Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Unexpected good news

Rory Harper has just emailed me to say Ellen Datlow is giving Tell and Leonardo's Hands Honorable Mentions in the 2006 Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (Vol. 19) anthology. Ellen does the selections for the horror component of that collection, so by extension, those two stories tend to the disturbing.

What does this have to do with me? Well, as the editor who published them originally (not to mention the fact that I badgered the authors mercilessly to let me do so) I find this some small vindication of my otherwise bleak and pointless existence.

Now Playing: Pandora Shadowfax radio

Monday, November 28, 2005

Movies! Movies! Movies!

Through circumstances entirely too boring to recount, I saw a heck of a lot of theatrical movies over the weekend. The bad news is that most were pretty disappointing.

The first was "The Ice Harvest," starring Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack who steal $2 million from a small-time mob boss (Randy Quaid) then have problems getting out of Wichita, Kansas when an ice storm hits. The flick was directed by Harold Ramis and heavily promoted as a comedy crime thriller. It's not. It desperately wants to be "Fargo" but doesn't come close. First off, it's not funny. There are a couple of ironic moments, and some absurd situations, but no laughs. It's mean and brutal in places, sort of seedy, but never quite enough to move it fully into the edgy crime film sub-genre. Mostly it's uncomfortable. Ultimately, it's not a bad film, but it's not going to make anyone react with more passion than "eh" either.

The next film I saw was "Zathura," the Jumanji-esque adventure where kids play a game that becomes real. Only this time it's set in a retro-cool science fiction universe, with rocket ships and cast-iron robots. Man, I give this one two thumbs way up. It speaks to me. The resolution with the stranded astronaut was pretty ham-fisted and could've been handled a lot more effectively. But still. You've got black holes, meteor storms and evil lizard-aliens opening fire on the space-going house with massive cannons then board in search of "meat"... This one's a winner. It deserves to be doing better in theatres than it is, but I, for one, will be getting the DVD.

I wanted to see the Johnny Cash biopic, "Walk the Line," but it was sold out. So instead I took in the Jennifer Anison and Clive Owen flick "Derailed." Big mistake. Two execs try to have an affair, but are interrupted by a nasty thug who abuses them physically then begins blackmailing them. The story was built around the "idiot plot," in which the narrative progresses only because the protagonists refuse to do the sensible thing and instead make the worst possible choice at every opportunity. A young daughter suffering from type I diabetes screamed out "plot device." I gave up on the depressing, bleak stupidity and walked out after 45 minutes and caught the last hour of "Jarhead." A "modern-day Platoon" is the easiest and most dismissive way to describe it offhand, but I thought it well-done and effective. I first saw Jake Gyllenhaal in "October Sky" and he continues to impress me. Not a film I'll devote to many repeat viewings, but one I definitely plan on watching all the way through someday.

Finally, Lisa and I caught "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." I felt that despite some spectacular scenes, it fell far short of "Prisoner of Azkaban." Of course, I felt the book the film was based on to be over-written, self-important and bloated. "Goblet of Fire" suffered from the same problems of the first two Potter films--trying to include too much, and doing nothing with those extraneous elements. Take the sleazy reporter from the Daily Prophet. She showed up, annoyed everyone, and had no bearing on the story. Her sub-plot was never addressed or wrapped up (and it was pretty weak in the book to begin with). The film's narrative would've been better served by cutting her completely and using that time saved to deal with crucial plot points... like, say explaining why Harry's parents appeared at the end of the film. As it is now, the only "explanation" is Dumbledore's non-answer of "no magic spell can bring back the dead." Huh? The circumstances of their re-appearance in the book--that Harry's and Voldemort's wands are "twins," each built around a phoenix feather from Fawkes--is pretty significant in that it explains how Harry survives yet again, not to mention building on the Harry/Voldemort duality that becomes more important in "Order of the Phoenix." Sloppy, careless writing. I will, however, give them credit for a nice plot twist on the "gillyweed" angle, taking a throwaway line from the book and building it so that Neville has a decent bit of screen time. Overall, it's an entertaining flick, but it's still a step back from the quality storytelling of Azkaban.

Now Playing: Pandora Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto radio

Saturday, November 26, 2005

That big ol' football game

Well, it's over. Another defeat to wrap up an otherwise dreary losing season. Sure, the Aggies put up a good fight, and may very well have upset the t-sips had it not been for that blocked punt and an ill-timed fumble there at the end, but still. A loss is a loss, and I don't take heart in moral victories. Coach Fran was hired at $2 million a year to win national championships, not put together two losing seasons in a three year period.

I'm not one of the potbangers that thinks Fran's contract should be bought out now. I believe every new coach deserves five years to make his system work, with his players. But Fran's made some terrible, ill-advised decisions regarding this football team, and I'm not talking about failing to go for two when you're only up by one.

Fran believed his own press clippings when he rode into College Station, I'm now convinced. He had his system, and thought he had the Midas touch. He didn't stop to think that the players A&M had weren't suited to that approach. This is painfully evident on the defense, where he and Carl Torbush blew up the traditional 3-4, linebacker-centric alignment A&M was legendary for (remember the Wrecking Crew anyone?) and threw the players into the 4-3. Torbush said at the time the defensive looks would be multiple, but I haven't seen that. Instead, we've had a defensive scheme that is built around down linemen, but A&M doesn't have the stockpile of down linemen needed to make it work. That's resulted in an over-worked rotation of defensive backs, which has resulted in one of the worst defensive units in the nation for three years running. Offensively, star quarterback Reggie McNeal broke nearly every school passing record last year, so what offensive approach do they take this year? Switch to an option attack, and force the senior QB to learn a whole new system, while exposing him to a greater chance of injury. McNeal was nowhere near as productive this year--nor were the receivers--because of this inexplicable change in focus. Stephen McGee, the second-string QB, started against the 'sips today, and played well. But he started only because McNeal was injured. And I'm not even going to address the inexplicable and persistent misuse of bruising running back Jovorski Lane this season.

Franchione took over a program that hadn't had a losing season since 1984, and has produced two in three years. He's on record as saying A&M, when he took over, was in better shape than any other school he's ever coached at. People complained that former coach R.C. Slocum's recruiting had slipped--and it had to a degree--but the 1999 class was ranked in the top 5 nationally, and the 2000-2002 classes were all top 20. That's not exactly a bare cupboard. No, through either hubris or naivete or both, Fran has blown up the foundation in place and set up for himself a rebuilding job from scratch. He may still turn things around, but close losses at home aren't going to do it. This is still the team that was blown out in the Cotton Bowl last year (a game the 7-5 Aggies did not deserve to play in), still the team that lost to Oklahoma 77-0, still the team that was blown out by Iowa-Frellin'-State at home just last month.

Were Slocum still coach, there's no doubt that A&M wouldn't have come within sniffing distance of a national championship these past three years. But by the same token, he wouldn't have mis-handled the talent available, either. A string of 7-5 and 8-4 seasons from Slocum isn't something that gets the fans whooping it up, but after another of Fran's 5-6 pratfalls, I wonder how many of those who actively campaigned for Slocum's dismissal would like to swap today's uninspired losing for yesterday's uninspired winning?

Now Playing: Prince Sign O' the Times

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A stuffed T-Day

I'm happy to report that the family survived another Thanksgiving. This year, we set out to the booming metropolis of Nordheim to spend the holiday at my paternal grandmother's. To the best of my recollection, I hadn't been there in 20 years, although there's a slight possibility I visited once while I was in college. Memories fade over time, I've learned. But once we reached the old farm house (the roads and terrain had changed over the years, but the old farm hadn't) lots of memories came flooding back. I got to see aunts and uncles again, not to mention my cousins, all of whom I'd seen rarely over the years until a family gathering at Fuddruckers in Katy last month. After eating entirely too much turkey and assorted foods, I took the girls to explore the brown, mesquite-and-cactus filled pastures. They chased cows. They got tractor rides. They tried to catch cats in the hay barn, just like I did decades ago. Aside from a missing tree here and a rebuilt workshop there, things really hadn't changed much at all. And Calista and Keela got to visit with both of their great-grandmothers:

They're really lucky, in that their great-grandmothers are in good enough health to get to know them. Counting Wanda Baugh, my birth-grandmother, they've got three great-grandmothers they've gotten to know well. When I was a child, my only surviving great-grandmother was Bruncie Majefski, on my mother's side. But she was sick and frail, and the fact that we visited her so often in the hospital or rest home scared me. I never got to know her. But the girls, they think it's great having all these extended grandparents.

Afterwards, on the way home, we stopped off at the Yorktown city park, which is wonderfully, delightfully and gloriously behind the times. All across Texas, from Columbus to Temple to New Braunfels, public playgrounds are scarred with eroded rings where generations of children's feet pounded circles in the ground while playing on merry-go-rounds. But these days, all the merry-go-rounds have been removed. "Too dangerous" is what they say. "Liability," they say. Saints preserve us from those who would bubble-wrap our children and stick them in a padded room for their own good. But in good old Yorktown, this enlightened 21st century thinking hasn't taken root. The parks has not one merry-go-round, but three. Not only that, but it has an honset-to-goodness jungle gym that's about 12 feet high. And if that wasn't enough, feast your eyes on this bit of wonder:

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you--it's a manually-operated ferris wheel! It's around 60 years old or so, because my mother rode on it when she was a child--she remembers long lines of kids waiting their turn on Saturday afternoons. It was packed away in storage for a long time, but when I was 10 or so--around 1980 maybe--it was refurbished and returned to the park, and I remember riding on it as a kid with my brothers. And speaking of my brothers, Chris isn't as light as he used to be:

Once we finished defying death and personal injury lawsuits at the park, we made one more stop, and my other grandmother's farm outside of Cuero, to feed her cows and donkeys, and to check up on my sister's horse. There's an Osage orange tree right outside our subdivision in New Braunfels, and we had gathered a bunch of the fallen horse apples for the family equine. Some horses supposedly turn their noses up at the odd green fruit, but that wasn't the case this time:

Even the donkeys wanted in on the action, helping themselves to some of the smaller ones that rolled off to the side. The citrus-melon scent of the fruit filled the air. My stomach started grumbling--it'd been almost five hours since lunch. I looked at the horse apples and though, "What the heck?"

Yum. Them's good eating!

Now Playing: Sheryl Crow Tuesday Night Music Club

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Jayhawk wars

You know things have gotten bad when your state's flagship institution of higher education (read: University of Kansas) ridicules said state's science curriculum (read: Intelligent Design), and then builds an entire course around said lunacy:
A course being offered next semester by the university religious studies department is titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies."

"The KU faculty has had enough," said Paul Mirecki, department chairman.

"Creationism is mythology," Mirecki said. "Intelligent design is mythology. It's not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."

It's a good start, and I'm glad to see the public universities in Kansas finally engaging the battle directly (now, what's Kansas State doing?). What would be a strong, unequivocal stance on the issue, though, would be for these Kansas universities to refuse to accept science credits from any Kansas high school that teaches I.D. That would get folks' attention, real quick.

Now Playing: Pandora Hoyt Axton radio

Pandora's (music) Box

This is an interesting musical diversion I found via Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine. It's called the Pandora Music Genome Project. On the surface, it's a simple online jukebox, that plays an assortment of music for you. On closer look, it's much cooler than that. You enter the name of a particular song or artist, and Pandora combs its "music genome" database to come up with other songs that exhibit similar key traits. The results can be quite entertaining... and occasionally wildly inaccurate. Fortunately, you can guide the playlist toward more of a particular style, or warn it off of paths you care not to tread down.

Naturally, the first two "Stations" I set up were based around the Kinks and Billy Joel. The results were somewhat predictable, although more Who songs turned up on the Joel Station than the Kinks, which I found perplexing, since I've always found the Kinks and the Who to be very similar as far as British Invasion groups go.

Then, suddenly, inspiration struck. Why content myself to music I already had loaded on my computer or readily available on CD? Let's put Pandora to the test! So I went a little nuts, going for obscure or offbeat, in some cases entering artists I was barely familiar with. So now I have Stations built around Hawkwind, the Mike Curb Congregation and William Shatner & Leonard Nimoy. Wow. Right now I've got a Hoyt Axton station playing. Some of the artists gravitate toward country as you'd expect, such as the Bellamy Brothers and Restless Heart, but songs by the Minutemen and Pluto have cropped up. Fascinating.

Now Playing: Pandora Hoyt Axton radio

Monday, November 21, 2005

Fun with eBay

Whenever you plunge into the seething morass known as eBay, you run the risk of running into characters. If you're buying something, you may get that cool bargain you've had your heart set on, but there's always that outside chance of getting a joker that decides to jerk you around. The same is true for sellers. Lisa's up to her eyebrows right now with a nincompoop who's going ballistic because she hasn't received some children's clothes she won in auction a month ago, and she's blaming Lisa. Here's the kicker: The nincompoop registered a fake mailing address with both eBay and Paypal. Why? Well, no satisfactory explanation has come forth on that one. But that's the address Lisa was given, so that's the one the package was mailed to. The fact that the package hasn't reached the nincompoop because of her own stupidity hasn't sunk in. And she declined insurance as well. So now she's threatening to leave Lisa negative feedback. Go figure.

On the other hand, sometimes the people you encounter can surprise you. We auction off antler sheds regularly, and about a month ago we sold some red stag antlers to a fellow named Jim Boyd. When I went to mail them, the postage we'd quoted him using the eBay calculator was about triple the actual postage. There was no way we could justify that much of a markup for "handling charges," so Lisa refunded some of his money. Jim expressed his shock--and gratitude at the unexpected refund--by sending us this:

It's a pen he turned from those very same red stag antlers we'd sold him. Now Jim didn't know this beforehand, but I have a profound weakness for antler pens. Not approaching Neil Gaiman's obsession with fountain pens, but still. I simply love the texture and feel of the crafted antler in my hand. It simply feels good. So one good turn deserves another, deserves another, I recommend you good folks check out Jim's photo gallery, where a wide variety of pens crafted from exotic hardwoods and the like are on display. The man is quite talented, even if he's modest about it. Personally, I'm thinking we should refund postage more often if this is the end result...

Now Playing: Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around

Friday, November 18, 2005

Because we haven't had enough "Evolutionary Wars" content of late...

Last week, Pope Benedict sent out some more of his trademark mixed signals on the evolution vs. intelligent design conflict, but out of a combination of annoyance and disinterest, I didn't post about it. But now I see a new story, "Vatican astronomer joins evolution debate," hit the wires which again puts the Vatican on the side of the good guys:
The Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said placing intelligent design theory alongside that of evolution in school programs was "wrong" and was akin to mixing apples with oranges.

"Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be," the ANSA news agency quoted Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence. "If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

And then:
"God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity," he wrote. "He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves."

The Vatican Observatory, which Coyne heads, is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It is based in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.

So, let's see if Rome can stick to message now, and not muddy the waters with equivocal and ambiguous comments on the subject. Yeah, fat chance of that.

Now Playing: Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones

Bullet not dodged

Well, it's a different kind of virus. Since the family went several days after Calista's illness, we began allowing ourselves to think no one else had contracted the bug. Oops. Keela started vomiting on Wednesday and was woozy Thursday. About 5 a.m. this morning, Lisa was awoken by nasty stomach cramps and was waylaid all day, so I stayed home from work to help out, missing an interview I had scheduled with a student intern candidate and other work-related stuff.

So right now, I'm last man standing. Odds are that by this time tomorrow, my guts will be trying to turn me inside out. :-(

Now Playing: Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Alas, Dark Tower, I knew thee well

Lisa does eBaying fairly regularly, to bring in extra money (as is the case with most eBayers). I'm not going into details, but circumstances dictate that my long-held Dark Tower game must now go up onto the auction block:

The auction ends five days from now, if anyone out there is interested in snagging this piece of gaming history. For some reason, my listing seems to be attracting fewer bids than other games that are less complete, so you might get it at a bargain. Which sucks for me, but would good for you.

Now Playing: Don Henley California Desperados

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On the shelf #2

Here is the second installation of my semi-occasional feature cleverly dubbed “On the Shelf.” Going column by column, I will work my way bottom to top, left to right until I’ve cataloged my entire library, or lose interest, whichever comes first. Today’s installment examines the contents of the second-from-the-bottom, leftmost shelf, which you can see just above the telescope here:

So far, from my perspective at any rate, there isn't much in the way of odd titles that make one stop and go, "Huh." Just your standard-issues space science-heavy title parade of astronautics and planetary sciences. I suppose this one should be known as the "Astronaut Shelf." Lots of interesting books, though. Oh yes.

In part one of this exercise, I mentioned that several books of mine were perplexingly missing, and that I suspected another box lay hidden in the garage somewhere. Those suspicions were correct. Said box has been found, containing all the wayward tomes... except for Shadows Bite by Stephen Dedman. That’s the only one that remains unaccounted for. Weird.

Now Playing: Robert Plant Now and Zen

Milestones with Jack

This is cool. Very, very cool for me. Over on Amazon, Voices of Vision has been bundled in one of those "Better Together" twofer deals they often offer (and is often paid for by the publisher or author in an effort to boost sales). That in and of itself is cool, since as far as I know, no money has exchanged hands on this in any form or fashion. But what's prodigiously groovy is who I'm "Better Together" with:

I make no bones about the fact I hold Jack Williamson in awe, and he's invariably treated me with the utmost courtesy and respect the handful of times our paths have crossed. There's a reason I chose to use his interview as the finale in my book. To see my little collection adjacent to anything written by him is, as far as I'm concerned, a worthy accomplishment.

Of course, now that I go back there to admire the pairing, I see that Tom Disch has cut in on my action. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted!

Now Playing: Robert Plant Fate of Nations

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tideland trailer!

Oooh. The website for Terry Gilliam's upcoming film, Tideland, has undergone a makeover. It's now a virtual Flash-infused world. Building websites with Flash usually annoys me, but I have to admit they've done a great job with this one. And, joy of joys, there's a new trailer up there as well (hint: click on "Access Map" at the bottom to find the trailer quickly).

It's creepy, strange and surreal. It looks to me like this film has a real darkness to it, edgy and with sharp teeth. That's something I haven't really seen from Gilliam in a long while. Just watching this trailer, I felt a dread foreboding creep over me where Jeliza Rose was concerned. And I'm far more excited about Tideland than I was for The Brothers Grimm simply because Gilliam himself wrote the screenplay for the former.

Now Playing: Tom Petty Wildflowers

Monday, November 14, 2005

What? No Rootbeer Rag!?

Very cool. And long overdue, in my opinion. On Nov. 22, Columbia will release a Billy Joel box set titled My Lives that collects a whole heck of a lot of his demos, B-sides, soundtrack work and unreleased songs. There’s also a smattering of his early recordings with bands such as Attila and the Hassles. I’m a huge Billy Joel fan, and in my book, he’s second only to the Kinks. I’ve got scads of bootlegs of his, plus all his official albums (quite a few on CD, tape and vinyl, plus his “Video Albums” and all of his live shows on video (haven’t had the cash to upgrade to DVD there yet) not to mention a bunch of singles--both CDs and 45s. So I’m looking forward to getting this:
Disc 1:
"My Journey's End" (The Lost Souls)
"Time and Time Again" (The Lost Souls)
"Every Step I Take (Every Move I Make)" (The Hassles)
"You've Got Me Hummin'" (The Hassles)
"Amplifier Fire" (Attila)
"Only A Man" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"She's Got A Way"
"Oyster Bay" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"Piano Man" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"The Siegfried Line" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"New Mexico" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "Worse Comes To Worst")
"Cross To Bear" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"These Rhinestone Days" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "I Loved These Days")
"Everybody Has A Dream"
"Only The Good Die Young" (Alternate, Previously Unreleased)
"Until The Night"
"It's Still Rock and Roll To Me"

Disc 2:
"Captain Jack" (Live, 1981)
"The End of The World" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "Elvis Presley Blvd.")
"The Prime of Your Life" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "The Longest Time")
"She's Right On Time"
"Elvis Presley Blvd."
"Nobody Knows But Me"
"An Innocent Man"
"Christie Lee" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"Easy Money"
"And So It Goes" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"I'll Cry Instead" (Live, 1983)
"Keeping The Faith" (12" Dance Remix)
"Modern Woman"
"Baby Grand" (With Ray Charles)
"Getting Closer" (With Steve Winwood, Previously Unreleased)
"House of Blue Light"
"Money Or Love" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)
"The Times They Are A-Changin'" (Live, 1987)

Disc 3:
"The Downeaster 'Alexa'"
"I Go To Extremes"
"All Shook Up"
"Heartbreak Hotel"
"When You Wish Upon A Star"
"In A Sentimental Mood"
"Motorcycle Song" (Demo, Previously Unreleased, Later Became "All About Soul")
"You Picked A Real Bad Time"
"The River of Dreams" (Alternate, Previously Unreleased)
"A Hard Day's Night"
"Light As The Breeze"
"To Make You Feel My Love"
"Hey Girl"
"Why Should I Worry"
"Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day)?"
"Highway 61 Revisited" (Demo, Previously Unreleased)

Disc 4:
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
"You May Be Right" (With Elton John, Live, Previously Unreleased)
"Big Shot"
"Don't Worry Baby"
"Goodnight Saigon" (Vietnam Veterans Version)
"Los Angelenos"
"New York State of Mind"
"Opus 1. Soliloquy (On A Separation)"
"Opus 8. Suite For Piano (Star Crossed)"
"Elegy: The Great Peconic"

"No Man's Land"
"The Ballad of Billy The Kid"
"My Life"
"I Go To Extremes"
"Shades of Grey"
"The River of Dreams"
"Goodnight Saigon"
"We Didn't Start The Fire"
"A Hard Day's Night"
"Big Shot"
"Piano Man"

Looking over the track list, I’m fairly impressed with the thoroughness of the selections. I assume the demo of “Only the Good Die Young” on disc 1 is the infamous reggae version, and I’m frankly shocked that “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Why Should I Worry” are included, not because they’re bad songs, but because Disney’s notoriously chintzy when it comes to rights issues.

I’m particularly jazzed by the inclusion of such selections as "The Prime of Your Life," "The Siegfried Line" and “Time and Time Again,” songs I either don’t have a good recording of, or didn’t even know existed. During one of Joel’s master classes a few years back (which I’ve got a recording of) a student asked him if he planned to release a rarities disc, to which Joel replied he didn’t, because he didn’t have enough material. He said he cannibalized all his writing when putting together an album, so that there wasn’t anything left, and when he died there wouldn’t be a posthumous album of unreleased tracks and B-sides because there wasn’t enough material. Well, there might not be a posthumous album, but this boxed set shows he wasn’t entirely accurate regarding unreleased or rare material.

Still, there are some glaring gaps and missing songs that makes me scratch my head. I’ve got the bootlegs, after all, and am puzzled as to why such fan-favorite trade bait such as the instrumental “Handball” are left off. A quick glance at the list shows that “Silver Seas” (a version of “Nocturne” with lyrics), “Rosalinda,” “Josephine” (either the common live or rarer studio version) or “Where’s the Revolution?” Granted, some of those songs show his immaturity as a songwriter at the time, but even so they clearly illustrate his progression (and some are quite good by any standard). I don’t think this is a case of the old Family Records contract dispute rearing its head again, because other songs from that same era are included here. And I feel somewhat cheated that while he includes an “Uptown Girl” duet with Elton John, the song those two wrote together isn’t included.

If anyone out there is wondering what to get me for Christmas, well, consider this a big hint.

Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Live at the Fillmore, vol. 2

Sunday, November 13, 2005

It's over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.

The Sci-Fi Channel has killed off SciFiction. Presumably, Ellen Datlow is now looking for work:
In an apparently sudden move, Scifi.com has announced the ending of Sci Fiction, the online publishing division of of the site, at the end of 2005.

Edited by Ellen Datlow, Sci Fiction has been online for nearly 6 years and received great critical success. Works published at Sci Fiction received Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.

A farewell message from Ellen is published at http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/message.html.

New original and classic fiction will continue to be posted until the end of the year.

SciFiction published some high quality fiction, but more than that, it had the highest readership and by far the best pay rates in the biz. I never managed to sell anything there, but I did get some encouraging feedback from Ellen over the year. Ellen's farewell message is as interesting for what it doesn't say as for what it does:
Stories on SCI FICTION have been nominated and won major genre awards: Linda Nagata's novella "Goddesses" won the first Nebula Award (given by the Science Fiction Writers of America) ever awarded for a piece of fiction originally published online. Lucius Shepard's novella "Over Yonder" won the first Theodore Sturgeon Award for short fiction ever won by a piece of fiction originally published online. SCI FICTION itself won the Hugo Award in 2005 for Best Web site.

I'd like to thank you all for reading the fiction and hope you'll continue to read it as long as it's archived on SCIFI.COM.

New original and classic fiction will continue to be posted until the end of 2005.

I suspect some brainiac in a suit--probably the same one that thought it'd be a great idea to buy the 1-800-TREKKER SF merchendise catalogue, convert it to an online store and then shutter it almost immediately--woke up one morning and said "Hey! Why are we wasting money on SciFiction? Nobody reads anymore!" The jerk. I suppose the only real surprise here is that SciFiction lasted as long as it did. SciFiction got a good six-year run, and Farscape only lasted four, after all.

Now Playing: Squeeze Babylon and On

Friday, November 11, 2005


Calista woke up last night around 2 a.m. vomiting. The spell passed quickly, but at 3 a.m. she was vomiting again. Then again at 3:30, 4, 4:30 and 6:30. After the first two incidents, it was mostly dry heaves for a minute or two and then everything was fine. Needless to say, I'm running on very little sleep today.

Unfortunately, we ran into a bug very similar about two years back. Lisa and the girls were visiting friends in College Station, whose kids were just getting over it. Within 24 hours, Lisa and Keela were both vomiting in the pattern outlined above, and I had to drive in to help take care of them. By that evening, Lisa and Keela were pretty much over it, but Calista started that night. By lunch the next day, I was blowing chunks myself.

It's a very infectious type of virus, one that makes life particularly nasty for 6-10 hours and then just goes away. I plan to eat lightly today, because, you know, there's no escaping this thing. I'm not looking forward to tonight at all.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Glass Houses

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Saints go marching out

Well, it's over. There's still a Christmas Eve game left to be played, but San Antonio's fling with the Saints is for all intents and purposes over. Actually, it was over when Tom Benson started dropping hints last month that he absolutely planned to move the team to the Alamo City--just as soon as a new $500 million stadium was built. Right. And now word comes that back-room negotiations among Benson, the NFL and Louisiana have resulted in a guaranteed commitment for the Saints to play the 2006 season in Baton Rouge. A commitment Benson still hasn't formally told San Antonio about.

Not that this is surprising. My biggest concern about this latest NFL flirtation (other than the fact that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue wants to move the Saints to Los Angeles, not San Antonio) was that Benson has been down this road before. He's used San Antonio as a bargaining chip in negotiations with New Orleans to get better deals for himself in the past, and this one was just a little more crass:
Terrell Owens is taller, stronger and younger than Tom Benson. Owens also likes to pose for cameras rather than push them.

Still, these men are brothers. They are the least likable characters of this NFL season because they have little sense of those around them and because they can't hide their obsession for money.

Both eventually will get some cash. There's always a market for an All-Pro receiver, and there's always one for an NFL franchise. But just as the next team will be wary of Owens, the next city will be of Benson, too.

The knock against the Alamodome--which is otherwise a fantastic place to watch a football game--is the lack of luxury boxes, which only came into vogue right after the dome was built a dozen years ago. It's realistic to project the city spending $100 million on a major renovation to add 80 or so luxury boxes to go with the 38 already in place, along with some reconfigured seating and other amenities. But just last year Benson rejected a $174 million renovation plan for the Superdome, so is there any reasonable expectation that he'd be satisfied with anything less than a brand-new stadium built entirely from diamonds and gold?
But Benson's flaws aren't regional. His story is too national and his image too familiar to this area. His caught-on-tape tiff in Baton Rouge added to that. He couldn't have been a better villain had Drew Rosenhaus orchestrated it for him.

Even Shinn has had a better understanding of how to handle a franchise's evacuation from New Orleans. He's never going back there, but he continues to act as if that is the goal.

Benson, instead, has come across as a cold, uncaring opportunist. And his history in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina doesn't suggest this is a new trend. He was always angling for a better Superdome deal with a car salesman's approach, squeezing more and more with every negotiation.

Bottom-line emotion: Is this someone you would vote to reward knowing he might do the same to you?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Expansion is the best route for San Antonio to gain an NFL team. Tagliabue doesn't want to hear it, but someday the NFL will come to town to stay. And the upside of that will be that Benson won't come with them.

Now Playing: Billy Joel An Innocent Man

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Take me to your (spiritual) leader

Well, here's something you don't see every day. A Jesuit has written a book on the theological ramifications of sentient life on other worlds:
Would Christian theology be rocked to the core if science someday found a distant orb teeming with little green men, women or other intelligent forms of alien life? Would the church send missionaries to spread the Gospel to aliens? Could aliens even be baptized? Or would they have had their own version of Jesus and have already experienced his universal or galactic plan of salvation?

Curious Catholics need not be space buffs to want answers to these questions and others when they pick up a 48-page booklet by a Vatican astronomer.

I guess it goes without saying that I'll be getting my grubby little hands on this thing sooner or later. Preferrably sooner.
Titled "Intelligent Life in the Universe? Catholic Belief and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life," the pocket-sized booklet is the latest addition to the society's "Explanations Series," which explores Catholic teaching on current social and ethical issues.

Not to be outdone, word has it that Pat Robertson has two volumes on the same subject scheduled for publication any day now, titled Alien Beasts of Abaddon: Kill a Kzinti for Christ and God Hates ET and Unwed Mothers, Too.

Now Playing: Wolf Loescher Holy Grail

Sanity prevails/Insanity prevails

All eight Pennsylvania school board members who voted in favor of the "Intelligent Design" policy currently being challenged in court were voted out of office. Nice to see the voters of Dover realized these people were all IDiots pushing a religious agenda:
In York, testimony from incumbent Alan Bonsell, the board's former president, may have ruined any chance his slate had of pulling through yesterday's election.

In sworn depositions, Mr. Bonsell said he didn't know the source of Dover High School's books promoting intelligent design, but William Buckingham, a former board member, testified that he handed $850 to Mr. Bonsell so his father, Donald Bonsell, could buy the books.

Mr. Buckingham was caught in a blunder. as well. During a deposition he had said he didn't know where the $850 came from but in court he testified his church raised the money.

The only IDiot not voted out of office was the only one not up for re-election. One can only hope that the same fate befalls the IDiot members of the Kansas State Board of Education who voted to implement ID in Kansas science curriculum:
The move by the board's conservative majority surprised no one. Its six conservative members, all Republicans, already had endorsed the new standards.

The moderates were left scrambling to get their opposition on the record.

"Be honest and admit it's a faith issue," said Democrat Janet Waugh, of Kansas City.

The vote was reminiscent of 1999 when the state board adopted science standards that de-emphasized evolution on the state's science assessments. That move, too, brought national criticism.

But elections the following year ousted the state's conservative majority and the science standards eventually were reversed.

"I'm convinced the next stage in this is counting the votes in '06," said Democrat Bill Wagnon, of Topeka.

Not only that, but the IDiots are getting downright Orwellian in their rhetoric:
Waugh, meanwhile, objected to a resolution drafted by board Chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, that laid out a list of reasons for the changes -- including that the board found the standards "scientifically valid, educationally appropriate and consistent with the obligation of the state to provide education that is secular, neutral and non-ideological."

As if that's not enough, the board changed the rules in the middle of the game to (presumably) shield themselves from accusations of promoting pseudo-science:
In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

One can only assume that the Flying Spaghetti Monster will now be afforded equal time in Kansas classrooms.

Now Playing: Derek and the Dominoes Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Now I'm as big an Astros fan as anyone, but it can't be good that Gibberish is the top result for this search.

Now Playing: Dresden Symphonic Orchestra Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 "Choral"

On the shelf

It seems that some people aren’t satisfied with my completion of the book case and posting of pictures celebrating this milestone. No, these nattering nabobs of negativism would rather bemoan the fact that the pics I posted aren’t large enough to read the titles of the books on the shelves. Great googaly moogaly! I don’t have that much webspace available, people. Merely uploading such a monstrosity would likely blow my bandwidth to kingdom come (which, incidentally, is one of the titles on said shelves).

Instead, to mollify the seething masses and head off potentially catastrophic riots akin to those under way in France, I hereby launch the semi-occasional feature here I shall oh-so-cleverly dub “On the Shelf.” Going column by column, I will work my way bottom to top, left to right until I’ve cataloged my entire library, or lose interest, whichever comes first. Today’s installment examines the bottom, leftmost shelf, which you can see just behind the telescope here:

Tangentially, after shelving all of those books, there are only three titles of mine that seem to have gone missing over the course of two moves and three years. That’s not a bad ratio, but I still find their absence annoying. Those absentee tomes are Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Shadows Bite by Stephen Dedman and How to Write Erotica by Valerie Kelly. If you come across them, let me know, because I’m curious as to where they’ve gotten to.

Now Playing: Wagner The Ring Without Words

Monday, November 07, 2005


Someone from Holtzbrinck Publishers just Googled me. Yup, did a search for "Jayme Lynn Blashke" (sic). What's up with that, I wonder?

Now Playing: Hungarian State Orchestra The Instruments of Classical Music: The Violin

It is... DONE!

My office bookshelf project is finished. Complete. Done. Let the celebrations begin! The genesis of this massive undertaking of lumberish reconfigurement dates back to 1999, when we still lived in Temple and my office consisted of a converted garage, a conversion which was badly-designed and executed by the home's previous owners. From a practical standpoint, the real work in our current New Braunfels home began in May, with various bits of progress reported on in June and August. Phase one was completed back in September, which consisted of fully closing off the office from the rest of the house. Below is the before pic of how the future office once looked from the living room, and an after pic of how it looks today (don't mind the piano):

It's a big change, but not nearly as big as what conspired within the office walls. Below is a before and after comparison looking from one corner of the room across to the opposite one. For reference, the doors are to the right:

And here are a couple of shots from the doorway. I'm not kidding you folks, I almost started crying the other night after I got the final books up on the shelves (which took a couple of days to manage, I might add). It's warm. It's inviting. It's a glorious wall of books that surrounds and comforts me when I'm in the throes of writing passion.

This is what I've been wanting for years, and why I visibly cringed every time my family members (re: my father) said I should just whip out some bookshelves using "2x4s and cinder blocks." Actually, that's not true. This isn't what I've been wanting, but there wasn't room to install a rolling ladder and track around the ceiling. A carpenter with intermediate skills at best can only do so much.

Now Playing: Dresden Symphonic Orchestra Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 "Choral"

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The sky is falling

Took the girls to see Chicken Little. It's OK for a matinee, maybe, but it sure was a far cry from the Disney classics of just a few years back. Couldn't hold a candle to Lilo & Stitch or Little Mermaid. The biggest problem is that it's all flash and no substance. The plot, what there is of it, lurches along from one Hollywood cliche to another. I began laughing after a while at how spectacularly unimaginative it was. By far the best character was "Fish Out Of Water," who doesn't have a single line in the whole thing. The animation has that glossy sheen and lacks any weight or depth--marginally better than your average Jimmy Neutron.

Another big problem--which has infested Disney animation badly of late--was a slavish reliance on pop culture references to generate laughs. The soundtrack song selection did pretty much the same thing. It may work in the short term, but try watching something like Aladdin today. It's as dated as month-old trout.

The movie was funny, I'll grant it that, but it really, really suffered from trying too hard. It's like the studio knew that Pixar is walking, and was desperate to show investors with this movie that Disney can still crank out successful films. The flick was manic, chaotic and utterly breathless in its mayhem. At times I thought the animators were desperately trying to channel the spirits of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, and not quite getting it.

I didn't dislike it, but don't have much love for Chicken Little. It's consistently amusing but utterly insubstantial. Pixar's got nothing to worry about. Heck, Dreamworks Animation isn't even breaking a sweat over this one.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The vice president thinks torture is just nifty

Wasn't this the administration that pledged to restore honor, morlaity, ethics and integrity to the White House? If so, then why is Dick Cheney insisting that the U.S. needs to emulate such friendly folk as Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro and Augusto Pinochet?
Vice President Dick Cheney made an unusual personal appeal to Republican senators this week to allow CIA exemptions to a proposed ban on the torture of terror suspects in U.S. custody, according to participants in a closed-door session.


The vice president made his appeal at a time Congress is struggling with the torture issue in light of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and allegations of mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The United States houses about 500 detainees at the naval base there, many of them captured in Afghanistan.

It's another one of those arguements from the administration that falls along the lines of "Oh, we're not actually going to torture anybody. But you really need to agree to let us, because if you don't, the terrorists win." In my opinion, the fact that the leadership of the free world--which is supposed to be a shining example of freedom, justice, truth and the American Way for the victims of oppression around the globe--is asking to engage in such morally reprehensible behavior tells me that the terrorists have already won.

We're better than this. If we can't beat Al Qaeda without abandoning our morals, then we're bankrupt as a society don't deserve to win.

Now Playing: Various artists Meditation: Classical Relaxation vol. 1

Friday, November 04, 2005

It's like Christmas come early!

I'm almost giddy with the flood of positive press. Now we have columnist Ellis Henican of Newsday chipping in his two cents' worth in "Taking heed of lesson from Galileo's day":
For years to come, people will remember yesterday as a day of wonderful promise on that long and dicey road toward human enlightenment.

It was in the morning in Rome that a highly important Vatican cardinal made a public statement long overdue.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, declared that the faithful should always listen carefully to what modern science has to say. If religion tries to ignore the truths of science, Poupard warned, it will sink into "fundamentalism."

Take that, you anti-science zealots who still roam the earth today! It was a powerful rhetorical shot at the American religious right - and not a minute too soon.

As a Catholic, I've been very, very uncomfortable with the growing influence of fundamentalist Christians in general, and their creeping influence within the Catholic Church itself. Nice to see that the Vatican seems to be waking up to the fundamentalist threat, finally. And that secular science education is shaping up to be the battleground where Rome and the Discovery Institute's disciples clash.
All across the country, evangelical groups have been trying to chase evolution out of science textbooks. In its place, they want to install a creationist assertion they call "intelligent design." At the same time, other anti-science crusaders are campaigning against stem-cell research that could very well one day cure diabetes and help paraplegics to walk.

But this supposed conflict between science and religion is vastly overblown. "It's important for the faithful to know how science views things to understand better," Poupard said yesterday.

I'm no apologist for the Vatican's vast array of sins throughout history, but at least it looks like the church has learned something from Galileo, and is going to stand up for the truth against religious zealots who want nothing of the sort.

Now Playing: The Kinks Misfits

Design of the times

Juliette Hughes has a well-written, engrossing and clear-eyed view of the ongoing assault on science by fundamentalist wingnuts over at The Age (Australia), An Intelligent Design of the Times:
One criticism of evolution is that there are gaps in the fossil record. This presupposes that an example of every organism that ever lived must be preserved as a fossil, which is unrealistic. And transitional forms are very rare: creationists leap on this as evidence that all creatures were created as it were hermetically without any link from one form to another. Intelligent designists use essentially the same argument. But it's far more likely that one form gave way to a later form because one previously numerous organism was environmentally challenged, dropped precipitately in numbers, then was superseded by a mutation that adapted the original form in a way more suitable to the environment, eventually giving rise to a more fully adapted form that became numerous enough to leave a fossil record.

HOW MANY fossil humans are there, for instance? Becoming a fossil requires you to die in a very particular way, so that you calcify rather than rot. This is very very rare, so their absence from fossil records is not an indication that there were no humans before biblical times, or that we didn't evolve from earlier primate ancestors.

It seems that the opponents of evolution theory want to say that any gap, however small, completely confounds the theory. Yet they ignore a welter of evidence that can be inferred not only from fossil records and carbon dating but from myriad examples of evolution that go on around us on a smaller scale. (Examples include the breeding of animals for certain traits and the ability of bacteria, insects and weeds to acquire immunity to substances used against them.) The anti-evolutionist answer to this seems to be that the act of creation created a cosmos not from the very beginning, but somehow at a snapshot point 6000-10,000 years ago with teasing false evidence of age, in order to test whether people would go on believing.

Their reaction to evolution's small but resolvable problems is pretty much one that could be taken straight from the Gospel, when Jesus talks of offering to take a mote (splinter) out of your neighbour's eye while ignoring the beam (tree trunk) in your own.

It's not that she simply points out the negativity of the creationists' arguements, or the lack of substance of their so-called "theory" of intelligent design that makes it a good article. No, she does all this and does it with a clear, easily-understandable writing style. What's great is that she shows how religion and science can, and do, peacefully co-exist at the most basic levels, and those that insist otherwise are sadly misguided at best:
Mother Basil, however, was a scientist as well as a Catholic, and a Brigidine nun to boot. Brigidines are a doughty, unsinkable order: full of holy women who are also political activists. She would say, often, (and only now do I realise the significance) "Science doesn't ask why, girls; science always asks how."

Rather than religion intruding into science, you could say that science intruded into our religion classes. Mother Basil was my headmistress, biology teacher, RE teacher and life coach. At the start of my matric (year 12), she had decreed that we were going to enter Melbourne University's science talent quest. "We" consisted of the other biology student (it was a small school then) and myself. Our entry was a genetic experiment, modelled on 19th-century monk Gregor Mendel's work with peas. Peas take time, so we were to breed albino rats with black-andwhite ones over several generations to demonstrate dominant and recessive genes. We began in February with a guaranteed purebred black-hooded rat, Beta, and her grumpy albino mate, Alpha. By June we had run out of Greek alphabet; by August there were about 70 of them, eating, fighting, screwing, pooing; we had run out of money for cages and had to segregate the sexes.

It's an excellent read. I encourage folks to check it out.

Now Playing: Sheena Easton You Could Have Been With Me

Best. Quiz. Ever.

Oh wow oh wow oh wow. I found this via Nalo Hopkinson and didn't know what to expect, you know? "You Know Yer Indy. Let's Sub-Categorize" as a test, could easily become a pretentious mess. But I knew there were wise, wise minds behind it when the very first question offered The Kinks as the first possible answer. And much to my delight, the results confirmed my Dedicated Follow of Fashion status. Here's Ray, Dave, Mick and Pete, circa 1964 in their hunting jackets as proof:

You're a Mod. You dig expensive things, like suits
and speed. You have a fine appreciation for the
Kinks and know that Motown started it all, and
you have fabulous style. Hey, nice hair.

You Know Yer Indie. Let's Sub-Categorize.
brought to you by Quizilla

Now Playing: The Kinks The Kink Kronikles

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Science and faith: Bury the hatchet?

I just stumbled across this on MSNBC, and would've missed it if I hadn't been poking around the bottom of the page. Why is it that fundamentalist attacks against evolution get above-the-fold coverage, but when religious leaders come out in support of science, it's always buried?
A Vatican cardinal said Thursday that the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into “fundamentalism” if it ignores scientific reason.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a Vatican project to help end the “mutual prejudice” between religion and science that has long bedeviled the Roman Catholic Church and is part of the evolution debate in the United States.

Nice. And again, Galileo is pointed to as the catalyst for this initiative. The poor guy suffered intolerably, but his sacrifices seem to be paying off now to some extent. And look! In addition to some reasonable assertations that science needs ethical guidance religion can provide (you may dismiss the religious component of that statement, but certainly not the ethics portion), Cardinal Poupard also takes a swipe at the fundamentalists and creationists in the U.S.:
“But we also know the dangers of a religion that severs its links with reason and becomes prey to fundamentalism,” he said. “The faithful have the obligation to listen to that which secular modern science has to offer, just as we ask that knowledge of the faith be taken in consideration as an expert voice in humanity.”

The article goes on to point out that Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican's Science, Theology and Ontological Quest program, reaffirm's the Catholic Church's support for evolution as a scientific theory, and is "more than a hypothesis." Yay! Take that Michael Behe! You too, Discovery Institute!

Now Playing: Johann Sebastian Back Harpsicord Concertos 1

Just glassin' around

The family trekked to the Texas Renaissance Festival last weekend. Actually, we drove halfway, then had to leave the minivan in Columbus because the engine started making unpleasant noises again. So we're back down to one vehicle. But we got to TRF and back home again in my mother's van, so things worked out OK.

The first thing Lisa pointed out to me when we entered the festival grounds was a woman in--or rather out of--some sort of wood nymph costume. She was wearing a light cloak, and nothing else other than some strategically-placed autumnal leaves. My first thought was the Eve girl from Halloween past, but this... wow. It was incredibly stylish and designed. Only a few leaves, but they were either spirit-gummed on with great care, or were body paint. Perhaps a combination of both, now that I think of it. Where her flesh ended and leaves began was almost seamless, and the arrangement gave the impression of wind blowing them around her in a whorl. Foolishly, I didn't think to get a picture, and didn't see her the rest of the day. Pity. It was very, very well done.

Calista was eager to see Istanpitta, as that group had made a big impression on her last year. Unfortunately, there were only two members there performing that day, and neither of them were Sahira, a belly dancer that my daughter's become a huge fan of. The group's just put out a new CD, "Pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Mary," that I wanted to get, as I've enjoyed the "Chevrefoil" disc we picked up last year. We moved on pretty quickly, and I planned to go back later for the disc, but never made it.

Instead, later in the day as we headed into the Sherwood Forest section of the festival, we passed a guy playing music on water-filled wine glasses. This stopped me in my tracks, since I hadn't seen anyone do the glass harmonica at a ren faire since Glasnots went defunct after Terry Hinely was killed in a car wreck in the late '90s. I glanced at the CDs on display, and saw the name "Donal Hinely," who used to be the Glasnots guitarist. I said something clever and insightful, like "Oh my gosh, Glasnots!" and Donal quickly looked up in surprise, and said it was nice to hear that someone remembered that name. We talked for a bit, and he knew me from my reviews over at Green Man Review. He gave a demonstration of his glass harmonica playing to my daughters and their friends who were with us, and before you knew it there was a crowd of 20 people where none had been before. I grabbed two of his CDs--"Midwinter Carols," traditional Christmas music performed on glass harmonica, and "We Built a Fire," a folksy, guitar-centric album of original Americana songs by Hinely. That sparked a bunch of other people to grab the various other CDs he was selling as well, so I like to think I helped contribute to his financial solvency.

The interaction with Hinely made a huge impression on Calista. The first thing she did when we got back to Columbus before heading on to New Braunfels was try to make a wine glass resonate. It took her a few times, but she got it. She's made me play "Midwinter Carols" on the drive to school every day this week. She's gotten wine glasses and champaign flutes out at home and experimented with different water levels in them. She's actually gotten very good at drawing notes from the crystal, even though she hasn't put that together as an actual song yet. She says she's going to learn to play as well as Hinely, and I'm hesitant to doubt her. I've seen how determined she can be. The first song she wants to learn is Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." And she's not even seven.

Out of obsessive curiosity, I looked up glass harmonicas online. Apparently, the only manufacturer of the Benjamin Franklin-style glass harmonica in the world is G. Finkenbeinder Inc.. Before they started making these around a decade ago, it'd been more than 150 years since the last one was produced. Amazing.

Out of more obsessive curiosity, I emailed them, asking for pricing. To my surprise, they responded quickly. The bowls used in the harmonicas are made from pure quartz, so there's no danger of going insane from lead poisoning. That's a relief. And the prices, while not cheap, are certainly reasonable in comparison with other professional musical instruments. At the low end, a two-octave, 25 note glass harmonica has an asking price of $6,150 while at the high end, a three-plus octave, 42 note harmonica goes for $19,845. Obviously, we're sticking with the cheap wine glasses for now, but if Calista does become proficient on this instrument, I could possibly see one of these professional ones as a graduation present or somesuch. But that's a long way from now.

Now Playing: Glasnots Re-Elect the Moon

All stand down

Driver's license found. Check card found. Disaster averted. Panic subsides. You can all rest easy now.

Now Playing: Glasnots Beggar's Dance

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Another piece of my childhood gone

Astroworld is no more:
On Sunday, the big and small rides at AstroWorld took one final dip, loop and spin and then they came to a halt — and at 6 p.m. the public bid farewell to the park that opened 37 years ago.

There may be other places to have fun in Houston, but "this was the spot," said Tiffany Simmons, who was at AstroWorld with her husband, Frank, and their two sons.

While attendance at AstroWorld has declined over the years, the real estate value of the park property has risen substantially. The park said Sunday's attendance was 18,645.

Since Six Flags Inc. announced in September that it would permanently close AstroWorld to sell the 109-acre site across the South Loop from Reliant Park, thousands have passed through the gates for one last thrill.

Astroworld was the place for fun growing up in Texas in the 70s and 80s. All the cool kids in podunk Columbus had those big poster maps on their walls--the kids with the latest editions (Does yours have the Greezed Lightnin'?) were looked upon as blessed by the gods. I remember Marvel McFey, a Yosemite Sam character interpreted by way of Mardi Gras, who served as the park mascot long before anyone had ever heard of "Mr. Six." Every summer my family took a trip to Astroworld for vacation and had a blast. One year we went to Six Flags in Arlington instead, because we'd always heard how it was "so much better." Big mistake. I've lost track of how many band and Boy Scout and Spanish club and church groups I went to the park with. Lisa and I even went right before we had Calista. It was always a great deal of fun.

As a kid, my favorite two rides were the Alpine Sleigh Ride, which was a mountain-themed roller coaster, and the River of No Return, which was a boat ride that boasted fire-breathing tiki statues and an enormous King Kong mockup barely restrained by a timber fence. Alas, the Alpine Sleigh Ride was dismantled in the mid-80s, and the River of No Return slowly deteriorated, becoming a "Nature Tour Boat" in the early 90s before finally being shut down and filled in a few years later.

I never liked the famous Texas Cyclone wooden roller coaster. Too rough. Too jarring. Too violent. As far as traditional roller coasters went, I always enjoyed the venerable Dexter Freebish, which was renamed the Excalibur in the 80s and renamed again to something else in the late 90s. There wasn't anything particularly special about it, but it was always dependable. My favorite of the Astroworld coasters, though, was the Greezed Lightnin' which boasted a single loop that shot you through forward and backward at 60 mph. That one was fun. I'd ride it over and over every chance I got. It was also the first looping coaster I ever rode, so even though the Shockwave at Six Flags up in Arlington is technically superior in every respect, I'd still choose the Lightnin'. I also got a kick out of the XLR-8, a suspended coaster that was quick and smooth. It was one of the first of the slick, next-generation coasters that are so elaborate. Perhaps it's not quite so clever or inventive as others of its ilk, but it was innovative for its time.

And you really have to wonder about the motivation of Six Flags for closing the park:
This followed the Sept. 12 announcement by Oklahoma City-based Six Flags (which took over the park in 1975) that it would close AstroWorld, preferring to sell off this now-valuable real estate and not invest in the new rides necessary to bring in more business.

When Astroworld opened in 1968, it was on the very outskirts of town. Watch the movie "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training" if you don't believe me. Across the highway from the Astrodome, it was literally surrounded by flat cow pastures. Today, it is built up and developed beyond belief. High rises everywhere. Sure, those 109 acres are extremely valuable. But if that's the rationale, then certainly the acreage up there in Arlington is worth just as much, if not more? Or how about Six Flags Magic Mountain over in Los Angeles? When a company is saying "Yes, it can be competitive, but we'd rather not invest. Instead, we'll run it into the ground then sell it at a profit," well, something's wrong there.

I'd hoped to be able to take my kids there in a few years, to ride the rides such as the Gunslinger I glommed onto as a kid. Looks like that will no longer be an option.

Rumor has it that most of the rides will be dismantled and shipped to other Six Flags parks. I can only hope Fiesta Texas lays claim to Greezed Lightnin'.

Now Playing: wallowing in nostalgia

Batting a thousand

I just got back from the post office. I took four packages of stories published this year on RevolutionSF with me to mail off to various editors of various "Year's Best" collections for consideration. Because that's the kind of nice editor that I am.

When all the packages are stamped and ready to go, and it's time to pay, I find that my checkbook's empty. No checks left. No problem, I'll use the check card to pay. No check card. What? No driver's license, either.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

Now Playing: splitting headache

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Contests of Halloweens past

I first got started on the whole Halloween costume contest bit years ago, when I still lived in Temple. I went out dressed in my Robin Hood outfit, and quite by accident, won a couple hundred dollars without really trying. It's been all downhill from there.

The very next year, I got beat out by "Sexy Southern Belle," a slinky blonde in a white g-string, push-up bra and garters sporting a lacy white parasol. This was also my first run-in with an all-or-nothing contest. First place was the only prize.

There have been more mostly-naked women winning money at costume contests over the years.

Two years ago was particularly galling. I went to a club, and right away spotted the competition. A blonde in a cloak. She really was naked underneath. She'd come "dressed" as Eve, of Biblical fame. She had an apple. And a lifelike rubber snake. And had gotten an array of actual leaves and super-glued them to her bare skin in strategic places. I know this because as the night wore on, we ended up chatting a bit about our respective costumes. She obviously was not and exhibitionist, and was not comfortable at all in flaunting her bare flesh. If I recall correctly, I got the impression she used super glue--even though she knew she'd ultimately regret it--because she couldn't afford to buy any spirit gum. She really, really needed money, and this was a desperate gamble on her part. Even though it was one of those all-or-nothing contests, I started to feel like it wouldn't be so bad if I lost to her. Yeah, she was playing the sex card for the audience, but at least she'd put in some thought and effort, and wasn't just playing the strumpet. So I go onto the dance floor when the MC calls, and get a huge reaction. Other contestants get less reaction. So far so good. Eve prances out, striving for allure and confidence, but not quite managing it. Still, she's cute and more naked than any other woman in the club, so the crowd's response tells me I'm probably SOL. Until... four overweight women in form-fitting black leotards with white face paint and aluminum foil wrapped around their shoulders come running out onto the stage. I'm thinking "Post-apocalyptic mimes?" Seriously, they looked awful. But the MC gets all excited and starts shouting into the mic--"Let's give it up for the KISS reunion tour!" and the DJ begins playing "Rock & Roll All Night." It's pandemonium, and the MC awards them first prize right there. These were horrible costumes. They'd never have gotten a second glance if the club hadn't essentially endorsed them with the music and cheerleading. I was not happy about it, but Eve, well, she erupted in a string of obscenities, burst into tears and ran out of the club. Can't say I blame her.

That wasn't my low point, however. The low point happened last year at "Club Hollywood" in San Marcos. The "manager" made the preliminary selections after the first round of the competion. Despite getting the second-largest ovation from the crowd--a particularly volumptuous woman dressed as a vampire wearing dental floss was the most popular--I was feeling pretty good, since there were cash prizes for the first three places. But I was eliminated by the manager, not even making the finals. So was the dental floss vampire, much to her surprise. So were several other excellent costumes. Who made the finals? Two no-names wearing store-bought "Scream" masks and street clothes, and on guy dressed as the Antonio Banderas "El Mariachi" character from Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Mind boggling? Yeah, until you see the manager, who was particularly--how should I put this?--fey fawning over El Mariachi all night, giving him free drinks and watching him with longing in his heart. Yeah. Against that, I had no chance.

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The thrill of victory... such as it is

Because of various disparate factors, we're running short of money. Nothing new. But with the need for a little extra cash on the front burner, I decided I'd find a costume contest somewhere and take my chances. Halloween being on a Monday this year, pickings were slim, as most nightclubs would've held their on Saturday. But I called around and found two with pretty worthwhile contests going on: San Marcos River Pub in San Marcos (duh) and Scores Sports Bar in New Braunfels. The folks at the River Pub said their prizes were $150, $100 and $75. Not bad--even assuming the half-naked chick walking around in her underwear takes first, there are still two more chances to win some decent money. Scores, however, trumped that. Not only were they offering the same top three prizes, the girl on the phone told me there was a fourth prize of $50. Scores was a 10 minute drive from my house, plus I wouldn't have to worry about college students competing against me. Scores it was.

So I dressed up in my Hern the Hunter/Antler Man costume, which is no small feat. I'm quite happy to discover the skimpiest female costumes are worn by the wait staff. I get off to a bad start by accidentally bonking my waitress (dressed as Alice in Wonderland gone down a naughty rabbit hole) on the head with my staff. Oops. I gave her some Halloween candy, though, so all was forgiven. The crowd grows, and more and more people show up in costume. Some are pretty darn elaborate, although most are store-bought. There's a big, hairy guy dressed as a Hooters waitress, who worries me. Another girl who's painted herself silver and is dressed as a sexy Tin Woodswoman from the Wizard of Oz. Her costume's not that elaborate, but she obviously put some effort into it. They announce there are four prizes--best female, best male, best couple and best overall. This is different from what they told me earlier on the phone, but I figure this is for the best. Two chances for me to win with best male and overall, with the skimpy-dressed women in their own category. They announce the winners. Hooters guy gets best male. Tin chick gets second. I win best overall. Yay!

They hand me an envelope. It's marked $50.

Crap. They went cheap. I glance at the other winners. $50 also. Well, the bar decided they could scale back their prize money. Wouldn't be the first time that's happened. That's $50 more than I had when I entered the contest. Gift horse and all that.

This morning I take a closer look at the "check," getting ready to deposit it. It's not a check at all. It's a $50 gift certificate for the bar, that expires in December. Cheap, cheap, cheap. I go to Scores two, maybe three times a year to watch games I can't get at home. It'd take me a year to use that whole thing, since obviously I can't take the family along and buy the kids a round. I really, really hate complaining about prizes, because yes, I know it makes me look like a sore winner, but crap.

As far as grand prizes go, this one sucks.

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