Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy Holidays?

So, one more post for the year. In the flurry of lights, shopping, booze, and religions that takes place at this particular part of the year, I'm trying to take a deep breath and remain calm at the center of the swirl.

Fair warning: I am sometimes accused of being a humbug, so if you come from happy Hallmark land where everything is cheery and bright, you're just reading the wrong damn blog, and that should have been obvious to you about six months ago and if you're still here you're either a masochist or a slow learner.

So, the holidays. How do you celebrate? It seems like most of the people I know, Jews and Christians alike, whip themselves into a consumerist frenzy, blowing ridiculous amounts of cash on gifts that symbolize a monetary ideal in a "can you believe I bought you this?" kind of way, not demonstrating a kind and generous spirit. People at shopping malls and Targets nationwide, in their zeal for grabbing bargains (that they still can't really afford), will thoughtlessly push strangers out of their way, ignoring their fellow man in service of the consumerist beast.

At the risk of blowing my image (such as it is) and coming off like a sincere person I have to say: the holidays is always a time when I seek quiet reflection and the company of friends. It's a major effort to get either. Why is that? Because we let ourselves get caught up in the holiday storm of all the obligations society tells us we need to fulfill: holiday parties, holiday dinners, holiday movies, holiday music, holiday shopping, etc.

Despite what I look like on the outside, or the date on my driver's license, I've still got a raging teen inside me, with all the anti-social tendencies that go along with that. When people tell me I have to do something, I take it as a personal challenge to prove them wrong. So when magazines, cards, tv commercials, and radio announcements all tell me I MUST be happy and buy something, my first reaction is to scream "Fuck you! And your little credit cards, too!"

I also don't subscribe to the "Pretend you're feeling happy to fit into society" method of getting through the holidays. The fact is that this time of year is difficult for me: work deadlines are crushing, school obligations with my kids are non-stop, other family pressures reach an all-time high. I'd like to kick back with a glass of wine and listen to the Messiah, I mean really listen, not just scan through to the hallelujah chorus, but there's very few moments for reflection and relaxation. That makes me a tad grumpy. If I see you at a party, I won't deliberately try to bum you out, but if you ask, I'll give you an honest answer.

Don't misunderstand. I like giving and receiving gifts (especially receiving), but that shouldn't be the center of anyone's world. At the end of the day, it's how you treat people all year long, not the guilt-ridden gift you lay on them in December, that is the foundation of a relationship. I'd rather have a little bit of your time than all your money. And if I give you some of my time, be aware that it's the most precious thing I have to offer.

I'm off now, for the holidays. I'm looking for a little peace and quiet and a bit of spiritual renewal. Celebrate the holidays in any way you see fit, but do it for your own reasons, not because some company is telling you to do it. Ho ho ho.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Being Compelled

I swore to myself - as opposed to swearing at everyone else, which is what I usually do - that I was going to maintain at least one blog post per week through the end of the year as a run-up to a major re-design of the blog and my web presence in general, which I plan to launch in the new year. Some weeks, though, it's a little hard to focus. It was a week where everything got swept away.

Now, I could take the common route with blogging, which is to form all my general complaints into some king of entertaining narrative, but complaining seems a bit pointless. It's not like you care, right? You might get a good laugh out of my misery, or maybe just toss me a knowing nod because you've been there, too, but whining is a little too self-indulgent for me. Besides, no one would believe most of my gripes because they sound like a bad stand-up routine. I mean, who would buy that both my toaster and stove broke in the same week? That's like a weird conspiracy against heating elements.

I could do my standard political riff, but politics this past week has mostly been about Sarah Palin and I really think I need more of a challenge than that. Although, I did see a "Sarah 2012" bumper sticker this morning, which actually made me seriously consider the Mayan Prophecies for the first time.

I haven't talked about writing in a while, but considering the amount of student work I'm slogging through, now is probably not the best time to discuss that particular subject. The weird thing about teaching writing is that not only are you bombarded with difficult and troublesome material, the process takes so much time and energy that it salts the earth of your own work. After reading student scripts all day, one of the last things I want to do is sit down and work on my own stuff.

Oh, wait, I've found a point to make today after all, because this is the key difference between professionals and amateurs: we pros are compelled to do it. Even after the long day of mediocre grammar, I still make myself do some real writing. Even with no real plan in mind, I sit down to blog because that's what I committed to. It's not always inspiration and latte, sometimes it's brain sweat and angst. Welcome to my world.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lessons From The Strike

No, no, I'm not going back on my promise to leave the baseball blogging until spring training, nor am I going to wax on wax off about the writer's strike of a few years ago. I'm talking about the transit worker's strike in Philadelphia over the past week. Now that it appears to be over, there's a few items that have crystallized for me and I'm passing those little diamonds along to you to save you the trouble of thinking really hard.

First, the political lessons:

  • Organized labor may, at one time, have been essential to moving forward as a country, but that time has passed.
  • Asking for unreasonable demands in an economy like the one we have right now is no way to gain public sympathy and support.
  • Union leaders really need to be made aware of the fact that they, like politicians, represent a constituency. They need to look out for them, not their own consolidated power.
  • At the end of the day, $50K for driving a bus is a hell of a lot of money.
  • If you choose to strike, you need to be prepared to absorb the wrath of the people's lives you have damaged in the process. Don't expect everyone to cheer for you because you strong-armed someone into giving you more than the bulk of America is getting this year.
Next, Road Rules addendums:
  • If you don't drive normally during rush hour, you're probably doing it wrong.
  • Yes, we know you're inconvenienced, but you don't get to break the law because of it.
  • Don't make lanes where there are none. The yellow lines mean something.
  • DON'T BLOCK THE BOX! If you don't know what this means, turn around and drive home immediately.
  • Patience, Courtesy. You will get there. The earth will continue to turn.
And finally, the IQ rules:
  • If you don't take the trouble to really understand how these issues work, please keep your mouth shut. On the other hand, don't get pissed at someone else for pointing out your ignorance. Yes, this is for all of you who think any mass transit agency has money to spare.
  • Don't take your anger out on the wrong people. The union instigated the strike. The people who are still working did not. They deserve a thanks for the work they're doing.
  • Employers shouldn't use the strike as an excuse to fire people who are genuinely impacted by this strike. On the other hand, workers shouldn't use the inconvenience of the strike as an excuse for a vacation.
  • For those of you who think mass transit is a big waste of time and money, you may now return to the rocks from under which you have crawled.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hit the Showers

As the baseball season winds to a close, with the indomitable Yankees taking the Phillies to school, I have come to a new conclusion: no matter how much talent you have on your team, no matter the efforts select members put forth, it is possible, even at the highest professional level, for one guy to screw the pooch.

Growing up, there's much talk of the benefits of being on a team, and learning to work together, and all kinds of other sports metaphors for life which really don't mean a thing if you're the kid getting the shit beat out of you in the showers. There's a lot of people who say it's all a team effort, that it's not about individuals, and the people who say that are just full of crap.

In baseball, you're playing for a team, but the reality is you're only as strong as your weakest link. Here comes the surprise: I'm not really complaining about Brad Lidge, the once-bullet-proof closer. I'm talking about Charlie Manuel, the manager. You see, Lidge should never have been on the mound in the first place. Everyone in Philadelphia knows it, the Yanks discovered it, and you can bet that every single Phillie knew it before Lidge's toe ever hit the rubber.

How demoralizing must it be to the other players to see Lidge warming up? Because no matter how strongly you've come back to tie the game, you have less than even chances that Lidge will be able to hold the game tie, especially to bats as ferocious as the Yankees. Think about this: at your job, if you clearly screw up more than half the time, how long would your boss keep you around?

We're not in your neighborhood baseball league, where everyone gets to participate despite their skill level or lack thereof. We're in the World Series. No one cares about Lidge's self-esteem. It's nothing personal. He can't do the job, he shouldn't be on the mound. Why can't Manuel see that? Why won't somebody tell him?

I'm gonna watch tonight, because no one does what Cliff Lee does. It'll be a treat. I've had enough tricks for one season.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Details, Details

They say God is in the details. I posit then that Satan is in the administrative details.

With all the bullshit going on about the healthcare reform bills, all of congress seems to be jockeying for a position to keep their own asses in office, with a minimum of shit sticking to them. Today's announcement by Harry Reid in the NYT sums up the attitude. He's willing to sponsor a public option so long as states have the ability to opt out of it. Wow, I hope he didn't actually have to take a stand on something to get that announcement out. Basically, this is "wink, wink" public option, where the feds could enact it, but all 50 states could balk, which means there's still no help for those walking around uninsured.

While this may be a politically savvy move, because it allows Reid to pass the blame buck, it got me to wondering: when did Democrats become such terrible pussies? Who has the courage to take the national stage and say what's right and stick by it? Healthcare for all is the right thing to do, no matter the cost. We're Americans and we used to be able to solve problems, not be frozen by inactivity on the mere threat of potential costs. We're smart, and financially crafty. Why not force the bastards who came up with all the derivative securities that put the economy in the toilet to come up with a solution to how to get the money?

That's kind of a joke, but the real point is: let's not get so overburdened by the potential problems that we are forced away from every possible solution. We can find a way to pay for this. More importantly, we have a moral imperative to make real changes. Lawmakers are failing their constituents, the populace at large, and historical generations of Americans who dreamed of a better life, by not moving this legislation forward in a meaningful way.

Polls show a majority of the population favors a public option. There should be no impediment to passing one. As always, this is a free country, so if you don't like government getting involved in this stuff or for some reason have a fear of helping out your fellow countrymen, the freedoms that this country grants you include a freedom to express your opinion. Also a freedom to leave any time you want. If you think there's a better deal somewhere else, no one is stopping you, and most places you're likely to go will have better healthcare. Doesn't that piss anyone else off?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday - Shotgun Rules

So, it's Monday morning. I've got a mountain of work I'm trying to climb. Only one cup of coffee aboard the system so far, no coherent thoughts in my brain - and isn't that just a great reason to keep reading? - but I want to not disappoint all the readers out there. All, like, three of you who tune in regularly. So rather than have something organized and coherent, I'm taking the shotgun approach, hoping that if I fire enough little nuggets, one or more will stick in you.

  • Glenn Beck is a moron. He's an hysterical little girl, with a shaky grasp of both politics and history, who hopes that if he's shrill enough you won't realize how asinine his ideas are. The irony is that his listeners/viewers apparently don't recognize his tactics as those favored by the very shadowy political movements he wants you to fear. Hitler could shout with the best of them, just like you, Glenn.
  • Nancy Grace seems to come from the same journalistic school. If you're loud, you must be right. Her confrontation with John Gosselin did something I didn't think was possible: made me feel bad for him.
  • The Phillies played baseball in 20-degree weather last night. This to me is a clear sign that places where winter falls this early should not have baseball teams, and that THE SEASON GOES ON TOO DAMN LONG! In the 1970 World Series, with the Oriels of my boyhood dreams, there were two games played by this time in the calendar, and we aren't even out of the playoffs, yet.
  • I have to admit, the Yankees played a couple of great games. I still hate them.
  • Although I can appreciate the historical symmetry of a Dodgers/Yankees series, that's only marginally more interesting than a LA/LA series. Go Phils!
  • Cub Scouts has come a long way since I was a kid. Camping in a fort, with an outdoor movie and indoor plumbing really isn't "roughing it."
  • It's frighteningly easy to get yourself piled with work, just by being a nice person and having a genuine desire to help people out. So I've heard.
  • Many parents don't understand the concept of movie ratings. Apparently, they think: "Yeah, R. That means it's something the family watches together." On a psychotherapy note: if you take your little kid to see Zombieland, you can't complain at them for not being able to get to sleep, or if they start gnawing on your fleshy parts.
  • Nobel Peace Prize. I'm just sayin'.
  • And finally, dinner with famous comics guys is a lot of fun. Listening to Mike Mignola and John Arcudi go at it and getting a glimpse inside the Hellboy universe... good times.
So, there, in no particular order was my week. Go ahead, pick out the pellets.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Talking Smack

So, once again, I was shooting off my mouth about something. Contrary to normal circumstances, though, I wasn't talking about movies, politics, or baseball. I was holding forth on, of all things, Peppermint Patties, and telling boring stories about buying them warm by the bag from the factory, when the conversation took a slight detour into nutritional value and I calmly asserted something to the effect of, "sure, anything with a fat content contains protein," concerning the chocolate covering on the minty patties.

This was at a fundraising dinner at my church, so everyone else at the table was basically too polite to call me on this. There were at least two doctors present who cocked their heads and started to express some doubts on my assertion, but I obnoxiously over-talked them -- hey, I've learned something from the Republicans -- and changed the topic. It got me to thinking, though, that I might just be full of shit on the topic of proteins. It stuck with me all weekend, so this morning, I tried to find a definitive answer.

The first stop was my own pantry. Pop out ye olde bottle of Olive Oil. Check the helpful label. 14 grams of fat per serving, zero protein. Well, that didn't take long. Confirmation that those doctors weren't forgetting their basic biology, they were just being polite to me. Damn it. Perhaps, I comforted myself, I just had gotten things backwards: maybe anything with a protein content contains fat?

I hit the internet to do a little research. Egad. Wikipedia on protein goes on and on about essential amino acids. I finally found a somewhat useful nutritional page on protein. But still no definitive answer on the protein/fat correlation, if there is one. I know enough smart people, that someone reading this blog should be able to provide a quick breakdown, with some possible web references, so I'm asking for some help here. Go ahead, prove me wrong. Post your findings as a comment, please, or send them directly to me and I'll claim the work was my own and publish it in a blog post.

So, do I feel bad about talking smack? Sure, a little. It's embarrassing to realize something you thought to be true actually had no basis in fact. I feel worse about behaving like a boor and dismissing anyone else's opinions on the matter. So, to those of you at dinner. I'm sorry. I can't say I'll never do it again, but thanks for calling me on it, because that's what you should do when people aren't making sense. I took it to heart, did a little research, found out I was wrong. Now, I'm seeking a more informed answer. That's something the Republicans could learn from me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Good Old Civil Disobedience

If you read the Pennsyltucky entry from a few days ago, you might be interested in this follow-up, which talks about a march protesting the Pennsylvania arts tax.

I've got mixed feelings on this, partly because it's Monday morning and my brain isn't awake, partly because the idea of an organized resistance of artists sounds like a really nerdy stand-up routine. "And a battalion of sculptors staged a carve-in today..."

Artists are, by definition, not the most organized of individuals, and usually not the most combative, so for them to actually band together in any type of organized civil disobedience speaks volumes about how troublesome this issue is. Unfortunately, in our society, artists tend to not be taken seriously when matters of state are being resolved, so it's still unclear what the outcome will be.

For now, Pennsylvania continues its march toward being the most backwards state in the union.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Note to MLB

So, I'm blogging live from my couch where, with beer and pretzels, I'm watching the second game of a double-header between the Phillies and the Marlins. Now, I won't comment on the Phillies' ongoing game of musical chairs in the bullpen, but I have to take note of the pathetic attendance at "Land Shark" stadium. It looks like a high school baseball game where only the parents and girlfriends make up the audience. That's pathetic.

The Phillies are the current world champions and the Marlins are in the running for a playoff spot. All they can drum up is a paying attendance of a couple dozen? Okay, let's think about this. It could be the ticket prices, because anything on the lower deck will cost north of $50. It could be that Florida just isn't a baseball state. I mean, there's no early bird special, because tv sports don't run during the week at 4:30. It could also be that Major League Baseball has bitten off more than it can chew. What do I mean? Simple: there's too many damn teams.

It's not longer special to see a big league game, because there's a stadium in almost every city, and your team is always on TV. So, many games are played in almost empty stadiums to crowds watching only in their living rooms. I'm not such an old fart that I'm gonna start complaining about the good old days of baseball, but I will say that maybe it's time of the leagues to contract. Fewer teams would mean higher quality players, and will make a trip to the park a true special event, possibly worth the ridiculous ticket prices. Meantime, stop showing games from empty stadiums. If you people don't care enough to see your home team live, why should I watch your pathetic town's excuse for a ball club?

Pennsyltucky

Generally, I've argued against this derogatory moniker for our commonwealth. I live in the Philadelphia portion of Pennsylvania, so we're largely urban, partially cosmopolitan, steeped in history, and rich in diverse culture. The only people to generally call us backwards are New Yorkers, and they feel that way about everyone who isn't a New Yorker, so you don't take that one personally.

I have officially revised my opinion, however, in light of this week's budget dealings out of the state capitol. This backwards state is now, in an attempt to balance the budget, going to levy a tax on arts-related events and institutions. You can read today's coverage from the local papers by clicking here. When this kind of move gets legislative traction, I have the feeling we may be insulting Kentucky, rather than Pennsylvania, by blending the names.

In whatever world it makes sense to tax the arts, which are chronically underfunded, I can't help feeling the cultural end of days is near. It's like taxing mass transit to offer automobile rebates. The irony is, of course, that this tax will mostly penalize Philadelphia and Pittsburgh which are rich in artistic and cultural institutions, and not so much the rest of the state where they guzzle gas and eat squirrel pie, hunted by theirselves with them semi-auto guns we nazi liberals cain't take away.

I suppose I shouldn't make fun of them like that because it's cultural elitism, but... maybe someone should drag them -- not necessarily into the new millennium -- but at least up to the enlightenment. Because you know what? Philly and Pittsburgh count for the largest portion of the state tax revenue. Without the income we provide, there is no state budget. At. All. So having state legislators from backwards counties taxing culture would be like us taxing, hell I don't know... squirrels?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leno a-go-go

Did I miss something? I must have, because from where I was sitting, The Jay Leno Show looked and played exactly like the Tonight Show, just at 10, instead of 11:30. This is what Leno took 3 months off to come up with? Yeah, he got a new set, but he didn't get a new set of anything else. It's the same old white guy brand of humor with musical guests selected to connect with the kids. Overall, the show was not only boring, but uncomfortable. Jay clearly doesn't do well in the "two chairs" interview format and even Jerry Seinfeld's Schtick couldn't make it less painful to watch.

Presumably, it comes down to whether you like Leno. He's never been a particularly daring, or insightful comedian and as he ages, his humor has become noticeably rigid. You need a rim-shot after every punch-line. As a performer, he's about as supple as an I-beam. He can't roll with punches in his set or in his interviews. It's like watching Don Rickles' stand-up routine circa 1957. That might have been okay 40 years ago, but on prime time?

Leno's been doing the "headlines" bit since even I was a kid and of all the things to carry over, it seems the least likely to translate to today's audience. Newspapers are dying faster than his jokes, but he still wants you to send him headlines? That's the definition of "behind the curve".

The "interview" with Kanye West -- an accidental coup since the rappers were booked well in advance of Kanye's MTV VMA performance -- was ridiculous, serving only West's own narcissistic desire for more airtime, when what would have been fair would have been to bump him altogether and give the platform to Taylor Swift.

I'm well aware of the economics involved in making the show, and how low the threshold is for Leno to be considered a success in prime time. Hell, he's even cheaper than a reality show to produce. But if this is all he's got up his sleeve, we'll all be bored to death by sweeps.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In Memorium

As we, nationally, have a day to reflect on the events of 9/11, I wanted to point out something that seems to be getting lost in the shuffle: this wasn't a day that only affected New Yorkers. The impact was not only felt by those directly connected to the towers or the Pentagon. The lives lost are worthy of remembrance, but we must also acknowledge the toll that was taken on the country as a whole.

I clearly remember the panic in my mother's voice when she called me. I was a father at home with two young children and didn't have the TV on. After my mother called me, and I saw the images, my first thought was to get my wife out of downtown Philadelphia, because no one knew where the next plane was going to hit. No one knew what was happening, no one knew what was safe. The fear and anxiety of that day still lies close to the surface of many Americans, not just those in Manhattan.

We all lost something that day, as a country.

What A Bas-turd!

I was asked to defend my listing of Inglourious Basterds as one of the crappiest movies of summer (see Useless List side-bar), so off we go. So you understand where I'm coming from and don't think this is purile Quentin bashing, you need to understand a few things about my personal film philosophy. Film is primarily a visual medium, one that immerses an audience in a story they experience in a very visceral way. It's a manufactured reality wherein, if it's manufactured correctly, you are unaware you're experiencing something manufactured. In other words, you get lost in the experience of the story. Thus, anything that takes you out of that experience is a flaw.

How can you tell when you've been taken out of that experience? When you find yourself wondering things like, "I wonder how hard it was for Brad Pitt to keep his jaw jutted and talk like he had a can of beans up his ass?" At that point, you're one step away form making mental grocery lists and the film has lost you.

The causes of this wandering of attention are legion in this film, and across Tarantino's films in general. The main flaw for me is the incessant, pointless dialog. Many people who love his films, love this inane chatter, but dialog is the purview of the theater, where, because of physical limitations, life must be lived out loud. When this much dialog is jammed into a film it feels fake and stagey. And when it comes right down to it, when the characters are prattling on, they aren't that interesting. If they're not interesting, I don't care about them; if I don't care about them, I'm wondering about Brad's jaw again.

I could discuss the disturbing identification with the Nazis or the palpable hatred of women that runs throughout the film, but I don't want to sound like a politically correct turd, so I'll pass over that.

Let's just move on to the real reason this film was at the top of my crap list for the summer: it was boring. QT ratchets up the tension to the breaking point in individual segments, then just lets the moment pass on by, like you're watching an old friend depart. Long after you've stopped caring, THEN the big bang will come along, more often than not in a flurry of incomprehensible action. That's most noticeable in the underground bar scene, for which the ending was telegraphed a good 20 minutes (felt like 2 hours) before you get to it.

In the end, this film isn't about Nazis or Jews or WWII or even Brad's jutter, it's about films. That's infuriating. There are references from Once Upon a Time in the West to Cinderella, with the Marx brothers and Dirty Dozen thrown in for good measure. It's like the film was assembled by the ultimate idiot savant fanboy with turrets. It's a kind of filmmaking that draws attention to itself at every turn, pulling you out of the story. You always suspect QT is lurking behind you, winking, "did you fucking see that, pretty fucking cool, huh," with every celluloid reference to better, more original films.

Tarantino continues unabated his post-modern scrapbooks masquerading as original films, and based on box-office, he's going to make more, so I'm going to stick out my jaw and look for a can of beans. Maybe it'll make the next film more interesting.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bookstores Suck

I never thought I'd write those words, but Borders really blows. Today is the drop date for what many critics are calling the last significant release of a CD for the entire format: the Beatles Remasters. If you've avoided the hype or aren't that into the Beatles, fine, but honestly, I was ready to plunk down a big chunk of cash to listen to those discs today. Since I didn't pre-order online, I figured I'd drop by a store and actually buy one retail.

Who would have imagined that any store selling mass media would not have a copy of the box set? Not just one store either; both the stores in my area were sold out. I don't live in the middle of nowhere, some place where they still rail against that newfangled rock-n-roll. I live in the Philly area and we tend to take music seriously, so you would think that the stores would have actually stocked a new release someone was likely to buy. Except they didn't, or at least didn't have enough. I humbly ask: what the fuck?

Now that Borders has put almost every independent bookstore out of business and then essentially become the wal-mart of people who read, Borders can't even properly handle their supply of product. I realize I'm talking about music and not books, but they can't handle the book business, either. If you shop in a Borders regularly, it can't have escaped your notice how many linear feet of books have disappeared from your store lately. As their quarterly earnings tumble, Borders continues to scale back on inventory, rapidly turning into a big fat version of an airport kiosk. I've got nothing against bestsellers, but I find the whole turnabout ironic: Borders put all the independents out of business because their big-box bookstore could carry a deeper selection of books. Now, unless you want to purchase 30 or so copies of Twilight, you're probably going to be shit out of luck with books, as well as I was with cds.

I tried: two different stores and an hour out of my day traveling around just to support a bookstore. I was willing to pay a little more for it to support the retail establishment. Times are tough, right? I'm also the kind of guy who buys something from them on principle, even if I don't need it, because I love going into stores and looking at books and I don't want them to disappear. Now, I've revised that notion. Under this business model, they deserve to go down the toilet. You won't find anything in their doors that hasn't already been pre-sold to you, and you can get that cheaper elsewhere.

So, I went home and ordered my box set from Amazon. It took about a minute, will be delivered to my door cheaper, and I didn't have to use any "member coupons." Borders hasn't really been Borders for a bunch of years and when the shadow finally fades, I don't think I'll miss it after all. I've got a library right across the street.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bang for the Buck

Today, the New York Times reports that America is the world leader in arms sales. I suppose it's good to be the tops at something, since in the past few weeks every statistic that's come to light has proven our health care to be inadequate by world standards. We sure can sell hard machinery to kill people, just not fix the political machinery that prevents saving them.

$37 Billion dollars is the magic number for US arms sales, accounting for almost 70% of sales, worldwide. World. Wide.

There's an obvious irony here. Where are the huge public debates about the ethics of selling arms? Billions of dollars made on selling weapons to kill people in emerging nations doesn't really send the right international message, does it? Should we replace the stars on our flag with bullets?

Fixing healthcare should be a no-brainer. Helping people, especially those less fortunate, to meet basic human needs, is never a bad thing. Yet that message has gotten lost in the scuffle of verbal assaults. We're losing a battle of American Identity and we're morphing into a petty nation that focuses and touts our differences rather than celebrating our common humanity.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Jaws!

From today's news, life imitates art as a great white prowls Cape Cod, looking for seals, or other blubber-coated mammals.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

End of An Era

It's a rainy Saturday and I'm watching the funeral of Ted Kennedy, and, as with all funerals, I'm trying to figure out what it all means, in both the big and little sense. In the little sense, it means personal pain for a family that's had its share and more of personal pain. Grieving widows and children, lost promise, and a history of siblings gone too young. Yet, he was a Kennedy, so the meaning transcends the personal, family impact.

I'll pass over the big meanings of life: religion, the afterlife, etc. There are others far more equipped to talk about that. Like the phalanx of priests presiding over the event today.

I'm thinking about the big meanings of life on earth. How you spend your time. Where you choose to fight your battles. Yes, of course Teddy had his flaws and I'm sure Coulter and Limbaugh have been pointing that out lately. Now that he's gone, though, have you noticed how Teddy's flaws have been eclipsed by the history of his actions and leadership? It's impossible for newspapers to adequately summarize his accomplishments, and even those summaries are overwhelming. Almost universally, those accomplishments benefitted those at the bottom of our society. Kennedy used his time and powers in service of making life better for those who often cannot fight for themselves.

Constantly living in the public shadow of his martyred brothers, what has become clear in Teddy's passing is that, in the end, he probably had more influence that either of his siblings on the way Americans live their lives.

It's interesting that the Kennedys are often referred to as American "royalty" and easy to see why: the tightness of the clan, the money, the public scrutiny. The comparison is often meant as a denigration, because in America we don't have kings and queens. Yet it's important to remember what separates Teddy from all that: a lifetime of service. He could just as easily have walked away from Washington; after the death of his brothers, no one would have blamed the Kennedys if they walked away from public life altogether. Teddy and his family represents what can be best in America, that belief that there is a possibility to do good -- not just for those of your own social class but for all Americans -- and fighting to do good despite considerable obstacles. If kings behaved this way, we probably wouldn't have thrown off England's yoke to begin with.

The other big thing I'm contemplating is who will fill a considerable vacuum. Where are the new liberals who come with unlimited wealth and power who are engaging in service for the sake of service? Perhaps that era has passed, perhaps it's for the best that politics not be dominated by single families. Perhaps. Kennedy's life would suggest otherwise. Whatever you think about this, I hope you'll agree that the man's life was inspiring. Maybe you'll be inspired by it and choose a life of service.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Doctor, Heal Thyself

Let's talk healthcare, shall we? And by talk, I don't mean hysterical shouting.

I know I blogged about this before, but it bears repeating for the halfwits out there - and there are so desperately many of you, aren't there? - being louder doesn't make you right or make your opinion more valid. All it really does is make you shrill and embarrassing, and lessens the weight of your own arguments, especially when you're shouting things like "socialism" and "death squads"! I saw some daft old fart standing in the blazing sunshine with a sandwich board bearing multi-colored lettering that said something to the effect of "euthanize the Obama health care plan, not our senior citizens."

Now, I'll push aside any wish-fulfillment jokes about golden-agers and euthanasia for the moment, and get to the real point: if you're so fucking stupid you believe this health plan calls for Sarah's Squads then you're dumber than the guy holding the sign. More than that, your fear-mongering screaming makes you un-American. That's right, all you right-wing fuck-nuts, you're anti-American. The country I live in shouldn't let people suffer for lack of access to some of the most advanced medical technology in the world. It's inhumane to allow a large swath of our populace go uninsured while you run around like hysterical weasels shouting things like "Nazi" and "Un-constitutional".

So, if you have a legitimate point of argument, come to the table and discuss it like an adult. If nothing else, the past few weeks have proven that your government is listening. But just because they listen doesn't mean you automatically get your way. Stop behaving like toddlers and help be part of the solution rather than just a wrench in the works. Believe me, they want to hear an alternative that is workable and makes sense. The current healthcare system does - not - work. You must acknowledge that. All the invective gums up the works, and nothing moves forward. That, too, makes you un-American. Bringing the country to a halt out of spite is petty and vindictive, and doesn't help anyone get the coverage they need.

Stop listening to the convenient, simplistic lies, and take on the responsibility of figuring out how you could possibly help your representatives fix the problems that face us. We're moving on, whether you like it or not. You can bury your head in the sand, but we might just cover the rest of you up as we pass you by.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rules of the Road

Writing about politics has been giving me fits, so I'm going back to the semi-humorous ranting that puts the twinkle in my eye.

Today's topic: courtesy on today's over-crowded streets. It's only by our general compliance that chaos doesn't rule our roads, but I've noticed a breakdown in our communal adherence to the letter of the law of late. Maybe it's the summer heat, maybe it's the economic malaise infusing our every waking hour, maybe it's just that as Americans we feel a level of entitlement that puts us above the vehicular law. Whatever the cause, I think a few easy-to follow rules could help us all out.

Rules For Drivers:

  1. Crawling up my ass will not get you to your destination faster. Back off.
  2. Your horn is not the "Easy Button."
  3. Your phone call is not more important than the 1200 lb projectile you're piloting.
  4. Driving a BMW doesn't exempt you from the law. Similarly...
  5. Homies in Escalades are still supposed to obey the traffic rules.
  6. Using your turn signal prevents me from using my easy button.
I recognize this isn't a one-way street however, and that drivers aren't the only ones with responsibilities where our roads are concerned. So here are some helpful...

Rules for Pedestrians:
  1. Texting while stepping out into traffic - against the light - will not stop a moving car.
  2. Crosswalks technically put you in the right, but also will not stop a moving vehicle.
  3. Putting your hand up does not stop a moving car.
  4. Jaywalking means you're too lazy to walk to the corner where there's a light to help you cross. We're fat enough already. Take the extra steps.
  5. The fastest way across the street is a straight line, not an ambling diagonal one.
  6. Just because you look away from a car doesn't mean it won't run you over.
Now, let's all use the road responsibly and have fun out there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back To Business

Man, sometimes I hate to be right, especially about the depressing stuff.

The past week in politics has done nothing but prove President Obama's campaign rhetoric - so eloquent and inspiring - played well with the voters, but not within the Washington circles who actually run the government. Republicans sharpen the knives for Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, while Democrats braid the noose for Dick Cheyney. Have things really changed that much under the new administration?

Perhaps the President intends to remain above the fray, like he tried to do while Iran melted down. The danger is that, like Iran, he'll be forced to weigh in later, making it look like he's behind the curve and not on top of the issues. If he continues with this trend, his public image could be irreparably harmed, by making him appear hopelessly out of touch and belatedly reactionary, or even worse, irrelevant to the discussion.

This, to me, all sounds like politics as usual. Wasn't that what we were getting away from?

Meanwhile, the economy continues to gasp its last breath, with over 300,000 workers displaced from the auto industry alone. There are simply no signs of recovery on the horizon. Shouldn't this take precedence over a public baiting of a nominee even the republicans admit will be confirmed, or revenge against a former Vice President? (The greatest revenge against that turd is consigning him to political irrelevance and having him live long enough to see all his hateful and hurtful damage undone.)

Maybe I'm missing the point, but shouldn't government be working on the economy, the two wars, and the healthcare issue 24/7, rather than the tired political jockeying? When will the country actually move forward? There was a lot of momentum after the campaign, but where has it all gone?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Screenwriting Lessons From Baseball

If you're expecting a discourse on Bull Durham or Pride of the Yankees, you're going to be disappointed, here. We're going to start today's lesson from the trenches with a dissection of what's wrong with pro baseball. I'm pretty sure this applies to most pro sports, but I don't give a flying fuck about them, so you're stuck with baseball as the metaphor of the day.

Some of my fondest memories from being a kid were of the evenings when we'd pile into the car and drive down to Baltimore to catch a mid-week Oriels game; we'd leave when my mom got home from work, drive the hour to the stadium, buy a couple of tickets, watch batting practice, try to cage autographs, eat hot dogs, then watch the game, drive the hour home drowsy in mid-summer torpor, and be in bed by 11. My family didn't have a whole lot of money, but we didn't have to skip any meals to afford a couple of games a month. If you look at it in today's terms, I could never do this with my kids. Seats comparable to those we used to get are now $60 in Philadelphia. You can easily spend $100 on food and not be sated. What the fuck happened to baseball?

I can understand that ticket prices go up. I don't think prices rise in proportion to any real market influence, but let's just leave money out of it for now. The real baseball crime is that it now takes four hours to play a game, and mostly what you watch is a pitching duel. You're lucky if you see five hits in a game. I gotta tell you, this is boring as shit. Watching managers shuffle pitchers to match individual batters is frustrating and annoying for the fans. It's sucking every last bit of fun out of the game. Therein lies my point.

When it comes to writing scripts, you need to keep the fun. By that, I don't mean you have to be writing comedy, but that you have to keep the enjoyment of what you're doing in the front of your mind. Most of you aren't get paid to write, so you better be having fun on some level, and it better show in your scripts.

When people gripe about Hollywood movies - and this summer's crop has been especially bad - they're griping about the pitchers' duel: films so neutered of any kind of creative enjoyment in favor of some committee-created entertainment processed to be marketed to some particular demographic that they've sucked the fun out of going to the movies. Your first draft script is about the only thing in the process you can actually call your own, so enjoy it, let a reader sense that, and swing for the fences.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Man In The Mirror

Ha, fooled you! It's not a post about Michael. That's been covered enough, don't you think? No, I'm writing about us, the people we see reflected every day, because I really want to know what the hell is wrong with society. The endless celebrity worship is getting a bit scary.

I know it's always been here - movie rags have been printed almost as long as movies themselves - but it seems to be rising into a fugue of idiocy. Jackson - okay, I admit, this post is partly about him - has been nothing but a tabloid punchline for years, but now we're declaring a day of world mourning, dominating all media in way he could only have dreamed of while he was still sucking wind.

There's a disconnect somewhere. It used to be, celeb worship was based on the public persona (it used to be more tightly managed by stars and studios, to avoid career meltdowns like Tom Cruise on Oprah) of stars, who appeared rich, glamorous, usually happy, and always, always, passionate. In other words, we worshiped the idea that these stars had licked all the problems mere mortals struggled with: bills, depression, romantic longing. But now, look at who we're fixating on: Jackson has been the center ring of a circus of freaks for the bulk of his life. Is this really the guy we idolize and aspire to? Add to this the endless parade of pro athletes with mug shots, political figures with well-greased zippers, and movie stars who have no off-camera life, and I wonder who were supposed to strive to be. Actually, I wonder who kids are aspiring to be these days.

Am I cynical and old? I suppose, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong, either. Get a grip on yourselves, people. You decide who you want to be, not based on celebrities, because you know what, they're as fucked up as we are... except with more money... and cameramen.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pay no Attention

You remember the Wizard of Oz, right? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I'm feeling like world events are operating on something like that level of prestidigitation for the past couple of days.

Only in this case, North Korea is the man behind the curtain. The curtain, of course, is Iran. I don't want to minimize the election events in Iran, but it's sucking up every available bit of news coverage. Meanwhile, there's a North Korean ship loaded with missiles cruising around and being shadowed by an American warship, all on the heels of threats from North Korea to launch missiles in the direction of Hawaii.

This is the point where we all need to keep our eyes on the ball. While Iran's election outcome will undoubtedly have far-reaching world-wide effects, it is not immediate in the same way the North Korean threat is. I think this is genuinely dangerous to our national security and wish the news agencies would be giving it the same time they're devoting to Iran.

Everyone seems to be caught up in the swirl of events with Iran, and the romance of news being "tweeted" out in secrecy. Everyone also seems to be expecting a quick resolution and regime change. That leads me directly to memories of watching tanks roll into Tiananmen Square and the outrage the world felt. Surely, if twitter had existed, everyone would have masked their avatars in some color for solidarity, but here we are, two decades later, and how much has changed in China? Did your outrage stop you from supporting the communist state? I'm betting there are five products within your easy reach which were manufactured there, so be careful how you answer.

What will happen in Iran? We'll see, but I know it won't be decided by people sitting at computers. Iranians are fighting in the streets with sticks and stones, literally. They don't care about your twitter color.

Rain on my Brain

It's been nearly two weeks since we've had a day without sustained rainfall on Philadelphia and it's left me feeling murky in more ways than one. All the gray is depressing, the inability to work in my yard is depressing, and the damp smell permeating everything is depressing. I totally dig that I could go out in the rain and garden, it might even be easier to weed that way, with the ground all moist, but I garden for fun, and being damp and cold doesn't spell fun in my dictionary. Endless indoor activities leave me feeling restless and bitchy. I never thought I'd get enough of watching movies and reading comics, but enough is enough.

If I were a more positive up-speaker, I'd say, "let's make lemonade." Let's get all that house-cleaning done, let's do those indoor maintenance projects, let's file all those old financials. But the rain puts me in a negative mood, which you probably got from the first paragraph, so none of that is gonna happen.

I could do some real work. I have a script that's ready to be rewritten, a couple things to research and plan for a new script, or I could digitize some documentary footage that ain't gonna edit itself, but it's raining and I just want to stay inside. But if I do that, I'll probably want to watch baseball and the Phillies do nothing but lose these days, so that won't help my attitude.

You see my problem? It's what I call a blue funk. It doesn't require medical intervention or a leather couch and sympathetic ear or prescriptions, it just begs for drawn shades, whiskey, and Chet Baker on the stereo.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rules Of Kids

So, some things I know for sure about kids. These are like laws of physics, but infinitely more rigid, and equally painful.

  1. In a closed car, children will scream. Loud.
  2. If there's a mess to be made, your child will find it.
  3. With infinite responses at their disposal, "no" is always the first word out of any kid's mouth.
  4. When you say "evil" and "sly", your kids hear "cool" and "awesome."
  5. Given the choice, a kid will eat a piece of candy the size of their own head.
There's more, of course, but I just got back from a car trip with my kids, which is the equivalent of passing through a black hole and coming out on the other side of the universe. I'm a bit frazzled and short-tempered. There's a rule for that, too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

School's In Session

The gates have officially opened and the summer movie season has begun once again, in all its CGI glory. Reams of print and gigs of storage will be devoted to the joint reverence and griping these films will inspire from professional and amateur critics, as well as bloggers with no real business writing about films.

What's going to rule the box office? What will be the designated indie darling that all the "adults" will go see? What will be the biggest disappointment?

You'll have to wait until September for the answers to those questions, and I'm not going to even attempt making a guess. What I am going to do is take all the would-be writers out there back to school for session of "What can you learn from Hollywood?" It's quite fashionable (especially in film schools) to thrust your nose in the air and piss on everything that Hollywood does, claiming it's the end of cinema. If you have that attitude, good luck to you, but stop reading right now. All I'll say in this column is: ignore Hollywood at your peril.

So, if you're a writer, your lesson this week is based on Star Trek, the reboot of the entertainment franchise that's been running since the late 60s. The film has been doing well at the BO, which you can read about if you want, and we all know that box office alone is not a judge of quality; well, at least all of us who saw Wolverine. The interesting thing is that this film seems to transcend the fanbase, and is crossing over to the movie-going public at large, something Watchmen failed to do.

How does Star Trek do it? Certainly, the special effects are up to Hollywood standards for sci-fi movies, the score is rousing and energetic, the performances are competent; in other words, all the elements are there, but frankly, that's not enough. Yes, writers, the reason for the success of the film is, in fact, the writing. There are plenty who will disagree with me, but oddly enough, they've all been bitter writers, and there's nothing more bitter than a writer who sees something better than his or her own work.

In a nutshell, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman found a solution to the curse of any franchise film, which is how do you actually tell a new and engaging story, while not violating any of the previously established canon in the franchise? They concocted a way to both acknowledge the 40+ years of Trek entertainment, and free themselves from it at the same time. Their time-travel solution was doubly-elegant because time-travel plots are a staple of the Trek universe. What is truly admirable, from a writing standpoint, is that they use one of the most basic concepts of film - the reverse - and apply it to our story expectations. Time Travel, as a concept in most sci-film films, and especially Trek, is usually about going back to correct something that sets their current timeline back to "normal". In the film, they reverse that concept, and abandon the future "normal" which contains the 40+ years of things we know (and that the fanboys would continuously hold the filmmakers to) in favor of the new past. That the writers executed this with a grace and elan rarely seen in a Hollywood blockbuster gives them enormous amounts of credit to expend on the next inevitable film.

Take the lesson for the day and apply it to your own writing. Make it smart and clever, no matter what the subject, and you'll have a better film.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Welcome to the Party

So, fellow dems, do you weep with joy at the conversion of Brother Specter? Or, like me, do you think it smells too much like a deathbed confession? I always thought the Catholics were way off on that; rape and pillage your entire life, then repent at the last minute and you get the keys to paradise? Bite me.

So, Brother Specter, seeing his imminent political demise on the horizon, jumps ship and says his heart's been in the right place all the time. Even if I were willing to give him a pass on the "magic bullet", and I'm not, his heart was only in the right place about 30% of the time, since he voted with his -- former -- party 70% of the time. Still, I suppose it's nice to have him, now that all the hard work was done without him. Glad you finally saw the light, Brother.

There's a lot of people experiencing radical conversions in their lives: CEOs suddenly forced to live on a working-man's salary, for instance. Owners of fuel-sucking McMansions and SUVs. Everyone's talking about a new American ethic: living smaller, basing your life on a different set of priorities. Well, I'm happy for their awakening. I just wish they hadn't flushed the country down the hopper to see the light.

Because, you see, there are some of us that have been at this particular party for a long time: those of us who have struggled to live within our means and still be responsible community and world citizens, forced the whole time to watch you spend yourselves silly chasing something so empty and hollow it took a national crisis for you to realize it.

So, yeah, welcome to the party, but don't act like you invented it.

And Brother Specter: you're not a democratic solution, no matter what anyone tells you. You're old Washington and you're part of the problem. You haven't had a real job for forty years, I suggest you go try and get one in this economy and learn what it really means to be moderate.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Back In The Saddle

I haven't been paying attention to my blog - or others - recently, but that's not what I'm kvetching about this evening. There's a script over in the corner that's been in need of a rewrite for about two months now, and is going to have to wait a little longer. My house is gradually caving in around me as I write and I'm doing nothing to brace against chaos. I, like some of you, have a precarious relationship to the things I should be doing. I could devote an entire series of posts to procrastination, but I can't seem to get started.

Every now and then, though, I get off my ass and do something. It's been a long time since I've been behind a camera, but last weekend I started a new documentary project.

It just so happens that it was an outdoor shoot and this past weekend seemed to mark the opening of hell's gates in Philadelphia, with April temps soaring into the 90s. Apparently, I am so stooopid as to go out in the blazing sun in the heat of the day and lug camera equipment around... without sunscreen. That wouldn't have been much of a problem when I was in my early 20s and had a god-like head of hair, but now? It was like I dipped my head into a barrel of pickled beets.

Aside from that charming image and the sore muscles (it's a lot of physical work to do this stuff on your own), I had a ball. Incidentally, or maybe accidentally, I got some great footage as well. I don't know how the doc itself will end up, since it's a summer-long project, but what I do know is this: if there's something you love, and feel passionate about, that's what you should be doing. Right now. Not when it's convenient, not when you have the time, not when someone asks you to, but right now.

I got back in the saddle this weekend, and it made everything else I did, or had to do, seem less daunting.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Winter's Toll

As the buds break and spring slips soggily over the landscape this year, I looked back over the past month and tried to figure out just what the hell happened. I feel like I've been disconnected from just about everything; this blog is the least of things I've let slip. There's no big mystery, really, it's just that I had the end-of-winter brush with sickness. It wasn't all mine, but around casa Scriptking, when one member is down, you can't help but feel it.

Being sick is a funny thing, and it affects everyone a bit differently. Let's be clear, though, I'm talking about lowercase s sickness. Nothing serious, just pernicious. It's amazing how annoying a cold can be. A stomach virus can cast a long shadow. When you have four people living under the same roof, and two types of sick, the combinations are seemingly endless. For most of the month I managed to avoid the stuff myself, which is amazing considering I had been puked on, snotted on, and someone actually sneezed into my open mouth. The moment everyone else became ambulatory, it finally caught up with me.

But, like I said, it's only a cold, or a little extra toilet-time. I feel like a world-champ puss to complain about any of it, but still, it's the collateral effects that catch up with you. First, there's the tunnel vision. When a loved one is ill, you focus on their well-being, and all extraneous thought gets pushed into the background. Second, there's the time-suck factor. I lost count of how many times I had to visit the CVS over the past couple of weeks. Third, there's the total loss of discretionary time, which is a result of the time-suck factor. If I'm spending all that time at the CVS, that's minutes adding up to hours I don't have available to be working, relaxing, or just being human. Hence, the blog lies fallow. I'm not even going to mention the script I should be re-writing.

Weirdly, and probably because I've been watching a documentary about the space program, having a house of sick people reminds me of the process of re-entry into earth atmosphere from space. You lose communication for a time, and everything extraneous gets burned away.

Even though I acknowledge I don't have much to complain about, because everyone is relatively healthy now, it got me to thinking about how it must be for people struggling with chronic illnesses. The way I felt for the last month simply never ends for them. I really need to be more compassionate.

Having the kind of month I did also made me look back over the winter and realize that the toll for passing to the other end of the seasons was more brutal this year than last: one of my best friends died, other good friends lost a daughter, another friend suffered a near-fatal stroke. The economy isn't pinching Charon's purse at all.

I'm looking for the sun, and the warmth. I need a recharge.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things That Give Me Gas

So, I drop my kids at school this morning and I've got the radio on and I hear this ad. Scroll down to the radio ads and play Massive New Taxes on Energy.

Since I'm in the entertainment industry, maybe I listen to these things in a different way, because I'm usually trying to critically deconstruct media to see if there are particular techniques I want to use in something I'm working on. So maybe the irony of the ad doesn't strike you. The irony of the petroleum industry trying to dodge taxes by putting together a reactionary, fear-mongering ad. The irony of the ad running in the same week as the anniversary of the Valdez disaster.

Perhaps the record profits that oil companies have been racking up have escaped your notice. Could it be that you don't realize those profiteering companies fill the automobiles produced by the very same auto industry the government is currently propping up? Don't you get that your tax dollars are fueling (pardon the pun) the same industry that's spending millions of dollars on advertising to get us to help them avoid taxes?

If you've been reading this blog at all, you understand that it's not exactly a small list, that list of things that piss me off. And I don't want to sound like a total wingnut. If you drive a truck or SUV for some business, I've really got no problem with you. On the other hand, if you're a single suburban salary-boy or girl, do you really need all that steel to drive your ass back and forth to work? Don't you see you're part of the problem? You're not keeping Detroit and its workers in business, you're keeping Exxon and its shareholders rolling in green. While the economy is in a downward spiral.

The old adage used to be middle-aged men in sports cars were trying to compensate for something. What about all the 110-lb women driving Yukons or Hummers? What are they compensating for?

Ask yourself this: when the auto industry goes under (SAAB, anyone?), who do you think is going to be in line for the next round of bailouts? When Exxon comes calling, will we have the courage to ask them what happened to all their windfall profits that they never re-invested in R&D or alternative energies?

Don't listen to their ads, this is not an industry that needs government protection; the consumers have been protecting them for too long. Don't listen to their simple-minded patriotic appeals: it's not the American way to shelter a profiteering company and its shareholders. They are not a grass-roots non-profit company looking out for your future. They're one of the few industries not feeling the pinch, yet, and they're making money off of people who don't want to take responsibility for their actions, and they're raping the planet while we fiddle.

Monday, March 23, 2009

In The Details

When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to draw comics. Somewhere in my mom's house are a number of old sketch books filled with pencil-smeared doodles of Conan and Iron Man and Batman. Over the years, my desire to draw gradually subsided and naturally, I never became a penciller extrordinaire. You know why? It wasn't because I lacked talent. I can sit down and really draw something if I want to. No, I blame it on the details.

When I was drawing, I'd hit a point where it was good enough for me, even though I knew it wasn't "right" or "done". I was satisfied with the broad strokes, I couldn't be bothered to stick with any picture until all the details were in line. That's how I knew I wasn't cut out to be an artist: I could let it slide. If you find a true passion, you don't let that happen.

Take writing, for instance.

The details matter to me, when I'm committing myself in print. My writing is an expression of my inner self that I want to reflect positively on me and those associated with me. So I take care to get the details straight. Little things -- like punctuation, grammar, and spelling -- aren't optional. There isn't a computer made that doesn't have a spell-check on it, so why aren't people using it? I come into contact with a fair number of would-be writers and it's appalling the number of them that can't put a basic English sentence together.

You could blame texting, claim we're training a tribe of sub-literate thumb-monkeys from grade-school when we give them their first cell phones. (What do 3rd graders really have to say to each other that requires constant connectivity? Nothing nice, I bet.) You could blame the internet, e-mail, twitter, even blogging (there's my daily dose of post-modern self-reflexiveness). But I use all that stuff and I still manage to be coherent in most formats. I also know the difference between a tweet and a film script or novel or adademic paper. I know what the details look like, because I pursue them daily.

If you don't crave to understand, master, and manipulate those details... well, you really shouldn't be thinking about being a writer. I refuse to read your non-sensical prattle, because I have no desire to teach you something you should have learned in the fourth grade. If you don't want it bad enough, if you can let it slide, you won't ever be a writer. So make up your mind and adjust your priorities. This is not easy work.

But God's in the details, and I'm looking.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This. Must. Stop.

As I was sitting around Sunday, listening to the sounds of the rest of my family struggling with a stomach virus, I almost voluntarily joined them when I saw the front page of the New York Times bearing the news that AIG is poised to pay bonuses to the very guys who brought their company to the brink of ruin. If the taxpayers hadn't bailed the company out -- twice -- AIG would have gone over that brink and other companies would gleefully be picking over the financial carcass by now.

I'm not gonna go through the article point by point, because my head would explode. You can read the full article here if you want. Let's just keep our eye on the big balls, shall we?

1. The "financial products unit" is the part of AIG that had all the worthless debt, that caused a lot of the mess the country is in now. Six of the execs who presided -- and still preside -- over that unit stand to get bonuses of 3 million dollars. This makes perfect sense, right? Because at your job, if you fuck up the entire company and cause devastating aftershocks throughout the world, you should get rewarded. That's what would happen to me, and I'd be so callous, greedy, and contemptous of my fellow man that I'd take it. Sure. In reality, I'd be sent to jail, which is exactly where these mother-fuckers should go. Let 'em use their 3 mil to pay legal fees.

2. AIG is "contractually bound" to pay these bonuses. Oddly enough, the only people whose bonuses have been reduced are those who work outside the financial products unit, ie the parts of the company that weren't skewering the economy. That's fair, too, right? As to the "contractual" obligations, the Times also reports that the US Government essentially owns %80 of AIG, which means we can do whatever we want. It's our company now. Break the damn contracts. If those pricks want to sue someone for their bonuses, let 'em try to sue the government and see how far they get.

3. The chairman of AIG had the unmitigated gall to write to the Treasury complaining that AIG needs to "attract and retain the best and the brightest talent" and that these bonuses are part of that effort and that the government shouldn't "arbitrarily" adjust compensations, or else the talent will go away. Maybe I don't get it, but when AIG had unrestricted control over the executive compensation, they hired men who swindled large blocks of society. Is that the best and brightest? If so, let's take it down a notch to the "competent and honest" category. AIG is in no position to dictate how the government bails it out. If I go to my bank, tell them I'm going to build an addition on my house, get a loan, then blow it on crack whores, I'm betting the bank would come after me with both barrels blazing. We really should lock and load on these executive criminals. It's our money, and our company, now. If you don't like it, turn out the lights, 'cause it's over.

I can't stand this any more. It must stop. I'm writing to my representatives as soon as this posts and I urge you to do the same.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

High Anxiety

It's been quite a week at Casa Scriptking. Let's just say we've got a bit of anxiety floating around my place. One of us has a hospital date tomorrow, and the effect on the rest of us has been pronounced. Under the circumstances, the anxiety is perfectly understandable. Its cause is known, identifiable. Yet, the anxiety persists in all its nefarious glory.

Night sweats. Disrupted sleep patterns. Constricting bands of irrational fear. Inability to focus. Alternatively, an ability to focus only on very narrow things. A relentlessly negative attitude. Depression. Paranoia. Rage. An anxiety attack is no picnic.

One of the worst things about it is everyone sort of shuts down and stops communicating. That's about the worst thing you can do, because it just feeds all the negative feelings of isolation.

Why should anyone be interested in my own slice of irrational behavior? Have you looked at the headlines lately? There's a lot of people who are in a really bad way right now, and there's gonna be more. I can't imagine what the anxiety level must be like for someone who is about to lose (or has already lost) their job, their home, maybe even their family. There's not a lot of good news coming down the pike.

So let's take a deep breath, try and calm down, and find a little compassion for the person next to you. They may just be a little anxious.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watch This

Just to avoid the inevitable individual questions people will ask me, I'm going to add this to the blog and get it over with all at once. I'm going to commit to electronic paper my thoughts on Watchmen.

If you're a fanboy, stop reading now, because I don't need any more death marks on my head.

In full disclosure, although I've been reading comics for decades, I've never been a Watchmen devotee. I read it when it first appeared - I've got all the issues tucked away in plastic somewhere, as well as the first leather-bound compendium - but never quite understood the amount of worship it still inspires.

So, when I went to the first IMAX show of the morning, I really wasn't expecting all that much. What I got was both more and less than even those mediocre expectations. This film looks beautiful, with loving detail to every stylized pose, an animated lighting kick on every drop of the copious amounts of blood. In my theater, the sound alone was worth the price of admission. The performances were great, even in the small, thankless roles. Individual moments of this film are brilliant. And yet, and yet...

It's just too damn long. By the time all the monologuing by Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan arrives at the climax, I wondered if anyone realized how far into self-parody it had all slipped. Maybe it would be okay if everyone wasn't so glum, and if everyone hadn't taken the whole business so seriously.

A story that was originally delivered in monthly installments, and paced accordingly, cannot be consumed straight up in 2 hours and 43 minutes. The screenwriters should have acknowledged the different medium, and instead of using the comic as unbreakable blueprint, reformed the story for the screen. My choice would have been to let Rorschach loose with his cleaver on much of the backstory.

It's also too damn bloody. Ask anyone, I'm not squeamish, I'm down for a bit of the old ultra-violence, but when I have to look away from the screen... there's something really off kilter. It creates a tone break with other parts of the film that drags the viewer out of the story entirely. It also made me scared for humanity when the guys in the row behind me were groaning orgasmically at every rending of a human being. That's what they came for, apparently.

And yes, the blue animated penis on Dr. Manhattan is distracting. Ditto the "greatest boomer hits" soundtrack.

The moments of grandeur, like when Night Owl and Silk Spectre suit up and go crime-hunting, or when Rorschach faces down an entire prison, are definitely there, but they can't quite overcome the need for a lot of cumbersome exposition.

In the end, if you like the graphic novel, you won't be disappointed in the movie. If you don't know or don't care about the graphic novel, the film will strike you the same way.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sci-Fi In My Eye

Coolest thing I've heard today:

A bunch of cutting-edge eye surgeons have figured out a silicon implant retina that connects to the optic nerve and wirelessly receives input from glasses worn externally. These guys are curing blindness.

Twenty-five years ago, when William Gibson wrote Burning Chrome, he created a character that has her eyes replaced with implant cameras - "Zeiss Ikon" eyes - in hopes of becoming a media star. It all seemed so far away, so ridiculously high-tech. Now, we're living it. Sure the technology isn't quite "there," yet. But now we can see there from here.

Gibson imagined it, scientists are creating it, society reaps the benefit. Why aren't artists and scientists worshiped? Probably because they defy easy packaging and their achievements aren't measured by simple rubrics. Still, we owe them for making the world a better place. Go out and buy a book, or visit your library, and the next time you meet a scientist (they're all around) ask them what they actually do. You may just open a door inside your own head.

Friday, February 27, 2009

They Say It's Your Birthday...

It's my birthday, too, now. Bah duh duh duh dumm dah!

There's a true grandeur to having a February birthday and living in the northern hemisphere. It's basically the ass-end of the year. It's still cold, generally miserable, and even the people that love winter are longing for spring. Kids are two-thirds of the way through a school year, which means the thrill of a new grade has long worn off and they're getting a glimpse of what it's going to be like to work as adults: tedious, repetitive, and mind-numbing.

By the end of February, cabin fever has mutated into some form of malign virus where your attitude is in direct correlation to the amount of space you're sharing with other people. As one of the few American families who choose to live within our means, we have a small house, which means by the end the month when my birthday rolls around, I'm hiding the sharp objects from my kith and kin.

Most people say your birthday should be the one day you get to do what you want, just for yourself. If by that they mean, "you should do what we think you should want to do, regardless of your preference, birthday boy! And we're tagging along," then, yes, that's exactly what you get on your birthday.

How to counteract those February blues? The American way: I spent a huge amount of cash in my own private stimulus package, buying a ridiculously expensive piece of audio equipment. I hope the economy appreciates my sacrifice on my birthday. I don't think my neighbors will understand my new decibel levels of patriotism, but then they didn't wish me Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Writer's Block

"I've got writer's block."

I've heard this complaint from numerous places this week, mostly from students who won't be handing in projects. It's been so familiar recently that I just have to go on public record:

There's no such thing as writer's block.

Here's a weird conundrum for you: you actually have to be a writer to claim writer's block, but no real writer actually ever claims to be blocked. You know why? Because writers write. If you aren't writing, you're not a writer.

"Writer's Block" is a euphemism that non-writers use when then want to say: I'm too lazy to do that work you wanted, but I'm creative. If you're working as a writer, you're usually under some sort of deadline or another and if you use the blocked excuse - or any other - it's a euphemism for "I really don't want to ever work again." Being blocked is simply not an option for a professional writer.

If you're too lazy to do the writing you're getting paid (or a grade) for, maybe you should stop posting all the crap on your facebook page, your blog, and any other electronic hidey-hole you have. Even if you're tweeting, you're writing, so then you aren't blocked.

Better yet, stop thinking of yourself as a writer and start facing up to the fact that you should get a real life because claiming to be a blocked writer is like claiming to be a steroid-free ball player: nobody believes you any more and no one cares. Except, of course, those ball players enjoy a level of celebrity no writer - unblocked or not - ever enjoys.

Anyway, stop whining, do your work. We don't care about how tortured you are - that's for the biographers - we only care about what's on the page. Oh, wait, there's nothing there because you're blocked...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Fallout

Well, it's Bad Hangover Monday after the Oscars. Was it just me, or did it look more like the Tonys? I'm glad Hugh Jackman has declared that musicals are coming back, but maybe he should have looked at Broadway ticket sales before he announced it. If there's a sector of the economy that looks worse than banking, it may be the musical theater.

It would be easy to mock the Oscars, but all the entertainment shows will be doing it non-stop for the next week, so I'll set my sights a little higher: Sean Penn wants all of you to get on board the gay marriage band wagon! Now, let's gloss over his own personal history in the nuptial area, which makes him the less-than-ideal spokesperson for any kind of weddings. His heart's in the right place, yeah? He's an angry little bugger, but then so am I.

For the most part, I agree with him, but I think I may have a better argument than he was able to articulate. It goes like this: why not?

It can't possibly screw up the economy any worse than it already is, could it? No economic objections, then.

Marriage is a religous concept, is it not? Last I checked the government was supposed to stay out of religious matters. No serious political objections, then.

So, what we come down to is religious objections, right? Well, we're guaranteed freedom of religon under the constitution, so if there's a religion that wants to marry homosexual congregants, your objection is unconstitutional. Yes, you're Un-American if you oppose gay marriage.

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, as a way to put everyone on constitutionally equal footing what we should probably do is remove any kind of inequalities not by protecting gay marriage but by taking away any marriage benefits from those already married. As a religious concept, it probably has no place in our government, and should be purged. So, let's nullify all existing marriages as far as the government is concerned.

All the sudden, the inequality is pretty clear, isn't it? If domestic partnerships are equal to marriage, then you won't mind giving up your marital status, will you?

And before you fall back on the Bible, and tell me how homosexual marriage isn't mentioned or condoned in the Bible, let me point out that you can't use that logic selectively. So, if you're banning things that aren't mentioned in the good book, you better be prepared to give up some other stuff as well. Pick-ups. Assault weapons. Little flag pins on your lapels. Nascar. Oh, yes... Nascar.

If the Oscars showed anything last night it's that it's a big ole world out there with plenty of other views and you need to just scooch over on the couch and make room for everybody.

Friday, February 20, 2009

On Meetings

At some time in the past, someone smarter and funnier than me - well, sure that's false modesty, does anyone really think there's anyone smarter or funnier than they are? - must have written down the universal time-suck equation as it relates to meetings. If you have a reference to it, please e-mail me immediately.

In the meantime, allow me to point out some of the complexities the equation must acknowledge. First you start with an inverse proportion whereby the number of people involved in any meeting simultaneously lowers the aggregate IQ and extends the length - in minutes, or hours - of the meeting. Note that this is actually a recursive function, because as IQ is lowered, meeting time is also increased because you have to keep explaining things for the dimwits. It's like calculating compound interest.

Next, you factor in the newbies that need to be brought up to speed. Multiply the introductory time factor by the number of people who have never attended any meeting on the subject, but who are now insinuating themselves onto your project because it might look good for them, or they want to generate the appearance of doing work by glomming onto yours.

Don't forget to account for the time/salary/availability relationship. This is a function which states the lower your salary, the move vulnerable you are to being "made available" to any wing-nut above you who decides to drag you into a room with other clueless people. A general rule of this function also states that the lower your salary, the less time you actually have at your disposal for this kind of crap because you spend your days doing the work of the people who spend their time in meetings.

Finally, you need to adjust for the politico-sexual modifier, which means that anyone deliberately trying to (a) kiss ass or (b) get ass during the meeting also impacts meeting duration. In case (a) meeting duration is increased indefinitely because public ass-kissing is usually the root instigator of all meetings. In case (b) the duration of the meeting can actually decrease depending on the potential success of the operators of the function.

I will refer to this only as my special theory of meetings. Only after more exhaustive testing will I be able to create a more useful general theory of meetings.

Until then, I've got to go to another damn meeting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Phrase of the Day

This morning on the way to work I heard NPR discussing "Zombie Banks," thus simultaneously sounding the death knell for financial institutions and for any latent cool associated with those mythic monsters. Let's face it, if NPR is coining phrases using them, zombies have lost all street cred.

The financial system, though. I mean, wow. Who knew? Where did all these dead banks come from? And so quickly? I mean, like, out of the blue.

Okay, yes, I'll take my tongue out of my cheek. Anyone with a pulse has known most of the big banks were dead for a long time now, despite the life support system of the first bailout. Use the Dow Jones as your heart rate monitor. In the last couple of months, if your beats per minute dropped by half, you'd be the living dead also. Well, probably not living. Just dead.

Let's keep going with the analogy, though, because it's so much fun. Instead of shooting the banks in the head, the government has been giving them some sort of anti-zombie drug called "unlimited, unrestricted cash" and given the zombie bank leaders free brains to boot. Now, what would you expect a good zombie to do? Come back to life and give away some of their zombie-medicine to people who are in danger of becoming zombies themselves? Hell no, they took all the medicine and are coming back for more brains.

But wait, there's more: Nosfer-autos. They suck the blood from the planet, resist all attempts to kill them (efficiency standards, safety legislation, opec), and still manage to screw you. From the mythical land of Detroit, where shoddy and irresponsible products are only equal to protectionist mentality and predatory business practice, come the soul-sucking conveyances of the un-dead. Instead of dragging them out into the sun to burn the evil away, we're supposed to give them another $39 Billion worth of sunscreen?

No way. Just... no. Get ready for the head shots and the wooden stakes, people, or they're going to drag us along down with them.

Better yet, let some people with practical experience take over. How about George Romero for Commerce Secretary? Since my bud Judd bailed (see My Guilt Complex for more on that), The President is looking for someone. Romero knows how to deal with Zombies and he's used to working with small budgets. I'm sure Ralph "Van Helsing" Nader can take care of the Nosfer-autos. Let him take a crack at it. Remember the Corvair? He staked that baby pretty well. Really, can anyone make it worse at this point?

Or maybe, just maybe, we should all stop making funny little jokes (especially NPR) and the people who are responsible should man up and fix this shit. If the bankers who caused the problem can't be sent to jail (where you and I would be sent if we performed as badly as they have) then they should be forced to fix their own mess. Congress and Commerce and Treasury should shoulder the mantle of responsibility and dig in to do the dirty work. It's not going to be pretty, but it beats having your brain eaten.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kid Approval

In one of those moments of domestic chaos, in an effort to keep the screaming and yelling to a minimum, I cracked off a quick pencil sketch of Captain America to amuse my kids.
The thing I love about it is not my own dubious artistic abilities (although it impressed the 9-year olds), but that my daughter immediately gave it her stamp of approval by putting the valentine's heart sticker on it that reads "One & Only."

Some days, you just gotta love your kids.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Guilt Complex

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I usually don't talk politics. Many might mistake that silence for a couple of different things: indifference, disinterest, or ignorance. This week, however, I'm finally moved to break my silence. The impetus, oddly enough, comes from Judd Gregg and his bailout on the Commerce Secretary post.

Here's why. This guy claims he can't be part of the administration because he can't be 100% supportive. Well, isn't that what the whole "team of rivals" concept is about? Why doesn't anyone seem to understand that? We've had a lockstep administration for the last eight years and look where that's gotten us. (And by "lockstep" I mean "goose-step.") Somehow, Gregg's pull-out has left some perceived negative smear on the Obama administration, which is ridiculous. The President makes an attempt at a bipartisan group and the other side won't come to the table, and that's his fault. Sure, that makes sense. In some alternate universe. Yeah, I thought I was done blogging on comics, too.

Still, you may be wondering what the connection is to me talking politics. Well, I don't want anyone to mistake me for being indifferent, disinterested, etc. What's really kept me quiet has been a healthy dose of my own liberal guilt. It's not the common "I feel bad about every world oppression ever, so yes, hold the foam on my latte," kind of liberal guilt. Nor is it the Ann Coulter version, where every bad thing ever done in the history of the world - and to her personally - was perpetrated by a pony-tail wearing, graduate-degree holding, ACLU guy in the democratic party.

My guilt is more fundamental. Many times over the last eight years, I've held my tongue when confronted with smug conservatives denigrating liberals, democrats, and good people in general, because I believe that in this country we're allowed to speak our minds and even opinions I don't agree with have a right to be aired. Somehow, that turned into me holding my own opinions close to my vest; maybe too close.

I'm guilty. Guilty of not getting right in every one of your conservative, closed-minded faces and saying, "you're just fucking wrong." Tax cuts for the wealthy have not helped the economy; there were no WMDs in Iraq; Intelligent design is neither; the Bush administration will go down in history as the most venal, incompetent, and despised group to ever hold their respective offices; screwing the poor is not in the national interest; you're not more patriotic than me because you watch football and get drunk every single Sunday between mid-august and mid-february; being louder doesn't make you correct, it just makes you a bully; and being richer doesn't make you smarter.

I'm guilty of being tolerant, of respecting differences in culture, ethnicity, religon, and opinion. As long as we're not talking about children, I don't care whose pee-pee you want to play with. I like Europeans, because they see the big picture, and they don't suck up every ounce of fossil fuel on earth. Since we're talking about all the big stuff, I may as well get it out there: I don't dispute your right to life, I dispute your right to legislate it for everyone else in the country, the majority of whom don't agree with you. And yes, I read the New York Times and the New Yorker. More importantly, why aren't you? Ask the liberal in the corner, the woman without makeup and the really aggressive haircut, she'll explain the big words.

So, I'm going to get rid of the guilt, I hear that's healthy. I'm not keeping my opinions locked up any more. For starters: Judd - buddy - lead, follow, or get the fuck out of the way. Nobody cares about your interior struggle or your willingness to only march if you've already memorized the tune. You missed the boat on that bullshit; it sailed back in November. It's time for serious people, because there's a hell of a lot of work to do.

Wow. That felt good.

Next time we see each other on the street, don't mistake my smile for ignorance, or for disinterest. Ask yourself, do you really want to talk politics with me?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pros of Cons



Continuing my thoughts on NYCC... yes there were plenty of good things about the con. Top of the list: Ghostbusters. These guys in the pic were humping the soon-to-be-released video game from Atari. Great costumes, nice proton packs, even better game demo. Can't wait to slime my way across virtual NYC in June.

Top of the list for free swag -- the magnetic S.H.I.E.L.D. insignia from Marvel. Looks great on my desk drawers, right next to the magnetic hula girl and magnetic Mach 5. Good on you, Marvel.

The absolute bestest part of the con, though, were the professionals in attendance. While this may sound like an obvious suck-up, I'd merely point out that this isn't self-evident, because comics, like every other industry, has its share of douchebags. Any of the really bitter blogs can dish on those people. Besides, none of the people I'd be sucking up to are ever gonna read this.

I was on a bit of a mission to find qualified writers to teach a comic writing course at Drexel University in Philadelphia and met some really fantastic industry guys who were not only helpful, but immediately responsive. Randy Stradley at Dark Horse not only put me in contact with someone almost before I got home, but I swear the man was on the floor every hour on Friday looking at artist's portfolios. That's a lot of hours and a lot of pencilled boobs.

Steve Wacker, editor of Amazing Spider-man, who manages to turn out an (almost) weekly book, was on hand and also generous with his time. Perhaps that's because we were sharing jokes about Tom Brennan, the assistant editor on the book, and and an old friend of mine. Yeah, I'll betray old friends for career advancement. But it'll always be in a funny context. Simperin' Steve (his name for himself, not mine), also hosted a pretty hysterical panel on Story Structure in Comics, along with Pete Tomasi and Frank Tieri. Imagine a hot, sweaty room full of wannabe writers and artists. Actually, overfull. Spilling into the hall. All of them after that magic bullet-point template for stories that they can just fill in and be whisked away into comics super-stardom (your own Twitter feed!). The panel basically told them the truth: the story dictates the structure. They couldn't handle the truth. I love watching other writers panic.

One final pro at the con, actually even before I got there, was an old friend and former student who now professionally blogs about comics (which sounds like something you take medicine to correct). Paul Montgomery was much nicer to me in his blog than I have been to him, so you should go and read it here.

More? We'll see.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jabbas, Leias, and Venkmans: NYC Comic Con '09



First, let me get this off my chest: I should really be reading student essays. The little parasites - theoretically - put a lot of work into it, and I should respect that. But... they mostly suck, so I'm blogging instead. Is this wrong? Sure, it is, but that's me and if you don't like it, there's a little x somewhere on your screen and you should piss off, right now.

That being said, let me talk about New York Comic Con.

This would be the point where most people put in some Star Wars quote (yeah, you've already seen those blogs). Why is it that people who seek to rag on the comic scene are criminally deprived of originality? That is to say, how scathing a critique are you issuing when you quote the number one geek fanboy of all time, a guy who is not particularly known for his writing? Scum and villainy? If that's really the best you can come up with for this event, stop blogging. Ditto any "clever" word pun that ends in -gasm.

The way I'm going to start my con-commentary is with my own coined word - notice the lack of "gasm-ing" but the way I still work in the sexual connotation - here it comes, wait for it, okay tah-dah... I want to talk about swag-hags. These are the con attendees who show up with the biggest bag and proceed to fill it with anything and everything they can get their hands on, provided it's free. Now, you can tell the pros from the fanboys because the pros bring their own bags, usually emblazoned with the specs of some previous, "superior," event. I'll see your NYCC and raise you a SDCC. The fanboys take whatever receptacle they can get their hands on in a frenzy of hoarding.

The swag-hags are notable for taking any piece of garbage and putting it in their bag, regardless of the quality of said object. Or, as a not-to-be-named source from one of the big comic houses put it, "do you know how much of that free stuff was just piled up under my desk last week?" Yeah, folks, there's a reason it's free. I don't want to get all high and mighty, because that leaves you with the wrong impression. I myself had a bright yellow swag bag, but it was from Dark Horse, which is a mondo-cool group. I kept the side with the Hellboy II logo turned in ('cause mondo-cool isn't a phase I'm willing to attach to that film). But in my bag, you wouldn't find multiple copies of comics that no one would buy, I was carrying my coat. Of course, I needed to take the coat off because the ambient temp in the Javits was set for the comfort of those costumed conventioneers pictured at the top of the page.

The really hysterical part of that picture is that those people didn't arrive together, so the girls actually came to the con looking for stormtroopers. Unfortunately, with the temperature so high, and those guys completely encased in neoprene and plastic, I'm sure they were so dehydrated by the end of the day that erectile function was simply not an option. That's okay, though, because there were plenty of guys released on a day pass from a suburban basement somewhere who looked an awful lot like Jabba...

TBC...