Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year’s... Eve

Well, here it is: a time for a new beginning. A place to start all over, forgetting past failures and readying oneself for a perfectly rosy life. Or so say all the overly sentimental, and the failures.
Actually, most of the failures spend the night soggying their livers and brain-cells out of operation.

I intend to partake of some Perrier. And no, despite what a certain friend thinks it really is just the best water in the world, not a French take on white lightning.

Currently playing is Live From Lincoln Center’s farewell to ‘05 featuring the highly enjoyable Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu. Unfortunately, I can’t listen to it over my new amplifier-to-speaker setup, as it’s too loud. I finished the amp off in every respect today, excepting a good volume control. Unfortunate.

And then, every year on this day the Internet Movie Database puts out is this poll asking for the best cinematic New Year’s Eve celebration. Every year they leave off what should be number one. This year they didn’t even put in the option of “other” (meaning to them, any film other than those listed, but to me a specific title). Yes, Made For Each Other [1939] holds my favorite New Year’s.

Ajax

In my last monstrous post, I made reference to something called “RCAs” without explanation. That explanation is appended here.

‘RCAs’ compromise a particular system of jacks and plugs that is particularly useful (if a bit crude and occasionally wobbly). They are sometimes referred to as ‘phonos,’ but you are probably most familiar to them under the name ‘A/Vs’ or simply ‘AVs.’ It stands for “audio/video,” as it is now standard procedure to plug camcorders and DVD players into televisions with these yellow, white, and red jacks and plugs.
In addition to being accustomed to referring to them as RCA jacks (named such for the estimable company that created them), I couldn’t well have called them A/V jacks as all I’m dealing with here is audio. I’d have had to call them simply A-jacks.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Leisure, Amplified

Some months back (toward the end of summer, I think) I was given the gift of two beautiful hand-built loudspeakers. These were examples of the true craftsmanship of the art. Just one problem: I didn’t have anything to drive them. So they’ve sat against the wall in my living room doing nothing.
Not nothing, exactly—one of them has been holding up my ancient Underwood manual very nicely.
But I assured the giver (whom I have the honor of calling one of my dearest friends) that my lack of an amplifier would be no problem. I’d get one.

My word is now fulfilled.

You know how it goes, one decides to get an amp but then one chooses to just keep an eye on the classifieds instead, maybe peek into a few pawn shops… One must get a good deal, right?
Well, that angle wasn’t working. So, I figured I’d get this very nice $100 40-watt from Radio Shack. But what the heck—why not save a C? So I built one.

I admit the hundred-dollar option would be a lot more aesthetic. That sleek case gleaming with beautifully-displayed controls. In contrast, my contraption is housed in the casing of a junked karaoke of prehistoric origin. But it comes with what the other would not: a great sense of accomplishment.

I took scraps of a broken karaoke, a powered computer speaker from 1990, the tail of an old keyboard (for spare wire), and various other bits of trash and forged in solder a piece of equipment that delivers such deep, rich, low and high crystalline sound as is seldom heard outside a movie theater. And then only in the forty seats that compromise the sweet spot. (And minus some of the high tones, even.)

My rig comes complete with my own free version of a balance control (made absolutely necessary by the quirks of the central control board) and more than enough power to pulp most speakers. Actually, I can’t figure out how I got such power out of it. The components just don’t tally up to that much.
Maybe I’m an accidental genius, or maybe something put together with so much heart is inevitably greater than the sum of its parts. (A sarcastic “yeah right” to both.)

After getting the amp together in its present form, I replaced the tweeter in the top of the left speaker case (it had been missing its entire diaphragm), and checked over the other. My work is not done yet, however.
I need to give Radio Shack some business after all, in the form of [1] a resistor for routing high-notes to the right-hand tweeter, [2] some doo-hickey or other for fine-tuning my monster’s massive amplitude a little more, [3] a cable for feeding DVD audio signals to it (the one I’m using now is borrowed from my videography rig), and [4] a pair of jacks for the speaker outlets.
That last one is so I don’t habitually have bare wire twisted into bare wire, as is set up now. I’m thinking RCAs for convenience, as I have a couple of dog-chewed plugs lying around.

But these tiny details that still need to be attended to do not diminish the facts: That, after the work of three partial days and an elected budget of zero cents, I have a working stereo amplifier hooked into magnificent speakers and delivering some of the best audio I have heard in my entire life. Made by my own hand (the amp, that is).
The entire room has the potential to have marvelous two-track variable sound filling it, and I have availed myself of that opportunity. First, I listened to the rolling thunder of an oncoming storm in Sense and Sensibility. Then, the jazz-scored “Bullet for Bullock” (an episode of 1992's “Batman: The Animated Series”). The tremendous openers to The Rainmaker and Conspiracy Theory. “Tradition” and a few other bits from the incomparable Fiddler on the Roof. All wonderful, with the kind of careful mixing that can showcase a good stereo delivery system.

I also watched a graciously-lent copy of the original Sabrina. O.K, so the sound wasn’t very climactic for the purpose of my new amplifier, but it was nice to see such an entertaining movie for the first time.

But then, then— I put in Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World. I let it play all the way through, my visiting brother watching it and myself listening while at work in another room.
The sweetest spot of all is found by sitting on the living room’s central sofa with one’s left leg resting where the two cushions join. But the “sweet spot” as generally defined (that is, the wider area in which stereo sound is good enough to thrill one with the illusion of being in the events of the film) is so wide as to protrude into three-and-a-half adjacent rooms.

And Master and Commander has a really nice soundtrack.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Shards of Sunset


If enjoying beautiful scenes like this makes one a pessimist, I’ll proudly throw in as one.

Search Me

An interesting smattering of ‘Googles’ from which this site has been linked:

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Continuing Christmas Carols

There’s an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” in which Debra Barone tries to convince husband Ray that he would be healthier emotionally if he would randomly set aside time to cry once in a while. He tries it, putting on some sappy music and sitting down to somber up. Then he renounces his folly, and puts on something to which to dance.

I identify with Ray Barone. I don’t like to feel emotionally manipulated, and that just automatically excludes many styles of music (mostly slow ones). I think a lot of males feel this way, even if they don‘t state it so.

But not all slow music is to be shunned—far from it. Slow, emotionally fraught melodies that have an actual point to the sentiment… that’s laudable. And the best of this variety tends to be Christmas music.

“The First Noel,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” these are some of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard. There is little more beautiful than a passionate group of terrible-to-fair amateur singers quietly breathing them in unison.
But they haven’t been sung so this year.

Part of it is that Christmas almost sneaked up on me this year. It felt like such a brief period of activity, what with everything else I’ve had to do. More so than that, though, is that this year I just didn’t see anybody (outside my immediate family) get involved in that kind of Christmas music. Even the more popular “Feliz Navidad” and “Silver Bells” were completely passed over.
This must be rectified! (As I said in the previous post, I have no qualms singing carols straight through to ‘06.)

So, who wants to join me for some late Christmas caroling? We could walk around, randomly spreading joy to those suffering from post-Christmas gloom.
Ah, never mind. I’m guessing that the activity of caroling, which will bring people out of their homes to listen in peaceful joy on two nights of the year, will only succeed in getting the carolers shot at any other time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Two-Sided Coin

I see it every year: people get themselves pumped up singing ‘Rudolph Red-Nose,’ feverishly swiping their credit cards, and anxiously waiting to unwrap presents. Then Christmas morning comes and goes, as does the evening dinner with noisy relatives. After that, nothing is the same.

People develop a definite sag. It’s called the Post-Christmas Blues. And I just don’t comprehend it.

Christmas to me is not just a single day of presents, but an ongoing celebration that peaks (sometimes) on the 25th. I see no problem singing carols right into the new year, or watching Christmas specials after the day has passed (those Christmas specials I accept at all, that is). Heck, this year I seem to be watching more Christmas stuff after than before.
Yesterday I watched Chip ‘n Dale wreak havoc on a duck-with-a-martyr-complex’s Holiday, and then saw that same water fowl battle it out with three unintelligible nephews.
That snowball fight between Donald and his relations—complete with ice-forts, ice-bombshells, and flaming arrows—has to rank as one of the reasons my childhood was filled with dreams of snow. (Another would be Bill Watterson’s illustrious illustrations of snow combat and snowmen.)

I also watched last night something suitably entitled “A Garfield Christmas Special” [1987].

Now, I have a great affinity for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” [1965], often held up as the quintessential Christmas special. For that seldom-defined quality described as ‘greatness,’ I think it is. Yes, as far as content is concerned I must say that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the GREATEST Christmas special yet made. (And in recent years new Christmas ‘specials’ have become less so.) The tone and spirit it creates for an animated Christmas are unsurpassed, and will probably remain so.

And yet… And yet Charlie Brown’s Christmas adventure is not my personal favorite. It’s second, it is most definitely second and no lower. But for personal preference, I tremendously enjoy “A Garfield Christmas Special.” It’s humor is not as subtle as Charlie’s, but it is still nearly as good. The representation of a family structure (entirely absent from the works of Charles Schultz) is solid in Garfield, and in the end the message of love is well-admired.
But on the way to that thesis (arrived at fairly reluctantly by the misanthropic cat) we get such gleeful philosophies as the opening theme-song: “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!”

Verse

You thought that I should be afraid
To look you in the eye.
You just don’t know what I’ve become
That I’m not shocked to die.

Yet somehow I resented you—
Oh, it’s not for me I curse.
It’s just that I don’t like the thief
Who makes the small the worse.

Then I must remind that you
Were formed by my choice thus,
That day that man let woman fall—
But let’s get back to us…

I saw your ugly nostrils
The contortions of your face.
You think that it should strike some fear
But some I know of grace.

I thought our grasps had met just then
(As someday they will be)
But what I knew and you did not:
I’m not reckoned unto thee.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Happy Hanukkah!

Oy gvald! The calendar to my right doesn’t even mention Hanukkah, the schlock! All it refers to is Canadian boxing day. How could the printer allow such mishegaas?!

If your page of days too makes this error, wonder not! Today is the much awaited day. Today is 25 Kislev, commencement of the eight day Festival of Lights!! Well, technically it began sunset of the 24th (Kislev again), but...

Greed ‘05: Above and Beyond

Deceptions of World War II - by William B. Breuer [2001]. I’ve only just begun, but this collection of seldom-publicized WWII fleeces is very interesting. Good old proper history. Who calls this stuff boring, again?

This was in addition to the requests granted and not, as it's a gifts that I hadn‘t requested at all. There were other such dark horses, as well. For instance, the cash. (Then again, I just might have dropped a monetary hint or two...) I got identical collections of greenbacks from three separate sources. I'm guessing a “gentleman’s agreement” was reached in there somewhere.

That’s not mentioning the very handsome pair of leather gloves I received, something I’ve always wanted but never asked for.

And my Complete Calvin and Hobbes was a great surprise, despite my having asked for it. I was kidding—it was part of the “extravagant, I'll never even see any of these” list I wrote out just for kicks. Well, ya never know, do you?

Greed ‘05: Orders Filled

The Novels and Tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne - If I’m being honest, I am virtually guaranteed never to read half of this gorgeous volume. But it looks good, is bound in that marvelous way things were in 1937, and includes The Blithedale Romance [1852]. I can’t wait.

Tevye the Dairyman and The Railroad Stories - In one volume, as translated by Hillel Halkin. These are, of course, the work of Sholem Aleichem and served as the basis for Norman Jewison’s film Fiddler on the Roof [1971], one of THE greatest films ever made. I have never read any of Sholem Aleichem’s work, but have been itching to from before even seeing the film. Now I shall.

Charade [1963] - Great movie, and now I don’t have to check out the library’s depreciated VHS copy every time I want to watch it. Let’s hear it for widescreen DVD.

WWII Box Set - Consists of Das Boot [1985] director’s cut, The Caine Mutiny [1954], Anzio [1968], and a documentary disc. I’ve never seen any of these, and all three I’ve been interested in (though I caught the beginning of Anzio earlier today and it, uh, stunk). The Caine Mutiny, while in all likelihood only a slight variation on the highly fictionalized image of the Bounty’s fate, is certainly deserving of a look. Actually, I’ve been trying to see it for three or four years now.
But the real reason, of course, to get this is Das Boot. I owe it to my standing as a film-buff, war-buff, and history-buff to see it—not to mention my German language skills. Speaking of which, I checked and the disc does include the original German soundtrack. Whew! It is my creed never to watch a film dubbed out of it’s original language (unless it was filmed specifically to be dubbed, e.g. Sergio Leone’s Dollari).

Courage Under Fire [1996] - Yeah, it’s on easily-degraded magnetic tape and, yes, it’s been chopped down to cram onto a 3 x 4 screen. So be it. I don’t mind as (1) that means the giver got a good deal and (2) this is a splendid piece of cinema. Yes, some scenes would doubtless benefit from being seen in their original scope, but this film is about things that can’t be lost by the trimming of photographic edges. This is an incredible, beautiful portrayal of the strength and importance of truth. It qualifies (and not just because it was scored by James Horner) for the word “touching.”

“Trouble With X” - A CD of a modern-day band combining rock and swing styles in their music. (Name of “The W’s,” by the way.) Requested for Christmas at the recommendation of musically-encyclopedic friend. Am not disappointed.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes - With a magnificent introduction by the master, Bill Watterson. And every page tells you exactly what date each strip was originally published! (If you know me, you know that context—that is, date—is very important to me on stuff like this.) For more about this crowning gift, see two posts back.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Greed ‘05: The Red Ink

This is a list of stuff I didn’t get that I should have gotten for Christmas this year. It is meant to serve primarily as a place to gripe and a beacon to help the world do better next time.
This, of course, is only a partial list as I, being a self-centered fool (i.e. human being) feel deeply that I should have whatever in the world strikes my fancy. Like I said, get with the program, world.


The perfect sunglasses - Why nobody thinks of this? Ah, well, so I have to do with my current pair. That pair, by the way, is perfect in every respect but it’s lack of high-contrast brown lenses. Also, it’s not like I couldn’t use two pair: one for each car.

Polka CD - What?? Nobody wants to hear this stuff or summin’?!

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy—Primary Phase [1978] - The radio series, that is. O.K., this one can be attributed to low availability. Remember to throw in the Secondary Phase next time, as penance for your slothfulness in getting this to me.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! [1985] - Come on, a collection of memoir-ettes from the only man to view the first A-bomb’s explosion without the restriction of supplied eye-protection? Who doesn’t want to read that? Not to mention that he was one of the most brilliant physicists in history. Or that he had a fantastic (downright dangerous) sense of humor.

PlusDeck - I’m gonna assume this one never showed up because of it’s large price tag. But how am I supposed to get by in the modern world without a cassette deck built into my PC? Get it together, people! Form a non-profit and accept deductible donations for my gift list or something benevolent like that.

Machete - “You’ll cut your eye out, kid.” I beg to differ, heartless department-store Santa.

“Tigers Wreck the Grade Curve.”

I never expected to get it for Christmas or anything else. Honestly, I never expected to ever see a copy.

But I am now the proud owner of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Spanning approximately 3 volumes, 1500 pages, and 10 years, it weighs in at 23 pounds (lb) and sports a retail value of 150 dollars.

The large heavy-cardboard slip-case is bound in brown cloth, with smooth autumnal-toned paper carefully pasted on the two sides. Over each of these a small, window-like full-color of the duo is affixed, bookending the joy.
The weighty volumes are done up in the same manner: brown cloth, dull orange paper, and on each side just a peek at the art within. Gold embossing proclaims the title and volume number from the spine. Two sheets of white paper sheath the books, protecting them from abrasions in their communal crating.
These hefty bindings feel worthy of the manuscripts of John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. And while Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes may not be so historically substantial as philosophers remembered through hundreds of years, the packaging is well-suited to what it accommodates.

It’s no secret the high esteem in which I hold this comic strip, so I guess I won’t broadcast it’s details again… (Want some of those details? Check here.) So instead I’ll just iterate briefly the pleasure I am having going over the glossy pages, reading both the black-ink daily four-panels and the full-color Sabbatical page-sizeds.
I’m not yet through the first year and am trying not to swallow it all at one bite. While that first year is familiar territory (though it is ground I haven’t been on for some years), I am also confident that around at least half of what is in this set will be completely new to me. No matter, as rereading is no small amount of fun itself.

I probably said this before: If you have never read Calvin and Hobbes, rectify this immediately! If you have experienced the trance brought on by these magnificent characters, I know what’s bugging you right now. Envy. So:

Want yours? Too late, the first batch is gone!
…but watch carefully for the reprint, coming April, 2006.

My Christmas Present to You


Cheap little fella, ain't I?


Previous Photographic Ice Sculptures:
| Spikes on Iron Seating | Burdened Rosebush | Sod & Creeping Rime |

Saturday, December 24, 2005

“Here Comes Santa Clause”

"Santa knows that we’re god’s children, that makes everything right!"

A lot of so-called “Christmas carols” (many of them about an obese geriatric and his influenza-riddled caribou) are inane to the point of inducing nausea…
But few are so barefacedly heretical.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Patron Saint of the Investigative Reporter

Everybody seems to read the Luke account of the birth of the Christ, for some reason. It is unfortunate that the Matthew account is so frequently neglected, to be honest.
But this remark should be taken as nothing against Luke. Actually, the Gospel of Luke is my favorite gospel. And Luke is my favorite canonical author.

Luke, unlike the other four Gospel writers, was not an eye-witness to the events of his account of the life, death, and life of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, and God Incarnate. In a way, the eyewitness accounts should be more appealing to readers (and they are indeed very special for that reason), but at the same time the physician’s Gospel has a strength of its own for the opposite.

Luke, personal friend of Paul the Apostle, set off on a journey to discover the exactitude of the events of the life of Paul’s Savior and his, through multiple eyewitnesses’ testimonies. He, through a beautiful diligence and devotion, set down the definitive chronological Gospel. Whereas John, Matthew, and Mark gave their very personal reports of the events that define our calendar (and our world), Luke gave a more distanced historical framework that the reader “might know the exact truth about the things [he has] been taught.” {1:4)

The image of Luke “having investigated everything carefully from the beginning” {1:3) is one of inspiration to me: the hard-nosed reporter after the story of a lifetime—after the ultimate story.

And Luke couldn’t have been much less than hard-nosed. His second Biblical work, referred to as “The Acts of the Apostles” or simply “Acts,” details (among a great many other things) Paul’s legal trials. And after that, Paul’s shipment to Rome as a prisoner. And how did Luke learn all the details of Paul’s voyage to Rome? Careful research? In this instance his research was that of tagging along.
I don’t see many wimps volunteering to travel on a ship filled with convicts and their military guards, openly claiming both his role as one prisoner’s friend and his belief in the very principles that got that prisoner his shackles. Heading straight for a hoped meeting with a world ruler as hostile to those beliefs as just about any ruler ever has been.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

“Where would you go to get goats? Brooklyn!”

It’s one of my favorite Christmas stories. “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Paul Gallico, as adapted for the Radio City Playhouse show of Christmas Day 1949. The short story itself would probably rank as one of my favorites, as well, if I’d ever managed to find it. Until I read it, I’ll have to enjoy the dramatization instead.

Paul Gallico’s works range from “The Snow Goose” to “The Poseidon Adventure.” To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never read anything of his. But I’ve read a lot about his works. Most of them are extremely hard to find, or else I would have already consumed at least some of his works about newspapermen. These are from the days that the legend of the fedora-topped, chain-smoking, Underwood-hammering, tough-guy gentleman of the press has been constructed in and around.

Such is the character Perry Brown in “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” He, as star reporter of The Daily Blade, is leaving the office on Christmas Eve to go to his girl’s party when his leave is revoked and he is dispatched on an urgent errand. To find and buy two goats, a harness, and a red wagon for the Managing Editor’s wife. In New York City.

Brown draws a grand from petty cash and proceeds to drive around Brooklyn (with best friend and photographer Al Vogle), stopping in at every bar to inquire as to the location of purchasable goats. Along the way, the increasingly inebriated Perry stumbles into what will probably be the Story of the Year— again and again and again. Each successive story is bigger than the last. And Perry Brown isn’t telling anyone, yet. He figures it’ll teach the paper to send him out after goats if he lets them get scooped by every paper in town. But fate has something else in store for Brown, and not just the third goat.

The third animal is actually the first (“The first little goat/Will be silky and white...”), but due to circumstances beyond the reporter’s control he becomes stuck with it in a tale of Christmas joy not to be missed.
I often find myself listening to it in the middle of the summer. (Then again, winter here would be the middle of summer to a New Yorker like Brown.)


Other appealing Gallico tales in the category of “would read this if I could find it” are:
“Two Many Ghosts” about a proficient spirit-debunker’s latest high-profile case, and
“The Zoo Gang” about the exploits of a Provencàl band of aging ex-resistance combatants.

Thorns


A rosebush encased in javelins of ice. Shooting with the flash (accidentally) on really brought out the ice's inner iciness, I think.

$10 > 88¢ / $5 > 88¢, or Gifting as an Equation

Tonight—well, the night of the 21st, so in one respect last night—I attended a Christmas party. Fairly interesting stuff, actually.

One central objective of this party was the random transfer of Christmas gifts, and to achieve this end each attendee was expected to bring a $5-$10 gift appropriate for another member of that participant’s gender. My contribution was a new, widescreen DVD of Gettysburg [1993].
The trading was achieved through the drawing of numbers and a convoluted system of “thefts” (maximum two per gift, at which point it becomes “locked”) alternate to unwrapping the unknown.

I was number 9. My drawn gift was a set of adidas stick deodorant and cölogne (simply ‘Cöln’ to us German-speakers). It was soon “stolen,” no loss to me (though I didn’t advertise that fact as the set came from a good friend who happened to be in the seat nearest me). I drew again and came up with a small knife and matching LED for the key chain. The light was cool, but again, I didn’t really need the gift. After everyone’s gift was “locked in,” unofficial (black market?) trading began.

The knife/light set I held was officially the contribution of a certain friend, who hadn’t picked it personally and actually hadn’t seen it. He saw it now and wanted it. His locked in gift was a green dart gun (well outside the official price range at $0.88 Wal-Mart). He wanted desperately to trade and when he, well, grabbed the knife set out of my hand and ran I didn’t bother chasing him. He dropped the dart gun, though. Cool.

The gun had also been added to the proverbial pot on behalf of a friend who hadn’t seen it. In this case by that friend’s teenage daughter (explain the 88 cent value, perhaps?). I proceeded to have some fun with it. It has, of course, utterly dismal range. But that only added to the challenge. Just how high must it be aimed to arc into someone’s head across this room?
Now that I am home and no longer wandering packed rooms and hallways firing red globs of plastic at friends and acquaintances, it looks as though the “Age 5+” toy will be suffering from disuse.

But the plastic gat is not all I bring home as spoils. No, indeed.

The party’s ice-breaker was a self-proclaimed “I.Q. Test” out of which the highest scoring male and the highest scoring female were to receive prizes tucked inside ribboned gift-bags. I received a perfect score. That didn’t matter, as every other guy taking the test rated 60% or less.

My prize (Gift, perhaps? Ah, both.) was a suede-leather necklace-thing with a facsimile buffalo nickel bent (molded, actually) around it in front. I don’t think I’d ever actually worn a necklace before, but whatever. It was nice and I put it on around my collar. The thing, by the way, was from some Ritzy mall-shop known only as “claire’s.”

Lowercase ‘c’ “claire’s,” it turns out, is very popular with just about every female on the premises. That was obvious the moment they began devouring their gifts, scratching over them, and stealing from one another. Half the stuff there must have come from “claire’s” and that half was in high demand. The 10 dollar “claire’s” gift card, or rather the theft of it, nearly moved some to tears. If I ever decide to buy lip gloss for someone, I now know where to get the popular stuff. And previously, I had never heard of “claire’s.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

“Give Away the End...Not the Beginning!”

I ran across something just now that reminded me of the glaring flaws present in the majority of “heist” films. I have a hard time putting up with most of the genre at all. So, here I will recommend a movie I have seen only once, a year and a half ago on European television.

I had nothing urgent to tend to that day, and a TV matinee listed in the “TeleVizier” caught my eye. I’d never heard of it, something called Gambit, 1966. Starring Michael Caine. That was all it said.
The title intrigued me for some reason, and Caine… well, I decided I was going to watch it.

It was very 1960’s Britain, which was obvious before a single line of dialogue came on. I was incensed that I was viewing a “sides lopped off for the telly” version, as that beautiful, lingering Brit cinematography almost feels boring without the full view. As though the editor kept dosing off at his station.

But hey, it’s Michael Caine at the top of his game. Who can complain? Ever seen Brit-classic The Ipcress File? This is better.

In 1966 adverts gave viewers permission to give away the ending (“too good to keep a secret!”), but to please please not give away the start. It sounds like sensationalism, but this film is certainly worth considering sensational. Here, I won’t give away either end of the picture.

Gambit is a magnificent caper flick, with Caine’s Harry Dean going after a priceless bust with the help of… only the most annoying woman he has ever met (Shirley MacLaine). His plan is better thought out and far more intelligent than many of his cinematic counterparts’, but it still has plenty of room for error aside from the chatty broad he has along for the ride. So much so that his quarry (Herbert Lom) remains a step ahead of him the entire film through. Well, almost through.

The movie’s originality in almost every detail caught my attention—and had me laughing—so much that it immediately became one of my favorite films. Actually, it is so original I hate to spoil anything in this post…

So I’ll instead say this: While Gambit is hardly a well-known piece of cinema, it has apparently caught the eye of Ethan Coen, who is doing a remake due out next year (the 40th anniversary, and all). And while it sports the very complimentary names of Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley for acting talent, I’m anticipating the new version mainly for the possibility of a widescreeen DVD release of the original.
I will be buying that.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Light(en)ing the Mood


Another wintry shot for your Christmas-time enjoyment.

Friday, December 16, 2005

T.E., or Celluloid as History

David Lean directed two well-remembered historical films, one right after the other.
Bridge on the River Kwai [1957] and Lawrence of Arabia [1962] are both frequently held up as high cinematic art and about as frequently disparaged for their anti-war themes. Both had an uncredited Michael Wilson for a writer. So far everything's equal between them, right? So, why do I have such vastly different feelings about the two of them?

Well, I do. River Kwai is one of my favorite films. Not on my top ten list, probably (if I were to ever make out an official top ten), but a marvelously good watch. Lean’s version of Lawrence, however… I dono’ like so much. Oh, it is a magnificently made production…

First off, Kwai has almost nothing to do with the true story upon which it is based. (Information about the bridge at Kwai was smuggled out and bomber aircraft blew it away.) But it doesn’t really claim to be factual, that I can tell. It’s obvious that these characters are fictitious. And who actually thinks the Japanese placed people in command positions who were that, erm… helpless? River Kwai is simply a beautifully produced bit of historical fiction that endeavors to spark thought.

Lawrence of Arabia, on the other hand… This film is frequently interpreted as fact. Perhaps it is that Kwai feels close-up, while Lawrence feels more distant and epic. Most people I have spoken to about T. E. Lawrence view the film as a genuine biography—and most disgusting of all is that many biographers have themselves been deeply influenced by the film’s warped lens.

The film is, however, only consistent with reality in a certain framework of large events. Lawrence was assigned to Arabia where he rallied tribes together and led them against the Turks;, and then was left watch as the tribes' lands were given to other governments. Hardly any truth is left in about any of the events that caused the ones just mentioned, and Lawrence’s actual experiences and true person are almost entirely absent.

For instance, Lawrence did not gain respect among the Arabs for fighting Turks while possessed with a god-complex. Lawrence never even advanced toward the door of insanity. He was respected instead by the Arabs because, at first, he was a genuinely valiant man with guts and shrewd, unconventional thinking. That respect grew later due to a certain self-destructive recklessness, yes, but not for the reasons of the movie. Rather, he risked himself heroically in battle because he was covering up the British betrayal (something the film claims he didn’t even know about) and hoped to some extent to be killed in honorable battle, rather than live with a guilty conscience. This, while in itself disturbing, is a far more interesting motivation to study than the fictionalized one.

David Lean’s portrayal of Lawrence pretty well qualifies as character assassination, actually. The god-complex, the sadism, etc.
And in the end, when the fictitious version of Lawrence learns that the British promise of Arab self-government has been snatched away, T.E. stands mute. He seems somehow either used-up or unwilling to fight any longer.
But this portrayal, in which T.E. learns what he had not and is disowned by Prince Feisal as a disloyal Britisher is a direct reversal of the truth. Lawrence, having actually long known of the betrayal, was harsh toward himself while Feisal continued to trust the man. Why? Because the real T. E. Lawrence was, as I have said, a man of true valor.

He stood by Feisal as a trusted adviser in Western political waters. He fought for Feisal in places Feisal either could not or would not go. He finally allowed his heroics to be widely publicized, specifically so as to give more weight to his figure and thus grant himself more political influence on Feisal’s behalf.


I'm kind of upset with myself for having written this in such a disjointed and rambling manner. But then, it's a big issue and I'm glad I've managed to touch upon the parts I have. Maybe, I should write my own biography of T.E.L. Hmm...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made

It’s a Wonderful Life is a good movie. Really, it is. The creativity going into shaping the characters, the way it builds itself up—it is a finely crafted film, if a fluffy one at times. It doesn’t deserve the derision it’s been getting due it’s “we are forced to see this thing on TV every year” proliferation.
But then, it doesn’t really deserve the extreme elevated status it is given by some with fuzzy feelings for everything ritualistic. And no, it is not the greatest Christmas movie ever made.

That would be The Lemon Drop Kid [1951]. Never heard of it? It starred Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell (one of the prettiest actress in world history, despite the almost colorless hair), and was based on a tale from the great Damon Runyon. I do mean the great Damon Runyon.

Many films of the great Bob Hope are dis-jointed collections of gags and stunts (frequently well-done) with no real reason for the movie itself. Not so here. Lemon Drop Kid is the story of a small-time con-worker, short on brains but long on personal intensity.

Well, dear old Sidney Melbourne (aka Lemon Drop) has just conned Moose Moran (by way of Moosie’s belle of a mistress) out of ten grand. Not so bad, except Lemony hasn’t got the dough either. The race track does. And Moose is about ready to sick his personal surgeon on Melbourne’s kidneys and other parts.

But, the Christmas spirit (and the promise of repayment) gets to the crime boss. He generously gives the Lemon Drop Kid the 23 shopping days until Christmas to get to N.Y. and pull a big enough job to repay the lost loot. If the punk don‘t come through, to quote Moran addressing the Kid, come Christmas Day you’ll find your head in your stocking.

And what’s the big plan with the big payoff? Use a bunch of destitute old broads to con every man, woman, and child in New York out of their pocket change, then dump the old dolls right out on the street. How much Christmassier can ya get?

Of course the beautifully conceived designs soon encounter obstacles. One is a local tough with agonized feet (who actually pays his income tax) named Oxford Charlie. Charlie plans to muscle in and over on the title character: take the dough, get in good with Moose, and let Sam the Surgeon open the kid up for Christmas.

The show closes with a bang, believe me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

“That’s Inappropriate”

It’s overused. It’s a copout. Why do I bring it up? ‘Cause I got caught using it.

There are times when something truly is just inappropriate. Showing a film graphically depicting the Holocaust to a second-grade girl-scout troupe or boys' choir—that’s inappropriate. Wrong setting, you know. But the movie itself is not necessarily bad, it just shouldn’t be used to educate little kids about something so terrible.

I picked an extreme example, perhaps, but I hope it conveys my message.

But these days all sorts of things are labeled “inappropriate.” It’s a way to avoid being confrontational—but beyond that, it’s a way to be a wuss.

So, when a guy made a flippant joke about human inbreeding (I’m trying to be polite here), and I said, “Now, that’s inappropriate,” to shut him up, I was in need of some cold water in the face. It took a seventh grader to give it to me, and he did. “No,” he said, “that’s just wrong.” He was absolutely right.

May I never substitute “inappropriate” for “wrong” again.

Winter Vision


It's not snow. It's not even a pretty picture. But it's... intriguing. And I like it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Or Maybe the Fever?

I think I'm going to have to blame that last rather peculiar post on my sleepwalking problem.

Anyway, I feel much better today.

Laughter... Medicine?

I just found out that laughing hysterically while unable to breath through the nose makes me look stupid.

But I also look stupid when I laugh under normal circumstances.

P.S. This seem like I was sleepy when I wrote it?

Monday, December 12, 2005

“A Flame to Melt”

I'm not much for poetry. Actually, I've gone so far in the past as to say that I hate poetry.
It was an overstatement, but one that I still find convenient (perhaps even comforting) from time to time. And I do hate most poetry.
But there are the occasional bits I enjoy indulging in. (Take this magnificent specimen, penned by the friend of a friend.)

Perhaps my favorite poet is none other than the author of “America's Only Epic” (only? rubbish!), Herman Melville. Hardly ever read for anything except Moby Dick, Billy Budd, Typee, or Omoo (and not really for the last two, even) anymore, Melville was a masterful poet.

Take this, one of Melville's finest:


Art [1891]
In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob's mystic heart
To wrestle with the angel—Art.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Under the Tree

Ever since I was old enough to have reasonable control of my motor neurons and good sensory perception at my fingertips, I have proudly been a Christmas snoop. With a code.

The central precept of that code: No destruction. This includes ripping off tape, poking holes in the wrapping, etc. Of course, if an opening happens to be there already, it’s fair game so long as it doesn’t get any larger.

The reason of the exercise is not, as has been accused, impatience or greed. Rather, it is simply a place to put my Holmesian (or Sherlockian, as Mr. Nicholas Meyer would have it) genius to use.

And while I have been at this since I was a little-bitty guy, 2005 must go down as the first year I have published my findings for all to see.


*One standard snap-case DVD, not Artisan/Republic or 20th Fox by the lack of cross-bars at the finger-catch (and certainly not Warner Bros, as that would not be a standard snap-case at all). Probably with those added “tear off and discard” (I never do) lock-snaps, which would point toward a Paramount release.

*A card-board slip case I at first assumed to enclose some special-edition book. But, the case happens be the perfect dimension for DVDs, so I took a closer look. It certainly does not include any discs in standard snap-cases, but on running a finger down one side I would say it has several mini snap-cases inside. Consistent with a collection I have been specifically pining for.

*One trade paperback, new.

*One CD, new, in crystal case.

*One (or two) DVD(s) in a distinctive squared-off case, presumably special edition. One suspicion arises here, due to a recent release’s similarly unusual casing.

*One thick, nicely-bound hardcover book. Circa 1935-40 by the thickness and/or wear of the spine corners, dictating a slight lean. Dimensions and binding are consistent with period publications from Harcourt, Brace & Co and Random House, both of which published some good anthologies in that time frame. Lettering direction on spine typical of European editions.
This one indicates the purchaser made a trip to Half-Price Books.

*Three used VHS tapes with cardboard slip-covers, separately wrapped. Also consistent with an excursion to Half-Price Books.


All of this was determined by simple deductions from dimension, balance, and a goodly amount of finger-running. None of my special “tricks.”
No, this time around I didn’t even use the old stand-by of forming dry-ice crystals in the wrapping-paper, rendering it more or less transparent.

The Real Thing

The last couple of posts have basically been “playing army,” but this one deals with a real soldier.

When I learned through one of my magazine subscriptions that a veteran was looking for a war poster that included him, I got busy. Found it, and sent him a link to this.

He wrote back thanking me and included some fascinating details:

“This is the one which I thought I would never see again.
This was taken on a train coming from Louisville, KY
I was on leave going to
see my mother before I shipped overseas.
The one about five back in uniform
with cap on right side is me. I am sitting on the arm of seat.”

Confirmation


You scored as Special Forces.

You are a Special Forces operator. Stealthy insertions is what you're about, the elite warriors of the civilized world. Able to insert, extract, and fight in all forms of terrain, you are the envy of regular soldiers.

Special Forces


95%

Airborne


75%

Combat Pilot


55%

Regular army


45%

Guerilla


40%

Marine/Corpsman


35%

What type of soldier are you
created with QuizFarm.com



...but this one sadly lacks a pic of the Fusil Automatique Leger (a battle-rifle I had actually never before seen fire, even in a photograph).

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sneaky?


You scored as Special Ops.

Special ops. You're sneaky, tactful, and a loner. You prefer to do your jobs alone, working where you don't come into contact with people. But every once in a while you hit it big and are noticed and given fame. You're given the more sensitive problems. You get things done, and do what has to be done.

Special Ops


81%

Medic


75%

Combat Infantry


75%

Engineer


75%

Support Gunner


69%

Officer


44%

Artillery/Armor


31%

Civilian


0%

Which soldier type are you?
created with QuizFarm.com


Hmm... Not too bad, I guess. But "Civilian = 0%"? I could never (and would never attempt to) qualify for ‘conscientious objector’ status, but I'm most definitely a civilian at the moment.

But hey, how can I argue when I'm depicted sweeping up the enemy with the superb Fabrique Nationale 280 FAL in my hands?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Ugh

All day yester I had unreasonable pain/burning/etc emanating from my left side, particularly the forearm, along the major neuro-pathways. This was followed, late last night, by more fever symptons.

It's bad enough today that I have (between all those things that one does due to the nature of illness) sat and watched almost four hours of DVDs. Kojak and Batman for starters.

But also on the list was “You've Got Mail.” It reminded me of the first time I saw, which happened to be the first time I ever watched a DVD and at which time I happened also to be fairly sick. Also brought to mind was the first time I listened to it on stereo monitors while watching it on a mono TV, an experience I repeated this time through.

“You've Got Mail” has some of the best sound design/editing I've ever heard. The delicate tones of the shopping cart in ZABAR'S, the cut facilitated by Birdie's sandwich bite becoming a paper sack in Kathleen's kitchen. Great stuff.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It’s Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

Yesterday was cold. It began at 40-something and steadily dropped throughout the day, finally resting at 20 degrees Fahrengraad. There was plenty of freezing rain (as I learned when I stepped outside and at once caught some in the eye), too. This morning I took some quite pretty photographs of the natural ice sculptures about. I might even be tempted to post one or two...

For tonight, one foreseer predicted a temperature of 12F. Wow.
Temps in the 70s are expected within a couple of days, though.


In other news…

I caught an episode of NBC’s “E-Ring” last night. The Christmas episode, naturally.
My summary: Boy, does this show want to be “JAG.
And I would have to say it does a pretty good job of emulating most of that show’s flaws from it’s last few (fallen) seasons.


And…

Today I put together a new ensemble, fashioned around my new gray sport coat.
Gray. Just call me Gregory Peck. No problem. But you don’t have to try this.

More seriously, the jacket is part of an inheritance (graciously granted me by other survivors) of clothes after my maternal Granddaddy’s recent departure. I wear it in his honor. In that vein I will be wearing the tie-clip I wore to his funeral and, for the first time in 2005 (and probably sometime before that) I will don a white dress shirt.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

“I didn't even know they were sore at us!”

It is 2:25 in the afternoon and the radio is tuned in to the big ball game. It‘s being broadcast by 710 AM WOR and aired over Mutual, the network of confederated radio stations created by the Lone Ranger.
The Brooklyn Dodgers are at the New York Giants today.

It’s still going! He’s up to the 25… And it hits hard on the 27-yard line! Bruiser Kinard made the pass

Ward Cuff has returned the Dodgers kickoff when, just as the minute hand slides past the 25-mark and into 2:26, announcer Len Sterling breaks in with what went out over the wire barely two minutes earlier.

We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this important bulletin from the United Press:
"Flash, WASHINGTON—— The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor."
Stay tuned to WOR for further developments to be broadcast as received.

This was the first that any mainland American public heard of the blasts that would lead the U.S. into the “War in Europe.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Introducing Genius

Until recently, my contact with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work was limited to his short stories. I have read nothing approaching all of them, of course—rather, only a tiny percentage. But none of those I had read impressed me.

When they were written their storytelling was innovative and interesting. Now, I can see the ending from page one. That is probably a big part of my disappointment with these tales, but it is not its full extent. Even were they to seem original (which, actually, they largely are—it’s the later rip-offs that aren’t), I suspect I would be put off by the “nugget of wisdom” each is constructed around.
Even so, I continued to hold Hawthorne in high regard.

I am now justified in doing so, having read The Scarlet Letter.
While it is sometimes classed as allegory, this novel is grounded much more in reality than are the majority of Hawthorne’s works. The plot is not entirely predictable, and here the author’s characterizations are given the breathing room needed to develop extra dimensions.

The Scarlet Letter is impressive on many levels. From a historical standpoint, I particularly enjoyed the prismatic view of Puritan New England. Hmm… ‘prismatic’? Does that convey what I want it to? Whatever.

Yes, I have definitely found my favorite Hawthorne. (Of those I’ve read, of course.)
But it’s not the story of Hester Prynne and her mark of the adulteress. That one takes second place.

More enjoyable to me personally than the novel was it’s introduction, entitled “The Custom House.” Goodly sized, it took me longer to read it than the book it preceded, if only because I didn’t want to miss anything. It is the autobiographical tale of Hawthorne as a politician. Well, not politician exactly. But a politically elected official.

A brilliantly hilarious account of (among other things) bureaucracy in action, “The Custom House” left me with an intense desire to read more of Hawthorne’s work in this vein of personal revelation.
Yes, the man can construct a reasonable narrative, but how much more fun to hear his relating his inner thoughts on such people as the man who never forgot a meal!

Now, I must read Blithedale. It’s crossed my mind before, but now I am resolved…

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Pines of Texas

It is cool today, finally. It is lovely. The high is below 55F, and the wind is arriving in satisfying gusts.

Well, on a different note, I stopped in for lunch today at the areas newest chicken joint. Sprite, biscuit, corn on the cob, three fried legs, and four huge jalapeños. Not bad, either.

On the wall over my booth was a very nice photograph with a caption claiming to celebrate the local pine trees. Just one hiccup: the trees in the frame were all oaks. Oops.

Life Imitates Weather

Yes, warm milk is a traditional beddy-bye indulgence.
But even if I were to want a less chilly mug of the good stuff, I would want it to be so because I had warmed it personally. Not because it came out of the fridge that way.

Over the last week that creamy beverage had been getting closer and closer to room temp. The thermostat was maxed out, and it just got warmer. And the ice cream got softer.

So yesterday we packed all refrigerated items into insulated and ice-filled boxes, awaiting the delivery of a new electric ice-box from the good folks at Sears.
When you live where the sky don’t snow, the least you can do is give yourself ice for Christmas...

The kid to deliver our 50-year-old Norge's replacement turned out to be the friend of a friend, and seems like a solid guy. I was, unfortunately, on my way out at that moment. Then again, I seldom just sit and bother people yakking.

And now a sturdy-looking white pillar sits in the kitchen, encompassing the pleasures of food and drink. The shelves and such on the inside are all transparent, like something out of Minority Report or some other future-flick.

And you know, this the first time since 1994 that a refrigerator light has come on in my home. If, that is, you don't count the four months living with a minifridge in Europe.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Plead the Sixth

I'm looking right at the box. It contains almost a full pound of 'em.
They are chocolate. Surrounding caramel. Surrounding pecans.

Can you say Merry Christmas?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Out of Order

Largely held as Dashiell Hammett’s most innovative creation is that of the couple Nick and Nora Charles. Lowly imbibing P.I. and high-society wife, they cracked and laughed their way merrily through the world of murder. Or so they say.
Their particular brand of comical wit paired with the gritty whodunnit created quite a stir way back when.
Someday I shall have to read the book. For now, I’m watching the movies. What ones I can watch without buying, which are the last three (no work of Hammett’s). The first three still elude me, so I shall perhaps end up buying The Complete Thin Man Collection in the end. After all, the original The Thin Man [1934] is the one with the repute.

Tonight, I have now seen the final Nick & Nora film, Song of the Thin Man [1947]. Nothing great, but not as off-puttingly ridiculous as Shadow of… [1941] was in places. Yes, for a bit of light entertainment in that black and white and moustached style, it’s enjoyable.

The solution I arrived at before Mr. Charles himself, and I didn’t have to set any corny trap to do so. Still, I didn’t exactly have a case built up for the D.A. to use yet.
But for a detail-oriented puzzle (as all of the series’ final three are, which is consistent with what of Hammett’s I’ve read), I outdid the screenwriter’s themselves, me thinks. Continue reading for my justification of this bit of ego (and thus total plot spoilage):

When Nicholas overhears a cop’s comment that “ballistics’ is havin’ trouble wit’ der bullit,” (or equivalent) he concludes the piece to fire the fatal shot was either a custom job or an antique. Antique firearm’s happen to figure in at another point, so it seemed like a good lead to follow up.

Well, a musician (not rock-n-roll) named Buddy Hollis (the sadly forgotten Don Taylor in a role that is understandably so) turns up in a rest home, cracked of the mind. He has an antique handgun on him, one that someone admitted leaving on a countertop before the murder and which hasn‘t been seen since. He confesses to the original killing just before firing the pistol off.
Mr. Charles concludes the boy is innocent--because he missed this time. I came to the same conclusion a different route. My case was that he fired it at all...

The flintlock had been loaded by an antique gun collector the night the murder was committed, with the possible intent being the commission of a different murder (one that never went over). The gun got left unattended and finally it shows up in the aforementioned incident.
I asserted that the gun wasn’t the instrument of destruction of the initial crime. It’s single shot. Who reloaded it? A kid named Buddy Hollis holed up in a private sanitarium who wouldn’t know where to buy black powder even he wasn’t loopy? Nah.

But in the end, the gun is explained to have fired that first lethal shot. It was there (on a cruise ship) palmed off that night on Hollis, who’s alcoholic consciousness convinced itself it was guilty of a terrible sin—sending him into a state of shock. Hollis then took the piece away with him when his girl ferried him to the rest home. So who was on hand with the loose powder, the cotton swabbing, and the molded lead projectile?
Nobody.

There, I blew the story out of the water. Where’s my prize?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Worm to Turn (Heads)

What's with the ridiculously contrived title? Today, looking at a textbook sine wave, I was taken back to an incident...


It's a cockroach. It's in the middle of the brightest room in the building, wandering around in the light feet away from the nearest cover. Hardly appropriate cockroach behavior.
Aren't these things supposed to run from light? Hug the wall? Hide in massive shadows?
This is one certifiable cockroach.

I was lying in a bathtub when I saw this, soaking away the grime of a day of healthy work. I picked up what was probably a shampoo bottle and let the roach have it. His end came with a rather satisfying crunch for a soundtrack. No twitching. Hmm. And he felt kind of hollow on impact...

Then, a thread—no, more like a rather thick hair—rises in eerie slow-motion from the wreckage.
The hair, once fully out of the roach's body, measures a number of inches. It has the dull-yet-almost-shiny texture of raw, hard spaghetti, but is dark brown in color. And it moves as a sine wave.
The base of the wave rests on the tile floor, balancing the crests half-an-inch or more in the air. The movement itself is barely perceived as such. Rather, the rear of the wave just disappears as the same length is added to the front. The front seeming to be a round mouth-like-thing, like the end of a drinking straw.

This—this thing seemed more imaginary than real. What was I seeing? Whatever it was, it had to die. Smashing it didn't seem advisable under the circumstances, though.
Images of this inescapably parasitic evil inserting itself into my bare foot and weaving it's way through my body... I am not "grossed out" easily, but this was a highly unpleasant line of thought. I was going to off this hideous creature.

From underneath the sink I pulled a squirt bottle of 409 (marvellous for cleaning bathrooms) and a huge jug of pourable Lysol. One of these would kill this thing, surely.

Squirting 409 on it didn't seem to have any great effect (probably I just didn't watch long enough) so I poured on the other.
{TAKE NOTE: Never mix cleaning solutions! You don't know how they will react, as they may potentially create deadly clouds of gas and/or explode.}
Now something started to happen. Perhaps chemical warfare wasn't the best course of action. Whether it was or no, I sat and watched the abomination weave agonizingly as it died, finally coiling up into a little lifeless ring.

So what was it? No it was not the product of a brain tumor. But it does have to do with a brain disorder of sorts. No, not mine. Sheesh. The “thing” was quite real. The brain trouble was the cockroach's.

Previously unnamed here, the outlandish hair-thingy is officially Spinochordodes tellinii. A variant of the nematomorph or horsehair worm. It is a parasite, but hardly an orthodox one. This little outrage, after making it's way into it's hosts body (which it proceeds to eat until adulthood) punches part of itself (that round sharp mouth, perhaps?) into the host's brain. Into this brain it begins to secret proteins which control the host's actions for the rest of its existence.

That existence comes to a fairly sudden halt when the worm turns its host toward the water and makes it jump in. The host drowns and the now-mature nematomorph swims away to find a mate. It's offspring will then somehow end up in the innards of another host (a cricket, grasshopper, etc.) where it will mature until returning to it's aquatic lifestyle to spawn.


Fascinating are the memories a simple graphed wave can evoke, eh?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Trivialities and Machiavelli

I haven't been thinking over any deep, dark issues lately.
Well, actually I have. But my thoughts are not concluded enough to be posted here yet.
So today I post a diversion I ran across last night:


You Are Somewhat Machiavellian

You're not going to mow over everyone to get ahead...
But you're also powerful enough to make things happen for yourself.
You understand how the world works, even when it's an ugly place.
You just don't get ugly yourself - unless you have to!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Restrained Optimism

Perhaps I am beating a subject to death but...
Caught "House" tonight. I enjoyed it quite a lot, actually. I think perhaps it really is settling back into its old form.

Then again, I'm enough of a realist (some would say pessimist) not to make some sweeping statement such as "House is back!" or "Nothing can go wrong now!"
Honestly, who wants to be categorically optimistic right before a (possible) fall?

Time will tell what I can't.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Ultimate Question

I just don't get it. It simply makes no sense to me. (I could write out a dozen more of these short sentences communicating bewilderment, but will leave it at that.)

I wrestled with it, laughed at it, and finally decided just to post it here as a question. Maybe you can answer.

But why, why would a book of blank pages need it's own ISBN?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Eyes Wide Open

When I first read about the then-upcoming Walk the Line, bio-pic on the late Johnny Cash, I was surprised by the lead casting. I mean, Joaquin Phoenix as Cash? It seemed somehow... impossible.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Phoenix actually had an almost perfect look to portray the man in black. But the sound? That voice was supposed to pass for Cash’s deep bass? And he wasn’t just expected to talk for the man, he was gonna be singing.

Well, he pulled it off. There’s no risk of mistaking Phoenix vocally for the real thing, but it works even so.
And the look is a whole other story. By the end of the picture, Phoenix handling the guitar as it’s strap slides along his shirt’s black shoulder… It was as though Cash were on the stage.
Then again, my Cash knowledge is at best superficial. A heavyweight Cash fan might have a lot more problems here than I do.

The film itself was beautiful. Better than I had expected.

The story is, probably, somewhat familiar to you. Cash savagely tears apart his life even as he builds a massive music career, then makes his way to a happy ending. Some might categorize it as a standard redemption story, but it happens to be true.
And the handling was magnificent. The timing, the development, the weaving together of hints at song lyrics—everywhere it could have fallen flatly on its face it managed to make something quality instead.

The story is put on the screen with a craftsmanship of deceptive simplicity. Which is exactly what is needed here.
And the scenes in Folsom: Magnificent all the way.

Wish List ‘05: The Original Guide

$7-$140

I have long been familiar with Douglas Adams’ work. Familiar. That is, I’ve never read any of it, but I know the central ideas behind Hitchhiker’s and a few of his other storylines. And I am acquainted with the philosophical wit of his universe.

So why have I never read Hitchhiker’s? Time is one reason. There a far too many books on my to-read list without it. But, more to the point, I am a fan of radio drama.

Good radio drama almost entirely left our hemisphere with the advent of television. In the old country, however, it still exists in the form of BBC Radio. And the British Broadcasting Company (Radio 4, more specifically) holds the origin of Adams’ tale of an earthling and his extra-terrestrial pal thumbing their way across a post-apocalyptic (to the human, anyway) galaxy.

Why settle for anything but the original? Yes, I could just sit down and read the books, but when the original medium is one so dear to my heart you can hardly blame me for wanting to go there first.

The first two series (Primary and Secondary Phases) of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are the ones Douglas Adams’ wrote himself. They are both available on CD. Over here you may have to scrounge, but in the UK they are fairly proliferated. An EBay user in London is currently offering the original series for £3.70p (about $7 here). Or you may go elsewhere and spend almost $140 on some imported MP3 discs.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Out of the Running

Two years back now, a girl made something of a case for Runaway Bride [1999] as the best chick-flick. It seemed ill-advisable to disagree with a girl (girls being, one would imagine, experts) on this particular subject, particularly as I had never bothered to watch the film in question. Even so, I felt fairly confident that You’ve Got Mail [1998], Sense and Sensibility [1995], or either Pride and Prejudice miniseries [1980 & 1995] would top it on any list I might create.

Today, having seen Runaway Bride, I confirm my suspicion. It pales in comparison to those well-adapted Austens and to that agreeable AOL-inspired romantic comedy.

But, while Runaway wouldn’t win any awards I might be asked to dispense, I certainly enjoyed the first half of it. Nothing great (and the second half dragged laboriously to this easily-bored male), but enough for an occasional grin (which is all the standard comedy can expect to receive from me).

I could not watch this movie, however, without drawing a few comparisons between Julia Robert’s character and a friend of mine. It was almost as though this friend was on the screen, trying to make life miserable for the Richard Gere dude. She, however, is much more stylish in apparel, make-up, and such than her fictitious equivalent (or is she simply haughtier?).

Also not as quiet, less of a smiler, and nowhere NEAR as sweet.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Two Front Teeth

Thanksgiving is passed. (Or is that “past”?) Time to think of Christmas.

With that in mind, I am providing on my sidebar a “wish list” of good gift ideas. If I have a long-lost uncle with a wad of a few million, this is his chance to make contact.
The rest you are invited to just sit back and enjoy what an eclectic weirdo I am.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Some of us call the fourth Thursday in November “Thanksgiving (Day)” and consider it a day set aside for the pious duty of, well, thanks-giving. O.K, then.
Others, however, condense the day’s meaning to the simpler truths of football, gigantic balloons floating above has-been vocalists, and a slain bird. “Turkey Day.” Not an official holiday, but whatever.

For purists intent on the meaning of the rather large fowl sacrificed to gastronomical pleasures, I below present some marvelous truths about the lord of the meat-poultry.

The first turkeys eaten were of course hunted in the wild. These birds are hardly stupid. Then someone realized that wild turkeys, flying from place to place and dodging predators, developed rather tough muscles over the lifetime it took to grow a mealtime bulk. And the turkey farm was created.

These farmed birds were scientifically bred to produce meatier offspring. Meaning some guys in overalls went around saying, “That thar turkey rooster issun bit bigger than ‘tother, letsus marry him off to that-ther big gal o’ a turkey hen.” The farmer benefited by growing bigger, more profitable birds on less feed. But every silver lining has its cloud, and along with monetary blessing came the curse of having to deal with a really, REALLY brainless bird all day, every day, for years until either retiring or running oneself over with a tractor.

Yes, lots of tender meat and lots of yarn-for-brains are genetically connected in turkeys. Therefore, domesticated turkeys are dumb.

SO dumb that turkeys are known to starve while pacing back and forth in a feed trough, dragging their legs through almost a foot of prime turkey feed.

SO dumb that turkeys are known to drown in water troughs with less than a half-inch of water in which to die.

SO dumb that turkey hens drop eggs while standing up.

And yes, the egg tends to break in the fall. So, exactly why hasn’t the domesticated turkey died out yet? Survival of the fittest, right? I mean, if the turkey hen is so dumb as to destroy it’s own means of creating offspring…

Enter the pitiable turkey farmer and a charge on his credit card for rubber mats. That's right folks, turkey farms across the world are padded with rubber to prevent the destruction of all domestic turkey multiplication.
One problem, though…

For some unexplainable reason, turkeys like rubber. Not just like, crave. This is true. It’s the reason for home video of escaped turkeys eating away at the tires on parked cars.
What’s that? “You are what you eat”?
Hope you enjoyed your roasted rubber bird over the Holiday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Wish List ‘05: Polka CD

$5-$20

I came away from my one and only theme park experience with several things: an even greater appreciation for moving water, an even greater hatred for long lines, a sunburn (probably), a fair case of dehydration (definitely), and a thirst for German music.

A lot of hatred and scorn is reserved for polka amongst those who have never actually listened to it, I notice. I had never thought about the genre at all. But having heard it in all its glory, I proceeded to collect some now long-gone cassettes--most notably one called “Non-Stop Polka” (20 songs from Brentwood, not that “23 Hits” version now circulating) which included a full-lyrics version of “Chicken Dance.” Priceless.

If you’ve ever listened to good Tejano while driving you know what a beautiful instrument the accordion is. And while I have nothing bad to say about Tejano, if you haven’t heard the preceding accordion stylings of old Poland and Germany, you have yet to taste it‘s full sound. (And, no it is not polka when the accordion part is arranged for trumpet. The trumpet is a magnificent instrument, but let’s try to confine it to it’s proper musical styles.)

I just don’t get the fact that polka is considered a fringe style. A mass of art loved by a minority and perceived as a joke by everyone else. A major retail website has over 100 polka titles, but has them randomly categorized as everything from classical, folk, and jazz to country, rock, and disco. I mean, come on! A little respect as an art form, hmm?

While this haphazard classification system fails to meet any logical standards, it is interesting to note how many musical genera have been successfully adapted to polka rhythms. A cursory glance at some current polka titles reveals songs originally by the likes of Irving Berlin, Louis Armstrong, and Johnny Cash.
And “Walk the Line” as a polka isn’t half as bad as it first sounds.

Some songs to look for: “Chicken Dance,” “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Too Fat Polka,” “Henrietta Polka,” and (especially) anything actually in Polish or German.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Disorder in the HOUSE

Well, I’ve seen it.

House’s character seems to have been granted back some of his inner being, perhaps, while in pursuit of an unworthy cause. (A cause he has been after from just before the season’s inception.)

The rest of the cast, however, still seem lost to the random stupidity from which uninteresting shows like “The O.C.” get immature viewership. Or, just maybe, the creative team in back of things are trying to lead the characters back to their rightful places. Maybe.

I admit, the writers may be trying for excellence again.

But, whatever the answer to that question, tonight’s episode lacked the same sense of fun the show had last year.

Back to the HOUSE

Hugh Laurie has always been a great actor relegated to insignificant roles. Especially here in the Colonies. So, when he got his own TV show I wasn’t sure what to expect. It looked good, though.

Season One of “House, M.D.” was a great enjoyment to me. It chronicles nephrologist/infectious-disease-guy Dr. Gregory House and his over-qualified young staff as they hunt down obscure ailments. “Saving New Jersey from leprosy,” as one detractor put it (Chi McBride as worthy villain Vogler).

Good concept. Better execution.

House is a seemingly misanthropic doctor who will do anything to help people while adequately hacking them off.
His team consists of ‘the sweet girl,’ ‘the preppy,’ and a less abrasive version of the brilliant House himself: a med school graduate with perfect scores who was hired for his criminal record instead.
House’s best friend is an oncologist with some veiled marital problems and his boss is Miss By-The-Numbers who is hated for making him do free clinic work--where he has to deal with patients.

That walk-in clinic duty provides the dexterous comic-relief to the sometimes nauseating main storyline. It, the character’s staggered back-stories, and the occasionally shocking diseases, make up a fairly satisfying formula episode after episode.

That’s Season One.
We are now in Season Two.

For all of this new season I’ve been filming a class entitled “Elementary Hebrew.” For this reason I’ve only seen two episodes so far. Neither impressed me enough to take the bother to see the others.

It seems all that is left of the original series (as the Britisher star would refer to it) is an enhanced attempt to shock the viewer in one way or another. No, folks, the disgusting was not the only charm “House” originally held for the audience.
Now, it seems, House is portrayed as only a rather two-dimensional grumpus, while the staff is only interested in who is going to date whom. Boring.

Well, my class is on Holiday hiatus, and I am going to watch “House” tonight. I’ve allowed a big enough gap for it to march its way back to quality writing and character development in my absence.
I will be posting my impressions/opinions after the broadcast.

It is time to get well or keel over. Maybe this is why Mr. Laurie’s friends at the BBC seldom plan on more than one ‘series’ of a show…

Monday, November 21, 2005

Watterson's (Seemingly) Simple Genius

It’s something of a tradition. I don’t know when it started, but every year when it finally gets chilly enough to have on a space heater to warm the body I turn something else on to warm my heart.
This year it’s “There’s Treasure Everywhere, same as last year.
The year before that it was Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat.
But every year I pull down some “Calvin and Hobbes” collected volume and read it in its entirety.

We’ve all known a kid like Calvin; some of us have even been Calvin. He hates school, authority, unrecognizable foods, girls (especially that Susie chick), and anything boring. He loves free stuff, playing outside, and causing trouble.
Did I mention his best friend? His own imagination incarnate in the form of a stuffed tiger named Hobbes.

Honestly, if you’ve missed this phenomenon you must now cut a trail to a quality bookstore and lay down the 15 dollari for one of these oversize bundles of juvenile joy.

Whether Calvin is trying to sell his folks’ car, get his superhero persona out of his locker, or sway his dad’s parenting policies (either through “approval ratings” or making the case that toy purchases boost the economy), Calvin always has something to accomplish.

Hobbes is Calvin’s intellectual side. He may frown on humans (apes with ridiculous pink skin, to his thinking) and believe that the ladies only like a male with fluffy whiskers, but don’t put down this tiger’s reasoning skills. He also happens to scare Calvin silly with his raw power.
It has always intrigued me to note that Calvin is such a creative genius that his imagination itself can terrorize him.
Sometimes Hobbes may be waiting to maul his buddy when he arrives home from school, other times his tiger rage explodes unexpectedly at some overly-insulting gibe. Whatever the case, Calvin ‘knows’ Hobbes can make him into human hamburger meat with one pounce.

The genius of these dual personalities is only part of the series’ indestructible charm. Author/Artist Bill Watterson’s proficiency with pen adds a whole other visual brilliance to Calvin’s world.
Calvin’s ‘grumpy face,’ Hobbes ‘sly face,’ soiled Calvin after rooting around for worms (or ticking off the tiger), the alternate worlds of a boy’s imagination, Calvin’s snowmen (each with its own artistic or intellectual message!), or just the snow itself. Everything Watterson inks seems unbound from the two-dimensional world of paper on which it was born.

And it achieves a single marvelous effect—to give one a potent taste of childhood once again.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Happy Holidays, all 15 of 'em

I was passing by in Wal-Mart and someone I was with pointed a DVD out. It was in the "Holiday Classics" section, a series of shelves I generally glance over before crossing to the other side of the aisle. Yes, there are some good Christmas movies, but most of what pass as such these days make me want to find Scrooge and shake his hand.

Anyway, I followed the line of the outstretched finger and found myself looking at bargain-priced copy of Holiday Inn [1942]. Suddenly, I was excited. Holiday Inn. I hadn't seen that since I was, oh, maybe 7 years old.

Holiday Inn had left it's mark on me, somehow. As a child I had studied the dissolves, the blocking, the character design as it for some reason sparked my interest in filmmaking. Oh, there were better directed films to study, but perhaps that was why they didn't engage me as much in that way. Perhaps it was simply that Holiday Inn's style felt more attainable.
No, it was more than that. The dozens of 30's John Wayne B-pictures I had seen felt just as attainable--Holiday Inn seemed attainable while at the same time infused with a specifically-designed style.

Viewing it again after these years was quite an experience. I was aware of things I hadn't been previously, such as the potboiler construction of Hollywood musicals (though, thankfully, this was released by Paramount before MGM got its mitts on the concept and infused it with flashy technicolor stupidity). But I was far from disappointed.

Most scenes played out exactly as I had remembered (and flashed back to at various times over the years), including the opening sequence, the farm-life montage, and the "White Christmas" performances (later to be the basis of another, less worthy film with that song's name). Other scenes I recalled only at seeing them again, such as the exploding peach preserves and the marvelous St. Valentine's Day number.

The concept is that of a singer/song-writer (Bing Crosby) founding a show venue open only on holidays, that he might be lazy the rest of the time. To listen to him, this utopian plan is admirable if you can get away with it for yourself. Following the shows planned for an entire calendar worked especially well when I was younger, as it almost felt that the year was going by on screen.

The great Irving Berlin wrote all the music, and the credits state that the film is "based on an idea by" him. I have to wonder if that "idea" is the one Crosby's character is given in the story. After all, Berlin was himself a singer/song-writer, and to listen to his outlook on "the bugler" he was also a respecter of leisure. This theory is sweetened by the fact that before it's all over Crosby's idea is left in the hands of Hollywood film-makers (who are somehow portrayed as dream-killers in this respect). Hmm...

Holiday Inn is generally considered a Christmas movie (after all, it opens with and ends with Christmas, with another Christmas between). But really you couldst watch it for almost any holiday. That's the point after all, isn't it? I heartily recommend it for Independence Day, if only because of Fred Astaire--in probably his most villainous role--throwing lit firecrackers at his feet in a tap dance number. A real gem, even if handled technically poorly at its conclusion.