Friday, December 29, 2006

Dirty Dealings in Durham

Innocent is such a strong word. The Duke lacrosse team was already under double-secret probation for Animal House activities like underage drinking before the incident. While there are no James Hogans, Isaac Arhins, Walter Grays or Tim Bonners amongst these chuckleheads it is becoming more evident that the accused are not guilty of the crimes in which they are charged. And at the moment it is not against the law to be a chucklehead.

This column is a pretty good summary of how we got here. The most recent news is that the North Carolina Bar Association is filing ethics charges against DA Nilfong and it is apparent that after all charges are dropped and he gets sued by the chuckleheads Mr. Nilfong will be amongst the unemployed.
The case is now unraveling so rapidly as to be ridiculed on "Saturday Night Live." Mr. Nifong is on his way to being disbarred, unless North Carolina's legal establishment wants to be held up to national scorn. He faces lawsuits and at least a remote risk of federal criminal investigation. As for Durham's black leaders, and many in the media, and much of Duke's faculty, history will mark them down as enablers of abusive, dishonest law enforcement tactics. They will share responsibility for the continued use of such tactics, mainly against black people, after the Duke lacrosse players' innocence has become manifest to all serious people and the spotlight has moved on.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

We are all moving to Florida

New Jersey is projected to lose a seat in Congress in the next (2010) census because of population loss:

While some of the people leaving New Jersey are undoubtedly Baby Boomers aging into retirement, Hughes said New Jersey is no different from other states in this regard. A more likely culprit is the area's high cost of living, and its impact on the job market, he said.

"In the 1990s, we had the comfortable notion that we had a unique labor force, and the new Information Age jobs were willing to pay the high cost of staying here," he said. "But what we've seen so far in this decade is that the information economy jobs are stagnating in the Northeast but growing at higher rates in the Sun Belt."

New Jersey is not alone in facing this problem and its effect in Washington. If the population pattern holds, New York will lose two House seats and Pennsylvania will lose one and possibly another.

Sure, the weather's great down here, but there's another reason. "High cost of staying here" actually means "getting the meshuggah taxed out of you". That is why all these pro athletes live down here. Two things that Rush Limbaugh, Tiger Woods and I have in common is that we live in Florida and pay no state income tax.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dispatch from the cave

Yeah, even caves have wifi now. But other than comments I haven't been out much - here or real life. I needed a little retreat before the grand Christmas Expidition. (This year's World Tour has four stops from the 24th through New Year's Eve. I may have t-shirts done up.)

So, it's only fitting that I missed the results of the Weblog Awards when they came out. I did, however, manage to vote in them, and it's my pleasure to point out a few of the worthy winners here:
  • Individual Blog - James Lileks, "The Bleat" - the man is Pantheon, I tell you.
  • Military Blog - Blackfive. Well-earned.
  • Law Blog - The Volokh Conspiracy
  • Latino/Caribbean/South American - Babalu - way to go, Val!
  • #1751-2500 (in the TTLB ranks) - Parkway Rest Stop - Jim is a veteran of the Carnival of Jersey Bloggers; it's good times to see him hit big.
  • #5001-6750 - File it Under - Hoodlumman and company can now truly boast of having bested 1749 other blogs to win their category.
Not that all things were rosy. Willisms finished fifth in their category, which is a shame - I mean, dig this research and tell me that the man isn't worth his salt. Worst of all, the 2996 Project finished dead last in their category. Granted that it wasn't a blog in the traditional sense, but more akin to a Carnival - so in that case, couldn't it be singled out for a special mention, or put in a Best Carnvial Category? I won't speak for anyone else, but it was the best thing I've ever been associated with online.

And seriously - DIG THIS RESEARCH.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dar al Islam, Dar al Harb

Rod Dreher, an editorial page writer for the Dallas Morning News, confessing in his blog that he is resisting coming to the conclusion that America must separate itself from Islam to survive. And Muslim activists aren't helping:
What I keep seeing from these meetings is an attempt -- a sincere attempt -- to mau-mau the media into ignoring disturbing things going on in the American Muslim community. By all means we should cover the good stuff. The group the other day kept making the point, "You focus on the few bad things, and ignore all the good things." But charitable works don't somehow make it okay to include hate literature against Christians and Jews in your mosque, and certainly don't make it un-newsworthy. Being kind to others doesn't obviate concerns over what kind of fanatical jihad literature you're teaching to your teenagers. I do believe that most of the American media are unwilling to give this kind of thing the scrutiny it deserves. I'm pleased that my editorial board does not give them a free pass, and is not willing to turn a blind eye to this sort of thing -- even though it does cast into doubt the idea that Islam can be assimilated into American life.

I can attest that no one in the Tampa Bay media has die Kuglen to challenge Muslim activists in this way.

Monday, December 18, 2006

There is hope for me

Because my brain cells may come back:
LONDON (Reuters) - Excessive drinking can damage brain cells but the brain can repair some of the harm, a team of international researchers said on Monday.
But they warned alcoholics should get sober as quickly as possible because the longer they continue to drink heavily, the less likely their brains will be able to regenerate.

Emily made me

After all, it is Musical Monday - so these comments spurred me on to finish a little something something I'd been cooking up.

Wash away my troubles
Wash away my pain
Going to the movie hall

Wash away my money
Wash away my brain
At a film by Shyamalan

Awooooh, yeah
Hey hey hey hey hey

Everything is spooky
Everything is strange
In a film by Shyamalan

All the acting's sluggish
All the writing's lame
In a film by Shyamalan

Awooooh, yeah
(Ain't that a spooky sound)
Awooooh, yeah
(Must be something profound)

Transparent plot twists in a film by Shyamalan
Ham-handed edits in a film by Shyamalan

I can tell a ghost
By the color on the screen
In a film by Shyamalan

I can see the twist
By the end of the third scene
In a film by Shyamalan

Awooooh, yeah
Hey hey hey hey hey

Why do they greenlight all these films by Shyamalan?
Aliens, ghosts, and crooks in the films of Shyamalan
Everything's skin-deep in a film by Shyamalan
Hope I don't fall asleep at the film by Shyamalan

Awooooh, yeah
Hey hey hey hey hey...

Holiday tag

The Boy Named Sous has passed it along, and I'm in the holiday spirit, so off I go.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
I can only nog at Chirstmastime. Hot chocolate is a more common treat, but around the holidays I stir it with a peppermint stick or a candy cane.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
"Santa" went on all-night wrapping binges in our family; when the eldest elf (your truly) passed the point where he knew what was up, he pitched in.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
Colored lights on the tree. I don't remember putting up lights on the house all that often; we used to have the old-style humongous bulbs that could survive a smack with a hammer. It got to the point where we couldn't replace them when they burned out so the house went without. However, one thing I will insist on in Casa Nightfly is uniform outdoor lighting - it looks so ghetto when one bush is white, one is multi, and each awning is done in a different solid color, only one of which blinks.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Now that I have a reason.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Mom's side of the family tends to toss them up early December, as did we; my Dad's side will wait. Ladybug's family is somewhere in between. The common thread is that it's a family event, and everyone decks the halls together. We made up for the lack of outdoor lighting by festooning everything inside - garland along the hallway, a large card display, tree front and center in the living room.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
We go for the seven fish feast on Dad's side, which makes it hard to pick. I always enjoy Mom's lasagna, too, and of course we had it every Christmas.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child:
Going downtown and seeing all the various shops getting ready for Christmas. Few if any were a destination for holiday shopping - the Minuteman Press, the bank, a small C-Town, the bakery, a pizzeria - but all got into the spirit, and of course some of the buildings had apartments above with lights twinkling from their windows.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
Gradually, I guess. I don't remember any classmates blurting. My brother and sister are much younger than I, so after I got the memo I had to conspire with our parents to keep the dream alive for them. In both my family and Ladybug's there is still the occasional gift from Santa left under the tree.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Actually, Dad's side of the family opens them all shortly after midnight. Mom's side (the way we usually did it growing up) waits until the day, as does my fiancee. As a result, we get to go north to my cousins, open a small batch there, and then come home for more in the morning.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
Same as Brian, actually - lights, garland, ornaments. We have some traditional bulbs and things that have been around since before I was born, and a nativity set that possibly predates my Mom. These things are very old, all made in Italy, and not easily replaced now. Then there's stuff that we kids made that go onto the tree.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?
Love it. Here in Jersey it usually doesn't happen until mid-to-late January; we almost never actually have snow on the day.

12. Do you ice skate?
Shame of shames - Goalie Boy has actually never tried to ice skate. I fall down a lot on roller blades and have been a little gun-shy about stepping up in class, though my friends all say it's actually easier than roller skating. Someday I plan to spend the money on a season in Hockey North America's beginner level, where they teach you what you're doing before turning you loose.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I don't remember the gifts so much as the Christmas back on Long Island where the heat failed. We had a kerosene heater for the living room and a small electric space heater for the bathroom. Everyone pretty much took turns opening stuff in the loo and then coming out for hugs and thank-yous. It was a lot of fun.

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you?
The whole package adds up for me - seeing my family is best, especially those in Florida, but I enjoy the fun of hunting down that perfect gift for my loved ones, the weather as it starts to turn, the decorations... I'm a Christmas junkie.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Mom's homemade cream puffs, the moreso because she went about fifteen years without making them. (I'm still working on a delivery system to the panhandle, btw...)

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
The long drive down to Florida to see my family - it's a new thing, but quite fun, especially trading greetings with all the folks I meet on the way. A little holiday adventure never hurts.

17. What tops your tree?
A star.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?
Giving. I love seeing people's faces light up when they really like their gift. When I was little I confess it was the other way around, and it wasn't until I had a kid brother that I started to see things the right way round.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?
We Three Kings, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and the original instrumental Sleigh Ride.

20. Candy canes:
As mentioned above, great for stirring cocoa. In fact, answering the question above made me run off to put it into practice. Mmmmm.... minty cocoa.....

21. Favorite Christmas movie?
Miracle on 34th Street.

22. What do you leave for Santa?
I think the first hint to whom I was actually leaving things was leaving coffee exactly the way Dad liked it, along with cookies with a lot of icing (which my folks knew that I wouldn't eat).

So - I'm supposed to also tag some other folk to answer. It's not my usual practice - but again, it's the holidays, and it's all about sharing! Sheila, Tracey, and the Barking Spider - you're on.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Kerry On, Wayward Son

This post is second hearsay, from Matt at Blackfive via NRO's The Corner.

This reminds me of Hillary's trip to Iraq, from her photo with a G.I. (who is giving the "duress" sign) to the naming of her helicopter "Broomstick One".

Be advised, this is not a news story but a blogpost. After your read it you will know why I couldn't resist.

Friday, December 15, 2006
Jon Carey in Irak [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
Via Matt at Blackfive :

RE: Reception of John Kerry by troops in Iraq.Usually, the way it works is that (1) either a combat commander plays host for the visiting politician or (2) they find a bunch of troops from Massachusetts and make them hang out with Kerry at the Palace (Hillary does that). One of my Army buddies, a lieutenant colonel in MNF HQ, said this about the meeting planning the glorious return of John Kerry to Iraq:

Hey, I just came from a meeting where they were trying to get some commander, any commander, in the Green Zone, to host Jawn Carri.

Swear to God, the CG is saying, "You can't tell me you ALL have things going on at that time! Come on!"

So, it appears that JF'nK will be coming to the Palace at the Embassy Annex and sitting around sucking up coffee at the Green Bean while we all try to ignore him.

Me, I'm gonna get a picture with him.When he says commanders, he's talking about Colonels. I deleted his next sentence. It's not for folks of gentle persuasions. Let's just say he's not going to wash his hands before meeting the Senator.

Richard Cory

WHENEVER Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

-Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

Student Commits Suicide at Pennsylvania School:

ERDENHEIM, Pa. (AP) -- After pledging to improve his falling grades, Shane Halligan ate breakfast with his family, went off to school, and took his own life.

The 11th-grader was an Eagle scout and volunteer firefighter who planned a career in the military. But the poor grades he brought home on his report card Monday led his parents to warn him to focus on school.

"The picture that's emerging is he was despondent over (the fact) his grades are down, his parents are taking appropriate steps to limit extracurricular activities to get the grades up, and he saw the things that he felt were important in his life being taken from him," Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor said.

Friday, December 15, 2006

We'll try to do this once a week

The following is a project I’ve decided on to keep my brain sharp and to give me a fun sideline whenever I tire of wrestling with the Mother Of Unfinishable Stories. It’s simple – I have a hockey simulator that duplicates the experience of a general manager. It’s mega-detailed, with literally scores of minor leagues, all the way down to high school level. You don’t actually play the games like in the NHL series, and you don’t even have to coach the team in games. You just worry about running the front office, with all that it implies. It’s up to you to put together the team and pay it. You wield an army of scouts and handle the draft based on their recommendations; negotiate the contracts; you can even reprimand or fine players for mouthing off to the press or dogging it during games. You can complain to the league office about the referee of your last game, if you want to (though they may fine you). Put it this way – you don’t have to know the NHL collective bargaining agreement to play, but it helps.

Anyway, it took three fake years, but my club (the Florida Panthers) won the last Stanley Cup. As often happens in real life, the faux Panthers have given total access to a humble beat writer (heheheheh) to tell the story of how a simulated sports franchise handles a season as the defending champion.. So here I go – it will be in serial form, so I won’t be going back to revise or edit large sections as I would if it were a “book.” What you get is what you get, as I simulate it day to day. Of course, any “predicting” that occurs about player movement and such is likely to be strangely accurate, but since I don’t have actual players and staff to interview, I have to make up for it somehow.

And, just so everyone’s clear – unless we're talking about a future draftee, anyone appearing in a North American pro league is represented by name in this game, from mortal-lock Hall of Famers to that sixth-round pick last year who had two games in the ECHL. This includes staff and coaches. Even the trainers of the Florida Panthers are accurately identified. Obviously any “quoting” of such will be fictional; the events will be “accurate” in that they actually happened in the simulator. Nobody sue me, OK?

Chapter One is below. Enjoy!

Chapter 01

Silver chalice: $48.67
Thirty-five pound base: market price, updated every 13 years
Professional sports franchise: $43,375,500
Custom engraving: priceless.

There’s a trick to running a sports franchise, part science and part alchemy; which is as much as to say, you’re always a genius until you aren’t anymore. Currently, the Florida Panthers are run by a genius named Mike Beginner. [OK – really. That’s the name I used for the game. Again – don’t sue me. –NF]

He started in life as a goaltender on Long Island, dreaming of a chance to represent his hometown team in the National Hockey League. It didn’t work out quite as he’d hoped. Playing hockey on roller skates doesn’t translate well, and he couldn’t earn a scholarship to a Division I school, and couldn’t afford the tuition to attend one and then walk on.

Plan B has worked out quite well so far; but on this day, the “genius” feels rather at a loss. He is sitting at a makeshift desk in the chilly bowl of Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center, three weeks after the Florida Panthers claimed their first-ever Stanley Cup. With him are the assistant General Manager, David Thomas, and the head coach, Jacques Martin. On the other end of Beginner’s cel phone is his head scout, Darwin Bennett. Surrounding them are myriads of chiming phones and faxes, the glow of laptop computers, and the personnel of the other 29 NHL teams debating their picks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

The Panther’s next draft choice will be the 41st overall. Thomas and Bennett are leaning towards defenseman Gabriel O’Connor, a player they’ve favored for several weeks as the team’s scouting picked up steam; Martin, finally freed to consider the future after nearly ten months of day-to-day preparations, is more of a fan of winger Kellan Tochkin.

Beginner’s choice is Maickol DeLuca, a rough-and-tumble winger unearthed by scout Mike Yandle on a swing through Europe; recommended as a strong two-way forward much in the mold of current Panthers stalwart Nathan Horton. Beginner is trying to solve a problem that won’t happen for five years – Horton, Anthony Stewart, Kenndal McArdle, and Michael Frolík will be their top four wingers, as long as he can figure out a way to pay everyone. He’s looking for someone who will be willing to do the unglamorous third-line work, a player with the necessary speed and love of physical play to mark the opponent’s best scorers, not worrying about their own goal-scoring numbers. Given that he’ll be on the hook for at least $12 million per year for the other four, he won’t be able to simply sign a proven free-agent for the job. It has to happen from within the organization. The four players already mentioned were all first-round Panthers selections over the past decade, as were center Stephen Weiss and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

There is little time remaining for the debate. Seven minutes ago, the New York Islanders took centerman Alexander Lechenne with their own pick, putting the Ottawa Senators on the clock. They took barely any time of their own before making their own selection: with the tenth pick of the second round (40th overall), forward Aiden Harris of the Barrie Colts. Beginner shrugs to himself. If O’Connor had come off the board he could have pushed DeLuca a little more strongly. Two years prior, he had done so for defenseman Ryan Wilson, now a highly promising player, but it’s not something he does often. “I have to trust the people I’m working with,” he confides later that day. “If not, they can’t trust me and they won’t be able to do their jobs.” Besides, he also recalls the 2005 draft, when then-GM Mike Keenan bowed to his own assistants and chose McArdle. He’d not been a fan of the choice at the time, but was impressed by Keenan’s willingness to be persuaded, a quality that few in the press would credit given the popular image of Keenan as a martinet and taskmaster in his previous NHL jobs.

Current-GM Beginner kept it in mind even as McArdle shuffled back and forth to the AHL affiliate in Rochester for the next two seasons; even as he posted a horrible five points in forty-two games in 2007-08 and suffered a beating in the local press. Beginner thought about it when no fewer than five teams inquired to his availability in trades over the years. He decided to be persuaded as well by Rochester’s head coach, Randy Cunneyworth, an NHLer himself and one of McArdle’s warmest advocates in the organization. He turned down four of the deals and convinced the fifth team, Edmonton, to accept instead another former first-rounder, Rostislav Olesz, who had been so badly dismayed by the retirement of center Joe Nieuwendyk in 2006.

McArdle eventually repaid the patience by posting 26 goals and 24 assists in 54 games during the recently-concluded season, and adding 23 more points in the Stanley Cup run. Even as Horton’s development into a top-flight player meant that Todd Bertuzzi could be traded, so McArdle’s progress marks current starter Paul Kariya as a valuable bargaining piece. It’s long odds that his five million per year salary will fall to the Panthers once the new season starts on October 5th, against the same Flyers whose home arena plays host to the current crisis.

Finally, with time winding down, Thomas asks, “What do you think?”

“I think that whatever we don’t already have on the blueline, we can get when we deal Paul,” Beginner replies carefully. “We already have Wurzer. We won’t be able to take DeLuca later, but there are still good defenders we can have at sixty.”

“We can’t afford Paul,” Thomas replies. “Obviously we can’t afford a player of equal value coming back. And we don’t really have leverage because everyone knows it. We can’t play him until the deadline and wait for someone to really knock us dead with an offer.”

Bennett, who expected O’Connor to be gone in the first round, agrees. Mario Wurzer, the Panthers’ first round pick (30th overall), was also expected to be a higher choice, but the first round had been dominated by forwards, starting with the consensus #1, center John Tavares of Belleville, a teammate of Florida’s own Bryan Cameron (2nd round, 2007). Beginner, in fact, had already filled out a card with the name of centerman Leo Riddell of the Guelph Storm, and then sat amazed as the seven teams before them had also all gone with forwards – not only leaving them the talented puck-moving defenseman from Austira, but Riddell as well. The Panthers simply handed in a new card with Wurzer on it to end the first round, and then handed in Riddell’s card to begin the second, as they held Toronto’s pick as well as their own.

But now comes the troublesome 41st pick, originally Vancouver’s, which wound up in their hands via the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Branislav Mezei. These were the tough choices. “Anyone can write Jay Bouwmeester’s name on a card,” Beginner had remarked a week prior. “The only hard part is hoping that you don’t hear your guy’s name before it’s your turn.”

As a last check, Beginner called Yandle, who clinched it. “If O’Connor’s still there, I’d wait on DeLuca. Besides, there’s also Gilodi.” That was Samuel Gilodi, a 6-foot-6 defense prospect and teammate of DeLuca’s that Yandle had recommended as a sleeper. Rated only 175th in the draft, Gilodi figured to be there even if DeLuca was not.

“If we get Gilodi, I don’t see what we do with him, Wurzer, and O’Connor,” Beginner says. But in the end, he yields and Gabriel O’Connor of Halifax becomes the latest draftee of the defending champion Florida Panthers.

Three picks later, the shrewd Lou Lamoriello takes DeLuca for the New Jersey Devils, and at #57, the Red Wings startle everyone by grabbing up Gilodi. Perhaps they hope that Mezei, himself 6’ 5”, can help mentor the youngster, but in any case, the diamond in the rough has been dug up right under the Panthers’ noses. Sometimes, you clench your teeth and your guy’s name comes out in spite of it all. But Jacques Martin at least gets a consolation prize. With the final pick of the second round (60th overall), Beginner takes Tochkin.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

At Least Mel Was Drunk....

... but Jew-hating Jimmah is stone cold sober:

Incredibly, given his media presence, Carter thinks that he is being silenced by shadowy forces. He makes this bizarre claim: “My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment.” Does Carter keep track of which schools have lots of Jews? And who does he think is keeping him from speaking at them?

You've got to read the whole thing.

Ted Haggard, call your office!

Another one bites the dust:

In a tearful videotaped message Sunday to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.

A month ago, the Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in Doug las County preached to his 2,100-member congregation about integrity and grace in the aftermath of the Ted Haggard drugs-and-gay-sex scandal.

Now, the 54-year-old Barnes joins Haggard as a fallen evangelical minister who preached that homosexuality was a sin but grappled with a hidden life.

"I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy," Barnes said in the 32- minute video, which church leaders permitted The Denver Post to view. "... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."

I am surprised that the Fly has not noted this story and the Haggard tale to those who say that it is celibacy that is the cause of gay Catholic priests.

Long ago, I promised the Fly I would post on the evangelical perspective of the confession of sin. Actually, it will be the evangelical-wino perspective of James 5:16

Main point: Pray for your pastors, be they Catholic or Protestant. It's bad enough that my pastors have to put up with my Pferdkaese, but all pastors doing it right are high-value targets of The Evil One.

Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD)... seriously ill.

I am uncomfortable considering the political ramifications. The GOP getting back the majority via Sen. Johnson becoming ill is like winning the World Series on a bad call by the ump. The GOP didn't earn it.

The idea scenario is for Sen Johnson to recover fully and to lose his seat to the GOP the next time he's up for re-election in 2008.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tinkering to follow

Busy busy on real-life related activities currently... I may post substance tonight, or maybe just the usual froth, I haven't decided. One thing's for sure, my sidebar is haggis right now. It wants reorganizing. For example, the Invincible Super-Blog, while fun, isn't a "Friend" blog but a Heavy Hitter ("known" bloggers); and sooner or later, I have to go back and start categorizing everything, since the "search Blogger" function is, to put it politely, a three-layer turd cake.

Jeff, is there anything you'd like to see (or stop seeing) while I'm at it?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Of Thee I Sing

There are two Christmas holidays. The Santa and reindeer and tree one, and the shepherds and manger and birth of the Babe. (There is a tree as well, about thirty years later.)

One of the things I enjoy about the Christmas season is getting an opportunity to sing the music of the latter Christmas (c'mon, the REAL Christmas). This week I had two opportunities to sing Christmas carols (with a third to follow).

I am thankful that God allows me do this. He allows me to sing in the church music team even though I can barely read music and can only sing harmony to country music.

I know that positionally I am His child all the time, but the moments that I am singing songs about Him, for Him and to Him are the rare times that I am not a total screw-up.

Am I supposed to feel sorry for this guy?

This guy and Mumia in Philly are an argument for the death penalty...if only to shut them up.

Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph laments in a series of letters to a newspaper that the maximum-security federal prison where he is spending the rest of his life is designed to drive him insane.

"It is a closed-off world designed to isolate inmates from social and environmental stimuli, with the ultimate purpose of causing mental illness and chronic physical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis," he wrote in one letter to The Gazette of Colorado Springs.

Rudolph wrote that he spends 23 hours a day in his 7-by-12-foot cell, his only exercise confined to an enclosed area he described as a "large empty swimming pool" divided into "dog-kennel style cages."

"Using solitary confinement, Supermax is designed to inflict as much misery and pain as is constitutionally permissible," he wrote in a letter.

One of Rudolph's victims had no sympathy for him.

"It gives me a great deal of pride to think he's never coming out of there," said Diane Derzis, who runs a Birmingham, Ala., women's clinic Rudolph bombed in 1998. "He should never see daylight again."

newspaper reported in its Sunday editions that it has corresponded by mail with Rudolph for more than a year, and prison officials have refused the paper's request to interview Rudolph.

The Gazette refused Rudolph's request that it publish his writings in their entirety. The newspaper said if it published articles, it would print portions of the letters as long as they were not hate literature or libelous.

Rudolph, an anti-government extremist, pleaded guilty in April 2005 to setting the bomb that killed one person and wounded more than 100 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and three other bombings, including a fatal explosion at a Birmingham clinic.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Sheila "Obsession Central" Movie Quiz

Sadly, I am not a movie fanatic, but a mere dabbler, a guy who watches without a whole lot of larger awareness. In fact, it’s why I like to read a lot of the movie and acting stuff on Sheila’s site – I learn and have fun all at once. So, if you’ll forgive an amateur his cheek…

1) What was the last movie you saw, either in a theater or on DVD, and why?
"Breakfast at Tiffany’s." It was a lot of fun (and had that impeccable soundtrack). Having never seen it before (see? AMATEUR), my first impressions may be silly to a practiced eye, but in no particular order: A- NYC is gorgeous. When I’m Supreme Leader, all taxicabs will look like that; B- If you digitially replaced Patricia Neal with Kate Mulgrew, nobody would notice; I really think Patricia/Kate is the same person, sort of like the Highlander; C- Uhm… Mickey Rooney… OH NO. D- I love Cat; E- The guy who played the clerk in Tiffany’s was absolutely perfect, from the tone on down. That’s a professional. He’s magnificent without trying to scene-steal (which would have ruined everything.)

PS - he was also in the "Manchurian Candidate," "Midnight Cowboy," and "Mame."
PPS - OK, I'm a sap - I also looked up Cat's credits on IMDB. And holy smokes, he was Neutron in "This Island Earth"! I am feeling the awesome. (Six degrees of Orangey?)

2) Name the cinematographer whose work you most look forward to seeing, and an example of one of his/her finest achievements.
Uh... ok, see, after all of that, I know zilch about cinematographer credits, though without them the "director's vision" would get nowhere. I could cheat and IMDB various cinematographers and say, wow, this guy's got five of my favorite films in his CV... And really, would it be any lamer than Googling a cat's acting resumé?

3) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson?
Well, Joe Don was the Whammer. He was also the lead in the all-time classic MST3K episode, “Mitchell.” (“He looks like the wrathful Buddha… Now he looks like the Moon in ‘A Trip to the Moon!’”) I think we have a winner. (And the bad guy? Martin Balsam, who was in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with Orangey, who was in "This Island Earth," also spoofed by MST - I'm telling you, Kevin Bacon can just move over.)

4) Name a moment from a movie that made you gasp (in horror, surprise, revelation…)
Just because it was so early in my life… “NO – I am your father.” Gobsmacked, I was.

5) Your favorite movie about the movies.
My shameful admission – I’ve never seen "The Player," or "Sunset Boulevard," and only scraps of "Singing in the Rain." The only movie I've seen about movies was itself much more about the dreaming than the actual business - "The Muppet Movie." "OK, everybody - stay in focus."

6) Your Favorite Fritz Lang movie.
More shame – the closest I’ve ever gotten was an animated remake of "Metropolis". It was well-done, but not the real thing. (Check the trivia - the creator of the manga saw the poster for the movie, but never the movie itself.)

7) Describe the first time you ever recognized yourself in a movie.
Toughie – I love it. The first time was Peter Lorre in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea": the quiet, hassled assistant, in the background, always smoothing his hair back into place after the popular kid ruffs it up. I've identified with others in many other ways as the years pass and my character develops – but lowly, quiet Conseil, never making waves, always trying to see everyone’s point, was the first.

8) Carole Bouquet or Angela Molina?
Who in the what now? Oh, foreign actresses. I pass. (Which makes HALF the questions so far. Geez, doesn't anyone want to know about "Raising Arizona" or something?)

9) Name a movie that redeems the notion of nostalgia as something more than a bankable commodity.
This is hard for me, because I see plenty of movies that make me feel nostalgic (like the opening shots of "Breakfast at Tiffany's") without the subject matter of nostalgia itself coming up. I always want to build an Lileksian museum of pop-culture curios and cool-looking gizmos from the 19th and 20th centuries. (Seven times I bow to the proprietor of this site.) I guess, in its way, "It's a Wonderful Life" does this, with all of its emphasis on the value of life in how it's lived. Nothing could be more at odds than Bedford Falls as Mr. Potter sees it (assets, targets of acquisition) and how George Bailey sees it as he bursts onto its snowy streets at the end. It's getting misty around here just writing about it.

10) Favorite appearance by an athlete in an acting role.
I loved Sheila’s answer here – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “Airplane.” But, as goofy as "Space Jam" was, my vote goes to Charles Barkley. He’s just a naturally engaging guy, and it’s a riot watching him as he gets stuffed by the kid in the pickup game, then goes through therapy and prayer trying to recover his stolen skills. “I swear... I’ll never get a technical again… I won’t hang out with Madonna anymore..." BWAHAHAHA!

11) Favorite Hal Ashby movie.
Surprise - I haven't seen a one. (Shame Level rising... now reading "Russell Crowe throwing cel phone.")

12) Name the first double feature you’d program for opening night of your own revival theater.
It depends on the time of year. Around now, I’m thinking of “Miracle on 34th Street” and "It's a Wonderful Life," with one of the Rankin-Bass shorts to lead it off. (Perhaps the Twilight Zone episode “Night of the Meek” instead, since it’s not as well-known.)

13) What’s the name of your revival theater?
The Satellite of Love. (La la la!)

14) Humphrey Bogart or Elliot Gould?
Bogie – all day long and twice on Sunday.

15) Favorite Robert Stevenson movie.
Well, more Mobius strip movie quizzing - he directed a TV version of Miracle on 34th Street, back in '55. But for me, it's a running battle between "Mary Poppins" and "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." (Yes, I had to look it up. Shame Level - "Lindsay Lohan condolence note.")

16) Describe your favorite moment in a movie that is memorable because of its use of sound.
Actually, lack of sound - Norman Jewison running the credits for "Jesus Christ Superstar" entirely silent after all of that rock music (and Judas chased across the desert by tanks). When I was younger, I wanted to try that myself. My idea, which I may as well give away here, was at the end of a filming of Tale of Two Cities - the camera follows Carton (Clive Owen, of course) as he walks to the guillotine, his narration in the background, and then pulls back as he settles in, rising to catch the sun rising over the very top of the guillotine. "It is a far better place that I go to, than I have ever known..." And then, shwunk - and then, credits in silence.

Well, Norman got there first. Poopie.

17) Pink Flamingoes-- yes or no?
Well, maybe the plastic kind... There's a movie about them? (Now reading "treated for exhaustion.")

18) Your favorite movie soundtrack score.
"Star Wars," and especially the first from ’77. The music is like a character in itself. I’m also partial to the early Bond films, though of course they all recycle a lot of the cues. More recently, I loved Mark Knopfler’s work on "The Princess Bride" and the soundtrack to "The Incredibles" (which I bought the next day). My very first soundtrack, however, and a standouts in its own right, is "Mary Poppins." It helps to have a Julie Andrews at your disposal, of course.

Also, since I mentioned it earlier - "The Muppet Movie." Obviously a lot of my favorite films work for me on many levels.

19) Fay Wray or Naomi Watts?
This question reminds me of Lileks’ Bleat of April 4, 2006. I know the date off the top of my head because I was just re-reading it a few days ago, having saved it. To wit:

Yes. She loves him. The heroine and the ape have special moments together. They watch a sunset. … They ice skate together – a scene that would stand as one of the more embarrassing moments of modern cinema had not Naomi Watt’s vaudeville-routine-for-Kong set that standard a few hours earlier. (She even does the walk-like-an-Egyptian move.) At the end she tries to save the big lug from a swarm of the giant ape’s most fearsome predator, Period Aircraft. Here I must give advice to the young women in the audience: If ever you find yourself in a flimsy gown standing on top of the Empire State Building under the crotch of a giant ape, screaming at the airplanes to leave him alone, your life has taken a wrong turn somewhere.

None of which answers the question. Still… heheheheh.

20) Is there a movie that would make you question the judgment and/or taste of a film critic, blogger or friend if you found out they were an advocate of it?
I’m a fan of “UHF,” so truthfully, I’m not well-qualified to answer this question. I know what I like, and some of it's ridiculous. There are also a few well-made movies that I just don’t care for. But, in general, whenever I hear someone arguing that a movie is important, irreverent, or “breaks all the rules!” my hackles rise. It breaks the rules if you hold the camera upside-down while all of the action is performed off-screen by mimes - that don't make it Kubrick. I really cringe when people tell me that a movie is good merely because they want to look important and impress the Right People.

21) Pick a new category for the Oscars and its first deserving winner.
All my best categories would be anti-Oscars - call them the Shyamalans. We'd have categories such as Most Self-Serving Scene by an Actor/Director; Stupidest Subplot; Most Scenery Chewed; Cheesiest Line; Best Picture - Unintentional Comedy; Worst Miscasting; and Largest Plot Hole. There would be a special sub-category for period movies that ignore all their source material: for example, in "Troy" the seige lasts about nine years less than it did in the Iliad, and the movie killed Agamemnon AND Meneleus even though they both survived the seige. Annoyed the stuffings out of me, that did.

22) Favorite Paul Verhoeven movie.
"RoboCop." There's something touching about Murhpy's trapped shreds of humanity despite all the hokum. And you get Kurtwood Smith bein' mean.

23) What is it that you think movies do better than any other art form?
“Better” in the sense of “more immediate,” I’ll grant you. That’s why they’re so powerful, anyway – whether it’s a Cecil B DeMille epic with a lot of sweeping spectacle, or a very tight, quiet close-up in a thriller, the camera can do things that are very difficult in other media. Still, there are certain limitations, as any book lover will tell you. You can haul a portable DVD player with you on an airplane, for example, but a space battle or a swordfight loses something when shrunk to a seven-by-five box and tinny two-speaker sound. The only limitation on a great book is the reader.

24) Peter Ustinov or Albert Finney?
Albert Finney. He just IS Daddy Warbucks.

25) Favorite movie studio logo, as it appears before a theatrical feature.
I kind of like the old Universal biplane, myself. The modern glowing planet thing is all right, but there’s something organic and fun about the plane hurtling through the void. It has charm. I rather wish that they would take the plane back out for a spin around the new planet – but keep it a plane, and not turn it into a rocket or a flying saucer or something.

26) Name the single most important book about the movies for you personally.
Leonard Maltin wrote a huge compendium of films that gets updated all the time - it's informative, cross-referenced, has tons of stuff you'd otherwise never hear of, and it gets bonus points for mean fun - when you find a movie he's rated "Turkey" the reviews are usually ferocious.

27) Name the movie that features the best twist ending. (Please note the use of any “spoilers” in your answer.)
I like “The Usual Suspects” on this. So memorable, and of course I kicked myself about it afterwards, because the clues are there. It’s just wonderful.

28) Favorite Francois Truffaut movie.
(Danger - redlining - approaching "Internet Sex Tape" - abort!)

29) Olivia Hussey or Claire Danes?
Tough one. I think that I can just begin to forgive Ms. Hussey for the Zeferelli "Romeo and Juliet," a four-time winner in the '69 Shyamalans. It's also cool that she does voice work as well - it's a different skill set, and some pretty good actors are simply terrible at it. Danes, according to her IMDB bio, has been up for a ton of really great roles in a lot of notable films, not to mention the work she's actually done, so I'll grant her talent. But, yeah - I can't hold a grudge for a movie made before I was born, even if it grates on me. (The WHOLE POINT about the balcony scene is that they CAN'T REACH EACH OTHER. And what's with that "Montague!" and "Capulet!" screeching? !$^%&Y!$^!) Oh - oh yeah, Olivia Hussey is my pick. She wasn't the one screeching in the streets like it was a blargin' soccer riot.

30) Your most memorable celebrity encounter.
I can’t count the Jeter sighting, since I was on purse duty and got nothing more than 1.4 seconds of the back of a sweatshirt. Mom tells me I met Barry Manilow when I was too young to remember, which by definition can’t count. And, because I am largely clueless, I missed my shot at the Boss last summer at the bookstore. As strange as this sounds, my closest encounters with anyone remotely known are with Dawn Eden and Sheila herself.

31) When did you first realize that films were directed?
I can’t remember. I seem always to have been vaguely aware that a movie was much like a book or a picture – someone is behind the scenes, without whom an audience sees nothing. But I didn’t really understand what a director actually did until watching “Behind the Scenes” specials. So there he is, explaining the next bit to the actors. Cool.

For me, the big shock was when I found out movies are almost always shot out of sequence. As a boy, I had a definite notion that the actors did it all in order; further, that they didn’t find out what was going to happen until the director told them at that moment, and then they just went off, in character, doing that scene – that they pretty much ad-libbed everything. I had little-to-no clue about scripting and rehearsing and editing.

And of course, I was flabbergasted the first time I saw a documentary camera pull back to reveal some cavernous sound stage, with the actors taking up maybe one-tenth while the rest was stuffed with sound guys, rigging, cameras, assistants, etc. Part of me is still amazed at it. My childhood brain assumed that a movie was filmed in an actual completed room, and that being on the set would be just like watching in the theater, only from a different point of view. I mean, I knew that the Millennium Falcon didn’t actually fly around – but I definitely thought that it was sitting somewhere, completely built and full-size. I thought that, like an iceberg, the visible movie on the screen was merely a fraction of what’s there – that you could visit those places and walk around in them like you could visit the Intrepid or Sagamore Hill. It was crushing to learn that a set will often have nothing more to it than what is likely to be in the shot - no ceilings, barely anything supporting the walls, and floors filled with actor’s marks and a mare’s nest of cables and tape. Seriously, my heart hurt when I found out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Nightfly 500

The Hive has not joined NASCAR - this is merely the 500th post since the ol' blog started, back in September '04. Whee.

Incidentally, Blogger has just now offered to "upgrade" the blog. I'm hesitant. The Spider and I have just ironed out the problems with this version and I'm not in a big hurry to cause new problems. I want further information about the features and reliability - and not just what they tell me. "ALL NEW FEATURES" and "MORE RELIABLE THAN EVER" are cheap, useful words to allay consumer concerns. Time for a little snoop - er, researching.

Tomorrow morning, actual content: a monster movie quiz that I fear I cannot complete. Of course, I made the best guess I could.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Musical Monday - celebrity edition

When athletes in the town appear
And paint it red from far to near
To find a place to drink a beer
They hop a cab to Union Square
And Underbar!
Lit by candles, drowned in hip-hop
Grumpy DJ's playing nonstop

So, how does the 'fly wind up in a nightclub in New York City with an earring in his pocket - said earring not belonging to his fiancee?

On Saturday night the Ladybug and I joined friends in the city. Any such expedition has adventures; our biggest occured right out of the gate, when one of our party missed the train and stalled our group for an hour. Instead of a leisurely walk uptown to gawk at the tree in Rockefeller Center, with window gazing and shop wandering, we had to blitz along, working through the crowds, in order to get five minutes in the square before sliding next door for mass at St. Patrick's.

The tree deserved better. It was lovely, and ginormous. Somewhere an Ent is flinging boulders because this tree was cut down and hauled to the city. A duplicate of the tree-topping star - better than six feet across and drenched in Swirovsky crystal - sat at ground level but we didn't get a lot of time to check it out. It was nice to see the projection of snowflakes flutter down the sides of the building all around the tree as well. As rushed as we were, we did have St. Patrick's, and that's always worth the trouble. The service was good, the homily was solid, and despite the standing-room only crowd, we were out in an hour.

Dinner was then consumed and the party broke up, but Ladybug and I kept on to the next adventure, a birthday bar stop for a close friend of hers at a trendy (and suitably loud) club.

It's not my scene, so I'm no good judge to the quality of the experience. The picture you see at that link is similar to the current decor, though it's nice to finally see what it would look like with the lights on. Mostly it's velvet and dark and lit with votive candles; Rick James probably wrote "Superfreak" after a night in a place like this. But the big moment happened shortly after we were punted from one of the booths, which was reserved for 11 pm.

We were standing around, wondering why the place was half-empty on a Saturday night. My theory was the shockingly depressing hip-hop mix: the DJ was playing the Stones' "Miss You" to the music from Blondie's "Rapture," then followed with "Dust in the Wind" over a pounding bass line. ("All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see..." Uh - more booze, please.) Turns out that the bouncers had been turning people away "to keep things low-key." Then we caught a glimpse of a tall guy who looked a little underdressed for a club, ushered smoothly to our erstwhile booth.

"Say, he looks like he keeps himself well," the birthday girl said to one of our friends. "We should introduce you."

M demurred, while another in the group peered more closely through the murk and said, "Wait a minute, I think that's Derek Jeter."

Now, when we couldn't get all of our drinks and I went to investigate, the bouncers wouldn't even let me talk to the waitress without standing between us. Mr. Yankee Captain would seem more unapproachable in that light, but my Ladybug instantly hit on a scheme. "You've lost an earring," she said immediately to our friend. "Go to our booth and look for it."

And that, friends, is how M's earring wound up in my pocket while M herself sallied forth. I was also left clutching Ladybug's purse. (I was tempted to follow them with the purse and claim to be A-Rod, but thought twice.) Turns out that it was Jeter, and he was a good guy - he slid to the side to let M rummage around the booth, and promised to keep an eye out for the earring. (Now that I've totally blown the scheme, ladies, you'll have to think of something else.) Mr. Yankee Captain, sir, please don't hold it against us. All these hi-Q rating-girls may be nice, but we were thinking of your future. M's a sweetheart.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ricky Don't Lose That Number

I'm sure the Nightfly will have more to say about this:

A man charged with helping to run a gambling ring along with former hockey star Rick Tocchet pleaded guilty to bookmaking Friday and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

James Ulmer, 41, is the second man to plead guilty in the case, which authorities have said involved bettors including current NHL players and actress Janet Jones, the wife of hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

New Jersey state police Trooper James Harney pleaded guilty in August and described how he and Tocchet were equal partners running the ring. Harney, who faces up to seven years in prison, said then that Ulmer's role was smaller — just to take bets.

Super Adventure Records

Actors trying to croon and swoon are nothing new, and it's usually an Ishtaran-level disaster. (No, Don Johnson, you CAN'T get a heartbeat - now GO SHAVE.) Tossing the whole thing into the clam sauce, as it were, can't improve matters. But a man who jumps couches in several insane bounds can easily leap logic in a single bound.

Tom [rhymes with booze - nf] is reportedly planning to release the Top Gun classic You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' with his new wife, Katie. [UH-OH.]
The 44-year-old Mission Impossible star serenaded his new bride with the Righteous Brothers' hit on his wedding day last weekend in Bracciano, Italy.
The Daily Star reports that the guests, which included some top music executives, were so impressed with his moving rendition that they gave him a standing ovation - and a chance to record the track as a romantic duet.
Friends, we all heard him maul this thing in Top Gun, and it was as close to Vogon poetry as I ever care to be in the waking world. Now he might just possibly be a good enough actor to intentionally sing badly - but I seriously doubt that his ego would have permitted it. If he could nail it, he would have then, so the world could hear his glory and adore.

Besides, doesn't this whole creepy missive read like a rip-and-read of a press release from Clam Central? "Standing ovation?" Bravo Sierra. And the whole "public performance" within the public recreation of the TomKat "nuptuals" really frosts me. Not only was the thing an unveiled sales pitch for the Scumentumerists, it was also a blargin' audition?!? The Snooze can report to the proper authorities for a knob-fitting, at once.

Somehow, I think that actual record executives know that Travolta is the singer among the Super Adventurers, and this "standing ovation" was as illusory as Tom's participation in the creation of Suri.

A source said: "Tom's got a great voice. And he's loved that song ever since his Top Gun character Maverick sang it to woo his love interest Kelly McGillis.
"And Katie proved how talented she is when she performed in The Singing Detective remake."
Translation from the Clamese - let's drop the names of some of their movies and remind people that they're here to earn money to give to us. (Including all profits from this incredibly poor idea.) "A source" that sounds so much like a bibliography footnote can only be a low-level insider trying to pay off a large bill for auditing services.

"Music chiefs know it would be a massive hit so they don't want to lose all the money to a bizarre religious following. "
Music chiefs? NAME ONE. You were so careful to remind us which character the Snooze played in Top Gun... who was there? Clive Davis? Quincy Jones? The Ghost of Tom Parker?

Also, apparently low-level PR flacks forget not to drop stuff like "bizarre following" into these things. A more mature editor should have caught that. Apparently they all need a bit more "advancement" - fork it over. Besides, if it's anything like Hubturd's books, there will be massive sales because hundreds of discs at a time will be bought up by discerning Clam audiophiles (the discerning is all done much higher up the chain, mind you).

"But Tom's adamant. He said the song is a symbol of their love and [Super Adventure] is the basis of their companionship."
BWAHAHAHAH! A song about a wife's emotional distance, weary nagging, and frigidity is the symbol of TomKat's love? If only Katie could be so lucky.

Le shuffle

Every once in a while my Windows Media Player gets stuck. It chooses fifteen or twenty songs from whatever playlist I've chosen, and it shuffles them in a loop. It's mostly just funny - I guess even a computer can like totally dig the drumline/band horn bit in the middle of Radar Love - but sometimes it just strikes me as lazy. Eh wot? Oh, yer want a new one... er... sure, here, more Paul McCartney fer yer.

Talented as he is, Sir Paul cannot be allowed to sing "Let 'Em In" more than once or twice in a workweek. I turn from my work, wander to the mouse, and double-click something not in the loop. Here - Jimi - GO.

And then, four songs later - "Martin Luther... Phil and Don..."

That's not lazy, that's rebellion. As Auric Goldfinger said, "Once is chance, twice is coincidence... three times is conspiracy." (Maybe not exactly like that, but I like the alliterative pattern.) That has to stop. End program.

Today, it's something new. I pop the playlist, go about my business, and nothing seems amiss. Then I notice that the machine has spat out "Sgt. Pepper's" and "A Little Help From My Friends" back-to-back. Sweet, that's going to happen every once in a while, even with 607 songs to choose from. And then I notice the opening riff from "Lucy in the Sky," and if it wasn't already sort of creepy, hearing it in the context of the above is...

Well, I went over to investigate, and I noticed that somehow, part of the way through the list, the shuffle function turned OFF.

How about a nice game of chess?