Friday, September 30, 2005

My Sole Contribution to NCSA's Thesis Films of 1999: This Movie Poster

Just to spare you and everyone else the pain of looking at Tom DeLay's ugly mug all weekend, I thought I'd quickly post up another image. I decided on this. This is a poster I did for Danny McBride's 4th year movie called Eddie Noble and the Heroes. If any of us were any good at Photoshop Version (whatever version was then-current in 1999), then we probably would have kept the image black-and-white and just colored it in using the program. But since no one was (for evidence please view the "pennies" flying out from the the red-eyed white man above, played by Tyler Baum), we just colored the actual drawing with markers. The original is gone, I believe, and this copy, the poster taped to the door at our LA Screenings, is the only copy I'm aware of. I really liked this thing until I colored it in. The markers had a way of loosening the ink and blurring the lines which didn't ruin it, but marred it a bit. But I think the faces of the characters look like the actors I was drawing, which doesn't usually happen when I'm trying to draw real people, so Danny lucked out. Doug Balcer on the left, Eric Metzgar on top (I believe that's his name), Lucius Dillon on the right, and the hot blonde drama chick in the purple cape; I can't remember her name. And last, but not least, Matt Gray in the bottom left. His yellow-lined circle of happy optimism is my favorite part of the poster and not just because it's a smilin' Matt Gray in the middle, but because I like the way the orange and yellow contrast with the blue sky; it lightens up the whole thing nicely. Anyway. That's really it for the week. Have a good weekend everybody.

House Republicans are All Done With Tom DeLay. They're Also All Done with Endangered Animals; They are Also Just Super Beautiful People

It is literally unbelievable what a modern Republican congress will do once it's in power. Go to for an article about the bill the Republican House of Representatives' passed today to overhaul the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The bill that passed today (and with a qualified expression of support from the president) seeks to gut the Endangered Species Act. Though it appears, for the moment, unlilkely that it will pass as is in the Senate, why would anyone want to try and pass it in the first place? The Act single-handedly saved the American Bald Eagle, and a host of other animals that have since been taken off the list because they began to flourish under its protection. Are the Republicans against keeping unique forms of life in existence? How else can one see it except the Republicans are blatantly the party of the wealthy, in this case put-upon ranchers and developers , and if the wealthy in this country have a grievance and the Republicans think they can politically get away with helping, they'll do it every time. Democrats, again for those who see little difference between the two parties, would NOT seek to gut the Endangered Species Act. They would, if anything, work to strengthen it. Just another difference you can vote towards.

As for the indictment of Tom DeLay and the current SEC investigation into Frist's moronic stock shenanigans, it just goes to show you even the most "Godly" of politicians (especially in a country that pays their politicians as well as ours does), are susceptible to corruption. Are Democrats any less corrupt than these guys? Maybe so, maybe not, but what the Democrats sure as hell don't do, is make the corrupt ones the leaders of the party. Republicans do that. To me, what's best about the indictment of Tom DeLay and his removal as House Majority Leader is not that we "got" one of their big guys. It's that the truth came out (finally finally) on probably the worst Republican in the Congress (and by worst I mean the one who cares the least about law and truth and right from wrong and the little guy, and cares most about his special interest groups, (read: anyone wealthy enough to give him enough money so he can put more knob-headed Republicans into office)). This is the guy who used the Dept. of Homeland Security to track down Texas State Legislature Democrats when they ran off so DeLay's boys couldn't force some redistricting down their throats. This is the guy who helped make Terry Schiavo's end of life into a national embarrassment. Most in the Republican party say it's unlikely that DeLay will ever return to the "table of power". That is a great thing.

Anyway. Saw Corpse Bride last night. I don't think it was good, but I wasn't in the mood for it, so I don't really want to pass judgement on it under those circumstances. Ya'll have a sweet weekend.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Lessons Learned About the Potential Misuse of Photoshop While in A Mental Hospital

I attended the first of two Photoshop CS (which stands for Creative Suite) classes yesterday. My class was being given at Emory University’s Center for Lifelong Learning; the fine people at the Center have repurposed an eyesore fortress that used to be a mental hospital. The architecture blew my mind. It’s so oppressive, I wanted to eat a bullet before I’d even managed to park my car. Yesterday morning at about 8:20 AM, I turned off of Briarcliff Road and drove up a long, one-way driveway around the campus to get to my building. The entire way around (which felt like 3-quarters of a mile to a mile), there was no one else in sight, no people, no cars, and the sky was gray and threatened drizzle. To my left, every tenth of a mile or so, was a darkened, squatting building with dirty windows and no discernable entrance (and no discernable purpose) built sometime in the sixties when some architects were obviously competing to build the most unsightly, least humane, and most soul-crushing buildings they could possibly conceive. And so they did. All I could tell for sure was that anyone who came
here insane, stayed insane. During a break, I walked around a little and found a room that made me think I’d walked onto the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A wide room (probably made for milling about and checkers games) with 18-20 foot ceilings, a beige-yellow paintjob, and a pastoral view of the hospital grounds that the genius doctors (working with the genius architects) probably thought would have a restorative effect on the mentally ill. But the kicker was a small windowed office set in the middle of the wall and jutting out into the room from the back; no doubt this was where meds were once distributed by Georgian-style Nurse Ratchets to Georgian-style Jack Nicholsons, Danny DeVitos and Brad Dourifs. I guess the truth is that when you’re inside looking outside, it’s not so bad: lots of trees, lots of green grass, and only the tops of those ugly dark buildings. When you’re outside looking AT though, you just want to start bringing the place down with your bare hands. There’s no way the Emory people are going to repurpose the mental hospital out of the place unless they knock the whole frickin’ thing down, which they probably ought to.

Anyway, the class itself was pretty interesting. Though watching a big projected image of someone else working on a computer for six hours is never really fun, the class was diverting and educational enough that I’m not dreading the next session next Wednesday. I learned some basic Photoshop stuff; mostly a few techniques on correcting photos like straightening a skewed horizon, cropping, fuzzing out power lines, switching less appealing elements for slightly more appealing elements, stuff like that. When you’re doing work like this for a commercial interest: some business wants a print ad and the finished image has to look perfect, then yeah, sure. Go crazy, says me. But our teacher often talked about touching up one’s own personal photos. For her friend, she told us, she made her less-than-perfect wedding photos look like she’d gotten married at the Sistine Chapel. Apparently, the result was pretty convincing. I’m sure it was mostly a joke and the friend doesn’t have the altered photograph framed somewhere in her house, (I hope), but because we were touching up exclusively another teacher’s personal photographs from a trip to Italy, I got the sense that there are probably lots of people who use Photoshop for no other reason. It made me wonder: at what point is it no longer “right” to alter one’s personal photographs?

Personally, I feel like there’s enough bullshit in the world and why would you want to make lies of your own personal snapshots? Photos are as true a representation of a moment in time as we’re currently able to produce. To adulterate that, to make a photo (which is already only a selective version of truth as it is) less truthful, to me, is not right. But up to what point can you alter a photograph and it still be the photo you took? Can you erase a reflection of your camera in a car window? Crop out the side of the porthole window through which you took the photo? Erase the power lines in an otherwise beautiful photograph of an Italian hillside crowded with houses and apartments? Correcting red eye? To me, to do any of these things is not to make a photo “better”, but to perpetuate some vision a person had for a photograph when they took it, not the truth of what was captured. To fix a photo, in even such a relatively small way, is an attempt on the part of the photographer to make the result of the photo match the ideal of it, which turns it from a photograph into a kind of art. So if a person were to correct a photo (as we did in class yesterday), of an ocean liner out at sea taken from another ocean liner in which the horizon is skewed two degrees by unskewing the horizon, is that a photograph anymore or is it now art? I’d say it’s art now (good art or bad art, I don’t know), and to say it’s still a photograph would be untruthful. Even red eye. When you see red eye in a photograph, it tells you a bunch of things: the kind of camera used, the kind of flash, the relative skill of the photographer, and the amount of time the photographer had to set up the photo and then to take it. When you go in through Photoshop and put in new pixels to replace the red eye, you’re erasing all of that information. I have lots of photos of my siblings and I as children where we have red eyes from the flash, but I think that altering them in any way, even just to take out that red eye, would be a terrible thing.

In the commercial realm, I concede, it’s different. In advertising, we expect to be lied to, we want to be lied to. Truth is ugly, beauty is, well, beautiful. A bruise on a model’s leg where her coke dealer kicked her may be truthful, but it doesn’t help sell Prada’s clothes. Anyway, the level of truth in the outside world is a whole other issue, but I just worry that regular people, with the help of these amazing software programs, are going to emulate the liars in advertising by altering the images that help define their lives. And just to cover up a small bit of truth they’d rather hide. Eh. Anyway, I think that’s my high-horse for the week.

In other news, I saw a free preview of A History Of Violence last night off of Cumberland Parkway. One of Peggy’s business school people had some free passes and he gave her one for me. The movie’s pretty damn good. I’m still trying to sort my thoughts about it, but I thought it was definitely worthwhile. Just don’t take the kiddies. Okay, I’m out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bond. James Bond. James Bond the Fish Expert.

I finished a collection of James Bond stories by Ian Fleming called For Your Eyes Only on Monday. Frickin’ weird and not at all what I expected. I picked up the book (the edition pictured above) at a remaindered bookstore in Burbank for five bucks. I chose it over the others of its ilk because its cover was the most appealing. (I generally think it’s A-OK to judge a book by its cover; a book’s cover usually tells you all you need to know about whether its going to be worth your time). Well, I think For Your Eyes Only is probably the worst introduction to Ian Fleming’s James Bond character you can imagine. It's fitting, then, that I'd designated it as my bathroom reading.

First off, it’s not a Bond novel, which was what I thought I was getting. It’s a collection comprised of five short stories. The first one, entitled A View To A Kill, starts off pretty good. A motorcycle courier carrying Very Important Documents is gunned down en route and has his Very Important Documents stolen. Bureaucratic in-fighting ensues as to who has jurisdiction over the investigation, and so, helpfully, M sends Bond in to cut through all the red tape and get the job done, which he does.

Good beginning to what I thought was A NOVEL. I didn’t realize For Your Eyes Only WASN’T a novel until I was more than halfway through the whole thing. Though I did feel stupid when I made the discovery, I realize now, after looking more closely at the book, that I had every right to think it was a novel. On the front cover (which I’ve posted above), superimposed over the 007 are these words: “A James Bond Novel”. Inside the book on the title page, it reads again, “A James Bond Novel”. I suppose I can’t be blamed for thinking it was, in fact, a novel. So who made this mistake? Did the people at Penguin even know they were slapping the category “Novel” onto a collection of short stories when they were publishing these new editions? Or did they know and not really care? Now I’m outraged. No, not really. If it weren’t for the fact the main character was James Bond, there’d be no reason to issue a new edition of these stories. They’re not that good.

One of the stories, entitled A Quantum of Solace, is set at a boring dinner party hosted by a diplomat on Nassau. The Governor of the island launches into an incredibly long story which Bond listens to in its entirety, enjoys, and then leaves the party. That’s the whole story. No “Bond. James Bond.” No crazy action, no nothing. Another story called The Hildebrand Rarity has Bond pretending to be a fish expert (a fish expert?)on a rich American’s yacht just to pass the time until he can get a flight out.. Most of the story he's walking around offshore in the Seychelles Islands looking for a blue fish with his snorkel mask. That's fine if it's a story about Billy Whiteman relaxing in a port-of-call on his Singles' Carnival cruise through the Caribbean, but not when it's a story about James Frickin' Bond. The most Bondian thing he does is cover up the American’s murder (which he, sadly, had nothing to do with), which he does mostly so he doesn’t have to bother answering questions from the authorities. Authorities bore him. What is in effect is Fleming's casual misogeny, (ex: “He said fiercely: “Don’t be a silly bitch.””), and an interesting sense of how bureaucratic and boring spying can be. Most of the time Bond’s not even expecting (or really wanting) to deal with anything dangerous at all on a given mission. He doesn’t bed any of the hot young women who appear in these stories (which I guess is tasteful), but Fleming always sets it up at the end so we think he probably does after the story’s over. I hear Casino Royale is all right. Maybe next time I think of sampling some more of the literary Bond, maybe I’ll try that one. But I don't guess I will. Life's too short to waste time with bad books on purpose. Spend your time rightly: for a good, literate, and fast-paced reading experience, pick up The World According to Garp and then read it. It's really good and if you read it, you'll quickly understand Irving's career -- you'll see what Irving was building up to with the three novels he wrote before Garp, and what he's been trying to do ever since with each subsequent novel. Anyway. Seacrest, out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why They Made It Blue, I'll Never Know

I thought I'd post a little more artwork today after my "eh" Stephen King post yesterday.

To the right is the cover of my high-school's Student-Parent Handbook. Really nothing more than an overblown calendar of events for the 94-95 school year. But anyway, they asked me to do a cover for it and so here it is. As you can see, I swiped the Raiders of the Lost Ark font for the text here. The font (which is probably in turn swiped from some old poster for some serial or another), makes even the word "Sanderson" jump off the page and promises a rip-roarin' adventure. Of course, there's not a shred of adventure in this handbook. Just let's you know when the days off are and when the PTA meetings are, etc. Once you get past the cover, it's a real downer.

To draw this I went to my suburban Atlanta high school yearbook and found images that exemplified certain quintessential high-school activities. So, in this collage of all that is high school; you got your football, you got your prom, you got your music, and a few shots of people just hanging out, being friends. So I bookmarked the pages that had the photos on them, and drew them up. It took a while. When I was done, I brought the completed drawing to the Vice-Principal. After she told me how much she liked it, she told me that she didn't like that the girl in the very bottomest-rightest corner was sticking out her tongue . That, apparently, was beyond the pale; far too tawdry for this upstanding publication (and she made me feel a little like a pornographer for trying to get it past her). So I had to make a change. I don't know if it was because the drawing was already inked, or if I didn't have enough time, or if I just wasn't good enough to make a believable alteration to a photograph, but the change doesn't look so good -- true, she isn't sticking her tongue out anymore, but the bottom half of her face does look rather chimpish. Also, please pay no attention to the black gentleman on the right's left hand. Just because his hand wasn't in the photograph and I had to draw it without reference, doesn't mean his hand isn't really as horribly deformed as I drew it.

One last thing: when this came out at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, a few people came up to me to ask if that was them I'd drawn on the cover. They'd have it in hand and be pointing at one of the people and say "Is this me?" and "That's me, isn't it?" I always told them, no, they're all people who went to my old high-school and they seemed disappointed. [Writer's aside: This seemed to me like an admission that most white people really do look just like other white people, even to themselves. Haven't you experienced that? You go from one school to another and you find the faces of all the people you used to go to school with, except now they have blonde hair, or now they're a little shorter. It's almost like there aren't any more than a dozen or so "face-types" and most people fit into one of the 12. Anyway. Random thoughts; maybe stuff for another entry.] I think, though, there was one girl who didn't quite believe me. After I told her no she looked at me with that guarded half-smile that says she "gets" that I'm telling a joke but still isn't sure if I'm letting her in on it. I think she went away pretty certain I was trying to put one over on her.

Anyway, I'll keep posting this art stuff up until I run out.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Don't Believe a Word Stephen King Tells You: He Will Never Stop Writing

You may have heard something a few years back about the impending retirement of famed horror writer Stephen King. If you did, it was probably because back in 2002, he was telling anyone who would listen that he was done publishing. Not writing, but publishing. (Even he knew that no one would believe he'd ever stop writing something). What follows is a quote from an interview he gave to the New York Times in 2002 about why he decided to retire.
"You get to a point where you get to the edges of a room, and you can go back where you've been, and basically recycle stuff. I've seen it in my own work. People when they read A Buick Eight (his last non-Dark Tower-related novel, published in 2002) they're going to think Christine. It's about a car that's not normal, okay? You say, 'I've said the things that I have to say, that are new and fresh and interesting to people. Then you have a choice. You can either continue to go on or say I left when I was still on top of my game. I left when I was still holding the ball, instead of it holding me. I don't want to end up like Harold Robbins (a novelist who continued writing and publishing after a mind-impairing stroke that affected his ability to comprehend speech and the ability to read and write). That's my nightmare."
Well, I don't know who he's going to end up like, but he's definitely not retiring.

I checked out this morning and saw that Scribner recently announced their publication schedule for King's latest raft of books. I laughed out loud because he's gone from never publishing another novel to publishing three inside of 13 months. Next month sees the release of The Colorado Kid (a hard-boiled crime novel, an experiment for King), then in February of next year, King's putting out an out-and-out horror novel called The Cell, (a novel of zombies activated by brain-destroying cell phone signals), and in November of next year, Lisey's Story will be in bookstores.

In light of this recent flurry of writing/publishing activity, King was recently asked, essentially, "Didn't you tell everyone you were retiring?" To which he said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Writers lie for a living. We lie to everyone, but maybe to no one so effectively as ourselves."

Does that let him off the hook? I guess. Everyone has a right to change their minds, right? As one of King's many readers, I'm glad to have him back (and back into that book-a-year cycle he's always chafed at), but I'm also a little... let down? I always thought phony retirements were something only prima donna athletes did; guys who wanted to go out on a high note but never had the willpower to keep themselves away. King always struck me as the kind of guy who, once he'd decided something, he was damn well going to stick to it. Maybe something about that working man's honesty and forthrightness that informs so many of his characters. So when Stephen King retired, I was deflated. King was no prima donna athlete. He wasn't trying to get more money for some contract, or trying to generate a little more press for the conclusion of his Dark Tower series. He was really going to go out and, what's more, he'd be the guy to stick to it.

I have to admit, when he announced his retirement, I was slightly relieved because I knew that his books wouldn't continue their decline because there wouldn't be any more books. The well, apparently, was now dry. So, now that he's back I worry that the waning of King is going to continue. I've read everything the man's ever written, so I feel like I know where he's been headed. Not exactly Harold Robbins Dementiaville, but maybe a more modest Tom Clancy Hackatopia. I sure hope not though. Maybe now that he's exorcised all of his Dark Tower demons by finishing the series (with mixed results), he can get back to the nitty-gritty, namely sprawling, multi-character epics with elements of horror in them. (His last good one was
Desperation back in 1996, almost ten years ago). The question now, I think, is this: Is King's post-retirement resurgence going to be like Michael Jordan's first comeback (dominance and a Championship) or like his second (obvious reduction in skill resulting in a sad fade in to oblivion)? Though I fear the latter may be true, I'm really hoping for the former.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

"Soon You Will Get Used To It, Now Watch Circus Quietly."

Here's a Saturday post. Couldn't resist. Found this on another blog (optimalstupidity) and thought I'd post up a link to the whole comic. From what I gather, some enterprising Indian dude wrote and drew up a 30-page comic book detailing how an Indian superhero named Nagraj, whose power is poisonous teeth, casual misogeny, and conjuring snakes from his hands and shooting them over great distances, saves Superman, Batman, and Superman's big useless asses. And then, when Nagraj can't do the job, there's a little deus ex machina to come in and save the day. This thing is terrible, (and also kinda makes me mad, the way he makes all the big American superheroes into ineffectual ninnies), but it's strangely riveting. I really had to read all 30 pages. Like I didn't even have a choice. Here's the link.

Surreal Indian Comic Book

My favorite page is page 11. Hilarious.

Friday, September 23, 2005

How the Keeshonds Decided What I'd Be Doing Today

Short post today because I'm at my folks' house and their internet connection goes out everytime there's a phone call, deleting whatever I've written, so I have to hurry before the phone rings.

Yes, I am at my folks' house helping my mom paint the kitchen. She's got her house up for sale (as of today) and the real estate agent (the mom of a girl I went to high-school with) said the kitchen needed painting. So I came up from Decatur to help. While we were waiting for some spackle to dry, mom and I went and started potting plants. (Yes, the afternoon was as awesome as you're imagining.) After a while, I headed inside from the garage to grab a potted plant off of the deck when I discovered white paw prints (a la Scooby-Doo) all over the new hardwood kitchen floor my folks just had put in. My folks have two Keeshond dogs and one neurotic poodle. One of the two Keeshonds had dipped her back paw in an open tray of white sealant and pranced all over the house, trying to find the best vantage from which to bark at us as we were outside. That dog tracked sealant everywhere. My dad came down from the office, and all three of us worked to scrub up paint sealant off of hardwood floor in just about every downstairs room in the entire house. And we had to work fast because the longer it was there, the more it dried. It seemed like as soon as we were finished with one area, there was a new room tainted with white sealant. More to scrub. Anyway. That was fun and we did get the paint up. Sealant paw prints are still in a bunch of the area rugs, but I guess those will come out too. So that's what I've been doing today.

What else? Rita's a Category 3 storm now, so that's better than the 5 and the 4 it was at previously. Hope it doesn't kill a lot of people and also doesn't make gas prices go through the roof. Also, for the first day of fall it's damn hot out here. Hope that's not an omen for the way the rest of autumn's going to play out.

Sorry, no picture today, but this computer isn't letting me post one. Monday's will have a photo. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why Bother With Jimmy Carter When a Skeleton Named Dooley Wants to Speak?

I went to the Jimmy Carter Town Hall event at Emory University last night. It came off well but something strange happened before Carter spoke. I'll get to that in a minute.

Jimmy Carter is an impressive guy, there's no way around it. He's funny, warm, and engaged in both American foreign policy and the plight of the world's poorest residents. He had a lot of interesting things to say last night, like stories about the continuing work of Habitat For Humanity and the Carter Center, stories of terrible (and disgusting) diseases ravaging African villages, opinions about the Iraq war ("unnecessary, unjust") and North Korea and Iran's nuclear ambitions ("they do not respond well to threats").

He also told a great story about getting the hostages out of Iran. For 3 days prior to Reagan's inauguration, Carter didn't sleep. He was on the phone negotiating for the hostages' release. On Reagan's Inauguration Day, the Iranians had the 52 hostages on a plane at the Tehran airport's runway, ready to be freed finally. But the plane stayed on the runway, hour after hour. At noon, after Reagan was sworn-in as President of the United States, the plane was allowed to take off. Carter was on the reviewing stand with the new President when he was told the plane had taken off. He said it was one of the happiest moments of his life and hearing him tell it, you really believe it. Though there have been allegations that Reagan's people (and perhaps even Reagan himself) made a deal with the Iranians to officially free the hostages after Reagan was sworn-in, Jimmy Carter said he hadn't seen any evidence to support that. He said he believed the reason the plane was held on the runway was because the Ayatollah didn't want Carter to get credit for freeing the hostages. Either way, it was a shit deal for Carter. The next day he flew to Germany where the hostages were waiting at a US military base. They were all waiting in a room. Carter didn't know how they were going to react to him. Would they be pissed he hadn't found a way to free them earlier? He went inside. One of the hostages saw him, walked up to him, put his arms around him and said, "Thank you." The rest did the same. Fade out.

Now to the strange incident that preceded Carter's Q&A session.

I was sitting up in the bleachers with all of the undergrads. I, in my shirt and tie and nice pants and shoes, and they in their jean skirts, t-shirts and flip-flops, were packed in tightly. Going to the bathroom would have been a major ordeal. In front of me a girl was text messaging into her cell phone, "I love u more than anyone." Behind me some undergrads were talking about the questions they wanted to submit to Carter. One wanted to ask Carter who he thought was cooler: pirates or ninjas? A discussion about who would win in a fight ensued and I wondered if I was ever that dopey when I was in college, and I realized the answer was, yes, a hundred-times moreso and still am. Off to my left, on the far-side of the gym where students were still filing in, I saw a guy in a black robe, hunched slightly and using a cane, wearing a skull mask. I asked the guy next to me, "What's with the guy in the skull mask?"

"Oh, that's Dooley," he said, smiling proudly.

I gave a laugh as though I knew who the eff Dooley was, and left it at that. (I need to start following up on questions I ask). Anyway. So there's "Dooley" surrounded by a bunch of people in white gloves and sunglasses. I'm weirded out. What's this freak going to do when he sees Carter? Does the Secret Service know this Dooley character is here in the gym? Is Dooley going to be some part of some elaborate and terrible practical joke that ends with Carter on the ground, clutching his chest and gasping? I am uneasy. After a while, Carter comes out. The Student Government president (the one who'd made headlines in recent days by "declaring war" on Washington University) introduces himself, talks about Carter, then introduces Dooley.

I look over and see Dooley escorted to the podium by his coterie of somber dramoid kids in their gloves and glasses. The applause lasts for only a fourth of Dooley's slow walk. The other three-fourths were conducted in slightly awkward silence. I looked and saw Carter watching Dooley's approach with a polite smile plastered on his face. Dooley FINALLY gets there and sits down one seat over from the former President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. One of Dooley's sunglasses-wearing minions comes to the lectern and starts reading a "message from Dooley". She reads the prepared text like she was in a school play playing the role of "really boring ghost". Her voice was monotone, her tone lofty (she kept referring to us as "mortals" because Dooley is, as you know, "immortal") and talked about how good Carter was and then some stuff about Katrina and the Iraq war, and a bunch of other crap. I was getting more embarrassed by the moment. I kept looking down at Peggy (who was an usher for this event) hoping to catch her eye so I could roll mine at her. Carter, the man who was once leader of the free world is standing, waiting to speak, everyone's there to hear Carter answer questions, and this chick in sunglasses is droning on and on and on about nothing. I mean, who cares what an UNOFFICIAL MASCOT has to say about anything?

I looked at the clock. Carter got there at 8:04 PM. The Mouth of Dooley was talking until 8:15 PM. I know 11 minutes isn't exactly a lifetime, but when you're listening to a fake persona embodying a goofy college tradition that's been allowed to flourish all out of proportion to it's actual worth as an unofficial mascot, and then BY PROXY no less, it sure as hell feels like a lifetime.

Dooley was eventually led off the podium and after three more minutes or so, (after the president of Emory introduced Carter... again), Carter was finally allowed to speak. The talk was supposed to go until 9 PM. At 9:04 PM, the moderator called the Town Hall to a close. Carter and his wife, Rosalynd, scurried off with a few waves and that was it. Anyway, as you can tell, I was slightly peeved that Dooley and a bunch of Emory functionaries ate about 20 or so minutes into Carter's very limited talk-time. So next time I'm invited to one of these things, the first thing I'll ask is: "Will Dooley be there?" Because if so, I won't.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Cavity Searches and Turkey-Talking with Overly Confident Road-Dancing Turkeys

Turkey head.
There's a reason for this.

In this photo of football players (left), please take a moment to discover what the Tampa Bay Buccaneer is doing to the Minnesota Viking. Apparently, some NFL players don't find football all that fulfilling, and have turned to amateur proctology as a hobby, in this case giving free, on-the-field exams to players from the opposing team. Good for them. Bad for the other players.

As for the picture of the turkey, I'll explain. I was taking my wife to business school today at Emory, and on the way home, I saw a thing in the distance, strutting around in my lane. I slowed (no one was behind me at the time) and as I got closer I realized the thing was a turkey. There was a turkey in the middle of North Decatur Avenue. The turkey, thinking itself too good to ever be roadkill, took a long look at me, my car, then back at me again, it's beady unfriendly eyes seeming to say "You in Jawjuh now, bitch!" and then hopped up onto the curb to strut some more on the sidewalk. I drove past, and after a minute, I started to wish I had pulled over, gotten out of the car, and practiced some of my turkey-talk with the real turkey. And that made me think of the time I was in the car with Shawn driving through Pasadena, when I saw a cat sitting in its yard. We were stopped at a red light and the cat was there next to me, looking at me expectantly. I rolled down my window and I said either, "Meow meow meow," or "Hello, meow meow," to it. It did not say anthing back. If anything, its eyes got slightly wider and either it just wasn't motivated to move, or it was actually frozen in place with terror. Shawn was speechless with disbelief. I merely blinked as I came out of my Doolittlian stupor.

Anyway. Jimmy Carter thing tonight. Apparently, it's not about education. I'm not sure what it is, but I'll tell you tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I will not, in fact, be attending a Jimmy Carter-led discussion tonight at Emory. It's tomorrow night. Thought I should report that so there aren't any tears tomorrow when there's no post about Jimmy Carter and the plight of education.

"Hello, Austin. Welcome to my Moon Base."

Last night I was at Zaxby's (of all places) eating chicken fingers, fries and Texas toast, when I saw a report about NASA's new plan to return to the moon by 2018. I watched in disbelief as images like the one on the right appeared on-screen.

We're going back to the Apollo program to get there.

That's right. Lunar landers, cramped space capsules, parachute-slowed descents and exciting splashdowns in the ocean. A return to the space program of yesteryear. Either the New York Times or NASA themselves are calling the new program "Apollo on Steroids" because the capsule itself is bigger and can accomodate 4 astronauts, the fuel capacity is much larger enabling our astronauts to land anywhere on the moon and not just on its equator, and the lunar lander itself is bigger and can support astronauts for up to a week on the moon. In addition, our moon visits will be purposeful: we'll be laying the groundwork for an honest-to-god moon base from which we can stage eventual missions to Mars! (Yes, this stuff is legitimately exciting to me). I read this stuff this morning on NASA's site and the new information makes the idea of using old technology sound pretty good, but my initial impression/question after seeing the first images of NASA's new idea was this: We landed on the moon in 1969 and the capsule/lander method is still the best idea we've managed to come up with in the intervening 36 years? Just kind of shocked me, I guess.

But anyway. Since that's the plan, that's the plan. If it gets us back on the moon with a minimum of fatalities, than I'm for it. Even if it gets us on the moon with a maximum of fatalities, still, strangely, I'm for it. I just want our human asses back up there. I want moon bases and inter-planetary exploration and I want at least a taste of it before I die. I'd do it myself but they wouldn't let me go to the moon or to Mars for a thousand reasons, not least of which is my freakish height but also the fact it takes me a full 10 minutes to multiply two 3-digit numbers. (Also because I would spend most of my time on any given spaceflight paralyzed with fear and crying silently in my capsule seat). I just wish most Americans were for space exploration as much as I am. A lot of criticism about NASA spending comes from people who ask, "Why spend all that money on spaceships and rocket blasters (?) when we got kids in this country who can't read!" To those people I say... you're right. We do have a lot of problems here on Earth, not the least of which is a country where a sizeable portion really do believe the sun revolves around the Earth (George Carlin wasn't making that up when he was on Bill Maher's HBO show the other week). We got a whole lot of book-learnin' to do for these stupid stupid people. On the other hand, if those people are lost causes, the people who DO know the Earth revolves around the SUN, need a way to get away from those dumb bastards and live apart from them.

But seriously, I think people need something inspiring and good to happen with their tax dollars. Something that makes us proud to be members of this species. Usually we're inundated with terrible images of constant human warring (much of it in our name) and news of a nascent American rejection of science and reason that makes us feel hopeless and consigned to eventually repeat our awful histories again and again. Sometimes it seems we can only see human evolution in terms of computer hard-drive speed and storage space on our iPods. Most everything else seems to be going backward. Space exploration is an absolute good. To those people who think our tax dollars would be better spent elsewhere, I say your good-intentions are being misspent. Complain to the Pentagon who spends 2 billion dollars or so per stealth bomber and sinks untold billions to give "democracy" to a Middle-Eastern country that probably doesn't want it. Complain to a Congress that spends a billion here and a billion there to build beautiful but completely unnecessary bridges in Alaska, or to give massive corporations billions in tax breaks in a bid to "stimulate the economy". Because America wastes money (and always has and always will) on so many stupid things (war, corporate handouts, pork) and not enough on the right things (education education education), should that necessarily mean America should be forever prohibited from spending a lot of money on something important and worthy?

Anyway, I've been getting on my high-horse for two postings now; I should get back to my inanities (not to say these posts weren't inane, just not willfully inane, which is a different thing). Tonight, if all goes to plan, I'll be attending a discussion led by former President Jimmy Carter (he of the malaise)on education at Emory. If it's interesting, I'll let you know how it went.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cyborg-Sean Hannity? Please Kill Me

Ok, folks. I was originally going to fill my Monday post with my thoughts on an early Philip Roth novella I finished yesterday, but then I happened upon this lil' nugget during my morning surf and thought I'd post it up and start the week out on a note of pure the-end-is-nigh awesomeness. In short, it is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen, but it did make me laugh out loud. It is hilarious. What you see pictured to the left of this text is the cover of a comic book set to explode off comic store shelves in October. Here's the link to the article:

  • RightWing Comic Critiques America

  • The comic, set in an alternate-reality future where Gore won the 2000 election, follows three "true" cyborg-patriots, G. Gordon Liddy, Oliver North and Sean Hannity (pictured above left), as they try and save their country from the liberals who took it over in 2000. The liberal USA in Liberality is beholden to the United Nations, is ruled by President Chelsea Clinton and Vice-President Michael Moore, and celebrates the great peacemaker of our time, Usama Bin Laden. (If you go to the site there's a link to sample pages from the comic.) The writer of Liberality says he doesn't want readers to be certain whether he's being tongue-in-cheek with his comic's premise, or if he really thinks Liddy, North and Hannity pass the laugh-test as moral, righteous comic-book heroes that everyone can get behind. He does admit he's a red-state conservative which leads me to believe that though he might think his premise is more than a little over-the-top, he also kinda believes in this crap. That he would choose two convicted criminals and a meat-headed pundit who's so out-and-out retarded it borders on criminal, as his "team of heroes" says something, I think, both about where his true feelings lie (I mean, who else but a right-wing conservative could stand to draw these three a**holes all day, day after day?), but also about who conservatives secretly look up to. What did Liddy do, really, these conservatives think, except to try mightily to stave off a possible Democratic challenger by way of a little sabotage? What did North do, really, except bend the bureaucratic rules a little to defeat a growing Communist menace down in Central America? And what does Hannity do, really, but expose through brow-beating and fact-twisting, the lies of America's dominant left? These are the "tough" conservatives who see through the liberal lies and call 'em as they see 'em. OF COURSE, the one conservative "comic-book writer" in the country is going to use them in a comic-book about the upstanding right fighting the evil left. I almost want to buy this thing when it comes out but I know I'd start by laughing ("isn't this ridiculous?"), but pretty soon I'd be spitting obscenities (Who IS this f**king moron and why did I give him my $2?!), and then I'd try and burn the thing which would then probably start a fire which would then probably burn down my apartment building. It's safer if I don't see more than just the sample pages. One last quick thing I noticed that tells me this guy is hardly a comic book-ophile as he purports to be. "Someone who sends a threat over this is just a nut," he says. "I mean, look at the medium: it's a comic book." Anyone who writes comic books for a living doesn't denigrate the medium by snide insinuation.

    Anyway. I took this stupid thing a whole lot more seriously than I intended to. Anyway, I'll conclude with a question. Is it just me, or does every right-wing conservative I've ever met define themselves as middle-of-the-road, even though on EVERY SINGLE ISSUE they spout the Republican party's hardest line? Why is that? You don't see left-wing progressives say that, so why do they? Just wondering.

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    A Gay Writer With a Fey, Lispy Voice Falling In Love With a Mass Murderer: Best Picture of the Year?

    Last posting for the week. Unless something amazing happens this weekend. Anyway, this movie (pictured left), Capote, is coming out at the very end of this month and the trailer makes it look fantastic. Gripping, meaningful, suspenseful, the whole thing.

    It's about the writing of Capote's masterpiece, In Cold Blood. In Cold Blood is considered one of the few literary examples of a usually pretty sordid genre called True-Crime. In the book, Capote describes the killing of a Kansas family by two men, (while the family members were in their house, in their beds), the efforts of the police to track down the killers, and then Capote's interaction with one of the accused. The book is chilling and very much worth a reading. I'm looking forward to Capote because it's the story of a writer creating their immortal work, the one they'll be remembered for, (and also because Philip Seymour Hoffman affects this great Capote voice and because Catherine Keener's in it playing Harper Lee). I know this particular story has a lot of great material to play with, perhaps moreso than most formation stories. What's it like for a self-involved gay man from New York, obsessed with his literary reputation and his social status, to investigate a horrific crime in Kansas of all places? What happens when he does that? And of course there's a lot of investigating to show (which is usually pretty interesting) and most novelists don't really have to do much investigating when they write their fictional stories. But, I believe any depiction of an author's life during the formation of their best novel has in it the potential to be a riveting film. What was John Kennedy Toole's life like when he wrote Confederacy of Dunces? How did he interact with New Orleans? Was he anything like his main character? What was his life like after he'd finished it and then leading up to his suicide? John Irving composing Garp? Tolkien during the writing of Lord of the Rings? Or not even stories about the formation of classics or stories about heartrending deaths of famous writers, what about more popular, still-living novelists? Wouldn't a movie about Stephen King composing Carrie be interesting? Working all of those shit jobs to make ends meet? Writing in the laundryroom while his wife, Tabitha, who's sitting with their sick son is calling to him, "Think up another monster, Stephen, quick!"

    Sure, there's more drama inherent in certain authors than others, but there's a lot of drama to be mined out of every one of them. In essence the story of famous writers are lottery stories -- one day they're poor or just unknown, the next day they're either respected and famous or rich or both. With a lottery the windfall is just dumb luck; with breakout novels, the writer has (presumably) earned their sudden success. Admittedly, there have been a few bad movies made from writer's stories (Plath I guess is one, though I haven't seen it, blanking right now on other examples, I'm sure you folks know some), and I'm not arguing here for a hundred Shakespeare in Loves, but just a bunch of good movies that I know are out there waiting to be filmed. We'll see them one day (probably one about JK Rowling sooner than later, I'm thinking), but I'm just not wanting to wait so much to see them.

    By the way, here's a link to the trailer. Just copy and paste it into the html bar. It's a good one!

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    We Forcefed My Cat the Red Pill and Now He Won't Shut Up About the Matrix

    This is me blabbing about something or another at the Waffle House over by our apartment. I'm really not making a face; this is a legitimate photo of me talking to another person. This was taken this past weekend. Sunday, I think. At the moment this picture was taken, I thought my wife, PC, was done taking pictures. She was not. She nearly dissolved into a fog of pure laughter when she saw this image appear in our digital camera's viewfinder. It is a pretty funny picture. I was just trolling through the photos we already have stored on our computer and this one looked good for Thursday's post. So here you go.

    Here's something else that's been preying on my nerves of late. This 'something else' happens to be covered in hair, walks on four legs, and eliminates waste in a little sand-lined box in our other bathroom. He is Venkman, my cat. I don't know what female cats are called, but, like dogs, they should be called bitches, because my cat is a son of a bitch. Especially of late. Here's why.

    PC took him for a walk the other day for a business school assignment called 'breaking the norm'. They were supposed to break any one of society's many unwritten rules. So she walked Venkman, our indoor cat, around our apartment complex because one of those unwritten rules is: people aren't supposed to walk cats. Well, the experiment went all right; she got some weird looks and funny reactions she can write a paper about. But there's been some post-experiment fallout we hadn't foreseen.

    Unlike PC, Venkman was an unwitting participant in this experiment. The result for PC is a grade. The result for Venkman is a strong and overpowering yearning to be back outside again, back into a magical land of adventure filled with bugs that walk and buzz, lots of exotic plants and edible grasses as well as, sometimes, strange humans. An exciting place, indeed. Unfortunately, Venkman is not a cat to yearn in silence. He's been expressing his yearning these past couple of days, through soulful meowing. Over and over again. Loud. All day. He meows when he is near me, he meows when he is in the other room. And, no joke, he is meowing right the eff now. The only thing that would make him stop meowing, (other than the sweet embrace of death), would be for me to put on his blue harness, click a leash on him, and take him for another walk. The thing about this idea, though, is that I wouldn't be doing it to appear slightly insane for the purpose of a class; if I did take him for a walk, it would be because I was actually insane. Thus, Venkman stays inside and suffers. I love the little bastard, but he's not going outside. On the bright side, since I started writing this, he's shut up.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    The Sanderson Telephone Directory of 94-95: Creepier on Second Glance?

    Since I can't really figure any other purpose for my old drawings, other than to make me laugh as I rifle through my old files, I'll just keep putting 'em up on this blog here. If it fits on my scanner, it's fair game. This, as you can probably tell, is a drawing I did for my Raleigh high-school's telephone directory. You can see that I made the subject of the drawing telephone-related. I was surprised, back when it went on sale at Sanderson (where David and Amy Sedaris went to school, by the way), by how many people didn't really "get" it. Maybe they understood what I was doing, but just didn't think it was funny. Back then I thought it was hilarious. I laughed out loud sometimes while I sketched it out. I still think it's funny.

    I still like a couple of things about it. I like how coyly the ogre is sitting on his table, his head nearly tucked into his armpit because he's so bashful. But more than that I like my strange conception of what the average-everyday-high-school-girl-of-1995 thought was a really "dreamy guy". Apparently, all high-school girls are hot for thirty-something, lantern-jawed, helmet-haired, tuxed-out soap actors. Looking at it now, I think it's kinda weird how old the guy she thinks is on the other end is. Maybe even a little creepy. If I'd wanted to be more accurate, I should have drawn Nick Carter or some other mid-nineties Tiger Beat poster boy. As for the girl, well, there's something creepy about her, too. She's smiling, but her eyes don't really seem like they're on the same page. Anyway, it hangs together somehow. Thought I'd share and call it a day.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Anton Chigurh is like Judge Holden: They Are Both the Devil

    I finished this book this morning. Did you know that Cormac McCarthy doesn't always use apostrophes in his contractions? Like can't is written in his books as cant. Doesn't is spelled like doesnt. If he uses MS Word (which he probably doesn't), I'm pretty sure he writes with the spelling and grammar check off. Word would hate that (more the second example than the first as cant is an actual word). He doesn't use quotation marks either. And though you might think this would make differentiating between narration and dialogue difficult, it actually doesnt.

    The story's about a welder named Llewelyn Moss who happens across a convoy of bullet-riddled trucks while hunting antelope in southwest Texas. Inside the trucks he finds a LOT of heroin, a satchel filled with more than 2 million dollars and a man dying of gunshot wounds who asks for agua. Llewelyn takes the satchel and runs away. He wakes up in the middle of the night and returns to the scene in the middle of the night with some water. Of COURSE the place is crawling with bad guys. The bad men start combing the desert with spotlights and a lot of trucks (in one of the books most visual and suspenseful sequences), and so starts our hero on the run. He's pursued by lots of folks interested in that money, the most villainous being Anton Chigurh, a crazy man who, like Judge Holden in Blood Meridian, is so lucidly crazy, he's usually pretty persuasive. Hard trick to pull off. Chigurh is involved with all of the book's ultra-violence, much of it involving a pneumatic cattle gun, the kind the slaughterhouses use to drop cattle when they come through the chute. Hardcore.

    No Country for Old Men is a great crime novel. Flat out. Literature? Maybe not, but it doesn't seem like McCarthy even wanted it to be. The novel's overall shape suggests he wanted to write something pulpy, entertaining, really fast, and with enough of his trademark high-concept fatalism to make it worthwhile for him to write. The best stuff, as it often is in books like these, are the scenes with the central villain, Chigurh (pronouned as shi-gurr), and usually before he's about to murder someone. Chigurh insists on having thoughtful, existential conversations with the people he's about to kill. Here's an excerpt from a scene where Chigurh has just gotten the drop on a man named Wells who's been hired to track Chirgurh down and kill him. McCarthy has set up the counter-assassin Wells as someone who'll have some longevity in the story -- then McCarthy has Chigurh kill him in shockingly short order. Much of what happens in this story is legitimately shocking. The following is a section of a long conversation. Chigurh's been wheedling Wells for a few pages already:

    [Bell says] Do you have any notion of how goddamned crazy you are?
    [Chigurh says] The nature of this conversation?
    The nature of you.
    Chigurh leaned back. He studied Wells. Tell me something, he said.
    If the rule you followed led you to this of what use was the rule?
    I don't know what you're talking about.
    I'm talking about your life. In which now everything can be seen at once.
    I'm not interested in your bullshit, Anton.
    I thought you might want to explain yourself.
    I don't have to explain myself to you.
    Not to me. To yourself. I thought you might have something to say.
    You go to hell.
    You surprise me, that's all. I expected something different. It calls past events into question. Dont you think so?
    You think I'd trade places with you?
    Yes. I do. I'm here and you are there. In a few minutes I will still be here.
    Wells looked out the darkened window. I know where the satchel is, he said.
    If you knew where the satchel was you would have it.
    I was going to have to wait until there was no one around. Till night. Two in the morning. Something like that.
    You know where the satchel is.
    I know something better.
    What's that.
    I know where it's going to be.
    And where is that.
    It will be brought to me and placed at my feet.
    Wells wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. It wouldn't cost you anything. It's twenty minutes from here.
    You know that's not going to happen. Don't you?
    Wells didn't answer.
    Dont you?
    You go to hell.
    You think you can put it off with your eyes.
    What do you mean?
    You think that as long as you keep looking at me you can put it off.
    I don't think that.
    Yes you do. You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it. I'm trying to help you.
    You son of a bitch.
    You think you wont close your eyes. But you will.

    I mean, what a bastard. Even though Chigurh probably does think in that insane mind of his that he's just helping Wells end his life with dignity, he is in fact depriving Wells of any dignity at all. By the end of this scene, Wells is practically demanding Chigurh just kill him so he doesn't have to endure any more of Chigurh's calm (though crazy) demands that Wells face the hard truth of his impending death on Chigurh's terms. In Anton Chigurh, McCarthy's fashioned one of the cruelest executioners in contemporary literature -- he almost requires the condemned to agree that their impending deaths are just, and that their murderer has no other choice. To be goaded into begging for your life, and then to be told that begging is beneath you? To allow you no mental serenity in your last moments, to in fact, systematically deprive you of any peace and to prolong your emotional agony intentionally? Sadistic torture. That Chigurh probably doesn't even realize his victims don't appreciate his "help" makes him that much more complex, that much more hateful. I don't know if this character is great art, but you hang on every word he says.

    McCarthy is an avowed red-stater: he says as much in a recent interview in Vanity Fair. The 60-something sheriff of the story, Bell, is likely a stand-in for McCarthy. Bell thinks a lot about the decline of society, sounding a lot like an old man who thinks everything was more innocent and more beautiful in his day. He even mentions blue hair and nose piercings as evidence of a genuinely declining moral standard. McCarthy takes great pains to justify that what Bell is thinking is more than just old-geezer-ism, as though he knows that's how it'll be taken by the reading public. He writes sentences meant to reinforce this old-man-pablum that amount to, "No really! The world really IS going to hell in a handbasket!" To me, these lines sound like McCarthy inserting himself into the story to give his considered insight on the inevitable Fall of Western Civilization. Bell says, "It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners. Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight." Yeah, this sort of opinion is more at home at an old folks' home in the 1940s, but I say, "so what". If I'm going to read books by a crotchety, self-described "southern conservative", these are the sorts of ideas he's going to try and get in his novels and I'm going to have to read them. But all of Bell's crotchety but measured cynicism does give the book some gravitas, making it feel a little like, somewhere coded in this story of a drug-deal gone bad are the seeds of ... (dramtic pause)... Apocalypse.

    Anyway. It's a good book and worth reading. How's that for Crane's Inanities' version of a shitty Amazon book review? Shorter post tomorrow (I hope).

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    Chicken Places and New, Stupid Laws in Georgia

    I love Zaxby's? Is that cool? I don't know. It's one of those food chains I'd never heard of until I moved BACK to Georgia. Now I eat there FOR EVERY MEAL. No, not really that often, but about once a week. They serve chicken fingers and fries and Texas Toast and cole slaw. Four of my favorite things and part of the reason I now weigh 346 pounds. Or 219, whichever. Anyway, it's darn good. I went there tonight with my brother after he obliterated me at Halo 2. I believe that I now suck at that game, and I may, in fact, have never been any good at it. I think I know how my countless victims of GoldenEye must have felt when they died over and over again by my relentless grenade-launcher; or those who fell by Spinal's axe in Killer Instinct. It feels good to dominate in games like that, and it feels really demoralizing to lose as hard as I did tonight.

    In completely unrelated news, I read this morning that Georgia went and got itself a poll tax in recent months. NYTimes ran an editorial about it. Way to go, Georgia. Way to change the way people in the rest of the country think about the Deep South. To them, we're still nothing more than a collection of racists still upset about the War of Northern Aggression. If we keep up stuff like this, minds will never change. People who graduate from Georgia universities will always have a stigma attached to them when they seek jobs in the rest of the country. So long as Georgia continues to make headlines only when a lazy guy doesn't bury all the bodies like he was supposed to, or when a starey-eyed bride-to-be runs off to New Mexico and lies about some minority group kidnaping her, or when the Georgia Republicans decide that it was about time some of them good Jim Crow-era policies made a comeback, Georgia will never be more than one of America's four or five retarded stepchildren.

    But Georgia does have Zaxby's, and I think that makes up for almost everything.

    Friday, September 09, 2005

    Greetings From the Completely Harmless, Totally Lanky, Super White, Kitchen Attacker

    Wazzup readers.

    (That's me in my Burbank apartment in the last few days we spent there before moving to ATL, just if you wanted to know.)

    Busy weekend ahead. I have some Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction to play on my now-fritzing XBox, a business school picnic with my wife to go to tomorrow afternoon where I get to field a few more "So what do you do?" questions from business schoolers, some Cormac McCarthy to read, and a seemingly impossible plot impasses to solve in my ever-in-progress novel. I'll let you know how it goes.

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    Is This the Face of a Drug User? (Skip if You Don't Like Self-Righteous Rants)

    I was told today by my temp agency that because our assignment was now long term, the job site would be requiring drug testing for all the temp workers. Of my group of 11, I am one white man amoungst 10 black women. We are not well-educated. We are not very skilled laborers. We are a dime a dozen. We do not draw a lot of water. If we did, no one would have told us we had to piss in a cup at a medical facility so some drug testing company employee could sniff around in it and see if any of us had smoked dope. But because we are poor and we are not well-educated, it is required of us.

    I find the practice of drug testing in the work place to be morally repugnant, but I am aware that my position at the very bottom rung of the career ladder (the ladder to any career, just to be clear), allows me to be both idealistic about such matters, and completely unemployed because of it. It's bad enough that employers can and often do check a prospective employee's financial history to see if there are any bankruptcies (as though this is a worthy indicator to anything but how bad you are with your own personal money), or if you were ever late on your electric bill, but now they want you to be complicit in an unconstitutional invasion of your privacy. Now is the wrong word. Apparently, they HAVE wanted, and HAVE already been invading it for years. When did this become okay in our country? Was it with the advent of the War on Drugs? I guess the fiction that drug testing is a deterrent or is catching drug users before they can get into a job (or while they're in it) goes very well with the fiction that the War on Drugs is actually of any use whatsoever except as a jobs program and a prison-filler. in 1990 the federal government spent $11.7 million bucks testing its employees. %0.5 tested positive. That works out to $77,ooo per identified drug user. Money well-spent. I'm sure that's just the government though. I'm sure the rate would be much higher in the private sector, what with all those drug addicts out there, looking for good-paying jobs. Here's something else that's illuminating. Did you know that urinalysis drug tests are really only capable of effectively detecting marijuana usage? Everything else passes out of the system inside of 48 hours, and we all know how dangerous and debilitating marijuana is. Didn't we all see that PSA where the guy ran over the girl on her tricycle because he was all hopped up on weed? That's real, man! Or how about your buying marijuana directly funds terrorists? That's a good one. Can you imagine that at some high-schools, random drug-testing is mandatory? What happened to our right to be left the hell alone?

    Anyway. Part of my point in bringing this up, is to refute those that say (said in a cynical, drugged-out, hippie, Naderite voice) "It doesn't matter who you vote for, man! They're all the same! A vote for Kerry is the same as a vote for Bush! They're part of the same SYSTEM!"

    That's when I say a bad word you can't say on TV that means I disagree with that statement.

    Had we actually been voting our own interests these past two elections, (and every other election where the Republican won), we would not be heading down this particularly boggy road. Democrats are not, by and large, FOR taking away Americans civil liberties. You might not be surprised to know most of the people who are members of the ACLU, are not Republicans. They are Democrats. Were the Democrats in power, they would appoint judges who are also not FOR taking away our civil liberties; liberties like the right of a driver who's been pulled over to say to the cop, "No, thanks. There's no reason for you to open my trunk." Or a pedestrian to say to a cop who randomly approaches you, "No, you may not see my ID, it's none of your business what my name is because I've done nothing wrong." Or the right of the worker to say "No, thanks, what's in my liquid waste is my own business". Right now it's illegal for an employer to ask you stuff like "Are you married?" or "What religion do you practice?" Because those questions are not germane to the subject of getting a job. Neither is whether or not you smoked marijuana in the last 3 months. Neither is whether or not you declared bankruptcy in the last 7 years. Or whether you were late on that electric bill, or that rent payment. It's none of their goddamn business and I think it's terrible that we've somehow allowed it to be their business in the last 15-20 years while we were all cowering in our dens and living rooms, huddled around the TV, listening to the Nightly News spin yarns about "crack babies", and a crack "epidemic" on our city streets, and how giving the Columbian government military helicopters and American "advisers", the US was really smashing up the source of all that awful, ubiquitous crack flowing up into North America. Now the yarns are being spun about a little ole drug called crystal meth. Whatever works. We seem to need an ongoing drug storyline.

    Anyway, thank you, you super Republicans, for giving the wealthy in our country (the real "ownership class") just one more tool to "stick it" to the poor and the minorites, and thank you everyone else in America for letting this one slide.

    (I promise to be less pissed for my next posting.)

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    This Man is an Efficiency Expert: He Wants Your Employees to Save Time

    This, blog-readers, (all five of you), is Blinky. He's the guy on the bus bench from the post prior to this one. He's a son of a bitch because he makes me draw him all the time; I feel like the kid in The Ring but instead of a black circle I draw an angry/sad bald dude with a giant 4 tattooed on his face. I'm getting better at not drawing him, or anything at all really. Oh well.

    In related news, today was my wife's first day at business school at Emory University here in Atlanta. I wait anxiously to hear how it all went.

    In other news, I went back to work for the first time since moving to Atlanta from Los Angeles and it was all right. My job entails "keying in" information about folks who've made claims because Katrina either blew their house down or helped flood it. It's sad to read descriptions like the ones that appear in each claimant's... claim. Descriptions like "House flooded" over and over again. Even though they're just cold green letters typed into an information field on a black background in a dumpy old MS-DOS program, you know that somewhere in the Gulf Coast this "claimant", this human being and his/her family, has lost just about everything.

    Just to close it all up on a down note.

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005

    So a Guy, an Elephant and a Giant Venus Fly Trap are Waiting for the Bus...

    This is something I drew back in high-school. I think the assignment was to bring human, animal and plant life together in an interesting way. This is what I came up with.

    Yeah, it's weird. The perspective's more than a little off and my grasp of anatomy seems a little tenuous by looking at the slightly warped way the man in the trenchcoat with the 4 on his head is sitting. (Sadly, it's not much improved these days). But I like it anyway.

    Anyway. Mostly wanted to post this draw'rin to keep this blog current. I've been getting some complaints about my long and inane Riddick post. Maybe I did spend too much time on what is essentially an exceptional B-movie. Whatever. So, with this posting, my spirited and overly verbose defense of Riddick moves down a few inches into the realm of What Once Was Current. Whenever possible, I'll try and keep things moving along here.

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    The Chronicles of Riddick: Actually a Good Movie?

    The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is hell, yes. I'm as surprised as you are.

    [Note: I'm talking about the extended edition of Chronicles of Riddick that features an added half-hour of movie. This version is the only one I've ever seen. Also: Spoilers below. This post is lousy with them.]

    Watching this film, I kept waiting for it to suck like most people I'd talked to about the movie said it did. Sure, there were moments here and there when I turned to my wife and said, "Yeah, okay. Kinda dumb." (And I admit, the whole palace-intrigue sub-plot wasn't terribly interesting, even though the scenes were diverting and well-acted). But those "dumb" moments were fleeting and were quickly lost in a relentless rush of awesome action sequences or cool new science-fiction ideas explored in an interesting and clever way. Twohy, (who appears at the beginning of the DVD looks very creepy and not at all like I expected. He kinda gave me a disturbed, sociopathic mortician vibe), did amazing work with Pitch Black and did good work with The Arrival (which was one of those better-than-you-thought-it-was-going-to-be movies), and this one, The Chronicles of Riddick, seems to know its genre and really embrace it in an enthusiastic, reverent, and entertaining way.

    For example, the section of the film set on a "triple-max" prison planet called Crematoria, ("Crematoria"? A "Triple-Max" prison? -- c'mon, how can anyone not love stuff like this?), is gripping, exciting and inventive. Twohy sets up the rules for this place right off the bat just to make it that much easier to get wrapped up in the payoff. The planet in question is a lot like Mercury. Cold as hell in the dark and practically molten on the side that faces the sun. There's a twenty-mile wide "safe zone" between either side, and it moves as the planet revolves. When one goes outside on the planet, one has to wait until the safe zone shifts to where one's building is, (or, in this case, one's prison). So Riddick and his crew, having escaped from the Triple-Max prison, have to run from Point A (the prison) to Point B (the place where the spaceship's parked) while they're in the ever-shifting safe zone. They have to hurry or they'll be incinerated. It's great stuff. The movie's filled with great action sequences like this. One takes place on a frozen planet wherein we watch a group of mercenaries try to capture Riddick in order to collect a bounty on his head. Another excellent set-piece is set during the night-time invasion of the Imam's planet (played by Keith David, who was also in Pitch Black) by the Necromongers. This sequence is just exciting, pulpy, balls-to-the-wall science-fiction filmmaking. Full of ideas and even some commentary. Here's an example:

    The images of green and red anti-aircraft fire lighting up the night sky like day, and the image of an Islamic, desert-city under attack from an unstoppable airborne force, puts one in mind of the current unpleasantness taking place in Iraq. Could Twohy be equating the Necromongers (an all-powerful sect with strange, deep-seated beliefs intent on taking over the entire universe through forcible conversion) with the NeoCon-led United States military? The imagery Twohy uses in this sequence is unmistakable. But forget political allegory for a minute, what about the high-falutin' ideas in this movie?

    Never before have I seen or read a film or story that looked at the entire notion of Death through a non-human, non-existential, otherworldly, science-fiction filter. (I concede the point that I probably need to read more science-fiction to have this statement mean all that I want it to, but there it is). Sure, science-fiction movies deal with death all the time, but usually it's only a consequence of disturbing the natural order, waking up some monster or trying too hard to prolong life. Chronicles of Riddick presents us with something else entirely: a race of people who not only BELIEVE that people who have died have gone to a Heaven-like place, (we have that on this planet in spades), but KNOW that Heaven ABSOLUTELY EXISTS, (because, in this world it actually does exist), and is a place reachable by mortal humans through military, non-mystical means. They subscribe to the philosophy of Delivery to the Promised Land by the Barrel of a Gun. These warmongers have completely demystified Death; they've succeeded in making the prospect of a final end out-and-out-desirable even. How else can they make existing in an unceasing, permanent war-footing palatable to its followers? (Again, here's another interesting parallelism between the Necromongers and the modern Christian-American ambition of limited empire). But because the Necromongers' ideology, that all those who have died simply exist in a different "'verse" from our own, is NOT a delusion makes their beliefs and their motives complex and compelling. This is not a bunch of addled missionaries talking about King Jesus and "getting saved". The Necromonger general, called Lord Marshal, (played by the always-believable Colm Feore), who is half-dead and fearsome to his underlings because he's "seen the Underverse", extracts an un-believer's soul in front of a crowd of the newly-conquered and therefore uninitiated. Imagine if the Baptists could do something like that on a Sunday morning. Riddick is a great movie, in part because it's not afraid to throw out new and interesting, and dare I say, complex ideas, and stay true to them throughout.

    The imagery in this movie is fantastic. The towering three-headed obelisk the Necromongers spike into conquered planets is a fascinating concept, not to mention just a great, graphic image. The group of mind-readers who "crack" strong and unwilling minds because they're already in touch with the Underverse has a unique design; the bulky, Samurai-inspired costumes and cavernous sets and creature design are awesome throughout. But also Twohy knows his subject: science-fiction. He borrows liberally from well-known books and movies to inform his own film, but tweaks these ideas and makes them feel new again.

    [Note: What follows is deeply nerdy.]

    How very much like Dune's Saudukar Empire are the Necromongers? Twohy takes their immense imperial might and then gives the Necromongers the Caladanian shields (also from Dune) that distort their forms and make them very hard to kill. Though in Riddick, these Calladian shields are not really shields so much as they are a practiced and lethal use of one's own soul. (Perhaps Riddick's fight against the Necromongers is a metaphor for the forces of secularism fighting against fundamentalist religion, which seems ascendant in modern times. Just a thought). The fight at the end of Chronicles between Lord Marshal (Feore) and Riddick also seems borrowed from Dune: ritualized, titanic and with the fate of the empire on the line. And the last image, the shot of Riddick sitting in the throne, slumped, sullen and slightly bewildered, is straight from the Conan mythology from Robert E. Howard. Twohy, with that shot, is making explicit what was implicit: with the character of Riddick, Twohy is trying to create a new sci-fi/fantasy mythos using a stoic, seemingly-invincible, nearly god-like character in the pulp tradition of Conan the Barbarian. I don't know if he's done it, only time will tell, but I admire him like hell for trying.

    One thing I've heard from people who don't like the movie is that Vin Diesel is a problem for them. I can see that. One's perception of a lead actor is very important. My sister never went to see War of the Worlds, for example, because she can't stand Tom Cruise (especially after his "jumping the couch" routine). But for me, in this movie, Diesel's perfect. He's got a heroic-looking physique that fits Twohy's vision of Riddick perfectly, (because, after all, what else does a character like this need for the part? Range? Does he need to cry or be believably likable, even loveable? He needs brawn and charisma, and Diesel's got that pretty well covered), much like Arnold Schwarzeneggar fit John Milius's vision of Conan. Neither of these guys are tremendous actors by a long shot, but they play heroic, pulpy archetypes like nobody's business. Conan does not in any way seem like a live and breathing human being in Howard's original novels, nor did Howard intend him to be: he is a gruff, fearless, Terminator-like, I-Don't-Give-A-F**k antihero who barrels headlong into situations he only barely understands, but then comes out of it, not only victorious, but better than he came into it because he's goddamn strong and he's not going to let anyone beat him. Howard wrote Conan as a bigger, stronger, less-inhibited version of himself who did what he could not do, but wanted to. Riddick is written in the same fantastical, escapist vein. He's cagey, he's strong as hell, and, here's what makes him that much more interesting: he's evil. He's even really a good guy. The line Judi Dench's Elemental character says, that Riddick is "one kind of evil" needed to fight and destroy "another, greater evil," is a fascinating concept. I think an "evil vs. evil" storyline is really worthwhile and I think Twohy pulls it off pretty well. So yeah, in a story like the one Twohy's telling, Riddick tames bloodthirsty man-eating prison beasts, Riddick allows himself to be captured because it serves his short-term interests and also because he knows full-well he'll find a way to get free again, Riddick kills twenty well-armed Necromonger soldiers trained in the art of fighting with just a pair of nasty-looking knives, Riddick throws out sometimes-goofy one-liners (these antiheroes tend to be terse), and yeah, Riddick kills Lord Marshal and takes the throne himself. How is that not fun to watch?

    So now, Riddick is the new Lord of the Necromongers. What will he do? From my vantage, it seems that the role of Emperor doesn't suit a character like Riddick; Riddick is more of a lone-wolf type; the antihero never takes on the mantle of Civilization: he is of the Wilderness. Which is partly why Conan looked so sullen in that iconic illustration of Conan on the throne (which I can't actually source out: can't remember where I saw it). King of anything doesn't fit his personality which is destructive, self-serving and restless. Which may be why they never made a King Conan movie. Maybe the fact that film doesn't exist is part of what spurred Twohy on to make this sequel to Pitch Black. Who knows? So will Riddick use the power of the Necromongers to destroy the Empire over which he presides? Will he use it to take revenge on the people who did him wrong? I don't know. Wherever Twohy decides to take the character, I'm interested, and I'll be seeing it in the theaters this time out.

    Time to Panic

    Oh my Christ.

    Screw my uber-dopey Sandra Day O'Connor theory. When I read this morning in the NYTimes (Yeah, that's all I read, I just got a new subscription) that only the Democrats were calling on Bush to nominate Sandra for Chief Justice because, they said, it would have a "unifying affect on the country", I knew instantly Bush wasn't going to do it. Bush is no uniter. Like Stone Cold Steve Austin used to say, "Know your role." Bush knows his role. He's a divider. Not only does he not care if half the country's going to hate him even more for sending up another rabid conservative to fill O'Connor's seat (he must already know half the country kinda sorta hates him), but he doesn't care the entire Supreme Court is going to hate him for passing up on EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM so he can promote John Roberts to top dog before he even gets there. And he's the youngest of them all. Maybe they're more level-headed about stuff like that, but if I were them, I'd be pissed. Especially if my name were Anton Scalia or Clarence Thomas.

    Okay. So the court's going to lose one conservative and one centrist and it's going to gain two conservatives. This country's going to get real awesome real fast.

    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Dead at Age 80.

    I won't speak ill of the dead, especially this close to the hour of his passing, but I will speculate briefly on what will happen to the court in his absence, specifically, who will take his place? I know the other two branches of government were hoping Sandra Day O'Connor would agree to take his place as Chief Justice back when the rumors of his impending retirement were swirling; press reports described her as receptive to the idea at the time. I think she'd still be receptive to the idea of a super-awesome resume-padder, (which would be the most recent entry on said resume, under the heading 'Experience'), I think Bush would like to have an easy-breezy confirmation process (especially after his unbelievable mishandling of Katrina's aftermath), and I think Congress, after what may prove to be rancorous confirmation hearings regarding soon-to-be-Justice Roberts, will be more than happy to confirm someone both sides eagerly agree upon, and save the hard work of confirming Scalia or Thomas to the post for a few years when O'Connor decides to hang it up for good.

    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    New Orleans Empties; The City of Binx and Ignatius Devastated

    The picture above was taken in mid-June in the French Quarter section of New Orleans. From what I can gather from the news, the place where I'm standing in the photo is now under an undetermined amount of water, anywhere from 3-6-12 feet of water. I don't know if most of those structures can take prolongued exposure to water. What happens to building materials when they're soaked in water for a month or two? It may take years and years to resurrect the area to the way it was. Also the scenes from the rest of the city are unbelievable. The looting. I'll make the distinction myself: food and water is, in light of the situation in the city, okay with me; taking DVD players and television sets and computers and the like, objects not required for your survival or immediate well-being, or even possible to use for months and months, is straight-up looting and it just looks craven and stupid. When dead bodies are floating a few blocks away and you and your friends are trying to cart out a projection TV, we'll just say it doesn't look good to the viewers at home.

    Seems to me the Bush administration, and in fact the entire federal government, really screwed the pooch on this one. New Orleans asked time and time again for federal dollars to help them strengthen their levies. 1.5 billion or so. Each time the federal government saw fit to give them only a fraction of what they asked for. It seems a peculiar set of priorities, and I'll admit, hindsight makes this one pretty easy, but here it is anyway: Bush and the congress thought it was certainly fine to spend upwards of $200 billion to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but the outlay of cash, a fraction of the war costs, to make one of the nation's largest cities safe from almost certain disaster in the face of a hurricane whose arrival was inevitable was what? Too much money to spend? Were the "fiscal conservatives" running the show in D.C. picking and choosing what they were going to be fiscally conservative about?

    Anyway, the whole thing is really terrible and once more I'm deeply disappointed in the ability of our elected government to protect its citizenry.