Thursday, June 30, 2005

Can You Spot The Patriot?

The president never linked Iraq to 9/11. He never linked Saddam to 9/11. He linked Iraq to the war on terror.
- Rush Limbaugh demonstrates the dangers of drug addiction

That's the America you live in! A country founded on a compact with God, forged from the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights is now a country where taxpayers can be forced to subsidize "artistic" exhibits of aborted fetuses. But don't start thinking about putting up a Ten Commandments display. That's offensive!
- Performance Artist Ann Coulter

Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.
- Senator “Slick” Rick Santorum

Officials in the wealthy New York City suburb of Summit are using the Patriot Act to justify forcing homeless people to leave a train station…Summit officials argue they are protected by a provision regarding "attacks and other violence against mass transportation systems."
- News story

Beauty Is A Rare Thing

When I listen to jazz, I see an endless beautiful night, winking

When I listen to jazz, I hear hope

When I listen to jazz, I feel as if I am listening to the greatest human music, unhidden, unexpurgated

When I listen to jazz, I hear the soul thinking

When I listen to jazz, I feel as if we haven’t been entirely defeated

When I listen to jazz, I hear goodness overflowing

When I listen to jazz, I am astonished

When I listen to jazz, I hear humanity scrawling beauty on the walls of its dingy, earthly cell

When I listen to jazz, I am at peace

When I listen to jazz, I hear voices, intelligent, reasonable, clever

When I listen to jazz, I hear metal and breath, softening and strengthening each other

When I listen to jazz, my heart comes to a natural conclusion

When I listen to jazz, the air is sweet

When I listen to jazz, I hear drums banging on the doors of heaven

When I listen to jazz, I say hello to people that I’ll never meet

When I listen to jazz, I am not afraid of death

When I listen to jazz, I hear amateur love

When I listen to jazz, my arms are outstretched and I weep

When I listen to jazz, I apologize

When I listen to jazz, I hear a blessing

When I listen to jazz, I am traveling in an honest world

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

In The Name Of Pants! or: Icon Hat Wait For Love Anymore

It's hard to ignore a headline that blares Bono Suing Former Stylist to Recover Pants, Hat.

After all, you figure he's well off enough these days to afford another pair of pants. Surely the court costs alone would quickly outstrip the cost of a new pair of trousers.

Or maybe he's like me, and the sheer torture of the process of finding a new pair of pants that you like is worse than the prospect of an extended court case.

There must be more to this.

"Former U2 stylist Lola Cashman told Dublin Circuit Civil Court today she had been incredibly frightened when she was accused of taking items worn by Bono while on tour.

The Irish band is seeking the return of an iconic Stetson hat, a pair of metal hoop earrings, a pair of black trousers and a green sweatshirt, all of which were worn by Bono during the 1987 Joshua Tree tour.

Well, you should have said it was 'iconic' in the first place. Say, she didn't make off with one of those cactuses on the cover, too, did she? Ouch!

On the second day of the trial at Dublin Circuit Civil Court, Ms Cashman said she had never been made aware of any problem with her possession of the items until she was contacted by U2’s lawyer in 2002.

“I was intimidated over the phone by a big firm of lawyers. I was incredibly frightened,” she said.

They threatened to make her listen to Bono's speech inducting Bob Marley into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Ms Cashman had attempted to put the items up for auction at Christie’s in London in 2002, but they were held back after U2 questioned their ownership.

“I did not steal those pieces. They were given to me,” she said.

She told the court that she was given the items as gifts by Bono, who had recruited her to update the band’s image.

"Frankly, Lola," Bono said, head in hands, "it's the hat thing. I'm lost...totally lost. I need something...I don't know...iconic."

“I was proud of what I had achieved with the band. Bono liked wearing hats and I changed his style slightly,” she said.

"Your enjoyment of hat wearing at least gives us something to work with," Lola replied, "We just need to tweak your natural iconographic instinct."

This is some job she's got. But who I am to talk? I'm not the one getting paid the big pants, er, bucks.

But senior counsel Paul Sreenan, representing U2, accused her of exaggerating her role in creating the band’s image. He produced a 20-second video clip which showed Bono shopping with Barry Devlin, the lead singer of Irish band, Horslips, in 1987 and purchasing a black Stetson hat.

Ah, ha! Wiggle out of that one, Ms Cashman! If you can!

Seriously, documented is your life when your lawyer can put their hand to video footage of you buying a hat, even if it is iconic?

Ms Cashman said that hat was not in the U2 wardrobe when she arrived and added that her job was to provide the band with a complete image.

So what was it she did that gave Bono's already iconic hat-wearing mystique that special little something?

“Just because Bono had a Stetson on his head, it doesn’t create an iconic image. It’s a whole compilation of an outfit and a hat,” she said.

Absolutely! If you want to achieve true iconogrosity, you have to know how to handle that delicate balance between hat and trousers. It's a whole...thing! Look what happened to Devo after they started putting the flower pots on their heads. The hat/trouser dichotomy has defeated some of the greatest minds of our time. Even Springsteen knew when to throw away that floppy montrosity that used to adorn his working class bean.

And say what you will about that silly cap that Tennille let The Captain wear, at least it matched his trousers.

Her defence counsel, Martin Dully, later brandished the actual Stetson hat in court and got Ms Cashman to confirm that it was a different colour to the hat shown in the video.

Oh, this is better than the Michael Jackson trial, if you ask me.

And the hats just keep on coming...

If you happened to miss the President's speech last night, accept the following as a public service.

The 30 minute speech, billed as a list of specific blueprints the President has regarding his plans for the war in Iraq, was made (no doubt coincidentally) at a time when public support for the war seems to be eroding.

Keeping in mind that many of you might not have the time to read through the entire speech, I have edited the transcript down somewhat in an attempt to save time, but still preserve the gist of it. Enjoy.

"…war on terror…September 11, 2001…freedom…free…September 11…freedom…terrorism…terrorists…free…war on terror…freedom…freedom…terrorists…terror…terrorists…terrorists…terrorists…terrorists…terrorists…terrorists…terrorists…free…terrorists…freedom…September 11…free…war on terror…free…free…terrorists…terrorist…free…terrorists…terrorists…free…terrorists…terrorists…terrorists…terrorist…terrorists…freedom…terrorist…terror…free…freedom…freedom…freedom…free…freedoms…free…free…free…freedom…freedom…freedom…September 11, 2001…terrorists…freedom…terror…terrorists…freedom…freedom…freedom…freedom…freedom…freedom…September 11, 2001."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Rove Is A Dog From Hell

If you’re still wondering how it could be that one of the chief architects of the Bush campaign could state in public that the reaction of half the country to 9/11 was to volunteer to give Osama Bin Laden a foot massage and/or a big, wet, sloppy kiss, and the country hardly blinked at it, you have to keep in mind that the Conservatives have managed to slowly change the definition of what it means to “outrage” someone.

When TIME Magazine gives its cover over to Ann Coulter, whose stock in trade is to accuse anyone who doesn’t vote Republican of being a traitor, and presents her opinion as an intellectual force in today’s political debate, the word “outrage” ceases to have any meaning whatsoever and opens the door for the Karl Roves to demonize anyone who doesn’t agree with them and be taken seriously.

The bookshelves are littered with tomes about the hatred Liberals have for America. They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true, would they? I think they may have gone as far as they can go, though. Michael Savage’s latest is entitled “Liberalism Is A Mental Disorder.” Where can they go from here? How To Kill, Cook And Eat A Liberal?

I’ve especially enjoyed Rush Limbaugh’s response. He’s dusted off one of the rustier, but still serviceable, Conservative arguments as to how you can tell that Karl Rove was right. You know how? Because Democrats got upset. And the more they scream about Rove’s remark, the more you know that Rove hit the nail right on the head!

Try this argument out sometime. Walk up to someone and tell them, “You’re mother’s a whore.” Wait for the reaction. The more upset your test subject becomes, the more you’ll know you were right!

But cultural assimilation works both ways. Now that it’s Graduation Season, let’s take a moment to tip our mortarboards to the students of Owen J. Roberts High School, who “conducted its first-ever commencement ceremony from its new Wildcat Stadium facility.” Exciting, indeed!

Here’s the part that caught my eye, though:

“Salutatorian Justin Hepler shared the poem if I had failed to make the struggle, by Charles Bukowski, noting the importance of maintaining one’s ability to become the sole determinant of "whether or not I fight hard enough to be myself."

In making his own decisions, he said, he expects to find a peace, solace, and wisdom in the search to be himself.”

That’s right. High school students are starting to quote Bukowski at their graduation ceremonies. Not college graduates, mind you, high school graduates.

I, of course, am all for this, although I have to wonder how Bukowski would have taken it. Ultimately, I think he would have enjoyed knowing that he was turning out to be that durable, contrary to what his critics said, and that his real audience, the people who struggle every day and love the ability of language to say a profound thing in a simple way, has and will continue to discover him.

Still, I have to wonder how Justin settled on if i… After all, the volume from which it was taken, The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps, also includes 3 pairs of panties and the closing of the bottomless bar.

Maybe next time.

Monday, June 27, 2005

My Life With The Kill Pill Cult

The hue and cry about Tom Cruise’s recent Scientologically skewed remarks concerning psychiatry and antidepressants is something I can’t help but take personally.

It seems to me that Tom Cruise must never have suffered from clinical depression. Otherwise, there’s no way in the world he’d ever make such idiotic statements.

As someone who has been helped through some very dark times by both psychiatry and antidepressants, I can’t help but wish I could see Tom come down with a nasty case of depression and panic disorder, only to be told that his only cure is (as he’s suggested) vitamins and exercise. I’d like to hold that bottle of pharmaceutical magic in front of his face as he fell through an endless black hole into a neverending hell and tell him, “Not a problem, Tom. 20 push-ups should clear that right up.” How about that for an impossible mission?

It seems to me that only the very rich can afford this kind of stupidity. At some point, after too much money and adulation, a messianic impulse kicks in and you start to believe that you’re as special as everyone says. At which point you become fresh meat for the crackpots.

I only ever met one celebrity Scientologist and they seemed very agitated and frightened to me.

Cruise’s demeanor, his smug belief in his own correctness regardless of the facts, and the little I’ve read about Scientology all remind me of the only time I ever really came into contact with what I considered cult behavior. I once had a close friend who decided to check out Werner Ehrhard’s EST and was completely swallowed up by it. His entire life changed, as they promised. He could no longer relate to anyone who hadn’t done “the training,” EST’s weekend journey to the center of the mind, and if you wanted to remain friends with him, you had to come to terms with the fact that all you’d get out of him any more was a sales pitch for EST.

Among EST’s cuckoo pronouncements (all crackpot cults require at least a few) was the idea that we are all responsible for everything that happens to us. In other words, get hit by a car, you wanted to be hit by a car. Get cancer, you asked for the cancer. This seems to me to be on a par with Cruise’s “Take two multivitamins and call me after you’ve committed suicide.”

I remember that when I was at a particularly low ebb, I called this friend looking for help and advice. All he had was the same hard-sell sales pitch for You-Know-What. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that I’d called a recording.

So I actually did attend one introductory session, out of desperation. When it was over, all the doors were closed and the closest thing I’d ever seen to pod people started to spookily sidle up to each participant, asking them if they’d be interested in pursuing this further and if not, why not. Any negative response was met with an endless list of reasons why they should do “the training.” In fact, they continued to call me for weeks afterwards, badgering me as if “the training” had chased the meaning of the word “no” out of their empty little heads. The whole thing reminded me uncannily of the pressure tactics that are used on you when you visit a car dealership.

Hard to believe that EST was created by a guy who used to be a used car salesman, isn’t it?

Punk Rock Flea Market, or: London Yawning

We had a very good friend come in from the West Coast this weekend (he was one of the two Best Men at our wedding, in fact) and we tried to think of things he might like to do while he was here.

This fellow – let’s call him “Bob” (since that's his name) – moved out West some time ago and found that it agreed with him, and his friends - including us - had to get used to the fact that there was no bringing him back. The temperate clime of California, as well as its more liberal frame of mind, meant that he had found his home. This weekend’s weather seemed only too happy to prove the wisdom of this move, being a brutal, high-temp, humid Philadelphia scorcher.

It’s impossible to get together with Bob without indulging in some punk rock nostalgia, as he was the clerk at what once was Philly’s hippest record store. Between Bob, me, and the wife, you won’t hear much discussion of any record made after 1985. We had our Golden Age and are loathe to leave it go. One of Bob’s first acts upon arriving in the city was to visit the local Tower Records to buy the new Eno CD, in fact. When the cashier made it clear he had no idea who Eno was, well, let’s just say he was lucky that Bob didn’t seek out a manager to fire him on the spot. These kids today!

So these veteran badass punk rockers tried to think of what edgy behavior would be suitable for the day. Now, when all of these aforementioned badasses are starting to hover around the half-century mark, they have to temper their ambition just a bit. So we laid out the possible record stores that might be worth a visit, not to mention the Punk Rock Flea Market being held in the city for the purpose of raising money to pay for the damage to the church that puts on the Punk Rock shows. Which only seems fair.

We started out slowly. First, a visit to the local comic store to find the bendable Ignatz Mouse figure that Bob had taken a shine to when he saw it on my shelf. Then it was off to the K-Mart to find a fan with an LCD display that provides hours of fun with its many spinning color patterns.

After this, the idea of slogging through any more activities in the heat quickly evaporated whatever Anarchy remained within us. So we headed for home, cranked up the A/C, and watched old clips of Iggy, XTC and The Specials on The Old Grey Whistle Test. That’s my kind of Punk Rock Flea Market: Central air, 5.1 surround sound, a big couch, and no one stage diving over my head. After 20 minutes, we all started to fall asleep.

Maybe it’s like John Lennon said. I’m quoting from memory here, but during the Lennon Remembers interview, I remember him talking about his devotion to the ‘50’s idols of his rock ‘n’ roll adolescence. “Maybe I’m just like our parents, and that’s my era and I dig it and I’ll never leave it.”

It was a devotion that was evident all the way through to his last single. Listen to “(Just Like) Starting Over” in your head for a moment. It’s just as much a valentine to Elvis Presley as it is to Yoko Ono.

Which is a pretty good description of just about everything he ever did.

Good night sweet punks, then and now.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Midnight In The Garden Of Hood And Weevil

Every neighborhood has one. You know, the “weird” house.

There’s overgrown shrubbery hiding most of the house, one or two roses meekly trying to raise their heads and avoid being strangled by the weeds, and an endless list of gardening mistakes that amount to a veritable botanical Chamber of Horrors. Not to mention the fact that you rarely, if ever, see the residents of this nightmare home and you imagine them being involved in everything from growing hydroponic pot to gun-running for terrorists.

In our quaint neighborhood, we are that house.

Compared to the other rather sedate homes in our part of town with their well-manicured lawns and flags turned out for the appropriate holidays, and generally populated by older folks who’ve never voted any other way than Republican, we must seem like the Addams Family house. Those neighbors who do speak to us usually glance around nervously behind us, as if expecting the undead creature we’ve been working on in the basement to suddenly appear.

This week we got our annual violation notice from the township asking us to tidy up the sidewalk around our property, which is twice the trouble for a corner property like ours. Not to mention the fact that the landscaper (me) can generally find better things to do than get off the couch to groom an area that, it seems to me, could just as easily be walked around.

What, they’re afraid of a little exercise?

So I’ve gotten out the clippers and come out under cover of night in my ninja suit to do a little trimming. I’d rather the neighbors not see me knuckling under to their brutish and elitist demands. You don’t see me complaining about their sculpted bushes and neatly arranged rows of flora, do you? In the meantime, I’m cooperating with this Neighborhood Taliban, lest I become a victim of their twisted sense of “justice,” not to mention the wife’s rolling pin.

Speaking of whom, Happy Anniversary to us. If you missed the wedding, you missed a hell of a show. We still have some leftover yarmulkes, if you’re interested. As I told those assembled at the time, when I first met my wife I was on a street corner drinking wine out of a brown paper bag.

Which would be funny if it weren’t true.

Anyway, I’d hate to think of where I’d be if she hadn’t shown up. From time to time, the world does show us undeserved mercy. May you receive yours, too.

And I have to say that I am shocked – shocked! – to hear that a senior official of the Bush Administration would exploit the events of 9/11 for political gain!

What is the world coming to?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

I Feel The Need...For Salvation!

Well, it was a red-letter day for the USA yesterday, I must say.

Lawmakers, armed with what John McCain called "industry-financed reports," decided that global warming still isn't a problem, not as long as our air conditioners are still working, as the Senate voted against an amendment that would have placed mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

Need more Profiles In Courage?

The Air Force probed itself and decided that accusations of religious bullying and institutionalized evangelical proselytizing at the Air Force Academy were greatly exaggerated. Can you say "a few bad apples"? The phrase "natural overexuberance of youth," which came in so handy at Abu Ghraib, pitched in to help out the well-meaning cadets who didn't mean anything when they called someone a "******* Jew" that "killed Christ."

Not to be outdone, a spokesman for Dr. James Dobson's "Focus On The Family," the religious organization that's, like the Academy, based in Colorado Springs, claimed that evangelical Christians were the targets of a "witch hunt."

That isn't enough Heroism for you?

With a Sousa march playing in their hearts, no doubt, the House passed the Flag-Burning Amendment we brought up on 6/15. Chances are it won't have the votes it needs in the Senate, but it's just a "voting op" anyway.

Once again, Andrew Sullivan pulled the best quote for his blog. The following comes from Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-California:

"Ask the men and women who stood on top of the (World) Trade Center. Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment."

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. As our fellow Americans were under attack from madmen who wanted to destroy our country and the freedom and pluralism it stands for, this was the thought that was going through their minds:

Don't let my sacrifice be in vain!

Legislate patriotism!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Show Yourself Out

I was listening to an obit this morning about a notable person whose accomplishments, which were many, apparently did not keep him from mingling with his fellow humans. Despite his notoriety and many awards he was, they said, “a man of the people.”

This usually infers that the person under discussion possessed a certain humility. Rather than stay home and admire himself in the mirror, he found the time to wander the Town Square, buy himself an Egg McMuffin, and inquire of his fellow diners how they felt about world events and so on. It reassures us to know that even the greatest of us share something of a common humanity with those of us who are not so blessed.

Now speaking as a people myself, I suppose this is an admirable thing, a good way to stay grounded when all those about you are devoted to inflating your opinion of yourself. However, I do feel that it’s important to strike a blow for misanthropy now and again.

Humanity and I have exchanged pleasantries for almost a good 50 years now and, I have to say, I don’t think we’re any closer now than we were 50 years ago. We continue to eye each other warily, like a High School principal and a student wearing a Metallica t-shirt.

And I should probably admit that, were I lucky enough to come into the sort of financial success that usually accompanies the accolades of one’s peers, I would not exactly be what you would call a Man Of The People. The extent to which I resemble one now is only due to necessity and the fact that I have to eat, that is to say, I am a Man Of The People Under Protest.

Were making a living no longer a consideration, I would be the furthest thing from a Man Of The People that you could imagine. I would then have the luxury of being a Man Who Avoids The People, and I would sequester myself accordingly, free at last from the agony of making small talk and exchanging opinions. In truth, I’ve only really ever cared for one opinion and that’s my own. Different ones make me uncomfortable and cranky, to be honest.

All meals would be eaten in and I would have Christo swaddle my home in blankets. The road leading up to my house would be several miles long and strewn with barbed wire and glass. I would have a spokesman who would report on my condition from time to time, for the sake of those parties who were still interested. “He’s enjoying the peace and quiet provided by the lack of your constant irritating white noise,” he’d say to applause. And I would chair a number of philanthropic organizations, although their aims would be totally selfish, with names like The Help Me Get Richer Foundation and The Campaign To Keep You Away From Me.

Then after as I was gone, they could say of me wistfully, “He never had to meet a man he didn’t like.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bookhouse Boy

I picked up 3 movie books at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square before I left New York and I’m having a good time with them.

A revised edition of “Lynch On Lynch” now takes you through the making of Mulholland Drive. I was surprised that I bought it, actually, as I cooled off considerably on David Lynch after Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Part of the problem was that I was really caught up in the show and everything he did afterwards, especially the feature-length sequel, soured me on him. Wild At Heart seemed to be teetering on the edge of self-parody; FWWM was tedious and nihilistic; Lost Highway a serious case of the Emperor wearing no clothes; and Mulholland Drive a failed TV pilot with a tacked-on ending that made no allowances for its tube-related loose ends. But his work still holds an attraction for me and the book makes for interesting reading, managing as it does to get some answers out of the notoriously secretive director.

“Losing The Light” was a book I’d always meant to get around to reading. It belongs to what is now a sub-genre of film volumes devoted to the hellish experience of making and releasing a Terry Gilliam picture. This one’s devoted to the fracas surrounding Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen and it’s the usual TG Vs. The Suits, but especially interesting to me as I have a special fondness for the Baron, an affection that only seems to increase with time.

Lastly comes D.K. Holm’s “Kill Bill: An Unofficial Casebook.” Holm, who can be read regularly over at Movie Poop Shoot, takes on the task of annotating both volumes of Tarantino’s grindhouse extravaganza, complete with timecodes and everything. You will learn that Beatrix Kiddo’s name can actually be seen on her boarding pass in Volume One (with the aid of your pause button), a popular but profane sentiment is spelled out (once again, carefully pausing) on the bottoms of her sneaks when we see them from below during the House Of Blue Leaves sequence, and Bill’s Superman speech can actually be traced to Jules Feiffer.

You know…the kind of stuff I like to know. Don’t you?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Everyone Into The Plasma Pool!

I’m very excited to see that, at long last, there’s going to be a 2-disc special edition of David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

I figured this was in the cards ever since I read that the disc that paired it with its execrable sequel, The Fly 2, was going to be deleted. But it’s great to see confirmation of it, along with a list of promising extras. With Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch having already received the special edition treatment (all from Criterion, by the way), it seemed a real oversight that the same attention wasn’t being paid to one of Cronenberg’s seminal works and that it was left languishing on a cheapo double-bill DVD with one of the worst sequels ever conceived.

Have I conveyed how I feel about The Fly 2 yet?

Actually, the remarkable thing here is that they’re giving the same 2-disc treatment to the sequel! How in the world anyone could think it deserves to live on as anything more than a trailer is beyond me. And even then…

But we’ll have a Fly special edition at last. Good news for anyone who’s been a fan of this most melancholy of horror films, unless you count Dead Ringers as “horror.” Speaking of which, its Criterion disc disappeared from shelves years ago and was finally replaced a week ago with a new disc that features an entirely new commentary from star Jeremy Irons. Best of all is the news that the problems with the musical soundtrack, evident on the Criterion disc, seem to have been fixed, at least according to one Amazon reviewer.

Look for the new Fly disc in the fall, no doubt around the time Cronenberg’s latest film, A History Of Violence, is released. The changes that I’ve read about that he’s made to the original graphic novel don’t sound like anything major and it seems to have gotten great reaction at Cannes this year. Still, I can’t imagine how he’s going to manage the big money shot/twist towards the end (you’ll see what I mean). It’s strong stuff, even for jaded moviegoers who think they’ve seen it all.

Now all we need is the release of M. Butterfly on DVD, the reinstatement of the commentary that was lost when Crash made the jump from Criterion laserdisc to ordinary DVD, and the premiere of Howard Shore’s Fly opera (honest). The scores he’s written for Cronenberg’s films rank amongst my very favorite, especially Naked Lunch and Crash. What will result when he attempts to genetically mate The Fly with Opera is anyone’s guess. Call it Brundlieder!

Ground Hero

For the first time in years, I made the trip to Manhattan by public trans last Saturday.

Usually I make the trip by car, but since this was kind of a “get-in-and-get-out” trip, I thought I’d save myself the aggravation of driving. It’s a good deal, especially when you leave early and you’re half asleep: you close your eyes and then you’re in NY like magic, no tolls, no long wait at the Lincoln Tunnel, no parking worries, etc. It’s great. You do have to be awake enough to change trains twice, but otherwise it’s a breeze.

Upon exiting Penn Station I turned around and was struck by the sight of the Empire State Building, something I hadn’t seen in person in ages. My trips to NY usually center around the Village and Times Square, so I’m always surprised when one of these landmarks swims into view. All of a sudden I think, “Oh, right…New York.” I still haven’t made the trip to Ground Zero, something I’m reminded of every time I drive into the city and I’m met by that famous, but crippled, skyline.

All of which seemed appropriate, as I was there to celebrate a very New York comic book that’s filled with such iconography.

To be honest, I’m not the comic geek of my childhood. I try to keep tabs on what’s going on and keep an eye on a handful of favorites, and sometimes I get lucky and discover something great.

In this case, it’s Ex Machina, a monthly book brought to you by one Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Tony Harris (illustrator). I had known and loved Harris’s work since I started buying Starman years ago, and Vaughan I only knew from his Y: The Last Man, a story of what happens when a plague wipes out all the males on the planet…save one.

Ex Machina tells the story of Mitchell Hundred, a civil engineer who’s caught in a mysterious explosion (which may or may not have been engineered by beings from an alternate universe) which gives him the ability to communicate with machines. Still with me?

Spurred on by a childhood friend, Mitchell uses these abilities to become a superhero called “The Great Machine,” a name derived from a quote by Thomas Jefferson about society. Unfortunately, “The Great Machine” seems to create as many problems as he solves and Hundred decides to retire his superhero togs and run for Mayor of New York City.

Still with me?

His campaign seems doomed, until the events of 9/11 force him to become “The Great Machine” one last time to do what he can to help. And he does. In Mitchell’s world, which resembles ours in most other respects, he prevents the second plane from hitting the Tower.

He’s elected by a landslide.

From these elements and others, Vaughan and Harris weave a subtle and compelling meditation on politics, the nature of heroes and our need for them, and comic books themselves. It’s probably the best written and most beautifully drawn comic book being published at the moment. And it’s not just me saying that: they’ve gotten a bucketload of Eisner nominations for their trouble, so I’m not a loony in the wilderness here (as is so often the case).

I don’t often do the Comic Con thing, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet them in person at the Big Apple Con, not to mention getting to indulge my passion for autographs. Both of them are modest to a fault about what they’re doing, often shifting any praise they get onto the other one. Their creative relationship is truly collaborative, and the artistic benefits are there for anyone to see.

They’re not working in a vacuum, thank goodness. Ex Machina seems to attract more readers and kudos every day. The next paperback collection will sport an introduction by The Wachowski Brothers, for heaven’s sake. So don’t wait to be told how great it was when it’s over (it comes to an end when Hundred’s first term does). Enjoy it now and spread the word.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Brain Dead

Nice piece on the aftermath of the Schiavo autopsy in the Washington Post.

In "Where's The Apology?: Bending the Facts on Schiavo," E. J. Dionne Jr. writes, "We are entitled to our moral, ethical and philosophical commitments. We are not entitled to our own facts."

"So why is this basic rule of argument often ignored by politicians whose certainty about their righteousness convinces them that they can say absolutely anything to further their causes?"

Dionne goes on to remind us of what Bill Frist and Tom DeLay had to say at the time, and how hard Frist is backpedaling now that the results are out. "I never made the diagnosis, never said that she was not (in a vegetative state)," Frist told Good Morning America, doing his best impression of Sgt. Schultz.

"We cannot move on," Dionne writes, "until those politicians who felt entitled to make up facts and toss around unwarranted conclusions about Schiavo's condition take responsibility for what they said -- and apologize."

The folks in charge aren’t really keen on apologies at the moment, you may have noticed. The best you can hope for is "It’s time to leave behind this bitter partisan squabbling and bind the nation’s wounds, etc."

But "I’m sorry I done it"? Not unless one of them gets pumped full of sodium pentathol.

Or cash.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Getting On Nicely In The Dark

Yesterday was Bloomsday and rather than sit politely at another reading of Ulysses, I ended up seeing some movies at the local multiplex. Although not explicitly a Joycean homage, I like to think there was something Bloomian about my June 16th.

After all, hadn’t Joyce himself been responsible for bringing the first cinema to Ireland?

And I didn’t stroll around Dublin, but I did sit in the dark with images flashing in front of me, much like Stephen Dedalus on Sandymount Strand. Talk about your ineluctable modality of the visible!

I didn’t relive poor Paddy Dignam’s funeral, but I did attend that of Senator Padme of Naboo.

I didn’t eat a Gorgonzola cheese sandwich, but I did have a Twix and a Nutrageous.

No character I saw disguised his handwriting by using greek e’s, but I did watch someone disguise themselves by dressing up as a bat.

I could make a case for Shark Boy and Lava Girl as Scylla and Charybdis, couldn’t I?

And “Yes I said yes I will yes” sounds like Yoda syntax to me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

It's A Grand Old Constitutionally Amended Flag!

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-
It gives a lovely light!

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

From USA Today:

WASHINGTON — The Senate may be within one or two votes of passing a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the U.S. flag, clearing the way for ratification by the states.

Congress regularly has debated the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Texas flag desecration law in 1989 and its own Flag Protection Act the next year. But until now, it has failed to muster the two-thirds vote needed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate before states try to ratify the measure.

But this time may be different. Amendment supporters say last year's election expanding the Senate Republican majority to 55 has buoyed their hopes for passage.

"It's important that we venerate the national symbol of our country," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the amendment's chief sponsor. "Burning, urinating, defecating on the flag — this is not speech. This is offensive conduct."

There's no law against burning, urinating, or defecating on Orrin Hatch, though, is there?

The Senate Judiciary Committee may not hold a hearing until around the July Fourth holiday, and a floor vote hasn't been scheduled.

Oh, splendid timing there. I'm surprised they're not actually holding the hearing at Ground Zero.

With The Rockettes.

A poll released last week by the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center in Nashville found 63% oppose a flag amendment, up from 53% last year.

"Clearly, more Americans are having second thoughts about using a constitutional amendment to instill respect for the flag," said Gene Policinski, the center's executive director. "Many Americans consider it the ultimate test of a free society to permit the insult or even desecration of one of the great symbols of the nation."

Hey, wait a minute! How did someone with a brain sneak into this article? Get lost, Osama!

That's the liberal media for you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Now With 24 Hour Web Screaming!

This idea of posting something at least once a day can certainly clean out the old mental closet in a hurry. Of course if you’re really stuck, you can always fall back on the old standby of posting a meta-note about the difficulty of finding something to post about. Sort of like this.

If you ever find yourself in despair about our educational system, this won’t cheer you up: I was watching a new local weatherman the other day and at one point he says about the day’s forecast, “Today was sticky and tomorrow’s going to be…stickier. Is ‘stickier’ a word? Let’s just say it’ll be ‘more sticky’.”

Yes, ‘stickier’ is a word, Virginia. Just like ‘illiterate.” Don't be surprised if the Republicans run this guy in the next election.

The wife sends along the following note:

According to a Swedish study, male excess body weight is linked to loss of memory and other mental impairments in old age. The heavier the man, the greater the likelihood of dementia.

I take her point, but reply:

Dementia's a given, isn't it?

To which she responds:

Well, yes, but how demented do you want to be? Don't answer that.

She knows me too well.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Microscopic Broom Sweeps Dean

From New

"Nano-sized toothbrushes that can clean very small surfaces have been developed by researchers.

Fabricated out of millions of carbon nanotubes, the minuscule brushes could even paint the inside of capillaries thinner than a human hair."

I, for one, am opposed to this kind of research.

Even though the brushes in question are microscopic, they still retain the characteristics and potential for eventual broom-life.

To use them for research is unconscionable and the beginning of a slippery slope that leads to experiments with tiny ladders and tiny buckets of paint.

"I've never been able to understand his appeal. Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does. He's never won anything, as best I can tell."

- Dick Cheney responds to Howard Dean's recent remarks about the Republican Party, while demonstrating the rhetoric that results when he's denied the use of profanity. As Gene Kelly said in Singing In The Rain, "Dignity, always dignity!"

Re: our post of 6/8 (Hot Air, Gases, and You), Andrew Sullivan points out today that Philip Cooney, the “petroleum lobbyist with no scientific training” who edited those government reports about global warming, decided out of the clear blue sky (no pun intended) to resign.

Nothing to do with the editing controversy, you understand. It just so happened that two days after the story broke, "He had accumulated many weeks of leave and had decided to resign and take the summer off to spend the time with his family,” according to the official Bush administration statement.

Isn't that always the way?

Abu Ghraib: That's Hot!

Every American is born a centaur.

That’s right. Half-human, half-automobile.

And there is no greater pain than the legless agony of being trapped inside your home, without recourse to the horseless carriage that constitutes our national passport, nay, our spiritual identity.

Which is to say, we’ve got the car back.

Suddenly, no errand is too dull, no trip to the market too troublesome. A trip to the moon on gossamer wings, as the song says.

So we celebrated by taking a trip to the Mall.

It’s been my opinion that, between television and the Mall, it’s possible to diagnose our country’s collective illnesses. All you have to do is read between the lines.

I believe that much as the Reagan years were characterized by programs that featured the frisky gamboling of the Rich, the Dubya era will be remembered for entertainment and celebrities that, much like the President, seemed to have been created by people with little or no imagination, or ability to use the English language. Instead, we were left with gutteral utterances which we assumed would do the job until the time came when we required anything more complicated.

Ergo, "I work hard," "You’re Fired!," "Mission Accomplished!," "That’s hot!" and the hundred other stupidities that ravage us on a daily basis.

It’s why television now seems to consist largely of reality shows and parodies of reality shows.

The old saw has it that "You’ll find it all at the Mall" and I, for one, believe it. It’s where the arteries of commerce and the collective unconscious meet.

So when I walked past the Maternity Clothing store with the ad on display which featured an hysterically happy pregnant woman, with a banner above her that read, "Motherhood: That’s Hot!", you’ll understand why I wanted to jump back in the car and go back to hiding in the house.

When the Mall lets you down, there’s no place left to run.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

I Am Uncool!

Back when I thought that the greenlighting of two books on Simpsons collectibles meant that my publisher would be more inclined to indulge further suggestions from me, I pitched the idea of a book about all the great singles of the punk era, complete with pix and capsule descriptions that would more or less give us the elbow room to take the subject wherever we wanted.

I wasn’t surprised today when I ran into Garry Mulholland’s This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk And Disco. The title comes from the Revillos’ classic I Can’t Stand My Baby and that may clue you in to the book’s decidedly U.K. stance. But that’s where the great singles were coming from, so you can’t blame him.

According to the intro, Mulholland intended the book as a sort of answer to Dave Marsh’s similar The Heart Of Rock And Soul, a list of his 1,001 favorite singles. There’s a lot more variety here, though, and Marsh doesn’t have much sympathy for anything that’s too out of the mainstream, whereas here Mulholland rhapsodizes about the genius of the Fire Engines’ Davey Henderson and refers to Henderson’s Nectarine No. 9 (see links) as "Bolan-meets-Prince-round-Captain Beefheart’s-place." In other words, my kind of book.

Of course, it made me a little sad to see somebody else run with the idea. On the other hand, after a cursory examination, I realized I couldn’t have written it as well as Mulholland. So the better man won.

I hate when that happens!

Suck And Blow

The wife's out seeing Graham Parker.

What you may think is odd is that we saw him last week.

But she's up for multiple viewings of her faves, unlike myself who is satisfied with a single pass. What a pass it was, though. If you ever need to argue about how the music industry and the radio dial has failed, Parker is the walking, talking embodiment of that argument.

Even after all these years, there's more passion, wit, and heart in a Parker performance than anyone's I can think of. He's busy pushing a new CD called Songs Of No Consequence and you'd do well to pick it up. If you wondered where all the guts in rock 'n' roll disappeared to, wonder no more.

You'll have to buy it if you want to hear it, though. Radio programmers aren't going to be fighting each other to be the first to air songs like "There's Nothing On The Radio" or lines like "The future looks like toast/We better just burn it."

At least I don't think they will.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Maybe The Little Girls Understand, 'Cause I Sure Don't

Can someone explain the whole White Stripes thing to me?

I mean, I've read the articles, I've seen them on TV, but I still don't get it. They still come across to me as mannered and smug. Yes, I know about the Loretta Lynn album and the Cold Mountain soundtrack, but my god, who can bear it?

I say these things in light of a radio interview with them that I ran into today. In between precious pronouncements about why they can't discuss their real relationship and theories about the number three, the interviewer played a recording of them performing the Bacharach/David classic, I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself.

Now understand, I'm speaking as someone who considers himself a fan of noise and who appreciates an idiosyncratic approach to popular music. But this was perfectly awful, aimless scribblings with no guiding purpose. I was shocked by the nothingness of it all.

Then tonight I'm looking over the new releases at the video store, and I realize that the music playing in the background is Dionne Warwick's original version of the song I'd heard so cold-bloodedly murdered only hours before.

I overheard a woman nearby say to her companion, "That's Whitney Houston's aunt."

And I thought, you're damn right it is. All of a sudden I forgave all of that Psychic Friends stuff. Hell, give me the number. I'll call them right now.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hot Air, Gases, and You

You may have noticed the following story making the rounds today:

“The National Academy of Sciences and 10 similar organizations from some of the world's most powerful nations released a statement Tuesday calling for a stronger international response to global warming, arguing there is now more than enough evidence of a changing climate to justify taking immediate action.The unprecedented joint statement, politically timed to coincide with British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit with President Bush in Washington, called on developed nations to "acknowledge that the threat of climate change is clear and increasing."

The statement was signed by National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts as well as the heads of science organizations from Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan and Russia. That includes science academies from the Group of 8 industrial nations, as well as from the three largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the developing world.”

At the same time, the N.Y. Times has revealed documents that show that the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a former lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, regularly edited government climate reports so that they would play down the link between global warming and greenhouse gases.

Under this kind of duress, even Bush can’t trot out the usual cant about how a) there’s no such thing, b) if there is, it’s a natural form of climate change, or c) if it gets too hot, Jebus will save us.

It must be tough to have to come down out of the faith-based cloud cuckoo land where God gave Adam and Eve the Earth to abuse and pillage as they saw fit without a thought for tomorrow, as The Rapture will no doubt have happened by then. Want to know just how funny Global Warming is? When Rush Limbaugh posts one of his informed salvos against the “environmentalist whackos,” he usually illustrates it with a picture of himself spraying a globe with an aerosol spray can.

Because scientists are stupid. You know, evolution, gravity, all that crap. Isn’t he funny?

Some Of The Dharma, With A Side Of Fries

As I mentioned below, the Screwloosemobile has not been well, which means that if I am to make my shift at Endless Bore & Tedium, I have to use the bus.

I don’t mind it, really. It makes you appreciate the car more. Plus you get a chance to get caught up on your bus advertising.

Unfortunately, it can be frustrating on a day like today when I know there’s a bunch of new stuff waiting for me at the Best Buy. So, with the good judgment that has always been one of my hallmarks, I decided to walk there during lunch.

Halfway there in the stultifying heat, I decide it was a good call. I seem to be holding up and if I breeze in and out, I should be fine.

When I get there, it all falls apart. The effort of the walk has my head spinning. Hunger starts to kick in. I feel faint. My cell phone rings. It’s the mechanic calling about the Screwloosemobile. So now I’ve got to pay attention to him when I should be scouring the shelves and the clock is ticking.

I check out and, as soon as the hot air hits me, I know I’ve made a tremendous mistake. I plow on, looking for corners where I can shave off some mileage. Meanwhile, I’m calling the wife, the brother-in-law (for a second opinion on the mechanic, of course), and the mechanic, once I’ve decided his estimate is reasonable.

Now I’ve come to the last turn before the stretch of straight road that leads back to work. But it’s a long stretch. And it’s been many years since I’ve hitchhiked. But I decide I have to take a shot and since I’m not willing to put my thumb out, I walk up to a decidedly weather-beaten truck that’s got its turn signal blinking in the right direction and just straight out ask for a ride.

The guy is more than accommodating, moving his Igloo cooler off the passenger’s seat and telling me how you used to always be able to count on a ride from a truck, but now everybody’s got one, even "these prissy ladies." I thank him profusely and hop out two lights down, just in time to get back to work.

It was the first time I’d begged for a ride in ages, though I’d spent years doing it and over some long distances, too. So it’s come to this. Instead of speeding across the country from coast-to-coast like Kerouac, attempting to hold all these States together in a fevered, poetic embrace, I’m walking to the Best Buy for the latest bad Hellraiser sequel. What would Jack have said? "I’m mad for the ones that walk up to trucks and ask politely for rides, because their sorry, overfed carcasses can’t walk for another two lights"?

Let’s hope they cure what’s ailing my transportation soon.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Can't Buy Me Lunch, or: And Now For Something Exactly The Same

With Monty Python's Spamalot being awarded 3 Tonys last night (out of 14 nominations), I thought it might be a good time to talk about this current trend of beating a dead horse until it coughs up some money.

In the case of Spamalot, which I haven't seen, it seems a sad capstone to an admirable legacy. If the number I saw last night was any indication, there wasn't much of a point to doing it except for picking the pockets of its potential wealthy boomer audience.

If you're looking for the hands to blame, it seems like the Devil has made plenty of work for Eric Idle's.

Idle’s the Python who’s responsible for Spamalot, the one who’s touring with Python songs and then writing a book about the tour, etc., etc. And he’s got an enormously successful Broadway show to back him up, though, right? So what’s the problem?

Well, the dark side of Spamalot is currently on view on a DVD called Rutles 2: Can’t Buy Me Lunch, a useless sequel to another project of Idle’s that was tremendously funny and which he now can’t bear to leave alone. It’s also led to a rather amusing feud between Idle and the man who wrote all of that project’s incredibly dead-on Beatle parodies, Neil Innes, best known to music fans as one of the members of the classic British group, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

There’s a great article about all of this that appeared about a month ago that you can read here, including some remarkably snide comments from Idle about Innes, including "Neil is a clever and gifted singer and songwriter who's determined to be a failure, and his determination succeeds." Now think for a moment just how much you would have enjoyed the original Rutles film if it didn’t have any of Innes’s songs, but all of Idle’s shtick, and you’ll get an idea of just how ungrateful this is.

Innes, who appeared in the original Holy Grail film and wrote some of the music for its songs, offered to provide some new songs for Spamalot, in fact. "Last year, about April, I said, 'Eric, do you want any more songs for Spamalot? But he said, 'No, it's all done, and Mike Nichols loves it.' So I said, 'Oh, hell.'" He continues, "Someone changed the monks' chant, which I thought was a little petty, because it must have been all of 50 cents [in royalties] to use it."

In Idle’s eyes, Innes’s great sin appears to be that he isn’t running every original concept he ever had into the ground. In fact, I saw Innes perform last October and he proved to still be a fantastic entertainer who was loathe to rest on those crowd-pleasing numbers that made his name. Which was fine, as his new songs were every bit as good.

Can’t Buy Me Lunch, however, seems to have been a vanity project for Idle, who didn’t ask for any help from any former Rutles and merely repeated old bits from the original along with sewing in new celebrity interview segments. The result is a sad and tatty looking thing that ultimately depresses the viewer and leaves him or her wondering what on Earth would motivate Idle to make it.

But he should worry. He’s got a huge Broadway hit on his Idle hands, and I imagine there’s still plenty of cash waiting to be squeezed from the carcass of his old career. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Is Diss A System?

While I remember it, and this seems as appropriate a way as any to christen this Ship of Fool, the Comics Journal Winter Special 2005 has a nice piece by comics historian Bill Blackbeard on Milt Gross, creator of Nize Baby, Count Screwloose of Tooloose and many others. Though largely unsung today, Milt was one of the greats of the medium, with a penchant for unrestricted slapstick and madly exaggerated nonsense. As Philip K. Dick once observed about Christ, "There should be more like him."

While we're on the subject, I finally acquired a Walt Kelly autograph a few weeks ago. It's in a copy of Pogo's Sunday Punch and inscribed "From an old goat..." with a sketch of Albert Alligator. This leaves one name on my autograph wishlist: Laurence Sterne. But we may have to curb that desire until the proverbial ship comes in. In fact, the way the Screwloosemobile has been acting up, I may switch to a boat any day now.

Shouldn't leave this topic without a mention of the latest issue of The Comics Journal, which reprints a nice hunk of Kelly's work on Our Gang Comics. It's always strange to see him drawing humans...

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Oh Brother!

Another wild goose needs chasing.