Saturday, October 29, 2005

Keith Parkinson remembered

Of all the rotten, lousy news. Word reaches me that Keith Parkinson, an amazingly talented artist and all-around nice guy, died from leukemia on Wednesday. I understand he'd undergone a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy in the past year, but those treatements were, obviously, unsuccessful.

I got to know Keith back in 1991, when I invited him as Artist Guest of Honor for Aggiecon 22. TSR was riding high at that time with the Dragonlance games and novels, and Keith was one of the artists that was contributing to that revival with some fantastic art. He and his wonderful wife confided in me after they arrived that they were nervous, because Aggiecon was the first convention he'd ever attended as a guest of honor! I found the very concept mind-boggling for an artist of his popularity, but there you have it. On top of that, he graciously provided me with the painting pictured above to serve as the cover art for the program book. He'd done it on commission a couple of years before and been paid, but the magazine that had paid for it went out of business before it ran. Their loss was our gain. We were so enamoured with the snowy scene that we ran it as the cover art with no text of any kind to mar the image. I've since purchased a print of it, which hangs in my office as a memento of that con.

Keith was just about the perfect guest. He mingled and interacted freely with fans, and he and his wife kept busy at their table in the dealers' room selling truckloads of prints all weekend. He brought along some of his paintings for display in the art show, and told great stories about them--how he and Larry Elmore (also a guest at that convention) shared a studio at one time, and when Keith needed a model for a dwarf warrior, he tied a pillow to Larry's belly and made him stomp around the room. He also directed my attention to a ledge on the flying citadel--that famous Dragonlance game module cover with red dragons soaring above while terrified riders on horseback fled below. It's a great fantasy painting any way you look at it, but on the original (which is three feet wide and far more detailed than what shows up in the reduced reproductions) there is a ledge/balcony on the fortress on which three figures can be seen. One is a gangly man wearing a long scarf, another is a blocky robotic dog, and the third is an old-style British police call box. Turns out that Parkinson was a Doctor Who fan, and included the extras to amuse himself.

The last day of the con, I was looking through the various prints they had on the dears' room table. Keith's wife asked me if there was any I liked. I confessed that they were all gorgeous. She then told me to tell her which one I wanted. I felt very awkward at that point, having to explain that I was but a poor college student, and no matter how much I liked the prints, I couldn't afford to get even one. "No, no. You don't understand. We're giving you one," she said. "We've had such a great time here this weekend, it's our way of thanking you for inviting us." With gibbering excitement, I eventually picked out "Northwatch," pictured above. It's somewhat worse for the wear after umpteen moves, and someday I hope to get a replacement that hasn't been damaged by my carelessness, but even so, it still hangs in my office. And it's just as impressive a scene today as it was nearly 15 years ago when the Parkinson's gave it to me.

He was a class act. He will be missed.

Now Playing: Derek & the Dominoes The Layla Sessions: Alternate Masters, Jams and Outtakes

Friday, October 28, 2005


I wrote last night, believe it or not. Amazing what you can do if there's not an Astros loss playing out on TV to distract you. It's another of those reconstructive rewrites I've been fond of lately, taking somewhat ambitious stories I attempted some years back but fell short on, dusting them off and starting over from the ground up. This one was originally written 10 years back. Amazing. I've always liked it--its base premise is another of those worn SF cliches that you're not supposed to touch, which I tend to gravitate towards--and despite my cringing at the ham-fisted writing, I still think the story has merit.
Alpha gasped.

She stood beneath the black, starry sky, vertigo overcoming her. It was a dome, she realized. An immense dome separating them from the vacuum of space. The Earth, waxing full, filled nearly a third of the sky while the silvery moon shone just beyond.

Below the catwalk, plants of infinite variety choked the dome. Trees, vines, shrubs, grasses... all fighting for space and sunlight.

Alpha shot an accusing look at the aliens. "You said there weren’t any plants left."

"And so there weren’t--then," Yoda said. "Now you begin to see."

"Would you like to go into the garden?" asked Gort.

She silently nodded. Gort made a slight gesture and their section of catwalk dropped smartly to the ground.

Alpha stood, rooted to her spot. She craned her neck, staring at the thick tangle of passion vines that grew up the wall, their delicate, fibrous flowers a blaze of violet and white.

"It smells... green."

The reason I'm working on this one now is because of a market that currently has a specific theme open that it'd be well-suited for. Unfortunately, the reading period closes at the end of the month, and looking at all the commitments I have between now and then, I seriously doubt the story will be ready by then. I've really got to work on my time management skills.

Now Playing: Derek & The Dominoes Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (Remixed Version)

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Let's rag on the Texas Lege some more. I'm still cranky and need an easy target.

I complain about how corrupt and incompetent the Texas Legislature is all the time (but only occasionally on this blog, since, hey, shooting fish in a barrel gets old after a while) but some of you might think that's just my fever-pitch revulsion against the power-mad Republicans in Austin showing through. Well, yeah. But the lege was a three-ring circus back when Democrats ran things too, only Washington politicos weren't pulling the stings, then.

How bad is the lege? This bad: In 1971, the Texas Legislature passed this gem, honoring Albert de Salvo:
This compassionate gentleman's dedication and devotion to his work has enabled the weak and the lonely throughout the nation to achieve and maintain a new degree of concern for their future. He has been officially recognized by the state of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology.

De Salvo, of course, is better known as the Boston Strangler. Not all of those urban legends are fake. And not all of our state reps and senators are microcephalic cretins. But most are.

Now Playing: The Hooters Nervous Night

The Wake

Well, it's over. The fact that this was perhaps the most competitive World Series sweep in history does little to salve the wounds. The Astros accomplished far more by reaching this point than anyone thought--more talented Houston teams of the past never reached this point. So all I can do is take solace in the fact that the 'Stros finally broke that no-Series barrier. Losing to the Cards again would've hurt worse than losing to the Sox.

One thing that's particularly frustrating, however, is that the Astros were probably one good batter away from making a contest of things, and possibly winning it all. Had they hung onto Jeff Kent or Carlos Beltran, they win at least 96 games during the regular season, give the Cards a real fight for the Central Division title and maybe even get a hit or two during the playoffs with runners in scoring position. The irony, of course, is that last year they were a pitcher short of winning the pennant.

I have no idea what next season holds. Roger Clemens will probably retire for good, which means the rotation is an ace short again. Pettite, Oswalt and Backe (wow, did Backe come up big again for the team last night!) make a solid three-man core, but losing Clemens would leave a sizeable gap. Bagwell will probably never become a power threat again, and you have to wonder if he will ever be more than a situational utility player. As much as I love the guy, his salary is a drag on the roster. Will Berkman's knee improve by next year, or is he doomed to be a gimp with a decent stick the rest of his career? I broke my knee 20 years ago, and it still gives me trouble. Biggio's proven his worth again, but he's only got a few years left in him. I'm really encouraged by the emergence of younger players, like Burke and Taveras, so there's a solid next generation ready to take the mantle. But return to the Series next year? Not realistic unless McLane is really, really enthused by being in the spotlight this year and gets aggressive pursuing some key free agent additions in the off-season.

Now Playing: The Hollies The Hollies Greatest Hits

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The foul and evil mood continues

Boy, oh, boy. When it rains, it pours, as they say. We will no longer be discussing the Astros here, nor the team-that-shall-not-be-named. Nor will we discuss any of the other crappy things that have soured my otherwise sunny disposition. Instead, I will turn my ire onto one who deserves any hard knocks she takes, the vapid and hypocritical Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison:
Dear Sen. Hutchison,

I am shocked an appalled at your response to the current criminal investigation involving the Valerie Plame case. I pray that the quote from you I read in today's newspaper, where you claim prosecutors "go for technicalities, sort of a gotcha mentality in this country" and decry "perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on a crime."

I thought Republicans prided themselves on their moral backbone? I recall that a few years back, you felt that perjury was a serious issue, rather than a technicality? I quote:

"What would we be telling Americans if the Senate of the United States were to conclude: The president lied under oath as an element of a scheme to obstruct the due process of law, but we chose to look the other way. I cannot make that choice. I cannot look away."

You, madam, are an unrepentant hypocrite, and I am ashamed that you are mine or anyone else's senator.

Hutchison is a tool. Our other senator, John Cornyn, is a tool. Both of them give Republicans a bad name (if that's even possible) and are among the poorest lawmakers of any party. Can we have Lloyd Bentsen back now? Pretty please?

Now Playing: Various The Blues Brothers Soundtrack

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A foul and evil mood

I just got word that a project I've been working on for more than a year--mostly behind the scenes kind of work, as is the norm with labors of love--has had the plug pulled on it by the publisher. This is 57 shades of suck. It really, really looked like it was going to happen this time.

The Astros better beat the shit outta those damn White Sox tonight. I'm just sayin' is all.

Now Playing: Ray Charles Ultimate Hits Collection

Others see it, too

Looks like I'm not the only person who found the ballot language on the constitutional amendment poorly written. The Austin American-Statesman covers the story:
The first sentence of an intended ban on same-sex marriage, drafted by state lawmakers last spring, defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The second sentence states: "This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

And not recognizing anything "identical" to marriage could mean not recognizing marriage, said Glen Maxey, who heads No Nonsense in November, an Austin-based group battling the amendment.

Proponents of the amendment dismiss the concerns, naturally enough. But it's pretty clear that if they had competent people writing it, this wouldn't be an issue. Of course, if there were competent people in Austin, we'd have a working school finance plan rather than this pointless amendment in the first place.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Why does the Texas legislature only meet every other year?

They do less damage that way. Seriously. After blowing untold millions in the regular legislative session, then squandering many millions more in a series of special sessions and failing to come up with a school finance plan, which was the first, last and only item on the agenda, the politicos in Austin have decided to waste even more money by including a constitutional ban on gay marriage in the current constitutional amendment election. Never mind that there's already a state law on the books doing just that.

Remember: Nothing obscures gross incompetence as does pandering to the fundamentalist base.

Of course, an amendment to the Texas constitution isn't anything to write home about. The original document was adopted in 1876 after Reconstruction, and designed first and foremost to strip any and all power away from the government at pretty much every level. Seriously. A constable in Zavala County can't legally blow his nose in public without a constitutional referendum. Don't believe me? Since 1876 615 amendments have been proposed (including the nine currently before voters) and 432 have been adopted by voters. It is the definition of a bad, unworkable document. You'd think that would be a subtle sign that the state should write a new constitution. But then that would make sense, something that rarely happens in Austin.

But back to the gay marriage ban. I'm hoping that whoever wrote the actual amendment is more competent with the written word than the person who wrote the ballot language:
"The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

Note the key phrase at the end: prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage. Identical or similar to marriage is marriage. So if our political nincompoops use the same language in the amendment, what they are advocating, technically, is a ban of all marriage.

Me: "What're you guys doing here?"

Politicos: "Bannin' marriage 'tween queers! And everyone else. You know, just to be on the safe side. Them queers can be tricksy!"

Me: "Well, good for you!"

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Busy morning

So after I drop Calista off at school I stop by the Comal County Courthouse to do my civic duty and vote early for the Texas constitutional amendment election (more on that later). In the front parking lot of the Commissioners' Court building, there's a film crew set up. Tracks on the pavement. Big expensive camera. Lighting crew. A table with muffins and "Kudos" bars piled up (no, I didn't swipe one). One of the crew, a sound guy I'm guessing because of the headphones he was wearing, was getting some coffee.

"What's up?" I ask with well-honed journalistic inquiry. "You guys filming a commercial?"

"Actually, it's a small film."

"Really?" I say. Then, with all the slow-motion inevitability of a train wreck, my brain locks up and I hear these awful, asinine words blurt off my lips: "Good for you!"

Do I ask the name of the film? Do I ask the prduction company? Director? Actors? Writer? No. I say the exact same patronizing, condescending thing all those little old blue-haired ladies said to me at my booksignings when they had no intention of buying my book, but felt bad for me because nobody else was, either.

"Good for you."

I am such an infinite goober.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Monday, October 24, 2005

Lots of pointless music questions

I rarely do these meme things, simply because they’re so silly, but I figure, “Hey, it’s either this or the Astros,” and I really doubt you folks want to hear all my belly-aching about the World Series. So here’s a musical meme snagged from Byzantium’s Shores.
Favorite Beatles song: "A Day in the Life"

Favorite solo song by a former Beatle: "My Brave Face" by McCartney. If he’s recorded it 10 years earlier, it would’ve been the biggest hit of his solo career. As it is, everyone had already written him off as irrelevant. He should write more stuff with Costello...

Favorite Rolling Stones song: “Start Me Up”

Favorite Bob Dylan song: "Tweeter and the Monkey Man” (technically at Traveling Wilburys song, but I’ve never been much of a Dylan fan)

Favorite Pixies song: Couldn’t name a one.

Favorite Prince song: Wow. So many to choose from. for being a certifiable head case, the man’s a musical genius. Maybe “The Grind” from The Black Album. Or “Thieves in the Temple.” I’ve always been partial to his obscure tracks, like “Erotic City” and “Housequake” as well.

Favorite Michael Jackson song: "Billie Jean" This is, of course, dating me to a time where Jackson seemed a somewhat normal human being as opposed to a Smeagol-like psychotic.

Favorite Metallica song: This would be an oxymoron.

Favorite Public Enemy song: Not a fan.

Favorite Depeche Mode song: Even tho their music is part of the soundtrack to my high school and college years, I never liked them much. Techno and disco are too closely related for my comfort. That said, their remake of “Route 66” wasn’t bad.

Favorite Cure song: “Love Cats”

Favorite song that most of your friends haven’t heard: "Rainy Day in June" by The Kinks.

Favorite Beastie Boys song: "Brass Monkey"

Favorite Police song: "Walking in Your Footsteps"

Favorite Sex Pistols song: Not a clue.

Favorite song from a movie: “Gimme Some Lovin’” from The Blues Brothers, but you can’t go wrong with any song on that album.

Favorite Blondie song: "Heart of Glass"

Favorite Genesis song: "ABACAB"

Favorite Led Zeppelin song: "Immigrant Song"

Favorite INXS song: “Tiny Daggers”

Favorite Weird Al song: “Yoda”

Favorite Pink Floyd song: "Fearless"

Favorite cover song: “Take Me to the River” by the Talking Heads

Favorite dance song: Honestly, I still have no clue as to what constitutes a “Dance” song.

Favorite U2 song: "Vertigo"

Favorite disco song: "Disco Inferno" makes me smile, because it brings to mind “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park... Damn! there’s another World Series reference!

Favorite The Who song: "Who Are You?"

Favorite Elton John song: "Sad Songs"

Favorite Clash song: “Rock the Casbah”

Favorite David Bowie song: “Day In, Day Out”

Favorite Nirvana song: Not a Nirvana fan.

Favorite Snoop Dogg song: I couldn’t name a Snoop Dog song if you put a gun to my head.

Favorite Ice Cube song: Does NWA count? Sorry, still can’t name one. He’s a pretty good actor, tho.

Favorite Johnny Cash song: Geeze, this is even worse than picking a Prince song. "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" is the easy, and obvious choice. And it’s awesome. But I’ve always been partial to “One Piece at a Time” since I remember hearing it on the radio way back when it originally charted. And “Frankie’s Man, Johnny,” is just a great song, and incredibly sad piece of storytelling.

Favorite R.E.M. song: I’m very tempted to put down "It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” since that’s the song that got me into R.E.M., but I’ll have to go with “Exhuming McCarthy" which works at every level for me.

Favorite Elvis song: "All Shook Up"

Favorite cheesy-ass country song: "London Homesick Blues" by Jerry Jeff Walker. But I don’t get the “cheesy-ass” qualifier.

Favorite Billy Joel song: "The Stranger"

Favorite Bruce Springsteen song: "Dancing in the Dark”

Favorite Big Audio Dynamite song: Never got into them.

Favorite New Order song: See my entry to Depeche Mode. Besides, every song they released sounded exactly alike.

Favorite Neil Diamond song: I actually forced myself to listen to Lisa’s “Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits” on the road trip to Conestoga, just to see what all the fuss was about. Won’t make that mistake again.

Favorite Squeeze song: I hate memes where the writer has obviously gotten sloppy, such as here--do they mean the little-known U.S. band known as Squeeze, or the much more popular Brit group usually known as Squeeze U.K.? I’m guessing the latter, in which case my answer is “Hourglass.”

Favorite Smiths song: For a second I thought this was for the Smithereens, and got excited. As it is, I have no favorite Smiths song.

Favorite Tragically Hip song: Always suspected I’d really enjoy this Canuck group. Somehow never got around to listening to them.

Wow, that’s it? Amazing that I got through the whole thread without once referencing Falco...

Now Playing: Manheim Steamroller Halloween Monster Mix

Sunday, October 23, 2005

You've got to be kidding me

A walk off homer against Lidge? After all that scratching the 'Stros did to knot things up in the top of the ninth?

Man, being down 0-2 in the World Series sucks.

Now Playing: Profound annoyance

Friday, October 21, 2005

That darn Astros tombstone

On June 1 of this year, as the Astros stumbled to a 15-30 record and looked for all the world like roadkill on the diamond, the Houston Chronicle ran a picture of a tombstone on the front page of the sports section. It was time to throw in the towel, the story said, blow up the team and start over from scratch. Because of injuries to Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman, coupled with the free agent losses of Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent, the squad that had been one game away from the World Series the year before wasn't within shouting distance of a winning record, much less the playoffs.

Houston Chronicle Astros Tombstone

The players saw it. The management saw it. The fans saw it. And something happened. Something wonderful. The DisAstros took offense, and turned it around. It became a rallying point, a launcing pad, a monument to greater things. And from that miserable 15-30 start, the Astros became the winningest team in Major League Baseball in the second half of the season. They rode that determination to a divisional series victory over the Atlanta Braves, then took down the mighty St. Louis Cardinals to win Houston's first-ever National League Pennant. No longer are the Astros the winningest team to never play in the World Series. In honor of this monumental accomplishment, I've decided to give that inspiration tombstone a makeover befitting this accomplishment. Behold, my Monument to Greatness:

Houston Astros Tombstone Monument to Greatness

Now Playing: David Bowie Never Let Me Down

Thursday, October 20, 2005

How to recover from a crushing Game 5 defeat

From the Chicago Sun-Times:
On the flight to St. Louis after the cruel loss, the players made sure to loosen up Lidge after he threw his hanging slider. Catcher Brad Ausmus entered the cockpit and asked the pilots to make an announcement: "Your attention, please. We have just flown by a baseball that looks a lot like the one Albert Pujols hit."

Classic. Just like this series will be.

Now Playing: Gipsy Guerrilla Band Ernie's Pot o' Gold

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Ghost of Shoeless Joe

When Roger Clemens' mother died a few months back, among her last words were "Shoeless Joe Jackson." I can only assume Shoeless Joe had promised her a front row seat at Comisky, because her words became prophetic when the Astros finally put away the Cardinals to earn a date with the Chicago White Sox.

The Astros are no longer "the winningest team to never play in the World Series." What a stigma to jettison!

I wasn't taking any chances. I kept my big yap shut as the game wore on, so as not to antagonize the Baseball Gods as I did on Monday. I didn't count outs remaining. I didn't figure how the Astros' pitching rotation would line up with two days off between now and the first game of the Series. I didn't allow myself to think about how the ChiSox batters had no idea what awaited them in Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge (Oswalt is unreal. Seriously. He's so good, he scares me). In short, I didn't think about anything other than the next pitch, and that it's okay to walk Pujols.

I'm happy. I'm exhausted. I'm stressed. Sure, now that we're there, we want to 'Stros to win it all, but for most of us long-suffering fans, the fact that Houston finally made it to the big show is reason to celebrate.

And I want an Astros Tombstone with "2005 National League Pennant" incribed on it!

Now Playing: Dire Straits On the Night

Geeky, pulpy bliss

If you're of the kind that really gets a kick out of old SF pulp and magazine covers (ie Bill Crider), then prepare to be dazzled by A Few Thousand Science Fiction Covers. Oh, and be prepared to waste a few thousand minutes with this as well. Absolutely astonishing!

Now Playing: Jiggernaut In Search of More

Ansel Adams, eat your heart out

Wow. This was just pointed out to me by Bruce Moomaw. With Cassini orbiting Saturn, the spectacular tends to become rather commonplace when wondrous pictures come in on a daily basis. But this black and white shot of Titan, Dione and Prometheus alongside Saturn's rings is too perfect to ignore:

Now Playing: SubVision and Guy Gross Farscape

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The war of the Saints

Well, it's turned ugly. No pretense of civility anymore. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who couldn't find time to attend the first two Saints games in San Antonio or the third one scheduled for December, is going to be in Baton Rouge for the first Saints game there. A game to which only 30,000 or so tickets have been sold for an 80,000-seat stadium. And Tagliabue has said the Saints will play all of their home games there next season, without consulting the Saints. I'm sure there were disparaging comments made about San Antonio in there, somewhere.

New Orleans won't be a viable home to pro sports for at least another year, if not more. Playing in Baton Rouge, the Saints would be a distant second to the LSU Tigers. Suspicious observers might conclude this supposed "support" for New Orleans and Louisiana is merely an attempt to make Saints owner Tom Benson lose so much money that he'd have no choice but to sell the team to outside interests--who would coincidentally move it to Los Angeles.

So the brawl has moved from the back room onto the main stage. San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger is fed up with Tagliabue. Enough so that Hardberger has announced his intentions to make San Antonio the Saints' permanent home, and is pursuing state money out of Austin to make it happen:
State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said Monday he is exploring use of the Texas Enterprise Fund to help build a Saints relocation war chest. Of the $182 million appropriated this year for the fund, about $146 million remains available through 2007.

"That's the first logical place to look," Wentworth said.

"That fund was created to help (businesses) make decisions to come to Texas as opposed to somewhere else. In my judgment, the Saints coming here would create jobs and spark economic development."

Wentworth said he has asked Gov. Rick Perry, who, with the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, must unanimously approve each disbursement, to consider using development funds as part of a financial incentives package to entice the Saints to stay in San Antonio.

This, apparently, isn't happening without Benson's involvement, or at least approval:
Meanwhile, in a move that could signal the Saints' intentions, team owner Tom Benson on Monday fired his chief administrator, Arnold Fielkow.

Fielkow, who was in his sixth year with the organization and a member of the team's board of directors, was known to be a strong supporter of the Saints returning to New Orleans as soon as the city's Superdome facility, damaged during Hurricane Katrina, is repaired or replaced.

Last month, as the Saints were settling into new training quarters at the Alamodome, Fielkow warned Louisiana state officials that Benson was considering permanent relocation. Team sources said Fielkow was dismissed for opposing Benson's desire to explore relocation options.

Now, while I'm a proponent of San Antonio landing an NFL team, I've never been enamoured with snagging the Saints. For one, Benson reminds me far too much of the self-absorbed Bud Adams. And he's just not a very competent owner--despite traditionally rabid fan support, the Saints have managed to put together, what? five or six winning seasons over the past three decades? There's no reason to expect them to suddenly turn competent after a relocation. Dealing with Benson, who's used relocation threats as bargaining chips time and again, would be no picnic.

On the other side of the equation, though, are compelling reasons why the Saints should move. There is no useable stadium there, and it could be months before its determined if the Superdome is even salvageable. The New Orleans economy, struggling even before the hurricane, is shattered right now and could take a decade to recover. Contracts in place have force majeur clauses in them that are forcing the Saints to make a binding decision sooner, rather than later. And the State of Louisiana seems to want it both ways: Because of the destruction of the Superdome and the loss of home games, they are saying the contract between the state and the team is void, and Louisiana is only obligated to pay $3.3 million of the annual $15 million subsidy designed to keep the team in New Orleans. At the same time, however, the state has said that because Tiger Stadium is available in Baton Rouge, the contracts remains in full effect. Now, you might question (as do I) the wisdom of government bodies subsidizing professional sports, or of financial priorities when half of Louisiana is a wasteland in need of rebuilding with tens of thousands of people still homeless and without jobs. But either the contracts are in effect, or they aren't. You can't have it both ways.

As sad as this is, I'm convinced that New Orleans won't be a viable home for professional sports (other than perhaps minor league baseball) for a decade, if then. Corporations are moving out of the area, not in. Tourism revenue is down to zero. The port and petrochemical industry can't restore the city on their own. Even the NBA's Hornets are planning on a multi-year stay in Oklahoma City. Think about it: Oklahoma City has become more desireable place to be than New Orleans.

The Saints are gone, and the only roadblock is that Tagliabue wants them gone to LA, not SA. So this is my solution. Admittedly, it's not perfect, and nobody will like it, much less implement it. But when has that stopped me before? Formally, and permanently relocate the Saints to San Antonio, only leave all rights to the name, logo and colors with the city of New Orleans, as was done with the Cleveland Browns when Art Modell picked up and moved to Baltimore. Then, five years or 10 years or however many years it takes for New Orleans to recover, award the city an expansion franchise, along with Los Angeles. I may be an optimist, but I think 10 years should be enough time for even LA to come up with an ownership group and stadium plan that's viable. In all seriousness, the NFL has to expand by two teams, otherwise whenever the LA expansion comes to fruition, the league will have an odd number of teams, which will wreak havoc on scheduling, off week or no. It's the only logical solution.

Unless, of course, Tagliabue already has a team penciled in for relocation. Hmm.

Now Playing: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart The Best of Mozart vol. II

My fault. My fault entirely.

So even though Andy Pettite wasn't throwing his best stuff for a mind-boggling second game in a row, the Astros persevered and took a 4-2 lead over the Cardinals in the 7th off a three-run Lance Berkman homer. Then I went and ruined it for them.

In the top of the 8th, I said, "Wow. They're six outs away. This is as close as they've ever been to the World Series." I repeated this at five outs, four outs, three outs, two outs, one out. I hadn't realized at the time, but this was obviously an obscure invocation to arouse the Baseball Gods. Astros closer, Brad Lidge, had been hit a bit by the Cards earlier in the series, but had retired the first two batters he faced in the ninth. It looked like he was cruising, and at the time I hadn't yet realized I'd attracted the attention of the Baseball Gods. So perhaps I can be forgiven for my lapse: "They're one strike away from the World Series. My God, I think they're finally going to do it."

That, of course, was all the opening the Baseball Gods needed. Faster than you can say, "It ain't over 'til it's over," the next two batters reached base and Albert Pujols was ripping off a three-run homer that went so far it'd have gone out of the ballpark had the roof been open. On TV, Nolan Ryan looked like he wanted to cry in the stands. I was so discombobulated that I forgot to put on my rally cap in the bottom of the ninth. As far as losses go, this was pretty much the worst way to suffer one.

Rest assured, I won't be tempting the Baseball Gods again.

Now Playing: New World Renaissance Band Where Beauty Moves and Wit Delights

Monday, October 17, 2005

Nervous anticipation. Nervous anticipation.

The Astros were one game away from the World Series last year, and dropped two in a row to the Cardinals to fall short. Back in 1980 they were six outs away and cratered. This is not a done deal.

Remember how I said I wasn't going to get my hopes up this year? I lied. I'm in full-blown rainbow-uniformed fever right now.

Did you know that when the Astrodome opened, the ushers and concessions folk dressed in faux-futuristic uniforms that made them look like Pan-Am flight attendants from 2001: A Space Odyssey? That when the Dome opened, old Colts stadium was dismantled and shipped to Monterrey, Mexico, where it hosted Mexican baseball games for more than 30 years? That the Houston Buffs, the old minor-league franchise, was an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals? Sorry, but when I get giddy I start spouting off random junk like that.

Wanna read a good column regarding last night's game? Check out Jayson Stark's piece on
How do they win these games? How are they winning this series? How can the Houston Astros possibly be one win away from finally escaping the dreaded Teams That Have Never Played In The World Series Club?

They won another one of their classic Games That Couldn't Be Won on Sunday -- a 2-1 Houdini special over a team from St. Louis that still isn't too sure what is happening.

They won it by surviving a terrifying ninth inning that had a limp Craig Biggio saying afterward: "If I didn't have a heart attack tonight, I guess I'll never have one."

They won it by turning a game-ending double play that no one in the state of Texas thought could possibly be turned.

They won it because, like Francis Ford Coppola, the Astros never run out of scripts. Coronary-inducing, brain-frying, imagination-defying scripts. One after another.

And then htere's John Lopez's take from the Houston Chronicle:
If you're scoring at home, you can mark down the last double play like this: the Tooth Fairy to the Easter Bunny to Santa Claus.

You have to believe the fantastic. Or the fantastic never comes true.

Man, I'm a believer!

Now Playing: U2 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Incredulous incredulosity! Astros win again!

The Astros are one game away from the World Series. How is this possible? Brandon Backe was the supposed weak link in the Houston pitching staff, but he gave up only one run infive-plus innings of work (and if you asked me, was still pitching pretty strong and was yanked prematurely). St. Louis pitcher Jeff Suppan had the better numbers this season, but was replaced in the sixth having given up a run also.

The Cards' batters should've feasted on Backe. They didn't. Now Houston, leading the series has three chances to win one and close things out. Andy Pettite takes the mound today for the 'Stros against Chris Carpenter, probably the best pitcher in the majors this year. The Astros won't hit him. I can almost guarantee that. But I think, what are the odds Pettite has another bad game? Pretty low. So it becomes a war of attrition. If Pettite pitches shutout ball through eight innings or so, he negates Carpenter's probable scoreless outing. Then we go to the bullpens, where Houston has a tremendous advantage. Am I dreaming here? I could easily see game 5 going deep into extra innings, and could see both starting pitchers come close to throwing complete games and come away with a no-decision. Wow. Ain't baseball great?

Now Playing: David Byrne Uh-Oh

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bullet dodged--the real test comes tomorrow

Astros baseball, man. Can you feel it? I swear, as good as Clemens pitched through five innings, the man I was really impressed with was Qualls. For a middle reliever, that guy was unconscious. $20 says he cracks the starting rotation next year.

I don't they get any more hard-fought than this. Both teams made mistakes. Both teams made impossible plays. The 'Stros had plenty of opportunities to fold, and didn't. Now they're up 2-1 in the NLCS with two games remaining in Houston.

If they're going to lose one in Houston, it's Sunday. Backe has pitched well at times, but he's inconsistent. I really expect Garner to have him on a short hook, and go to the bullpen as soon as things look iffy. If the Cards get their bats going, it could get ugly. But if Backe can manage 5-6 decent innings, Houston's got a shot. After all, St. Louis' fourth arm ain't no great shakes either.

Now Playing: Eric Clapton and the National Orchestra 21 Nights

Friday, October 14, 2005

My prediction

The Astros take two of three at Minute Maid Park, and the series shifts back to St. Louis with Houston up 3-2. I expect Clemens to throw his usual dominant stuff for a game 3 win, and I anticipate Pettite bounces back from his wretched start in game 1 for a game 5 gem. Backe, the game 4 starter, is an obvious drop off in talent. While St. Louis' game 4 starter is no great shakes, either, I just don't see Backe faring well against the Cardinals' relentless bats.

Those keeping score at home will remember that last season Houston went back to St. Louis with a 3-2 lead as well. The difference this time around is that the 'Stros will have the 1-2 punch of Oswalt and Clemens fully rested and ready for games 6 and 7. As good as Oswalt's been, I don't really see this going past game 6. But if it does, I can't fathom Clemens having a game 7 meltdown like he did a year ago.

Now Playing: nothing

Plunk Biggio!

Being in an Astros-centric baseball mood, I've come across the best sport blog ever, and must share the wisdom of Plunk Biggio with you:
Craig Biggio was thrown 12 pitches last night, but none hit him, and it became clear early on that the Cardinals strategy was to not throw him anything he could get hit by. Most were balls low and away, so Chris Carpenter wasn't interested in getting near his bat either.

Mark Mulder pitches game 2 tonight. Mulder hit 2 Padres in his last start, but he has never hit Craig Biggio with a pitch.

There's much more wit and wisdom in that vein to be had, along with a Biggio "Plunk-O-Meter." Ain't fans great?

Now Playing: The Moody Blues Time Traveller


Chris Burke has two home runs, a triple, a double, four runs scored and four RBI thus far in the playoffs, on 5-for-8 hitting. Not bad at all for a rookie who hit a mediocre .248 during the regular season.

The Astros have a new Killer B.

Last night's game was a beauty. Roy Oswalt pitched the kind of game I expected from him, shutting down the Cardinals' high-octane batters for a 4-1 victory, evening the NLCS at 1-1. Now the game shifts back to Houston, with Roger Clemens taking the mound on Saturday.

This is Astros baseball. Good pitching beating good hitting. Wonderful. Brad Lidge was his usual unhittable self against the St. Louis lineup. Beauty. The Astros get the Cards for three games in Minute Maid Park, with Clemens, Brandon Backe and Andy Pettite scheduled to take the mound in order. With the best home record in the National League, you gotta like the Astros' chances. Let's put it in perspective: Clemens led the NL in ERA. Matt Morris, who'll start game three for St. Louis against the Rocket, was only 4-9 after the All-Star break.

The only real regative about the game was the injury sustained by the Cards' Reggie Sanders after landing hard when diving for a fly ball. He suffered a sprained back and is banged up pretty badly. As an Astros fan, Sanders scares me because he's been so unbelievably hot at the plate this post season, but I never, ever want to see a player hurt because of hustle on the field.

Now Playing: The Moody Blues Time Traveller

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Howl's Moving Castle

Finished reading Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle to Calista last night. It was an interesting book. Calista was engrossed, although she utterly missed the fact that Sophie had a kind of innate ability to talk magic into things until right at the end. And the seven-league boots were a great deal of fun.

Comparing the novel and the movie is an interesting exercise in its own right. The two roughly parallel each other up to around the halfway point. Beyond that, they diverge considerably. In Jones' story, the Witch of the Waste has a fire demon familiar as well, an evil one that is manipulating events to gain a new host as the Witch is very old and her usefulness is fading. The Witch herself is cavalier and cruel to no end, and has placed a complex curse over Howl. Miyazaki ignores almost all of this in his film. Instead, he molds the story to his hot-button issues. The ongoing war in the film is entirely his invention. Madam Suliman in the film is Wizard Suliman in the book, who is dead for most of the story--and a radically different character beyond those two details. The biggest departure Miyazaki makes from the book deals with the Witch of the Waste's redemption. In the book, there simply isn't any for the evil sorceress. But looking at Miyazaki's body of work, it's clear that he doesn't go for that kind of storytelling, and instead molds the Witch of the Waste into an ambiguous character akin to Yubaba from Spirited Away.

I enjoy both versions, but after reading the book I can't help but think Miyazaki would've been better served by sticking closer to the plot elements of Jones' story, rather than graft characters and set pieces onto the same story he's been telling for close to a decade now.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Document

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Crown molding

I installed crown molding along the top of the office bookcase tonight, inbetween innings of the NLCS. I screwed up in two places, getting a 45-degree corner angle not quite right, and slipping on an end cut, which necessitated me trimming off more wood than desireable to get a straight cut. So I have a bit of puttying and other such damage control awaiting me over the next few days. Even so, I have to say "Wow." The crown molding makes such a dramatic difference, it's amazing. Even Lisa admitted the whole debacle looked pretty good (although to be fair, it might be the fact that she can see the end of this years-long project approaching that looks good to her).

Tomorrow I believe I'll tackle the last of the big cut jobs--shelf tops for the cabinets. The opportunity for disaster looms large here, so I expect lots of cursing in the days to come.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Storm Front

It's just one game

Okay, so the Cards take game one of the NLCS. Pettite was most definitely not on top of his game, and Carpenter showed why he is considered the Cy Young frontrunner. Even so, the 'Stros were able to take Carpenter deep (way to go Burke!) and connected with Isringhausen. Even though it was a loss, Astros fans have to take heart that the team fought back and made the Cards sweat. As big a statistical mismatch as this game appears on paper, it was a tight 5-3 game at the end.

If Oswalt brings his "A" game tomorrow against (I assume) Mark Mulder, then things should turn out much better. It's hard to think Mulder would be fully recovered from being hit in the throwing arm the other week, but we'll see. Oswalt's been incredibly consistent for several years now, and I don't see him faltering now.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Storm Front

Good pitching beats good hitting in the playoffs

This is what I'm telling myself as the Astros open the NLCS tonight against the Cards. The Astros don't have the offensive firepower that they rode to game 7 of the NLCS against the Cards last year, but their pitching rotation is in much, much better shape. Andy Pettite was lost for the season last year. Because the series with the Braves went five games in 2004, the Astros' remaining rotation was discombobulated, and journeyman Pete Munroe was forced into two starts, whereas Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens weren't utilized to maximum advantage (granted, Clemens did start game 7, but that wasn't ideal).

This year, things have shaped up much more in the Astros' favor, even if the Cards are once again baseball's best team during the regular season. Whereas the Astros' starting rotation was patched-together a year ago, and the middle relief was so questionable that manager Phil Garner often tried to skip over it and go directly to dominant closer Brad Lidge in the late innings, this year the reverse is true. The way the division series against the Braves played out allows the Astros to go into St. Louis with Pettite and Oswalt starting games 1 and 2 on regular rest, with Clemens in game 3 on (well-deserved) five day's rest, and Brandon Backe in game 4. If the series goes beyond four games (and who doesn't expect it to?) Houston gets to start the cycle anew with Pettite, Oswalt and Clemens on the mound for games 5, 6 and 7. Fully rested. With closer Lidge just as dominant as ever. And that's not even considering the middle relief pitching. What was a liability last season is a strength this time around, with Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls and Russ Springer ready to step in with quality innings, and Mike Gallo and fifth starter, southpaw Wandy Rodriguez, solid options as well.

They say good pitching beats good hitting in the playoffs. There's no doubt that the Cards have better bats than the 'Stros, but even with Cy Young candidate Chris Carpenter going up against Pettite for St. Louis, there's no way I'd swap this Houston pitching staff for any other in the majors. It even tops the vaunted '86 Astros rotation that boasted Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan and Bob Knepper. So. Hitting: Advantage Cards. Pitching: Advantage Astros. We'll soon see if the truism holds up.

Now Playing: Stu Phillips Battlestar Galactica Original Soundtrack: 25th Anniversary Edition

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Perils of technology's advance

I've discovered that several of my earlier stories, short fiction written in 1996 or earlier, somehow failed to make the migration from one computer to another over the past decade or so. Most of these aren't ever going to sell. They're interesting snapshots of my evolution as a writer--competent technical approaches to stories that are uniformly run-of-the-mill clichés. Apart from some ragged printouts that miraculously managed to find their ways into my file cabinet, they only exist in electronic form on a handful of floppy discs. Old floppy discs. That my current compute can't read, since it lives on a diet of CD-Roms and Zip discs.

So I drag out my old, old, old PC, the one with the floppy drive. It crashes. Repeatedly. I find the story files, eventually. And learn, to my chagrin, that they're in a word processor format unreadable by either my current Word Perfect or MS Word. I'd thought I'd transferred over all those old files years ago. I thought wrong.

Which is no great tragedy, except that there's one story in particular from those dark ages that was too ambitious for my skills at the time. Reach exceeding grasp and all that. Now, however, I think I can make it work, and there's a market opening for it as well. But instead of merely doing a thorough editing, I get to rewrite the entire thing from scratch. Labor intensive. Time consuming. Reinventing the wheel. Bother.

Now Playing: John Mellencamp Big Daddy


I finally saw Cube. I first heard about it from Neil Gaiman a few years back, when he mentioned the director, Vincenzo Natali, was attached to direct the Jim Henson Productions version of Neverwhere (provided a suitable script ever got written). It's an interesting film, and I liked it a lot. It had a very 1970s SF vibe going--that sort of character-driven, focus on the cerebral approach that avoids flash-and-spectacle. A great deal of that has to do with operating on a low budget, but it also prompts creative storytelling.

The setup is simple: A group of disparate people abruptly wake up (separately) inside glowing cubes, with doors set in each of the six faces. Each door leads to another, nearly identical cube. Except some cubes contain ghoulishly creative death traps. Eventually, the people find each other, and begin trying to puzzle a way out of the Rubik's Cube from hell.

Some of the acting is pretty rough in places, and the pacing inconsistent at times. I liked Nicole de Boer in this, which was surprising, since her stint on Deep Space 9 left me underwhelmed. The traps--at least when the characters blunder into them--were pretty graphic and horrific. I don't normally go for that sort of thing, but the deaths were spaced out and the flick relied more on building psychological tension than gore to spook the audience. I hear there's a sequel out, called Hypercube, but I don't think I'll seek it out. Cube is so effective because so many questions remain unanswered. They'd have to address some of those in a sequel, and I doubt the concept would fare well under that kind of analysis.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads

Monday, October 10, 2005

Ghosts of '86 exorcised?

A full 24 hours after first pitch yesterday and I'm still exhausted. I can only imagine what the team feels like. When Chris Burke ripped a walkoff homer with one out in the bottom of the 18th--18th!--inning to lift the Astros to a 7-6 series-ending victory over the Braves, generations of Astros fans finally exhaled.

It's '86 all over again, only this time the roles are reversed.

In the 1980s, any Astros fan can tell you, the greatest frustration was watching Nolan Ryan pitch phenomenally day-in day-out, leave the games in the late innings with a lead, only to see the bullpen give up just enough runs to lose. That happened in game 5 of the 1986 NLCS, with Ryan striking out 12 and allowing just two hits before the Hated Mets prevailed in 12 innings. That only set the stage for game 6 in the Astrodome, with Bob Knepper throwing eight shutout innings... until Knepper got into trouble in the ninth, and closer Dave Smith blew his save opportunity. After 16 innings, the marathon was over with the Hated Mets on top, 7-6.

Until now, that 16-inning heartbreaker was the longest playoff game in Major League Baseball History. Yesterday, the Astros and Braves shattered that mark, playing 18 innings. That's two whole games. This time, it was the Braves' bullpen that blew the big lead. By the 12th inning, I was getting a sense of deja vu, and started telling myself the game wouldn't end before the 16th inning. It felt like karma. Little did I know that I was three innings short in my estimation.

How epic was it? Roger Clemens pitched relief on two days' rest because there were no pitchers left. Roy Oswalt, the winning pitcher from the night before, was ready to go into the outfield as a position player because there were no position players left on the bench. Why would he have to go in? Because outfielder Jason Lane, who'd never pitched in the majors, was next in line to go to the mound if Clemens (who'd pitched three innings--which is three more than he should have) ran out of gas. Wouldn't that have been an interesting scenario?

Now, it's on to St. Louis. The Cardinals are the best team in baseball, for my money, and the same bunch that knocked out the Astros in seven games last year. But the Cards are banged up (although it didn't show in a sweep of the Padres) and their bullpen is vulnerable. That alone gives me hope that the Astros will finally prevail and reach the World Series.

After all, if they finally managed to out-'86 the '86 series, what other mountains remain to climb?

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5

Friday, October 07, 2005


It's 54 degrees Farenheit outside right now, with a crisp wind blowing from the north/northwest. Two days ago it was 92 degrees. A week ago we were finishing up six days of 100-plus degree temperatures. The week before that we were boarding up for Hurricane Rita.

Thus autumn comes to Texas.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Security

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The best laid plans...

For the wife's birthday, I bought her a kitchen island. Terribly domestic, I know, but she'd wanted one ever since we moved into the new house and I like to get her gifts she's not expecting. This one is boxed up with "Some assembly reuired." I sneak it home and into the garage, where I hide it in the garage, disguised by tons of materials from my bookcase project. The plan was to assemble it last night after Lisa went to bed (as I'm always up far later than the rest of the family) so that when she woke up in the morning, she'd find it waiting for her in the kitchen with her birthday cake and the girls' gifts sitting atop it. Good plan.

Except that after everyone was asleep and I began to put it together, I discovered that one of the side panels had been snapped and splintered. So Lisa woke up this morning to a box full of assorted, useless parts that had to be exchanged later in the day.

But hey, the Astros won, so the day wasn't a total loss.

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel Plays Live

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The new encyclopedias are here! The new encyclopedias are here!

After rumors began circulating the other day that contributors' copies of
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works and Wonders were showing up here and there, I was pleased to discover my own copy of said three-volume work showed up on my doorstep yesterday.

Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy

It's a big, three-volume set all right. Each one is your standard, heavy-hardback textbook. Lots of entries. Lots of familiar names amongst the contributors. A clever-as-usual foreword by Neil Gaiman. Garish, pulp-inspired covers. This isn't something many folks will have on their bookshelves because of the hefty price, but as someone who takes a good deal of pleasure reading through Clute's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Encyclopedia of Fantasy, this one will see plenty of use over the years. Libraries the world over will likely stock it in the reference section, so you can drop by your local college and check it out. My entries (for those of you who weren't paying attention earlier) are Giants, Insects, Superman, Clifford Simak's City and Wonder Woman. And they seem to stand up well enough amongst the other entries, so there you go.

Now Playing: Billy Joel An Innocent Man

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Will the real Cardinal Schöenborn please stand up?

Remember back in July, when Cardinal Schönborn (aka Schoenborn) of Austria, apparently with Pope Benedict's approval, launched a full-frontal attack on the Theory of Evolution? Well, now he's apparently requesting a mulligan, because he thinks Darwin's theory is actually quite nifty:
PARIS - A senior Roman Catholic cardinal seen as a champion of intelligent design against Darwin’s explanation of life has described the theory of evolution as “one of the very great works of intellectual history.”

Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said he could believe both in divine creation and in evolution because one was a question of religion and the other of science, two realms that complemented rather than contradicted each other.

Schönborn’s view, presented in a lecture published by his office on Tuesday, tempered earlier statements that seemed to ally the Roman Catholic Church with U.S. conservatives campaigning against the teaching of evolution in public schools.

I am stunned, shocked and flabberghasted (and my ghast doesn't flabber very easily these days). The Cardinal goes on to say “Maybe one did not express oneself clearly enough or thoughts were not clear enough” in explaining the apparent contradiction in his statements. So it's time to break out the champaign and start dancing in the streets, right? The Catholic Church has pulled back from the brink, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. Another story from Planet Ark, however, seems to cast Schönborn as retaining a degree of hostility towards science and evolution:
"I unfortunately know of enough cases of highly intolerant behaviour in the scientific community towards people who come from other disciplines and point out where the evolutionists overstep their bounds," Schönborn wrote in the September issue of his archdiocese's education newsletter.

He said "evolutionists" -- people convinced all life on Earth resulted strictly from random processes -- also reacted arrogantly towards "scientists who mention certain unsolved questions about the theory of evolution".

So which Cardinal Schönborn do we believe? The darling of the fundamentalists that dismissed Pope John Paul II's teachings on science and evolution, or this one, who seems willing to reconcile faith and science? I wish I had an answer. Context makes a great deal of difference in interpreting these statements, and I've no idea the particular agenda of any of the reporters or new organizations reporting on this. Stir up controversy? Calm the tempest down? I dunno. You can bet I'll be watching the inevitable spin on this one...

Now Playing: Billy Joel The Nylon Curtain

National League water torture

Well, it's October, and that must mean that once again the Astros sail into the playoffs with one of the top pitching rotations in the land, ready to taunt their fans with the fleeting prospect of finally reaching the World Series only to run aground on the treacherous shoals of anemic hitting. The fact that the Astros are a trendy pick to beat the Braves and perhaps win it all only adds to my sense of impending doom.

We've been here before, in 1980, 1981, 1986 (I still hate the Mets), 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004... The pitchers Houston has burned through--Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Doug Drabek, Joe Niekro, Randy Johnson, Daryl Kile, Mike Scott, Mike Hampton, Billy Wagner, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge... the list goes on and on. It's really painful to look at, to tell you the truth. Is there any hope that Pettite, Clemens and Oswalt can force a break with team history? Probably not. But there is the fact that this team, given up for dead back in June, has rallied to make the playoffs--and history--in a way that no team has since 1914:
"If history is any indication — and history usually shows the way in baseball — the Astros are plugged to an EKG machine this morning," he wrote. "The pulse is weak, and some in the family are preparing the obituary."

The Astros were 14 games out of first place. Only one team had ever trailed by that many games on June 1 and made the playoffs.

You know... hmm. There's that whole "Choke City/Clutch City" history with the Rockets, and now the Astros have that tombstone to rally around. You know, maybe this year is their year! No, no, somebody please stop me. That kind of thinking leads to madness...

Now Playing: Billy Joel KOHUEPT

Monday, October 03, 2005

Saints alive!

Despite Paul Tagliabue's best efforts, the NFL finally came to San Antonio. I've never been a huge NFL fan--the college game is more my thing--but I was quite pleased to watch the black-and-gold of the Saints upend the Bills on Sunday. With 58,688 fans in the dome chanting "Who Dat?" it made for a fantastic showcase for San Antonio's NFL ambitions, as reflected in the positive commentary by JT the Brick:
The New Orleans Saints' "home" opener was all about the atmosphere, and San Antonio pulled it off. I wanted to see if San Antonio could prove that it could handle an NFL football team. I would rate this game-day experience as a 9 out of 10.

There is no doubt that the people of San Antonio know football, and their fans made sure that New Orleans had a home-field advantage at the Alamodome.

The only negative was that 58,688 is not the same as 65,000, which would've been a sellout. But I've been to the Alamodome when 55,000 fans are there, and I assure you it looks full, with only a scattering of empty seats visible hiter and yon. And 58K-plus is a heck of a lot more than the sub-20K fans Tagliabue warned about. In fact, it kind of baffled me when I read the AP reporter's take:
City officials had hoped a sellout would help push San Antonio's case as an NFL-worthy area, but there were large sections of empty seats.

Maybe an hour before kickoff, but during the game the stadium was darn close to capacity. It looked good on TV. I've covered several college games there, and there isn't a bad seat in the house. The press box is luxurious, and pretty much the perfect vantage point to watch all the action. I'm not kidding--it's a great place to watch a game.

That the game didn't sell out is a disappointment, and there are a lot of excuses to fall back on. A lot of reasons, too, starting with the fact the Saints had about three weeks to sell the season in San Antonio, whereas they normally have an entire year. And Hurricane Rita disrupted life pretty thoroughly here, even though the storm ultimately struck way up the coast, east of Houston. Tagliabue's negativism didn't help, back-to-back Saints losses didn't help, holding back the best seats for season ticket holders who ultimately didn't show didn't help, and a seemingly never-ending-stream of conmputer snafus that kept fans from getting the tickets they wanted certainly didn't help. In fact, if you look at it objectively, you have to wonder how so many fans actually made it to the game in the first place. And then stories surface like San Antonians are paying more for tickets than fans in Baton Rouge:
Now there is another ticketing issue that has some local officials scratching their heads.

In San Antonio, Saints games are costing fans $125 for the best seats. The least expensive single-game ticket is $30.

Those prices are significantly higher than what fans are paying for Saints games in Baton Rouge. In that city, the most expensive single-game ticket is $89. The least expensive is only $15.

Ultimately, San Antonio looked good for the Bills game, and the Saints are happy playing in the Alamodome. The Atlanta game will be a sellout, certainly. The only real question mark is the Detroit Lions game later in the year, because really, who wants to see Detroit? And Saints owner Tom Benson was happy at the end of the day:
Afterward, Saints owner Tom Benson credited the San Antonio fans for providing the emotional support that he said sparked his team's dominating defensive effort.

"They just got behind the Saints," Benson said. "They had those guys charged up, I'm going to tell you."

"It was refreshing to play in front of a home crowd," Saints coach Jim Haslett said, "and I think you saw the results. I thought the fan response was outstanding."

The course is clear, Mr. Tagliabue: Dual expansion in 2010. One team for your beloved Los Angeles, and another for San Antonio.

Now Playing: SixMileBridge No Reason

Serenity now!

Okay, so everyone and their dog has used that cheesy headline to blog about the new Firefly movie. So sue me. I can't be witty and creative every time out of the blocks.

The movie itself was a big ol' ball of fun. Yes, there were some times where it felt episodic, and a scene or two that had a series television vibe going, but overall it gets a big thumbs up from me. This movie shows that space opera doesn't have to be big explosions and nonsensical plot twists. There was a wit and an intelligence to Serenity that is invariably lacking in most big SF action films. The characters were well-drawn (granted, having a TV show to rely on makes the writing job a bit easier in this instance) and the dialogue was snappy and had some clever turns of phrases.

I knew there were two major deaths going into the film, and the first one didn't surprise me at all. There are some sub-plot elements with the character left over from the series and hinted at in the film that I wonder if will ever be addressed (assuming Firefly continues on in some incarnation), but it fit the story and overall it worked. The second death was unexpected, and definitely not one of the characters I'd thought would bite it. And the more I think about it, the more I think it was a strategic mistake on Joss Whedon's part. The only purpose the death served was to warn the audience that anyone could die at any time--that nobody was safe. Yet this was already established with the preceeding death. The second death sort of blows past in the rush of events. There's no catharsis, no emotional resonance and no plot motivation derived from it. It's essentially shock for shock's sake, and that same impact could've been accomplished by a grevious wound--which many of the surviving characters suffer shortly thereafter in various fashions.

And for all the good things and smart writing that went into this space opera, there was one throwaway line that made me groan. According to the backstory presented in the film, all the events--the Alliance worlds, the civil war, the frontier worlds, Reaver space--all take place in a single solar system. A solar system with literally dozens of habitable worlds, orbiting a single star. Now, they did do some hand-waving to explain this by saying there was a lot of terraforming involved, but there is no amount of terraforming that will make Jupiter or Pluto suitable for human habitation. It's silly. It's dumb. It's dumb on the level of the Vegan star system from the Omega Men comic series. Scattering these worlds out among a cluster of stars would be a great deal more plausible (even accepting the base absurdity of FTL--that's become an accepted form of the genre). But clustering more than a dozen terrestrial planets in between the orbits of Mars and Venus? That's downright lunatic!

Still, I fixate on details like that. The movie itself is good fun. Go see it the first chance you get.

Now Playing: The Gypsy Guerrilla Band Ernie's Ottoman


Late last night, after the girls had gone to bed and my brother finished watching a couple of Firefly episodes for the night, I started shutting everything down. A little past midnight, I went out into the driveway, where I had several shelves that I'd stained a few hours earlier drying in the night air. As I was gathering these up and putting them in the garage, I wasn't thinking about anything other than getting the garage locked up and going to bed as quickly as possible. The privacy fence and gate to our back yard is set back about 4 feet off the corner of the garage, forming a sort of sheltered alcove. I bent down to pick up one shelf propped up against the corner of the garage, and was startled by a figure standing there in the shadows.

My immediate instinct was to swing up with the board in my hand (a 36-inch-long spruce 1x12) and wallop this perceived threat upside the head. I didn't, because I didn't want to kill anybody. Amazing how fast the brain can function in stressful instants like this. Instead, I shouted and jumped about six feet back, holding the board as a kind of shield.

The figure turned out to be a teenage boy, maybe 15 or so. Skinny, with a shock of blonde hair. Maybe freckles. "I'm sorry, did I scare you?" I told him I'd just about ruined a good pair of underwear because of him, and what was he doing lurking around my house? "I'm hiding from my mom. Can I stay here?" Again, my brain ran through a bunch of scenarios. Why was he hiding from his mom? Was he in danger of abuse? Was he a punk who deserved abuse? Was he lying? It was a school night--geeze, why was he out roaming the streets after midnight? "My mom's out looking for me. Is it okay if I hide here?" he said again. I answer that I should hope she was looking for him, because it was after midnight. Just like that, my mind had made itself up--I wasn't getting involved in this messed-up situation, no matter what the particular circumstances were. "Okay, well, I'll just go somewhere else." And like that, the kid trots off into the night.

I've been thinking about why I didn't jump to help out this kid, since I'm one who often jumps to the aid of those in need. And the more I think about it (and discuss it with Lisa) the more suspect the situation becomes. Mainly, he reminded me of a sleezebucket roommate I'd had briefly in collge named Rick Stevens. Rick was one of these skinny, freckle-face kids and he always had some tale of woe as to how he was being victimized by the known universe--eventually skipping out one afternoon owing me two months' rent and having run up a mind-bogglingly huge phone bill. This kid radiated some of that same polished "professional victim" schtick, and it set my spider-senses a-tingling. Also, until that point, the garage had been partially open, with an array of power tools clearly visible. Were he a larcenous sort, those power tools would've been mighty tempting to walk off with and pawn somewhere. He may well have been trying to sneak into our back yard. Maybe he thought to enter the house via the open garage and find more valuable items to steal. And maybe his mother was looking for him because he was--or had been--up to no good. If indeed his mother was out looking for him. I don't know. If he was a victim hiding from possible abuse (he never actually said a much, though) then I feel terrible for him. But that's not the impression I got. There was too much cockiness to him, too much confidence for someone hiding from potential abuse.

I guarantee I'll be more wary of shadowy corners around my garage from now on.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005


Well, it's happened. The spammers have discovered my humble little blog. Over the past two days, I've deleted more than two dozen spam comments, whereas I've deleted maybe two over the preceeding year. So I'm now activating the code word verification feature to try and slow the flood into a trickle.

Why is it that all of the sudden they've found me? I blame it on Demi Moore. Last week, when word of her secret marriage to Ashton Kutcher leaked out, I had more than 2,000 unique hits in one day--all searching for pics of Demi. And somehow my blog's become one of the top 20 sites featuring her images, even though the only one I have is the bodypaint cover from Vanity Fair.

Looks like chupacabra has finally been eclipsed as the most popular draw to my site.

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