn't learn that "In My Life" was a Beatles song until four or five years after that. Wow.

In fact, for all the years I maintained that I just didn't like The Beatles, it was "In My Life" that kept me from claiming that I hated them outright; I had to stick with the milder claim that I liked them as songwriters but not so much as performers.

As for the song itself, according to Wikipedia, the lyrics form a meditation on John Lennon's childhood and were set to music by Paul McCartney. These lyrics are so poetic, managing to put so much meaning and emotion into just two stanzas! It's really pretty amazing stuff.

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All this places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more
In my life-- I love you more

There's a lot going on here -- memories of things that have gone before, elegies for things gone forever, regret for things that have changed, and an admission that the love of the present is so much more potent than the nostalgic feelings for things "that went before". "In My Life" is a love song, and a memorial, all in one. I love this song dearly.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back to the ship of dreams....

Actress Gloria Stuart has died, at the age of 100. She is most famous for her portrayal of Rose Dawson, at the age of 101, in the "present day" scenes of Titanic. Not only was she the oldest actress ever nominated for an Oscar, but Titanic is the only film to ever have two actresses nominated for Oscars for playing the same character. I love this, from the obituary:

Ms. Stuart wrote a memoir, "I Just Kept Hoping" (1999), in which she said of her late-blooming career, "When I graduated from Santa Monica High in 1927, I was voted the girl most likely to succeed. I didn't realize it would take so long."

I never saw Stuart in anything else, but her performance in Titanic was just fantastic. She provided the film's emotional grounding, in the way she tells the story that she's never told anyone at all, until the moment happens to come that almost requires her to do so. Stuart is what keeps the film from becoming a lot of maudlin, melodramatic schlock. One of my favorite moments comes early on, when she is allowed to look at objects recovered from her very own stateroom, objects she recognizes and remembers but hasn't seen since the great ship went down. She gazes at her hand mirror in wonder, and then looks into the glass, whereupon she sets it down, simply saying, "The reflection's changed a bit."

And now I want to watch Titanic again. I kind of want to watch it with The Daughter, but I just don't think she's old enough for it yet. A few more years....

The Mystery Tool, explained!

The other day, I posted a photo of a tool I occasionally use at work and solicited guesses as to what the tool might be:

The Mystery Tool!

It's not a home-made plumb bob; I already have an honest-to-goodness plumb bob in my tool bag. Aaron identified what the tool is, but not what it's for. It is the magnet from a cabinet door catch, removed from its housing and tied to a length of fishing line. He suggested that I might use it to retrieve metallic objects from tight spots, and yes, I could use it thusly, but generally for that kind of operation I have a telescoping magnet that I use. Theoretically this doohickey could suffice to reach areas where my telescoping magnet isn't long enough, but I've never been in that kind of fix before. No, this gadget is for something else.

Here's how I use it: I pay out the line and then dangle the magnet at the end of about two feet of line. Then, holding the line up against a wall, I set the magnet to swinging back and forth, so its arc is parallel with the wall. And then I move the hand holding the fishing line around the wall while the magnet continues to swing. If it slows before I'm finished, I nudge it swinging again and keep moving the line around the wall. The idea is for the swinging magnet to track over as much of the wall's space as possible...until it stops, having encountered ferrous metal just beneath the surface of the wallpaper. What could that metal be? Why, a standard-issue drywall screw, which is fastening the drywall to a stud.

So, our mystery tool is a low-tech stud-finder. And believe it or not, I've had better luck using this tool than I've had using an electronic stud-finder. Sometimes I install things on our walls at The Store that require some heavy-duty fastening, and if I can accomplish this by sinking a screw into our metal studs, that's a lot better than using anchors that mar the walls. Therefore, occasionally I need to locate the studs, and this works beautifully (on regular old wallpapered walls, anyway -- I haven't tried this on the FRP-covered walls in our food prep areas yet). Cool, huh! So if you need a stud-finder for home use, give this trick a try. Magnetic cabinet latches only cost a few bucks, a lot less than the electronic stud-finders out there.

(No, I didn't think of this myself. I read about the trick in a magazine some months ago. I can't remember which magazine, though, but it was one of the "home improvement" mags I like to browse at the library.)

Sentential Links #222

The march of linkage carries on....

:: My introduction to Wagner’s great four-opera masterpiece, The Ring of the Nibelung, was probably the same as many in my generation: through Star Wars.

:: I really don’t know what you do about the “taxes is theft” crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires. Sorry, guys. I know you all thought you were going to be one of those paying a nickel for your cigarettes in Galt Gulch. That’ll be a fine last thought for you as the starving remnants of the society of takers closes in with their flensing tools.

:: Also, there are, like, a thousand Madisons now. Thanks, Splash.

:: When I was 15, this ad summed up for me everything I thought was ultra-groovy. What girl didn't want to look like this?

:: Who knows? Maybe F bombs are what it will take for some people to get it. Heh, heh, heh.

:: We hung up and I've been laughing and crying on and off ever since. Thinking about the passage of time, the joy and the sadness, and that I wish my stepfather was still here and could have seen that game.

:: Superman has a plan and that plan involves three animals. (Yeah, I want to know what the plan is, too!)

:: I then had a flashback to the worst of all grandparent desserts... Black Walnut Ice Milk! (Heh. We had a cat once, an orange Persian named Papagena -- Poppie, for short. Poppie loved ice cream. Absolutely adored it. Whenever someone ate ice cream, she'd hover around until you gave her the bowl at the end. And if she was sleeping in a bedroom and you were eating ice cream in the living room, she would come running the second she heard the clinking of the spoon against the bottom of the bowl. And she knew the difference in sound between a spoon against the bowl of ice cream, because she wouldn't budge if you tried to fake her out by clinking a spoon on the bottom of an empty bowl, or if you were eating soup or cereal. But...she loathed ice milk, and on the rare occasion that was the offering, once she discovered that it was ice milk in the bowl, she'd glower at us and stalk off.)

That's all for this week. More next week!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I wanna be a sportswriter

Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News, today:

We ought to be talking about Chan Gailey's first win as the Bills' head coach today. God knows what took him so long, but he figured out that Ryan Fitzpatrick gave his team a better chance to win than Trent Edwards. He was right.

Jerry Sullivan, five days ago:

But this move, pulling the rug out two weeks into the regular season, smacks of desperation. It makes Gailey look weak and wishy-washy, and leads me to wonder if he's even remotely as sharp an offensive mind as we've been led to believe.

Sullivan is an odd case. When the Bills play poorly, he is negative to a relentless degree, and when he is on the radio shows the next day after a loss, he is often bitter and/or downright angry. After last week's loss, he was so furious on the radio show the next morning (I listen to it on my way to work) that I almost felt Sullivan's spittle coming through my speakers. This from a guy who constantly claims to be the dispassionate voice, the objective observer of Buffalo sports with no personal stake in the matter as a fan. He loves to talk about what "you fans" accept and what "you fans" do wrong in supporting these teams, but really -- would someone who isn't a fan get as angry as Sullivan does?

And it often leads him to contradictory positions. Through much of the offseason, Sullivan insisted over and over again that the Bills, as a franchise, need to "bottom out". This means finally just becoming so bad as to lose enough games to end up picking in the top three of the draft, so they could conceivably grab a really good quarterback. (Although frankly, had they picked first this year, I'd have wanted them to take Suh, the defensive stud who went to Detroit.) "They need to bottom out! They need to be really bad before they can move forward! They need to bottom out! They need to suck before they can be good again!"

And yet, after last week's game against the Packers, in which the Bills played as poorly as I've ever seen a Bills team play, Sullivan was on the radio the next morning, spouting his "I'm not a fan" rage over the airwaves. When one of the show's co-hosts pointed out that Sullivan wanted them to "bottom out" and that they were doing exactly what he wanted them to do, Sully's response was one of the lamest I've ever heard: "I want them to bottom out with the right people."

And now, here he is: "Benching Trent Edwards is a horrible move that reeks of desperation! But it's also the exact right decision!"

Yeah, I want to be a sportswriter. Because you never have to be consistent.

New Pats, same as the Old Pats

Well, that was pretty much a predictable result for the Bills venturing onto the field against a team they've beaten once in the last twenty times (or something like that...I'm not digging too far into the history here). In fact, that's pretty much the way it's gone for the Bills each year versus New England: they play them fairly tough the first time they see them, and then get steamrolled the second time. Luckily, the Bills don't see the Pats again until very late in the year. Second to last game, if I recall correctly.

But on a "big picture" kind of note, this was the kind of game I was hoping to see more of from the Bills this year. I figured they'd lose. A lot. Because they're lacking in talent in a lot of areas. So I was hoping to at least see some impressive losses, losses in which we see flashes of good play from youngsters on the team; I wanted to see some hint that the team at least has some potential play-making talent to serve as the basis for a real rebuilding project, as opposed to the perennial "We think we can win with the guys we got" thinking that's dominated the organization for most of this decade. And today, we saw a bit of that. Really good play from the secondary. Some real explosiveness from CJ Spiller. Blocking from the young offensive line (well, Cornell Green excepted, who is old and crappy) that wasn't cover-your-eyes awful. Plays from young receivers. And, in general, a sense from the team that no matter what happens, they're not going to just roll over and play dead. That's exactly what they showed today, so even though they lost, I can't be too upset about it. If the majority of their losses this year look like today's, then I'll go into the offseason thinking, maybe, they've finally got something of a foundation to work with.

But yes, it's still a loss, so chalk up another pie in the face for Bills fans!

What it feels like to be a Bills fan these days

But on the bright side, at least this one was like getting hit with your favorite kind of pie. At least the flavor of the Bills' latest splat upon the football field isn't objectionable. (The first two games? Those were pies made of shaving cream. Ugh!)

A couple of random notes:

:: For all their losing to the Pats, the Bills have sacked Tom Brady more than any other team. That's probably because now-retired Aaron Schobel sacked Brady more times than anybody else.

:: Steve Johnson seems to have taken his demotion from #2 receiver to #3 receiver pretty well, because he actually made some plays today.

:: Ryan Fitzpatrick's first interception was awful, but on the second, it looked like the intended receiver (can't remember who, will have to watch a highlight) wasn't watching for the ball. If he had been, he could have made a play on it, or at least broken up the pick. It looked like the pick happened before the receiver even realized the ball was on its way.

:: Gilette Stadium really looks like a great place to watch a football game, doesn't it? Even setting aside the enormous phallic symbol that stands just beyond one the open end zone. What's that supposed to be, anyway?

:: For all the tongue-bathing the announcers gave Tom Brady, the Pats don't look especially impressive to me, particularly on defense. They could have some headaches in store for them down the road.

:: Great moments in sportscasting: When Danny Woodhead scored a rushing TD, the color guy said, "Danny Woodhead -- there's a name you don't hear about scoring much for the Patriots!" That's because until a week ago, Danny Woodhead wasn't even on the Patriots. This is like saying "Wow, Troy Aikman hasn't thrown a touchdown for the NY Giants in forever!" Better announcers, please.

:: Great Scott, the Bills are bad at linebacker. What a train wreck they are at that position. I almost think that's the most important thing they need to address next offseason (after drafting a quarterback, that is).

Next week, the Bills come home to host the Jets, another team they always seem to play tough and tight, no matter which team is supposed to be good and which is supposed to stink. Game on!

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Possibly not for the squeamish, but here are some stunning images of a python digesting a rat. Fascinating stuff!

:: A friend of mine tipped me off on this item -- thanks, Scotty! -- and boy howdy, do I ever want one. It's just a standard pizza cutter...but it's in the shape of the starship Enterprise.

:: This is a really cool baseball story. I had no idea that Bing Crosby was ever a part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but it turns out that Crosby owned an archival film of the Pirates' Game Seven win in the 1960 World Series, which is one of the most legendary of all World Series victory games. I wouldn't mind seeing this!

More next week!

Happy Birthday George!

Not George Lucas, but one of my other favorite Georges, with whom I share the birthday of September 26: George Gershwin. In his honor, here is the animation for Rhapsody in Blue, produced for the Disney film Fantasia 2000 (which seems to me a terribly underrated movie -- there is some wonderful animation in that film). The opening narration here is dubbed into French, but once the music starts (at about the :50 mark), it doesn't matter one whit. (It's in two parts to account for YouTube's duration limits.)

The style is inspired by the famous, oh-so-NYC caricatures of Al Hirschfeld (with, to my eye, a bit of the Eloise books as well).

Thirty Nine!!!

Thirty-nine years ago today, George Lucas was sitting at his desk, working on something, when he got a strange feeling. He looked up, away from his work, and glanced out the window at the dusky sky. He couldn't quite put his finger on why, but he made a note on his "To Do" list: Look into how to get a restraining order.

Now, why he did this on the day of my birth, I have no idea....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Mystery Tool!

The Mystery Tool!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

OK, folks: what is this doohickey? It's a tool I use at work on occasion. It's not an "everyday" kind of tool, but it's one I find invaluable for some jobs. Guess away!

I'll reveal what it is in a few days, unless someone guesses. (Which will probably happen. I tend to underrate the degree to which my occasional little guessing-games are pretty easy.)

Something for Thursday

OK, I've missed this feature the last two weeks. Sorry about that. We'll get back into things with a bit of classic film music. Here is Ernest Gold's theme to Exodus.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Embracing the Crazy

(A Political Rant with a bit of rude language)

Here in New York, we have a gubernatorial election coming up in which the Republicans have, as they've done in races for various offices all across the country, nominated a complete lunatic. But for some reason I've never been able to fathom, Americans seem to every so often get themselves into this weird kind of mood where they get so angry that they decide to embrace lunatics as an expression of their anger. I'm hearing a lot of this from supporters of Carl Paladino: "Sure he's crazy, but crazy is what we need!"

DougJ at Balloon Juice perfectly captures the inherent dangers of this habit:

This kind of reasoning is nearly always stupid, e.g. “at least with Bush, you know where he stands”. People don’t talk this way about things other than politics. No one says “better a quack than all this medical kabuki” or “better Barry Switzer than all that West Coast offense mumbo jumbo”.

If you want to have good government, you do it by voting for sane candidates whose positions you agree with, not by supporting nuts in order to make some ridiculous point about an imperfect system.

I couldn't agree more. "Carl's angry and so are we! He expresses our anger!" But what do you want to do with that anger? "Drop a bomb on Albany!" Yeah...but what do you want him to accomplish? What do you want NY's state government to look like when he's done? "I dunno...but we're angry and so's Carl!" Lather, rinse, repeat. Every time I've asked a Paladino supporter what policy ideas of his they find appealing, they can't cite a single one. They just like that he acts angry.

Along similar lines, a blogger I read recently wrote that President Obama has brought all of his woes upon himself, and that the Tea Party only exists because of his excesses. "The Tea Party wouldn't exist without him," this fellow wrote.

But...of course the Tea Party would exist without him. The Tea Party would have happened to any Democrat elected President in 2008, because for all the grass-roots mythology the Tea Parties like to indulge, the fact is very simple: the Tea Party is nothing more than the same pissed-off Republicans who crawl out of the woodwork en masse every time a Democrat is in office. President Hillary Clinton would have faced a Tea Party. So would President Joseph Biden, President John Kerry, President...anyone at all from the Democratic Party.

And one last thought: Every single US Senator who voted against allowing gays to serve in the military (Harry Reid excepted, who only voted no for procedural reasons) can go to hell -- especially those who hide behind the excuse that "It wasn't fair! You didn't let us offer amendments!" There's right and there's wrong, and the fact that you (a) stood up to be counted with 'wrong' and (b) claimed as your excuse that Senate procedure is just so much more important than doing right marks every single one of these people as moral midgets of the highest order. Especially John McCain. What a bastard that guy is.

OK, I'm done.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Meatloaf: wonderful classic dish that reminds you of home, or dull heavy slab of meat that reminds you of too many school lunches?

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's all a bunch of gorram felgercarb!

Today at work, we were talking movies and whatnot as we often do, and we happened on the topic of teevee edits of movies -- specifically, the editing of swear words. My friend and I share a favorite one, from The Breakfast Club. During Brian's (Anthony Michael Hall) confession, Claire (Molly Ringwald) says something that she intends to be comforting but is really condescending and rude. And when she tries to defend herself, she says, "Brian, you just don't understand the kind of people I'm friends with, the kind of pressure I'm under!" And Brian responds, "What? I don't understand pressure? Well, f*** you! F*** YOU!". But, in the version of the film which is often aired on TBS, this is changed to: "Well, flip you! FLIP YOU!"

So now, we like to invoke the phrase "Flip you!" at opportune moments.

In the course of today's conversation, I related an experience I had a while back. I've always had a soft spot for the movie Smokey and the Bandit, the Burt Reynolds flick. I watched it with my parents years ago for the first time, and since then I've only ever seen it on teevee. So, as far as I'm concerned, Sheriff Buford T. Justice throughout the film keeps calling people "You scum-bum!" turns out that's not what he says. A while back, we checked the movie out of the library on DVD for a family movie night. It was as fun a flick as ever, but I noticed that Sheriff Justice was not calling everyone a "scum-bum". He was calling everyone a "sumbitch".

I suppose that's the authentic, canonical version and all...but years of watching this movie the other way has made "scum-bum" canonical for me.

"Now where are you, you scum-bum!"

Rails to Trails

As much as I love living in the Buffalo Southtowns, one thing I've always missed about this particular part of our region is the general lack of bike paths. Most of the best bike paths in the Buffalo region are north or east of the city -- the paths along the river, Ellicott Creek, and in other points therein, mostly. Down here, there really aren't any good bike paths. (Not to say that there's no good biking down here; it's just not of the "path" variety.)

Well, via Brian Castner of, I've learned that there's an effort underway to transform the very abandoned railroad I blogged about last winter into a bike path. This would be a wonderful development. That railway runs through some of this region's most beautiful country. I hope this happens more than I hoped for Bass Pro. (Well, that's probably setting the bar pretty low, but...yeah, I want the trail!)

Sentential Links #221


:: Is it pathetic that somebody with nine times the median household income thinks of himself as just another average Joe, just another "working American"? Yes. Do I find it embarrassing that somebody whose income is in the top 1% of American households thinks that he is not rich? Yes.

:: We have a bad habit of remembering Presidents as if they were or ought to have been genies.

:: Star Wars, Muppets, and Disney: three things I've always known.

:: His name was Mr. Crothers, and we called him “The Crud”, or just “Crud”. We called him that to his face. It was a term of endearment, if you can believe it. We loved him. (This is a beautiful post. Go read it.)

:: For the past 25 years, it has primarily been my duty to load the bathroom tissue onto the tissue holder(s).

:: But of course good military SF also needs the shooting and explosions. You can’t go wrong with those.

:: I'd just like to point out one thing: The Crocs are still the stupidest-looking part of that ensemble.

:: “Rest in Peace” is the most common line I’ve ever seen on a headstone.

Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t a plea.
(Go read this one too.)

Pretty good week out there in Blogistan! Let's try to keep it going, folks. Don't let me down!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

They like Neil Diamond.

They like Neil Diamond., originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I noticed this car's license plate while sitting at a red light a couple of weeks ago. "Song sung blue, everybody knows one!"


Packers 34, Bills 7. Another pie in the face for Bills fans, hooray!!

Wow, it's fun being a Bills "fan". It's fun watching their fourth-year quarterback struggling to get to 100 yards passing; it's fun seeing him get sacked six times; it's fun seeing the defense play pretty well but ultimately wear down because they're on the field forever; it's fun seeing the line's inability to block anyone; it's fun seeing the receivers' inability to get open or make plays.

Mostly, though, it's fun when the game ends.

Yeesh, indeed. The Bills have been bad for the entire run of this blog (this is the ninth season during which I've been blogging), but right now? This is the worst they've been, that I can remember. They may even be worse right now than they were in 2001. I knew they were going to stink, but I had hoped for some small bright spot here and there. Not so much, though.

(But we can console ourselves by following the University of Washington's football team, right? Because that's where Jake Locker, the guy currently touted to be next year's #1 pick in the Draft, plays? Sure...and then we see that yesterday, against Nebraska, Locker went 4 for 20, 71 yds, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. Hope springs eternal!)

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Cats as Marvel characters. Great stuff! This one was my favorite:

:: I've never been one to favor the miniatures-and-models era of film visual effects on some kind of a priori basis, under the assumption that something made physically by hand is inherently superior to something made virtually on a powerful computer. That's not to say that I don't love great physical visual effects work, because I do. But I don't share the "Computer effects, ewwww!" attitude that many geeks espouse. I do think that computers make it easier to do bad and unconvincing effects, but believe me, I've seen tons of bad and unconvincing effects from the miniatures-and-models era. (As big a James Bond fan as I am and have been for years, boy howdy are there some bad visual effects in the Bond films. The space sequence in Moonraker is laughable at times, and Atlantis rising from the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me just screams out "This is a tiny model!")

I think that the reason CGI effects tend to be disparaged isn't because they're bad, but because they allow filmmakers to go for shots that, ultimately, are pretty ill-conceived. A shot that's a bad idea would be a bad idea, whether the effect is physical or CGI. The ease of CGI, I think, greatly undermines the fact, underscored by hundreds of years of art history, that less is often more. Jaws is often lionized as a film where suspense is created by withholding its visual impact until the very end; you don't see the shark in any kind of good, establishing way until the best possible moment ("You're gonna need a bigger boat"). What's forgotten is that the reason the film was made this way wasn't because of any great "less is more" philosophy on the part of Steven Spielberg; the film was made this way by necessity because the physical shark model just wasn't working. Had "Bruce the Shark" worked better, it's almost certain that the film would have included a lot more shots of the shark, and probably earlier on.

So what's the point here? Well, when you get a chance to pay some attention to "that man behind the curtain" on one of the great visual films of all time, well, how can you resist? So go check out Douglas Trumbull discussing the creation of the vast industrial cityscape of Blade Runner.

:: This fellow makes lightsabers. These are probably the best that are out there, aside from the real thing, if anyone ever manages to invent one.

More next week!

OH WAIT: I almost forgot!

Drink up me hearties, yo ho! ARRRRRRR!!!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Racial Nastiness

This may offend some, actually, but it seems a valuable service to me: someone's collecting instances of people using the 'N' word on Facebook, and blogging them. Racism is always depressing when I encounter it, but what's really saddening here is how casual and open these folks are about it. I found this one particularly depressing, because of the guy's profile pic -- he's a smiling daddy, holding his kid. I suppose he's already raising the next generation of folks who hate. Or there's this one, which nicely juxtaposes one woman's nasty racism with her oh-so-devout Christianity.

I don't know if I'm seeing it more, or if there's more of it to see, but wow, am I seeing a lot of nasty hate out there. The other day I'm in a store (not The Store), and I see a guy pushing around a shopping card with his toddler daughter in the cart seat. And he's being all happy and cute with his daughter. Kind of nice and heartwarming, right? Until he happened to turn around, and I saw his t-shirt: a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, with the caption "The Prophet Muhammad eats diarrhea".

(Oh, and since I'm on the topic, let me say this: Yes, I think that New York State's Republican candidate for Governor, Carl Paladino, is likely racist. To my way of thinking, you don't find the kinds of e-mails he was happily forwarding to everyone in his address book funny if you're not racist. Any justifications based on some kind of convoluted logic that those kinds of things may be racist, but he's not racist because all he did was forward them, strike me as terribly unconvincing.)

Tinkering under the hood....

I'm doing a bit of mucking about with the blog template, folks, so if things look weird, bear with. Thanks!

UPDATE: OK, I think I'm done for right now. I liked the look I was using a lot, except for one thing: the "meta-" text regarding each post. I'm talking about the dates, the labels, and the comments links. This all appeared in very tiny lettering, at the top of each post. That bugged me -- especially the location of the comments link. I'd wager that on at least 98 percent of the blogs out there, links to Comments come at the bottom of the posts, not at the top. This was occasionally a problem here as readers would, through really no fault of their own, read through a post and then click the comments link they saw at the bottom of the post...which belonged to the next post. Oy! Not good. So now, that's fixed.

I've also added some "share" buttons for each post, for easy propagating of my vapid content to other regions of Teh Interweb, if any of you should so desire. There we go! Onward and upward!


LASER CATS WILL KILL US ALL, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

We have dealt with your foolishness long enough, pathetic humans. Now all your tuna are belong to us!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Rachael Ray Seal of Approval

Well, let there be no doubt that overalls are officially coming back into style, folks! I'm at the library yesterday, looking through the latest issues of various "handyman"-related mags (like Popular Woodworking, Family Handyman, and This Old House) and I spotted this, the latest issue of Rachael Ray's magazine. And there she is, right there on the cover, decked out in bib overalls! Huzzah!!!

I don't have an opinion on Rachael Ray, really, one way or the other. I definitely think she's totally cute and all, but I've never watched her shows, read her magazine, or referred to her cookbooks. For all I know, she's the most irritating person on the planet, or she's a Giant Pile Of Awesome. But I do totally endorse her donning of overalls for her magazine!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Holding pattern

Sorry, folks, but I'm nursing a bit of a cold that has sapped my enthusiasm for doing anything other than watch a bunch of reruns of The Big Bang Theory, eat ice cream, and dream of swimming in a giant lake of old-school Ny-Quil before they took the pseudoephedrine out of it.

(OK, it's not that bad -- a pretty mild cold, actually. But it's certainly making me not feel like blogging.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hey! DW!

Right now I'm kind of angry with my local PBS station. Why? Well, every fall, they shuffle their lineup of kids' programming around. It's almost always the same shows, but they just shift them into new timeslots so nothing's ever in the same place. The Daughter likes to have the teevee going while she eats breakfast and for a little while when she gets home. When the shows on are shows we like (Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, Between the Lions), that's great. When we end up with a bunch of crappy shows, it's a whole lot of ugh.

(Shows we don't like? Look, I will forever be a fan of HA Rey's books, but the Curious George teevee show is horrifically bad. And there's just something awfully nauseating about Clifford. Sorry, but I see that big red dog and I wonder why the town isn't always pissed at him when he leaves his Ford Taurus-sized droppings. And of course, of all kids' shows, the one that lends itself most to MST3K-style commentary is Caillou.)

Our favorite kids' show, though, is really no contest. It's Arthur.

From Byzantium's Shores: chronicling the misadventures of an overalls-clad hippie

Arthur is the story of Arthur Read, his family, and his friends in Elwood City. Arthur and friends are all anthropomorphized animals: Arthur and family are aardvarks, friend Buster Baxter is a rabbit, and so on. It's hard to describe what's so good about the show, but in general, it has a great sense of humor, with a lot of jokes slipped in that only parents will get; it doesn't rely on sickening sweetness to make its moral lessons; it depicts a very well-realized town with a lot of interesting and quirky supporting characters.

Actually, I just now figured it out: Arthur is like a more wholesome, less subversive version of The Simpsons.

I just learned that Nail Gaiman will be making a guest appearance on Arthur, which led me to this article on Arthur as a "geeklet icon":

1. Let’s start with more of those guest voices: Arthur’s had a bunch of these, and one of the things I think makes them awesome is that more often than not, the visitors are playing themselves, which can introduce parents and kids alike to new faces and ideas. Architect Frank Gehry’s been on the show, as has kinetic sculpture artist Arthur Ganson, and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. (Renamed “Alex Lebek” in the Arthur episode, for some reason.)

2. The value of reading is a huge underlying message: Arthur and his friends go to the library a lot. They did an entire musical episode which included a song and dance the benefits of a library card and another using The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to illustrate the addictive power of books. Oh, and Arthur’s last name is, in fact, Read.

My favorite Arthur episode, "The Ballad of Buster Baxter", depicted Buster Baxter's return to Elwood City after a year away, and his attempts to reintegrate himself into life there and the awkwardness thereof. This is the kind of story that's easy to relate to, and the episode is pretty insightful about the fears involved: the kids wonder if Baxter has changed from being the kid they knew, while Baxter wonders how he can convince them he's the same old kid while wondering how much they have changed. But even so, the best thing about the episode is the form: it's told in a series of vignettes, connected together by the singing of a guitar-toting balladeer moose, voiced by Art Garfunkel. (Sample lyric, after the kids have decided that Buster probably likes all kinds of strange foods now, such as escargot: "Life can be tough as nails, when your friends think you're a guy...who likes to eat snails!") At episode's end, as the balladeer is summing things up, Buster turns to Arthur and asks, "What's with the singing moose?"

Yeah. Arthur rules. So WNED has it on at 1:00 in the afternoon now. Bite me, WNED!

(image via)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Err...yeah. Hmmmm. So how you doin'?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'll bet the recruiter's job is harder

Seriously, how do you interview people for this job?

Those workers have to climb to the top of a transmission tower that is 1,768 feet high. That's taller than the Sears Tower. The video starts off OK, kinda-sorta scary, but they're inside a somewhat-protective metal structure. And then they reach the top of that, and have to keep going up.

I have very little fear of heights, but this video is making me think, "Oh, hell no!"

And get the banal voiceover narration -- such as when the climber stops and looks around. "It's good to take a look around while you rest!" See, if I'm up there, I'm not taking in scenery. I'm focusing all of my energy on two things, and two things only: not falling, and not voiding my bowels into my pants.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go sit in the corner and quiver for a while.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Beatles Song of the Week: "Don't Let Me Down"

I've written about my fairly new-found admiration for The Beatles a number of times over the last couple of years. The main thing that has captivated me in exploring their music -- and I've only done this in a cursory way as of yet -- is its sheer variety. The Beatles compose and perform in so many different styles, and they're convincing in each one.

The idea for this new series of posts came to me last month, when I was answering a question on Ask Me Anything! August 2010 edition. Basically I'll pick a Beatles song and write about it a bit.

Up first is "Don't Let Me Down".

Now, one thing to remember about me as a newly-minted Beatles fan is that I don't know much about their music, or about their trajectory as a band, or about...well, much of anything at all. It's all a learning process. So what did I learn about "Don't Let Me Down"? Apparently it was originally intended for the Let It Be album, and then dropped; it existed as a single and then only appeared on Beatles compilation albums. I also learned that the song was written by John Lennon, and likely intended as a love song for Yoko Ono.

As for the song amazes me, actually.

It's one of the more searing Beatles songs I've heard, with the emotion raw and on display in a way that isn't always the case with this band. The song has a slow, bluesy sound, opening with a very brief guitar figure before we start right in with the chorus:

Don't let me down
Don't let me down
Don't let me down
Don't let me down

If this song is really intended for Yoko from John, then he is imploring her to, well, not let him down. His display of vulnerability here is front and center, not just in the simple repetition of the words but also in their delivery: Lennon sings them in a heartrending scream.

In the verses of the song, though, Lennon sets aside the imperative tone and instead seems to be commenting to a third party on the nature of his love for Yoko. First verse:

Nobody ever loved me like she does
Oh, oh she does, yes she does
And if somebody loved me like she do me
Oh, oh she do me, yes she does.

The song's tone here switches to a quieter, more meditative sound, almost as if John is surprised at the intensity of his new love. And then back to the chorus, which leads to a second verse:

I'm in love for the first time
Don't you know it's gonna last?
It's a love that lasts forever
It's a love that had no past

This verse is, to me, the key to the entire song. The lyrics leave behind both the pleading of the chorus and the surprised meditation of the first verse, and instead become optimistic and downright idealistic about the nature of John's love. We know he has been involved with women before, but now, with Yoko, John is claiming to be "in love for the first time", and already claiming that it will "last forever" and even sounding a bit mystical in saying that their love "had no past". This verse is sung to a different melody than the other two, a happier melody that leads John into his upper register again in the second half, but even then, he no longer sounds pleading but rather shouting his affirmation (literally from the rooftop, in this case!)

But what really establishes the optimistic sound of this verse of the song isn't the lyrics or the new melody; it's the rhythm, driven forward by the doubling of Ringo's drum pattern, making the song sound as if it's just shifted into double-time.

We hear the chorus again, which somehow sounds less pleading this time, after the optimistic tone struck by John in the second verse, and then we're into the third verse, which brings us back to the bluesy sound of the first verse, and a more, shall we say, intimate tone to the lyrics:

And from the first time that she really done me,
Oh oh she done me, she done me good
I guess nobody ever really done me,
Oh oh she done me, she done me good.

John's love for Yoko is transcendent in mystical ways, but also in the physical act as well. Or I suppose that's how this verse should be interpreted. In John's singing of this verse, I hear a certain bit of mischief in his voice, and maybe even a bit of male "locker room" pride. Yoko is able to inspire John Lennon to the highest degree of virility that he can attain.

The rest of the song -- the chorus one last time, and a close-out with John singing wordless cries -- is mainly the same as the opening, but after the verses, the sense of pleading is gone. By this time, the song sounds to me like an anthem of affirmation, and a pledge by John that he won't let her down.

What a great song.

Sentential Links #220


:: The girls had no idea that across the country and around the world, Christians and Muslims are struggling so mightily. They made domino chains, played American Girl Dolls and schemed to attack the neighbor boys with water balloons.

:: I had had a long day that started on the back of a horse, rounded out with a five-mile run, and ended with a bowl of pasta. I love hooves, heart rates, and carbs.

:: Smoking bans and smoking sections in some buildings are reasonable. Smoking bans in bars are not. (As much as I love Lynn, I couldn't possibly disagree more. What is so sacrosanct about smoke in bars? What is it about bars that makes them completely different from every other business in the country? Near as I can tell, there's nothing at all that makes bars different, other than the historical stereotype we all have of the smoke-filled saloon. Well, here in New York, we've had smoke-less bars for years now...and the bars are still there, selling drinks and doing just fine.)

:: Okay, pop culture, I get it. You have finally beaten me. Your insatiable entertainment juggernaut held me in its warm embrace for a brief, glorious moment of my youth, but then predictably, inevitably, churned onward toward newer and flashier things, leaving me stranded on the side of a one-way road that's rapidly diminishing into the rear-view. So I guess it's time for me to surrender to the obvious and admit that my day is past, my sensibilities are out of touch, and I am no longer even remotely cool. (Au contraire! I'll say this until the day I die: Cool is a state of mind.)

:: An animal of one species plus one of another species usually results in two animals wondering why they were confined to the same enclosed area. Or, you know, lunch. But as our friend the zedonk has taught us, some species can interbreed, creating hybrid offspring that are often tragically infertile but always adorably named.

:: You may have chosen stay-at-home-parenthood, but you must now choose to parent your offspring. Yes, we could explore the whole "I need time for me" angle of today's adventure, but it's been done. To death. You will find time for you in the interstices that family life offers. Rise earlier. Turn off the television. Step away from the computer. Put down the phone. Ah, the elusive me-time freed from its shackles.

:: I was so excited I changed into clean overalls before they arrived, and never realized the strap was twisted. Oh, for pete’s sake. (Oops! New blog to me, and a fellow overalls lover. Huzzah!)

All for this week. Tune in next week for more!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Beerz to you!

Beerz to you!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

This is a convenience store located in Orchard Park, just south of Green Lake. I've been driving by it for years, but I still have never gone in. No real reason, other than the fact that convenience stores are located for convenience, i.e., they're there because you need them to be there. I've just never driven by this place at a time when I needed to stop for something. Maybe I'll hop over there one of these days, though.

The name, of course, reminds me of the song Clint Eastwood and Ray Charles perform during the opening credits of the movie Any Which Way You Can, "Beers To You":

Beerz to you!

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Website owner toys with a troll. My favorite bit is near the end of the exchange, when the website owner tells the troll, "You're still going to read this", and the troll responds, "No I won't!" Game, set and match.

:: Check out this wonderful interactive map of Middle Earth, with zooming and clicking-and-dragging and all that. Cool!

That's about it, actually. Not as much exciting stuff this week, unfortunately....

"Poor drafting, front office. The penalty will be assessed for the next ten years."

It's football time, woo-hoo!

From Byzantium's Shores: chronicling the misadventures of an overalls-clad hippie

Yup, the NFL season "begins" today. That's in quotes because last Thursday night, the Saints and Vikings played the first official game of the season. But nobody takes Thursday night seriously as a football season start. The NFL is about Sunday. And maybe Monday night. Not Thursday.

So, it's time to watch the Buffalo Bills lace 'em up and take the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium (and once at Ye Former Skydome in Toronto) in their eternal quest to win the Super Bowl make the playoffs look respectable not suck as much as some other teams. Bills fans have had a sorry time of it for ten years now; generally speaking, we've had only the sporadic chance to truly utter a genuine Woo-hoo! over our football team. More often -- and by a factor of at least ten -- our reaction to watching football in Buffalo has been like this:

From Byzantium's Shores: chronicling the misadventures of an overalls-clad hippie

No matter how much the start of the last ten Bills seasons has felt like this...

Somehow, at the end of the year, it always ends up feeling like this...

From Byzantium's Shores: chronicling the misadventures of an overalls-clad hippie

...and not in a good way, either.

How then is this season likely to turn out? Well, as I'm a sci-fi geek, let me make a sci-fi geek reference.

One of my favorite episodes of Firefly -- well, the show only had a dozen or so episodes, so they're all my favorites, but never mind on that -- has Captain Reynolds and pilot Wash getting kidnapped by a bad guy they stiffed out of some money in an earlier episode. This guy is torturing them on his own private space station, so the crew of Serenity decides, after recovering Wash from the guy, to mount a commando-type rescue operation to retake their Captain. Problem is, they don't really know how many guards the bad guy has, or how strong his defenses are, or how good his space station's scanners are, and so on. They're going on a lot of guesswork, which leads Serenity muscleman and all-around brute Jayne Cobb to growl, "I smell a whole lotta 'if' comin' off this plan."

Well, that's how I see the Buffalo Bills this year. I small a whole lotta 'if' comin' off this team.

I've heard a lot of griping and complaining and outright bitching during the offseason about the upcoming season and the roster that's taking shape, but my view generally is this: the last crew in command (head coach Dick Jauron and former GM Marv Levy) left the roster in a really bad spot, talent-wise. So the new guys have a lot of work to do. It started last year, actually, with what is now looking like a pretty good 2009 draft class (although we're still waiting on first pick Aaron Maybin to start producing some pass rush, or some tackling, or just being in the general vicinity of the ball). The 2010 draft class, managed by new GM Buddy Nix and new head coach Chan Gailey, looks promising, but...well, that's part of the 'if' I'm smellin' off this team.

What it boils down to is simply this: for the Bills to have a good 2010 season, they need to hit on just about every rookie or second-year guy who is on the roster, and they need to hit on those guys pretty spectacularly. They need their two second-year guards, drafted last year, to continue to improve after looking pretty good last year. They need a flock of young receivers to demonstrate ability to get open, catch the ball, and produce yardage. They need a flock of young linebackers and inexperienced linebackers to produce (one of their starting linebackers is a converted defensive end). They need someone to become a good tight end. They need their defensive line to show some stoutness. They need Trent Edwards to finally take a step forward at quarterback. And most desperately, they need the tackles on the offensive line to not suck.

That, folks, is a lot to hope for from a young team. It's probably too much to hope for, which is why I'm mentally penciling the Bills in for a season that will look pretty bad, if all you focus on is the won-lost record.

Now, that's not all I focus on, and frankly, my mantra is the same as it's been for quite a few years now with this team: I don't mind if their record is crappy at the end, as long as I'm seeing young players making plays at times and showing improvement as the season goes on and basically as long as I'm seeing some evidence that this group of guys can grow into a pretty good team another year or two down the line. That certainly hasn't been the case in recent Bills seasons, when at the end, I'm always thinking, "Yay, they stunk again and their young players still aren't producing". I don't expect the seed to produce a full-sized oak tree this year, but it sure would be nice to see the seed sprouting. Every year it's the same: "Hey, we got a dud seed. Need a new one for next year."

Ultimately, I expect the Bills to finish with one of the NFL's worst records and probably secure a draft spot in the top five. That might be the best thing, actually, for the franchise: squeeze what they can out of the young talent they have right now, and use next year's improved draft position to plug in more talent. Buddy Nix seems to have the best grasp on players that any Bills front-office guy has shown in years, and I also like his approach thus far to rebuilding the roster. I was fine with his not drafting a quarterback last year (until the 7th round, and that guy didn't even make the practice squad); if he truly felt that none of the guys available was lighting his fire, then his decision to not try to force one anyway but instead build a better team everywhere else and try again next year was a good one. So who knows; maybe next year we're watching Jake Locker suit up for the Bills on opening day.

I do think that it will take a miraculous year from Trent Edwards for him to still be here next season. I'm talking big-time numbers here, even if they're likely to be in a lot of losses because the Bills' defense right now is pretty soft. If Edwards does anything less than, oh, start 14 games, throw over 20 TDs and under 15 INTs, and have a passer rating of 90 or above, then I don't want him here next year. It's that simple. We've seen about all we can of him, at this point. He either needs to have a big year, or the Bills need to turn the page when his lackluster year is over.

My "nightmare" scenario is another 7-9 finish, with the Bills again picking in the 11 through 15 spot next year, taking them out of consideration for the top QBs in the draft. That would be bad. But I also think it's unlikely, because the defense is likely to give up a ton of points. The offense may improve a bit, so to me, the likely scenario is that we'll have to endure the Bills being on the bummer end of a lot of 38-24 kinds of games. And my prediction for their final record? 4-12. You heard it here...when you heard it here, folks!

As for the rest of the NFL? My predictions, which are always wrong!


East: New England
North: Baltimore
South: Indianapolis
West: San Diego
Wildcards: NY Jets, Cincinnati


East: Dallas
North: Green Bay
South: New Orleans
West: San Francisco
Wildcards: Washington, Minnesota

Random notes:

:: I really think this is the year Brett Favre's age is going to catch up with him, and that after a lackluster season this year (I'm not even sure they're a lock to make the playoffs), the Vikings will ultimately regret their dalliance with him. I think this is almost certainly his last season, which means that the Vikes will have to go into next year looking for a new QB. And I'm not sure how much longer their current window of opportunity will remain open. Their defense is full of guys who aren't getting any younger.

:: For the record: I was not upset when the Bills didn't draft Matt Leinart. I do wish Donte Whitner would start to justify that they picked him instead, though.

:: Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback, but he's also an ass and I have no problem with his suspension on those grounds. I'm not at all sure why his suspension, however, is for a longer duration that Marshawn Lynch's 2009 suspension, which came after Lynch pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges.

:: Every year, some playoff team from the previous year turns out to be surprisingly bad the next. It wouldn't surprise me if the Jets are that team this year. I'm just not sold on them.

:: The Bills may be lucky in that several of the teams likely to be in their neighborhood as bad teams already have their quarterbacks of the future (for the moment). St Louis and Detroit are likely to be bad (although I think Detroit's years as a stinkpile team may be nearly over), and they've got their guys already. Ditto Carolina, who drafted two quarterback prospects in 2010. The other teams most likely to finish near the top of the draft board and need to find new QBs next year are Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

:: I was confused all off-season by the legions of sportswriters assuming that Terrell Owens was pretty much done, after his worst statistical season of his career in 2009. Did they not see the guys who were throwing him the ball in Buffalo last year? No receiver's going to put up big numbers with Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or Brian Brohm in the pocket for half the season. Owens is in the twilight of his career, certainly, but let's not be sticking the fork in him quite yet.

:: OK, Super Bowl picks. I won't pick New England, because (a) they just aren't as talented as they used to be, (b) I'm unsold on Bill Belichick's ability to run the offense and the defense, (c) I think Tom Brady is closer to physical decline than a lot of people think (a likelihood that goes up with every playoff run from here on out), and (d) I hate them. Nor will I pick San Diego, because they've still got Norv Turner as head coach. (What possessed them to dump Marty Schottenheimer and then go after Norv Turner as their "guy who can win the big one" is beyond me.) Likewise, I won't pick Dallas because they've got Wade Phillips calling the shots. Washington will continue to be a mess, Mike Shanahan notwithstanding. New Orleans looks like they could repeat, but the last time I thought a team had a great chance to repeat (the Bucs in 2003), they ended up stinking up the joint. So that narrows me down to Indianapolis (in what I think may well be Peyton Manning's last real shot before physical decline starts to rear its ugly head with him, too) and Green Bay.

My Super Bowl prediction: the Colts beat the Packers.

And remember, folks: now that I'm on record as having predicted all of these things, none of them will actually happen! Hooray!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"The City of Dead Works" (an annual repost)

I re-post this every year on this date. It is the first piece of fiction I wrote after 9-11-01.

"The City of Dead Works"

There is never any rest for me, the Ferryman of the Dead.

I pole my barge across the black waters and up to the pier. So many wait this time, many more than usual. I wonder what has happened, what event has sent me this many. "Come aboard," I say. "I will take your coin for passage." One by one they file past me, each handing to me the coin that they never knew they had. It is the coin which determines where they shall be taken to rest, its metal shaped and determined by life. The coins of these dead are gold, every one of them purest gold. Six thousand come aboard my barge, and each has passage for the farthest and greatest of destinations. In that moment I know that something truly dark has happened; the gold coins are always forged in moments of darkness. I am the Ferryman. I can give them no answers to what lies behind their haunted, questioning eyes. I can only take them on this, the last of all journeys.

When they are all aboard I take up the pole and push away from the pier. The barge always feels the same, no matter how many stand upon its decks. Whether six or six thousand, it is all the same to me. I guide us out onto the River Styx. Some of the people look worried, but there is no need for fear. This river can do them no harm. They are already dead.

This is to be a long journey, I know – it always is, to this destination. As I guide the barge through the black waters, I look on the faces of those who have come to me. As different as these people all look, they all have the same expressions of shock, disbelief, and withering sadness. Here is a man of business, talking into a cell phone. He is trying to call someone, anyone, who will tell him that it’s all a dream, that it didn’t happen, that he didn’t die in a blast of fire, smoke, glass and steel. There is a mother who is explaining to her daughter that they won’t be going to Disneyland after all. And there, a group of firemen stand together, realizing that soon they will meet all their brothers-in-arms who have gone into the infernos before them. So many now – colleagues once in business and now colleagues in death, people who have never before met but now have the gravest thing in common. As the current takes hold, I look back at the pier. There are more gathering there. There are always more. They will wait. Time does not exist for the dead.

"Please," a young man says as he turns to me, "I have to go home to my daughters."

"You are going home now," I reply. "To the home where all eventually return." Two black rocks slide past on either side, the rocks that mark the passage of the circling Styx.

"This can’t be," a woman cries out. "My mother needs me."

"She will be with you soon enough."

"When?" Her voice pleads, and yet there is no solace that is mine to give.

"I cannot say," I reply. "The Ferryman has no hand in Fate."

The tears come then, tears from the six thousand that run over the gunwales and into the river which has been fed by tears for centuries. All tears are born in the River Styx.

"Where will you take us?" someone asks.

"To the place you are promised," I answer. I recall the words of a poet: Will there be beds for all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come.

One our left we approach the Hills of the Damned, an endless stretch of shattered lands which reach away into the blackness. The waters echo with the cries of all those who have been taken to the Hills for the agony they have brought on the living. I consider the bag of six thousand gold coins, and I realize that I will have to journey to the Hills this day. There will be a person, perhaps more, who will pay me with a coin of black tin; but not on this journey. As the hills recede behind us, the unending cries of the damned become fainter and fainter until they are drowned out by the lapping of the waters upon the sides of the boat and the marker stones that we pass. The six thousand fall silent, each realizing that it is not a dream. I would offer solace, but as ever I cannot. I am the Ferryman.

We come around a particularly dark bend, and before us lies a very wide expanse of water, as if the Styx has become an ocean – which in some sense it probably has. And beyond that expanse are the thousands of twinkling lights that I have come to know so well. One man, a fireman, sees them too. "What is that?" he asks.

"It is the City of Dead Works," I reply. The lights of the city glow on the horizon, and every one of the six thousand turns toward them as the Styx impels us onward. As we come ever closer to the city, the glittering lights reflect off the black water.

"I don’t understand," someone else says. "The City of Dead Works?"

"Aye," I reply. "Behold!"

From behind us, golden light: the Sun of the Dead is rising as it always does when the dead come near the City. Above us the firmament is turning purple, then blue; soon the light of the Sun will illuminate the City of Dead Works. As the sky lightens, the true scope of that city becomes plain: it stretches away into the land, farther than any eye could see. Not even the highest-soaring raven, cavorting in the breezes and zephyrs of the dead, could take it all in. It is bigger by far than any one city ever built by the hand of men, because it encompasses some part of all of them. Perhaps it is bigger than all of the cities ever built. Now the sun’s first rays come up behind us, and the first buildings can be seen down by the water.

"That one looks Egyptian," a woman says.

"The Great Library of Alexandria," I tell her. "Once the greatest repository of learning the world had ever seen, now only a memory to the living and a reality only to the dead."

A man points to a building high upon a rock. I nod.

"The Temple of Solomon," I say.

"There are ships in the harbor," says another. Thus for him I name the ships: Arizona, Indianapolis, Lusitania, Bismarck, Wilhelm Gustloff, Cap Arcona. And many, many others. I scan over the impossibly vast city and spot Dresden, as it was; and beside it the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And how many smaller villages, tucked into the hills beyond the City? None can say. The Sun of the Dead shines upon those hills now, and the great stone statues in the likeness of Siddhartha Gautama.

"I don’t understand," a young man says. "Why this City? Why here?"

I only shake my head as we continue to float by the City. I do not point out the fairly small, nondescript office building that sits near the water. It is not a particularly remarkable building; nor was it, really, until the fuse was lit. The six thousand almost don’t recognize it.


Not one word is uttered as we slide past the Alfred Murrah Federal Building. Then we turn away from the City of Dead Works, and head again down the waters of the Styx toward distant hills and the place where these people will join their brethren.

"Who lives in that city?" It is a priest in a fireman’s coat.

"No one lives there," I tell him. "The City of Dead Works is not for people. It is for the buildings and the ships. It is for the books and the music, the sculptures and the paintings which are gone forever. It is for everything destroyed by craven people in the name of foolish wars, for everything judged forfeit in the face of transitory desires."

The Styx takes us into the Golden Hills. Soon we will be there, and the six thousand will go where they belong. And then the Styx will complete its circle, taking me back to the pier where more dead await.

"We will be there soon," I say. "Soon we will be at the Elysian Fields, where all heroes go – for that is what you all are. It is what you have bought with your lives, with the shaping of your coins into gold." No one replies. We near the last bend now, and before us lie the Elysian Fields, where peace reigns and where heroes dwell; where all is light and voices are always raised in song. The Sun of the Dead shines warmly on Elysium.

But they do not see it. They, the six thousand, all gaze back behind us upon the City of Dead Works. It will soon be behind us forever as we round the last bend of the River Styx into Elysium. I know they all need one last look upon that City, and I do not grudge them that. For myself, I do not look back; the eyes of the Ferryman are ever forward. But I know. I know that the City of Dead Works is different now. I know that it has changed. I know that the people who come with me now to Elysium, the dead around me, look back on the two soaring towers of steel that now rise above the City where there had been no towers before.

I know these things.

I am the Ferryman of the Dead.