Monday, October 31, 2005

A Quick Post From The Last Day of My Trip to DC

I am in Rockville, MD this afternoon, hanging out with Peter Fedak in his natural habitat, which is located on the fourth floor of a four-story apartment building. My brief DC visit is going very well so far -- my sister Shannon tromped all over DC with me this weekend, seeing all the crap she's seen a thousand times. The weather's been perfect and, aside from Saturday's chilly temps, Sunday and today have been unseasonably warm -- I'm not even wearing a jacket and it's November 1st in Maryland. This seems unusual, but, I don't know, maybe it's not. I'd have to check Farmer's Almanacs going back years and years, and I'm not willing to do that kind of research. On an unrelated subject, kind of some bad news. I forgot my camera yesterday, so I don't have awesome pictures of me at the Supreme Court (arguing a case), the Library of Congress (flipping through two Gutenburg Bibles simultaneously for no reason whatsoever), or at the Exorcist steps (of course, falling down them). Oh well. Next time. I fly out of DC in the morning and arrive back in Atlanta tomorrow afternoon, so I may have a fresh blog with DC pictures, but, you know, don't hold me to that.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I'll Be Gone 'Till November

Well, for whatever reason, either Blogger or my computer will not allow me to post an image, so today, you get no picture. Sorry. Just imagine a nice photo of the Capitol Building accompanying this post.

I'm writing to let all 10 of you know that I'm headed up to DC for the weekend to see my sister and the freshly betrothed Fedaks. I'm flying up there (before I thought I would drive but Google Maps tells me it's a 13-hour drive to DC, and not a 10-hour drive as I'd thought -- flying is definitely preferable) and I'll be back on Tuesday afternoon. It's my first time ever in our nation's capitol, so I'm pretty excited about it. I'll let you know how everything went when I return. I hope you all can handle the suspense.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Four-Page Saga Comes to a Close: Breathless Anticipation is Replaced with Wistful Nostalgia for the Magic That Was

Directly to the left is the third, penultimate, and least well-drawn of the entire "Untitled Indian Superhero Comic", (as you can see, two panels at the bottom never really got inked), notable only for the reveal of the hero's heroic identity: Cobra Commander! Yeah, I know. Way to be original. One thing I notice in panel 1 of this page (and in panel 2 from page 2) is the exaggerated lower lip. When I used to copy Todd McFarlane's comics all the time, I noticed that a lot of his lower lips were always pooched out a little more than maybe John Buscema (artist of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way!) might have liked, but for whatever reason, when McFarlane did it it looked cool. So it stuck. But this was back in the day before Todd McFarlane abandoned drawing altogether to try and make his mark as the Kingpin of the super-detailed action-figure industry. Last I heard he'd filed for bankruptcy. Hope he draws some more comic books one day.

This is page four and essentially the last page of this ridiculous thing. So if you got really attached to this story, say your goodbyes now. I admit that there is one more page, but it's only half-drawn and amps up the goofy to a major degree, so this is definitely going to be the last page. I like this page all right, except I have no idea how the kicked-in door managed to get around the black guy's shoulder like that. I guess I kind of forced the issue. And in the third frame, I started to draw detail into the open door behind our heroic gunman, but when it started to look bad, rather than use a whole bottle of white-out, I just cut out an index card in the shape I needed, and then taped it into place.

Also, Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination to the Supreme Court. Sigh of relief that a Born Again Christian with avowed anti-choice tendencies didn't make it onto the court, but time for a renewed sense of dread as we await Bush's next nominee. He almost has to go balls-to-the-wall conservative this time to sate his base who ate him alive on Miers, so we may see a judge so unpalatable to progressives that instead of Senate Republicans sniping about the nominees qualifications, we may see Senate Democrats talking filibuster and saying things like "worse than Bork." Yeah. I'd say this is shaping up to be Bush's worst week ever. Good for him.

White Sox Win First World Series Title in 88 Years! Can You Hear That? It's the Collective Yawn of an Entire Country

Oh my God! Oh my God! It's been 88 years since their last title? Oh my God!! Who gives a f**k?!! Yeah, that's right, I used quasi-profanity in my blog and I know my parents read it. Uh-huh, you know what I'm talking about. I just watched the end of the final game of the 2005 World Series (which may go down as the lowest-rated series in TV history) and it was, for the 2nd Series in a row, a sweep. As if baseball itself wasn't prone by its very nature to deaden the senses, watching one baseball team dominate the other for four straight games in what's supposed to be the culmination of the entire season? That's rough going. Hell, that's not even that fun when it's the home team doing the stomping. Red Sox got the nation's attention last year, in part, because they gave the viewing audience the comeback of all comebacks during the ALCS against the hated Yankees. They came back from a 3-0 game deficit to win. Looking back on it I can still hardly believe it. I think the World Series sweep of last year was just cake after that. (And yeah, I just used the expression "cake" for the first time ever.) Of course I'll be enduring the Suspense of the Ages next season waiting to find out who the Braves will choke against in the Division Series. I think they're going to introduce yet another round of playoffs next year, something Bud Selig is calling the Great Team-Off, where each team will play itself in a best of 3 showdown. It's going to be awesome.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Reading Nickel and Dimed Make Hulk Mad! Make Hulk Remember Time Hulk Was Nickel and Dimed by Scientologists! (And some stuff on drug testing, too.)

I finished Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich last night. It's an excellent book written by a very skilled writer. She's a little like Jonathan Franzen or Gore Vidal or Ayn Rand (actually not at all like Ayn Rand) in that she writes with a voice and perspective so distinctive and powerful that it gets in my head while I'm reading her words: whatever I'm thinking, reading, or doing, I feel like I should have her opinion on it. It's strongest after I've read a particular book with a strong authorial presence, (I felt doped up for a day or two after reading Rand's The Fountainhead; I had Franzie in my head for what felt like weeks after I finished The Corrections). This sensation of head-invasion was pretty strong this morning. While I was reading an unbelievable NYTimes article about Wal-Mart and their leaked memo about how they intend to cut employee benefits, I felt let down that nowhere in the article did they include Ehrenreich's opinions on the matter. Anyway, back to the book. Limited in its scope, Nickel and Dimed isn't trying to be an indictment of the capitalist system in this country (though it does a pretty fair job at that), but rather serves as a response to the bipartisan legislation in Clinton's second term that supposedly "ended welfare as we know it". The new law did not include any provision to monitor the effects of the legislation on those it's supposed to be lifting out of the "welfare state". So she did one. Her book butts right up against the popularly-held notion that if a poor person gets any kind of job and holds it, they'll be all right, and they'll rise above the poverty-line. Well, it just doesn't happen like that. Ehrenreich tries to subsist on the wages offered to working class people in three so-called "unskilled" jobs, in three different places, and she can't manage it.

She waits tables in Florida, scrubs floors in Maine, and works at a Wal-Mart in Minnesota. The first two chapters are eye-opening, but the third, the one about getting a low-paying retail job, is the one that's sticking with me as the most maddening. She applied at a few places in Minneapolis, Minnesota (right in the heart of a historically blue state), and two called her back, serious about hiring her: Menard's (a regional hardware store) and Wal-Mart. Of course, this being America and they being employers of "unskilled" labor, each one wanted her to submit to a drug test. The following is from a footnote on page 128.

"There are many claims for workplace drug testing: supposedly, it results in reduced rates of accidents and absenteeism, fewer claims on health insurance plans, and increased productivity. However, none of the claims has been substantiated, according to a 1999 report from the American Civil Liberties Union, "Drug Testing: A Bad Investment." Studies show that preemployment testing does not lower absenteeism, accidents, or turnover and (at least in the high-tech workplaces studied) actually lowered morale. Furthermore, the practice is quite costly. In 1990, the federal government spent $11.7 million to test 29,000 federal employees. Since only 153 tested positive, the cost of detecting a single drug user was $77,000. Why do employers persist in the practice? Probably in part because of advertising by the roughly $2 billion drug-testing industry, but I suspect that the demeaning effect of testing may also hold some attraction for employers."
Well, Barbara had had a "chemical indiscretion" in recent weeks, so she has to go through a detox regimen to get a job at either place. There are lots of products out there designed to "clean" out your system so a drug test won't detect any marijuana in your urine. As I've said on this blog before, heroin, cocaine, LSD, etc., are all water-soluble and wash out of your body in three days or less; marijuana is really the only drug detectible by most drug tests because it can stay in the body for months. So she takes a product sold at GNC called CleanP, and, just like that, she beats the test. So not only are drug tests essentially useless and without benefit to anyone, (not to mention a violation of our civil right not to refuse illegal search and seizure), but products designed to render the results of these drug tests virtually meaningless, exist and are sold openly and legally across the country. Ehrenreich says, "It rankles -- at some deep personal, physical level -- to know that the many engaging qualities I believe I have to offer -- friendliness, reliability, willingness to learn -- can all be trumped by my pee." Which I totally agree with. Anyway, I include her views on the subject to show that I'm not alone in thinking that drug tests are needless, without merit and, most importantly, humiliating.

Another thing I want to mention about her experience with these two jobs is this: she only learns she's passed both drug tests because she's told to report to orientation by both companies. She guesses she's hired, though she's never told so by anyone. This is sort of a quasi-hire. She thinks about it, and comes up with this theory for this ambiguity, which I think is dead-on:
"Why hadn't I asked all these questions about wages and hours before? For that matter, why hadn't I bargained with Roberta when she called to tell me I'd passed the drug test -- told her $7 an hour would be fine, as long as the benefits included a free lakeside condo with a hot tub? At least part of the answer, which I only figured out weeks later, lies in the employers' deft handling of the hiring process. First you are an applicant, then suddenly you are an orientee. You're handed the application form and, a few days later, you're being handed the uniform and warned against nose rings and stealing. There's no intermediate point in the process in which you confront the potential employer as a free agent, entitled to cut her own deal. The intercalation of the drug test between application and hiring tilts the playing field even further, establishing that you, and not the employer, are the one who has something to prove. Even in the tightest labor market -- and it doesn't get any tighter than Minneapolis, where I would probably have been welcome to apply at any commercial establishment I entered -- the person who has precious labor to sell can be made to feel one down, way down, like a supplicant with her hand stretched out."
She goes on later to talk about how the taboo against discussing one's pay helps all employers keep wages down, even in a tight labor market. If Target pays $9/hr. and Wal-Mart pays $7/hr., how does someone working at Wal-Mart know to make the move over to Target to do the same work, if no one at Target is saying how much they're making? Especially if there is no real interview in which to discuss the subject directly with the employer. At Wal-Mart, it is against company rules to talk about how much you make -- people have been fired for doing it.

I think I had to sign something at NeoPets that said as much, their reasoning being that such talk might cause "undue resentment" between co-workers. Of course we all did talk about it, quietly, always quietly, and yes, I remembered feeling resentment, but certainly not towards my co-workers. Remembering back to when I was hired there, I get angry, as much at myself as at them. I applied because the ad on Monster said $8-$10 an hour. After the first interview, I was told it would be more like $8 - $9 an hour. During the final interview, my would-be boss, Dale, asked if I remembered what the pay was. I said, "I thought she said $9," knowing she'd given me a range rather than a number, but thinking what an ass I'd be to utter the number 8 when they hadn't mentioned numbers yet. Dale and the COO, Lee, laughed heartily. "Nice try," Lee said, admiringly, as though I'd really been trying to make a joke, or pull a fast one. Simp-like, I laughed, too. And though I didn't get it then, I did later: they were never going to pay more than $8/hr for that job; they used $8-$10 in their ad as a lure, hoping to catch a timid, gullible fish like me who couldn't even say, "Give me a night to think about it," after I was told "You're hired." I just said, "Ok, great," and proceeded to work at that paltry wage for two weeks short of an entire year. Guurrrgghhh!! HULK SMASH!

Goddamn Scientologists. Anyway. At least I had medical insurance after three months with them, which should count for something. I guess.

I'd like to excerpt the entire book, but I think that would be both illegal and very tedious. So, instead, I suggest you check it out at the local library, or just go pick it up at the bookstore. It's illuminating and infuriating, and if that article I linked to at the top doesn't make you swear off Wal-Mart forever, than chapter three, "Selling in Minnesota", sure will. Enough blog. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Second Page of a Third-Rate Comic, a Link to A Graphic Novel, Ruminations on the Onset of Fall, and a Question About Calvin and Hobbes

For all none of you waiting for this, here's the second page of the Untitled Indian Superhero Comic. I'll be interested to read Heath's dissection of the art in the comments. For a few samples from a genuine graphic novel, fresh in bookstores and getting great buzz, check out this review of Black Hole. The reviewer seems to think this will be the best graphic novel of the year. I flipped through this one at the bookstore and it looked really fascinating, and creepy. Good stuff.

It is now officially cold in Georgia. There was about a week, maybe two, of cool, temperate weather before the hammer came down yesterday. The jet stream is so low now that, as of yesterday, it was dipping into the Gulf of Mexico which, I'm told by my local meteorologist, is very unusual for this time of year. Almost all of Georgia is on the northern side of the jetstream, which is certainly contributing to this cold weather. I'm not really used to this. Yesterday, outside my apartment building when I went to check the mail at 5:30 (and the damn mailman was still putting mail in the boxes), the temperature was 50 degrees with a cold wind blowing, which did I don't know what to the wind chill. It is already as cold in Decatur as it ever got in Burbank. Having real seasons again is going to be an adjustment.

By the way, totally not-related to anything, but is anyone planning on getting the Complete Calvin and Hobbes anytime soon? Looks like it would be fun to flip through, but is it worth the price or the shelf space? I'm on the fence.

Anyway. I've bored you nice folks long enough. More inanity tomorrow.

Monday, October 24, 2005

For No Particular Reason and Of No Particular Use: The Top Six Books I've Read This Year.

This week is looking to be a pretty major, if not historic news week. With the likely number of servicemen and women killed in Iraq expected to reach the staggering 2,000-mark by the end of the week, and with the possible indictments of at least two higher-ups in the White House expected, the week of Oct. 23rd, 2005 will probably go down in the history books as the abolute nadir of the Bush Presidency. Though I am very sad our country is in a needless war of choice that's killing so many of our nation's soldiers, I am, however, pleased to be around to see George W. Bush at his lowest ebb. It means that he can't do anything else to destroy the country while everyone hates him. With any luck, the hating will go on until he's out of office, but I'm doubting it. Anyway, until any of that stuff actually happens, I don't have any news-related stuff to talk about. I didn't see any new movies or finish any new books this weekend, so I come to you this Monday bereft of an awesome topic, which, I admit, is essentially par for the course. So, randomly, I have decided to rank the best books I've read this year. There are six and not five because there were six I wanted to list today. Five just wasn't cutting it. And so, without further ado, the six best books of the books I randomly selected over the course of the past 10 months. (Like I said, it isn't a list that's of any use).

1) Amsterdam. Frickin' awesome. It's really short so if you want to read a fantastic book in about a week (for those with not-so-busy schedules, a couple days), then pick this one up and give it a read. It's nasty and kind of hilarious at the same time, but don't let that turn you off in the same way the "dark comedy" label turns me off. It's really great.

2) Life of Pi. Peggy and I listened to this on the drive across the country. I can't say I agree with the conclusions the narrator, Pi Patel, draws from the terrible ordeal he experiences while stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger, but the writing is absolutely perfect and the novel transcends the form and becomes something more like myth. Again, that shouldn't be a turnoff, because I don't like mythology either, but this is seriously good stuff. I still haven't been able to shake some of the imagery from this book. Note: Probably don't LISTEN to this one. I still have the guy's Indian-accented voice in my head and that is NOT a good thing.

3) The Sportwriter. The main character of this book, Frank Bascombe, is one depressed guy. The novel is told from his perspective, so he never comes out and says he's depressed, but he does say that he suffers from "excessive dreaminess" which is a total macho cop put. Real men, as Bascombe thinks he is, do not get depressed. They need a euphemism like "dreaminess" to describe their sadness. He is interesting, in part, because he is not a reliable narrator. His child died a few years ago from some terrible disease and his marriage broke up soon after that. They have another kid who's fine and lives with the mother. So Frank's this dreamy, middle-aged guy trying to figure out what he's supposed to be doing by dating women who aren't right for him and working a job that distracts him from how depressed he is. But here's the strange thing: though he's very introspective he never really seems to examine what's wrong with him. In fact, more often than not, he's telling the reader how okay he feels, and how he's "over" the death of his child. There's more to say on this book. Maybe when I'm done with mine, you know, in 2009, I will. Anyway, the writing is fantastic, the plot is unpredictable, and the characterization seems less like people you know, than like people you know must be out there, somewhere. They are strange people who do and say unusual things, but Ford makes them compelling. Note: The sequel to this novel, Independence Day (not the basis for the alien invasion movie of the same name), won the Pulitzer Prize.

4) No Country For Old Men. I already blabbed about this one a few weeks ago, so I won't get into it again. If I wrote this list on another day, I might not include this book at all. But today I remember the artful violence (and I think such a thing does exist in fiction), the beautiful prose, and McCarthy's seeming inability to write an ending that doesn't exactly fit with the story that's come before it (meaning, no happy ending) and these qualities speak well for it, and so it gets the #4 slot. This is a good story, but not for those with weak constitutions.

5) Perdido Street Station. From what I've read about this one, Mieville's best-known novel is one of the best science-fiction novels written in the past 10 years. I don't read that much in this genre because the science-fiction stacks at the big-box bookstores I frequent seem a lot like minefields: any one of the books, once taken off the shelf, can blow up in your face with it's powder charge of hackneyed sci-fi conventions, plodding, needlessly multi-book plots, and not-so-great writing. So when I hear a particular science fiction book not only won't insult you, but will make you happy, as the Believer magazine insinuated when it interviewed the author a number of months back, I picked it up and read it. I don't agree with all of China Mieville's choices with this one, I think he neglected some fantastic opportunities for some beautiful, memorable moments, but what he does do very well is create and populate an alien world with interesting and believable characters. Mieville doesn't write with any kind of filter on and you get the feeling he's having a lot of fun writing his books. Often that is not a compliment, but it is in this case because Mieville is also an excellent writer. I put this one on my list mostly because, of all the books I've read this year, it was most like the great novels I've enjoyed most in my life: the kind you can't wait to get back to to find out what happens next. Because literary novels rarely achieve this (because many writers of literature even more rarely aspire to it, viewing such novels as tacky and overly concerned with the "reader"), I'm always happy to get a good, pulpy story I can get lost in. This is one of those.

6.) Best Friends. My mom reccomended this one to me -- she's a huge fan of Thomas Berger and she'd been telling me to read him for years, so finally, in the middle of the summer, I did. This one was short, so I figured if it wasn't to my taste, then I'd only have wasted a little time. But this fast-paced novel is very good and I think it would appeal to almost anyone who likes to read fiction. It's a simple story of two men with an improbable lifelong friendship. Improbable because one's a gregrarious but boorish man married to an aloof bank manager and the other is a single, courteous-to-a-fault ladies' man who's never been in love and who's relied all his adult life on a trust fund to offset his failed business (selling vintage cars). Part of what's so interesting about this novel is trying to figure out why these two like each other so much. Turns out that they kind of don't. The courteous one falls in love with the boorish one's wife (the bank manager), and, well, the story evolves from there. I don't think anyone who picked this up based on my reccomendation would be displeased when they finished the thing. It's an excellent novel about relationships (and no, it never once flirts with being a contender for an Oprah Book Club selection). It's worth reading. And short, too, because I know you guys are busy.

All right, I'm done. Everyone have an excellent Monday.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A Syrup-Drenched Bacchanalia in the Heart of Midtown Atlanta

Peggy and I had lunch here today. I can still feel it, two hours later. In my guts. Sitting. I really don't like R&B music and even though it was playing softly inside the restaurant the entire time we were there, the food was good enough that I hardly even noticed. Knight and Winans sure put their names on a good thing. Chicken and waffles. Very good, provided, of course, one drizzles syrup liberally over everything. And yes, I now weigh 280, 60 pounds heavier than the last time you LA people saw me. Anyway, that's the highlight of what I did today -- I don't expect it to get a whole lot better, but if it does, I'll share. On Monday.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Comic-Book Co-Written With L.G. and Concerning the Amazing Exploits of an Indian Superhero? Sure! What Could Go Wrong?

Hello everyone. To the left is the first page of a would-be comic book I started with L.G. my freshman year at film school. This was back in my Die Hard With A Vengeance hat-wearing days, and, though I'm fuzzy on what art of mine he'd seen that brought him to me, he suggested that we write a comic book together, and I would then draw it up. This appealed to me because a) I didn't know L.G., b) I didn't yet know to avoid L.G., and c) because he told me he knew someone who might be able to publish our finished product. I believed L.G. back then because he seemed like THE hot shit. He was confident, smooth, rented his own house (he didn't OWN did he?), knew he wanted to be a producer, and seemed to my 18-year old self like a guy who could get things done. We met twice or so over at his place. I ended up writing most of the text and action, figured how the thing was going to look, and then, of course, drew it. The price for all of this autonomy was that the comic had to be based on his idea for an Indian (dot, not the feather) secret-agent, superhero type. Sounded kind of goofy to me, but I was game. It was going to be published after all, right? I'm not sure why precisely our "collaboration" fell apart, though I guess it was probably because I realized I was spending a lot of time writing and drawing a comic book I had zero interest in for reasons that were vague at best. Anyway, the result is uber-dumb, but the layout for this thing turned out pretty well by my standards. The story, such as it is, is the hero has to break into a building and steal a McGuffin (which was a term, coined by Hitchcock, that I had just learned in film-school. A McGuffin is an object whose attributes and descriptors are essentially irrelevant so far as the story's concerned; all that really matters is that it is central in some conflict, meaning someone wants to take it, and someone else doesn't want to give it up. Anyway, just for my non-film-geek readers ). So the hero goes into this building to get this McGuffin. That's about as far as I got. I shall post more pages (there are 5 in all) when I'm short on a good blog idea for the day. You know how it is.

Also, I wanted to mention that, today, I had two surreal moments of admiration for people I think are reprehensible. 1) Saddam Hussein. He is an awful guy who did unspeakably evil things, and it's comforting to know that he'll likely be put to death, but there's something, I don't know, stirring(?), about reading Saddam's testimony from his first day on trial in Iraq. He is charged with barbaric acts of cruelty, acts that he is undoubtedly guilty of, but he stands there, a defendant on trial for his life, thundering in the courtroom that the Kurdish judge and the entire court doesn't have the authority to try him because he is still the elected president of Iraq. Saddam didn't give them an inch. When the guards tried to grab his arms while they led him away, he straight up fought with them to walk out on his own and he won. In the end, they just walked behind him. I'm not sure what it is exactly I like about this. I guess I like seeing people, even monsters, keep their dignity in the face of death; staying true to who they are all the way to the end. Louis XIV went to the scaffold dry-eyed and coatless on a cold day. He died with his dignity intact. You know, William Wallace style. And it will be pleasant to hear Saddam meet the same end he'd sentenced so many others, it will also be gratifying to hear that he died honorably. We'll see if he can keep it up all the way to the gallows.

And 2) Tom DeLay. The Smoking Gun has his mugshot online and it is great. He is smiling like he's having the greatest day of his life which is, of course, the absolute smartest thing he could have done when posing for a mugshot. Publicists are going to be showing this picture to their clients worldwide. "This," they'll say, "is how you do it." Looking at the picture it's not even altogether clear that it's even a mugshot. If anyone's capable of steering themselves through this fetid legal swamp comprised of their own base, criminal behavior, I think it's this guy. Anyway, his killer political instincts are still in full-effect. Even still, I sincerely hope he gets convicted and has to spend a little while in jail. Because he is a very dangerous guy when he is in Congress. The little guy gets in the neck all the harder when the Hammer's driving in the nail.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Even Though She Didn't Deign to Speak To Me, at Least She Didn't Laugh at Me When I Asked What Her Writing Hours Were.

I went to the Margaret Mitchell House last night to see this woman: Barbara Ehrenreich. It wasn't actually at the house itself, but rather a building/museum adjacent to the MM House. (Even the MM House isn't really the MM House anymore -- it's burned down twice, once in 94 and again in 96 -- what stands now is a replica/restoration). Anyway. She signed books BEFORE and after the reading, which was a first for me. I got my book, Nickel and Dimed, signed before the signing. Since I like to describe my interactions with famous authors at signings, (as they are often pretty ridiculous) I'll describe this one, too, even though it is not ridiculous.

(It is my turn at the signing table. I stand in front of Barbara Ehrenreich. I slide the book across to her.)
Me: Hi.
Barb: (looks at me expectantly)
Me: Oh. Just your name is fine. (For those who aren't book-signing whores, when you get to the table, the authors mostly just want to know whether you want the book inscribed or just signed -- I always go for just signed -- having a book inscribed seems a little needy to me, as though one is hoping someone else will happen on the book in their house, see it's TO you, FROM the author him or herself, and think you and the author go way back. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that though.)
Barb: (nods, finds the title page, signs, slides the book back across the table)
Me: Thanks a lot.
Barb: (bored, casually appraising nod)

There you have it. Another celebrity interaction where the celebrity manages to get through the entire experience without uttering so much as a syllable. (The others being Shatner and Brad Pitt).

Anyway. So at 7PM (more like 7:08PM), Ehrenreich is introduced and takes the lectern in front of a pretty crowded room. She told us that for her new book, Bait and Switch, which is about being a white collar worker trying to find a job in the corporate world, she did much of her research here in Atlanta. She said she did not have a pleasant experience in our fair city, she said. She was rejected often. Even though Bait and Switch has gotten, seemingly, universally bad reviews, I kind of want to read it now to see what Atlanta did to her. Might make me feel better. She told us about the age discrimination she experienced during her immersion journalism. She was told by many a "career coach" (a profession she eagerly scorned) that she shouldn't put anything on her resume that went back farther than 10 years. She was given personality tests galore, all of them, she's discovered, based in absolute nonsense. The most famous, the Miers-Briggs test, has essentially been debunked, she said, because a person can take a test and present one personality on Tuesday, and a completely different personality on Thursday. But corporations absolutely rely on this stuff to decide who to hire. Her central charge against America's corporations, particularly as it relates to the hiring of its employees, is that part of the reason employers demand applicants do personality tests, is because they're looking for exactly ONE kind of personality. A personality that is happy, ever-perky, optimistic and, most of all, obedient. If you are outside this personality type in any way, the modern American corporation wants nothing to do with you. If you are over 45 (in some industries, if you are over 35), they want nothing to do with you. Based on her experiences trying to find a job as a PR person, she believes that likability has taken over competence as the primary reason companies hire people. If you "fit in" with the corporate culture, you're essentially in. She cited Bush, the self-proclaimed CEO president, as evidence of how pervasive the new corporate culture is in America. He hired Mike Brown to head FEMA, not because he was qualified, but because he was a nice guy. He nominated Harriet Miers for Associate Justice not because she was qualified, but because she's a nice lady.

I like Barbara Ehrenreich. I agree with a lot of what she says. Sometimes, though, I get the sense that part of the reason she's so popular is because she's essentially flattering all the snipy ne'er do'ells out there (like me) who believe it's not their fault they're without employment, but rather it's the corporations's fault that people haven't found work. It's the SYSTEM! And, maybe like a dope, I do often believe that. But! Do I believe that interviewing employers would rather see a smiling newbie who won't say no to unpaid overtime and massive projects they'll never get credit for doing, than someone who doesn't seem like too funny a guy but has exactly the qualifications they're looking for? I kind of doubt it. I think they'll take the qualified guy almost every time. Maybe that's more the case in jobs that require a lot of technical expertise or a very specific skill-set, and not so much the case with something more nebulous like PR, but it seems to me that most jobs posted out there want quite a lot of experience, and would probably hire it if they found it. Maybe that's not true anymore, I don't know.

She talked about a growing culture of incompetence in corporate America. Seeing the plight of Delta Airlines, with its top execs, each with an MBA from a top school under thier arm, unable to find a way to be profiitable like Southwest or Jet Blue for going on 5 YEARS, you might think there's something to that idea.

She said that the middle class is shrinking in this country. That much is undeniable. 25% of the US are essentially the working poor, she said, and the figure is growing. The percentage of the nation's wealth in the hands of the top 1% is growing. She said without a national will to fight the current policy in Washington, which is "give the corporations whatever they want", then nothing will change. HP, was an example she cited. Billions of dollars were given to HP in the form of tax breaks, explicitly for "job creation". HP never added any jobs, but they sure as hell cut 15,000 of them. Why don't the taxpayers get their money back? She asks these questions and others.

Even though Barbara Ehrenreich is really left (nearly as left as me), I think a lot of what she writes speaks to people on both sides of the political spectrum because what she writes and speaks about is true. Discrimination in hiring is rampant in the working world, age discrimination being one of the worst kinds and one of the least talked about. Even conservatives have experienced age discrimination when trying to find a job and know it's not fair and that thier party's representatives have zero interest in doing anything about it. Anyway. She talked for about half an hour and then turned it into a Q&A for the second half-hour, and the she was done at 8PM on the dot. Though it was brief, it was informative and interesting. Russell Banks is going to be there at the beginning of next month, so I shall return to MM House. I'll have to call ahead to find out how many books he'll sign. Cause I'll bring 'em all. I don't care.

I worked today for a friend of my father-in-law named Mike Ryan. He runs his company, a franchise of ITEX (a bartering company), out of his home. I folded 1,000 8" X 11" pieces of paper in half, sealed them with clear stickers, and tomorrow I'll put mailing labels and stamps on them. My back's killing me. And yes, this is what I'm qualified for.

And below: the Margaret Mitchell House. Until tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Taste of What I'm Doing on Tuesday, the 18th of October, 2005

Today, I am working on the book. I am going through Chapter 11 right now, revising and rewriting, improving (hopefully) as well as cutting some of the bloat out of it. The first page of Chapter 11 is pictured to the left, complete with my mostly useless revisions. There are two more chapters after this one in the first half of the book. Note to those who bother to read the sample page: The first two lines, the ones in bold just below ELEVEN, are just for me; they let me know where in the book's timeline I'm at so I don't have to go back into the text to investigate each time I have a chronology question. Just a fun tidbit.

Also, I may be going to see Barbara Ehrenreich at the Margaret Mitchell House here in Atlanta tonight. She is the author of the bestselling, Nickel and Dimed, which is an example of "immersion journalism" about her experiences trying to live on minimum-wage in this country. Turns out it is impossible. She's got a new book and I'm hoping she'll be an interesting speaker. I'll let you know how it went tomorrow. Back to "writing".

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sword of Shannara, the Graphic Novel: A Taste of My Unusual (and Former) Obsession

Art, art, the musical fruit. Nah, I don't know why I wrote that. Other than to say that instead of my usual Monday diatribe against whatever, I'm putting up more high-school artwork. And since Heath told me how to put up multiple images, this one's going to have a record 4. That's right, four.

Rolling down the left side of the page are three of the four comic pages I did in an attempt to adapt Terry Brooks's Sword of Shannara. I was really hot for this novel for a long time. Hmmm. That doesn't really do it justice. What I mean is that for years and years, The Sword of Shannara was my ultra-favoritist book of all time and the story monopolized all of my creative efforts. I even attempted a (Jesus, did I really?) filmed adapatation of this book when I was a freshman in high-school. I think I got about 45 seconds "in the can", so to speak. To think on it now makes me cringe a little. No, it makes me cringe a lot.

When I was eleven or twelve I drew up about 35-40 pages of an attempted adaptation (not shown here), only to quit the whole thing when I saw that, in the end, it didn't actually look as much like a real graphic novel as I thought it did. It actually looked a lot more like the result of a determined 11-year old drawing funny-book pictures with word balloons from a pulpy fantasy novel he liked. Maybe one day, when I'm really having to scrape the bottom of the barrel to post up artwork on this here blog, I'll post some of those earlier drawings. Anyway. After a while, my enthusiasm for the book diminished to a mere nostalgic fondness, and my opinion of it stayed that way right up until 2000 when I read Lord of the Rings for the first time. That's when I realized Terry Brooks hadn't really written his own book, but rather a summary of the three book of LOTR with different names and a very slightly changed plot. The similiarities are actually astonishing. The man in black holding the young man up is Allanon, the Gandalf-figure. The young man, Flick, is the Sam Gamgee character. As you might have guessed, all of the LOTR characters have Shannara doppelgangers. I can't believe Del Rey and all of his readers let Brooks get away with it.

Anyway, before this revelation, back in 1994 or 95, I tried my adaptation again and got just four pages drawn up this time. Only three are pictured here because the first page got lost somewhere in all of the moves I've made since high-school. I showed my art teacher in Raleigh at the time, Bob Rankin, and he entered the four pages, along with a bunch of everyone else's stuff, into an art competition and the four pages together won a secondary award at the show. So this is award-winning artwork you're looking at guys. Feast your eyes.

I include the last page because it is a color scan of the final page and shows a little better how the paper and the ink have aged since I drew this stuff. The first three images are black and white scans so they look pretty crisp. But the last one looks more like how the drawings really look now. The ink has gone almost to red in places and the paper has yellowed a lot more than supposedly "archival-quality" paper is supposed to.

Four pages seem to be about as far into writing and drawing a comic book as I can go before I... I don't know... lose interest? Can't think of what next to draw? Reach the limit of my range? Find something good on TV? All I know is that whenever I'm able to get an entire comic page committed to paper it feels like luck. Anything more than three or four pages in a row is just beyond me.

Two last things. Charlie Rocket died. I didn't know who he was until I looked him up on a Google Images search and then I knew exactly who he was. He used to be on SNL back in the day, but we may all know him best as the bad guy in Dumb and Dumber. Not the fat one who dies after taking his own rat poison, but the guy who hired that guy. The police are saying that he killed himself out in a field by, and this is terrible, cutting his own throat. Poor bastard. Here's the link to the story. Very sad.

Also, on a much lighter note, I found one of my new favorite songs on a site called For fans of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, MC Chris was the voice of MC PeePants on like three or four hilarious episodes. Go to the site, click on Raps, and you'll be able to download his first album fo' free. The aforementioned favorite song is called "Fett's Vette". David Speck, you Boba-lovin' bastich you, if you haven't heard this song already (I kinda think you must have), you're going to freak out. It's good stuff. All right. I am out.

Friday, October 14, 2005

For Your Still-Technically-Friday Inanity: Inane Mini-Reviews of Good Night and Good Luck, and The New Wallace and Gromit Movie. Yup. You Enjoy That.

Sorry I'm late with the post. I was a movie-seein' fool today and have a couple of very brief, spoiler-free mini-reviews for you. Firstly, Peggy and I saw George Clooney's new directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck. The movie's about Edward R. Murrow and CBS's efforts to expose the witch hunt being led by Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee back in the fifties. It's shot beautifully in black and white and, well, David Strathairn as Ed Murrow is fantastic, really fun to watch, but then again, I can't remember a single time when he hasn't been great on-screen. But in the end, I think this movie suffers from a director who's still learning, (not all actors-turned-directors get it right on the first, or even second, try), and a script that has no real ambition in it. This film was originally intended as a made-for-TV-movie for CBS, the kind of big-name TV movie that Clooney's remake of Fail Safe was a few years ago (which was pretty damn good, I thought). This story felt small, too small, like even after its big-screen rewrite it would still rather be on television. I was thinking from the trailer (there I go again, trying to get a sense of the movie from the trailer), that the plot would likely include a lot of clever,devious, backroom maneuverings necessary to get around network and corporate censors too afraid to take on the crazed senator, and righteous stands taken against viral tyranny infecting the whole country. Not so much. Good people doing their job, which is nice, but isn't the stuff of high drama. To me, this wasn't a bad movie at all, but it did seem like a movie that could have been a whole lot better. Good Night, and Good Luck was a lot like The Insider in that they are both movies about the extent to which this country's corporations will allow (or, more often, DISallow), a free and open press, but for me, The Insider was a far better indictment against quashing the press in favor of money, fear and politics, and just a far better movie overall. Michael Mann's best film to date is filled to bursting with backroom wheeling and dealing, righteous stands taken, courage left and right, and it's got Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. In fact, go out and rent it if you haven't seen it. For a great review/examination, check out Film Slack. Then see it, you won't be disappointed.

After Good Night and Good Luck, we went to Oxford Comics over on Piedmont and it is an awesome comic book store. Lots of awesome stuff for geeks to buy, like, for example, a new hardcover edition of Alan Moore's Watchmen with a fancy slipcase for just $75. Mmmm. Christmas. After THAT, we drove back to Decatur and saw Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I like Nick Parks and I like Wallace and Gromit. I've seen all of their short films which are great. They're kinetic and very amusing, and this movie managed to be both of those things as well. It was exactly as I expected, though with some very funny sexual innuendoes that I wasn't. In the end though, I just thought perhaps the movie suffered a little from being overly, oh, I don't know... British. Parks is always careful not to be too funny, or too thrilling, or too scary, or too anything. Everything is just so, hand-crafted (from time to time, you can see the animators' fingerprints in the plasticine characters, which is kind of endearing) and often I thought to myself, upon seeing some new invention or 3-D animation technique, "Wow, that's pretty inventive," but it felt like all of Parks's painstaking work to create a quaint, uniquely British feel, which I took as an effort to make sure no one had too strong a reaction to any one moment in the movie, had a cumulative effect of creating a film that makes not much of an impression at all. Pleasant to watch while it's on, but when it's gone, it flies right out of mind. But lots of cute bunnies.

Well time is running out before it's Saturday, so I need to post this to keep my weekday streak alive. Hope everyone had a great Friday and everyone has a good weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Another Drawing and Reflections on A Mystery Novel That's Not Really a Mystery Novel At All. Or Is It?

Here is the other drawing I promised in the Knights Killing Monsters series I did for Fradley's short film. I stole the creature design from a cover of The Incredible Hulk comic book -- the shadowy face with just the teeth and eyes glowing white is totally implausible, but convincing somehow. All told, the drawing holds up all right, I think, but everytime I see it all I think of is what Heath said when he first saw it. The bastard. Just look to the comments section to see if he recollects.

What else? A new poll says that only 2% of African-Americans believe George W. Bush is doing a good job. That's the lowest approval rating for a President among American blacks since they started polling. ran the story with the headline: Unbelievable! Is it really? I don't think so. Especially after Katrina, it actually seems totally believable.

Ah yes, I finished The Colorado Kid by Stephen King a few days ago. I'm going to go ahead and not reccomend it -- not because it's not worthy of an afternoon's reading, but more because it's likely not to interest any but the most diehard King fans. I say it's worthy because it is the first work of fiction I've ever read that goes out of its way to reject the trappings of "story". The Colorado Kid is not a story. The setting, such as it is, is the upstairs office of a small-time newspaper. Inside are two old newspapermen telling their new reporter intern about the honest-to-God-mystery they happened to be directly involved in back in 1980. And though the "story" they tell does have a beginning, it does not have a middle or an end. Two teenagers discover a body on the beach without any identification, that's the beginning. Who is he? Where'd he come from? Could be a good story, (the kind with middles and ends) you're thinking, but any reader who might be suspecting a whodunit gets a good hard punch in the gut from King in short order. Turns out the mystery man choked on a piece of sandwich he'd been eating and died. Hardly foul play. One can't help, upon learning this, to take a closer look at how many unread pages sit clasped between thumb and fingers on your right hand. Quite a few, but story's over, right? Yes and no. There are a few, smaller mysteries wrapped up in the larger one, but the geezers don't have the answers because there aren't any hard answers to this story. The Colorado Kid is like an anti-mystery story, and if you're not really in the mood for an uneventful literary experiment from someone who doesn't exactly specialize in avant-garde experimental fiction, no reason to bother with this one.

One final thing about The Colorado Kid. On his website, Stephen King posted up a comment in response to an "error" a USA Today reviewer spotted in the book. Here is the comment:
"The review of The Colorado Kid in today's issue of today's [sic] USA Today mentions that there was no Starbuck's in Denver in 1980. Don't assume that's a mistake on my part. The constant readers of the Dark Tower series may realize that that is not necessarily a continuity error, but a clue."
Very interesting. It's a cheap way to make your boring story interesting, but at least he tried. That's all I got today. See ya tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Is It Wednesday Again Already? Yaaaayyyy!

This is me. This was taken in the waning days of our time in Burbank, CA. I've posted another photo on this blog a month or so ago, that was taken mere seconds before this one. They're both equally goofy. I share the joy with all of you.

What did I do today? Well, I scrubbed and cleaned the toilets in my apartment today. They be sparklin' now. Well, not exactly. The one toilet we use to flush away our cat's, ahem, leavings, intermixed as they are with the flushable kitty litter, tends to get pretty nasty over time. It took some real work this afternoon to get that commode cleaned, but even still, there are pink streaks in the back that I can't get up for the life of me. Anyway, it's much better than it was before. Now that I know how to use those new flushable toilet scrubbers, those toilets will stay clean and appealing -- kind of like a gleaming white, porcelain friend you look forward to hanging out with. Sorry, this paragraph was kind of gross, but you know, it's what I did.

I found something interesting online today. Rick Moranis has recorded a COUNTRY ALBUM. I know, it's kind of surreal, but I listened to a sample track and it's sort of funny. I don't expect this thing to be a blockbuster by any stretch, but Rick Moranis seems like an okay guy, so I won't even make fun of him for this. Good for him, trying something new.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Random Guy is Bored With Yet Another Negative Eclipse; Wants to Talk About Yanni's New Album

I drew this using Photoshop this evening (with the aid of my low-rent WACOM tablet and pen-stylus). As for who this character is, I have no idea. He seems like a pretty easy-going guy, though. Bland, even. His mouth is open to speak, but I'm sure whatever's coming out isn't particularly interesting. Thought I'd post it up to show some new stuff as well as the old.

A Lot of My Drawings Feature Crazed, Open-Mouthed Psychos Attacking Others With Weapons: Here is One of Them

A short posting today after yesterday's lengthy rant.

To the left is a drawing I did for Jeff Fradley's 4th-Year Project entitled, Illyavich Rasputin (I'm pretty sure that's the title). Some readers of this blog had more to do with the film than I did, and probably remember the film's plot better than me, but as I recall, Rasputin was about a boy who had nightmares about monsters in his room, discovers one of them is real, and has to fight it on a dark and stormy night. The end result was very impressive and won Fradley a grant or scholarship given by the late, great Robert Wise. Anyway, during pre-production, I was commissioned to draw the covers to two fictional comic-books, each one featuring knights battling monsters. This is one of them. Looking at this drawing anew, I'm noticing a few things about it.

1) The knight's arm is not only the bulgiest I've ever drawn, it is easily the hairiest. He's one hirsute, dragon-slaying bastard.

2) It's pretty obvious to me that I not only didn't know (and still don't know) what genuine medieval armor looks like, but that I did no research at all to find out. What I did draw looks kinda cool, I guess. Apparently he straps on his chest plate (with a manly six-pack, helpfully, already hammered into it) onto his torso with leather straps and buckles stretched over a torn and threadbare shirt. I guess chafing wasn't a worry.

3) Drawing the dragon as silhouette was an awesome time-saver. Looks kind of graphic and pleasing to the eye, and all I had to do was stay inside the lines with my Sharpie. Sweet.

If I knew how to post two images onto one post, I'd put the other one up, but since I don't, it'll have to go up another time. Something for everyone to look forward to.

Monday, October 10, 2005

My First AudioBlog!

this is an audio post - click to play

The Networks Give the People What They Want: Even if They Want Right-Wing Jingoistic Nonsense or Fuzzy-Headed, Spiritualist Crap

Has anyone seen NBC's new show called E-Ring? (Here's a link to E-RING'S WEBSITE). I watched this show on Friday afternoon over at my folks' house. The notion of right-wing or left-wing television shows is, to me anyway, a relatively new one. It seems like there've been a lot of shows in the past with more or less conservative undercurrents running through them. Like The A-Team. On The A-Team, guns were good, government was ineffectual and often wrong-headed, and, week after week, making things right through force was the only solution. Roseanne might be considered an example of left-skewing television because the show depicted the life and times of a working class family dealing realistically with issues like premarital sex and how people live just above the poverty line. (The show skewed left because conservatives generally prefer to ignore those issues in the hopes they'll go away). But these shows seemed less about creating Culture War Propaganda for one side or the other than about trying to make television people wanted to watch. They just happen to skew a certain way. These days, everything I see is through a Red State/Blue State prism. SUVs and trucks are Red State, cars are Blue State. Dr. Phil is Red State, Oprah is Blue State. SpikeTV is Red State, Comedy Central is Blue State. Blah blah, blah, Bob Lablaw. This divisive perspective has dropped over my eyes, I think, in part, because of the Uniter we currently have in the White House, as well as all the Uniters we have in the Congress (at least until '06). Sometimes, I admit, I'm just reading too deeply into a show or a phenomenon or whatever; but other times, the political bent implicit in whatever I'm viewing is slapping me in the face. An example of this face-slapping political bent is NBC's E-Ring, the most Ultra-Right-Wing television show I have ever seen.

The show follows JT (played by Benjamin Bratt) who's just been promoted to working in the upper echelons of the Pentagon, which I guess is probably in the Pentagon's E-ring. JT works under Colonel McNulty (Dennis Hopper). In the episode I watched, a terrorist has been spotted by the CIA somewhere in Afghanistan and JT has to assign his own buddies, the guys he just left to work at the Pentagon, the task of "taking him down". In order for JT to do this, he has to fight his way through so many liberal obstacles, a non-political viewer might wonder why these military guys don't just delete all of these pesky rules and jail these hemmers and hawers so that they can just go kill terrorists with impunity. The writers and producers of E-Ring are so blatantly producing right-wing, Bush Administration propaganda, I half-suspect them of writing E-Ring as satire. But since nothing else in or around the show (the marketing, the dialogue, Benjamin Bratt) is remotely intelligent, I'm going to assume it's not satire, and that NBC is just out to make a buck in the same way Fox News is: by appealing to a broad segment of the population that likes their worldview simple and wants that worldview reinforced, not challenged. And MAN does E-Ring reinforce a simplistic worldview. Here a few of the most egregious examples of left-hating jingoism from ONE EPISODE:

1) Col. Dennis Hopper has to move an aircraft carrier out of a body of water that's currently blocked by a barge piloted not just by environmentalists, but French environmentalists. Hopper calls in the French ambassador who is predictably unhelpful and arrogant. At the end of the short meeting, Hopper tells
the ambassador that he didn't expect him to be helpful, but that he was merely going through the proper channels before he took more "direct action" (read: awesome black ops that don't require boring pie-hole flapping). The French ambassador looks satisfyingly rattled as he's ushered out of the office. Later, shouting into a phone as JT enters the room, we hear Hopper shouting something dirisive about saving the "French gay whales!" At the end of the episode, Hopper uses a FROG team to go and disable the environmentalist's barge's engines. How satisfying this must have been for die hard Bush voters.

2) All US soldiers are saints. When JT phones his buds back in Afghanistan to tell them the bad news about their new assignment, we see them jovial though exhausted. They are, to a man, smiling, good-looking and well-adjusted. Happy to do a day's work for the US military. Sure they're scared they might get killed, but there's no worry whether what they're doing is right, or even if what they're doing has a purpose. You or me or anyone would be hard-pressed to find a memoir of war written by a real soldier that was content to hover over the surface of life in-country the way E-Ring is. I know it's essentially a brainless action show, and so they can't really be expected to delve too deeply into character, but the fact that these characters are waiting for their orders at the base in Bagram, the same place still uncounted Afghan prisoners were tortured to death by US soldiers, makes their sunlit good-humor a little galling all the same.

3) JT gets a photo of a terrorist baddy who wants to use a nuke on soldiers in Iraq. The computers offer only 60% certainty that the photo is of the terrorist baddy in question. When Bratt takes this to the hot 32-year old blonde woman who is, of course, "one of the most powerful people working in the Pentagon", and tells her he's ready to go to grab the guy, she says no. She is now the show's bitchy antagonist. Poor Benjamin Bratt, we think. Why can't he send his friends into Pakistan to kill whomever he wants? He's probably right, right? And he sure means well, doesn't he?

4) Later, when JT gets 86% certainty on his terrorist baddy, he gives a heartfelt speech to the Pentagon people gathered (who, because they talk a lot, are a lot more wishy-washy than JT is), that I'm pretty sure Bush has given about 400 times. I've forgotten it already because I can't bear to keep that sort of bullshit in my head for any time at all. Anyway, his speech is so good apparently, that it brings bitchy antagonist woman around, and she consents to the "op", though warily -- she is, after all, still a liberal who only cares about that whole "rule of law" thing. After the meeting, the Head of the Joint Chiefs comes around, asks a couple questions, and then says, "Kick ass." He really says, "Kick ass." I'm not making that up.

The show ends with a sequence that was hilariously reminiscent of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's brilliant puppet movie, Team America. The soldiers in E-Ring go into a very shady-looking Pakistani bazaar filled with outrageously-long-bearded terrorists who are all making crazy eyes at each other to show off their zeal for killing infidels. It would be really funny if they didn't mean it seriously, which I think they did. So it's kind of disturbing.

The show's terrible, but I think it may be a harbinger of things to come. 24, the action-show on Fox, does some of the same things that E-Ring does (villainizing liberal organizations like Amnesty International by depicting them as bull-headed troublemakers out to make America less safe), but that's been a fairly recent development on that show, and it's not really what the show's about (then again, maybe it is). But all those people who say that Hollywood is the leftist bastion of hedonists who want to spread their gospel of secular government and uninhibited sexuality now officially have nothing to complain about. For a long time Christian zealots and right-wingers had Touched By An Angel, Seventh Heaven, Joan of Arcadia, and Jag (among others) to hold up as exemplars of "good" television. Crossing Jordan, Medium, and The Ghost Whisperer, are among the new "Christian-friendly" shows that adhere to spiritual, non-secular outlooks and through their premises, tacitly state that there is an afterlife.
Now, the values and beliefs of those kinds of viewers are being embraced by supposedly mainstream shows that aren't even specifically targeting the "family values" crowd.

My Name Is Earl
is an example of this new philosophy in television. These network heads think, "If you can get a spiritual, monotheistic message into your show without being so obvious as to alienate your non-religious viewers, why not do it? That's where the country's going, isn't it?" So in a show that supposedly skews young and urban, as My Name is Earl is supposed to do, a spiritual bent is a central part of the show. Earl, the central lunkhead of the show, wins $100,000 on a scratch-off. He does a bad thing and loses it. When he does good again, he gets it back again, miraculously. I think he even uses the word "miracle" (Born Agains love stuff like that). Because Earl heard Carson Daly call the phenomenon "karma", that's what he calls it himself in all subsequent episodes. But it's not really karma. It's the Righteous Hand of God Himself entering into the narrative to reward good and punish evil. In each show, the bad people (namely Earl's ex-wife) get their just desserts, and the good ones, because they do good and mean well, always have a happy ending. Though Earl calls it karma, that weirdo Hindu thing, he's not too bright, so he can be forgiven for mistaking the benevolent spirit of Jesus for some far-east nonsense. Simplicity. Complexity is bad. That's what HBO's for. ABC is now doing its part to make one of my favorite shows, Lost, into a somewhat more Christian-friendly show. In just the most recent episode, Locke, the un-Locke-ian spiritualist on the show, forces Jack, the island's resident Empiricist, to make a "leap of faith" and press some button that may or may not save the world from an unknown, but dire fate. "Have faith", Locke tells Jack. A message any good Christian viewer (the kind who normally stays away from anything but Seventh Heaven and The 700 Club) can happily get behind. So Jack does push the button and the world, we are to assume, has been saved, because the Believer took charge and had faith that the Empiricist would embrace his better angels and do the right thing. Take the "leap of faith" and all that. Even if this isn't an out-and-out cynical grab for Christian viewers, even if it's just television writers playing with issues of spirituality that interest them, what these shows ARE DOING is furthering the cause of magical thinking and setting back the cause of reality-based judgment and thought; these shows foster simple solutions to complex problems and make it all the easier for a populace to elect someone like George W. Bush not once, but twice. I know tv is just a part of the problem, but it does seem to be getting worse, and it makes me uneasy.

Anyway. Monday blogs are always too long; sorry about that. Here's a question for my readers who also use Blogger: How do you post a picture at the end of a post (or even in the middle?) I can only get photos to load at the top. I'm trying to break up the monotony of these long and wordy posts with a few mind-soothing images interspersed throughout. Lemme know. Happy Columbus Day er'rybody!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

It's Like Y2K All Over Again... Except, Maybe This is The Real Deal

I know I keep popping up. Quickly, I thought I'd share this article I read from the NYTimes. As interesting as the article is, what seems most interesting is why the government is so worried (in a way that they've never been worried before), when all they keep saying is that none of us should be worried. Kind of incongruent. Here's the link:

King knows how it all goes down.

If you're interested in stoking the embers of fear into a rising flame, go ahead and read this one. It's the good stuff.

Your Weekend Image, Saving You From Ugly Guys Every Saturday

Last week it was Tom Delay, this week it's Bill Maher. I just can't let these ugly dudes ride the top of my blog page all weekend long. I can't do that to my readers. So here's this.

I did this for our production design class for Charles McClennahan back at the Film School, O Charles of the tragic family story. Embezzlement, suicide, disgrace, etc. Terrible. And, what's more, he sounded exactly like Kermit the Frog, and that made him the most fun teacher to do an impression of ("Every breath I take is a miracle!"), just behind RST's ("I'm gonna get you!") but just in front of BM's unbelievably awesome skeleton laugh ("Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!"). Anyway. Were a production designer to do an illustration for a bar in a screenplay, it might, I emphasize MIGHT, look a little something like this. Except the man behind the bar would probably not look like a giant, and the man entering the bar from the surface of the sun would have a head more centered on top of his neck, rather than just a little to the right. Charles did give me a hard time about the head, and deservedly so, but he liked it overall. The drawing's not so good close up, but with this blog, I hope to include the not-so-hot drawings I've done, as well as the ones I like. Balance, you know.

Friday, October 07, 2005

You Know, I Like Bill Maher's Show and All, But I Think He's Probably Kinda Gross as a Human Being

Today I'm up in Lawrenceville holding down the fort for my folks (the fort being their house) while my dad's selling lasers at Georgia Tech and my mom's attending a quilting related function. They've got their house up on the market, so in case someone looks at the house, I'm here to evacuate my folks' hairy keeshond dogs before prospective buyers (if any brave the all-day rain we've got down south today) catch a glimpse of them, or see any obvious signs that dogs are kept in the house. "Hairy Keeshonds Live Here!" isn't much of a selling point, I guess. Anyway, so I'm up here catching up on some Tivo that my folks have stored up and I watched the latest epsiode of Bill Maher's HBO show, Real Time with Bill Maher. Thus the photo of Bill's unfortunate mug posted above.

I really like his show, moreso than I liked his show on ABC back in the day, Politically Incorrect. I really look forward to watching it. On HBO he can say whatever he likes, his guests can say whatever they like, and the chances that some corporate parent is going to get up in arms over some opinion Maher's going to share seems less likely, HBO being one of the few pay cable networks that deserve their "we're just as cool as they say" stature. On last week's show he had Christopher Hitchens, the British, "contrarian" raconteur who hates a wide range of people including Mother Theresa, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, and George Galloway. Galloway is a British politician who's best known in the US for being very opposed to the war in Iraq. As it happened, Galloway was also on the show and Christopher Hitchens has written very publicly (and very recently) about his low regard for Galloway, so I was expecting some fireworks. Well it never quite got to that level on the show because Maher likes to keep the discussion moving from topic to topic, so he let them go back and forth on Iraq for a few minutes, and fireworks threatened to go off, but then Maher cut it off to ask the panel about Kate Moss. Which I guess brings me to my least favorite part of the show: the "comedy".

I don't know if this makes me a bore with a stick up my ass, but when I see three smart people (usually they're smart) sitting around a table with a reasonably intelligent moderator, I'd like to see a whole hour devoted to a discussion with these three people, rather than 20 minutes devoted to the moderator trying to get them to laugh. Maher's a bright and opinionated guy, but funny? Not so much. Maher cuts into the roundtable discussion, which is the meat of the show, with a goofy bit to start the show (as he also used to do on Politically Incorrect), then a goofy monologue (is anyone going to be the first to stand up and say the comedy monologue is dead? Does Kimmel do one?), and then he has his New Rules segment at the end, and when that starts up I always feel disappointed: the show's essentially over just as the panelists were just getting into it. I guess I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth; that a show like Maher's is even on at all today is pretty amazing. I suppose he has to do some comedy on his show; otherwise it's like that episode of the Simpson's when Krusty cuts to old black and white reruns where he and another guy are wearing suits, smoking cigarettes, and talking about foreign policy; meaning Bill Maher hosting a sober, wonky show about "the issues" strains credulity. Even still, I wish he did just keep the panel and got rid of everything else. TV used to be like that; there was room for brainy shows that didn't always keep the lowest common denominator firmly in mind during all stages of production. Hell, the other day I downloaded an audio clip of a Dick Cavett show from back in the day and he and a panel including Truman Capote (who was on there only as a contributor to the discussion, and not the guest), were sitting around and talking about the meaning and the usage of language. Really. It's enough to make one wistful, is all.

One thing about Bill Maher. I really like listening to him talk and go on because I agree with most of what he says, but I get the feeling that he's kind of an icky guy. I saw him once back on ABC and they let him do this special episode that was a throwback to the old Hugh Hefner shows he used to do from his mansion -- so Maher's all decked out in a smoking jacket out by the pool, only half-seriously asking questions of his panel, and all the while what he seems most interested in is hitting on Bijou Phillips, who was like 18-years old at the time. I mean he was going for it. It was unseemly and the thing is, I bet he's like that ALL THE TIME. I bet most women who've been with him think he's a total pig. Anyway. On that note, have a super-awesome weekend.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Inanity Grab Bag! Photoshop Humor, Braves Humiliation, Unspeakable Violence in South Georgia, and the Phoenix-Like Rise of Al Gore in 2008?

This is some of what I was doing yesterday in my Photoshop CS class. I did this during the text section of the day's lesson plan. Anyway, my idea for this exercise was to design a cover for a travel magazine that really hated the idea of travelling. I thought it was funny, and I also thought the photo was hilarious. Like a leprechaun Nightcrawler preying on American girls. Maybe it was funnier yesterday. Whatever.

After class, I went to Panera (which is a sandwich place conveniently-located next to my wife's school), bought a drink so they couldn't hassle me for taking up a table, and then I wrote sheer brilliance for an hour. Then Peggy called and I picked her up and we went to CeCe's Pizza for dinner because they had the Braves playoff game on the television there. And also because their food is very cheap (Yes, yes, I know. And gross. But it should tell you something about where we live that CeCe's is one of the better restaurants in our area. I mean, wow.)

The Braves screwed the pooch last night. They lost 10-5. In one night, the Astros revealed everything you need to know about the Braves' fatal flaw: we have no reliable pitching. Our season's heroes have all been hitters. Though maybe we did deserve to win our division for the 15th time, we probably don't deserve to advance to the National League Championship. Maybe next year we can buy some pitchers. Enough of that. I know no one's really interested in Braves baseball.

Oh yeah! Georgia finds the best ways to make it into the national news. Sometimes I wonder if the stories the national media goes out of their way to pick up are because that's what's newsworthy, or if it's because they best fit with the elites' vision of what Georgia is. Anyway, the story his time is about a couple of black guys who've been robbing trailer parks in south Georgia, trailers inhabited by Mexican illegals who work in the area picking peanuts and cotton. Because illegals don't have any documentation to open up a bank account, they hoarde all of their cash in their homes. They're very vulnerable living and working here, and the US, for better or worse, currently helps keep them that way. Anyway, these guys killed five immigrants one night this week, and all but one of the victims members of the same family. I guess when something juicy like that happens to this class of people, it's good enough for the news. Probably helped that a baseball bat was used, but I can't find the article that mentioned that fact again. The GBI says these kind of attacks are getting more prevalant down there. Mexicans getting mugged, their cars shot up, etc.

One last thing. Al Gore gave an awesome speech at a media conference in New York City the other day. It was about what's happened to our national media in recent years. It's a great speech but it makes me sad, yet again, that Bush was selected over him in 2000. I think Gore would be doing a much better job were he still in office, though I guess that's too obvious a statement to actually bother writing down. It did make me hopeful to hear some pundit say, "watch for Gore in 2008". That would be awesome. Hillary, Al, and John Kerry sniping at each other during the primary. Al in the race would make it all the more interesting, but I think with Al having been out for as long as he has been, criticizing the president as well as he has been, whether it's on Iraq or his work to erode a free press, he might be a stronger candidate than either Kerry (fresh loss) or Hillary (too centrist). All right. Out.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Your Wednesday Inanity: A Naked Man

The drawing to the left was done during a life drawing class I took when I lived in Glendale. Two years ago this month. The course took place over five or six weeks, with a different model present each session for us to draw. The whole nudity thing was totally new to me and was weird at first, but after ten minutes or so, it stopped being so weird. And it often wasn't pretty either. Five of the six models were chosen, I'm guessing, for their unusual-ness rather than their physical beauty (which was not what I was expecting for some reason; probably I'd seen too many sitcom episodes where one of the characters falls for some hot chick (or hot guy) who turns out to also work as a nude model in art class -- I guess I got to thinking all nude models were good-looking), so the classes never threatened to be titillating. But drawing these people, I wondered what sort of person, especially those in their fifties and sixties, thinks, "I know! I'll be a nude model for those art classes down at the local community college!"? I'm probably being ageist but I thought the older a person got, the less likely they were to do something like this. I guess I'm wrong. Anyway, our second model was a rail-thin, bird-like older woman in her mid-sixties I'd wager. She was stickly and easy to draw, but you couldn't help but wonder: where the hell did she come from? What's driving her to do this? Is she an artist herself? Was she a bohemian in her day? A hippie? When our teacher introduced her, he mentioned she'd done modeling for Disney animators, so I guess she might have done it because she made decent money at it. (Sidenote: Later, when I temped in one of Disney's animation buildings, adjacent to the office I worked in, there was a room where they hosted drawing sessions for the animators that featured nude models. I thought that was really cool -- a job where your employers offered free brush-up life drawing classes on-site. End sidenote.) The guy pictured here was one of the more unusual models. He was an older man, early-sixties I think, and he came up with the oddest poses. I think this one was his "Gandalf", wherein he grabs onto this walking stick (which I think he might have brought himself), plants it a foot or two away from himself, leans over and rests his weight onto it. It was hard to think about the poses as nothing more than just nude poses done solely for the sake of an art class -- I always thought about its real world application and often wondered, "When would someone do that?" And moreso, "When would someone do that naked?" And also his pose made me think of Ian McKellan naked on the set of Lord of the Rings, and that made me uncomfortable because I don't like to think of Gandalf that way. Anyway, I thought I'd post the drawing up here. Despite the strange model, I liked the way this one turned out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Stephen King: Writer of Crime Novels and Prognosticator of the Future?

Today's the day. New Stephen King. I'm going to find the closest bookstore and then I'm going to pick it up. It's a trade paperback and they're priced to move. I'm excited about it. This is one of the reasons I was worried when I heard he was retiring: I wouldn't get to go to the bookstore on the day a new Stephen King came out (I sound a little like Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates's character in Misery), I know). Anyway, it's short and King writes for readers to read, so my guess is I'll be telling you how good it is pretty soon.

In other news, I've decided not to expell the new John Irving book, Until I Find You, from my reading list, but merely to put it on probation. If I get through another long chapter and it's still going nowhere, then it's done. I'll put the dust jacket back on and I'll consider it fair game for my next trip to the used book store. The reason for my magnanimous gesture of Jesus-like mercy on John Irving's latest doorstop is that the story did pick up a little after the opening section; the main character, Jack Burns, is an 8-year old boy and he's now attending an all-girls private boarding school. The older girls are showing an interest in Jack that goes beyond "Awwww". So as you can imagine, the story's getting kinda icky, but it's not nearly as boring, which for this book is a vast improvement over its first 120 pages. I know. Fascinating.

Also, I found out that Alan Lee, the illustrator of the Lord of the Rings books as well as one of the production designers of the three films, will be visiting Atlanta on the 25th of this month to sign his new book of illustrations. I'd like to go, but the cost of a big glossy book of Lee's drawings may be prohibitive. We'll see. Also, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America and her latest, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, will be speaking in Atlanta on the 18th. I don't know if she's signing anything, but it might be fun to hear her speak.

One last thing: I watched Bush's press conference this morning. I get the sense that Bush kind of hates the press. I understand that: to him, they must seem like a pack of vultures asking him loaded questions wired to blow up in his face at the first moment's candor. But watching him today you can tell he has a real disdain for them. They asked him again and again for one reason Harriet Meirs, his new pick for the Supreme Court, was more qualified than any number of conservative women he might have nominated, and he would just dip into the litany he'd rehearsed. She's got "strength of character", he knows "her heart", and she's been "a pioneer in Texas." He got four or five questions from the press corps regarding Meirs and each time he dipped back into his speech. He repeated word for word what he'd said before. One time he said, "I guess I can just say it again," and then he recited his weak, touchy-feely description of her. Another time he prefaced his Meirs answer with, "I just talked about that, but I guess I can do it again." And then he did. He recited his description again. I'm surprised the press corps were able to suppress groans. I didn't. I mean, he knows he's spewing forth meaninglessness -- he knows that all the people sitting there and all the people watching at home just heard him say why he liked her, but still, he goes through it again, like we're all idiots and only through repetition will we ever get through our thick skulls the simple words he's uttering. It's almost like he's punishing the reporter who asked the question with 30 seconds of unendurable banality for daring to challenge him about his bonehead, crony pick.

These press conferences are ridiculous, especially when you have an idiot behind the lectern. At least when Clinton gave us non-answers (which it seems they all do), they didn't sound always like non-answers. Bush just comes right out and basically says, "I don't think I have to answer that question, and I'm not going to." And that's to every question. I read just a little while ago that the reason Bush says "he knows [Meirs's] heart" is because she's a Born Again Christian, and that she's on the extreme end of the anti-choice spectrum. It's not looking good, folks.

But then there was one very strange thing he said.

Someone asked him about avian flu and a possible outbreak in this country. He talked about using the military to quarantine sections of the country. He said stopping air travel was one thing, but what about a quarantine over part of the country? How could that be done? One of the answers was the military. He said he would keep his options open on that score. So the question is this: What does W know about the avian flu that we don't? My guess is quite a lot. For more information on what a military-enforced quarantine would look like, please read The Stand by Stephen King. It's a novel about a flu epidemic that kills just about everyone.

My world seems less secure every day. All right, I'm out.