"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Monday, December 31, 2007

While we're on the subject

Discovered this today while surfing the web, and it seems fitting to wrap up the year with. I swear this will be my last Cornhole post.

Happy New Year, everybody! Here's to a great 2008!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

You ask, I answer

In a comment to my last post, Sphincter asked: "BTW, what happened with the Cornhole Game?" Now you should know that I take these sort of questions from my readers very seriously, mainly because I realize that if I don't, and as a result were to lose just one reader, this would ... well, it would cut my audience in half, basically, and that would be tragic. So without further adieu* let me present -- complete with color photos! -- the conclusion to the Great Christmas Cornhole Caper of 2007:

Completed "naked" cornhole set prior to being painted, with a closeup of the retractable leg area. Look at the detail! Look at the craftsmanship! Look at how I forgot to remove my cutting guide lines!

After applying a primer coat and base layer of lovely slate-gray paint, I next proceeded to deftly add the mind-boggling complex design pattern atop the boards. (Ignore that big ugly overspray of day-glo orange on the front there in the left photo. OK, I had to repaint it, but I'm prepared to suffer for my art.) Finally, I applied several coats of Minwax Polycrylic® to seal and protect the finish, and give it a lustrous shine. Because that's just how I roll.

Christmas morning: L&T opening the elaborately boxed and wrapped corn bags while the boards remained cleverly hidden in the garage. Initially, since they had no concept of the game, I played a little joke on them by pretending that the bags alone were their complete present. This kept everyone in a somewhat bewildered state (major source of bewilderment: trying to remain polite while wondering whether to call 911 for medical assistance since I clearly appeared to have lost my mind) for several minutes until I piped up with "Oh wait! I almost forgot, there's something else that goes with it!" I'm such a kidder. The boards then appeared through the back door, and as they say, "the crowd went wild."

While Cornhole is not exactly an indoor sport, we nevertheless risked damage to our windows, fine china, cats, and other breakable items by setting up the targets in the living room in order for me to demonstrate the detailed, highly complicated rules of the game, which can be summarized thusly: try to toss the bag through the freakin' hole. In the photos above, Dead-Eye Brady takes aim; he shoots, he scores!! Seriously, the game set was a huge hit, especially with the kids. We've heard that they've held family back yard tournaments nearly every night since Christmas and L. is talking about making Cornhole sets for all their friends, and (unlike Mrs. Toast and I, barbaric heathens who live in near-seclusion) they know a whole bunch o' people, mostly through their church back home near Austin. At this rate, if their enjoyment of the sport catches on, I may turn out to be singularly responsible for the spread of Cornhole into East-Central Texas, which will mean that if there was ever any doubt before, there's none now:

I'm going to hell.

*Exactly what is "adieu", anyway? And why should there be no further of it now? I've never been able to figure this expression out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Actual conversation heard 'round the tree on Xmas morning

Mrs. Toast: Wow, I'm surprised. This year you didn't get me any perfume, bath oil, lotions, or other smelly stuff for Christmas like you usually do.

Me: Maybe that just means I think you don't stink.

[Evil eye cast my way.]

Me: That is, I mean, I think you already smell great this year.

[Evil eye intensifies.]

Me: I mean ... never mind.


Me: Hey, look! It's A Wonderful Life is on!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

At last, it's here: that one magical night each year when kids of all ages go to sleep listening for the sound of sleigh bells on the roof and dream of dancing sugar plums. In keeping with that thought, it should not come as much of a surprise to learn that Clement C. Moore's "A Visit From St. Nicholas", more popularly known as "The Night Before Christmas", is perhaps the most parodied poem in the English language. Its sing-song meter and old-fashioned imagery make it ripe for satire. Here are links to a few of the many spoofs of Moore's famous work:

A Lawyer's Christmas

A Nascar Christmas

An Intellectual Christmas

A Florida Christmas

A Texas Christmas

However, of all the adaptations of this classic holiday chestnut, the following, entitled "A Visit from St. Nicholas In The Ernest Hemingway Manner" is my favorite. It was written by the estimable James Thurber and originally appeared in The New Yorker exactly eighty years ago tonight, on December 24, 1927. Enjoy.

It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren't even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mama and I were in our beds. Mama wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn't move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.

"Father," the children said.

There was no answer. He's there, all right, they thought.

"Father," they said, and banged on their beds.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"We have visions of sugarplums," the children said.

"Go to sleep," said Mama.

"We can't sleep," said the children. They stopped talking, but I could hear them moving. They made sounds.

"Can you sleep?" asked the children.

"No," I said.

"You ought to sleep."

"I know. I ought to sleep."

"Can we have some sugarplums?"

"You can't have any sugarplums," said Mama.

"We just asked you."

There was a long silence. I could hear the children moving again.

"Is Saint Nicholas asleep?" asked the children.

"No," Mama said. "Be quiet."

"What the hell would he be asleep tonight for?" I asked.

"He might be," the children said.

"He isn't," I said.

"Let's try to sleep," said Mama.

The house became quiet once more. I could hear the rustling noises the children made when they moved in their beds.

Out on the lawn a clatter arose. I got out of bed and went to the window. I opened the shutters; then I threw up the sash. The moon shone on the snow. The moon gave the lustre of mid-day to objects in the snow. There was a miniature sleigh in the snow, and eight tiny reindeer. A little man was driving them. He was lively and quick. He whistled and shouted at the reindeer and called them by their names. Their names were Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.

He told them to dash away to the top of the porch, and then he told them to dash away to the top of the wall. They did. The sleigh was full of toys.

"Who is it?" Mama asked.

"Some guy," I said. "A little guy."

I pulled my head in out of the window and listened. I heard the reindeer on the roof. I could hear their hoofs pawing and prancing on the roof.

"Shut the window," said Mama.

I stood still and listened.

"What do you hear?"

"Reindeer," I said. I shut the window and walked about. It was cold. Mama sat up in the bed and looked at me.

"How would they get on the roof?" Mama asked.

"They fly."

"Get into bed. You'll catch cold."

Mama lay down in bed. I didn't get into bed. I kept walking around.

"What do you mean, they fly?" asked Mama.

"Just fly is all."

Mama turned away toward the wall. She didn't say anything.

I went out into the room where the chimney was. The little man came down the chimney and stepped into the room. He was dressed all in fur. His clothes were covered with ashes and soot from the chimney. On his back was a pack like a peddler's pack. There were toys in it. His cheeks and nose were red and he had dimples. His eyes twinkled. His mouth was little, like a bow, and his beard was very white. Between his teeth was a stumpy pipe. The smoke from the pipe encircled his head in a wreath. He laughed and his belly shook. It shook like a bowl of red jelly. I laughed. He winked his eye, then he gave a twist to his head. He didn't say anything.

He turned to the chimney and filled the stockings and turned away from the chimney. Laying his finger aside his nose, he gave a nod. Then he went up the chimney. I went to the chimney and looked up. I saw him get into his sleigh. He whistled at his team and the team flew away. The team flew as lightly as thistledown. The driver called out, "Merry Christmas and good night." I went back to bed.

"What was it?" asked Mama. "Saint Nicholas?" She smiled.

"Yeah," I said.

She sighed and turned in the bed.

"I saw him," I said.


"I did see him."

"Sure you saw him." She turned farther toward the wall.

"Father," said the children.

"There you go," Mama said. "You and your goddam flying reindeer."

"Go to sleep," I said.

"Can we see Saint Nicholas when he comes?" the children asked.

"You got to be asleep," I said. "You got to be asleep when he comes. You can't see him unless you're unconscious."

"Father knows," Mama said.

I pulled the covers over my mouth. It was warm under the covers. As I went to sleep I wondered if Mama was right.

Even our cat Tiger barely opens one eye from his holiday slumber to say...

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Feeling Ducky

Gah ... I don't know what the heck has happened to me, can it really be that I haven't posted a blog entry in nearly three weeks now? I hope I remember how. Where's the "any" key I'm supposed to press again?

But even though my output has been less than stellar lately, I've still been visiting my Blog Buddies and trying to stay in touch with what y'all are up to. So let me say Happy Birthday to little Aiden O'Brien who is celebrating his big first birthday along with his family today! Yay!

I also received email this week from a young man by the name of Aaron Johnson, who despite being a fine cartoonist, is obviously deranged because he happened to mention in his message that he actually enjoys reading this here blog. (I presume that means "when I get off my lazy ass and actually write something in it".) I am shocked! As further proof that Aaron's bizarre sense of ironic humor and sarcasm closely matches my own, he sent me a link to his web site. Now if you're one of the so-called "normal" people, you probably think there is no daily comic strip to be found anywhere in the civilized world that draws a spot-on parody of the wild and wacky, fun-filled, rock-em-sock-em world of the Professional Photographer, AND features a picture-snapping duck as its main protagonist.

Well my friend, you would be wrong.

This man has got the camera angst nailed, people. And because the day is close at hand, here's his tender look at the joyous Christmas holiday from the perspective of a portrait photographer:

These are just a few samples. You'll find over 300 of the strips archived for easy free viewing on his site, and nearly all of them are very clever if not downright freakin' hilarious. What I find especially refreshing is that unlike many artists who feel they need to put virtual locks and chains on their work, Aaron magnanimously welcomes viewers to "link, post, copy/paste, or save the strips to their own sites, blogs, forums, newsletters, etc." Whether or not you take photos professionally, for fun, or have a cardboard sign reading "Will Shoot 4 Food", you'll get a kick out of What The Duck. Check it out if you get a chance. Tell him Mr. Toast sent you.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Future of Music

Foreword: I've written extensively in this space in the past about the sea change taking place in the music business from my perspective as a radio broadcaster. We are living in historic times, as business paradigms that have existed for most of the last century are changing right before our eyes. Recently I read a very well-written article by Skip Pizzi in Radio World magazine, which deserves to be reprinted here for anyone who might be interested in this topic. It opens with a provocative question: has it become optional to pay for music? In my opinion, if this is not yet 100% the case, it will be in the not-so-distant future. I believe nothing less than a full-scale revolution is taking place among consumers of music, and taken to its extreme conclusion, it seems altogether possible that the concept of "making music for money" will eventually become as outmoded as the buggy whip, to use Skip's comparison. Whether or not this will be a good thing is certainly debatable: shouldn't any artist deserve to be paid for their work, no matter if their medium is painting, sculpture, photography, or music? Will artists cease to write, record, and perform music if they can't get rich from doing so? Or will it weed out the hacks who are in the business just for the "rock star lifestyle", leaving only those who genuinely love music to continue to create songs we enjoy listening to? Here's the article; what do you think?

Singing The Buggy Whip Blues

At a recent conference presentation on the future of the music industry, a fellow panelist asked the audience if they agreed with his contention that it had now “become voluntary to pay for music.” This provocative statement brought into clear focus the magnitude of change that the music industry has undergone in recent years — and by the way, no one disagreed with him.

The music industry faces a unique challenge, in which external forces have conspired to eviscerate its traditional business model, while everything else around it remained largely the same. Neither supply nor demand for music has abated — if anything, they have both grown — but through a strange set of combinational circumstances, the context within which the industry monetizes this process has shifted, and revenue thereby produced has dwindled substantially. Although some in the industry like to point fingers in blame for this predicament, no one element is wholly responsible. Meanwhile, musicians continue to create music, and consumers continue to listen to it via a growing number of venues and platforms, but the traditional marketplace has almost disappeared. It’s as if people suddenly sprouted wings and began flying themselves to distant destinations. They are still traveling just as much or more, but the airlines can’t fill their seats.

Certainly this is not the first time that new technology has caused an established business to suffer losses. The classic case of the automobile’s impact on the buggy whip is fairly apt to the music industry’s woes here. But the music industry’s revenue flow is far more arcane and complex than the simple sale of a tangible product. It is a complicated arrangement that includes musicians, composers, producers, studios, talent scouts, licensing agents (at multiple levels), concert promoters, broadcasters, manufacturers and lawyers — lots of lawyers. So some deconstruction is in order.

First, consider that when we talk about “the music industry,” we usually think of the labels, but clearly the industry’s scope extends well beyond this. Thus any attempt to re-engineer the industry must be holistic and fully inclusive. The labels do play a key enabling role, however, adding value to the whole industry primarily through their processes of aggregation. But now the very need for this “middleman role” is being questioned, as both artists and consumers seek their respective individual paths for access and commerce with one another. Therefore the labels are at ground zero of this transition’s impact, and are shouting the loudest about it.

Yet they are not alone. Radio has also played an important part in the traditional music marketplace, so as the current disaggregation trend continues, radio’s value as a collective promoter of content may also diminish.

The key to survival of this ecosystem is how sustainable the replacement business model will be. Or perhaps a better way to phrase this is whether such sustainability will flow from the entire range of new models as a whole, because it already seems evident that there may be myriad new approaches in concurrent use, and that no single replacement approach will prevail.

Recent months have provided much to examine in this respect. One notable foray is Radiohead’s label-free, self-release of its much anticipated album “In Rainbows” as an unprotected download or a premium-packaged CD. Even more groundbreaking was the band’s pricing of the download at whatever the downloader wants to pay, from free on up. This first overt application of true voluntary payment occurred a few weeks after the discussion at the conference noted above, and to date, the average “In Rainbows” downloader is paying about $8. Meanwhile, other artists from Madonna to Trent Reznor have announced they will forego their traditional label arrangements and seek some method of independent access to customers. (None have yet gone so far as Radiohead to allow the consumer to choose what they’re willing to pay, however.)

Yet another approach is the flat-rate subscription model, whereby a consumer has access to a selection of music content for a fixed monthly fee. This is more of a rental than a purchase model, however, since most of today’s subscription services do not allow unfettered copying of content (i.e., no burning to CD). A variation on this scheme allows blanket licenses to be purchased for music usage (including fair-use copying) by large, contained groups of users, such as college campuses. Some have suggested that this approach be applied to ISPs for all their respective customers, and the costs recovered in the fees that the service providers’ charge to customers — like a tax or surcharge.

Still other options include traditional paid music downloads but without digital rights management, so once purchased, no restrictions are placed on the music’s usage by the customer. This more consumer-friendly approach seems to be gaining traction, and it is no less secure a digital format than the CDs the industry has been distributing for a quarter of a century.

At perhaps the extreme end of the spectrum is the idea that music downloads should be universally available for free, and revenue to the music industry would come from concerts and collateral sales.

Again, the most likely outcome is some assortment of the above, including a bit of the old model and several coexisting variations of the new. There’s plenty of room for variety, especially when you consider that some models will apply best to well-established artists, while others will be preferred by emerging talent.

Another useful analogy is the residential real estate market, where some homeowners prefer the FSBO (For Sale By Owner) approach, but many still go with a traditional Realtor. And there are agencies somewhere in between, helping FSBOs via aggregated listings and other services. A few “lightweight” indie labels or Web sites are analogous to the latter, such as Magnatune.com.

From a loftier perspective, one could observe that the value of aggregation is now simply moving downstream. Time was that artists needed a recording contract to even get their songs recorded, let alone promoted and played on the radio, then pressed and shipped to stores. The enormity of the entire industrial process made it impractical for individual artists to consider doing any of it themselves. Not so today, where about the only place even an emerging artist really benefits from reliance on an aggregator is in the “last mile” to consumer — i.e., the music stores, either physical or online. Established acts don’t need even that aggregation, as Radiohead’s sales of millions of copies of “In Rainbows” as an end-to-end independent effort has shown.

This is not to say that the traditional powerhouses of the music industry will go quietly into that good night. The RIAA continues to plow every field that appears remotely fertile, from suing users of unauthorized distribution sites to pushing for legislation and regulation that would mandate new royalties (including new performance royalties from local radio broadcasters). Meanwhile the labels themselves are pursuing a range of new revenue opportunities, as Chris (“The Long Tail”) Anderson recently noted in his blog.

He points out that while CD sales are indeed off, many other monetized industry elements are experiencing strong growth, such as concert tickets, promotional merchandise, digital music downloads, ringtones, licensing of music for commercials, TV shows, movies and video games, revenue from hardware (sales of some satellite radio receivers and MP3 players generate royalties to labels), and even vinyl singles — lots of club DJs out there, apparently.

A new reality is settling in for the music business, and there is certainly no shortage of differing reactions to it. Whether the old players adapt or a new industry emerges remains to be seen. In any case, the status quo is no more, and there will likely be no return to it.

© 2007 by Skip Pizzi, Radio World magazine

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Joy To The World!

Yes, once again it's that special, exciting time of year when people celebrate the "season to be jolly" by floating around their yards in invisible boats, breaking into strangers' homes to rearrange the furniture, and threatening to knock each other's teeth out. The following are actual excerpts from this week's "Police Report" section of our local newspaper:

• Terroristic threat: A woman reported that she was confronted by the wife of the man she is dating. The wife displayed a jack handle, and threatened to harm her, the report said. The woman wishes to file charges.

• Assault: A man said that he was assaulted at his home by another man who was visiting his girlfriend. The man who filed the complaint suffered minor injuries. The suspect fled the scene. A warrant was requested.

• Harassment: A woman said that her "former lover" was calling and harassing her. According to the report, the "former lover" said he would knock the woman's teeth out. A warrant was requested.

• Criminal trespass: A man reported that while he was away on business, his neighbor's children built a fort on his property. The children built the fort with materials they found on his property. The man did not file charges.

• Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle: A woman reported that her car was missing, and she thinks her neighbors may have been involved.

• Credit card abuse: A woman reported that a credit card that is in her husband's name was used by her daughter-in-law to make purchases without their consent.

• Disturbance: A boy reported that his parents were in the living room fighting. The mother asked the father to leave, but he would not.

• Aggravated assault: A man walking to work said he was stabbed by two men who confronted him about the color of his clothing. The man walked to the hospital where he was treated for the stab wound.

• Family violence: A man and a woman threw food at each other at a restaurant during an argument.

• Interference with an emergency call: A man and a woman accused each other of assault and of disconnecting the phone whenever either tried to call the police.

• Assault/family violence: A woman said she was assaulted by her boyfriend on two separate days. According to the report, the woman said the man became upset because she would not "cater to his needs." The woman had multiple bruises and swelling on her face, and she said he also slammed her finger in a door. A warrant was requested for the man.

• Suspicious activity: A woman reported that someone turned the water on in her yard and was floating around in a boat. A deputy checked the yard, but no boat was found.

• Disturbance: Two brothers got into a verbal argument over a beer. The brothers were separated and sent home to sober up. No arrests were made.

• Criminal trespass: Someone reported to police that an unknown person had entered the complainant's house and rearranged the furniture. No items were stolen.

This final item is my hands-down favorite, displaying a curiously detailed narrative rarely seen in your typical police report. I swear I am not making this up, this is exactly how it appeared in the paper:

• Officers were dispatched to a residence where it was claimed a gun had been recovered. Upon their arrival, the deputies met with complainant Mr. H, who stated that a Mr. L had come to his residence and dropped off a shotgun. Deputies recovered the weapon and proceeded to Mr. L.'s residence. Upon their arrival, Mr. L. exited his residence with his hands above his head yelling, "Don't shoot, I am unarmed." Mr. L. advised he had been at Mr. H's residence earlier in the evening, when Mr. H had become angry after having a bipolar mood swing. Deputy was then told that Mr. H. picked up a stick and began to swing at Mr. L., but Mr. L. also brandished a stick and they then began exchanging blows with one another in a mock sword fight like Sir Galahad and the Black Knight. Mr. H. then advanced his bipolar mood swing up a notch and went inside his residence and returned with a shotgun at which point Mr. L, using his quick and cunning cat-like skills, was able to wrestle the weapon away from Mr. H and proceed in a hurried retreat away from the residence down State Highway 7 like a ghost in the night. Mr. L ran or rather unsteadily stumbled to his 3rd, 4th or possibly 5th cousin's residence (the complainant) and deposited the weapon on their back porch, gave a quick synopsis of the evening's adventures and then departed like a thief in the night once again before law enforcement could be summoned. The officers, who realized that no major offense had been committed this evening during one of Mr. L.'s many life adventures, telephoned the poor mother of Mr. H and explained that Mr. H could retrieve his weapon the next morning at the Sheriff's Office, once the odor of alcohol had ceased to emanate from his body. The case is closed.

Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

End of the line

Congratulations to those who have managed to survive the Bataan Death March of the Blogosphere, otherwise more affectionately known as NaBloPoMo. You made it! Yay!

Let me revive a proposal I made last year at this time, which is to declare in no official capacity whatsoever, that today, December 1, shall be known as "NaNoMoFoBloPo", which stands for "National No More Forced Blog Posting Day". The idea is for those who have so tirelessly published every day in November to not post anything today.

Take the day off and relax. You've earned it.