Monday, January 31, 2011

Ogle my shelves! Ogle them!! OGLE, I say!!!

I've been meaning to do this for a few weeks, ever since Sheila did it first. It's a series of photos of my bookshelves, nice and close-up.

You'll probably notice, rather instantly, that my organizational approach to my bookshelves is, roughly put, "Getting as many books as I can on the meager shelf space that I have". I'd love to have enough shelf space to actually group things, and have books by the same author kinda-sorta in the same general area, but for now, I don't much have that luxury. Aside from my Guy Gavriel Kay books and my copies of The Lord of the Rings, stuff is mostly scattered all over the place.

You will also note all the extra stuff I pile onto my poor bookshelves. Clearly I operate in more of a "Chaos that could erupt at any moment" kind of book-organizing paradigm.

And with that...the shelves. Below the link.

John Barry 1933-2011

John Barry, one of the most distinctive film composers of all time, has died.

Barry could often, for me, be a "hit or miss" kind of composer, but when he hit -- which in my experience was more often than not -- oh man, did he hit. He's probably best known for his work on the James Bond series, but Barry had a very long career of composing. He had a seemingly inexhaustible ability to come up with lush, gorgeous melodies, and he had an approach to film scoring that was all his own (and which, sadly, fell out of favor in the 1990s).

I could probably come up with dozens of examples of Barry's music, but I don't have time this morning (I'm writing this before work, because I don't want to go all day without acknowledging his passing), so here are just a few.

Farewell, Mr. Barry.

Sentential Links #236


:: Sometimes, y'know, you just feel like a frickin' genius.

:: So I am moving out of the glass and steel fishbowl (a nickname for this studio space because people could watch everything you were doing through the floor to ceiling glass walls bordering two sides of the studio) to a space that is both more private and perfect for hosting all manner of events and workshops... a space that will be all mine.... and the possibilities are just ENDLESS. (Many congratulations!)

:: But this is a blog about pulp as much as about art. So you tell me: Jack Vettriano -- art or illustration? Highbrow or lowbrow? Culture or Kitsch? (I don't make a distinction between "pulp" and "art". Ditto "art" and "illustration". It's all art...and to my eye, it's pretty fine art, too!)

:: The new snow had all but covered the blood.

:: Searching Google is now like asking a question in a crowded flea market of hungry, desperate, sleazy salesmen who all claim to have the answer to every question you ask.

“Hey, anyone know how to wire an outlet?”

“Did you say ‘how to wire an outlet’?”
“I can help you with how to wire an outlet!”
“Here is info on how to wire an outlet!”
“Bargain prices on how to wire an outlet!”
“Guide to wiring outlets in New York, right here!”

And none of them actually know a damn thing about what you’re asking, of course — they’re just offering meaningless, valueless words that seem to form sentences until you actually try to make use of them.
(Via. The search engine was Google's reason for existing, in the beginning, but now I'm wondering, does Google even really need the search engine much anymore? Has Google's focus on becoming Ground Zero for all this "cloud computing" stuff pushed their original product onto the back burner?)

:: “The other trees are whores. Stupid naked whores.”

:: And how much less fun will there be in a time when we know for sure whether Butch and Sundance survived Bolivia, and where Amelia Earhart's plane went down, and whatever happened to D.B. Cooper, and if Melvin Dummar made up the whole damn thing? (Well, I don't know, really. Mystery is all well and good, but I tend to be the type that wants to know. I'd love it if someone found the wreckage of Earhart's plane and established what happened. I wish somebody would find Genghis Khan's tomb. There are always mysteries, but there aren't always solutions, so I guess I tend to fall into the "If we can solve it, bring it on!" camp.)

:: There is nothing quite so clarifying as standing at the grave of a child who never got to grow up and have her own children, a child who never got the chance to delight her parents by becoming a person in her own right.

More next week!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Princess

The Princess, originally uploaded by patrick j. clarke.

I found this photo whilst randomly surfing around on Flickr, and I found it both lovely and somehow compelling. There's something a little sad about that lady's expression, almost like she's looking for a lost lover who won't come back.

Jupiter's going to swallow us hole!

This is really cool: what other planets would look like in our sky if they orbited Earth at the same distance as the Moon. (Set aside the notion that Jupiter could ever orbit Earth, as opposed to the other way around.)

Scale from Brad Goodspeed on Vimeo.

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: I've mentioned Axe Cop before, but here's a refresher. It's a comic that's being drawn by a guy as a favor to his younger brother, who is writing it. The younger brother is five, so he's come up with a killer storyline about a cop whose chief weapon is his fireman's axe, and who precedes his attacks on criminals with the battle cry, "I'm gonna chop your heads off!"

Well, if they made Axe Cop into a movie, it would look like this:

Axe Cop: The Movie - Part 1 from Peter Muehlenberg on Vimeo.

I would totally pay ten bucks to go see Axe Cop.

:: I need to start watching the show at some point, but here's an impressive map of Battlestar Galactica's twelve colonies of Kobol.

:: Here's one of the coolest road-building gizmos I've ever seen:

Via Toolmonger.

More next week!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The part no one mentioned

You know what no one told me about when I was diagnosed with this cellulitis thing? As it heals and the abscess clears up and the swelling abates, the skin in the affected areas will be really loose, and begin to peel and itch. A lot. Now it feels like I'm molting and have poison ivy.

Sure would have been nice if someone had mentioned this. S'all I'm sayin'.

Saturday Centus

I'm kinda late with this, but no matter. Here are the details, and the prompt appears in bold in the story. I went ahead and did SF again. Sue me!

Agent RO-9 shone her light around the cavernous space they’d just unearthed. “What is this place?”

“A storage facility,” Agent ZX-3 replied.

“For what?” She moved a pile of rugs and found an enormous box beneath, which she opened. “Look here!” She lifted the stack of letters from the ancient chest.


“All twenty-six,” RO-9 said. “Numbers too.” She held up a giant numeral 7. “Weird, eh?”

ZX-3 only shrugged. He was looking at something green he’d found in a metal trash can.

“Grouchy,” RO-9 said, and began studying something that looked like a very yellow, big bird.

I hope this one's not too obscure....

(Oh, by the way, the actor I was hearing in my mind last week? Dennis Franz.)

Cattus Interruptus

Cattus Interruptus, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

A week or two back, I got home from grocery shopping to find the boys in this position, on my desk chair. It was an awkward moment for all concerned. We don't talk about it.


Tales of right-wing political figures who rail against the evils of government on the one hand while happily accepting its benefits on the other are a dime a dozen -- I especially liked the Teabagger recently elected to Congress who blew a gasket when he realized that his government-paid health insurance wouldn't actually kick in until he was sworn in, two months after being elected -- but this one is particularly satisfying.

So in addition to all of Ayn Rand's other failings as a human being (crappy writer, sloppy thinker, philanderess, serial killer fetishist), we can add "giant hypodrite". Who'da thunkit!

Friday, January 28, 2011


I was in ninth grade, the day the Challenger exploded. I heard the news in the hall, going from one class to the next. Some kid that I thought was kind of a dork pops up and says, "Hey, didja hear about the space shuttle? It blew up." And he smiled, like it was funny. Or maybe not that it was funny; maybe that was just his goofy 14-year-old-kid way of expressing something along the lines of "Huh. That's not what was supposed to happen."

By this time in my high school career, I was well on the way to becoming a music geek and wasn't nearly as interested in the space program as I had been in my "I'm gonna be an astronaut!" phase four or five years earlier. Therefore, I didn't know much at all about that particular shuttle mission outside of the publicity because a civilian, a teacher, was going to be on it. What was really weird, though, about that day in my school was that the news didn't rip through the school; few people were talking about it; none of my classes had teevee's with the footage. I didn't see any of the coverage until I got home from school that afternoon, at which point I planted myself in front of CBS.

It seems to me that the Challenger disaster really soured this country on space exploration, or at least it put some punctuation on a souring process that had been going on for a while. There were no goals, no real sense of purpose to the whole thing. We had once built ships to reach the Moon; now we were content to stay in low-Earth orbit. Most news items on teevee relating to shuttle missions were to show the whacky choice of music Houston had chosen for the astronauts' wake-up call. The shuttle itself was a dull-looking vehicle. The future had arrived, and it was clunky and boring...and then, awfully dangerous as well.

What are we doing in space? I have no idea. That makes me sad. When I was a kid, my conviction was rock solid that I was living in the generation that would walk on other worlds. I didn't realize that we were basically done walking on other worlds within a year of my birth. Alas.

To wrap this up: I was, as you can probably tell from my personal politics, never a big fan of President Ronald Reagan. But his speech to the nation after the Challenger disaster was masterful.

And then there was Richard Feynman's tenacity in focusing on the O-ring seals in the booster rockets:

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Sorry, folks, but real life has been kicking me in the arse the last few days. I got nothin', so I'll be back when...when I'm back. But I will be back!

It's mainly this damned infection on my knee. After missing two days of work, I got back on the job, which felt OK...but my knee is at its most sore when I'm enjoying what there is of my Prime Writing Time, so I'm focusing what little energy I have on my current Work-in-Progress. The knee is getting better, but it's a slow, annoying process.

Meantime, here's something cute (via Book Scorpion's Lair):

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I have a bad feeling about this

In all the years I've been reading dumb commentary online about Star Wars, I don't think I've ever read a more wrong-headed assertion about it than this one:

If there was a moment when the culture of enlightened modernity in the United States gave way to the sickly culture of romantic primitivism, it was when the movie “Star Wars” premiered in 1977. A child of the 1960s, I had grown up with the optimistic vision symbolized by “Star Trek,” according to which planets, as they developed technologically and politically, graduated to membership in the United Federation of Planets, a sort of galactic League of Nations or UN. When I first watched “Star Wars,” I was deeply shocked. The representatives of the advanced, scientific, galaxy-spanning organization were now the bad guys, and the heroes were positively medieval -- hereditary princes and princesses, wizards and ape-men. Aristocracy and tribalism were superior to bureaucracy. Technology was bad. Magic was good.

That's the entire bit about Star Wars in the article, which makes a point about...something, I guess. I didn't bother reading the article, actually; I just read the Star Wars bit and realized that I'm not terribly interested in the insights of a guy who can't be bothered to be even remotely in the ballpark on what a movie is about.

Look at the pretty pictures as they fly through the air!

A few teevee notes:

:: Granted, I can't watch any of the supposedly great shows that are on cable channels, but for my broadcast-only network money, Castle is the best damn thing on teevee right now. It just is. Last night's episode returned us to the ongoing "Becket's mother's murder" storyline, and the ball got advanced a bit; the case isn't solved, but the writers are able to make it feel like a solution is actually getting closer each time they return to this particular arc, which is really refreshing. (Unlike, say, the "Red John" storyline on The Mentalist, which has had twice the episodes devoted to it and feels as far from a resolution as when the show started.)

:: Bones got moved to 9:00 on Thursdays, so that FOX can put on its latest abomination of a game show, Million Dollar Drop. This means that I can at long last watch The Big Bang Theory when it actually airs. What a great show this is! Last week's episode sent the group on a car ride to a hotel stay at some conference or other, which is a standard thing for ensemble sitcoms to do: put everyone together in one place and bounce 'em off one another. Every sitcom does this, but the really good sitcoms turn those episodes into greatness because their characters are so good. (The show needs more Bernadette, though.)

:: The Bones move means we don't watch The Office on the night it airs anymore. And I don't feel terribly deprived by this. That show is long past its prime, and is only limping along now on reputation.

:: Well, I was excited about Survivor coming back in a couple of weeks. They're doing a new twist this time out called "Redemption Island". What happens is that when you get voted off, instead of being out of the game, you're sent to a place called, you guessed it, "Redemption Island". There you stay until after the next Tribal Council, when you square off in some contest against the person just voted off. If you win, you remain on Redemption Island until yet another Tribal Council; if you lose, then you're out of the game. Ultimately this cycle stops, and the last person standing at Redemption Island returns to the game with the other Survivors. So now, voting someone off is no guarantee, and could conceivably come back to bite you.

I rather like this twist...but then CBS had to ruin it with another twist. This one is so vile that now, I have no plans to watch the show at all. The twist?

Boston Rob and Russell are coming back.

For those who aren't keeping track at home, here are the standings for these two. This will be Boston Rob's fourth attempt at Survivor, and Russell's third. Neither has ever won the show, putting them at a combined 0-5. And that's not all! Rob has also been on The Amazing Race twice, so in CBS's million-dollar-payout reality game shows, he combines with Russell to be 0-7. And yet, CBS has decided that we need to see these two idiots one more damn time.

I've no idea what the fascination CBS has with Rob is all about, or why they just don't give him a million dollars if it gives them a sad that big that he's never won. Ditto Russell, a pouty little jerk-off who for all his braggadocio about how good he is at "playing the game" doesn't know how to play the game. So CBS has taken an interesting premise for a new season of Survivor and turned it into crap. Thanks for that, guys. Rob and Russell have had more than a half-dozen cracks at the million between them. That's enough.

:: I was actually pleasantly surprised by the new judges on American Idol. It's hard to judge their effectiveness, obviously, when they're in the audition stage, but Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez really seem to be engaged and know what they're talking about, which was simply not the case the last few years. Especially not in last year's painfully horrible season, during which Ellen DeGeneres looked like she had no idea what she was doing, Kara DioGuardi was looking like she was trying to sound intelligent but was failing miserably, and Simon Cowell was oozing "I really don't give a f*** anymore" from every pore (which might explain the tongue-bathing they gave the otherwise shitty Lee DeWyze on a weekly basis). But then, I never bought into the whole "Simon is the glue that holds Idol together" meme to begin with.

:: The new Hawaii Five-0 is slowly winning me over. I'm not sold on the new McGarrett, but I do like Danno and the other cast as well. Production-wise, the show is still way too indebted to CSI: Miami, but I do think the show is competently done.

:: I've developed something of a grudging respect for The Family Guy, but I don't think I'll ever be a Seth McFarlane fan. American Dad and The Cleveland Show are two of the most appallingly bad shows I have ever seen. They are terrible, unfunny, stupid pieces of trash. Ugh!

I think that's all.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME! (Monday edition)

Day late, because I spent most of yesterday drooling and clicking stuff with my mouse. Oh well...oddities and Awesome abound!

:: I'm not the biggest fan of Martha Stewart in the world, but I'm a much bigger fan now than when I used to be. Generally, I used to hate her and found her insanely phony, but after she went to jail, I warmed up to her. Go figure. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that our society is run by white-collar criminals who rack up insane profits, drive our economy to near ruin, and then lather, rinse and repeat, while Stewart makes a relative pittance illegally and goes to jail. Anyway, there's something about Martha Stewart that I find more palatable now than I used to.

Of course, it could just be that I have to admire someone who keeps the skull of one of her enemies right in her kitchen!

"Go ahead, send me to jail. Later on, I'll decorate my house with your bones! It's a good thing!"

Yay, Martha!

:: Do check out this wonderful slide-show of literary watering holes.

:: Here's a twisted collection of Presidential trivia from Possibly not safe for work, and in general, I find to be one of the most insidious time-wasters anywhere on the Internet. I cannot go there without following links to stuff for at least twenty minutes, so beware!

More next week!

Steeling the Pack (or Packing the Steel)

Steelers and Packers in the Super Bowl. What a matchup! Seriously, out of all the teams that were in the playoffs, I think these two teams yield the most potential for a fantastic game -- and that's even by today's standards, as the Super Bowl has for fifteen years now tended to produce great games a lot more often than the dull blowouts it used to feature. I don't see this game as a blowout for either team.

I'll be rooting for the Steelers, of course, as they are my second-favorite NFL team (I only root against the Steelers when they are either playing the Bills or are in a situation in which a Steelers win hurts the Bills in some way, such as playoff positioning), but it really won't break my heart if the Packers win. There's just something about the Packers that's frankly awesome, and I'm not talking about this year's team but the franchise itself. The idea that one of the NFL's better franchises resides in a relatively tiny town in northern Wisconsin is one of sports history's cooler quirks, even if the existence of the Packers will allow the NFL to feel a bit less guilty when they inevitably put the screws to their franchise in Buffalo.

I'm not as down on Ben Roethlisberger as a lot of people are; if I'm going to believe in second chances for the Michael Vicks and the Marshawn Lynches of the world -- guys who were actually committed and were charged with crimes -- then I've gotta be on board with extending a second chance to a guy who wasn't charged with anything at all. (In fact, come to that, I'd love to know how Roethlisberger's sexual escapades merited a longer suspension than Marshawn Lynch's hit and run of a pedestrian.)

As for the other teams, the ones that lost: I'm seeing all kinds of criticism of Jay Cutler this morning for essentially quitting on his team. I don't know about any of that, but it does happen sometimes. I've got to ask, what was his coach doing? I'm reminded of Thurman Thomas in Super Bowl XXVIII, who was emotionally shattered after he fumbled a handoff that Dallas ended up returning for a touchdown. Marv Levy has even said in recent years that he wishes he'd gone over to Thomas that day and gotten him up off the mat. Oh well. Was Cutler really hurt? Or did the Packers get that far into his head? Either way, his career going forward is going to be tough.

(But for the ultimate in a team getting into another quarterback's head, check this out, from the NFC Championship Game after the 1989 season. Rams at 49ers. Jim Everett against a San Francisco pass rush that was so persistent that...well, look what happens.

Amazing -- he flinches at nobody!)

As for the Jets, well, I don't like them. They're not the Patriots yet, but I find them obnoxious and irritating. I'm also wondering which Mark Sanchez is the real one, because he's frankly starting to look as inconsistent as New York's other franchise quarterback, the Giants' Eli Manning. The Jets do an awful lot of things right on the field, but Sanchez does not inspire great amounts of confidence. He strikes me as a "Things might go great, or things might go horribly" kind of guy. I'm also not a fan of Rex Ryan. I think Buddy Ryan was one of the biggest douchebags in NFL history, and his son seems cut from the same cloth. (The "foot fetish" thing actually kinda counts as a point in his favor to me. Not that I'm into feet -- I find the foot generally to be a fairly unattractive part of the human anatomy -- but it does make Ryan seem like more of "just a dude" in my mind.) I'll give Ryan credit where due, though: I thought his postgame interview with Steve Tasker was one of the classier ones I've seen. He was disappointed, but still confident in the direction he's taking his team, and why not? Two AFC Championship Games in a row isn't bad. This interview was certainly better than the "What? I lost?!" reaction that Bill Belichick always conveys.

So yeah, time to gear up for the Super Bowl. Or, as we've come to think of it in Buffalo, "Football's biggest event between the end of the Bills' season and the Draft."

Sunday, January 23, 2011


OK, Cal of the Canadian Cave demanded that I post photos of the horror that is the abscess and cellulitis infection of my right leg, they are.

Beneath the fold, of course. I'm not that cruel. (Except to you folks who read this on Google Reader, because there's no "beneath the fold" on Google Reader. You folks just need to scroll, really fast.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Centus

So this week we're back to 100 words on Saturday Centus, and we've got a writing prompt that is, as readers will attest, right in my wheelhouse. We're to write SF (which Ms. Matlock claims to hate; why, I don't know -- good SF is wonderful!), using the prompt Beam me up, Scotty. (She spelled Scotty with -ie on the end, but I corrected it. I still have Geek Cred to maintain, you know.)

Here's my entry.

So I see dis green girl, sittin’ at de end of da bar, right? And she’s kinda cute, not ugly or nothin’, so I'm tinkin' she might be da type, right? Get her buzzed, go to her place and, ya know, right? But when I go over, she rolls her eyes and says “Beam me up, Scotty.” And I’m tinkin’, I look like a Star Trek guy to you? I walk away and look for a Star Wars girl instead. Gotta do whatcha gotta do, ya know?

Hey baby, wanna see my lightsaber?


Man, bars on Orion suck.

(Hey, and after you read this, if you heard the voice of a specific actor as you did, let me know who. Because I kept hearing a certain actor's voice, and I'm wondering if anybody else hears it the same way.)

UPDATE: I find it kind of saddening to see that more than a few of the participants seem to hate SF on an almost a priori basis. Sigh....

What kind of day has it been

[Language and "Ickiness" alert]

I've had this on my mind all day:

Why? Because of my right leg.

I got a cut or sore of some sort on my right kneecap oh, ten days or so ago. Didn't think much of it; in fact, I don't even really remember how I got it. But damned if it didn't get infected. This was annoying enough...but it continued to get worse, to the point where I've now been nursing an annoyingly painful abscess right on my kneecap. Which means that the damned thing flexes every time I walk.

Actually, walking is fine; once I get moving, I can get around, although it's a bit less of a perky gait for me than usual. Sometimes it's an outright limp, even, but I can get around. Sitting is OK, too, although too long in one position and the abscess and the skin around it start to itch a lot. But what really hurts? What's really painful? The transition from sitting to standing. That feels like I just dipped my leg in acid and then tried to clean the acid away with a rag dipped in napalm.

Oh, and did I mention the fact that the abscess is located directly underneath this nice big callous I've had on my knee for years? That makes it fun trying to draw out the pus filling the f***ing thing with heat packs. At least those heat packs feel good when applied...but they lose their heat too quickly. I need a USB-powered heat pack!

And things would really suck in a major way if my day job frequently involved doing tasks that have me on my knees for extended periods of time. Luckily that's not...oh, wait. Yeah. Ouch.

So anyway, this morning The Wife and I noticed that not only is the abscess and the knee not looking any better, but the infection seems to be spreading down my right leg toward my foot. I was planning to call the doctor on Monday if I didn't see any improvement by then, but this discovery pretty much bumped that notion way up the Priority List. So we were off to an Urgent Care place, where I was diagnosed with cellulitis, after the lovely PA broke my heart by saying, "I don't think there's any use in lancing that abscess at this time. We won't get much out of it." That had been all I was praying for...Cut that damned thing open, squeeze all of the shit out of it, bind me up, give me some antibiotics, and let me go heal. No dice...except for the antibiotics, which I got, first by IV drip and then by oral tablet.

(Oh, and today was my first ever IV drip. Never had one before.)

The Urgent Care place was very nice, although we won't know until we get stuff in the mail just what was covered by insurance there and what wasn't. I sure do like that bit of uncertainty, lurking out there in the wilderness, so a heartfelt thank you to all our Galtian Overlords who steadfastedly keep us Americans from just opening up Medicare to all comers! (Actually, not really. You can all bite me.) The RN was thrilled that my veins are big and visible in my arm, and I got the remote to a teevee with cable for the half-hour it took the IV to run in, all to myself. Too bad that out of 70 channels, there was nothing on. I'm so glad we don't bother paying for cable at Casa Jaquandor. The only downside to my visit was that my half hour of IV drippage was interrupted by another RN who came in to grab some supplies for another room; on her way out, she left my door open. I hate that. If it was shut when you came in, it should be shut when you leave.

So yeah, the days lately haven't been the best. And yet, I soldier on. Yay rah.

(Yes, I took pictures of my leg. Will I post them? I dunno, anyone want to see them? I've been living with the thing, so I'm not terribly grossed out by it, and it's mostly redness and swelling, no nasty-looking discharge yet. I'm working on it, though. When I nap lately, I dream of nasty-looking discharge. Sweet, sweet pus-filled discharge!)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Something for Thursday

Last week I posted some Wagner, the overture to Tannhauser. As a counterpoint, here is Wagner in a much gentler mood. This is the Prelude to Lohengrin, that magnificent opera about a Knight of the Grail whose name can never be revealed.

This music is, to me, a wondrous distillation of The Grail and the sad, lonely duty of a Knight of the Grail.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The music keeps on turning....

The Daughter has been studying the string bass for three years now. She decided at the start of fourth grade that she wanted to play an instrument, and despite the fact that her parents are both former wind players, or perhaps because of that, she chose a string instrument. Of course, the teacher took one look at her, and said, "Oh, you can play the bass!" The rest is history...although when it comes time to lug that instrument somewhere, we still wish she'd fallen for violin or viola.

Anyway, while she doesn't work as hard at it as we might like, she's developed quite nicely as a bass player. She performed with the instrumentalists in the Christmas pageant at church, which was cool; she volunteered without being asked, which was awesome. And two weeks ago she played at a local Solo Festival, at which young musicians from local schools go to play a piece they've prepared in front of individual judges, for comment and constructive criticism. (She got a 92, which is pretty good, I hear.)

It's quite a thing to see, watching the next generation of musicians take shape. In a lot of ways, The Daughter reminds me of...well, me as a musician at that age. I didn't work very hard at it either, the first few years; I even tried to quit at one point, leading to one of the finer smackdowns I ever received from my father. (Damned if he wasn't right.) The Daughter's teachers are all agreed that she has talent, whereas I basically sucked at the trumpet for three years. (Well, only two years. My first year in band I sucked at the French horn. Then I switched to sucking at the trumpet.)

So why did I suck? Because when you're a beginner, practicing sucks. It just does. Some kids do it because they have more stick-to-it than others; I did it because my parents ordered me to do it. It took me three years to put certain things together: first, that being part of music-making is cool; second, that the work of music-making doesn't have to suck; third, that the drudgery part of practicing actually is important because there's connective tissue between the endless repetition of scales and the production of music; and fourth, finally, I finally had to confront the reality, set forth by my father, that I wasn't going to be released from my musical prison anytime soon, so as long as I had to be there, I might as well stop sucking.

So I started practicing voluntarily, and quite a bit, at that. I was tired of being crappy at the trumpet. I was tired of the other kids snickering when the band director, Mr. Beach, would decide to put people on the spot by making them play their parts alone in front of the band. (This is what band directors do when they feel the need to "Go Nuclear" on their students.)

This is why this one passage from Stephen King's otherwise brilliant book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft just drives me crazy every time I read it.

When my son Owen was seven or so, he fell in love with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, particularly with Clarence Clemons, the band's burly sax player. Owen decided he wanted to learn to play like Clarence. My wife and I were amused and delighted by this ambition. We were also hopeful, as any parent would be, that our kid would turn out to be talented, perhaps even some sort of prodigy. We got Own a tenor saxophone for Christmas and lessons with Gordon Bowie, one of the local music men. Then we crossed out fingers and hoped for the best.

Seven months later I suggested to my wife that it was time to discontinue the sax lessons, if Owen concurred. Owen did, and with palpable relief -- he hadn't wanted to say it himself, especially not after asking for the sax in the first place, but seven months had been long enough for him to realize that, while he might love Clarence Clemons's big sound, the saxophone was simply not for him -- God had not given him that particular talent.

I knew, not because Owen stopped practicing, but because he was practicing only during the periods Mr. Bowie had set for him: half an hour after school four days a week, plus an hour on the weekends. Owen mastered the scales and the notes -- nothing wrong with his memory, his lungs, or his eye-hand coordination -- but we never heard him taking off, surprising himself with something new, blissing himself out. And as soon as his practice time was over, it was back into the case with the horn, and there it stayed until the next lesson or practice-time. What this suggested to me was that when it came to the sax and my son, there was never going to be any real play-time; it was all going to be rehearsal. That's no good. If there's no joy in it, it's just no good. It's best to go on to some other area, where the deposits of talent may be richer and the fun quotient higher.

It's been some years since I've been around musicians on any regular basis, but it's still been my experience that musical talent does not present itself regularly as Mr. King expected it to...especially not for a seven-year-old kid. Maybe the kid got burned out on it; I don't know, really. I wasn't there. But just reading King's description of his kid's work makes me wonder if King's expectations were a bit misplaced. I had to play my instrument for three years before I started 'blissing out' -- and I was six years older than Owen King when I got there.

Should Owen have continued with the sax? I have no idea. But I do know that talent does not always present itself easily. I wonder if King's expectations are colored by the apparent fact that his big talent -- writing -- manifested itself early in his life, and because "practicing" writing is a lot different from practicing music. Young writers don't have to spend years learning the writing equivalent of scales, notes, and such. The writing equivalents of those things are learned by writing.

Talent doesn't come out easily. Sometimes it's only by sheer luck that we discover some talents at all. If I hadn't been fired from my last job, in 2003; if another company had hired me before The Store; if the position The Store had hired me for had been, say, in the Bakery instead of in Maintenance...any of those things go differently, and maybe I'm not now discovering that I have talents for carpentry and equipment repair. But I read that passage by King, every time in that great book, and I get the feeling of a parent who, when their kid has expressed a desire to play baseball, replies with, "OK, here's a bat. Get a base hit off my friend Mr. Greg Maddux here, and we'll take it from there."

Of course, things can be taken to an opposite extreme, as seen in a recent article by someone named Amy Chua, called -- I shit you not -- Why Chinese mothers are superior.

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

That might sound reasonable...until I get to the fact that her kids were not allowed to play any instrument other than the piano or the violin. I'm sorry, but everything else in that article is pure shit after an utterance like that. This woman sounds like a shrill, overbearing harpy whose kids will be writing memoirs with scenes in them that feature things like Mommy screaming "No wire hangers!!!" at them. Here's a woman who has predetermined that all instruments, save two, are not worthy of her precious little charges? Whatever. I'll bet real money that the third-chair clarinetist in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has worked harder at the clarinet than her children have at the piano or the violin. Steven King worried that his kid wasn't loving music enough; this woman doesn't truly give two shits if her kids love music. What's important to her is that music gives her another cudgel with which to beat her kids. The truth, as ever, lies somewhere between two extremes...but I'll wager that it's damned closer to King than it is to Amy Chua.

(Oh, and not being allowed to be in a school play? That's nice. Way to teach your kids that an entire area of artistic endeavor is substandard. This is an awful, awful mother.)

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Comforters on the bed: yay or nay?

(Apropos of this article.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fox, sox, blocks, bollocks!

Dr. Seuss, read aloud by a young woman who...well, see for yourself.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Ball of the Foot, part deux

A few thoughts about the divisional NFL playoffs:

:: Wow, watching St. Tom Brady the Overrated pout when he gets beat really never gets old, does it?

:: Sure, Brady's a great quarterback. He's earned his spot in Canton, and probably on the first ballot. But I just don't think he functions well under pressure. When everything is going his way, he can beat the living hell out of you. But if you manage to just get things going not quite his way, he gets frustrated and usually loses. I've listened to a lot of people the last month or so resurrecting the "Brady is the greatest ever" talk, but I continue to believe that until he responds to a real high-pressure situation with a win, he doesn't even merit mention alongside Joe Montana.

Put it this way: if I'm down four points in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with two minutes to go and I'm on my own 5-yard line, I don't want Tom Brady under center. Sorry. Give me Elway, or Montana.

:: That said, I think the Jets' bubble probably gets burst this weekend. I wouldn't be surprised if they look a bit flat after a hugely emotional win. Plus, for all the talk about how Mark Sanchez faced Peyton Manning and then Tom Brady and beat them both, the fact is, Sanchez didn't face those guys. He opposed them, but he actually faced the Colts and Patriots defenses. Now he gets to face the Steelers defense.

I know, Sanchez beat them in the regular season. That win was rather flukey, if I remember correctly, and the Steelers were pretty banged up at the time. Not the case now...and the Steelers are an experienced, playoff-tested group of veterans.

:: Speaking of Sanchez, I'm not really impressed with him. The Jets' defense is why they won that game, but Sanchez's passing is all over the place. He missed wide-open receivers left and right, and the ones he hit, he didn't exactly hit on the numbers. Again, that's not going to work out well against a healthy and fired-up Steeler defense.

:: My prediction skills suck, but I think Green Bay wins as well. Steelers-Packers in the Super Bowl!

:: Oh, and finally: Lord knows that my love of overalls is quixotic enough, but even I can't endorse this.

Go Steelers!

Sentential Links #235


:: Because nothing says “I’m a big tough guy” than anonymously railing at some strange woman who never did you any harm on the Internet just because she is writing about Square Pegs. (Hmmmm, I should see if I can line up that show again. I remember it being all kinds of awesome when it was originally aired...but I think I was eleven at the time. Anyone?)

:: Ha ha! It’s funny because Dagwood’s dream was crushed!

:: Now I know someone probably remembers that at one time or another I said that one should not wear socks with sandals but I also said that it’s okay if the sandals are casual and the socks are the kind that are meant to be shown off - novelty or any kind of print or colorful socks. (I love socks with sandals, and I consider that rule to be one of the deeply silliest of all the deeply silly fashion rules out there. So there!)

:: I loved it when I was twelve, and I read the sequels, which are each half as good as the one before, and I didn’t give up until they were homeopathically good. ("Homeopathically good" is a magnificent turn of phrase. She's talking about Dune, by the way, which is on my "to read in 2011" list.)

:: When people gather to mourn, you mourn with them. It doesn't matter if you don't follow their customs, if their rituals make you uncomfortable, if you disagree with the content or the direction or the language or the very existence of their prayers. When people gather to mourn, you mourn with them. And you don't get to pick how they go about mourning. (Right-wing pontifications about memorial service etiquette always make me want to reach for something pointy, that I might jab it into something fleshy. And then there's this....)

:: Down with DRM. There's got to be a better way to protect copyright than crippling the format. (This trend bugs me...the notion that when we "buy" something, we're not really "buying" something anymore, but just forking over money for the right to use it under certain circumstances.)

:: For some of us, when to retire is dictated by the policies of our companies, our governments, or perhaps, our health, possibly tied to the amount of our nest egg.

:: When I am writing fiction, however, it is hugely diverting, like losing yourself watching the endless countryside roll by. The idea train barreled along with no problem, but when it came to settling in with the idea, distraction was a given. (I couldn't agree more. New blog to me, by the way. It's run by a guy who works at my favorite used bookstore.)

More next week!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Burst of Weird and AWESOME!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: In these times of highly charged rhetoric and deep emotional commitments to our various opinions, it's not at all uncommon to hear of violent actions in our neighborhood watering holes, where opinionation meets with alcohol to form a heady mix.

Case in point: police had to be called to a Chicago bar after a patron took deep exception to a photograph that was hanging on the wall. The photograph was of a deeply, deeply divisive figure in American life. Such a sad, sad story.

Oh, and the person in the photo?

A.C. Slater. You know, the fictional character from Saved By the Bell played by Mario Lopez. This guy:

Actually, come to think of it, I hate that guy. F*** Slater!

:: Maybe it's because I never took the Keyboarding/Typing class in high school -- I've been "typing", in my own way, for so long that actually learning the correct way to do it would not speed my typing up one bit, and this was the case even when I got to high school, so I figured the class would be a giant waste of time. But anyway, I think that might be why I've never heard, until now, about putting two spaces after every period. Not that I'm about to start doing that, because this guy says you shouldn't.

:: Hot chicks in Star Wars shirts. That is all.

More next week!

A brief note....

For some reason, a bunch of comments that I approved either yesterday or earlier today didn't go through after I approved them the first time, so I've just approved them the second time. If that's one of yours, sorry! It happens from time to time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Ball of the Foot

Football rules! A couple of notes on Saturday's NFL playoff action:

:: Aaron Rodgers's line in Green Bay's blowout victory over the top-seeded Falcons: 31 of 36, 366 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs. That's about as good a performance you'll ever see in a playoff win. There might be a new postseason legend being born, up there in Green Bay. He did that without a bye week, on the road, in a dome, against the conference's top seeded team. Wow.

:: Depressing thought that I try not to remember every time Aaron Rodgers plays, and yet I end up remembering it anyway: The Bills could have drafted him, had they not traded up the year before for JP Losman.

:: I'm starting to think that all future editions of Webster's English Dictionary should just put a picture of the Pittsburgh Steelers' logo next to their entry for "consistency". They are going to their eighth AFC Championship Game since the 1994 season, and they have in that span never gone more than four years without reaching the conference title match. That is amazing.

And I recall, when Bill Cowher stepped down as Steelers coach, some people said that he wasn't really that great of a winner, as he only managed to produce a single Super Bowl win in his fifteen seasons there. Setting aside a troublingly-growing tendency among sports fans and writers to equate "winning" with "winning the Super Bowl", this still strikes me as a very odd thing to say. Before Cowher had Ben Roethlisberger, he was regularly reaching the AFC Championship with the likes of Neil O'Donnell, Kordell Stewart, and Tommy Maddox as his quarterbacks. Don't tell me that guy wasn't a winner.

:: I hope John Cole doesn't mind me stealing his photo, but this is too great not to share:

Tomorrow, of course, brings us the Patriots hosting the Jets...which means that the Evilest Team in the NFL will host the Annoyingest Team in the NFL. I don't even know who to root for in this one; I suppose I should root for the Jets, because I don't think they can beat the Steelers again, and it would be nice to see Saint Tom Brady (Most Overrated Guy In Sports!) take a hit to the reputation again. But I don't see it happening; I think the Pats win this one fairly convincingly. By a score of, say, 49-10. Oh well.

:: Seahawks at Bears? Who cares?

Pay to Play (or not play)

I rarely enter writing contests -- in fact, the only one I recall entering was the Buffalo News's once-annual short story contest, which they held three or four years in a row. Why not? Because if and when I get published and embark on a life of writerly riches and fame (heh!), I want to do it the old fashioned way: because an editor says, "Hey, not bad. I'd like to pay you for this."

Contests like this, which reek of being run by folks who would make off with the coins from a dead man's eyes, are a big reason why. To boil it down: you pay an entrance fee of $149, after which the people running the contest own all rights to your work, whether you win the contest or not. And if they decide that not enough people entered, then no prize is offered...but they keep your $149, and the rights to your work. So basically, they expect you to pay them to take the rights to your work.

Don't fall for this, folks. Please oh please.

Here's another response to the contest, where the person actually running it shows up to defend herself. This made me laugh:

So to post our rules and a link telling people that this is a contest to avoid is both self-serving and misleading. Are there issues with the rules, yes. But I think you should wait until the contest officially launches on Feb. 11, 2011, before you tell people to not join it. That's the fair thing to do.

Er...ummm...if it's not fair for someone else to call people's attention to a contest that hasn't started yet, then why did they post the information about the contest already themselves? "We're going to post our contest rules! But it's not fair for anyone else to call attention to us!" Yeah, right.

There's a rule that often gets cited on Websites and discussion fora and anywhere else where such things are discussed: Money should always flow TO the writer. If anyone tells you that you need to pay prior to being published, go deal with someone else. And don't bother with contests like this.

Saturday Centus

My second week of participation! This week, Jenny Matlock gives a normal writing prompt -- but this week, she cranks down the word count to a mere 25 words, not the usual 100. Aieee!

Anyway, the prompt is "the lottery ticket...". Here's what I did with it.

The scraggly 7-11 guy
takes my dollar,
hands me the lottery ticket.

Next day I check the numbers.

New life, here I come!

...or not.

And there we have it.

BTW, working at The Store, I have come to loathe the lottery in all its forms. The scratch-off ones are annoying as all hell, because there are a couple of spots where people like to scratch them off, leaving that gray powdery crap all over the place, and for some reason, lots of folks don't bother throwing them out when they're done. They just leave their worthless, non-winning scratchoffs sitting in the exact place where they were when they scratched them off to reveal their non-winning glory, so it falls to the employees to throw them out. Back when I was the guy who had to clean the bathrooms, I would frequently find stacks of worthless scratch-off tickets in the bathroom stalls, left on the toilet paper dispensers, this despite the fact that if just exiting the bathroom and returning to the sales floor of The Store took you past at least two garbage cans. Some people even threw them in the toilet.

And there are few sights as generically depressing as watching old ladies in threadbare coats standing in line to put five or ten of their limited-income dollars into a damned lottery ticket dispensing machine. That, in its way, is even more depressing than watching young people buying cigarettes.

Yeah, I don't like the lottery very much.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

If I were doing a quiz-thing, I'd be doing this one!

Stolen from SamuraiFrog:

If I were a month, I’d be October.
If I were a day of the week, I’d be Thursday.
If I were a time of day, I'd be late "prime time" -- late enough to feel energized by the night, but not so late that the bed's siren call is summoning me home.
If I were a planet, I’d be Mars.
If I were a sea animal, I’d be an orca.
If I were a direction, I’d be north by northwest.
If I were a piece of furniture, I'd be a well-worn chair surrounded by bookshelves.
If I were a liquid, I’d be the water in a mountain stream.
If I were a gemstone, I’d be sapphire.
If I were a tree, I’d be a maple.
If I were a tool, I’d be a Japanese-style handsaw that cuts on the pull-stroke.
If I were a flower, I’d be a rose of any color.
If I were a kind of weather, I would be the cool, crisp air of October that makes everything seem brighter.
If I were a musical instrument, I’d be the entire orchestra. (A conductor is a musician whose instrument is the orchestra.)
If I were a color, I’d be red on the days that I'm not blue or purple or green or yellow or orange.
If I were an emotion, I’d be melancholy laughter.
If I were a fruit, I’d be a white peach.
If I were a sound, I’d be a purring cat. (Or a lightsaber igniting.)
If I were an element, I’d be one of the noble gases. Stable and reliable.
If I were a car, I’d be a Subaru Outback.
If I were a food, I’d be a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.
If I were a place, I’d be the Serenity.
If I were a material, I’d be nicely-worn blue denim.
If I were a taste, I’d be cinnamon.
If I were a scent, I’d be the scent of baking pizza.
If I were an object, I’d be a drinking vessel of some sort.
If I were a body part, I'd be the eye. (Seriously, I have no idea how to answer this.)
If I were a facial expression, it would be laughing.
If I were a song, I’d be "People Get Ready".
If I were a pair of shoes, I would be a pair of Birkenstocks.

Something for Thursday

I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have posted this before, but I'm not wading through two or three years' worth of Something for Thursdays* to find out. I've always loved the music of Richard Wagner. Always, always, always. As long as I've been aware of Richard Wagner I've loved his music. So it's a bit of Wagner today.

The thing with Wagner is that, if he's a food, he is a very, very heavy bread, the kind of bread that's an inch thick and sits in your stomach like a brick after you swallow it. Oh, and it's dark bread. Almost black, really. Thick, dark, heavy bread. The kind of bread that, when you make a sandwich with it, you have to use spicy mustard and thick cuts of ham just to taste anything other than bread. The kind of bread where...well, that's enough. There's such a thing as overkneading a metaphor.

But anyway, of all of Wagner's music, this is the piece of his that works its magic on me more than any other. The overture may be my favorite form of shorter orchestral work, but in Wagner's hand, the overture -- or Prelude -- reached heights that no one else has reached since. Fifteen minutes of a great musical is the overture to Tannhauser.

When that famous chorale theme recurs at the overture's end (the 1:49 mark of the second video), the effect is astonishing, with those shimmering strings that weren't there the first time we heard this same theme. And when the entire orchestra takes up the theme, with those magnificent trombones leading the way, it's nearly overwhelming...and then Wagner tops it off, at the very end, with the brass in a slow arpeggio that to me sounds like the Heavens opening. I never listen to Wagner unless I'm willing to go somewhere, emotionally. To listen to Wagner is to listen to the most purely proud musical arrogance -- in the best sense of the word -- that has ever been written. Wagner is not a composer who for one second even considers that his listener may not wish to follow him where he wants to go.

Oh, two final notes: Check out the 3:24 mark, when you can see the trumpets and the trombones. I don't know if it's still the case, but for many years, the Chicago Symphony was regarded as having the greatest brass section in the world. That trumpet player sitting there, next the trombones, is Adolph Herseth, who was likewise for years regarded as the greatest symphonic trumpet player in the world (as well as one of my personal musical heroes, especially when I was a trumpet player in college -- let other trumpet players lust after Wynton Marsalis's skill, what I wanted was the ability to completely dominate an orchestra the way Herseth could). And check out what Sir Georg Solti -- one of the greatest Wagnerian conductors of all time -- has his horns do at 4:04 and 4:30. He directs them to lift their instruments up so the bells are pointed, not into their own laps as is normally the case with the French horn, but at the back wall, to make their counterfigure heard brightly.

What a wondrous, magnificent overture. This is one of the most perfect pieces of symphonic music I know.

* Or would that be "Somethings for Thursday"? Hmmmm....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

X-Files Case Report: "Conduit"

"I want to believe."

At this point in the series, we've already seen the poster in Mulder's office that would become one of the iconic props of The X-Files, the one with the flying saucer on it and the slogan in big letters at the top. That poster always struck me as slightly odd, in the context of Mulder's office: it states "I want to believe", but as is very clear from the outset of the series, Mulder already does believe. But it turns out there's one thing that Mulder isn't sure he believes or not, a thing which is one of the most important aspects of his character. It is whether or not his sister is still alive and will one day come back to him.

"Conduit", our fourth episode, is the second to deal with alien abduction as its subject. Here, though – quite strikingly, as in comparison with the pilot – it's not nearly as clear, from the way the episode frames its events for the viewer, that abduction is really what's happened. There are odd things that happen, to be sure, things that probably can't be explained without resorting to alien abduction hypotheses, but at the same time, we don't see strange beings carrying out abductions, as we do in the pilot. The evidence is much more circumstantial, which makes for a generally creepier episode.

The story takes place in Iowa, where a family is camping beside a lake when there are bright lights, loud sounds, and sudden enormous heat. When the effects subside, the teenage daughter is missing, and the young son has started to show some very strange signs of having been, well, messed with a bit. For one thing, he is spending hours in front of a teevee that is tuned to no channel, claiming to be receiving signals from the television, which he is translating as sheet after sheet after sheet of paper of 1s and 0s. It turns out that the 1s and 0s encapsulate almost totally random pieces of data and information – bits of music, detail from Da Vinci drawings, and the like – and the sheets of binary also turn out to be something else, in one of the episode's best "surprise" moments. All this leads Mulder to suppose that the boy is a "conduit", being used by aliens for some purpose.

Of course, Mulder believes that the girl has been abducted by aliens, and of course Scully is unwilling to commit to that hypothesis with the evidence at hand. The missing girl is a juvenile delinquent, and she has been known to hang out with a local biker gang, leading most people to suppose that she has simply run off with them. Things take a dark turn, however, when the girl's boyfriend's body turns up, and when NSA agents turn up, claiming that the boy has somehow gotten hold of classified information.

Mulder is particularly driven in this episode, insisting on continuing the investigation into the girl's disappearance when all evidence seems to have run dry. His motivation is quickly made clear, as this episode begins to flesh out the great driving force behind Mulder's work: the abduction of his sister when he was a child. The episode ends with Scully listening to a tape of a hypnotic therapy session Mulder once underwent, which concludes with the interviewer asking Mulder if he believes that his sister, Samantha, is alive and will come back; Mulder replies, as the final credits begin, "I want to believe."

This episode is very well written and directed – the production values of even the early episodes of The X-Files are superb – but I did find the episode marred by something that probably wasn't its fault. The first five seasons of The X-Files were filmed in the Vancouver, with locales around that city doubling for whatever locale the episodes were set in. Usually this worked out fine, but there were times when it really didn't. Now, I don't expect that Lake Okoboji will be familiar to anyone who doesn't have some kind of connection to Iowa, but it amused me – and, unfortunately, undermined the episode a bit for me – to see Iowa's Lake Okoboji stood in for by a Vancouver-area lake, surrounded by very tall pines and hills higher than you'll find pretty much anywhere in Corn-belt Iowa. This had the effect of ejecting me from the story a bit, but I'm not sure what the producers really should have done – made up a different locale, perhaps.

The next episode will be the first of a bunch from Season One that I have never seen before. We'll see what happens. I, too, want to believe!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What is your favorite cheese? And what is your preferred method of eating your favorite cheese? (i.e., how do you serve it...or what do you cook it in...and so on. Basically, talk to me about cheese.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A hundred words for....

One enduring urban legend that's nicely poetic even though everybody knows it's nonsense is the old "The Eskimos had eight hundred words for snow" chestnut. However, even if this was true, I'm not sure how much of a linguistic amazement this would be. I mean, I hear lots of different ways of referring to snow all the time:

Squall precipitation
Lake-effect flurry
Snowy shit
F***ing snow
That white shit
The shit that's all dirty and muddy on the side of the roads in February
"Oh shit, when did this start?" (uttered when you walk outside into a flurry after being inside a while)

It goes on.

One of my Facebook friends, who lives in New York City, seemed less than excited that she's about to experience a second Nor'easter in three weeks. The first one dumped a lot of snow in her region, and the second isn't supposed to be as bad...but that's small consolation when you're barely dug out of the last one. Anyway, she opined about how sick she is of hearing the word "Snowpocalypse". I was going to suggest the obvious "Snowmageddon", but she had already declared her antipathy for that one, too.

My suggestions?


And my favorite:


Man, if there's not already some kind of winter festival called SNOWLAPALOOZA, there needs to be. And it must be held right here, in Buffalo. So come on, Organizers of Buffalo's Social Scene! Start the planning now for SNOWLAPALOOZA 2012!

Tippecanoe and....

Well, I have no idea what the hell to blog about right now. I could babble about football a bit, but the Bills' season is done and there's only so much gabbing I can do about the NFL Draft that's not for four months anyway and I don't really care about any of the college bowl games, so football's out. And I said all I had to say felt I should say about the shootings in Arizona the other day, so forget about that, too. I've got some books I could blog about, but I still need to write the posts. I keep meaning to start my Fixing the Prequels series on Revenge of the Sith, but that's not ready to go yet. Teevee shows have mostly been in reruns, and I haven't seen too many movies lately. So what else is there?

Well, there's this guy.

John Tyler 1790 - 1862

That's John Tyler, the tenth President of the United States. Tyler ascended to the Presidency because he was the Vice President when the ninth President, William Henry Harrison, died one month into his term of office. There was actually quite a lot of confusion over this, as the Constitution wasn't actually clear about what happened upon the death of a President. The problem was one of wording. What the Constitution actually says, in Article II Section 1, is this:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

Basically, no one was sure if Harrison's death meant that Tyler actually assumed the Presidency, or if he just stayed Vice President but with the powers and duties of an actual President. Even though the Congress eventually passed resolutions declaring that Tyler was, in fact, the President in fact as well as in duty, this was a point of contention for his opponents, who would refer to him as "Acting President" or "His Ascendency".

Tyler's biggest accomplishment was the annexation of the former Republic of Texas. I think that's a good thing, even though I tend to not be enamored of all things Texan these days. I suppose we ultimately have Tyler to blame for the Dallas Cowboys, for one thing.

Tyler left office in 1845 but lived another seventeen years. As the nation moved inexorably toward the Civil War, Tyler stood up to be counted...on the Confederate side. In fact, he stood up on the Confederate side to such a degree that he was actually elected to the House of Representatives of the Confederate States of America. He died in 1862 before assuming that office, but it seems to me that John Tyler may well have been the only President who went on to commit an act of treason against the United States. I've often wondered what would have become of him had he lived beyond the end of the Civil War.

Why do I have John Tyler on the brain today, though? Because of something I read on Twitter this morning. I couldn't believe it and had to look it up, but I'm damned if it wasn't true. Follow along with me here: John Tyler was born in 1790 and died in 1862. He was married twice, and with those two wives, Tyler had 15 children. The last of his children was born in 1860, when Tyler was either 69 or 70 years old. But what gets really interesting is his fifth son with his second wife. That would be Lyon Gardiner Tyler.

Lyon Tyler was born in 1853 and died in 1935, at the age of 82. He had something in common with his Presidential father: he was fathering children at a ripe old age himself. He had a son born in 1924 (when he was 71, and when President Tyler had been dead for 62 years), and another in 1928 (when he was 75). Both of these sons are still living today, which means that our tenth President, who was born during the first term of our first President, has two grandchildren who are still with us during the first term of our forty-forth.

Who says that history can't be a bit mindblowing sometimes?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sentential Links #234

Here we go....

:: Do not - and I repeat, DO NOT (Note within note: This is bolded, Self!) - share this story with anyone, as your klutzy behavior is a tad embarrassing, even to me. Let them all think that last post went flawlessly, and you were off for an exciting, exotic trip in record time.

:: Birds are everywhere in Mount Auburn; this is why I first came here, to watch them. I could barely see the stones for the warblers, vireos and tanagers. Now, having seen a surfeit of birds, I still come here for them, and everything.

:: Now, you'd think that every issue of Wonder Woman would be a "Women's Lib Issue." But this is 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment and "women's lib" is on everybody's tongue, and you just know this story is going to be so monumentally ham-fistedly-topical-yet-not-in-any-way-seriously-challenging-the-status-quo that it would probably make my mind explode.

:: Anyway, Joan is 70 today, and I thought I needed to acknowledge that.

:: There is, I would claim, something almost indescribably profound about this lack of resignation to that which is most inevitable.

:: In 1826 a couple of guys opened a restaurant there. They built a half circle shaped oyster bar. Sitting where we were, in booth #1, I could look at the old bar and imagine Daniel Webster sitting there as he often did, slamming brandy and downing plate after plate of oysters. Up on the second floor is booth #18, John F. Kennedy's favorite spot. (I've been to Boston a bunch of times, but never to this place. Next time....)

:: So I went to the release page for it, and when I saw the distance, I was shocked: that galaxy’s not big, it’s freaking huge.

More next week.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Oh, come on, studios!

I can see why movie studios would want to put the clamps down on people who try to put entire movies up on YouTube, but leveling copyright objections at two-minute clips from movies just seems silly. Those clips, when used in blogs and Facebook-sharings and Twitter feeds, constitute free advertising for their movies. If I had a nickel for every time I've posted a clip from some movie and had someone comment afterwards along the lines of "Hey, I've never seen that but now I think I will!", I could probably buy a dinner at a nice restaurant, like Mendy's.

(Which is my way of saying that Universal needs to stop blocking clips of Love Actually. Wankers!)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Let me get this straight....

This is a political rant, which I'm going to put beneath the fold. Comments are also closed for this post. Don't read the whole thing if you don't like it when I go all political.]

Saturday Centus

This is a weekly meme-thing that I always want to do on a Saturday, but which I always forget about. I suppose I could do it a day or two later anyway, but for some reason that always feels wrong somehow. Anyway, it's a simple little writing game where Jenny Matlock provides a brief writing prompt, and participants write a 100-word entry using the prompt in some way.

This week's prompt is actually a photo:

My entry:

"When Life Hands You Frozen Oranges"

"Whoa!" said the Cheerful one.

"Yeah," replied the Grumpy one.

"It snowed, eh?"


"All over our oranges."


"That's tough."


"We moved from Canada to be orange growers, and look what happens."


"Sucks, eh?"


"Snows in Canada, eh?"


"Not supposed to in Florida."


"Sure a shame."


Silence as two formerly-Canadian would-be farmers look over their snow-covered orchard.

"Back home they crush frozen grapes to make ice wine...." said the Cheerful one.


"Yesss...." said the Not-as-grumpy-as-before one.

Thus was born Ice Orangeade. Which was very Canada.

I hope my liberal use of hyphens -- hyphenated words being counted as one word by OpenOffice's word count tool -- doesn't constitute cheating! (I'm also not sure if the title counts toward the word count, either. If it does, then I'm disqualified.)

Wait, what?

Bill O'Reilly talked to an atheist, and came up with this gem of an argument:

O’REILLY: I’ll tell you why [religion’s] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You cannot explain why the tide goes in.

SILVERMAN: Tide goes in, tide goes out?

O’REILLY: See, the water, the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can’t explain that.

If that's the state of scientific literacy on O'Reilly's side of the aisle, it's no wonder that we're pretty much doomed. Wow.

Trust your feelings!

I've been enjoying AICN's "Behind the Scenes Picture of the Day" series, and for obvious reasons, I really dug this one:

I also see that the official release date for the Star Wars films on Blu-ray has been announced. I won't be acquiring these right off the bat, unless the current DVD player at Casa Jaquandor goes belly-up between this day and that. I'm not upgrading to Blu-ray until I absolutely have to; I still don't see any compelling need whatsoever for this new format other than Sony saying, "Holy crap, we need one last physical format to soak everybody with before everything is all-digital-download!"

And I'm amused, of course, by the huge chorus of people shouting "I'm not giving George Lucas any more of my money!", as if he's the one and only filmmaker releasing films successively in one format and then the next and then the next.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Something for Thursday

A movie scene this week, from Steven Spielberg's astonishing Schindler's List.

If you haven't seen the film, Liam Neeson plays Oskar Schindler, a businessman and member of the Nazi party who decides to take advantage of the increasingly punitive measures being taken against the Jewish people of Poland by using Jews as free labor. Over time, his factory gradually shifts into more of a haven, where Jews can find some modicum of protection from the Nazi brutality. This goes on until toward the end of the film, when, as Germany's position in WWII becomes untenable, the order is sent out: Kill them all. Pack them all up and send them to Auschwitz.

This is when Schindler decides that he needs to act to save the thousand Jews who have been working for him -- and this is how he does it. He runs a scam against Amon Goeth (the Nazi commandant, played by Ralph Fiennes) that is breathtaking in its simplicity: Goeth has such rock-solid faith in Schindler's abilities as a businessman that he just assumes that Schindler is making huge money on the deal, when in reality Schindler is literally buying the lives of his workers. The deal struck, Schindler and his main assistant, Itzhak Stern (played by Ben Kingsley), begin the important task of creating the master list of Jews to be spared the trains to Auschwitz and instead sent to Poland to work for Schindler.

This is an amazing scene, from an amazing film.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

All things sweet and foamy!

I just learned via a friend on Facebook that today is Whipped Cream Day. I love whipped cream a whole lot -- it's wonderful on coffee drinks and hot chocolate; it's awesome on sundaes and pumpkin pie and it's magnificent to dip strawberries into. And of course, whipped cream is the key ingredient in cream pies, whether eating or throwing. So all hail whipped cream!

Coconut Cream Pies!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

The day before yesterday, this blog crossed 600,000 hits, according to SiteMeter. That's a pittance for some, but a nicely big number for me, and since this blog has been around for almost nine years, that means that I've had a little less than 66,666 hits a year. Cool! So, thanks for looking in, all you regular readers!

So, if you're a regular reader, how did you find this blog? And what on Earth keeps you coming back?

UPDATE: Thanks for all the complements, everyone! I'd actually meant that last question as a MAD Magazine type of rhetorical thing, as if, "What kind of dope reads a publication like this?!", and not actually a "fishing for complements" query, but hey, I'll take the complements. Just as long as none of you say, "Hmmmm, he's right. What on Earth does keep me coming back? Time to delete that dummy from my bookmarks!!!"

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"I've never really had a taste for this kind of thing, but I must admit I'm deeply enjoying the suit!"

Iron Man was never my favorite superhero in the Marvel Universe. Nothing against him per se, really; I suspect that this is likely due to the fact that the Iron Man comic wasn't terribly compelling during the years I was an active reader of Marvel comics. I didn't have all the money in the world, so I had to at least be somewhat selective with respect to the comics I was purchasing on a monthly basis, and when I occasionally tried an issue of Iron Man, I wasn't terribly excited by it.

So that's one reason I'm not terribly familiar with the whole backstory behind Iron Man – I know about as little about Tony Stark as one can know. In fact, when I was reading comics, Tony Stark wasn't even Iron Man! For some reason, Stark had given up the suit, and another guy was wearing it. I don't recall any of the background behind that. So I came into seeing Iron Man pretty much blind. All I knew, really, was that the movie is generally very highly regarded in the superhero genre.

I can certainly see why.

Iron Man is – wonder of wonders! -- a superhero movie that is actually fun to watch. It employs a story that is as old as the hills, being a "Self-absorbed jerk learns a better way to live" narrative as Tony Stark realizes that maybe he can't live with being the world's greatest weapons manufacturer and that he has greatly misused his enormous intellectual gifts. What's nice is that the film doesn't dwell on Stark's character growth; it's there, but it doesn't bog down the entire movie as these kinds of superhero lessons often do.

The film opens with Stark touring in Afghanistan with a company of US soldiers, but he is taken prisoner in a vicious attack and forced to build a weapon for the Afghan Taliban soldiers. (At least, I assume they're Taliban. I'm not sure the film was entirely clear on this point.) The leader tells him, in Arabic, "Build the weapon and then I will set you free." Another captive, who serves as translator, relates this to Stark, who mutters, "No, he won't." So Stark takes the raw materials he's been given by the Afghans and builds his means of escape: an armored suit of metal that has rocket thrusters and a whole lot of flamethrowers. In other words, Stark builds his Iron Man prototype.

It's when he returns to the US that Stark discovers that his company is not aligned with the side of the angels, and he begins work on his new, improved Iron Man suit. Thus begins some high adventure as Tony Stark realizes too late just whom he is up against.

As noted above, I give Iron Man high marks for not following along in the Dark Knightization of its superhero story; this is at its heart a light, fun adventure movie to which one can happily apply an adjective like rollicking. I have nothing against dark, grim stories that plumb the depths of human cynicism; but I do like the occasional story where a guy is a hero at least partly because he has fun being a hero.

Acting-wise, the film is top-notch; Robert Downey Jr. captures perfectly the inherent arrogance and brilliance of Tony Stark. Jeff Bridges chews lots of scenery as only he can. I always like to see Gwyneth Paltrow in stuff, flakey as she seems to be in real life. I wasn't as totally thrilled with the Nick Fury cameo in the end credits, because as much as I loved the Marvel Universe when I was a kid reading comics, I'm not sure I'm enthusiastic about "Marvel Universalizing" the various movies they have coming out over the next few years. But that's just me.

I'm told that Iron Man 2 is not as good as the first, but I'll find that out for myself at some point.

Truth of the world, reflected in the comics

A panel from a recent Get Fuzzy explains it all:

Monday, January 03, 2011

A bookish complaint

Comparing...., originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

OK, here are two books of mine. One is the Bible, the King James Version. The other is the Riverside Shakespeare. OK? OK.

Now, I think I've alluded in the past that when I see a Complete Shakespeare on the shelves at the Library Book Sale, I often can't pass it up. And there is a Complete Shakespeare to be had, more often than not. This is why I now own, off the top of my head, six Complete Shakespeare's.

Now, these are all different in various ways. Two -- the Riverside pictured here and another one whose publisher I can't recall -- are clearly intended for students, containing within them numerous footnotes, background information, essays on Shakespeare, and so on. The other four are intended for readers; they have a lot less in terms of "extras", although one is lavishly illustrated with engravings throughout, and one is a Cambridge edition printed in 1906. I got this one because it's pretty and old.

Will I acquire any more Complete Shakespeare's? Maybe, maybe not. I won't be buying any that don't catch my eye for any particularly special reason, but I also don't rule out that possibility, either. And one craft-type thing I wouldn't mind doing someday is making my own hollow book, for the keeping of Various And Sundry Things. I could hollow out a Bible, but really, the only thing those are good for hiding are rock hammers, and I don't even own a rock hammer. (Yeah, a little light Shawshank humor there.)

But here's something that bugs me: I have never seen a Complete Shakespeare that wasn't something of a doorstop. This bothers me, especially when I compare a typical-sized Complete Shakespeare to the Bible. Look at the comparison in size there! You can easily carry a Bible around with you in your book bag; in fact, I suspect that many Bibles are printed in such a way as to encourage precisely that.

Now, a Complete Shakespeare does have quite a few more words in it than a Bible. A bit of Googling turned up these numbers:

Word count of the Bible: 774,746*

Word count of Shakespeare's plays: 928,913*

So, throwing in the Sonnets and other poetry, just to make a random guess, a Complete Shakespeare would have somewhere around 1,100,000 words. And that means that it would theoretically possible to make a Complete Shakespeare, using typography and paper stock, that is only half again larger than that Bible pictured above. I do own a Study Bible that is twice as thick as that KJV there in the picture (same dimensions of length and width); its extra thickness comes from all those extra materials that make it a "Study" Bible: maps, essays, sidebars, inserts, and so on.

So why can't there be a Complete Shakespeare that is printed like most Bibles? So I can carry it around? Why not?