Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Colts/Kaylee/Katie the Beagle Haiku, Week 16...

... in which our faithful haiku correspondent reveals the true source of her holiday cheerfulness via the title:


Merry Kate-mas and
Kaylee New Year! Colts win at
Oakland spreads good cheer!

Mary Campbell-Droze

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Week 15 Haiku to Celebrate Beagle, Baby, and Brown (Donald)

Katie is famous,
Kaylee met Santa, and the
Colts got a key win.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Patio Boat's Annual Cruise to Christmas Island

Monique and I have watched several Christmas specials and movies over the last couple of weeks, so I thought I'd mention some of my all-time favorites; a few others that you might not have seen, but should look for; and a couple that we've come across this year that might not be worth your viewing time.

Television Specials -- The Best

A Charlie Brown Christmas
(1965) -- Simply the best.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) -- Sure, Santa comes across as a mean bigot in this one, but Herbie the Elf's dental obsession saves the day.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) -- The original animated version, natch. I suppose one day I might see the Jim Carrey version, but I remain dubious.

Frosty the Snowman (1969) -- The best part? Jimmy Durante saying, "And being as Frosty was made out of snow, he was the greatest belly-whopper of them all."

A Great One You Might Not Have Seen

Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977) -- Emmett Otter and his Ma try to give each other a Christmas to remember in this early Muppet effort from Jim Henson's studios. Great music and a truly sweet story.

Movies -- The Best

It's a Wonderful Life
(1946) -- I've seen this movie dozens of times and it still always touches me. What an amazing commentary on the impact that we can all have on one another.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) -- Maureen O'Hara ... Hubba! Hubba! Er, I mean, a heartful lesson on the true meaning of Christmas emerges from the heart of holiday commercialism.

White Christmas (1954) -- This one continues to grow on me. The sitcom-ish plot is dubious at times, but the amazing music and performances by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen overcome all.

A Christmas Story (1983) -- Ralphie wants a Red Rider BB gun. It's episodic structure is perfect for that annual "24 Hours of A Christmas Story" marathons on TBS, since you can pick it up at any place and enjoy.

A few pretty good Christmas movies that you may not have seen:

Holiday Inn (1942) -- The first movie to feature Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas." It's structure is basically an excuse for Bing Crosby to sing and Fred Astaire to dance. That's a pretty good idea.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) -- Kind of "A Christmas Story" for the World-War-II set, with several anecdotes from a family in St. Louis in 1904, the year the Gateway City hosted the World Fair. It hasn't quite held up as well as some other musicals of the era, but there are some real highlights, too -- especially Judy Garland singing "The Trolley Song (Clang! Clang! Clang! Goes the Trolley!)" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Scrooged (1988) -- There are several good straightforward versions of "A Christmas Carol" out there. (I'm partial to the 1938 version with Reginald Owen as Scrooge and the 1984 version with George C. Scott as Scrooge.) But if you've never caught this 1988 take starring Bill Murray as a modern television executive, it's well worth the time. Great supporting performances abound (Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Godthwait, Carol Kane, and Alfre Woodard, among others) and Murray turns in a great "Bill Murray playing Bill Murray" performance. Check it out.

Dubious at Best -- Fortify yourself with eggnog beforehand.

Celtic Thunder Christmas (2010) -- When I cued this one up on the DVR I thought it might be a cool collection of Celtic Winter songs or maybe some Celtic-music-styled versions of Christmas standards. Instead the first 20 minutes were all pretty straightforward and uninspired versions of Christmas standards, at which point I moved on. It wasn't horrible or anything ... just not all that interesting. At best, it's strictly background music as you trim your tree.

Comfort and Joy (2003) -- Nancy McKeon stars as a woman who suffers amnesia and can't remember the last ten years of her life; ten years during which she apparently stopped being a selfish corporate b**** and became a loving caring person with a husband and two kids. The unfortunate thing about this one is that it failed to capitalize on its good premise: "How did I get to be this middle-aged person that I am now when I'm not at all like who I thought I'd become?" Alas, the plotting becomes laughably bad after a while. It's a harmless two hours on the Crying Woman's Channel (aka Lifetime Movie Network) and everybody's likeable enough. But the plot becomes so sitcommy bad that it becomes a distraction. Kind of a cool idea to think about during this season, though.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review Ragout: The Silver Bells and Mistletoe Edition

Yes, it's true. The blogging has been a bit sparse lately. You know how it is ... campaigning, election, work, job stuff, etc. Plus, I've been trying to get back to the gym a bit lately. All of that adds up to some sluffing off on the blogging.

Suck it up and be patient, gentle reader. Or go click on a few ads to incentivize me. Either way, I'll eventually get off my lazy butt and write up a few substantial posts. In the meantime, I thought I'd throw out a few quick reviews of some recent books and movies I've been reading and watching in the time that I could've spent writing long, thoughtful blog posts that would have changed the course of history.


Speaking of history, we start today's adventures in reviewing with a semi-autobiographical graphic novel set in Cuba during the Cuban Revolution: Cuba: My Revolution (2010) by Inverna Lockpez & Dean Haspiel.

The story follows Sonya, a young Cuban medical student who supports Fidel's revolution but runs afoul of Cuba's new government and eventually becomes disenchanted with the changes in her country. Telling this story as a graphic novel lends the whole thing an immediacy that it might not have had as a text piece, and the art is truly beautiful and evocative in places:

It's a great read, and especially interesting for its up-close view of the Cuban Revolution from inside Cuba. It's also a great example of the ways in which graphic novels can tell tales far from their comic-book roots.

All Clear (2010) by Connie Willis -- This and Blackout, which came out earlier this year, are really Part 1 and Part 2 of the same 1200-page book. (You can find my brief review of Blackout here.) The premise is that time-travelling historians find themselves stuck in London during the Blitz, and fear that they may have accidentally caused the allies to lose World War II. The entirety gives a great up-close look at everyday Londoners during the darkest days of World War II, and serve up a moving portrait of the heroism that can emerge from regular people in extraordinary times. Willis's prose gives a great immediacy to the many scenes set during the air raids of the Blitz and during the later V1 and V2 attacks, and the time-travel plot provides great framing and narrative impetus.

These two books really exceeded my expectations, and I suspect that I'll go back to re-read them -- together, this time -- sooner instead of later.

The Red Box (1937) by Rex Stout; And Four to Go (1956) by Rex Stout -- Just wanted to mention a couple more Nero Wolfe mysteries as I work my way back through them all in more-or-less chronological order.

The Red Box was one of the earlier ones that I didn't have on my shelves, and that took me a while to dig up. It's a good read ... not one of the best in the series, but a fun ride with pre-World War II Archie and Nero, and a good look at them before they had quite settled comfortably as settled characters. Archie is a bit rougher than his later version while Wolfe is a bit more unpredictably eccentric. The plot itself involves poisoned candies and models and ... well, heck, it hardly matters. What matters is that you can rest assured that Wolfe and Archie will get to the bottom of it.

And Four to Go contains four Nero Wolfe novellas, three of which are set around a holiday. My favorite of the batch is "Christmas Party" which contains one of Wolfe's most remarkable out-of-office expeditions, and which really has a few nice commentaries on Archie's and Wolfe's regard for one another. I'm generally more fond of the full novels because of the twists and turns they contain, but all four of these present an interesting puzzle with a clever solution.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010) -- This hardly needs a plug from me, but I wanted to mention that I enjoyed it quite a bit because I was a bit concerned that Deathly Hallows wouldn't translate as well to the big screen as some of the other books. Splitting the final Potter book into two parts seems to have worked well here, and in some ways the pacing of the movie works quite well. The whole thing is essentially a long second act, but it's a really good long second act and it gives me confidence that the finale has a chance to live up to expectations. There's also a particularly lovely animated telling of the fable of the Deathly Hallows that's as striking a bit of short animation as I've seen in a while.

I suppose that somebody who had never seen a Harry Potter movie or read a Harry Potter book would be confused by the whole thing. But really, is anybody going to this film as their first Harry Potter experience?

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) -- I can't for the life of me figure out how this was a box-office bomb because I enjoyed the hell out of it. I picked up the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels this summer during the pre-film hype, and enjoyed them greatly. But I couldn't for the life of me figure out how they were going to get them on film. But this movie did a great job of capturing a lot of what made those books such a fun read. Michael Cera makes a great Scott Pilgrim; Mary Elizabeth Winstead is charismatic and beautiful as the enigmatic Ramona Flowers; the supporting cast sparkles; the music, much of it by Beck, rocks; and the video-game-style fights are action packed; there are lots of nice little touches; and the whole movie is a lot of fun to watch. Heck, don't take my word for it: it scored a nifty 80% on the TomatoMeter.

So why did this thing bomb at the box office?

I dunno ... maybe it's my fault. I was really busy when this came out in mid-August. I expected I'd get to one weekend ... and then it was gone before I knew it. Was everybody just really busy this Summer? I doubt it. The Expendables with its flock of over-the-hill action stars came out the same weekend and racked up more than $100 million in ticket sales -- more than three times Scott Pilgrim's final take.

Maybe the real problem is that there just hasn't been another movie quite like this, so audiences didn't quite know to make of it. I dunno: popular young stars, lots of Internet buzz, good reviews, big-money marketing campaign ... and then a big ol' egg at the box office. Okay, maybe $31.5 million isn't a total disaster, but it also wasn't anywhere close to expectations for a big-budget flick like this.

In any case this movie is a lot of fun to watch. I could be wrong, but I think this movie is going to rise in esteem as the years go by. Check it out and let me know what you think.

(BTW, you can find my review of Vols. 1-4 of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels here. I don't seem to have written up a review of #5 and #6, so I'll have to add that in somewhere. Oh, heck, how about here: they were good. You should read them all. In order. Now.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Haiku in which Katie the Beagle Returns from Her Spokesdog Duties to Review the Colts' Thursday-night performance

Those who may have been confused by the previous haiku* will be relieved to know that Katie the Beagle has returned from her spokesdog work to resume her NFL-commenting duties:

Peyton sets more re-
cords. Career MVP 5?
Kaylee: "Yaaaaa!" Kate: "Arf!"

-- Mary Campbell-Droze

*Follow the link on "Woof!" Then look closely at the draft of this year's poster. It's a bit like "Where's Waldo."

The Haiku in which Katie the Beagle Finally Sells Out

Katie the Beagle --
Spokesdog for the MSU
Comics Forum. Woof!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Week 13: Colts/Kaylee/Katie Haiku (Plus a Bonus Lions Update Haiku!)

The Cooked, Strained, and Mashed Approach to the AFC South

Getting Colts to win?
Like getting Kaylee to eat
Carrots! (Kate: "Food?? Where?!!")

--Mary Campbell-Droze

How Has This Season Gone for the Lions?

With the first pick in
The Two Thousand and Eleven
Draft, Detroit selects....

--John Magee

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mr. Vacation's Facebook-based Holiday Report

For the non-Facebookers in the crowd, here is my report on "How I Misspent the Last Nine Days," courtesy of a selection of my Facebook postings:


John Magee Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Vacation is in the house for the next *nine* days! November 20 at 12:15pm

John Magee has updated his Profile Picture
November 20 at 2:07pm


Lisa Serniuk Eeeeeeeeemmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Beer!
November 20 at 2:31pm

John Magee Thus peace.
November 20 at 3:39pm

Lisa Serniuk Is it time for more peace yet?
November 20 at 5:01pm

John Magee Cue the music: All we are saaaaaying .... is give peace a chaaance.
November 20 at 10:55pm


John Magee Oh, Lions. *That* was bad. That was really, really bad.
November 21 at 2:54pm

John Magee And so was *that*.
November 21 at 2:57pm

John Magee Oh, no ... and especially *that*. Wow was *that* bad.
November 21 at 2:57pm

John Magee Why must the wheels all fall off so fast and all at once with this team? November 21 at 3:00pm

John Magee Aaaaaand here come two consecutive *HORRIBLE* calls by the refs.... November 21 at 3:25pm

John Magee ‎... and there's the Dallas TD, proving me right for starting Miles Austin on my fantasy team. Monique has had enough. She just retreated to the garage to look for the sweaters she boxed up last Spring.
November 21 at 3:28pm


John Magee Mr. Vacation's a wild man. He just put *two* habañero peppers in the big pot of chili that he's cooking.
November 21 at 7:37pm


John Magee That's right, peeps, Mr. Vacation slept in 'til 10 am on this rainy Monday morning. Now I'm flopped on the couch with a nice, big stack of books.
November 22 at 10:46am


John Magee Today, on "The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Vacation!" ... Mr. Vacation eats a bowl of cereal, reads the (virtual) morning papers, has a big mug of coffee, and then -- in a burst of caffeine-inspired frenzy -- begins to make a grocery shopping list for Thanksgiving.
November 23 at 10:47am


John Magee This morning's Mr. Vacation adventure? I'm watching "Match Game '75" and reading the (virtual) paper.
November 24 at 10:58am via iPhone

Natalie Mark Kamenias Kali mera that is greek for good morning. there must be a big sag hole in the couch by now. ... Katy Beagle must be in hog heaven-someone home and on the couch all day. A dog fantasy. Share ur treats with her.
November 24 at 12:14pm

Natalie Mark Kamenias ps via iphone-you are such a slug you can't even make to the computer keyboard???
November 24 at 12:14pm

John Magee Fortunately, Katie the Beagle and I swap couch positions on occasion, so as to ensure even wear. The keyboard was a good dozen feet away. It's an outrage to suggest that Mr. Vacation should move that far before noon.

No book today, though.... After lunch I had to go fetch the turkey from Roperti's Turkey Farm in Livonia (26 pounds for four people and one beagle ... I may have overdone it) and a couple of bottles of mead. Work, work, work.
November 24 at 3:30pm

Mary Campbell-Droze Match Game '70s!! My all-time favorite game show.
November 24 at 5:50pm


John Magee Mr. Vacation is feeling like a bit of a dunce today because he forgot he was supposed to meet some friends for drinks last night. One freaking item on my social schedule for the entire week, and I forgot about it. Four days into my staycationing my brain may have already proceeded beyond rest to achieve genuine atrophy.
November 24 at 3:32pm

Steve Mace "Are you here for "Coping With Senility?" -- "No. I'm here for "Microwave Cookery" ... No, wait, "Coping With Senility".

~Jasper Beardly, The Simpsons
November 24 at 4:00pm

John Magee Who are you whippersnappers? And why won't you get off my lawn?!
November 24 at 4:15pm


John Magee Katie the Beagle thinks I should be feeding her andouille sausage stuffing instead of looking at Facebook. She's rather insistent about it.
November 24 at 5:30pm

Sheila Nason Cady the Lab wants to come visit and help her eat it.
November 25 at 12:01am

John Magee Katie eventually gave up, but the smells drove her to such a frenzy that she chewed on her rawhide bone for about an hour.
November 25 at 1:36am

Natalie Mark Kamenias give the pup some fancy sausage don't be so selfish
November 25 at 2:54am

John Magee I gave her a bit of a cheesie, what more could she want?

Fret not, Katie the Beagle fans. She'll do okay before this day is over.
November 25 at 10:19am


John Magee Breaking Thanksgiving Eve news: Two mincemeat pies, done; one chocolate-pecan pie, done in ten minutes; two pumpkin pies, prepped and ready to go in the oven.
November 24 at 7:39pm


John Magee Turkey in the oven: 10:08 am.
November 25 at 10:20am

John Magee ... a bit past its intended start time because I forgot to cook up the gizzard and liver for the stuffing when I started prepping it this morning.
November 25 at 10:21am

Natalie Mark Kamenias How could you forget that you nit wit. If you want a really good bird here is my secret ingredient-BEER. Dump a can o beer over the bird before you put it in the oven. OK I admit beer is my secret ingredient in everything. It gives great flavor and adds a bit of stickyness. throw on a few spoons o honey and it is bliss.
November 25 at 10:30am

Derek Lamport That bird isn't getting a drop of beer around my place.
November 25 at 11:27am


John Magee Breaking Thanksgiving News! 12:13 pm: Katie the Beagle tallies her first score of the day, some chopped up skin and meat from the turkey neck.
November 25 at 12:14pm

Natalie Mark Kamenias Give the damn dog the whole neck you skin flint!!!!
November 25 at 1:48pm


John Magee As Arsen and Brigitte arrive we have turkey odors wafting through the house; five pies standing ready; deviled eggs, olives, cheesies, chips, and salsa on the table; and the Lions winning at halftime. I'd say this Thanksgiving is shaping up nicely.
November 25 at 1:59pm

Pamela Tolleson I hope your Detroit Lions dont let me down...want them to win today
November 25 at 2:05pm

John Magee Oh, I wouldn't advise *expecting* anything out of the Lions. That way can only lie disappointment.
November 25 at 2:28pm

John Magee Well, okay, I have to admit that I expected *THAT* out of the Lions in the second half. Alas, they didn't disappointment me.
November 25 at 4:28pm


John Magee Thanksgiving update -- At 4:16 pm the turkey came out of the oven and was declared to be "delicious."
November 25 at 4:27pm


John Magee Curled up on the couch with Katie the Beagle, a tummy full of turkey-and-stuffing sandwiches, a pile of books, and the Michigan high school football championship games on the tube. Not too shabby.
Friday, November 26 at 1:58pm via iPhone


[Then on Sunday, November 28, a bazillionty birthday well-wishes suddenly appeared on my Facebook wall. Thanks, everybody!]


John Magee Mr. Vacation has enjoyed a splendidly lazy day today as I finished off this week of staycationing by ... well, by doing absolutely nothing: eating Thanksgiving leftovers, watching football, and fiddling with the new Kindle that Monique gave me for my birthday.
Sunday, November 28 at 11:28 pm


John Magee Mr. No-Longer-On-Vacation Report: Whittling down the ol' e-mail pile after my splendid little break. I've deleted 143 e-mails so far today.
5 hours ago

Marti Bush HA HA HA... and how many did you actually do something with?
5 hours ago

John Magee Today's final count of progress on the e-mails that came in while I was away: deleted, 163; still unread, 73; read and acted upon, 77.
28 minutes ago

Marti Bush HA HA HA
22 minutes ago

Indy Sings the Week 12 Blues ...

Our Colts-granddaughter-beagle haiku correspondent reports on the Lion-esque performance from Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on national TV last night:

San Diego Picked a Peck of Peyton Poopers

MVP 5 waves
Bye-bye, but Kaylee learns to
Wave hello. (Kate wags.)

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Monday, November 22, 2010

Colts-Beagle-Grandaughter Haiku: Week 11

Peyton Manning and his teammates weren't the only ones dismayed by Indy's performance in New England yesterday. Today our Colts-Beagle-Granddaughter haikuist recommends a remedy for Colt fans still suffering from yesterday's drubbing.

'The AFC-ville Horror'

Ghosts of '03 haunt
The Colts. Kate and Kaylee make
Great sports exorcists!

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Just a wee thought I had at lunchtime today...

The best reason to do something in a democracy: it works, and it doesn't compromise our core values.

The worst reason to do something in a democracy: it doesn't work, but it does pander to our political base.

There must be a lot of room in between to figure out stuff we can all do together that make things better.

EDIT (11/21): corrected the second line above to more closely represent what I was trying to say.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another 50-Questions Thingie from Facebook

Yup, it's another one of those Facebook 50-questions thingies, this one courtesy of John "Tank" Davis. You know the rules. If you write up one of your own, please post it (or a link to it) in the comments below, so that I can see what you wrote.

1. What time did you get up this morning?
8:30 am.

2. How do you like your steak?
Medium rare.

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
The "It Came from Outer Space!" in 3D and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" Halloween double-header at the Redford Theater.

4. What are your favorite TV shows?
Current: The Daily Show, 30 Rock, Mad Men
All-time: Star Trek: The Original Series, M*A*S*H, Twilight Zone.

5. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
On a lake in the Adirondacks most of the year, as long as I could escape to various sub-tropical and tropical places in the Winter. (Living on a lake in Michigan isn't a bad backup plan, though!)

6. What did you have for breakfast?
Cinnamon-flavored instant oatmeal.

7. What is your favorite cuisine?
Mexican or Italian. Or French. Or Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian....

8. What foods do you dislike?
Liver, though I'm okay with pâté and liverwurst.

9. Favorite Place to Eat?
Our lakeside porch in the summertime.

10. Favorite salad dressings?
Italian, Thousand Island, Blue Cheese.

11. What kind of vehicle do you drive?
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid, 2000 Dodge Dakota pickup.

12. What are your favorite clothes?
Jeans and a flannel shirt (winter), shorts and a tank top (summer).

13. Where would you visit if you had the chance?
New Zealand.

14. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full?

15. Where would you want to retire?
Either here or the Adirondacks, though I'd snowbird to someplace warm during the winter.

16. Favorite time of day?

17. Where were you born?
Inglewood, California.

18. What is your favorite sport to watch?
Football, rugby, baseball.

19. Who do you think will not tag you back?
No idea.

20. Person you expect to tag you back first?
No idea.

21. Who are you most curious about their responses to this?
Everybody. I always like these little quizzy things.

22. Bird watcher?
Yes, both at our bird feeder and out front in the lake. For a few years I did the waterfowl counts for our village.

23. Are you a morning person or a night person?
Night owl.

24. Pets?
Katie the Beagle!

25. Any new and exciting news that you'd like to share?
I received the top # of votes in our Village Council election, and was also then re-elected by the council as our Village President for the next two years.

26. What did you want to be when you were little?
An astronaut or a pro football player. (Well, at first a jockey, but then the odds of me staying under 100 pounds became clear.)

27. What is your best childhood memory?
Summers on Loon Lake.

28. Are you a cat or dog person?
Dog, but I like cats, too.

29. Are you married?

30. Always wear your seat belt?

31. Favorite kind of music?
Classic rock. I also like folk, classical, and jazz.

32. Any pet peeves?
Cable "news".

33. Favorite pizza topping?
Peppers, especially with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and onion.

34. Favorite Flower?
Beds of phlox in the Summertime.

35. Favorite ice cream?
Chocolate soft-serve.

36. Favorite Fast Food Restaurant?

37. How many times did you fail your driver's test?

38. Who did you get your last email from?
Work: Michael Burggren
Village: Sharon Miller
Personal: Ray Brace

39. Which store would you choose to max out your credit ?
None. Good heavens, I hope to *never* max out my credit anywhere! I do, however, like our local comic-book shop (Comic City in Novi) and visit them every Wednesday. So, I'll use this space to give them a plug.

40. Do anything spontaneous lately?
Nothing big. Lots of little things.

41. Like your job?

42. Broccoli?

43. What was your favorite vacation?
Hard to say ... a lot of good ones. Usually my favorite vacation is the *next* one, since planning and anticipation are a lot of the fun.

44. Last person you went out to dinner with?
Monique. (Mexican food a few Fridays ago.)

45. What are you listening to right now?
Assorted office noises.

46. What is your favorite color(s)?

47. How many tattoos do you have?

48. Coffee drinker?
Yes, with cream (usually milk) and no sugar.

49. How many children do you have?

50. How old were you when you lost your virginity?
MYOB, you nosy questionnaire!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review Ragout Meets Frankenstein

It's been several weeks since I've inflicted some reviews of my 2010 reading list on you all. So let's catch up some, shall we? The reading has been quite good lately...

--Scott Pilgrim, Vols. 5 & 6, by Bryan Lee O'Malley - We begin with a quick mention that I finished off the Scott Pilgrim series with volumes 5 and 6 -- Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe (2009) and Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (2010). I don't have much to add about the series beyond what I wrote in the August roundup but the final two books were both great fun and lived up to the earlier volumes. I highly recommend the series, and I'm really looking forward to catching the movie when it finally hits Netflix.

If you do want to read the Scott Pilgrim books, you should definitely start with Volume 1, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. The whole thing'll make a lot more sense that way. At least, it'll make about as much sense as it's going to make.

Next up: two Nero Wolfe novels:

--Prisoner's Base (1952) by Rex Stout
--If Death Ever Slept (1957) by Rex Stout

This was simply further continuation of my habitual re-reading of the adventures of my favorite fat detective. These two novels come from the peak of the series in the 1950s. There's really no need for me to recount the plots here. Both are great reads and strong entries, but if you've never read a Nero Wolfe novel, and would like to try one, I'd say that Prisoner's Base might be a slightly better bet. It's really one of the best of the entire series.

--The Windup Girl (2009) by Paolo Bacigalupi

Well, whaddya know? I bought the novel that would go on to win the 2010 Hugo six months before it won the Hugo this year. Alas, I didn't get around to reading it until now. (Okay, technically it co-won the Best Novel Hugo with China Mieville's The City & the City after a rare tie. It's still a winner)

I'm glad I finally did pick this back up off my pile, since it's well worth the read. Bacigalupi creates a truly amazing and complex post-peak-oil world in the brutal Bangkok of a hundred years or more from now: an environmental-police state of carbon limits and vast swaths of genetically engineered plagues and foods from the calorie companies that rule the world. The "Windup Girl" herself is Emiko, a beautiful genetically engineered servant/sex toy left behind to fend for herself in a city in which genetically engineered "New People" are illegal.

The last hundred or so pages of this book thunder down the tracks with great speed, plot turns, and revelations. Unfortunately, the first 250 or so pages of set-up are hampered by slow pacing, a lack of sympathetic characters, and a couple of truly brutal scenes. If you pick it up, my advice is to enjoy the scenery as Bacigalupi builds his world in the first 2/3 of the book. Rest assured, it's all going somewhere.

--The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It'd been a couple of decades since I last read Gatsby, and I was curious to see what I'd think about it with the benefit of a couple of decades of perspective -- especially the experience of having lived through our own Gilded Age when I was in Silicon Valley during the dot.com boom.

Yup, it's still a great book, and it just gets better with age. Most people read Gatsby while they're in high school or college, but so much of the book is about regrets for choices made early in life that I found that reading it at a later stage in my own life really deepened it for me. If you haven't read it in a couple of decades or more, you might want to give it another whirl.

I could type on and on about Gatsby at this point (as I did in many an English class in college ... really, by the time I finally graduated I could crank out a 12-page Gatsby paper before most students finished Chapter 1) but instead of going on for pages about Gatsby, I'd rather mention something to you that hasn't had millions of pages already written about it and that could use the plug:

--Knights of the Dinner Table: The Bag Wars Saga by Jolly R. Blackburn, Brian Jelke, Steve Johansson, and David S. Kenzer.

This graphic novel collects up a long-running thread in strips from the Knights of the Dinner Table (KODT) comic book over the last 15 years, The Bag Wars Saga. However, it's not a strict reprint. It instead collects up all of the old Bag Wars material, adds 35 pages of new material to it, and gives new artwork to all of it. The result makes a great graphic novel: complex, readable, fun, and very funny.

For those who have never read Knights of the Dinner Table, the comic tracks a batch of friends as they play Hackmaster -- their version of Dungeons & Dragons -- over the years. (Here's a link to an overall KODT review that I wrote last year.) One of the most noteworthy things about this comic is that while the artwork of most D&D-based comics are chock full of dwarves, dragons, and demons, KODT mostly just shows four or five people sitting around a table talking and rolling dice.

The real action takes place in their heads, and by extension in our heads as well, and this mechanism somehow perfectly captures that role-playing game spirit.

Part of what makes The Bag Wars Saga so extraordinary is that it starts out with a small side-joke in the game when the players stash a platoon of soldiers in their "Bag of Hefty Capacity," then forget about them for several years. Needless to say, Sergeant Barringer and his men are not amused.

Hilarity ensues, as worlds within bags within worlds within games collide.

If you've never read KODT, this makes a great jumping-on volume. Give it a try!

Two NFL Haiku Today

The first comes from the Indianapolis Colts fan, and cleverly incorporates the ridiculous cuteness of a granddaughter and a beagle:

Haiku makes for weird sports cheers

Indy sits at six-
and-three! What beats that? Our grand-
baby! A-a-a-a-a-and: Katie!!

--Mary Campbell-Droze

The second comes from me, after watching yet another Lions loss, this time to the 0-8 Buffalo Bills:

Seventeen Syllables of Detroit Lions Football

Oh, God, make it stop!
Aaagh, my eyes! My eyes! The pain!
They're horrible! Ugh.

--John Magee

Friday, November 12, 2010

...And the Week 9 Haiku Staggers in Like a 3rd-String Player

Colts "Balsawood Boys"
Get battered. Kate and Kaylee
Ease Bowl hopes shattered.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Rest assured that Mary's pay has been substantially docked for the unseemly tardiness of this week's Colts-Beagle-Granddaughter haiku.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Restful Weekend

Sigh. There was so much I should've done during the weekend just past, since I've spent so much of the past several weekends working on the campaign and setting other things to the side. Alas, this is all that I did:

--Enjoyed a lovely martini on Friday evening. (Enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I had another one on Saturday evening!)
--Wrote a post-election blog post
--Had a lovely lunch with Monique, Arsen, and Brigitte
--Bought a much-needed new pair of gloves
--Re-read "The Great Gatsby"
--Watched "The Wolf Man" (1941, with Lon Chaney, Jr.)
--Read several sections of the Sunday New York Times
--Pulled the rowboat and the boat lift from the lake
--Watched the Lions snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Ugh!
--Watched a good "Masterpiece Mystery" (The Inspector Lewis series) off the DVR
--Washed a few dishes

... and that's about it, really.

When your list of "accomplishments" includes two martinis and "The Wolf Man", I think it's safe to say that vast world-beating achievements may have been scarce.

I concede that I may have needed a restful weekend, which is just what I had. Now I need to get the gearshift out of "N" and back into drive, since a busy week looms!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Few Thoughts about Tuesday's Election and What the Next Two Years Will Bring

Let's start on a cheerful note. It's hard to be too down about an election in which I received the highest number of votes in my own race, so let's start with the Village of Wolverine Lake results:

--John A. Magee, 923 (4-year term)
--Linda Champagne, 858 (4-year term)
--Pamela Kaznecki, 780 (4-year term)
--Brian Nedrow, 748 (2-year term)
--Ron Cumbo, 662

It's truly an honor to have been the top vote recipient both times I have run for a council seat.

Like any politician who did well in his election, I shall now claim a mandate.

I believe that the outcome of our village election reflects an expression of confidence in the way that I have led the village for the last four years. I've tried very hard to keep our focus on facts and solving problems; to ensure that as a council we work well and respectfully among ourselves and with the village employees; and to improve our relations with our neighboring governments, so that we can get more done together. I think that approach has been proven to work for the betterment of the village during a very difficult time, and that my vote total above is a statement from the village residents that they want me to keep on the same path.

And so I shall continue to work to solve our problems with courteous, civil, fact-based governance.

At a state level, I'm not sure I've got a lot to say right now. It was a total Republican sweep of the governorship, the state house, a supermajority in the state senate, and the state supreme court. As you all know, I'm a Democrat and have expressed some pretty sincere doubts about the math and the lack of detail that most of those Republican candidates used during the campaign. Our state government in Michigan has been bitterly gridlocked for the last decade as deep partisan differences kept us from seeing real action on the huge problems of this state. Now we'll get to see if the Republicans can make it work, since they have 100% control of the mechanisms of government.

I truly hope they can make it work because this state is in dire need of improvement. I wish them well.

Where I'm most discouraged is at the national level, where all I can see coming out of this election is two years of bitter partisanship. And so there, rather than taking on detailed analysis of the races, the exit polls, the electorate, etc. -- and haven't enough Internet electrons already been sacrificed those topics? -- I'd like to write a bit on why I'm so glum about what I think we'll see for the next two years.

I think there were two things that really, truly mattered during this election:

1) Republican moderates took a severe beating from Tea Party candidates during the primary season, while moderate Democrats took a severe beating at the polls on Tuesday. As a result, it looks to me as if very few genuine moderate votes will be left in the next Congress, while both party caucuses are going to swing heavily towards their base for the next two years.

2) Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity" was by far the largest political gathering and rally of the last year. Three days before the election more than 200,000 people showed up on the Washington mall, most of them in support of this "political" position: "We're tired of our elected representatives putting their partisan battles ahead of fixing the genuine problems in this country." And then we went out and elected the most bitterly partisan and extreme Congress of our lifetimes.

So what happened? And why -- if we can accomplish civil, reasonable, fact-based governance in Wolverine Lake, Michigan -- can't we seem to accomplish the same things at the state or federal level? My own two cents is that while the 24/7 "news" cycle and vast gobs of unregulated campaign cash have worsened the problem and need to be fixed, the root of the problem in Congress stems not from whom we choose to represent districts. The root of the problem lies in how we draw the districts themselves.

As redistricting methods have grown more sophisticated the gerrymander has greatly contributed to increasing partisanship and extremism in legislative bodies at the local, state, and federal level. This happens because sophisticated gerrymanders carve out a large number of "safe" districts in which the real election becomes the party primary that selects the safe party's candidate.

Why have moderates disappeared from Congress, state legislatures, and county boards? The gerrymander is the mechanism that has squeezed them out. Lawmakers who are no longer are accountable to the center of the political spectrum have stopped responding to the center of the political spectrum.

When a single party controls the gerrymander they carve as many seats as possible for themselves by putting the opposition party in overwhelmingly safe districts while carving out a larger number of districts that lean in their direction. (That will be the case in Michigan, for example, where the Republicans will be able to unilaterally draw all of the federal and state districts because of their victories on Tuesday.) When control of redistricting is split between two parties, the overall number of seats that go to each party is more balanced; however, incumbents on both sides carve out as many safe districts as possible for themselves. Again, this greatly increases the number of legislators who need only appeal to their party's base to win a primary election. Either way, moderate lawmakers are squeezed out as moderate districts are eliminated, and what used to be a substantial swing vote needed to pass legislation has mostly disappeared.

The replacement of so many "blue dog" Democrats with Tea Party Republicans on Tuesday doesn't bode well for the restoration of moderation and civility in the House of Representatives. As for the Senate, since Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said immediately after the election that the top priority of Senate Republicans would be the defeat of Obama in 2012, I think I can safely forecast two years of bitter partisan gridlock their.

In a country with as many important problems as we have, I wish I could say that I expect both parties to sit down together, work with the facts, and find practical solutions to our problems. Sadly, I have absolutely no expectation of anything other than two years of partisan wrangling and posing in anticipation of the 2012 Presidential election.

Worse yet, I expect most of the tattered remnants of American journalism to engage in two more years of verbal cockfighting instead of factual reporting. The gerrymander may have killed the moderate bloc in Congress, but cable "news" dug the grave and cheered the firing squad. And yes, the entire shindig was funded by vast uncontrolled, unreported, untrackable gobs of money donated by special interests whose only interest in the system is their own benefit, no matter what the cost to the rest of us.

In two years one party or the other will lose, but what I fear is that in the two years until then, all of us will lose as real problems go unsolved.

Not a very cheerful thought, I suppose.

But maybe it gets us to the heart of our problems. Our biggest problem as a nation right now isn't a matter of who is winning or losing elections. Our problem is that our electoral process itself has become badly damaged by gerrymandering that leaves the majority of Americans feeling that they aren't represented by the outcome of our elections. We need to fix a broken electoral process if we expect to elect politicians who will focus on fixing our problems. In the next few weeks I'll try to have a few more thoughts on how we can go about fixing that problem. Because it damn well needs fixing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Katie-Kaylee-Colts Haiku, Week 8

Not content with including a ridiculously cute beagle and a ridiculously cute granddaughter in her Indianapolis Colts updates, our sports-haiku correspondent Mary Campbell-Droze has expanded her 17 syllables of commentary to include a World Series observation.

Plus Colts-and-Giants nexus!
(Bad night for Texas.)

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Monday, November 1, 2010

Two Quick Pre-Election-Day Thoughts

1) I endorse a YES on Proposal One, the call for a Michigan State Constitutional Convention. The rules under which we form our government are not working well for us right now.

Most especially I'd like to see us eliminate gerrymandering and term limits. The combination of those two items has created a toxic partisan environment in our state legislature. As a result, partisan warfare all too often seems to trump practical solutions in a state that has all too many problems that need practical solutions now.

There are a few other things I'd also like to see, including requiring a good deal more than 50% vote to pass a constitutional amendment. That 50% threshold makes it far too easy to amend the constitution, which leads all sorts of special interests to put their pet projects on the ballot. I watched that process slowly make California practically ungovernable, and I don't want to see it repeated here.

Our state government isn't working well right now. We have a chance to try to design a better one, and we should take advantage of it.

2) I think my village council campaign has been a good one, and I enjoyed it this year more than I expected. We've had a relatively quiet campaign in Wolverine Lake this year, but I'm glad that I got out on the streets, wrote and distributed flyers, and had to seek our local paper's endorsement. It let me hear from some folks in the village who aren't all that involved in everyday village politics. What they had to say has given me some ideas for things we might be able to work on to improve the village during the next four years.

Most of all, I want to say, "Thank you!" to Monique for all the work she has put in on the campaign as: campaign treasurer; literature designer, printer, and publisher; Canvasser #1; staff photographer; and all-around good egg.

Some might claim she does it all because she likes having me out of the house on Wednesday nights. I just think she's the greatest wife in the world.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fear and Optimism on the Campaign Trail, 2010

It's weird out there this year.

I've been knocking doors for various campaigns since 1993, so I like to think I have a pretty good grasp on how folks react when somebody shows up at their door ready to discuss politics. For a lot of people, I'm the only politician from any office or party that they're going to get a chance to talk to, so I'm pretty used to getting an earful. That's not all bad. I try to listen to what folks have to say. I try to be mindful of it when we're looking at issues that come before council, and sometimes I hear of something important that hasn't yet come before us, but that we should pursue.

For the most part, folks are pretty reasonable. Some are happy to see you on their doorstep; some are unhappy; and most are doing something totally unrelated to politics and really just want to get back to whatever they were doing.

But more people than usual are mad this year.

Two years ago we had an election around the theme of "hope". This year's theme seems to be the old slogan from the movie Network: "I'm mad as Hell, and I'm not going to take it any more." Add in a healthy dose of economic malaise and the remake of "Hawaii Five-O" on TV, and it's beginning to feel a lot like 1978.

It's pretty easy to understand why folks are mad, especially in Michigan. I surely don't need to document the long decline of the domestic automobile industry and what that's done to this state. (Nor am I going to drone on about Wall Street, mortgage-backed derivatives, the collapse of real-estate values, the credit shortage, etc. Worry not, gentle reader, I'm sure I'll drone on about those things at some point this winter, so you've got that to look forward to.)

But I think there are also some reasons for optimism around here that aren't getting much attention. I thought I'd mention a few things that I'm going to try to bring with me during this final weekend of campaigning:

1) The auto industry is on the rebound -- The bailout of GM and Chrysler worked. Both companies are growing and repaying their debts. Ford was kept out of bankruptcy, and the automotive suppliers are starting to see their business improve.

This matters to us in Michigan.

Two years ago our neighbor was unemployed after having been laid off by two companies. Today she's working on the Chevy Volt out, and that's a car with a future. That story can be told by thousands of people in thousands of different ways as the auto companies begin to hire again.

2) We will not be as dependent on the auto industry in the future -- The Ford Wixom plant just a few miles from our village is being reborn as a green-technology park manufacturing batteries, turbines, and other renewable energy items. That means American money is being invested in American manufacturing instead of being sent to Saudi Arabia for oil. We will grow stronger as a nation when we invest more in ourselves than in Middle Eastern oil fields.

Michigan still has the infrastructure, the skilled workers, and the resources to be a hub of American manufacturing. We need to keep bringing projects here to build 21st Century technology, and I think we're going to do it.

3) Real-estate prices already collapsed -- We're fortunate in one way that we never had the big debt-fueled boom that some areas of the country experienced, but for all of us living in houses worth less than they were worth ten years ago, our drop was plenty big enough. But the silver lining is that we now have a lot of good, affordable housing. That's a pretty attractive deal for a lot of folks. I could go on about this point for a while, and might in a future post. The economy runs on cycles, and while I would never wish for a real-estate collapse, where we are now puts us in a great position to attract new residents and new investments.

4) The village has its fiscal house in order -- The top three points apply across all Michigan, really. But at the most local level, we put a lot of effort this Spring into making sure that the village is ready to ride out whatever remains of the financial storm of the past several years. It was very painful, but we did it, and we did it for the long run. Wolverine Lake is still a great place to live, and we now have a rock-solid foundation upon which to build and improve. We are going to make this village a better place to live. Most importantly we can do things to make this village a better place to live because we have our fiscal house in order.

So, yes, I understand that there's still a lot of anger and fear out there. Some of it's been whipped up by the media, but I think it would be a mistake to point the finger at those who exploit anger and fear without recognizing that there are some legitimate reasons for people to be angry and worried.

However, at some point we need to choose between fear and the future.

I choose the future. We are going to get out of this mess. We are going to get stronger. We will move forward.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A goal for 2011? Maybe not.

I just wanted to pass along a fish photo to our international fishermen, the famed Pontoon Pirates. You won't find this freshwater fish in the Seine, but you will find it in the Fraser River in British Columbia. It supposedly weighed more than 1,000 lbs (450+ kg) and measured 11'1" (3.38 meters) long and 56" (1.42 m) in girth (around the middle):

The momentarily exciting thing about it was that it came to me via an Internet hoax that claimed it was from a little lake only about an hour's drive from Wolverine Lake. Believe me, we would've tried to catch it had that turned out to be true!

So, if there aren't any 11-foot sturgeon in Michigan, what is the biggest sturgeon hereabouts? The Michigan record for a lake sturgeon was set in 1974 by a fish that measured in at 187 pounds (85 kg) and 87" long (2.21 meters) in Mullett Lake, which is about a four-hour drive north of Wolverine Lake.

Sorry, no photos of that one!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Colts/Katie/Kaylee/Quince, Week 6

Today, our intrepid Indianapolis Colts haiku correspondent adds quinces to her 17 syllables of pigskin poetry as she recaps the 27-24 victory that Indy squeaked out over the Washington Redskins:

When the Quince Hits the Fans

Kate and Kaylee wince
At the evidence evinced:
Colts played like minced quince!

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Unlike Lions fans, Colts fans are apparently finicky about their victories. (We Lions fans don't even know how to pluralize the word "victory.")

As to the added haiku content, you may be asking why we've asked Mary to add quinces to the already busy task of including Katie the Beagle and Kaylee the Granddaughter in her Colts haiku. Rest assured that it's just for the alliteration, since nobody has yet proven that we're a wholely owned subsidiary of the American Quince Growers Association*.

We would never sell out to Big Quince.

As far as you know.

*The AQGA reminds that, "Quinces to you, quinces to me, quinces we shall eat!" is the foundation of a well-balanced quinceful diet.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Quince Week Comes to the Patio Boat Blog

After the arrival of the bucket of quinces from our neighbor's quince tree it was a quinciful week around the Magee residence. The drama played out on Facebook, so I thought I'd copy a few posts and comments back here.

As to rumors that this blog is on the take from the American Quince Growers Association, I have no comment. I can, however, assure you all that the AQGA is, "Making America great again, once quince at a time!"


Saturday, October 9

John Magee
As long as we're talking food, you'll all be glad to know that I moved on from spaghetti tacos for lunch to the best pot roast I've ever had for dinner.

Patio Boat: Quince Pot Roast

Daniel Steinbach I am glad


Sunday, October 10

John Magee
Monique to John this morning: "What do you mean you can't figure out what to make us for Sunday breakfast with what's left in the fridge? You have quinces. You have beets. You have half an eggplant. I'm sure you can figure something out."

Justine Carson Hmmm, challenging ingredients; so what did you come up with?

Dean Tiernan Time to turn the duties over to Monique.

John Magee I kept the quinces and beets on the sideline, and made an eggplant, bacon, and gruyere omelet with rye toast. Yum.

Daniel Steinbach Hmmm. I had a bowl of cereal with lactose reduced skim milk.

Sheila Nason That's cheating. You didn't say you had eggs, bacon and gruyere. Where's the challenge in that?

John Magee What I figured out was that I needed to keep digging through the fridge to find better ingredients.

Marti Bush WHAT?!?!?! No spagetti tacos?


Friday, October 15

John Magee
We finished up the leftovers last night, so I thought I'd give folks a second crack at the quince pot roast recipe. It was truly amazing.

Patio Boat: Quince Pot Roast

Pamela Tolleson John I posted a question a few weeks ago but I just looked and it's not there...hmmm odd. Anyways, it was asking if I can buy the quince at any grocery store?

John Magee ‎@Pam - I think it depends on your store, and how far down the "specialty fruits and veggies" they go in their produce aisle. I don't recall having seen them very often, but it is the season and it might be worth asking the produce manager if you have an adventurous store. The best bet might be a farmer's market or an orchard. We got ours from our neighbor, who has a little quince tree.

John Magee P.S. You might also try an ethnic foods store if there's one near you. They tend to see a lot of use in Turkish, Southern European, Middle Eastern, and South American foods.

Pamela Tolleson Thank you, I will ask Wegmans, i go there almost everyday (the grocery store) ............ I will keep you posted on how that goes ♥


Friday, October 15

John Magee
Monique made quince crumble for dinner tonight. Oh, so yummy. Alas, we're now down to two final quinces.

Marti Bush I wish I could have had dinner at your house. That sounds wonderful! Tell your lovely wife I said hello!

John Magee Um, I guess technically the quince crumble was for dessert. But who's kidding who? Dinner was just a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches designed to move us quickly on to dessert.

Catherine Dufresne-Magee I need a wife!

Lori Pasto With all of the rain and wind -- we opted for grilled cheese and tomato soup . . . no dessert -- sounds way better in Michigan! :)


Saturday, Oct. 16

John Magee
Quince Week continues. Yesterday, quince crumble, then quince syrup with the leftover bits of quince. The latter led to today's treat: quincetinis on the pontoon boat for a sunset cruise. Tomorrow? Quince and green tomato mincemeat pie.

Marti Bush And still no dinner invite?

Susan Magee Riordan I suspect the Patio Boat blog has been purchased by the American Quince Growers Association.

John Magee Ahhh, the good folks of the AQGA, "Making this nation stronger one quince at a time."

Mary Campbell-Droze Good grief, Muggy---keep this up & I'll have to add "quince" to the Colts/Katie/Kaylee haiku! (well, it *would* maintain the alliteration)

John Magee I'm beginning to sense a lot of jealousy from all those who had to go without a quince-tini this evening.

Jon Hopwood Like I've said, the only Quince I know about was played by Jack Klugman in the 1970s.


Sunday, Oct. 17

John Magee
just made a big batch of green-tomato-and-quince mincemeat. ("Quincemeat"?) We canned a couple of big quart bottles worth, and the rest will just have to go into pies now.

John Magee Well, into pies tomorrow. It's a bit late to start baking pies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mr. Crankypants sez, "Farewell to morning 'news'."

I had a dentist's appointment this morning, and while I was getting my teeth cleaned they had a TV in the corner of the room tuned to a morning news show. It had been quite a while since I've looked in on any of the morning news shows, so this seemed okay to me.

In addition to the occasion genuinely helpful weather update, I also saw: a lengthy interview with Vanilla Ice about home repair, lingerie models, a "guess the celebrity" photo contest, how to make a pizza with soy faux mozzarella, Tom Brady in a Michigan State t-shirt, some video showing that strokes are really bad, and a midget playing badminton. No, I did not make up that final item. In fact, they played that clip several times.

What I did not see was any actual news.

I feel like I lost about 20 IQ points.

I don't want to seem all media-elite here, and I don't think the morning news shows need to be Hunter-Brinkley or McNeil-Lehrer. But, um, wow.

Sure, that last brief sentence may not seem all that expressive, but what do you want from a guy who watched 30 minutes of television "news" this morning?

On the bright side, my teeth are all clean, shiny, and cavity free! So I've got that going for me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

And just one day after Week 4 comes Week 5

The Patio Boat blog remains unstuck in time as our Week 4 Colts/Kaylee/Katie the Beagle haiku is succeeded by the Week 5 haiku after just a single day of subjective time.

Football poetry scientists are unsure what has caused this damage to the space-time continuum, but we all suspect that the Lions winning by a score of 44-6 has something to do with it. As we all know, a 38-point Lion victory margin over the Rams was one of the seven signs of aproaching Armageddon cited by Nostradamus:

In these end days the Lion shall no longer lie down with the Lamb,
But it shall instead devour the Lamb with such savagery
That thirty-eight ribs shall enumerate the carcass,
And the hosts of the City of Wagons will proclaim this deed good.

As for the Colts this week, we turn the rest of this blog over to our Indy haiku correspondent:

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep, But Ugly Colts Blight the Red Zone

Colts win, but don't play
As pretty as a beagle
Or a grandbaby.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Monday, October 11, 2010

More True Tales of Time-Travelling! Colts: Week 4 Haiku

In this edition we travel backwards in time one week to enjoy the Katie/Kaylee/Colts Haiku in which -- on the day that Peyton Manning passed John Elway in all-time passing yardage -- a Colts fan expresses her admiration for the Hall-of-Fame career that Elway enjoyed after he refused to play for the Colts when they drafted him with their number one pick:


Eat THIS, Elway, you
Colts-snubber! (Kate and Kaylee
Know naught of grudges.)

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Quince Pot Roast

This was the best pot roast I've ever had. How did it come to be?

We have a neighbor with a small quince tree, and a couple of days ago he gave Monique a small bucketful of little hard golden fruits that looked a bit like unripe apples. And so, since all I knew about quinces was that they were a handy crossword puzzle word if you need a six-letter fruit beginning with a "Q", I launched myself into the world of the quince.

My first surprise as I researched the quince came when I discovered that they need to be cooked quite a while before they're edible, but that once cooked they take on a tart and fruity flavor, a bit like an extreme apple. Even more surprising, they eventually turn in color from golden yellow to pink or even ruby red.

The alchemy of the quince is interesting. Raw quinces are very heavy in tannins, which makes them so astringent as to be inedible. When cooked over time the tannins break down, which removes the bitter taste and releases a deep, complex fruit flavor. The end products of the tannin breakdown contain anthocyanins, the pigments that give plants their red color. And thus a bitter golden quince becomes a ruby red treasure. In addition to tannins, quinces are very heavy in pectin, which is what makes them a favorite as the base for an assortment of jams, jellies, sauces, and fruit pastes.

Quinces originated in Southwest Asia near the Caucuses, and Turkey remains the world's largest quince producer. They were more popular than apples in much of the ancient world, and because of their golden color may be the fruit actually referred to where the name of the fruit has been translated as "apple" or "golden apple." (For example, the mythological tale when Paris chooses Aphrodite for the prize of a golden apple, thus kicking off the Trojan War.) Quinces were popular with the Romans and the Franks, and so became widespread across Europe, especially Southern Europe.

Alas for the quince, it's fallen out of favor in modern times, undoubtedly because it doesn't fit an immediate-gratification world.

So, when it was time to decide what to do with our bucketful of quinces, I reckoned, "How better to give a few old-fashioned quinces a good thorough cooking than to pop them into a good ol' pot roast?"

Here's the recipe we put together. You could probably add a few quinces (or even a single quince) to any pot roast recipe you like -- just be sure to add them early enough in the process to give them a couple of hours to cook and mellow.

1 large pot roast (We used an English-cut chuck roast.)
Olive oil
4-6 quinces (We may have used 7 ... they were small. Really you could get a nice flavor out of just a couple of quinces, though.)
3 pounds baby red potatoes
1 pound carrots
1 large red onion (A pound of baby onions might do nicely here ... or perhaps a leek or two.)
3 stalks celery
1/2 red bell pepper and 1/2 green bell pepper (You could use one bell pepper of either color, but I thought the color mix would look pretty.)

1) Brown the pot roast in some olive oil.
2) Peel and core the quinces, cut into quarters. (A sharp paring knife is good for this, but be careful, they're hard and tricky.)
3) Once the roast is browned on each side, add the quince quarters, cover with water, and simmer for an hour-and-a-half or two.
4) Peel and cut the carrots, onion, celery, and bell pepper into chunks. (Do the same with potatoes if they're large.)
5) About 45 minutes or so before you're ready to eat, add the veggies.
6) Add a bit more water if you need it to cover the veggies. Keep your pot simmering.
7) When the potatoes and carrots are tender to the fork, you're ready to eat.
8) Use a slotted spoon to pull out the veggies and the roast.
9) The juices are delicious. Ladle them into a gravy boat and pour some over your potatoes, meat, and veggies on the plate.

Enjoy! As I said at the top, this was the single most delicious pot roast we've ever made. The quinces mostly fell apart after all that simmering, and they never really turned red, but their flavor spread through everything.

It was quince-a-licious!

*True culinary confessions time: after I added the veggies we headed out for a quick pontoon cruise on this lovely October afternoon. I didn't want the veggies to boil over while we were away, so I turned it down very low ... a bit too low as it turned out, and so our veggies really got about an hour on very low heat and then another 30 or 40 minutes at a decent simmer after we got home and discovered that the potatoes were still rock hard. It was almost a bit more like crock-potting by the time it was done. Come to think of it, a crock pot might be a very good way to go with a quince, since it would give you a nice, long cooking time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

When I really enjoy a book I will often tear through it several hundred pages at a time. However, on rare occasion I find myself enjoying a book so much that I parcel it out to myself in much smaller doses, so that I can make it last days and days.

How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu is such a book.

A description of the plot is entirely inadequate to describe this book, yet I shall provide one nonetheless. The narrator -- coincidentally also named "Charles Yu" -- has taken a job as a travelling time-machine repairman while he tries to find his father, who disappeared from their home universe shortly after inventing a time machine of his own. Aided in his travels by his nonexistent but ontologically valid dog Ed and his time machine's operating system TAMMY (who suffers from low self esteem) Charles Yu becomes unstuck in time, visits his mother, who has chosen to spend her remaining days trapped in a one-hour time loop, then finds himself stuck in a time loop of his own in which he writes a book titled How to Life Safely in a Science Fictional Universe as he tries to keep from shooting himself when he finishes the book ... again.

But the joy of this book isn't in the plot, tightly woven though it is. It's in the prose, the humor, Yu the protagonist's family life, and in the way time travel ultimately becomes a metaphor for fiction and our own travels through life.

Eh, I could spend a lot more time trying to describe this book without ever hitting the mark, but I don't think you should spend any more time reading this review. You should spend your time acquiring and reading this book. It's one of the best that I've read in the last few years.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Colts/Katie/Kaylee, Week 3

The Rules

Don't tease a baby;
Don't traumatize a beagle;
Don't tick off Peyton.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Methinks our 17-syllable triumvirate closely resembles a Jim Croce song this week.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Return of Review Ragout

I'm just collecting up a few reviews from some fun reading of the last month. There's no hard sledding here, so away we go...

King Conan, Vol. 1; The Witch of the Mists and Other Stories by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Ernie Chan, and Danny Bulanadi -- It's not remembered as fondly as the original Conan the Barbarian or Savage Sword of Conan comic books, but I was always a fan of Marvel's King Conan comic of the 80s, especially the earlier issues. The comic recounted tales of Conan's rule after Robert E. Howard's barbarian hero became the ruler of Aquilonia, the greatest kingdom of the Hyborian Age. It usually had a nice mix of court intrigue and great battles between vast armies, with a good dose of evil sorcery thrown in for fun. So this collection of issues #1-#5 made for a fun trip down memory lane. My recollection is that the quality of the comic itself quickly sagged as Thomas and Buscema moved on to other projects, so this probably the best bet for anybody who wants to know what this comic was about.

One note of interest: unlike Dark Horse's Conan the Barbarian re-issues, this has not been recolored with modern digital colors, so the coloring is the original four-color comic, which looks pretty primitive when compared with the recolored versions from the other book. Even so, John Buscema's art still looks terrific.

The Bloodstained Man by Christopher Rowley (Netherworld, Book 2) -- The second book in the Heavy Metal Pulp sci-fi noir series takes the same central characters further down their danger-filled path, as they try to stay alive while possessed of the secret that could overthrow the right-wing dictatorship that has taken over the United States. Really, it's a continuation of the first book, and true to the series name it offers much the same straightforward pulp sci-fi fun. This one mostly plays out as a long chase into the depths of uninsured New Jersey. Good fun.

(Here's a link to my review of the first book in the series, Pleasure Model, if you want to know more about the series.)

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories by Zack Whedon and a host of artists -- Is a collection of origin stories for the cast of characters from Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long blog. If you haven't seen that cinematic gem this will make no sense whatsoever. It's hardly must-read material, but for fans of Dr. Horrible it makes an enjoyable collection. I mean, where else are you going to learn the secret origin of that henchman of high humidity, Moist?

The Year's Best Science Fiction: 25th Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois -- This is always the science-fiction collection that I look forward to most every year, and this collection of the best from the year 2007 was no exception. Somehow I set it aside when I still had a half-dozen stories left, which is why this review appears a couple of years after it came out. So, I won't try to recall the first 30 stories, but will instead mention that I really enjoyed "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear and "Roxie" by Robert Reed, both of which appeared near the end of the book. If you don't read much science fiction and would like a good overview of the best short work in the field, Gardner Dozois's annual collection is the best place to start.

The Under Dog; and Other Stories Featuring Hercule Poirot, by Agatha Christie -- Collects nine Hercule Poirot stories from the early 1920s. Really, do you need me to tell you that this was a great read? Of course not. So what I will tell you about his the oddest thing in this book. Near the end of some of these mysteries a note suddenly appears reading:

(It is suggested that the reader pause in his perusal of the story at this point, make his own solution of the mystery -- and then see how close he comes to that of the author. -- The Editors.)

I've never seen anything quite like that in any of these Agatha Christie collections. Trying to figure out whodunit is the unwritten rule of the genre, except that this time ... it's written! This was a 1975 Dell paperback printing, but I really have no idea if the note entered in the original magazine edition, the original book edition, or some collection afterwards. The note is in several stories in this collection, but not all of them. I assume it came from somewhere at some point in their history. But it's curious. Frankly, where it comes from is a mystery, and I wish I had a convenient moustachioed Belgian detective to solve it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Charlotte's Web Original Art Auction

As most of you know, I like to collect comic-book art. As hobbies go, it's a bit off the beaten path but pretty understandable since I grew up reading comic books and still read a few favorites. I think it's a pretty fun hobby. Some of the pages are a nice trip down nostalgia lane because I remember reading them in the original comic twenty-five or thirty years ago. Some of the pages are from new comics that I've enjoyed. And some of them just look cool.

I also like that it's production art. I've always liked things that are of use. And these pages are a tangible relic of the work, care, and creativity that went into what is generally considered to be a one-month-and-forgotten art form.

If you've never seen original comic-book art, the original pages often have a lot of detail that doesn't come out on the comic page, especially the pages of older comics published before digital printing came into vogue. Monique and I have framed a few of the best pieces and hung them on our walls at home. I've also taken quite a few in to work and put them up on my cubicle walls over the years. I like to rotate them in and out there. It ensures that I haven't just stored them away forever in a dusty portfolio book, and I think they look pretty cheerful in my cube.

It's a relatively inexpensive hobby as collector hobbies go. Most of the pieces I've bought have been in the $10-$25 range on e-Bay. I've gone up over $100 for a couple of particularly cool pieces that ended up on our wall at home, then reigned myself in for a few months afterwards to make up for it. That's not to say that you couldn't spend a lot more if you wanted to -- some of the truly iconic pages of comic-book history could easily cost upwards of $25,000. Honestly, though, for $25,000+ I'd rather have a nice, new boat.

In fact, I've never really felt the collector bug that says I should spend anything like significant money on what is, after all, a silly little side hobby.

Until now, that is.

That's because part of the estate of Garth Williams -- the illustrator of Charlotte's Web -- is being auctioned off on Oct. 15, and more than 40 of those original illustrations are up for sale. (Yes, most of my pages are from comic books, but children's book illustrations have much in common and many of the top illustrators worked in both fields. In any case, I suddenly find that my inner two-year-old collector has wriggled free, and to my annoyance it's yelling, "MINE!")

Alas that most of the pieces have opening bids of $750 or $1,000. The cover illustration is estimated to go for $20,000 - $30,000. Since Charlotte's Web is (I believe) still the top selling children's book in history, my guess is that the cover illustration may very well go for more than that. Doubly alas that all the free funds for a foreseeable future were frittered away frivolously on hooking our house up to the sewer. In retrospect, I'm sure we could've just rolled with a Port-A-Potty for the next few years, right? Triply alas that I just spent my bonus from work on ridiculous stuff like paying off the bills.

(Okay, full disclosure in the midst of my whine. Remember those truly iconic $25,000+ pages I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? I spent a wee tiny bit of my bonus on the cover art from Silver Surfer #7 by John Buscema. No, I didn't suddenly qualify for a ridiculous Wall Street bonus. It was a freshly inked reproduction that cost about 1/500th what the original page would've cost. But it looks cool, and I can put it up on my cubicle wall without worrying about locking it up every night.)

The original spectacular, iconic cover of Silver Surfer, Number 7 ... um, sort of.

So, despite the fact that my birthday is just a few months away and a truly loving blogosphere would understand my need, I've sadly concluded that the only way original illustration art with a pig gets up on my wall is if somebody puts a few pages from Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham up on e-Bay. But in the meantime, I copied a few of my favorite Charlotte's Web drawings into my "Screen Saver Photos" folder, and I thought I'd share them with everybody, just for fun.

Fern with baby Wilbur. One of my favorites.

Well, of course he's terrific. Just look at him!

Charlotte checks out the competition at the fair.

"Some Pig." Kind of an odd one to be my favorite of all, but it is. Perhaps it speaks to my love of the written word, wherever it may appear.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Excuses, excuses...

Our Colts/Beagle/Grandbaby haikuist Mary Campbell-Droze was tardy with her weekly contribution this week. Rest assured we have fined her a large portion of her salary:

Yeah, I know I'm up against my deadline

Watcha gonna do
When I lag on the haiku??
Bad Mary! Bad Mary! (ooo!!)

Expect Indy-Katie-Kaylee Week 2 contribution in your Inbox by tomorrow a.m.

--Mary Campbell-Droze


Or, I guess I could just send it to you now

Bro Bowl Bowl-Over

Giants lose; Colts win!
Eli needs Kaylee's burp cloth.
Tom needs Kate's poop bags.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Monday, September 20, 2010

Random September Doggerel

Just a few lines that popped into my head as I drove to work today -- not so much a poem as maybe part of a stanza. But today, it'll have to stand on its own:

Autumn bursts in colored tones,
Leaves bright red on branch's bones,
Yellow, orange, and maroon too,
A scenic feast for me and you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why I'm Running for Reelection on the Wolverine Lake Village Council

I generally try to keep village politics off this wee blog, but as many of you know I am running for reelection on our village council this year. One of my favorite tasks in the election season is writing up my candidate responses for the League of Women Voters' candidate's questionnaire because their 150-word limit for responses forces me to distill my message to its essence.

So, for those of you wondering why I'm taking the leap for another four years, here's what I had to say to the LWV:

Question 1: Please provide biographical information and explain why you are running for village office and relevant qualities and skills you would bring to the position.

As your Village President for the last four years I’ve led a full restructuring of our village government to provide the best possible services for us residents with a much smaller budget. Four years ago our village stood on the brink of financial disaster. We’ve emerged with a strong fund balance, an improved bond rating, improved infrastructure, a strong police presence, and more cost-effective village services. We’ve done this both with our own innovations, and also by working together more effectively with our neighboring communities.

I am proud of your council’s record over the last four years, and I stand on that record. If reelected I will use my experience as your Village President, my previous village experience as Council Member and Water Board Chair, and my professional experience as an editorial manager to keep making this village a great place to live.

Question 2: What are the top 3 Priority Issues that your Village should address and what actions would you, as a village officer, take regarding each of them?

Budget – Our long-term restructuring plan balanced our books and rebuilt our fund balance, despite Michigan’s economic woes. We must continue to look for innovations and improvements to ensure that the painful sacrifices of the last four years are not frittered away by wasteful spending.

Police – We need to continue to improve our joint policing arrangement with Walled Lake. The current arrangement has kept a strong patrol presence on the streets while providing better detective and dispatch services. Now we need to create a permanent management structure for this arrangement.

Real Estate Prices – Home values have plummeted across our region. We need to focus attention on rebuilding our home values. Our pathways and improved infrastructure have made this a more walkable, more livable community. Our real-estate outreach program will let everybody know that Wolverine Lake is a great place to own a home and raise a family.

... and that's pretty much it. I think we have a darned nice community, and I aim to keep it that way. I don't have a campaign slogan yet, but it might very well be: "Keeping cops on the streets and on patrol, and getting kids off the streets and onto sidewalks."

I'm not going to do much fund-raising for this election, but there are some expenses involved for lawn signs, flyers, and a few other things. If you'd like to help out, please send a check (not to exceed $500 per Michigan law, but even $5 will be a great help) to:

John Magee Campaign Committee
814 Wolverine Dr.
Wolverine Lake, MI 48390

Sorry, but we don't have an online payment option for our little campaign account, so if you do want to contribute, it'll have to be by check and a stamp will cost you another 44 cents.

If you want to help without writing a check, we'll need some help to distribute our flyers in October, so just let me know that you'd like to lend a hand.

And most importantly, thanks everybody for all your support over the last four years. We couldn't have accomplished all that we've done in the last four years without everybody pulling together and making a lot of sacrifices. I'm extremely grateful.

See ya on the campaign trail!

Of Doggies, Diapers, and Defeat

Week 1 of the NFL season is almost in the books, and as promised, our Indianapolis Colts haikuist-extraordinaire Mary Campbell-Droze has encapsulated the Colts' opening game performance together with Katie the Beagle and her new granddaughter Kaylee:

Of Doggies, Diapers, and Defeat

Indy? Lose. Katie?
Snooze. Kaylee? Poos. These aren't the
Season's signs I'd choose!

--Mary Campbell-Droze

I would try to capture yesterday's Detroit Lions season-opening atrocity in a haiku, but frankly it would best be depicted in a short horror story by Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, or Stephen King.

Monday, September 6, 2010

2010 Lost Souls Fantasy Football League Preview

Hard though it is to believe, another fantasy football season is upon us. And so, without further ado, here are the projected standings for the Lost Souls league.

1. Death Mutants - 11-1, 1557 pts., 97.3 ppg.
2. United Loonies, Inc. - 8-4, 1402 pts., 87.6 ppg.
3. Puking Buzzards - 8-4, 1396 pts., 87.3 ppg.
4. Wraiths - 7-5, 1350 pts., 84.4 ppg.
5. Savage Iguanas - 7-5, 1336 pts., 83.5 ppg.
6. Spaz Corps - 6-6, 1319 pts., 82.4 ppg.
7. Howling Huns - 5-7, 1306 pts., 81.6 ppg.
8. Screaming Babies - 5-7, 1279 pts., 80.0 ppg.
9. Rapid Molasses - 4-8, 1262 pts., 78.9 ppg.
10. Custom Critters - 4-8, 1261 pts., 78.8 ppg.
11. Spandex Stallions - 4-8, 1260 pts., 78.8 ppg.
12. Sirenian Sisters - 3-9, 1225 pts., 76.6 ppg.

(All point projections courtesy of Footballguys.com.)

This season shapes up as the story of Snow Mutant and the Eleven Dwarfs. Bryan has once again put together a powerhouse, while the eleven other teams look more closely matched in talent than ever before. Usually there's a vast pre-season disparity between the contenders and the pretenders, but it looks to me as if everybody has cause for hope this year.

Honestly, you could take my projected 2nd-through-12th place teams, put them in a hat, draw them out randomly, and you'd probably do about as well as this forecast. I know many of you think I do that already, but I assure you that this preview is conducted with the sort of statistical rigor that's usually reserved for rocket science, nuclear physics, and the running count of Lindsey Lohan parole violations.

Let's take a look at the team-by-team outlook:

1. Death Mutants - 11-1, 1557 pts., 97.3 ppg. - Stud City 2010: Bryan brought back QB Peyton Manning, RB Adrian Peterson, RB Steven Jackson, WR Andre Johnson, WR Larry Fitzgerald, and TE Antonio Gates. Yet he somehow managed to weasel his way once again to the #1 overall pick, which he used to add stud rookie RB Ryan Matthews. The Mutants also have some potent protection against the injury bug at their other key positions with QB Joe Flacco and WR Anquan Boldin. Frankly, picking up future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez as his backup tight end was just rubbing salt into the wounds.

We've all got our work cut out for us if we're going to catch him this year.

2. United Loonies, Inc. - 8-4, 1402 pts., 87.6 ppg. - The perennially overrated Loonies are probably overrated once again. Some pieces are in place for a potentially good team with QB Jay Cutler, RB Frank Gore, RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Reggie Wayne, and TE Vernon Davis. But the Loonies' WR2 Dwayne Bowe doesn't look like he'll be able to keep pace with his counterpart on the Mutants. And the depth on this roster looks dubious at best with an assortment of bad New England RBs, WRs who aren't even top WRs on their own team, a pre-broken Oakland Raider RB, and QB2 Matthew Stafford coming off an erratic rookie season. The Loonies usually break down early and often, and if The Curse of the Loonies strikes again this year they might fall far and fast.

The Loonies could make a run if Cutler, Bowe, and Miller all post surprising seasons. But it's more likely that backup TE Todd Heap leads a charge to the DL as the Loonies fade back into the pack after a couple of seasons in the top three.

3. Puking Buzzards - 8-4, 1396 pts., 87.3 ppg. - The Puking Buzzards are another squad that looks ready to make a run, thanks to QB Philip Rogers, WRs Roddy White and Marques Colston, and TE Jason Witten. But the running game could come up short with second-tier RBs Pierre Thomas, Matt Forte, C.J. Spiller, and Darren McFadden.

The Buzzards could challenge for the top spot if two of those young RBs break out. However, the outlook at the start is that the inconsistent running game will keep the Buzzards from soaring.

4. Wraiths - 7-5, 1350 pts., 84.4 ppg. - While a dubious running game may keep the Buzzards on the ground, the Wraiths might not have enough receiving talent to break out of the pack. There's a nice, studly base with QB Drew Brees, RB Ray Rice, and RB Rashard Mendenhall. But the WR corps of "The Wrong" Steve Smith (NYG), Mike "Hey, I'm a rookie who was a fourth-round pick" Williams, Dez "Hey, I was a first-round pick rookie who was already injured for all of training camp", and Vincent "Pshht ... rookies. I'm just going to take the whole season off" Jackson could be a real problem. Add in a likely statistical dropoff from TE Greg "What do you mean Mike Martz doesn't believe in throwing to the tight end?" Olsen and a general lack of pass-catching might haunt the Wraiths.

5. Savage Iguanas - 7-5, 1336 pts., 83.5 ppg. - I hope you're all sitting down when you read this: Ron's team could be good again this year. There's a lot of talent with QB Tony Romo, WR Calvin Johnson, WR Randy Moss, and TE Brent Celek. With that start bounce-back seasons from RB Cedric Benson and RB Brandon Jacobs could easily push the Iguanas back into the top three again.

6. Spaz Corps - 6-6, 1319 pts., 82.4 ppg. - The Good: QB Aaron Rogers; RBs Chris Johnson, Beanie Wells, and Justin Forsett; and ace K Nate Kaeding. The Bad: WR1 Mike Sims-Walker, WR2 Wes Welker; TE1 Heath Miller. The Spaz-tic: The Oakland Raiders defense somehow ended up on this team.

Jared may need to fire the interim GM who finished off his draft after he had to leave early. Oh, wait. That was all of us. Good job, folks!

7. Howling Huns - 5-7, 1306 pts., 81.6 ppg. - The Huns aren't really bad, but they don't look particularly good, either. The RB and WR corps looks strong with RBs Michael Turner, Shonn Greene, and Knowshon Moreno, and WRs "The Right" Steve Smith (CAR), Chad Ochocinqo, and Michael Crabtree. But to make it out of the pack they'll need to get unexpectedly good years out of QBs Carson Palmer and Chad Henne; TE Kellen Winslow, Ks Billy Cundiff and John Kasay; and the aging Baltimore defense.

Put it all together and it looks as if the Huns will probably be mumbling this year instead of howling.

8. Screaming Babies - 5-7, 1279 pts., 80.0 ppg. - Chris continues to confound the fantasy football geek-a-razzi by investing in boom or bust players who could lead his team to the top of the rankings or to the depths of the basement. Guys like QB Matt Schaub; RBs Arian Foster, Felix Jones, and Ricky Williams; WRs Brandon Marshall, Percy Harvin, Johnny Knox, and Robert Meachem; and TE Jermichael Finley could all finish anywhere from first to worst at their position. The most perplexing selection of all? The Cleveland Brown defense. What does Chris see that the rest of us don't? Brown fans want to know!

If Chris hits on his picks to click, the Babies might scream up the standings, but this analyst thinks they're more likely to end up with a diaper full of doo-doo.

9. Rapid Molasses - 4-8, 1262 pts., 78.9 ppg. - There's just not enough top-end talent here to project the Molasses any higher. The starting lineup looks like this: QB Matt Ryan or QB Eli Manning; RBs Jamal Charles, Jerome Harrison, or Cadillac Williams; WRs Miles Austin and Greg Jennings; TE Visanthe Shiancoe; K Rob Bironas; and the New Orleans Saints defense. Other than the WRs, this looks like one of the weaker starting lineups in the league.

The slow decline of the Molasses leads us to conclude that Eric has been doing the drafting lately. Stacy, where are you? Your front office needs you!

10. Custom Critters - 4-8, 1261 pts., 78.8 ppg. - The Critters are a second-division team that could surprise us all before the season is over. There's a lot of upside on the roster with QB Tom Brady; RBs Ahmad Bradshaw, Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown, and Reggie Bush; WRs Santana Moss, Mike Wallace, Terrell Owens, Hines Ward, and Jeremy Maclin; and TEs Owen Daniels and John Carlson. Footballguys doesn't project any of those guys other than Brady for a big season, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see any of those names near the top of the list at their individual positions at the end of the year.

The statistical projections say the Critters will be consigned to the second division, but there's too much talent on this team to really expect a 10th-place finish.

11. Spandex Stallions - 4-8, 1260 pts., 78.8 ppg. - Welcome to the league, Susan. The previous owner of this franchise liked the Raiders. Unfortunately for you, he was the last person in America to still believe in Al Davis's drafting acumen. Oh, so many high draft picks spent on Raider projects. So very, very many high draft picks. Since Paul lives in Detroit, the only other general manager that he had a chance to emulate was Matt Millen. When you think about it that way, following Al Davis's lead seems like a good idea.

There are some genuinely talented players on the newly named Stallions this year: QBs Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb; RB Ryan Grant; WR DeSean Jackson; and TE Dallas Clark. It's probably not enough to get them into the top half of the league this year, but at least Darrius Heyward-Bey has been consigned to the bench, and that's a good start.

12. Sirenian Sisters - 3-9, 1225 pts., 76.6 ppg. - Monique continues her rebuilding scheme, now in Year Two of her 10-year plan. Honestly, this was one of the most perplexing drafts I've seen in a while. Her selection of Kenny Britt in the second round wasn't as bad as if she had stuck with her initial impulse of "Ol' One Hip" Sidney Rice, but it was almost as if she just chose Britt because he was 31st on a list of available WRs and she likes the number thirty-one. But that would be ridiculous.

However, her youngster-laden draft did accomplish her main goal of sweeping out the remnants of an aging team some of us had taken to calling the Sirenian Grannies. Now they're more like the Sirenian Justin-Bieber Fan Club. The Sisters may struggle early in the season -- especially with the suspensions of QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Santonio Holmes, and the PUP stay of injured WR Rice -- but young players like QB Mark Sanchez, RBs Maurice Jones-Drew, Jahvid Best, and LeSean McCoy; WRs Hakeem Nicks, Dexter McCluster, Britt, Holmes, and Rice; and TE Zach Miller might make the Sirenian Sisters the team that none of the top seeds want to face in the playoffs.

... and that's the preview, folks. Don't like what I wrote about your team? You have sixteen weeks to prove me wrong!