Thursday, October 30, 2008


If you want some kind of a rebuttal to all the pro–corn syrup propaganda that's been slowly oozing around recently, here's a "scientists say" kind of rundown from the New York Times. It's glib, but it's a step up from know-nothing.

I tried to look up something about U.S. sugar tariffs, which I'd thought were big pro-corn barriers against cheap Latin American can sugar, but this New Yorker bit from a couple of years ago suggests they're more of a U.S. sugar industry thing. But then there's the whole ethanol lobby etc. etc. and you need to go lie down for a while. It's worth remembering now and then, just as a counter-ideology thing, that we don't actually run anything like a pure market economy in this country.

Playlist 10/30

Stylistically Unclassifiable Neglected Midcentury Classical Works! Hooray.

Bela Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, mvt. II "Pair Games" (1943)
Arthur Berger: Duo for Cello and Piano (1951)
Frank Martin: Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir (1922/26)
Bohuslav Martinů: Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano, and Timpani (1938)
Henri Dutilleux: Symphony No. 2 "Le Double" (1959)

Okay, the Bartok is not neglected. But: can you guess the compositional aspect that allowed me to free-associate this program, but that does not justify itself as a programming hook?

The Martinů concerto has been raved about in this space previously. You absolutely must track down the Frank Martin Mass, if you at all enjoy twentieth-century music and choral works; it's astounding. (And the man sat on it for forty years! Forty years before it was performed.) Berger's duo is an abstract little gem of a work; the Dutilleux symphony is brighter and more luscious than the later orchestral work he made his name with, situated between Ravel and the esoteric second half of the century.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bravo Phillies

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, who just won the World Series. I don't have a lot of love lost for them based on their onetime status as a Pirates rival (back when the Pirates were in the N.L. East and could accurately be described as "rivaling" anyone) but it's nice to see a National League team win it all again. In celebration, here is a clip of Phillies veteran off-the-bench guy -- and onetime Pirate -- Matt Stairs describing a heroic home run back in the league championship series, in an exchange unbelievably deemed by Pete to be too lowbrow to blog:

(Kyle, incidentally, found the above uncomfortably cringe-inducing, further demonstrating that I will never sell her on watching the British version of The Office with me.)

Thanks to the temporal spoils of West Coast life I saw a good two-thirds of the decisive game, starting yesterday after work when the field conditions were beginning to look like The Last Boy Scout (less the body count) and resuming post-suspension this evening as I cobbled together something like dinner for myself. This early Prime Time should also make it much easier to endure election night, when I'll have a more pronounced rooting interest.

Also note that in his immediately-postgame interview, closer Brad Lidge specifically thanked both Jesus Christ and the Philadelphia fans, which I believe runs the full moral gamut from good to evil.


You may have noticed, from my blog posting during the last 6 months or so, a conspicuous absence of blog post about bicycle-related mishaps. Especially given my well-documented foray into abjectly terrible bicycle karma last spring, this is perhaps something of a shock. I've even been wondering to myself (which, of course, is part of what got me into my bicycle mess last year) about how unnoteworthy my non-problems with the bikes has been. My friends down here have noticed too, that I haven't been complaining or needy do to bicycle problems.

Some part of the blog-absence of the bicycles is simple enough to explain, since they were in storage from May-August. But still, given my track record, the fact that I've been riding these two bikes on a regular basis since mid-August (2 whole months!) without incident is easily the longest span I've had without bike trouble since I got down here. Come to think of it, I haven't had such a long bike-friendly period since leaving Pittsburgh back in '04--I don't think I ever blogged about my bicycle-related unhappiness in Portland, but needless to say, it was a debacle. And I did have one bike ride over the summer, with a friend of mine in Brooklyn, and that was pretty well mishapful, since the bike I was riding steadily disintegrated beneath me as I was riding it. Oh well. But the main reason that my bikes have been doing well is that I switched to self-sealing inner tubes last April (the third of the above linked posts covers this transition), and the things definitely work.

So, of course, since I'm blogging this now, something must have happened. What? I've figured out how puncture-proof tubes get punctured. Basically (and I found this out this morning as I investigated the tube of the back tire of my hybrid to determine why it had gone flat the night before), a sizable splinter of wood had become lodged into the extra-thick outside wall of the tube, and then, at some further occasion become jammed hard enough through it that it punctured the weaker inside wall, causing an unsealable leak. Interesting (mildly), really. I don't know where the splinter came from - I do recall though, late last week, that the tire suddenly lost some amount of air, which I was surprised at since these things have been generally air-tight, and I definitely know the bump in the road that finally drove the splinter home.

I guess I'm mostly just blogging my learning curve here--when your puncture-proof tire leaks air, even if it fills back up just fine, take the time to investigate the tube anyway.

So I hopped on the road bike this morning, which is the nice thing about having two bikes, intending to swing by the local bike shop (the bike shop of the second of the two above linked posts) and get a slight wobble taken out of its back tire and pick up a couple more tubes for the hybrid. On the way I noticed that my left pedal was get progressively looser and looser.

At the shop, I gave them the very short list of outpatient tweaks for the road bike, which now included tightening the pedal for me. They quickly came back and said the pedal was busted and needed to be replaced, and they didn't have any replacements in stock. Argh! So it'll be ready on Friday, now, and I walked to campus and am writing this post. Kinda frustrating, though I suppose it's reasonable that when you ride a 30-40 year old European bicycle they're not gonna just have a pair of pedals kicking around for it. I dunno. When it drizzles, it drizzles mightily.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Author Knew Charles Ives

If you like Charles Ives, you should track down Vivian Perlis's oral history of the man, Charles Ives Remembered, compiled from interviews she conducted at the end of the 1960s with people who knew him or worked with him. It's short and you can probably find it in a university music library. Or you can borrow the copy I impulse-bought at Powell's back in August.

The expected crusty personality emerges, along with some heavier doses of shyness or occasional conflictedness than I expected. There are great nuggets scattered throughout: a copy of an advertisement recruiting insurance salesmen that Ives placed, headlined with an Emerson quote; the reports from a West Redding, CT, barber who Ives was friendly with, who had no idea Ives was a composer until after Ives's death. Christine Loring, a onetime household secretary for Ives in West Redding, recalls:
Mr. Ives mentioned his Universe Symphony to me more than once. It was to be played by at least two huge orchestras across from each other on mountaintops overlooking a valley. It was to be religious (a paean of praise, I believe he said), and it was a real and continuing interest for years. Once after he stood looking out the picture window toward the mountains, he restlessly paced about, not conversing but as if he were thinking aloud with gestures, and humming and singing bits of music. He said, "If only I could have done it. It's all there — the mountains and the fields." When I asked him what he wanted to do, he answered, "the Universe Symphony. If only I could have done it."

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Usual Monday Offerings

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Giants 21, Steelers 14

Things James Harrison is good at:
● Singlehandedly dismantling the Baltimore Ravens offense

Things James Harrison is not so good at:
● Long snapping

I think we certainly could have lost that game even without Greg Warren going down, the way the Giants defense was intensifying their pressure late in the game. But man, what a weird turn of events. Also, what kind of pain did it look like Mitch Berger was in?

Had a couple of coworkers over for this one (Giants fan Kate, who was nice about it; Alex, who I saw a couple of Stravinsky concerts with this week too; briefly, Carmel) plus Connecticut friend-of-a-friend Andy, who spent much of the game calling in vain for passes to Hines Ward, who was on his fantasy team.


I Am Afraid for My Self, for My Self, for My Self

There's a new article in The Atlantic by Paul Bloom (psych prof at the neighborhood Ivy League book-learnery, though I didn't know that before looking up his name just now) about what he interprets as a community of different selves that constitutes each of us. There's a lot of space junk in orbit around his main idea, and I find the article interesting mostly as an example of how attached people are to believing in a continuous self (or soul, or whatever; note one quotation where he seems to inadvertently equate the two terms). Bloom begins by disavowing the idea of a single self, then posits the existence of these multiple selves, then starts to refer to a "long-term self" that has the benefit of experience and is better suited to making good decisions.

Again, what I blame here is the attachment to defining any continuous self. I think what's undeniably clear is that we have a self-aware, first-person conscious "self" in any one given moment, which is generated by brain matter. Call it a Point Self. It's not continuous in any real way: my Point Self ten minutes from now will definitely be a lot like my Point Self now, but that's because they're generated by the same brain matter. They are not two points on some kind of independent Line Self that has an ambiguous relationship to brain matter. And I don't think you explain anything new by suggesting such a Line Self. Ideas about longer-term consistent selves should be scalpeled out with Occam's hatchet. Why get tangled up like Bloom does in complex, competing Line Selves? Consider just a Point Self and think about why the brain matter is presenting different concerns as more salient at different times.

Let me switch to a hokey-sounding candle metaphor. Think of a candle as your physical brain and your self as the flame. If you want to explain the flame at any point in time, you need to describe the candle. You don't say, "Well, this flame has been here for a while, and it changes shape and dances around, but it seems pretty consistent over time. So we're watching the flame closely and trying to figure out how it sustains itself into the future." Also note that theologians have not spent the past four thousand years trying to figure out where the flame goes after the candle is out of wax.

Anyway, that's what I think, or rather (by the time you read this) thought. It is half-baked but it is similar to what I thought a year ago, and it is probably similar to what I will think in the future. Meanwhile, at the moment, I have to go back to using my self for freelance proofreading again.

* * * * *

Also in the article, a mention of dissociative identity disorder (formerly multiple personality disorder):
Recent years have seen a backlash, and some people diagnosed with the disorder have sued their therapists. One woman got a settlement of more than $2 million after alleging that her psychotherapist had used suggestive memory “recovery” techniques to convince her that she had more than 120 personalities, including children, angels, and a duck.
Not to make light of this poor woman's experience, but sometimes you really just have to use the lemons/lemonade strategy. For example, if I were to open my refrigerator right now, I would see among other items half a loaf of ordinary sandwich bread: nothing special. But consider the world where I can say, You know, I think I'll use Duck Personality right now. That bread is gonna be awesome.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Edited That Together to Make You Look Foolish

I didn't read John Hodgman's first book, The Areas of My Expertise, but Nate liked it and I usually accept that as a decent predictor for my eventually reading it and liking it. I haven't read Hodgman's second book either, but he does a pretty funny promotional bit about it on the Daily Show.

I like that this comes off as a kind of abstracted comedy bit. Make sure you read the text at the bottom of the screen during the Rachel Maddow interview.

Elsewhere, a pretty interesting Onion AV Club interview with Hodgman.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mists 'n' Miscellany

Classical radio show playlist 10/23:

Igor Stravinsky, "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto in E-flat Major (1938) for chamber orchestra

Antonin Dvorak, Slavonic Dance op. 46, no. 7 in C minor (1880ish) for orchestra

W. A. Mozart, Oboe Quartet in F major, K. 370 (1781)

Leos Janacek, In the Mists (1912) for piano

Steve Reich, Variations for Vibes, Pianos, and Strings (2005) for large ensemble

Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring (1913) for orchestra

I think this all balances out in your ears better than it looks on paper. Rite of Spring is being performed on campus this weekend so I figured I'd get that in there. On the other hand, I don't think anyone is listening to this show yet, since I've been kind of kicking the "publicity push and online show archiving" can down the "either I'm busy or baseball playoffs are on TV" road.

This Week in Video I Would Embed if I Could

I don't want to seem like I give a shit, but this video is pretty funny:


I've often been heard to say something to the extent of "once you get too far outside of Pittsburgh, you might as well be in Arkansas," so I guess I couldn't agree more either.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Zombie Palin #1

In my most important link-to-something-else-I'm-doing-on-the-internet yet, please go check out the new topical political web comic I'm writing with my friend Nick:

Zombie Palin!

We'll be posting new strips every Monday and Thursday up through the election. So please tell your friends about it! As soon as Tina Fey options the movie rights, I'll be famous!

(And also, while you're over at audioshocker, you can check out my latest culturology post as well!)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Steelers 38, Bengals 10

Except for that long Cincinnati drive before the half and, um, much of the third quarter, that was pretty fun to watch. Whose idea was it to sign Mewelde Moore in the off-season? They're looking pretty bright right now.

Good to see Nate Washington make a big play for the second game in a row, and Hines Ward being Hines Ward, and Roethlisberger not getting beat all the hell out of for once.

I did not know that Carson Palmer's little brother Jordan was the Bengals' third-string quarterback. Maybe someday they will have the same cachet as the Mannings, but they'll probably have to do better than 0–7 first.

Watched this one in a sports bar at the Connecticut Post Mall down in Milford with Stu. Adequate!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weekend Warrior

It's been awhile since I blogged on a weekend. Avoiding the internet on Saturdays and Sundays for the past month was one of several failed schemes, along with three glorious mornings last week when I got up at 7:30 AM to go jogging, I have embarked upon to try and get myself to be more productive in general; without teaching, I've fallen victim to structure-less existence (my two classes are both at 5 PM, and so there's no pressure to be awake, ever, before 1 in the afternoon). The struggle is on-going, and hopefully I'll get something to stick soon--I'm only on the internet today because I put off my Culturology (it'll go up on Monday) post a bit later than normal this week, so I should be back to not-internetting on the week-ends.

In fact, I've generally felt that I operate best with a full schedule - I still look back to my Senior year of college, especially the middle third of it, as the best example of that, where I was preparing both my recital and then my grad school auditions at the same time that I was writing the poems that eventually filled in the bulk of my grad school portfolios and getting my band back together to play the greatest concert/house party of Carnegie Mellon history, plus taking a full course load including several upper-level undergraduate theory classes.

But I guess this is the part of grad school that is preparing me for, like, the real world, or something. Since it's very unreal, having so much free time--feels almost criminal, in its way. Most of my friends are bogged down in grading papers this weekend. Other than spending some quality time sending out contributor correspondences for the literary journal I work for (Gulf Stream Magazine) , it's pretty much up to me to, like, do some stuff, and like, maybe even get some stuff done. Which I will, damn it; writing this post reminds me to get some damn wind in my sails.

I did go see the movie Appaloosa last night, with a couple of the above-mentioned paper-graders. Deeply weird, that movie. Tried very hard to be an old-school Western, and succeeded on many fronts, but the pacing and editing were off in a way that destabilized the viewing experience in a major way. Probably worth watching on DVD in the future though, if for no other reason that catching the scenes that work, especially since at the same time that it tried to be old-school, it tried to be pretty funny too, and the funny bits are quite entertaining. The main other things that I bring out of it are:

1) Viggo Mortensen might actually be a good actor - I had kind of written him off for the Lord of the Rings movies and Hidalgo, but he's actually made relatively few movies since. I had somehow assumed that he had been in more crap movies like Hidalgo before making A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, but he hasn't. Therefore: more good actor than bad.

2) Renee Zellweger is not only a bad actress, but also ugly. Maybe she was cute 10 years ago, but she's tough to look at in this one. Maybe that was intentional. I dunno.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

In the Steppes of Central Southern Connecticut

College friend visiting for weekend = lots of apartment cleaning, little radio show planning. But expansive romantic-era Russian works = easy to phone it in!

Playlist 10/16:

Modest Mussorgsky: Prelude to Khovanshchina (1874)

Anton Arensky: Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor (1894)

Mily Balakirev: Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat Major (1861, rev. 1906, completed by Sergei Liapunov)

Alexander Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880)

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 (1873, rev. 1880)

I really like that Balakirev concerto, which is seriously obscure. Hard for me to judge the piano writing, but on the whole it's a colorful and dramatically effective work, on solid Russian-nationalist-symphonic ground. The reoording is in Hyperion Records' series of forgotten romantic piano concertos; I picked up the disc a while ago since it's got Rimsky-Korsakov's curious single-movement piano concerto on it too. In a better world this stuff would get aired out in concert now and then.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

That's Some Cutting We Can Believe In, My Friends

I'm not equipped for or inclined towards actual Presidential debate analysis -- if only because based on casual poll browsing these affairs don't seem very influential, at least compared to, you know, Dow blow -- but I was watching the latest one and laughed out loud at one exclamation of John McCain's: Rebutting an earlier claim of Barack Obama's that McCain's vague spending-freeze promise is like using a hatchet when you need a scalpel, McCain said something along the lines of, "That's a hatchet, and then I'll get out a scalpel!" And here I believe doctors and woodsmen can reach out across the aisle to each other and agree that such combinations aren't likely to be useful in any case.

Anyway, in an evening largely about rhetoric that was my favorite instance of a metaphor being butchered. Or I guess butchered and then surgically incised. In terms of actual policy I'll just say that the prospect of stable, good-faith, center-left governance has never felt so welcoming before.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Further Adventures in Groceryland

When I went to college in Pittsburgh, I lived for two years an apartment complex that was more-or-less centrally located in what I think counts as North Oakland (this was Fifth & Craig - can anyone specify the exact region of Oakland there?). Down the street from me, a couple blocks away, was a Giant Eagle grocery store, often referred to by my fellow undergraduates as "The Dirty Bird," and was labeled, in typical privileged undergraduate fashion, as being somewhat "ghetto." Since it was so close to me, I pretty often did my shopping there - if not huge dedicated shopping trips, then at least mid-week supplementary shopping excursions. I never really saw a problem with it. It was older and dirtier than the other Giant Eagle that CMUers frequented up in Squirrel Hill (a decidedly richer neighborhood (North Oakland being a region of dilapidation and elevated student renting rates)), sure, and had older-model shopping carts, but I was never comfortable referring to it as "ghetto" and certainly never called it "The Dirty Bird."

I bring this up because with my move from North Miami Beach to North Miami, I moved just far enough to switch grocery stores, from the Publix at about 145th Street to the Publix at about 128th Street. Now, these Publixes are not particularly far apart, but far enough that the distinction made between them is rather stark. My now-current Publix is the "ghetto" Publix. Though, it is not the worst Publix on record in my social circle - that distinction belongs to the Publix up in Hollywood (FL) where a friend of mine once saw a man eating raw bacon directly from the package in the freezer aisle. And, as graduate students, we of course are much more comfortable slyly calling my Publix the "ghetto" Publix, because when we speak, the quotes stay around certain words when we utter them. The Publix up the road is definitely for yuppies, part of a whole strip of yuppie-centric stores installed in advance of a new set of condo high-rises opening.

As a bicyclist and a former grocery store employee, I am used to shopping for food every few days - I tend to swing by Publix 3 or 4 days a week, generally only buying half-a-backpack-full of groceries at a time. Being in the "ghetto" Publix this often, I have the great pleasure of observing people who consider themselves to be above the location, though I'm never sure why they've wound up there when another 3 minutes up the highway they could go to a Publix the clientele of which would be much more comfortable for them. Class distinctions in Miami are always a remarkable thing; the differences between the haves and have-nots are quite wide, and the disdain effused by the haves that wind up in the "ghetto" Publix seems incredibly genuine. A couple of highlights:

1) I was in the pasta aisle on a weekday evening. A well-dressed young couple were picking out a jar of sauce. The woman remarked to the man, "This is great, it's like we're shopping where the poor people shop."

2) A couple days ago - Sunday in the early evening - I swung by the Publix to buy a bag of spinach. In front of the bagged salad case was an later-middle-aged woman and I presume her 2nd or 3rd husband. Blocking the way for other shoppers to get their lettuce and move on. The woman says, in more or less a continuous stream:

"I feel like I'm in a third world country when I shop here. All they have is this shithouse lettuce [picks up bag of lettuce and tosses it down in disgust]. All of this it's just shithouse lettuce. I don't know why we ever come here. This shithouse lettuce."

I'm not exactly sure what she meant by "shithouse lettuce" or how that relates to it being a third world country - bagged pre-washed salads seem rather decidely first world to me, but I did finally shove past her to grab me some (shithouse) spinach.

I really don't mind the new Publix. It suits me just fine. And, unlike the yuppie Publix, there's a bike rack right outside the door. Bonus!

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Week in Shameless Self-Promotion

Once again, here's a link to my weekly blog post over on that other blog that I now contribute to.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Saturday Night Shostakovich

Two big Shostakovich pieces via the undergraduate Symphony Orchestra tonight, a concert I took in with my college friend Nick, who's here in New Haven now. (Had dinner with him & his wife Lisa the other night, too, at their place. He's got a faculty position in the physics dept. here, and she's in law school. And they've got an 11-month-old kid. They're busy people.)

Violin Concerto No. 1. I thought it was going to be a grad student soloist playing this, but instead it was a 19-year-old biology major. He, impressively, played the hell out of the piece, displaying a sharp-edged lower register and the ability to carve Shostakovich's mind-bending third-movement cadenza into the stark, spellbinding thing it should be. The orchestra was playing catch-up to a greater extent than usual, but it's a tough piece and the concert hall doesn't do any acoustical favors. (We were sitting near the front, the better to hear the soloist; still a good call, even if the timpani and horns were getting sucked out of the sound mix. We moved up to the second balcony after intermission.)

Fifth Symphony. The past couple of times I've heard this piece it's been with professional big-city orchestras able to machine-tool it into fair perfection. Like most works I've seen the undergrads play, it throws off new shadows when it sounds a bit more rough-edged and difficult. (Gutsy, though, always gutsy, these undergrads. And that's what makes for a successful concert, too.) That final, ambiguously triumphant climax of the symphony rings much differently when the trumpets are struggling mightily to attain the high notes; it's both more honest and less believably victorious. Also, the Symphony's music director, Toshiyuki Shimada, comes down, I think, in the "play the end part slowly to make it sound like an ironic celebration" school of Shostakovich Fiveology. Average-to-quick tempos everywhere else. Good show. I like thinking about how Shostakovich saved his own life with this piece.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Lunchbreak Flowerblogging

Why the building management would choose the first week of October to put flowers in the planters out front (which have been barren all year) is beyond me. Since there's not a lot at stake in my interpretation, though, I'll go ahead and assign the action an admirable degree of optimism.

I'm almost as pleasantly surprised as the time last month when they actually got around to installing functioning mailboxes in the landing.

It's actually been really nice out this week, so maybe it'll be a while yet before the Blumine are excised from the ol' nature symphony.

* * * * *

I hadn't actually been aware that the Connecticut Supreme Court was hearing arguments on the constitutionality of barring gay marriage, but I'm of course quite happy they reached the morally correct result. In a better world, I continue to think, government would bother only with civil unions and leave the word "marriage" for the churches (or, more to the point, the people getting married) to sort out, but, well, we all know how much people are terrified by sensible, incremental policy changes towards secularization.

Apparently gay-marriage opponents still have a measure on the November election ballot on the question of convening a state constitutional convention to dial this back. I don't know how this polls in the state.

Suggested derogatory right-wing state nickname: "Connectichusetts."

* * * * *

Elsewhere on The Internet, respected political journalist James Fallows builds a fairly substantial blog post on the theme of making references to old Simpsons episodes.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bob Dole Doesn't Need This

Too early for Halloween, but plenty timely for the presidential campaign.

End communication.

What Turns Out to Be a Rather October-Appropriate Classical Playlist

We're done talking about Mega Man now, right?
Max Bruch: Kol Nidrei, op. 47 for cello and orchestra (1881)

Dmitri Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor (1948)

John Corigliano: Kaleidoscope for piano duo (1959)

Sergei Prokofiev: Quintet in G minor, op. 39 for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, and double bass (1924)

W. A. Mozart: Serenade in C minor K. 388 for wind octet (1782)
The Mozart and Shostakovich are both being played here in the next week (twice [!] for the Shostakovich concerto), and I would make a half-baked argument that the Prokofiev quintet sits stylistically right between those two pieces: thus most of the playlist. The Bruch would have made more sense 24 hours earlier, but, hey, still pretty close. Corigliano = obligatory contemporary music, "contemporary" meaning in this case almost five decades old.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Get Equipped With: Time Waster

Another attempted comment that outgrew its feeble bounds...

I think the usual rap against Mega Man 3 compared to Mega Man 2 is that the weapons you acquire aren't particularly interesting (the Needle Cannon and Spark Shot, in particular, are basically the same as your regular arm cannon) and that correspondingly dings the novelty of the gameplay. I always have liked 3 better, though: Its level designs are more attractive (utilizing the best graphical technology Capcom could bring to bear in 1990) and more ingenious, particularly the expansive, oddly creepy "revisited" stages, where you play through toughened-up versions of earlier stages fighting ghosts of the Mega Man 2 robot bosses. The music and (such as it is) the story are both improved in 3 as well, and both give the last stages a less playful, more urgent feel than what comes before -- though admittedly it never quite matches the creepy atmospherics of Mega Man 2's final showdown level.

I liked Mega Man 5 better than 2 when it came out and a couple of the robot master concepts are great (Charge Man, a belligerent steam locomotive-android is a lot of fun) but in retrospect I'm more sympathetic to the view that the gameplay is kind of bloated by that point in the series. Never played 6 (or 7 or 8, which were not released on the NES); 4 always struck me as a clunker; the original has a lot going for it but having picked up the series with 2 I never really got past the lack of polish and the clunkier controls.

Any love out there for Whomp 'Em, which if I'm not hallucinating it was a contemporary, much less catchy Capcom offering with a similar structure and weapons system but instead of a robot you played a crude Native American stereotype? We must have rented that from Iggle Video, like, three whole times.

There was sometime around fifth grade when I filled up most of a sketch book with something like eighty designs for robot bosses of my own, all with the stereotypical "______ Man" name and gimmicky theme weapon. I really had Mega Man on the brain there for some time...

Does this make sense to anyone who didn't while a way a chunk of their childhood and/or college downtime playing Mega Man games? Any sense at all?

I'm excited by the concept of a new NES-style Mega Man game, too, though if I bought a Wii for that I think it'd end up collecting dust in a corner next to my Game Boy Advance from a few years ago with Square's retread of Final Fantasy 1 still plugged into it. I find it neat as well that that A.V. Club's game reviewer describes the background music in one Mega Man 9 stage as "poignant", which -- as any remaining readers of this blog who spent a lot of time hanging out with me in college may be able to attest -- is a word I've applied excessively often to the plinky wistfulness of Mega Man 3's Magnet Man theme. The term might apply even better to the music for Wave Man's ocean-based stage in Mega Man 5, which is almost mournful in tone; perhaps Mega Man feels a broad, Brittenesque emotional response to the sea as he, you know, zips around on it trying to blow up a giant mechanical nautilus with a jet ski-mounted cannon. Still more notable to me in that review is the mention of a robot master named Splash Woman, who if I'm not mistaken has broken the robo-gender barrier for the series (not counting Mega Man's rarely present sister/lover/whatever Roll). Too late to be truly progressive, but still a milestone, I suppose; Ms. Pac-Man didn't put those 255 cracks in the glass ceiling in vain.

I feel like it'd be remiss to ramble about the NES Mega Man games for long without mentioning's Stinkoman 20X6 Flash game, which is an admirably dead-on parody of the series' look and feel.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Blog Man

As if to back up my earlier statement about the precious few websites that I actually read on a regular basis, here's a link to the Onion AV Club's review of Mega Man 9. Makes me wish I had a Nintendo Wii - though luckily, since I'll be in Pittsburgh for both major late-year get-together-worthy holidays (no, not Columbus Day (apparently this year's celebrate-the man-who-founded-America's-slave-trade is now officially an alone day)), and the folks have a Wii, and apparently the game only costs $10, I should be able to post a review of it myself one of these days. Though I'm mainly interested by the fact that the reviewer labels Mega Man 2 as the series' peak. I can find myself agreeing, but have the sense that my older brothers may not - there is something perhaps better about Mega Man 3 (positioned after sliding (a cool move) and before the Mega Buster, it may be just right, and does boast some of the epic-est of the always-epic Mega Man music).

As Promised

Here's a link to the new weekly blog post I'm now writing for my friend Nick's podcast/blogsite. Now that I've written two of them, I'm fairly certain I'll keep going with it for a while, so there you go. Every Monday, people, check it out.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Steelers 26, Jaguars 21

Good finish to that game; I thought the slouchy third quarter meant that they'd slipped down into a standard lackluster versus-Jacksonville performance. Gutsy for Roethlisberger to end the game passing despite whatever pain he's in, too. I hope the week off gives Ben a chance to reassemble the right side of his body.

If Ben doesn't throw that 1st quarter interception, that game never looks close. And you know, memorable mediocre moments aside the Steelers are 4–1 and showing flashes of being a pretty solid team.

Anyway, time to plunge into the workweek. Weekend otherwise full of fall stuff: apple picking with workfriends; cooking chicken noodle soup; watching baseball playoffs on TV; seeing a friend's photography show; thinking I'm coming down with a cold.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Population: You

Not a good sign for the weekend, generally, when it starts with being abruptly (albeit nicely) broken up with -- gotta say, there were zero signs of that one coming. Well. Still, after the initial bafflement dissipated I felt pretty much okay; was waiting for the self-doubt shoe to drop, but nothin'. So all things considered I figured I'd take that deal.

I'm not a big dream-interpreter, but I do believe that your sleeping subconscious is a window into what your true feelings and anxieties are. As it happened, last night my most unsettling dream was that Ben Roethlisberger injured his left shoulder and wouldn't be able to start in Jacksonville, thus dashing one's fragile hopes of him racking up some big pass plays against the Jaguars' depleted secondary. I take this as a sign that my emotional state does, indeed, seem to be operating under business as usual.

(I did, of course, check the news this morning to make sure Ben was still going to start. Incidentally, I'm under no naive impressions that it's likely we win this game.)

What induced undeniably bittersweet and wistful feelings last night was watching Jason Bay hit his first-inning three-run home run against the Angels. Long, lofting fly ball to straightaway center. Man.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72

I suppose it doesn't take much to keep up with my internetting (the only regular readings I do are the Guardian's website (despite the drastic dip in quality it took I guess a year or so ago when it fully embraced the AP wire) and The Onion AV Club), but here's a link to an opinion piece at The Guardian that I liked:

Just the usual intellectual outrage that Sarah Palin is tolerated at all as a viable candidate. As much as I've gone ahead and agreed to vote against the she-devil, I still don't really like participating in this kind of shit-fest of a political season, but did break down and watch the debate last night. I feel bad about it today, especially in perusing several online-versions of everyones favorite cable news stations, since there is obviously nothing positive that can come from my righteous disdain... (here is the textual equivalent of me trailing off on the thought, grumbling).

At any rate, it being an election year, I find the whole thing to be a constant source of depression, especially since I have too many allergies to ever fall off the grid. But I'm trying to at least spin it towards better understanding the difference between that which I could call my nihilism versus my apathy. Though I still generally don't claim to be all that apathetic about much. And feeling mopey and apathetic remind me of high school, which is too bad. Specifically, and this is maybe a mild leap, it reminds me of the kids in my high school that were fans of the great late-90s shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. They used to wear these t-shirts that said "When I'm God, everyone dies." This struck me as incredibly dumb, since, like, duh, kids, everyone dies anyway. And if things have worked out correctly for those kids, most've 'em will be voting for McCain and Palin next month just like the parents that they don't hate anymore. But when Sarah Palin is President (like anyone voting for McCain believes he's going to do anything but pull a W.H. Harrison), like, everyone dies, right?

Lunchbreak Blogging

Current electoral map got you stressed out? Look at old electoral maps! Observe the silent majority nearly run the table in 1972! Watch Strom Thurmond grab 39 of our worst electoral votes in the "Dewey Defeats Truman" election of 1948! Try and remember who John Bell was and why he took three states in 1860!

Fig. 1. Morning in America
Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure you can guess my general reaction to the VP debate last night even if I don't tell you what it was. I will say this: by calling Dick Cheney the most dangerous Vice President in history, I think Joe Biden is giving some serious short shrift to Aaron Burr.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ives Lives!

Radio show playlist 10/2/08: wall-to-wall Charles Ives, among other things Connecticut's official state composer.

"In the Barn"
(second movement of Violin Sonata No. 2), 1902–09
Variations on "America" for organ, 1891
Set for Theater Orchestra, 1906
String Quartet No. 1 "From the Salvation Army," 1896
The Unanswered Question for trumpet, woodwinds, and strings, 1908
Psalm 90 for chorus, organ, and bells, 1923 and earlier
"The Housatonic at Stockbridge" for voice and piano, 1921
"The Alcotts" (third movement of Concord Sonata), 1911–15, rev. 1947
From the Steeples and the Mountains for brass and percussion, 1901
Symphony No. 3 "The Camp Meeting," 1904/1911
Country Band March for small orchestra, 1903


Here's a brief article about a recently discovered bowl engraved with what may be the earliest known reference to "Christ", in connection with soothsaying no less. Neat; I always think it's interesting to hear evidence (or potential evidence) of the blurred boundaries and shared practices among religious traditions. Not that I can cite any examples off the top of my head, but my college roommate was totally a Religious Studies minor and used to tell me about this kind of stuff in between games of Tony Hawk. The big takeaway being that religion is absolutely not exempt from the mutant ideas and cultural cross-pollination we see everywhere else.

I guess my only advice to renowned French marine archaeologist Franck Goddio would be FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DONT DRINK OUT OF IT

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Woodwind Players For Palin!

While we're wading a ways from the sharky waters of actual political commentary by piling on Sarah Palin: Via Andrew Sullivan, here's video evidence that she has, if not Vice Presidential qualifications, a talent:

Sullivan is a center-right commentator whose blog I've been reading much more often these days because he is seriously, amusingly, justifiably freaking out about Palin's candidacy. His posts from the past several weeks make a good summary of the real problems with her politics, credentials, and campaign. This... This just brings back unbidden memories of so many middle- and high-school woodwind instrument recitals and band concerts for me.

(That eighth-note passage was rushed, Ms. Heath! Subdivide in your head!)

Give her credit for memorizing the piece, anyway. Love the MC's shout out to Sir James Galway, too; that's middlebrow-core.

I Don't Think Tina Fey Can Keep Up with This

One of my favorite parts of watching these Couric/Palin clips is admiring the merciless dagger-eyes that Couric fixes toward her interviewee. My armchair-psychological theory is that Couric figures that she herself has always been seen as cute and perky, too, but that she didn't climb up to where she is just by faking her way through it like Palin, dammit, and people had better recognize the difference.

I mean, look at her talking to Biden in this clip; she frowns, but there isn't that genuine icy bearing. Whereas when she asks Palin her followup questions, it's like she enjoys turning the dagger.

Anyway. One thing we all know is: When someone responds to a question about Supreme Court decisions by hemming and hawing and then starting out with "In the great history of America," it usually means they're trying to fake their way through a high school social studies test.

My prediction for the debate is that it'll turn out to be way less interesting than it seems like it has the potential to be. Palin doesn't implode = Palin stops her downward spiral, too, I'm afraid.

Needs More Corn Syrup

A proposal for additional TV commercials endorsing Corn Syrup.

* * * * *

SCENE: kitchen. DIVORCED MOM is chopping vegetables as her two kids, a BOY and GIRL, enter, eating fistfuls of caramel popcorn.

MOM: Welcome home, kids! . . . Wait, has your father been giving you snacks with high fructose corn syrup in them again!?

GIRL: Shut up, Mom! We like Daddy's snacks!

BOY: Yeah, we want to live with Daddy!

[MOM keeps brave face, but eyes well up]

Corn Logo appears at bottom of screen, along with tagline: "Corn Syrup keeps families together!"

* * * * *

SCENE: park. A young, attractive BOYFRIEND and GIRLFRIEND sit on a picnic blanket, laughing and eating popsicles.

BOYFRIEND: [laughing] I can't even remember why I used to not eat popsicles!

GIRLFRIEND: [also laughing] And the all-natural corn syrup in them makes our lovemaking so much more frequent and mutually pleasurable!

Corn Logo appears with tagline: "Corn Syrup for a better life!"

* * * * *

SCENE: company picnic. TWO MEN sit at a picnic table, the first of them holding a clear plastic gallon jug of electric-blue drink product.

FIRST MAN: [admires jug] Mmm-mm. You know, I want you to tell me one good reason why corn syrup is worse than regular sugar.

SECOND MAN: Well, there are actually a number of nutritional and economic factors, but they're complex and not easily reduced to . . .

FIRST MAN: Too late! [starts drinking directly from jug]

Corn Logo, and tagline: "Mmmm! Tasty!"

* * * * *

SCENE: basketball court. Famous NBA all-star RAYSHAWN DRAMES is wearing a sweatsuit and headband, holding a large sports-drink bottle. He is surrounded by a group of somewhat skeptical-looking children.

DRAMES: Kids--take it from me, famous NBA all-star Rayshawn Drames. Sports drinks fortified with corn syrup give you the energy it takes to "play it smart"!

ONE KID: [hesitantly] What team did you say you were on again, Mr. Drames?

DRAMES: Look, just drink the corn syrup.

Corn Logo, and tagline: "Consuming Corn Syrup is a 'slam dunk'!"

* * * * *

SCENE: cave. Grainy original video footage shows OSAMA BIN LADEN addressing the camera in Arabic. English translation appears at bottom of screen as the video progresses.

TRANSLATION: And soon, by the power of Allah . . . the infidel will be forced to abandon the supreme sweetness of corn syrup. . . . It is the worst of their hated "freedoms." . . . Nothing will embolden the true jihadist more than the Great Satan turning away from this legitimately wholesome food product.

Corn Logo, and tagline: "What's it gonna be, America?"