Friday, September 30, 2005

Iconoclastic Title

Without a doubt, the coolest title for any religious leader in the world today is that of His Holiness Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. He could be thought of as the Pope of the Eastern Orthodox communion, but that analogy may not be entirely apt. I don't know that he has as much power over the church as the Pope. He's probably more like the Archbishop of Canteburry, in that he is the spiritual leader for a group of closely related religions. I did a little more reseach on the Patriach of Constantinople and learned that his full title is actually His Most Divine All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch. I'd like to see his business cards.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Charlie Don't Surf

If your CD collection has a gaping hole between Manfred Mann and Marilyn Manson, your prayers have been answered. ESP Disk, the seminal 1960s record label that cut to wax many of the first recorded statements of free jazz pioneers, has started reissuing their catalog on CD. I didn't know that ESP Disk got into rock and pop music after the original free jazz movement started to fizzle out in the late 60s, so I was surprised to see a reissue from 1974 by none other than Charles Manson. I already knew that Manson is, like many psychopaths, a failed artist, but I never knew anyone ever released any of his music. All royalties from the purchase of Charlie's album go to the son of one of his victims. No word on when any of the tracks from "Lie" will be available on iTunes.

Giant Squid

It was reported a couple of days ago that a team of Japanese scientists have captured a giant squid for the first time (on video, that is). I've been fascinated by the giant squid ever since I saw the remains of a giant squid tentacle on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum as a young boy. The squid that was captured on video was a mere 26 feet long, which is small, at least by giant squid standards.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

County Line

I've been listening to an album entitled "Field Recordings from the Cook County Water Table" by Brokeback. It's a cool recording, but that's not why I'm mentioning it. It just dawned on my that the first county that was able to identify, with the exception of the county where I grew up, was Cook County. I'm pretty sure that I learned where Cook Country was located (in Illinois, encompassing all of the city of Chicago and some outlying areas, in case anyone wasn't aware) from an episode of Punky Brewster, but I'm not entirely sure. I seem to remember an episode where Punky had to go to the hospital. Before cutting to a shot of Punky in her hospital bed, they showed some stock footage of a hospital in Chicago that had Cook County somewhere in its name. I don't have any other interesting stories for how I came to learn the names of any other counties. By the time The O.C. began its run, I already knew where Orange County, CA was. Of course, I've never actually watched the show, so it wouldn't have helped me anyway.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

US Error Ways

I' m a bit of an armchair aviation analyst, so here's my unsolicited view on the US Airways/America West merger. US Airways is strong on the east coast and almost nonexistent elsewhere. America West is strong in the southwest and almost nonexistent elsewhere. Unfortunately, I think that the new airline is less than the sum of its parts. Neither airline has a significant presense in the center of the country. Without a hub or focus operation somewhere between Pittsburgh and Phoenix, it's going to be hard to cater to business travelers in a large section of the country, except on routes to their hubs in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Phoenix (and possibly, Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, and Ft. Lauderdale, current US Airways focus cities).

This leads me to believe that the new airline is going to focus on point-to-point traffic between key markets and their hubs and focus cities on the east coast and in the southwest. Cherry-picking routes that are popular with business and/or leisure travelers is a technique that all of the low-cost carriers have exploited to some extent. While there are probably still some routes that have the potential to make some good money, most of these routes are already covered by Southwest, jetBlue, AirTran, and even the other legacy carriers. This me-too approach is unlikely to pay dividends for US Airways.

In my opinion, US Airways most valuable asset is not their slots at LaGuardia or Reagan National, it's their east coast feeder system. There are numerous small to medium sized towns from Maine to Florida where US is either the only carrier to the dominant carrier. For the most part, these airports do not fit into the low-cost carrier's business models. US Airways can operate in these towns without having to compete airlines like Southwest, who will drive down prices.

Finally, there is the question of what will happen to US Airways international network. The major carriers have been focusing most of their expansion plans on international routes because they have a better chance at making money on them then in the oversaturated domestic market. US Airways hasn't announced any new international flights or destinations, so I would assume that they are planning on maintaining their current routes. Without acquiring any new equipment, their prospects for overseas expansion are very limited, which will prevent them from getting an additional boost from international expansion.

This isn't the first time US Airways has purchased a low-cost carrier based on the west coast. Back in the late 1980s, US Airways, then known as USAir, purchased California-based Pacific Southwest Airlines in the middle of an acquisition binge. Within a few years, they had dismantled almost all of their west coast network. I don't know if this merger is going to work out any better.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Coffee Talk

Remeber back in the late 90s when a lot of people thought that Starbucks and Bill G. were trying to take over the world? Those days are long gone, of course. Old habits die hard, however. Syracuse is not the hippest town on earth, and if you don't believe me, think about this, downtown Syracuse got its first Starbucks coffee shop a couple of months ago. I visited this store yesterday for the first time. I'm not coffee or caffiene addict, but I like to have a cup of coffee a couple times a week. My coffee shop of choice has always been Freedom of Espresso, a local joint right across the street from the new Starbucks. While I have managed to suppress my Starbucks-hating reflex, I never really considered crossing the street. I took the moral high ground by telling myself that I like the coffee at Freedom better, it's cheaper, etc., but really, I had no idea if any of this was true.

Yesterday's visit to Starbucks pretty much confirmed what I already knew. Their coffee tastes good. Of course, I don't think it's too difficult to make a cup of coffee that tastes good. As long as you're make it strong, don't use any stale ingredients, and don't put in any flavored syrups, it's pretty hard to make a bad tasting cup of coffee. My two complaints are the same that I have about every Starbucks I've ever visited; their "small" size is too big and they serve their coffee too hot. Freedom of Espresso's small size is actually small, and the coffee is not so hot that you have to let it cool down for a few minutes before drinking it. Plus it's cheaper.

While I'm on the topic of coffee, I have to say that while I didn't think Kicking and Screaming was that great of a film, it has two redeeming qualities. The first one is the way it used coffee to symbolize of Phil's [ Will Ferrell ] descent into madness. The second was a better than expected acting performance by Mike Ditka. I still wouldn't pay money to see if (I saw it on a flight), but if you do see it, at least you've got coffee and da coach to look forward to.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Take My Wife, Please

One thing that I've always found mildly annoying is the way people refer to members of their family using phrases like: "my wife", "my brother", "my son", etc. in the presense of people who already know the real names of these people. This seems to happen the most in work environments. I once had a boss who always referred to his wife by her name, but always referred to his children chronologically (my oldest, my youngest, etc.) He had more than two kids though, so it often made things kind of clumsy, i.e. "I was at my second-oldest's soccer game last night..." Now that I'm married, I'm trying not to fall into this habit, but it's hard. I've broken this rule at least once on my blog, though I don't know if I everyone who reads this is on a first name basis with my wife (Michelle). So far, I'm one for two today at work.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hated Music

Paul Flahetry / Chris Corsano Duo
Metropolis Book Shoppe - North Syracuse, NY
Wednesday, September 21st

The sax and drums duo could be considered the string quartet of free jazz. Like the string quartet, the sax and drums duo focuses on the most important instruments in the genre. I'll admit that I am biased in favor of reed instruments, but I think it's fairly obvious that the saxophone is the most important instrument in free jazz. The sax can really tap into a range of sounds, colors, and emotions that can only be topped by the human voice, in my opinion. Free jazz appeals to listeners on such a visceral level that it only makes sense that the saxophone is its sharpest tool.

Flaherty definitely draws his inspiration from the first generation of free jazz saxophonists. He alternated between the alto and tenor horns tonight. He played both with a big sound and a lot of vibrato, but not a lot of resonance. His notes didn't hang around. He played most of the night at full steam, but showed an impressive amount of lyricsm the few times that he explored more placid sonic terrain.

Corsano's drumming was even more aggressive than Flaherty's playing. He too showed his softer side with some really interesting effects, including a lot of bowed cymbals and something similar to the metal "bowls" that I've seen guys like Tatsuya Nakatani use, which brought some eastern influence into some of the music.

While I enjoyed the show, I wouldn't rate it as one of the better concerts I've ever seen. The free improv sax and drums duo is probably one of the more challenging musical contexts you can work in. If the players are not on the same page, it's going to be pretty obvious. To make matters worse, everyone in the audience is going to be comparing your stuff to the classics of the genre while they listen. These guys put on a great show, but the music was a little bit too one-dimensional and the communication between them wasn't always as strong as it could have been.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Honeymoon('s Over) in Vegas

My wife was out in Las Vegas this weekend. She saw a lot of newly married couples, as one would expect. One of couples that she saw was actually two couples, twin sisters who got married at the same time. She didn't find this incredibly shocking, but I can't stop thinking about it. How do you think that they managed to pull it off? I guess it's possible that it was a big coincidence; twin sisters happened to get engaged at about the same time and decided to get married together. I guess that is possible, but it doesn't seem too likely. I wonder how their husbands (who did not appear to be twins) felt about the whole thing. When the first guy proposed, did his girlfriend accept his proposal but tell him that they were going to have to wait for her sister to fall in love and get engaged before they could start planning their wedding? I guess I will never know, but I wish all four of them the best.

The other newlywed story that she told me involved a couple who, while still in their wedding attire, got into a profanity-laced argument in front of a hotel/casino on the strip. Arguments are part of any healthy relationship, of course, but you would hope that a newly married couple could manage to make it at least a couple of days before dropping f-bombs on each other in public.

I would love to see a study of couples who tie the knot in Vegas and see how their divorce rates compare to couples who get married in more traditional venues. My guess is that it would probably be about the same, but who knows.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Taxpayer Pride

All this talk about the estate tax has made me think that maybe what this country needs is a little bit more taxpayer pride. I'm not joking (entirely), so hear me out. For as long as I can remember, we've been listening to politicians tell us how stupid the government is and how taxes are for suckers. I can't help but think that this has something to do with all of the negative sentiment against the estate tax harbored by people who have little to no chance of ever being affected by it. Americans have shown that they overwhelmingly favor some of the trappings of a welfare state, as long as they don't have to pay for it. Who knows where we would stand if we knew the true cost/benefit breakdown? Maybe some taxpayer pride can help us figure that out.

I remember visiting a friend in Washington, DC several years ago. We visited several of the Smithsonian Museums (or should I say, Smithsonians Museum?). As we were leaving the National Air and Space Museum, I made a quip about our tax dollars at work. In this case, I didn't mean it in the usual pejorative sense. I meant this is a great museum and I'm glad that our some of our tax dollars are used to fund it and all visitors can enjoy it free of charge. My friend, who has no conservative leanings whatsoever, didn't pick up the taxpayer pride that I was exuding and accused me of being a Republican or perhaps something even worse. If dyed-in-the-wool liberals can't appreciate taxpayer pride, I don't know who can. Still, there may be hope. P.J. O'Rourke, America's best (only?) conservative satirist had a good idea during a public radio pledge drive a few years back. He suggested that liberal listeners (and what other kind of public radio listeners are there?) look at their pledge as a tax on intelligence. They are obviously more intelligent than other people because they listen to public radio and they obviously love taxes because they are liberals, so its a win-win situation. Politicians love to appeal to our vanity, and while there are a lot of people who will probably never be receptive to a taxpayer pride message, there are plenty of voting demographic du jours (indoor soccer moms?) waiting to be told how to think about any number of issues.

Eventually, taxpayers are going to have to face the facts. Tax dollars aren't just funding the Cadillacs for welfare moms initiative, 24-hour abortion clinics, and other much-derided social programs. They actually fund some things that a majority of Americans support. I'm not expecting any taxpayer pride to show itself until some of these more acceptable and vital uses or tax dollars are put in jeopardy. Our current economic situation makes it very likely that we're going to be faced with a temporary refund adjustment sometime in the not-too-distant future. When that day comes, we'll see how much taxpayer pride we truly have.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Death and Taxes

I read an op-ed piece written by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins about the proposed repeal of the estate tax. The debate about the estate tax is very interesting. Pro-estate tax people, like Gates Sr., often cite statistics about how most Americans will never accumulate enough wealth to be subjected to the estate tax. This is true, but I think it's missing the point. The point is, should the government be taxing the estates of the wealthy? Should I manage to amass a significant fortune, I don't plan on leaving my heirs with a big pile of cash so they can sit around and do nothing. I think a lot of people share this sentiment, but I don't know if this is something that the government should try and legislate. Besides, the wealthy can always manage to find ways around the tax code and unless the tax rate is raised to 100%, people with large enough fortunes will still be able to leave significant sums of money to their heirs.

Gates Sr.'s claim that the repeal of the estate tax would cripple our nation's charitable sector strikes me as somewhat alarmist. It may be true that some people donate large sums of money to charities to avoid paying estate taxes, but I think the majority of wealthy donors would donate their money even if there was no estate tax. Gates Sr.'s saves his best point for the end. I agree that there are far too many successful people who say "only in America" out of one side of their mouth while bristling at the suggestion of paying taxes to cover the expenses that it takes to make keep our economic engine running. Which brings me to my final point, I hate debates about taxation. We've gotten to the point where candidates can promise to slash taxes and maintain or increase the level of government services with impunity. I'm no fan of excessive taxation, but it does take money to keep this place running smoothly. In the estate tax debate as with all tax debates, I will that there were more people in the government and in society looking at the big picture so we might be able to reach an informed decision.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Student Athlete

Say what you will about Skip Bayless, but he does make some good points in this piece about Bob Stoops' threat to bench star running back Adrian Peterson for violations of the OU student athlete class attendance policy. I don't really agree with Bayless' argument that the academic success of his players should be of no concern to Stoops or any other football coach, but it is nice to hear someone who is not afraid to call major college football what it really is, a farm system for the NFL.

Personally, I commend Stoops for taking a harder line with his players regarding classroom attendance and enforcing it uniformly. Most of the players on even the top college football teams will never play football professionally. Even college football superstars like Peterson don't always pan out once they reach the big leagues. By flaunting the rules that his coach laid down for the team, Peterson is showing NFL teams that he may be lacking in maturity and/or good judgement. Perhaps this disciplinary action or the threat of it will teach him a valuable lesson.

Bayless seems to imply that Stoops is already on shaky ground with the OU faithful and he should be more worried about his job security than his student athletes. Like any other coach at a football mad school, Stoops could get fired for anything from having a losing season to making the wrong decision about a two-point conversion. If OU cans him for taking academics too seriously, it will only reinforce Bayless' argument and make university presidents look even more hypocritical. I think that a lot of schools realize that coaches who actually care about their players are better in the long run, even if that means they will make decisions that sometimes enrage the faithful.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Andrew Sullivan linked to this article about Germany's economic woes from today's Guardian. It's an interesting piece, especially when you contrast it with the cover story from the August 18th issue of the Economist, entitled Germany's Surprising Economy. It's not that the two stories totally contradict each other, the Economist is comparing Germany's current economic situation with where it has been over the past five years, while the Guardian is comparing Germany's post-reunification economic situation with the heyday of the Wirtschaftswunder. Both articles do a good job identifying the challenges that the economies of Western Europe, and to a lesser extent, the US are or will soon be facing. The Guardian piece is summed up nicely by a comment from German journalist Arno Widmann:
...the generation of '68 had begun their political careers hating the bourgeois complacency of the old West Germany; then, just when they realised it was one of the nearest things to a workers' paradise the world has ever seen, it was over.

Radio Days

In case you weren't aware, there is a company like AC Nielson that surveys the radio listening habits of Americans. That company, Arbitron, contacted me about a month ago and asked me if I would be interested in participating in the survey. As it turns out, I happen to be a bigger fan of radio than most people under the age of 87, so I was thrilled. They sent me a log book to keep track of everything I listened to on the radio for a week. My week ended yesterday, and I have to say that keeping track of everything you listen to on the radio is a total pain. Heisenberg noted that you can't observe any physical phenomenon without affecting it in some way, and what's true for quantum physics is true for radio surveys.

The biggest problem is that I, like most people, do most of my radio listening in the car. It's very difficult, not to mention dangerous, to try and write down which radio stations you've been listening to while driving, especially if you frequently change the station. I don't tend to do much signal surfing while driving, but I completely abstained from it this past week since it would've been a bookkeeping nightmare. In a couple of cases, I just turned off the radio since I didn't want to have to bother trying to remember what I was listening to and when I listened to it.

Based on the multiple phone calls I received from Arbitron before and during the survey, I have a feeling that they have trouble getting people to complete the surveys. They kept calling me and asking if I had any questions and if they could count on me to finish my survey and send it back to them in a timely manner.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Artificial Intelligence

Today's Non Sequitur jumps into the intelligent design debate once again. It's Wiley's best and most humorous statement regarding the ID movement to date, in my opinion. For a lot more on the battle between ID and evolution, check out the blog that my good friend MDS publishes.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Muskrat Love

We went up Wellesley Island State Park in the 1000 Islands yesterday. It's a great little state park. We're into hiking, but most NY state parks that we've been to don't have a lot to offer in the way of hikes. Wellesley Island has eight miles of trails, which doesn't seem like too much, but the trails are all very nice. It's good for a day of hiking. It also features a pond with an active beaver community. We saw the dam and a lot of chewed up tree stumps, but didn't run into any beavers. We did come across a muskrat as we were walking around the pond and managed to snap a couple of good photos of him before he ran away.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Roll the Dice, a high-tech job search website has a number of banner ads floating around that use code snippets to look cute and appeal to their target demographic, presumably. I'm willing to grant them some artistic license here, but one of the ads is really abusing the concept, in my opinion.

For those not well-versed in modern programming languages, here's what's happening. The first line basically says if a variable named "salary_sucks" is set to true, execute the code inside of the {}'s. So in this case, if your salary sucks, point your web broswer over to and look for a better job. That makes sense. The problem is the else clause. If your salary does not suck, Dice is telling you to suck it up. Why would you need to suck it up if you already have a job that pays well? Perhaps this would make more sense:

if ($salary_sucks) {
  if ($has_the_initiative_to_look_for_a_new_job) {
    // Go to Dice...
  } else {

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Fire Into Music

Jazz Central - Syracuse, NY
Wednesday, September 7th

I had a chance to check out the Fire Into Music ensemble last night, an all-star lineup consisting of Steve Swell, Jemeel Moondoc, Hamid Drake and William Parker. This was also my first chance to check out the relatively new Jazz Central venue. The place is pretty nice. The room is a lot wider than it is deep, which gives it a strange feel, but puts you right up next to the musicians which is always good. I feel like the best place to listen to beautiful improvised music is in a space that is either just as beautiful or just as improvised as the music itself. Jazz Central is neither, but when it comes to performance spaces, beggars can't be choosers.

I don't know if I've ever been so impressed by a rhythm section as I was at last night's concert. I must admit to some bias here. I'm a huge fan of Drake's work and for my money, he's the best drummer on the scene today. Parker is also very high on my list, so I'm not surprised that these guys blew me away once again. Drake was in especially fine form. He played a solo in the first set that totally blew me away. Part of the reason the rhythm section was so impressive was because the horns were a little bit disappointing. The quartet was really stretching out in the first set and I think that their reach my have exceeded their grasp. Moondoc and Swell were doing some very interesting ensemble playing, but when they soloed, the music just seemed to lose some of its energy. Drake and Parker were doing all kinds of things, changing the rhythms and even jumping into a Caribbean kind of beat for a while underneath the solos.

The band came out in the second set and really sounded a lot more together. I don't know if they just needed to get warmed up or if it was because the material that they played in the second half was a little bit more linear. Once the second set got off the ground, the group started inviting audience members who had participated in a workshop the night before up to the stage. It was pretty neat and if my chops were in better shape, I would've brought my horn along. Of course, the quality and cohesiveness of the ensemble wasn't so great. I would've liked to have heard the quartet play a little bit more in the second set without the extra players. Still, it was really great to see everyone up on stage making music and having a great time. There aren't too many musical acts that invite people from the crowd up on stage to jam with them during a concert. As the evening was coming to an end, Moondoc's cell phone started ringing. Without missing a beat, he answered the call, and shouted "I'm in the middle of a gig! Call me back later!" Most professional musicians would be mortified by the idea of jamming with a bunch of guys from the crowd and answering calls on a cell phone during a concert. These guys loved it, and they made some amazing music in the process.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Don't Call it a Comeback

Reports of Lance Armstrong's retirement from professional cycling appear to have been greatly exaggerated. According to team director Johan Bruyneel, Lance is going to be training with the team this winter and is contemplating riding in next year's Tour de France. Apparently, he's mad as hell about the doping allegations published in L'Equipe and he's not going to take it anymore. I really don't mind if Lance decides to ride the Tour until he drops dead, I just wish pro athletes would stop announcing their retirement amid great fanfare only to renege on their promise a couple months later.

The Ironic Curtain

The Red Wings lost their bid to re-sign one of their top young players, Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk has signed with a team in Siberia, presumably because they are able to pay him more than the Wings, whose free-spending ways have been curtailed by the NHL's new salary cap. I hope the irony isn't lost on Datsyuk that he is leaving America to come back to Russia, where teams aren't encumbered by so many economic restrictions. Of course, maybe the real reason is that he decided he would rather live in Siberia than Detroit.

All kidding aside, I'm not trying to trash the NHL salary cap here. It's preventing my favorite team, the Red Wings, from executing their win at all costs strategy, which was better than the Rangers' lose at all costs strategy, but it really hasn't been paying dividends for a number of years. The Wings kept adding overpriced veterans who rarely performed up to their potential, if at all, instead of trying to integrate young talent into their core. I'm sad to see Datsyuk go because he was one of the few young guys they have who has shown flashes of brilliance. The fact that he's going to Russia makes the loss a little easier to stomach and it also makes his salary demands look even more unreasonable. I think Datsyuk is going to be a great player and I hope that the Wings can somehow hold onto him when and if he decides to come back to the NHL.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Alerting the Comics Code Authority

I'm really stuck on this whole comic strip criticism thread. Lately, I've been perplexed by a lesser-known comic strip called 9 Chickweed Lane. I was almost positive that the main storyline in the comic strip over the past few months had centered around Edda's relationship with her gay roommate, Seth. The thing I couldn't understand was how a comic strip could include an openly gay character and even feature his partner (Mark) from time to time without drawing any flack from the usual commentators. The problem is, 9 Chickweed Lane is so oblique that I often can't make sense out of it, so I wasn't sure if I wasn't misreading the whole thing. Over the past month or so, they have really been working this subplot, so there is no longer any doubt about the Seth's sexual orientation.

Of course, there is no need for anyone to be up in arms over this. The comics page, however, has a history of conservatism bordering on idiocy. Consider the outcry when Luann started menstruating. Or when Lawrence in For Better or For Worse came out of the closet. My guess is that the reason there is no outcry today is because 9 Chickweed Lane is not a very well-known comic strip. Also, the way that the relationship between Seth and Mark is portrayed is a bit too nuanced for the people who usually lead these kind of campaigns to pick up on.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


The discussion thread on my post about the comics centered around that classic comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. It turned out to be a rather timely discussion. I learned today that Universal Press Syndicate is going to be re-runing classic Calvin & Hobbes comic strips through the end of this year. This article has the scoop, along with some details about the history of the strip and some speculation about what the reclusive Bill Watterson has been up to over the past ten years.