Monday, October 31, 2011

A Very Public Service Message

Hey folks, I've mentioned this before on some previous Halloween's, but I think it bears repeating. I write from my experience as a one-time employee of one of our nation's many fine pizza-serving and delivering establishments. Basically, tonight's Halloween, so you might consider refraining from ordering a pizza for delivery this evening. Why?

For one thing, since there are tons of kids about on the streets, with many of those dressed in dark clothing, many pizza delivery places will be quoting abnormally long delivery times, both because business might be up and because they may well be instructing their drivers to take as long as they need to deliver. Halloween is NOT the night to order a pizza and expect quick service. Believe me.

Secondly, if your household is not observing Halloween and will therefore be leaving all of your outside lighting off in order to dissuade trick-or-treaters, please oh please don't order a pizza for delivery. Delivering pizzas at night isn't rocket science, but it's not ridiculously easy, either, and running deliveries on Halloween is actually pretty stressful when you're trying to watch out for kids and figure out what house to go to. And if your lights are off, it makes your house even harder to find.

If you still feel that you just must order a pizza for delivery, despite the above, then at the very least, have some sympathy for the driver and increase your tip accordingly. Or just give him a tip at all, for you cheap jerks out there.

Or, you could just go get a pizza yourself, showing up early at the pizza place so you can eat before going out trick-or-treating or whatever. But if you do that, remember, you're not the only person thinking along those lines; the pizza place will likely be getting an abnormally large number of orders significantly earlier than usual, which will have the expected slowing effect on service.

So, if pizza is on the menu tonight, adjust your service expectations accordingly and don't be jerks. Or, just make it yourself!

Sentential Links #267

Linkage begins...NOW!

:: It has just been discovered that we are down to our last TWO gummy bears. I have released every creature at the cave from their regular duties until the gummy bear deficit can be rectified. (Sorry, but ewwww! Not a fan of Gummi anything.)

:: This was the moment I knew I was in for something good... that a jack o'lantern, the orange letters, and the ominous piano music alone could make me expectant and apprehensive.

Damn, this is a good flick.

:: It’s hard to vomit gracefully. For one, there’s the noise — the vocal wretching followed by that wet slap. There’s also the undignified sprint to the toilet or sink or unattended fedora. There’s the whole Jackson Pollock-y result of it all. There’s the fact that vomiting serves as both an announcement of both everything you’ve eaten in the recent past (“You should chew your Goldfish crackers more thoroughly!”) as well as how bad your insides smell.

:: Yesterday I spent a few hours finding shelf space for recent acquisitions, and for the seven-hundred-forty-third time in the last decade, I made a promise designed to be broken: I will not buy another book until I have read all that own. (Just reading that gives me a serious case of shivers.)

:: I don't care for the Monster's bald look and De Niro's performance makes me pity the Monster more than relate to him (and relating to the Monster is one of my favorite things to do in a good Frankenstein movie), but he does deliver a chilling interpretation of my favorite line from the novel: "I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other." (Michael May has been doing "31 Days of Frankenstein" this month; here he discusses Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a movie which I liked more than its general critical reception. Now, I tend to not be terribly squeamish, but the scene where Dr. Frankenstein pays a midwife for a bucket of, well, used amniotic fluid made me go "Oooogg....")

:: Well, we do have to have standards. I mean, we can’t all be Snooki. (I don't even know who or what 'Snooki' is. A person? A band? A muppet? A secret paramilitary organization? Dunno.)

All for this week!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bills 23, Redskins 0

The Buffalo Bills returned to the field today, for their annual regular season game in Toronto. Their opponent was the Washington Redskins. General reaction to the games in Toronto has ranged from "Well, OK, if it helps the team make enough money to stay here" -- at best -- to "This is a giant bowl of suck", at worst. This was the Bills' fourth appearance in Toronto in the regular season, and they went into today's game looking for their first win up there.

Toronto, being an enormous city, is not really seen as embracing the Bills, and the crowds at the Rogers Centre (the stadium originally known as Skydome) are usually either really quiet or they've openly rooted for the other team. There's been a lot of comment on why this may be, but after hearing today's crowd actually being fairly loud as the game went on, I'm wondering if the most important factor in the Canadian crowd not really warming to the Bills was that the Bills in those games were dull, boring, and crappy teams. I know that I don't do a lot of cheering for crappy teams.

But today the Bills were pretty dominant, and the score frankly could have been even more lopsided than the final 23-0. The offense sputtered at times, but for the most part looked pretty good; Fred Jackson, as usual, showed up playing as though somebody had said something mean about his mother. Ryan Fitzpatrick -- fresh off a big contract extension -- was his usual self: mostly accurate with a couple of bad throws. The offensive line, which is banged up right now with one starter out and his backup out, generally provided excellent blocking.

The real story today, though, was the defense, which has been giving up lots of points and yards, and which hasn't been generating any pass rush. Until today, when they sacked Washington quarterback John Beck nine times, and handed Washington coach Mike Shanahan the first shutout of his entire NFL career. I've never been a big fan of Shanahan's; I think that a lot of his reputation rests upon his first two seasons with the Broncos, when he won the Super Bowl both years, with a pretty good defense, a Hall-of-Fame quarterback in John Elway, and a running back in Terrell Davis whom I think was on his own way to being one of the greatest running backs of all time until his career ended due to injury a couple of years later.

So the Bills are now 5-2, heading into a big match-up with the Jets next week. Go Bills!

A few other football notes:

::  The Steelers knocked off the Patriots. Any time the Pats lose is a good day.

::  The Dolphins are making me increasingly nervous. Come on, Fins! Get some victories, and lose out on the Draw of the Luck!

::  I hate to go all Gregg Easterbrook, but the Football Gods certainly seem to have exacted penance from the Saints for their 62-point game against the Colts last week by having them lose to the lowly Rams. (Who are now behind the Dolphins for the Draw of the Luck.)

::  I find Tim Tebow's constant public praying obnoxious. I just do. Sue me.

That's about it. Go Bills -- beat the Jets!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!!!

Oddities and Awesome abound! And since it's Halloween, these are all associated with...Halloween. Huzzah!

::  First of all...well, I can't even come up with a lead-in to do this personal ad (I assume from Craigslist) justice.

(Seen on Tumblr).

::  If you were cognizant of reality during the 1980s and early 1990s, you recall Gary Larson's comic strip The Far Side. Which wasn't even really a 'strip' per se, since it was almost always a single panel of surreal, occasionally twisted, and sporadically incomprehensible humor. Well, apparently in 1994 there was actually an animated Far Side teevee special that aired a single time, not to be seen again except on a DVD that was markedly different from the broadcast version. I had no idea that the show existed until last night, when I saw it mentioned on MeFi. Details, with links to actually download the thing, here. I haven't watched it yet. You bet I will, though!

::  The other night on Twitter, one trending topic was "Rejected Peanuts Specials". Here are a few that I thought were pretty funny:

You're a horcrux, Charlie Brown

It's the Great Depression, Charlie Brown

Republicans fired your teacher, Charlie Brown

Snoopy Didin't Really Go To Live On A Farm, Charlie Brown

The World Is Run By Jews, Charlie Brown

And so we beat on, boats against the current borne ceaselessly back into the past, Charlie Brown

They're Burning a Cross On Franklin's Lawn Again, Charlie Brown

It's an Intervention, Charlie Brown

Your Teacher's Voice is Going to Keep Sounding Like a Muted Trumpet Until You Quit the Shrooms, Charlie Brown

The Difference in Size Between Your Enormous Head and Tiny Body Will Lead to Orthopaedic Problems, Charlie Brown

It's A Good Thing You Never Grow Up Because Corporations Gutted Our Economy and Left Us Jobless, Charlie Brown

Are You There, God? It's Me, Charlie Brown

It's Chinatown, Charlie Brown

Put the Lotion in the Basket, Charlie Brown

And of course, I had to submit a few of my own....

Meet Scott Norwood, Charlie Brown!

Blood Spatter and GSR at the Van Pelts' -- CSI: Charlie Brown

Here's Your Red Shirt, Ensign Brown! A Peanuts/Star Trek Crossover

I like the CSI: Charlie Brown notion, personally...I can totally see David Caruso in that.

"Quite the murder scene, Horatio."

"Yes, Frank. Six victims. All children with enormous heads. One of them, a girl, holding a football."

"Hey, H!"

"Yes, Eric?"

"Look at these little footprints all over. Almost like a little bird was flitting around the crime scene."

"Could be, Eric. And the bodies seem to have been riddled with...ammunition from a World War I biplane. Hey Calleigh? Take this green blanket down to the lab. There might be DNA on that."

"Sure, Horatio. I can't believe this crime scene. Do you think the killer is somewhere nearby?"

"I do, and when we find him, he's gonna say, [puts on sunglasses] 'Good Grief'."

[Smash cut to ROGER DALTREY SCREAM and opening credits]

More next week!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Centus

This week we're limited to twenty-five words, and we have a picture prompt, with this, believe it or not, as the picture:

Here's my take:

"I don't get it."

"Don't focus. Look through it."

"OK....nope. Nothing."

"Well, let's move on."

"OK...wait! Something moved in there!"


"It's saying my name...."

Happy Halloween, Centusians!

Friday, October 28, 2011

If only Shakespeare had written about exploding spaceships....

I'll be taking a bit of a break from reading space opera, since I may well have OD'd on the genre over the last few months. Here are notes on the most recent books of explodey-spaceshippy goodness that I've read.

:: Thumbing through my increasingly-bulky space opera collection, I found a book called Legends of Santiago by Mike Resnick. I know just by looking at the book that it's something I bought from the Science Fiction Book Club, during one of my various periods of membership, but I have no recollection of actually doing so, which leads me to believe it's one of those books I ended up with because I forgot to send in that stupid reply card. Obviously I opened the box when it showed up and decided to keep it, because it's space opera.

Legends of Santiago is actually an omnibus containing two novels by Resnick, Santiago and The Return of Santiago. I only read the first, opting to save the other for a later time if I liked the first book. The short verdict? Next time I decide to have a space opera binge, The Return of Santiago will be near the top of the list.

Santiago (apparently subtitled A Myth of the Far Future in other editions, but not in mine) tells the story of a bounty hunter named Sebastian Cain, at some indeterminate point in the future when much of the Galaxy has been colonized and humans have created a wide-ranging interstellar government called "the Democracy". In meeting with a fellow bounty hunter, Cain receives an interesting tidbit of information that could possibly lead him to the whereabouts of the most wanted outlaw in the entire galaxy, a mysterious figure known only as...Santiago.

Cain sets out after Santiago, pretty much for no other reason than the fact that Santiago represents the greatest single challenge possible to a person in his line of work. Along the way he meets other criminals, joining some and running afoul of others, and in some cases both joining and running afoul of them, as he slowly closes in on his goal.

Santiago is written rather like a space Western, and is told almost entirely from the point of view of various outlaw characters. The general feel of the book is – and I mean this as high praise – similar to that of Firefly, to cite the current reigning champion of space westerns. The main device of having everybody chasing after a particular Maguffin is executed by Resnick to perfection; Resnick sets the stage by establishing Santiago's legend in the book's prologue. Here's how that starts:

They say his father was a comet and his mother a cosmic wind, that he juggles planets as if they were feathers and wrestles with black holes just to work up an appetite. They say he never sleeps, and that his eyes burn brighter than a nva, and that his shout can level mountains.

They call him Santiago.


Far out on the Galactic Rim, at the very edge of the Outer Frontier, there is a world called Silverblue. It is a water world, with just a handful of islands dotting the placid ocean that overs its surface. If you stand on the very largest island and look into the night sky, you can see almost all fo the Milky Way, a huge twinkling river of stars that seems to flow through half the universe.

And if you stand on the western shore of an island during the daytime, with your back to the water, you will see a grass-covered knoll. Atop the knoll are seventeen white crosses, each bearing the name of a good man or woman who thought to colonize this gentle world.

And beneath each name is the same legend, repeated seventeen times:

Killed by Santiago.

I don't know how you stop reading a book that starts like that.

Resnick's creation of a criminal subculture is the best part of the book; he even gives the outlaws of the Galaxy their very own historian who is collecting their adventures into an epic poem. As the book went on, I started to figure that there were two major possibilities as to the actual identity of Santiago. I'm happy that one of these turned out to be correct.

I highly recommend Santiago.

:: Continuing to work my way through the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, I finished the omnibus volume Young Miles with the novella The Mountains of Mourning and the novel The Vor Game. I'm rapidly discovering that these are some of the best character-driven stories around, and Miles Vorkosigan – the diminutive, birth-defected officer in the military of the highly-miliaristic society of the planet Barrayar – is a very compelling character. When we left him at the end of The Warrior's Apprentice, Miles had managed to finagle his way into the Barrayaran Academy at the behest of the Emperor.

The Mountains of Mourning sends Miles into the rural mountain country near his family estate on Barrayar, where he is tasked with investigating an infanticide. Miles's father, Count Aral Vorkosigan, gives him the assignment for reasons of his own, reasons which Miles gradually figures out as he delves into the backward mindsets of the rural mountain-dwellers and tries to figure out not just who murdered the child, but why.

In The Vor Game, Miles graduates from the Academy and enters active service. He, along with all of his cadet friends, is hoping for ship duty – but he is assigned instead to serve as Meteorological Officer on an icy island in the Barrayaran north. In typical Miles fashion, he ends up making enemies and friends up there, and also in typical Miles fashion, despite his best efforts, things go seriously awry and Miles finds himself allied with a failed mutiny and under arrest.

One thing I'm quickly learning about the Vorkosigan Saga is that everything is always twisting and turning. What starts off as a "young upstart sent to a dead-end military assignment" story soon becomes a war-intrigue story, delving into the politics surrounding star systems with control over wormholes to other systems. Bujold has an amazing way with all of this stuff, seamlessly blending the politics into the character stuff and back again, so we never get the feeling that the politics exists in a totally separate realm from the actions of our characters. I look forward to continuing the Vorkosigan Saga!

:: And finally, we have Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey, which is a composite pseudonym for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. I find it kind of odd that they felt the need to create a pseudonym for their collaboration; I'm sure this has been done before, though, so I suppose it's not all that odd. I am confused as to why they just couldn't go with their actual names. Although I do know that sometimes when authors gain success in one genre, they have difficulty breaking into another genre under their own names, or that publishers decide to have authors use different names to make it easier to track such things. Such as Iain M. Banks, who writes SF under that name but omits the middle initial for his fantasy novels.

But anyway, none of that really matters. What matters is that Leviathan Wakes is just terrific. It's one of the most entertaining novels I've read in years. It's pure entertainment. It's a "large popcorn and a Coke" novel that screams out for a score by John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith or Basil Poledouris. There's a blurb by George RR Martin on the cover that refers to the book as "a kick-ass space opera", and that is exactly what it is.

What's interesting about Leviathan Wakes is that it is set in our own solar system, and nowhere else. This is a space opera with no FTL drive, and the first attempt at a Generation Ship has yet to be launched. Despite this, there is tension galore, action a-plenty, and a good amount of explodey-spaceshippy goodness. There are revolutionaries and government agents, there's a down-on-his-luck detective who is as hard-boiled as they come, there's a noir-ish search for a missing girl, there is war between Earth and Mars, and, believe it or not, there are SF-nally plausible zombies. This book is a heady mix.

The book begins with a young woman finding herself the only survivor of a vicious attack on her spaceship; soon after, her parents lean on an asteroid belt detective to find out why she has disappeared, while another innocent industrial ship happens on the wreck of the ship from the first scene. From these two threads, the authors put together an impressive show that gradually becomes bigger and bigger in scope until, at the end of the book, there are startling implications for all humanity. Best of all, the book leaves a lot of places where the sequels can go.

Leviathan Wakes is terrific storytelling, aided and abetted by a lot of snappy dialogue and interesting characters for whom we both root and wince when they take the wrong turn. If you're looking for an extremely well-crafted entertainment, Leviathan Wakes is it.

And that, folks, will probably finish me up for space opera for a little while, aside from a couple of short stories. I'm actually taking a month to not read any novels at all; just short fiction and poetry. After that, my plan is to spend a good chunk of the winter OD'ing on fantasy, possibly to the extent of doing a complete re-read of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire to this point. As tends to be my case, my mood tends to go from "spaceships and blasters, ahoy!" to "Castles and swords and maidens, swoon!" when the weather starts to go cold.

Page One: To Kill a Mockingbird

Page One: To Kill a Mockingbird

I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird not long ago...or at least I thought I did, but when looking through the archives for my blog post about it, I find that is was actually about two-and-a-half years ago. I know, time flies and all, but wow. I really thought it was in the last year!

I chalk that up to just how memorable the book really is. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books I feel truly, truly fortunate to have been able to read.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I read the news today, oh boy....

This news is TERRIBLE!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

No reason other than the Beatles reference....

Something for Thursday

(Ugh -- would you believe I wrote this post but forgot to schedule it to publish at the right time? For those two of you who have all day been thinking, "Geesh, I wonder what happened to Something for Thursday, well, here it is.)

Some opinions change over time, as I reappraise things I previously underappreciated, or as I come to see things I've long loved as more and more flawed. It happens. But there are other opinions that are pretty much calcified in place in my mind for all time. One of these is my belief that Live and Let Die is the worst James Bond movie ever. I hate this movie. It's got some good scenes, and it has generally good acting, but overall, the script is awful junk that offers up the most odiously sexist James Bond ever, a nauseating collection of stereotypes from urban blacks to southern whites, and...well, let's just leave it at that. Live and Let Die stinks.

But then there's the theme song. It's an odd song by Bond film standards. Performed by Paul McCartney and Wings, it has a structure that's unlike just about every other Bond song. It starts off as a ballad, until McCartney gets to the song (and film) title itself, where a series of loud, pounding chords lead into an orchestral segment, no lyrics, seemingly depicting Bondian mayhem. This is all very well, as is the reprise that comes after a middle section.

It's the middle section that's bugged me for years about this song. It sticks out like a sore thumb, being stylistically completely different from the rest of the song. I never, never understood why this bit is in the song. It has never made one lick of sense to me.

But here's the thing: all this Beatles listening I've been doing over the last couple of years has allowed me to put "Live and Let Die" in a context other than that of a Bond song -- now I am also hearing it as a Paul McCartney song, wherein one can often find things like long orchestral segments, songs that start as ballads but become something else, and middle sections that stylistically bear little resemblance to the rest of the song. "Live and Let Die" makes sense to me now. Huzzah! I love it when I get to have an Ohhhhh! moment.

And now, here's "Live and Let Die".

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Newest Dolphin

So, apparently former Bills quarterback JP Losman has signed with the quarterback-desperate Miami Dolphins. I have a hard time deciding what to feel about this. Buffalo Bills fans are supposed to hate the Dolphins, even if the rivalry isn't nearly what it used to be, mostly owing to both teams stinking for a decade. But right now, hating the Dolphins actually forces me to root for them, so they don't end up with the top pick in the draft and thus guarantee that the Bills have to face Andrew Luck twice a year for a decade or so. (Although, not that facing Dan Marino twice a year for fifteen years turned out all that badly, but still.)

And now the Dolphins add Losman to the mix.

Losman wasn't good here. He just wasn't. The Bills decided in the 2004 draft that they wanted to get their quarterback of the future, come hell or high water, so they traded back into the first round (giving up their 2005 first rounder) to take Losman. It didn't go particularly well. Losman did show some flashes of talent, and he had a cannon for an arm, but he just never settled in, never seemed to figure out the game, never developed a touch for finesse passes, and just...never got there. He was replaced by Trent Edwards (who also never got there), was eventually cut, and has knocked around a bit without really landing anyplace.

But the thing is...Losman's a good guy. He really is. Or at least, that's the impression I got when he was here. He's a Southern California kid, but when he landed in Buffalo, he extended a lot of effort to make this his home. He chose to live in the city, as opposed to buying a McMansion out near the stadium someplace. He did community stuff in public. He worked hard, he tried hard, and he made it clear that he really wanted it -- both NFL success and a hometown in Buffalo. It just didn't work out, and it was a shame. I was a big backer of his for quite a while, until even I had to admit that it wasn't going to happen for him here, but even when the end of his Buffalo career came, I wished him all the best wherever he landed.

And I still hope he succeeds. Maybe for Losman, "success" will mean putting together a nice career as a back-up QB or occasional starter. Heck, maybe his career will follow the Rich Gannon path, and he'll have a late-career blossoming. You never know...but for my money, JP Losman is a good guy and I hope he finds some football success.

Even if it's with the frakking Dolphins.

"Be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition"

It is St. Crispin's Day. So go to France and win that battle!

The Ball of the Foot

Just because the Bills didn't play doesn't mean that the NFL grinds to a halt, no no no! So, a few thoughts on stuff that transpired yesterday:

::  The Saints beat the Colts 62-7. I had a spirited debate with a friend on Facebook about this, with my position being that hanging 62 points on someone is just a jerk move (unless, of course, they are hanging 59 on you). I'm generally of the belief that when you go up by, say, 40 points, you start pulling starters and having your offense consist of runs up the middle, running the clock down all the way between each play. And you instruct your defensive players that in the event they recover a turnover, they fall down or go out of bounds with it. The final points scored last night were scored by a Saints DB who ran back an interception for a touchdown. There's no reason for that. Not even your desire to get a highlight on ESPN, because even if there is a highlight, the commentary will be, "And check out this pathetic play to cap off a ridiculous night of crappy football."

::  The Chiefs beat the Raiders 28-0. That sounds impressive, but the game featured some staggeringly awful quarterbacking, across the board. Oakland played two quarterbacks -- Carson Palmet and Kyle Boller -- who threw three interceptions each, and Kansas City's Matt Cassel threw in two picks of his own. And not a single one of those quarterbacks threw a touchdown pass. So all the QBs on the field in the Chiefs-Raiders game produced the following line: 30 completions in 65 attempts for 338 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. This calculates to a combined passer rating of 22.6. (The NFL's complex passer rating formula produces a rating of 39.6 for a QB whose every pass is incomplete. To post a rating less than that requires some really bad play indeed.)

::  The Chiefs have now won three games, after looking like the league's worst team in the first few weeks. Three wins very likely takes them out of the running for the first overall pick in the 2012 draft (who will probably be Andrew Luck). So, as of right now, here are the leading contenders for the Draw of the Luck:

Dolphins (0-7)
Colts (0-7)
Rams (0-6)
Vikings (1-6)
Cardinals (1-5)
Jaguars (1-5)

I, of course, am rooting for the Dolphins to win at least three games this year, so they can move out of the Top Pick position and thus lose the Draw of the Luck. I want no part of Andrew Luck being in the same division as the Bills. Interestingly, though, maybe the Colts and Rams finish ahead of the Dolphins but pick for defense, letting Luck drop to the Dolphins at number three! Oh noes!!

::  This preseason the Bills cut their 2009 first round draft pick, Aaron Maybin, whom they took with the 11th overall pick that year. Maybin sucked. He sucked, sucked, sucked, sucked, sucked for the Bills. He was incapable of doing anything on the field. He was too small to be effective against the run...and he showed up to this year's training camp even smaller. So the Bills ditched him, much to the pleasure of all Bills fans.

But now he's signed with the Jets, and in four games so far, he has three sacks and three forced fumbles, which has predictably led to a lot of hand-wringing and kvetching as to how it could possibly be that Maybin is producing now. Did he not work hard in Buffalo? Did he try to tank his career here on purpose? Is he playing for a brilliant coaching staff now that can figure out how to use him and teach him stuff? This was a topic of discussion all day on WGR's football talk shows, with the common thread being, "Geez, did the Bills give up on him too early?"

Personally, I don't think so. The Jets only use Maybin on obvious passing downs, and then, only as a pass rusher. That's it. He's never asked to play the run, nor is he given any responsibilities to help cover tight ends. So why is he suddenly getting sacks? Well, I saw his one sack of the Chargers' Philip Rivers yesterday, and it was a textbook coverage sack. And yet, not one second of Maybin discussion I heard on the radio today mentioned this. (His sack of Joe Flacco a couple weeks ago was also a coverage sack, while his sack of Andy Dalton before that was simply a lineman not blocking him at all.) Everyone is saying, "Wow, is Maybin finally showing his talent?" Yes and no. His talent is as a speed rusher. That's it. He runs as fast as he can in the general direction of the quarterback. He doesn't make any stunning moves or use his strength; all he has is speed. So why is it working?

Well, I submit that it's "working" because (a) Maybin is only on the field a few times a game, so he is never winded, and (b) the Jets have an amazing secondary that can actually cover opposing receivers long enough for Maybin to get to the quarterback. That's it. Maybin has landed in a situation that pretty much offers the only scenario under which he could possibly have any success. How long will it last? We'll see. If the Jets' secondary gets banged up and receivers are able to get open more against them, then Maybin's effectiveness will certainly drop. Ditto if the Jets ever actually play him for a significant number of snaps per game. I haven't seen nearly enough of Maybin's "talent" to conclude that the Bills may have lost a good player.

::  Still on the subject of the Jets-Chargers game, I think that entrusting the Chargers to Norv Turner may turn out to be the greatest single waste of a talented roster in NFL history. The Chargers just don't look that good to me, and their two-minute drill was a joke.

::  Back to the Colts: I seem to be alone in thinking this, but this team is so bad that I don't even think that a healthy Peyton Manning would be making that much of a difference. Manning has had a great career, but he's not Godlike, and I don't think that a return by Manning to the team next year with the same personnel and coaching staff results in anything more than a 6-10 season. The Colts' defense is awful, their running game has been suspect for years, their offensive line isn't playing well, and none of that has to do with QB play. And there's the fact, unmentioned by Manning's fans, that he's getting old. Assuming he's out this entire season, when he returns in 2012, he'll be 36 and entering his 14th NFL season. Add in 19 career playoff games, Manning has played the equivalent of 14 seasons already. Physical decline is going to happen sooner or later, and his neck injury may be a symptom of that. Peyton Manning's return, in my view, will do nothing to change the fact that the Colts need to start thinking about the dreaded rebuilding process, or the fact that Peyton Manning's career is inexorably on the down side.

That's about it. Next week, the Bills go to Toronto to take on the Redskins!

Monday, October 24, 2011

One star to rule them all....

I was reading an article recently (and I don't remember where! but if I do, I'll edit this post to put a link) about the star Canis Majoris. This is the largest star currently known to exist. How big is it? Well, this star is located in the constellation Canis Major (the Big Dog), if you want to see it for yourself. But according to what I'm reading, it is 1.7 billion miles in diameter.

The problem with numbers like that, though, is that they're just meaningless to the human brain. We can't visualize distances of that magnitude, and remember, when talking about distances in space, that is still a tiny number in comparison to something really big, like, say, the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy. So this is where we have to come up with little visualizations in order to conceptualize these distances. Here's a picture that tries to help:

That kind of helps, but I wanted an even better way to try to conceptualize the relationship of size here. Well, I was bored the other day, so I came up with one! Huzzah! Here's how it goes.

Imagine the Earth as a sphere that is one inch in diameter. Got it? Earth, a little smaller than a golf ball. Maybe a little bigger than a big marble. One inch in diameter. That means that in our scale here, one inch equals about 8,000 miles.

Now, after a bit of Googling, I find that the diameter of our Sun is approximately 864,000 miles. Doing a bit of division, we now can figure that if the Earth is a ball one inch in diameter, then our Sun is a ball 108 inches, or 9 feet, in diameter. Now I find that a little surprising in itself. We all know that the Sun is a lot bigger than Earth, but the jump in relative sizes proportionally takes us from a one-inch Earth to a nine-foot Sun!

And now we do the math for Canis Majoris, which is, as noted above, 1.7 billion miles in diameter. That's 1,700,000,000 miles. Dividing that by our 8,000 miles for one inch, we find that a ball in this scale representing Canis Majoris would be 212,500 inches in diameter. Of course, we have a hard time conceptualizing that number of inches too, so dividing that by 12, we find that our Canis Majoris ball is 17,708 point something feet in diameter. But that's still hard to see, so divide that by 5,280, and we find that if one inch equals the diameter of the Earth, then Canis Majoris is a ball just over 3 and one third miles in diameter.

My point here is simply this: Whoa.

Sentential Links #266


:: We have little trouble buying that a young man from Texas who never travelled abroad and had limited formal education could write convincingly about kingdoms and barbarian heroes from the mythical Hyborian Age. We don't doubt that a mere civil servant could have so convincingly written about a womanizing super spy with a license to kill, not that a high school english teacher from Bangor Maine could write about the supernatural. (Or that a welfare mother could sit down in a coffeeshop and scribble out longhand a series of novels about a young boy's adventures at Wizarding School...or....)

:: Mexicans, Central Americans, South Americans: don't come here. Not only does our economy suck, but apparently you will be caught and turned into slaves. I know, I know, this country prides itself on being the home of liberties and rights. We say a lot of shit we don't mean.

:: Do they even have scary carnival attractions like this anymore? Sure, they were a bitter disappointment once you got inside, but that wasn't the point. The name of the game was (1) conquering your fears and (2) having something to brag about later.

:: Toward the middle of Anonymous the drunken, illiterate imbecile William Shakespeare, taking a curtain call for Henry V, a play he didn’t write, falls off the stage. He’s caught by the groundlings in the front row and—passed hand to hand. You read me right: Shakespeare may not have written Henry V, but he did invent crowdsurfing. Unintentionally.

:: Today has been one of those days where I feel like my body is neither big enough nor strong enough to contain my life.

:: Thanks to Batman: Arkham City, a vast open world, GTA-style video game, I’m getting my first taste of what being the Caped Crusader is all about. And it turns out that – if this game has it right – Batman’s life is a lot more mundane and ridiculous than we ever realized.

:: So even in a mega-size city full of noise, chaos, and competition, all around me there were signs of pie. And that made me feel right at home.

More next week!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!

photographers everywhere, originally uploaded by lomokev.

This photo is one of the front-page rotation photos on Flickr. It's a great shot, but every time I see it, I think, "Wow, that guy is SO hardcore -- he's swimming and taking a photo even while he's got a harpoon sticking out of him!"

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: You know what they say about guys with big feet...they wear big shoes!

::  Scrap metal thieves annoy me, but I can't help but on some level admire two guys who made a pretty penny by stealing a frakkin' BRIDGE and selling it for scrap. Wow.

::  I can't help but link this: a lovely young woman consumes a cheeseburger in one bite. The fact that she's also wearing overalls is just a bonus.

No, I will not be making any attempt to replicate this feat. A man's got to know his limitations.

::  Roger e-mailed this to me (leading me to wonder if I am becoming to bib overalls what John Scalzi is to bacon, but hey, somebody's gotta do it)...I saw this years ago, when The Daughter actually watched Sesame Street on a regular basis, but I'd forgotten about it. I always loved the "Random celebrity shows up and sings a song with the Muppets" bits on Sesame Street; in fact, WNED (Buffalo's public teevee station) used to run those clips in the two-or-three minute breaks between shows. Of course, this one's appealing because it's got Gloria Estefan -- one of the most captivating women in the world, for my money -- in overalls!

Estefan did another one, probably from the same episode, but I couldn't find it on YouTube, so here it is. And just because, here are some other "celebrities with the Muppets" clips that I particularly like.

Nathan Lane:

Diana Krall:

Garth Brooks:

Norah Jones:

No singing, but here's Patrick Stewart:

More next week!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Centus

This week we get a normal kind of prompt. Here's my take:

"I planted a little story seed, and it grew into a story tree. So then I picked the story fruit, peeled it, added sugar and cinnamon, and I baked it into a story pie. Then I ate a slice of the story pie with some story vanilla ice cream. And then..."


"I think I pushed the metaphor too far."

"That was a metaphor?"

"It started off as one, yeah."

"A metaphor for what?"

"Would you believe I don't remember?"

"Yeah, I got that."

"You know what the moral here is?"

"Don't drink decaf?"

"That's right."
 A bit on the silly side, I know, but I continue to be fascinated by the effects of caffeine on storytelling!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Truth, Justice, and the American Way!

This is totally sick, and utterly hilarious: How Superman II should have ended. This will appeal to those who never liked how Superman is able to erase Lois Lane's memory by somehow "magically" kissing her.

The standard "Superman grinning at the audience" thing sure looks a lot more sinister now, doesn't it?

Page One: Macbeth

Page One: Macbeth

I'd love to be able to say that I loved Shakespeare right from the first time I read him, but I can't. Sorry, but I was a typical ninth-grade kid, and I thought that Shakespeare sucked. Despite my teacher's desperate attempts to force us to see the beauty in Shakespeare's poetry and drama, I saw none of it. All I saw was a guy who used twenty words when six would do, a guy who insisted on repeatedly stopping the action so someone could stop and babble at the audience, and a guy whose stage directions consisted of things like "They fight" and "Exeunt". Yeah, I hated the experience of reading Shakespeare.

In ninth grade, the play was Romeo and Juliet. Hated it. (At the time.) In tenth grade, our Shakespeare of the Year was Julius Caesar, which was, I had to grant, a bit more interesting than Romeo, because it had nifty political stuff and brutal murders and whatnot. And then, in eleventh grade, there was Macbeth. I suppose the third time was the charm, because this time, I thought, Wow, this is pretty awesome.

It wasn't just the fantastic elements of the story, although yes, that did help. But I think that by this point, I was getting to the point as a reader where I could understand a lot more readily what Shakespeare was doing. I didn't have to have the teacher explain just what Lady Macbeth was doing when she said "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" I didn't have to have it explained to me what Macbeth's "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech. I thrilled to the way the witches' prophecies were fulfilled. I did have to have some stuff explained, but a lot of it was falling into place.

The next year we would read Hamlet and The Tempest. I've read more since then. Not all of it, but...someday.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Very Public Service Message

At some point in the last week or two, Blogger has decided to change things so that by default, images on Blogger blogs open in a "lightbox" thingie when you click them, as opposed to just opening the way they used to. If you, like me, dislike the "lightbox", you can get rid of it thusly, if you are using the newest version of Blogger:

1. Log into Blogger, and go to your blog's main Blogger page.

2. Look at the options over on the left. Click "Settings".

3. In the "Settings" menu, click "Posts and Comments".

4. In the first section of the resulting menu, there's an option for opening images in the "Lightbox". Uncheck that box, and presto! Your images open the way they used to.

And now, having done that, pour yourself a glass of your preferred sparkling beverage and enjoy the show!

Unfictional Bookage

Time to briefly talk up some nonfiction I've read recently:

:: Lots of times, people try to reduce the world to two kinds of people. One such method, common to people in my age group, reduces the world to people who either like David Lee Roth as lead singer of Van Halen, and those who prefer Sammy Hagar. (Reasonably enough, no one ever admits the possibility of a third group, those who might prefer Gary Cherrone. Because there weren't any.)

However, I refuse to be pigeonholed in my Van Halen allegiance. I always liked both equally. I became aware of Van Halen in the days following the 1984 album, and I liked them almost immediately (seriously, how anyone could dislike "Hot For Teacher" after seeing that video is beyond me), but I didn't really start getting into their music until after 5150 came out, which was Sammy Hagar's first appearance with them. Maybe it's one of those "Your favorite James Bond is the first one you saw" kind of things, but I've just never felt more strongly about the DLR era or the Sammy era, one way or the other. The DLR years probably produced the harder rock music, marked by blazing guitar work and blistering drums and DLR's constant tongue-in-cheek front-manning, but the Sammy years produced more refined music-making, with the band trying a lot of new things and producing some of the most deeply infectious songs of the band's run.

Anyway, I recently read two books dealing with Van Halen. First was Sammy Hagar's own autobiography, Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock. Hagar writes a pretty engaging book, as fast-paced as the life he has apparently led. Hagar doesn't really pull punches when he describes the lifestyle he led for many years; he writes matter-of-factly about things like his own sexual escapades, his casual drug use, and the many excesses of his life as a rock musician.

Of course, the parts of the book that are of most interest are probably the chapters dealing with his arrival in, life with, and later departure from, Van Halen. What's interesting about all this is that apparently Sammy really wanted to maintain his own identity apart from Van Halen, which was ultimately at the heart of his final break with the band...well, that, and the fact that apparently Edward Van Halen's own years of excesses seemingly made him into something of a lunatic by the time the mid-1990s rolled around.

Hagar writes fairly bluntly about all this, but there's a tone of regret to it all, not just that it all ended, but that it ended in the way that it ended. I got the sense that Hagar really didn't want to write this part of the book, but he knew that there was no way anyone would publish it without this part of the book, so he seems to get through it as quickly as possible. Hagar certainly does not write with the tone of someone with any kind of axe to grind.

I remember reading an interview years ago when Sammy Hagar had first left Van Halen (he would return to the group some years later for one last tour, before leaving again permanently). It was a marked difference in tone between his reaction and David Lee Roth's media tantrums when he had left Van Halen, ten years or so earlier. In that interview, Hagar said something along the lines of, "I'll never again make music as good as I did when I was with those guys." Not that he's wallowing in self-pity, though; Sammy Hagar still plays music with his own band, and he runs a club in Mexico and has his own brand of tequila which is apparently quite good.

The other book is a general history of Van Halen, Everybody Wants Some, by Ian Christe. I got a little ways into the book before I realized that I'd read another book by Christe before, years ago, which stuck in my memory because of his purple prose. And yes, the prose here is purple too. At times, it's almost obnoxiously so. But it, too, is a fast read, and it was interesting to read it and see a different perspective on the things that Sammy Hagar wrote about. Of the two, Sammy's is the better book, but his book is about Sammy, where Christe's is about Van Halen, from the early days to the breakthroughs to the strife with Dave to the Sammy era to the strife with Sammy to the return of Dave to the return of Sammy to the arrival of Gary Cheronne and almost to the present after that.

I was surprised that in neither of these books does Edward Van Halen come off particularly well. The general picture in each volume is of an astonishingly talented musician who lacked the discipline and self-control to keep his lesser appetites from taking control. Alcoholism and addiction aren't really mentioned, but it's hard not to see that spectre looming over everything.

:: Part of what makes Ben Mezrich's Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History a compelling reader is the motivation behind the heist it describes. At its heart, this book tells the story of a young, intelligent man who decides that the best use of his intelligence is to plan and execute something stupid in order to impress a girl. His plan? To break into a laboratory at NASA and steal a bunch of moon rocks so he can, quite literally, give his girlfriend the moon.

A bare few minutes later, they came to the last traffic light – and again, of course, it was red. Even worse, Thad quickly made out a security kiosk just a few yards to the left of the light. He could see at least two uniformed guards inside. Thad held his breath as he slowed the Jeep to a stop at the light; he kept his head facing forward, willing Sandra to do the same. He didn't want to have to explain why he was at the compound, past midnight on a Saturday. That was counting on the fact that neither of the guards would be eager to step out into the rain to interrogate him. Even so, if one of the guards had looked carefully, he might have noticed that the Jeep was sagging in the back. In fact, the vehicle's rear axle was bent so low that the chassis almost scraped the ground as they idled at the traffic stop.

The sag of the Jeep was one of the few things that Thad and his two accomplices hadn't planned. A miscalculation, actually: the safe that Thad and the two girls had hoisted into the back of the Jeep – less than ten minutes ago – weighed much more than Thad had expected, probably close to six hundred pounds. It had taken all three of them and a levered dolly to perform the feat, and even so Thad had strained every muscle in his back and legs getting the damn thing situated properly. That was just thankful that the Jeep's axle hadn't collapsed under the weight. As it was, he was pretty sure that even a cursory inspection of the vehicle would be enough to blow the entire operation.

Thad is Thad Roberts, our larcenous "hero", who ends up being shunned by his family of extremely devout Mormons when he sleeps with his high school girlfriend, and later decides that his life's goal is to become an astronaut. Once accepted into NASA, Thad finds himself engaged in acts of ever-increasing daring or stupidity, depending on your point of view. Sex on the Moon is a worthy entry in the "con man with a heart of gold" genre; it reads like a space-age variant on the film Catch Me If You Can. Mezrich keeps the story moving very quickly, even as he manages to make Thad both sympathetic and annoying at the same time – which is what he needs to be.

:: There is a comedian named Demetri Martin, of whom I have never heard, but who has written a book called This Is A Book By Demetri Martin. It's the kind of collection of humor pieces you'd expect to find in a book by a stand-up comedian. If you like such things, and you find the following excerpts funny, give the book a whirl. On the other hand, if neither of those things is true, then avoid the book.

Neil aimed and fired. As the duck exploded into tiny bits, the men stared in stunned silence. Then Walt said, "That's the third decoy you've shot today, you idiot."


When the stripped jumped out of the giant cake, everyone got excited. But then when she jumped into the regular-size cake, everyone got confused.


The shepherd fell asleep again. But who could blame him? He had been counting sheep all day.


Fortune cookies: "Your mind is like a sponge, in the sense that it would come in handy when cleaning off a countertop or something like that."

"It is easy to want what another man had; what is harder is to sneak into his house and take it without him seeing you."

"If you were tiny, this could be a banner."


Palindromes for Specific Occasions:

Gently informing a DJ that there is a problem with the sound system: No music is, um, on.

A scientist's reaction to what he finds in a Petri dish: P.U.! Organisms in a group.

A guy explaining to his friend how he feels about operas as he accidentally runs into a beehive: See, bro, operas are poor – Bees!

Yeah, your mileage may vary....

Something for Thursday

I'm almost positive that I've used this before, but the windy and brusque weather outside today has me in the mood for something like this. Here is Joe Hisaishi performing "Ashitaka and San" from Princess Mononoke.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

And at center, number sixty-seven, Kent Hull

Kent Hull, who played center for the Buffalo Bills from 1986 to 1996, died yesterday. He was only 50 years old. The first indications of a cause of death that I saw cited a heart attack, the coroner's report blames intestinal bleeding.

As a member of the offensive line, Hull was not one of the "glory" players for the Bills during his time on the team. That's the nature of the position. If you're only a casual football fan, centers are part of that group of guys on each team whom you know are there and have a job to do but whose names aren't terribly important, because they're rarely the ones handling the ball, running it or catching it or scoring with it. But for football fans who know something about the game, they are incredibly important, and fans of any team can as readily discuss the performance of individual offensive linemen as that of the quarterback.

And Kent Hull was one of the greats.

It is no coincidence at all that Hull's time in Buffalo was also the Bills' heyday as a franchise. While he played, the Bills made the playoffs eight times, won the AFC East seven times, and made the Super Bowl four times. That kind of success is impossible in the NFL if you don't have a great offensive line...and the Bills did. Kent Hull was its leader, and not only that, he was one of the main leaders of the entire team.

I never met Kent Hull, but he was part of a football team that meant a great deal to me. The Bills' era of greatness mainly coincided with my four years of college, at Wartburg, in Iowa. I was 800 miles away from home, and even though I had a lot of great friends -- many of whom are still friends of mine to this day, and one of whom is now married to me -- I would still get homesick from time to time. The Buffalo Bills were my main touchstone from home during those years. Being that far away, I was, of course, nowhere near the Bills' broadcasting region, so I didn't get to see many of their games at all. In Iowa at the time, the teams I could always count on seeing on teevee were the Bears and Vikings from the NFC, and the Chiefs from the AFC (hence the fact that I've always rather liked the Chiefs since then). Bills games tended to only be on if they were nationally televised, or if the Chiefs weren't on, or if the Bills were on Monday night. (And of course, the playoffs.)

So I didn't get to see the Bills all that often. But when I did, I was watching home. Those were my hometown fans there, on the teevee. I've driven by that stadium more times than I can remember. I was going to college in a place where very few folks knew where in New York Buffalo even was; more than a few thought it was one of the five boroughs of NYC, or that it was just up the road, maybe where Yonkers actually resides. (Folks who worry about Buffalo's national reputation might consider the possibility that Buffalo doesn't even have a national reputation, as "snow capital of the world" or anything else. In my experience, Buffalo's a place that people have heard of, and...that's about it.) But several times a year, I got to see my team, my hometown team, play some of the best football that anybody was playing at the time. And Kent Hull was a part of that. You can be damned sure I knew who my team's center was, even if his name was never said on teevee.

As to that: there's a saying about offensive linemen that you know they're doing a good job if you don't hear their name mentioned by the teevee guys. That's pretty much true. Commentators almost never point out good blocking when it happens; they only mention the offensive lineman by name when they want to indicate which guy just missed a block, causing a sack or a tackle for a loss or whatever. Kent Hull's was not a name you heard much at all when you watched Bills games. And I think he'd be proud of that.

Thanks for the memories, #67. You're still missed, in many ways.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What's your favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Loneliest Monk

The birthday of jazz great Thelonius Monk was just last week, on the 10th; Monk would be 94 now. I learned this when I saw this on Facebook. It's a couple of pages of advice Monk gave to a fellow musician.

This kind of thing always makes me terribly happy -- getting a glimpse into the mind of a great musician is wonderful, because the real record of what was in their minds is in their music, obviously, but music doesn't always tell you concrete things about the world. In fact, music rarely tells you concrete things about the world.

I've noted before that I'm not the best jazz listener out there. I enjoy good jazz, but I've always found that jazz exists for me at a bit of a distance. My relationship to jazz is not unlike my relationship with early classical music of the music of the Baroque era -- often I can't deny its quality, but I find it difficult to get to the emotional center of it. This isn't always the case, though, as with this piece of Monk's.

This is what Louis Armstrong was talking about when someone asked him to describe what jazz was, and Satchmo replied, "Man, if you got to ask, you'll never know!"

So why do I see Bob Balaban?

I know, LOLCats are the "low-hanging fruit" of blogging, but I found this one highly clever:

(Extra geek cred to readers who get the title of this post.)

The Big Dog speaks

If I could have one hour to spend one-on-one with any single living person, I think I would choose Bill Clinton. This piece, relating a discussion the former President had with British historian Simon Schama, is fascinating. A taste:

“So, Mr President,” I say, “Do you really think America has what it takes to get out of this deep hole?” He shifts his chair closer to me. “I’ll give you an honest answer. I’m absolutely confident we have what it takes. But I’m more worried now than I have been for many many years … because we have both a short-term crisis of horrible unemployment and long-term issues about education, healthcare and tilting the economy a little more to production. But here’s what I know … People have been betting against America for 200 years – it’s a maddening country – and they all wound up losing money. They said Washington was a mediocre surveyor with a set of false teeth; on the way to his inauguration an Illinois newspaper said that Abraham Lincoln was a baboon, he’ll ruin the country … Khrushchev said he’d bury us, the Japanese in the 1980s were going to bury us too.”

But, and something like a sigh escapes the optimist – “this is a different sort of challenge. It’s short-term and long-term, it’s complicated and we need a narrative that allows people to buy into America. The best I can do is tell you that what works in the modern world is different from what works in politics. When I’m asked what’s the one thing I’m proudest of, it was moving a hundred times as many people from poverty into the middle class as in the previous 12 years, because that was clearly the product of economic policy. That’s what this country is all about; the idea that if you work hard and you’re an honourable person you get a chance to live your dream and give your children a chance to chase it.”

God, I wish he was still President.

Monday, October 17, 2011

X-Files Case Report: "Fire"

Scully: "I forgot what it's like to spend a day in court."
Mulder: "That's one of the luxuries to hunting down aliens and genetic mutants. You rarely get to press charges."

After taking a bit of a break from The X-Files during the summer and first part of the fall, but now it's time to get back in the swing of things here. We're still in Season One, when the show is finding its way.

"Fire" is another episode that I'm seeing for the first time via this rewatch, and I have to say – it's a terrific episode. Written by Chris Carter, this one has a lot going for it: a strong story, a compelling and eerie villain, and some more of Mulder's backstory with some good character moments.

Our story opens in England, where a government guy is leaving for work. He lifts his arm to wave goodbye to the wife and kids, and sees that his arm is on fire. As his family looks on in terror, the flames consume him right there in his front yard. One person, however, is not looking on in terror: a groundskeeper is looking on in what can only be described as amusement.

Cut to Washington, where Mulder and Scully are completing a court appearance when Mulder gets a message from Phoebe Greene, a woman he worked with during his Oxford days. It quickly becomes clear that this woman was more than a friend, and that she and Mulder enjoyed a relationship that left Mulder with some serious emotional scars. She is in the US to ask for his help in protecting another aristocratic British family that is coming to the US to try and evade the fire-killer, who has the habit of mailing love letters to the wives of his victims.

Being The X-Files, of course, the fire-killer comes along for the ride, deviously working himself into this family's lives as a live-in handyman on the property they rent. Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully work with Phoebe Greene to figure out just who the killer is, in hopes of stopping him. Hampering their case are Mulder's antipathy toward Greene, and the fact that he is deeply phobic about fire.

"Fire" is very effectively done, with a compellingly scary villain and the "race against time" factor in the story's unfolding. The episode also boasts some terrific special effects work through the use of flame and fire, although some of this does remind me somewhat of the effects in the movie Backdraft, which had come out a few years earlier. This episode is a well-done thriller.

Sentential Links #265

Just one this week....

:: We were lucky, my son and I. We didn't have much awkwardness between us. Spending so much time together, everyone in our family has time to make him- or herself clear. To say what needs to be said. To leave unsaid what is already understood. To sit in companionable silence. (Mrs. M-Mv raised a fine young man...whose story very sadly came to an end last year. Memories like this, freely offered, provide a glimpse into not one soul, but two.)

More next week.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Giants 27, Bills 24

What it feels like to be a Bills fan these days

Oh well. Can't win 'em all.

What's pretty cool this year is that, even with the Bills having lost two of their last three, both losses were by three points, and both games felt like what they were: games the Bills most certainly could have won. Even close losses in recent years were "ho hum" affairs. The Bills' two losses thus far have still been entertaining, fun games to watch.

But yeesh, without a few goof-ups, they very likely win this one!

Drayon Florence got flagged for pass interference three times, two of which within minutes of each other in the fourth quarter. That sucked. What also sucked were Ryan Fitzpatrick's two interceptions, both of which came on maddeningly underthrown passes to Stevie Johnson. He had to put the passes over Stevie's shoulder, but instead he didn't put enough on either pass, and two drives died near the goal line. Ugh!

The defense got shredded for...oh, a lot of yards. That's been happening a lot, and this time they didn't compensate for that with any takeaways. I'm not really worried about the defense, though. The winning is fun and very welcome -- the more a young team wins, the better, because it helps breed that "winning culture" that's so important -- but this year is, for me, mainly about developing a lot of young players. Yes, they're giving up a lot of yards, but I get more of a sense of potential in this team than in any Bills team of recently dolorous years.

Let's see, what else? Phil Simms is a terrible color commentator. He just drove me crazy, constantly saying things like "They need to run here!" and then say, "Oh, I'm wrong", when the pass instead. At one point he called linebacker Arthur Moats "Eric". Early in the game, he whined a little about how he doesn't know the names of any of the Bills, but later on, he held forth in expert fashion about the recent history of the Buffalo Bills. Which is it, Phil?

And that's about it. I didn't watch any football other than the Bills game this week, so that's about it. Next week, our lovely football fan gets a break from being pied as the Bills are on their bye week. After that, they go to Toronto to take on the mighty Redskins. Last time the Bills played Rex Grossman, they got shredded in Chicago during the Bears' Super Bowl season. I have a feeling things will be a bit different this time!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome!

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: I would try to describe this, but I can't, so I won't.

And...that's about it. I didn't find as much weirdness as usual this week, oddly enough. That's weird in itself!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Centus

This week we're supposed to use tactile descriptors, basing our entry on this photo:

OK then:

The place looks innocent enough in the gold light of sunset. Nobody's lived here in years, and of course the current inhabitant doesn't live at all. There is rot in the air: rotting wood, rotting fabric...something else. Rotting. I know the smell of blood anywhere.

The steps creeeeeak, but I'm safe. He can't rise until after dusk. The door bangs behind me as I enter. I retch on the death-filled air, but keep going.

The coffin's lid makes the loudest creeeeeeak of all. I place the tip of the stake, raise my mallet...and his eyes snap open....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A deeply serious question

OK, I've had this question running about my head for a while now, and the time has at last come for me to ask it. So, gentle readers, if any of you can finally clear this matter up for me, I would be eternally grateful. Here's the question:


Thank you all in advance.

Five years ago....

Look how tall she is!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

This was the scene outside Casa Jaquandor five years ago today, after the Buffalo Niagara area got walloped by a lake-effect snow storm very early in the season. The next day was actually fairly warm, and melting started quickly; had this storm happened in November, it would barely be remembered. But this storm happened early enough in the fall that there were still leaves on most of the trees, which caused snow to pile on the branches; all that extra weight caused branches to snap. Thousands of trees were destroyed around here in this storm.

This also brought down many power lines, and thousands were without power for days, some for over a week. I remember working at The Store that none of our lot attendants were able to make it in, I worked the lot for half the day, and early on, most folks shopping were buying beer, chips, crackers, Cheetos, and that kind of thing -- the Sabres had a game that night. I joked that the storm had given Buffalo a massive case of the munchies.

But after a few hours, as the magnitude of this event became clear, I noticed that folks were now buying lots of bread. Milk. Bottled water. Bags of ice. Canned foods.

We never lost power at Casa Jaquandor. Our lines are underground, and we almost never lose power -- not even during the 2003 blackout that shut down almost everything east of the Mississippi. So for us, it was like we were spectators in the middle of a natural disaster.

But, as always, Buffalo's response to snow is "Shovel it, shove it over there, and let's get on with things." (After a bit of initial panic, that is.)

Ahhhh, life in Buffalo!

Something for Thursday

I've written before about my kinda-sorta-hate-love relationship with Phantom of the Opera, but I really do like the 2004 film version, which I think is very well made and which actually improves the story of the original stage version somewhat by moving the chandelier collapse to the film's climax and by fleshing out the 'flashback' nature of the story a bit. I just discovered this the other day: it's a song that was deleted from the film, called "No One Would Listen", sung by the Phantom. I believe this would have come in the second half of the film, probably shortly after "Masquerade". I assume it was cut for running time, but that's a shame because it's only a couple of minutes and it illustrates the Phantom's crushing loneliness, which really needs to be leaned upon if we're to sorry for a guy who is, let's be honest, a murderous stalker!

Anyway, here's the song. I really do like how they cast a guy who doesn't have the most perfect of singing voices; Gerard Butler makes up for that by dialing up the passion of his singing to the proverbial 11. I like that the Phantom here isn't a golden voice trapped in a beast's body, but that he is really and truly doomed to fall short for everything in his life. And that he knows it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

You're walk into your dining room, and you're hungry. There's a fruit bowl on the table, containing...well, any kind of fruit you could ever possibly want. (It's a magic fruit bowl, obviously. Work with me, people!) What's more, every piece of fruit within it is at the exact level of ripeness that you prefer, whether or not the fruit is in season. (Again, folks: Magic fruit bowl.) Any piece of fruit that you take from this Magic Fruit Bowl will be absolutely perfect, the Platonic ideal for you of what that fruit should be.

And you get to take one piece of fruit from the bowl to eat. What do you take?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Bool Hunt

When Stephen King is on (IT), I like few writers better. And when he's off (Dreamcatcher), well...he can still be intriguing, if long-winded. And then there are the books where I'm not honestly sure if he's on or off. Into that category I find myself placing Lisey's Story.

It took me a long time to get into this book. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but I think part of it is due to King's approach in this book, which is more stream-of-conscious than previous books of his that I've read. The book is very psychological in nature, with many long and somewhat dreamy passages taking us into the mind of a woman, Lisey Landon, whose husband, Scott – a famous writer – has recently died. She is only now beginning to go through his belongings, which carry her into an exploration of his own world, which turns out to be a lot more extensive than she had ever known – to the point of actually journeying into a magical world of Scott's own mindscape.

And while Lisey is doing all of this, she is also dealing with things in the present. A college professor who thinks that she should donate all of Scott's things to his school. When she refuses, he drunkenly mouths off to a guy who turns out to be insane, violent, and ruthless. So while she is, in a real way, getting to know her dead husband now for the first time, she must also deal with a real threat to her life.

King writes all of this in a very dreamy style, which is markedly different than the style he's used in previous books of his that I've read. Now, this may be part of what is King's style nowadays, since I haven't really read any of his more recent books other than this one. It was due to this style that it took me a long time to really get emotionally involved with the book. I don't know Scott Landon either, so it's hard to relate at first to any of the specifics of Lisey's loss. Gradually, though, it becomes more and more clear what King is up to.

As King slowly unfolds Lisey's life with Scott, he also slowly unfolds Scott's life itself, so it's almost as if three different stories are playing out: Scott's early life, filled with traumas of its own; Lisey's life with Scott; and Lisey's life after Scott.

King's style in Lisey's Story took quite a while to get used to. King shifts between his time periods often, and he does it by splitting his chapters in mid-sentence. Plus, there's the whole matter of the stream-of-consciousness that makes the book a bit of a slog in the early going. But by the time I'd reached about one-fourth of the way through the book, it was becoming more and more clear what King was doing and the style was starting to settle into place, and as the book moved into its final act, I could really feel the momentum of all of King's story threads all starting to move toward their conclusions.

Lisey's Story is not the most engrossing King novel I've ever read, but it is a fine novel nonetheless.

Pie Society

My friend Lynda, a constant source of wisdom and amusement, has resurrected her once long-standing tradition of celebrating her birthday with a pie in the face (which is a fine tradition indeed, even if it's not technically a 'tradition' for me yet). A teacher by trade, she offered her students an incentive: the highest-scoring student on a recent exam got to do the deed. Although she apparently didn't factor in the possibility of a tie, so she ended up on the receiving end of two pies. Lucky her!

As she says:

Between landing my new job and making some excellent connections with people I care about, it just felt like everything in my life is swimming with blessings right now. I was so grateful and giddy with how things unfolded, what can I just made me want to do another pie. Only this time I did it with a twist.


Life is sweet - and if you don't believe me - honestly, there's nothing to kick start your sense of humor like a nice gooey pie in the face.

I couldn't agree more! Lynda and I have a long-standing agreement that if and when we ever actually meet in "real" space (as opposed to "cyber" space), we'll mark the occasion with a hearty exchange of pies. What a blast!

Why clowns are disturbing

Pearls Before Swine explains it all to you:

Monday, October 10, 2011


With the Blu-ray release of the Star Wars movies, there was a lot of consternation regarding the small change at the end of Return of the Jedi, so that when Darth Vader finally decides to intercede on his son's behalf, thus killing the Emperor and turning back from the Dark Side of the Force, he now screams, "NOOOOO!" George Lucas has taken the usual amount of heat for this, but (a) the scene works OK with the scream, and (b) the scene is in good Star Wars tradition anyway.

What do I mean by this? Well, everybody knows that "I have a bad feeling about this" or various permutations thereof is a line heard in every Star Wars film. But you know what? So is "NOOOOO!". Here's a list of every Star Wars character who says or shouts "No!", and when.

The Phantom Menace:

Obi Wan Kenobi, when Qui Gon Jinn is struck down

Attack of the Clones:

Qui Gon Jinn, in spectral form, when Anakin slaughters the Sandpeople
Padme, when her decoy dies in the opening scene (said)

Revenge of the Sith:

Darth Vader, when he learns that Padme is dead
Palpatine, in defiance of Mace Windu (said and repeated)

A New Hope:

Luke Skywalker, when Obi Wan is struck down by Darth Vader
Princess Leia, as the Death Star prepares to destroy Alderaan (said)
C-3PO: when he hears that Luke and company are about to be squashed by the trash compactor

The Empire Strikes Back:

Luke Skywalker, when he learns that Darth Vader is his father
Luke Skywalker, earlier, in defiance to Vader (growled)
Han Solo, even earlier, when Chewbacca is putting wires in the wrong places on the Falcon. (said, but with Harrison Ford-ish emphasis)
Chewbacca, as Han is about to be put into carbon freeze (Well, OK, it's not like we get subtitles, but what else would he be howling?)
C-3PO: when hyperventilating during the asteroid field chase

Return of the Jedi:

Luke Skywalker, when Darth Vader insinuates that maybe Leia will turn to the Dark Side
Darth Vader, when he realizes that Palpatine is really something of a douche.

How many am I missing, Star Warriors?

Sentential Links #264


:: I wish the makers of air fresheners would be more specific about what their products smell like instead of having cutesy names like “Sunny Meadow” and “Early Morning Breeze”. (But how else does one describe these things, other than "Nice-smelling collection of chemicals #5"? I point out in comments over there how a lot of men's deodorants describe their scents in terms that aren't aromatically evocative at all, like "Fresh Sport" and "Victory".)

:: I feel like I've lost the connection to some of the deepest parts of my identity: whatever talents I have as a writer, my literary and cinematic interests, my curiosity, hell, my sense of enjoyment. Not being able to do the things I enjoy and by which I've always defined myself is generating tremendous anxiety for me. (Ye Gods, I wish I had something wise to say to Jason about this kind of thing....)

:: Seriously, it’s nice that there can suddenly be complete Looney Tunes cartoon physics in a comic defined by someone’s lingering death from cancer. (Ahhhh, ripping on Funky Winkerbean -- one of my favorite of all pastimes!)

:: DC is like Lucy and we’re like Charlie Brown. DC keeps yanking the football away and we keep yelling Aaugh! and landing hard. They’re very sure we’ll keep coming back and try to kick the ball again. And, knowing some of the perps fairly well, I can assure you they’re pretty smug about it.

So far, they’re right.
(For some reason, I like reading reactions to DC Comics's reboot, despite the fact that I just don't read the comics at all. Weird.)

:: If you watched TV in the 1970s and 80s, you know it was wall to wall babes. Sure, the ladies had their Tom Selleck and David Soul; but, the guys had eye candy from the minute you powered that boob tube on. There were simply tons of actresses finding work in bit parts on sitcoms and one-time roles on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island or Love, American Style. Some got recurring parts, but mostly, you blinked and you missed them.

:: Look at it this way: Should the government tell the overalls factory to pay its employees a decent wage and to avoid using toxic chemicals in its fabric? Absolutely. Should the government tell people that they’d better wear shirts under their overalls and cinch up those straps tight? Of course not! (This blog mixes semi-serious political writing with photos of women clad in overalls, and nothing else. I swear I am not making this up. Believe me, this one is NSFW!)

:: When you come right down to it, Scooby Doo wouldn't have been a bad replacement for Fox Mulder given his credentials in solving mysteries and dealing with monsters.

:: If we can break the launch-price bottleneck, this century can be the time when humankind spreads across the inner solar system out to the asteroid belt. Twentieth Century science-fiction dreamed of the power of such a civilization, and those dreams may still be the truest prophecy of our time: At the end of the Twenty-First Century, with asteroid-based industries supporting GDPs a million times what we have now, interstellar flight will be a doable adventure!

The stars are not too far.
(So writes Vernor Vinge, highly-regarded SF writer, whose sequel to his twenty-year-old novel A Fire Upon the Deep -- which I plan to re-read soon -- is imminent. I don't know if he's right or not, but it's so nice to find an SF writer who is willing to be optimistic, and who is not willing to give up on humanity going to the stars. Lots of other authors may write fun space operas with FTL travel and star-spanning cultures, but in interviews, they all seem to say, "Yeah, we're never leaving the Solar System, that's it." Vinge clearly believes otherwise, and thank God for that.)

More next week!