Archive for December 2006

From the IAS Sports Department . . .

December 30, 2006

This just in from the Sports Department here at It’s All Straw:

University of South Carolina 44

University of Houston 36

Get details here!

Meanwhile . . .

University of Kentucky 28

Clemson University 20

Get details here!

Tough break, Creegs!


Claybourne: The Season That Never Was

December 16, 2006

In my previous post, I discussed the original radio and podcast drama Claybourne. Here are some further thoughts.

One of Claybourne‘s creators, Andrew Dubber, keeps a blog and in this post he explains that the 96 extant episodes of Claybourne were only the first half of a planned two-season story arc for the show. Regrettably, the money ran out, and the second season was never made. He provides a synopsis of the show for those who haven’t heard it and a brief outline of the phantom second season, a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been.

He proposes many ideas I like and some I don’t. In Season Two, we would have learned more about the origin and intentions of the taniwha (If you think the story is weird now, just wait. It gets weirder). The odious Frank Buchanan and his equally reptilian estranged son Philip reconcile to each other and find a measure of redemption as they sacrifice themselves to defeat the taniwha and save the town. Frank’s proposed theme park, “Maoriworld,” is never built. Clive Moody, a smooth talking computer expert addicted to creature comforts, goes mad and dumps all of his gadgets, from his espresso maker to his stereo system (perpetually playing cool jazz) out on his front lawn. So far, so good. Dubber’s plans for Thompson and Karen, however, were positively perverse:

Karen’s abusive husband finally turns up – only to be eaten by the taniwha… but not before threatening Karen with extreme violence. She ends up running away (after he threatens her, but before he gets eaten) and for some reason I can’t entirely recall, she ends up in prison in Auckland.

You remember she took off with the money after Janine’s death – well, most likely she was nabbed for passing counterfeit bills (though we toyed with the idea of credit card fraud). I don’t think we ever finalised the details – but I know we wanted to subvert the lovers’ happy ending at all costs.

Thompson takes her one phone call but dismisses it as another fraudulent Delilah trick. It was going to be cruel, surprising and very, very final. We just thought it was funny at the time and that seemed a good enough reason.

Thompson, of course, settles in Claybourne – probably, we thought, reunited with his wife (though she would have been fun to kill).

(Emphasis added).

I, for one, would have been infuriated with this ending. Call me an old-fashioned romantic, a sentimentalist at heart, but I thought Thompson and Karen deserved a break. These characters have been kidnapped, shot at, and buried in concrete up to their necks, and now they’re NOT going to get together? Aw, c’mon! That’s not transgressive, just twisted. What’s especially disturbing is the evident glee with which these plot developments were contemplated. Sounds to me like some especially nasty postmodern cynicism breaking through, as if to say, “All that old-fashioned stuff about love, and courage, and justice? It’s all bullshit.” Yes, “real” life is often painful, cruel, and unjust. That’s why I think, at least occasionally, happy endings are important in fiction. A steady diet of defeat in both fact and fiction leads not to “realism” but to despair.

All is not lost, however. Dubber concludes his post with this sentence that’s practically a license to re-imagine the story as the listener sees fit:

“Likewise, feel free to embellish the story in your own imagination. It’s all yours now.”

I think I feel the urge for some Claybourne fan fiction coming on :-).


December 16, 2006

What do artificial intelligence experiments, strange legends of New Zealand’s Maori people, corporate hit men, and morphine-addicted real estate developers have in common?

They’re all elements of Claybourne, an original radio drama broadcast in New Zealand in the 1990s and now resurrected on The Podcast Network. I’ve previously blogged about how much I’ve come to enjoy podcasts in general and podcast dramas in particular, and Claybourne is definitely one of the most original, entertaining, and at times, downright bizarre podcast dramas I’ve come across–despite a few flaws I’ll get to in a minute. This story should appeal to fans of The X-Files, Lost, and Heroes, and with the latter two shows on hiatus until after the first of the year, Claybourne might serve as a substitute for those seeking entertainment that’s chock full of paranormally weird goodness.

While on vacation in New Zealand, Thompson, an employee of an American telecommunications firm, is summoned to the remote village of Claybourne, where one of his company’s transmitting and receiving stations seems to be malfunctioning. From the moment he arrives, strange things start to happen. His cell phone goes dead and none of his faxes to the home office go through. The local Maori shaman warns of a terrifying dragon-like creature lurking outside the village at night–a creature Thompson seems destined to confront. The manager of the station turns up dead under very suspicious circumstances, and the local constable seems only too happy to sweep the whole matter under the rug. The local landlord, a brash arrogant entrepreneur named Frank Buchanan, confronts Thompson with a gun. Everyone in town seems to have a secret, but no one seems to want Thompson to leave. Romantic sparks fly between Thompson and Karen the hotel manager, but even she has a troubled past. The deeper he digs into the mystery the weirder it gets.

The dead station manager was an expert in behavioral psychology, and the manager before that, who mysteriously disappeared, was a disgraced former military officer. For some reason, the station is equipped with an elaborate state of the art security system, far more sophisticated than anything a telephone company would need. The company is willing to pay any price, including a million dollars in cash to a local landowner, to keep the station running. People in town are receiving unexplained phone calls and faxes. Just what is going on up there? It seems Thompson’s company and the U. S. government have been conducting experiments in artificial intelligence using the station as a laborotory and the people of the town as guinea pigs. Things have gotten way out of hand, and the company has sent in Thompson, and later, a thuggish expert in “risk management” to clean up the mess.

Claybourne is part whodunit, part sci-fi thriller, part travelogue, and part soap opera, but it’s all entertaining and all delivered with a distinctive Kiwi accent. The contrast and sometimes tension between the dominant white or European culture and the distinctly different native Maori subculture provides an important subplot and adds color and texture to the story. The two flaws I mentioned have to do with the length of the episodes and a maddeningly inconclusive end to the series. The episodes are short, averaging less than seven minutes each. This means that just about the time the story takes an interesting or provocative turn, the listener has to stop and download the next episode. The alternative, of course, is to download several episodes at a time, but this can be time-consuming, specially for listeners like me with a dial-up connection.

The other weakness to the show is a maddeningly inconclusive end to the series. Just as it seems our hero and heroine, Thompson and Karen, can safely declare their love for one another, Thompson’s ex-wife Monica, for whom he’s still carrying a torch, arrives on the scene. Will Thompson and Monica reconcile? If so, where does that leave Karen? The series ends as she decides to leave Claybourne with Mike, a young Maori man who had been Thompson’s ally, and with the million dollars Thompson’s company provided, unaware that the money is counterfeit. Meanwhile, up at the station, in a truly bizarre twist, “Delilah,” the artificial intelligence behind much of the mischief in Claybourne, and the strange dragon-like entity known as the taniwha enter into an unholy alliance.

More on Claybourne in my next post.

Another Satisfied Customer

December 16, 2006

In response to my recent post concerning the University of South Carolina’s victory over Clemson, blogger Creegs wrote:

I am a Clemson alum, and fan. That game ripped my heart out. I have nothing but bitter hatred towards just about all Cock fans, but I must tell you, your writing and tale of the story was very entertaining, and appreciated. Good luck in the bowl game!

Thanks, Creegs! I’m not sure I like the “bitter hatred towards just about all Cock fans” part, but I appreciate your compliments on my writing, and I think it’s very generous of you to wish us luck in the upcoming Liberty Bowl.

See Creegs? USC fans aren’t all bad–as long as you get us back in our coffins before the sun comes up :-).

Toora, Loora, Loora To You Too!

December 2, 2006

Are there closet Catholics on the staff at Trinity Broadcasting Network?

I was pleasantly surprised while channel surfing late last night to find the mostly Protestant-oriented cable channel showing Going My Way starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. They’ve also recently shown The Shoes of the Fisherman with Anthony Quinn, reruns of Bishop Sheen’s old Life Is Worth Living series, and admiring documentaries about Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. These forays into Catholicism are welcome diversions from TBN’s usual parade of evangelical preachers marching back and forth across the giant stages of megachurches, badgering, lecturing, and hectoring their congregations while waving oversized Bibles at them. When I’m visiting kinfolk in Charlotte, I can watch EWTN on cable up there, but this part of South Carolina may as well be the buckle on the Bible belt. I’m glad to see that TBN at least acknowledges that Catholics are Christians. I’d love to see more Catholic-oriented programming from TBN: more Catholic movies and maybe even (gasp!) a televised Mass occasionally. Hey, it could happen!

As for the movie Going My Way itself, by today’s standards, it’s a schmaltzy piece of work (even one of the characters uses that word to describe the title song), but it is refreshing to see priests portrayed positively–nary a closet homosexual, a pedophile, an authoritarian prig, or an alcoholic in the bunch. Unlike, say, the hatchet-job Priest, in which all these loathsome stereotypes appear. Heck, in Going My Way, priests even look like fun people! Sure, Barry Fitzgerald plays a crusty old Irish padre, but even he turns out to have a heart of gold. Bing Crosby plays the young, progressive Father O’ Malley, sent in to cash-strapped St. Dominic’s parish to replace Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald), but instructed to do it gently in order to spare the older priest’s feelings. Der Bingle organizes the local street punks into a boys’ choir that sings pop tunes as well as liturgical music. Hearing “Would You Like to Swing on A Star?” juxtaposed with “Ave Verum Corpus” is a bit jarring to say the least, but hey, this is the gospel according to Hollywood. Father Bing, aided by his boys’ choir and a former girlfriend who’s now with the Metropolitan Opera, tries unsuccessfully to peddle the song he’s written, “Going My Way” to a music publisher, in hopes that the fees and royalties will help St. Dominic’s out of its financial woes. The publishers don’t go for “Going My Way,” but they do like “Would You Like to Swing on a Star,” so Father Bing can get St. Dom’s out of the hole. Father Bing and Father Barry develop a friendship, the church burns down, and Father Bing brings Father Barry’s Mom over from Ireland, but Father Bing leaves St. Dominic’s with a song in his heart because he knows he’ll be replaced by his old high school buddy who’s also become a priest.

This movie is a muddle, but it’s a sweet, sentimental muddle, and I’ll take sweet and sentimental over cynical and mean-spirited any day.

GAME! . . . COCKS! . . . GAME! . . . COCKS!

December 2, 2006

It occurs to me that I have been remiss in my blogging duties. I reported on Auburn’s fifth consecutive triumph over their perennial foes Alabama, but I failed to announce the victory of my own beloved South Carolina Gamecocks over their detested arch rivals, the Clemson Tigers, by a score of 31-28. Better late than never. The title of this post is an effort to reproduce in print a neat little auditory effect you’ll hear at home games. One side of the stadium yells “GAME!” The other yells “COCKS!” The stereophonic effect has been known to discombobulate opposing teams.

It wasn’t just a game, it was a cardiovascular workout, with highs and lows and plenty of heart-stopping moments for fans. Too often, the Gamecocks come out looking like college football’s equivalent of the Chicago Cubs, a bunch of lovable losers that you just can’t help cheering for no matter how often they break your heart. Carolina fans celebrate every victory they can get, especially over Clemson. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in nearly 40 years of pulling for South Carolina, it’s to keep your expectations low. For example, right before half time, Carolina, down 14-7, was driving on the Clemson goal. USC quarterback Blake Mitchell dropped back to pass, but a Clemson defender got in his face, deflected the ball, and ran the other way for a Clemson touchdown. I thought we were doomed.

At one point in the third quarter Carolina trailed 28-14. Again, I thought we were doomed, but miracle of miracles, the Gamecocks rallied, using stiff defense and taking advantage of Clemson turnovers to actually go ahead 31-28 late in the game. Clemson, of course, promptly got the ball and drove down the field, lining up for a field goal that would have tied the game and sent it into overtime, where in all likelihood Clemson would win. Would Carolina’s miracle slip away? I’d seen it happen before.

On the last play of the game, Clemson lined up for a field goal . . . and missed! Carolina beat Clemson! Could life get any sweeter? As a result of this titanic victory, the Gamecocks will now have the opportunity to play in the Totally Meaningless Media Event & Marketing Opportunity Bowl, or some such. Not so many years ago, there were only a few major college bowl games–Rose, Cotton, Sugar, Orange–and each one had a share in determining college football’s national championship. In short, they meant something. Now, however, there are so many of these postseason extravaganzas that just about any team that wins more than half its games can go to one of these artificial hoopty-dos. Oh, well. We’ll take it.

As an interesting side note, Auburn, whom I love for Dad’s sake, and Clemson, whom I detest . . . well, just because they’re Clemson :)–have many similarities. Both are the land grant colleges and agricultural and mechanical schools for their respective states. Both claim the Tigers as their mascots (I think Auburn’s battle cry of “War Eagle!” originated during World War II when the school was used as a training facility for combat pilots

[UPDATE, 2009: Since this was originally posted, I have learned that there are many possible explanations for the origin of the phrase “War Eagle!” none of which can be verified].

Both schools use orange as one of their team colors. (Auburn uses orange and blue, Clemson, orange and white). But you see, because my Dad went to Auburn, Auburn Tigers are fine, hardworking, upstanding, God-fearing sons and daughters of the soil who labor diligently by the sweat of their brows to make the world a better place. Because nearly everybody else in my family went to Carolina (one of my sisters pulls for Clemson just to be contrary, but we love her anyway), Clemson Tigers are backward, ignorant, uncouth, unlettered rednecks and the source of all evil in the world :-). (JUST KIDDING!) 🙂

In conclusion, I’d like to recall the words of our late beloved Pope John Paul II when he visited the USC campus several years ago. The Holy Father was addressing a group of students on the Horseshoe, the historic heart of the campus, when he departed from his prepared text and said:

“It is wonderful to be young.”

(This was greeted with a scattering of applause).

“It is wonderful to be young and a student at a university.”

(More applause)

“It is wonderful to be young and a student at the University of South Carolina.”


I’ve always figured this was a dignified way for the Servant of the Servants of God, the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of Peter, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church to say: