Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sports Illustrated goes around the bend

So let's cut to the chase. The story is this: it's a college softball game. The batter whacks a home run, her first ever. Hurrah! But she somehow misses first base, and as she's turning around to touch it, she tears a ligament, and now she can't run. And she's disqualified if any of her teammates help her. Shit! So a player from the other team, Mallory Holtman, enlists the help of a teammate, and they help her around the bases. In spite of the fact that Holtman's team needs to win this game to go on to the championships!

Okay, fine, decent thing to do, good sportswomanship, and all that. But, um...

I don't usually read Sports Illustrated, but it was sitting around, so I read this article, which is where I found out about the incident. And it's truly one of the most bizarre things I've ever read.

Let's be clear: this is not just an ephemeral, feel-good story. This is the most hardcore, insanely, searingly, heartwarming thing you will ever encounter in your entire blighted existence. Mallory Holtman is like Jesus, Buddha, the Dali Lama, and St Francis of Assisi all rolled into one, only four hundred times awesomer.

"The story of an athlete's singular gesture continues to inspire," the opening blurb says. "Careful, though, it will make you cry." To drive home the point, the main article opens with...well, I don't think I can do justice to the gaspingly breathless tone of the piece merely by describing it:

The gift moved by wire and satellite, leaving a saltwater trail. It came from a field on the edge of the Cascade Mountains and traveled around the world. The gift was a story. It began with a hanging curveball and ended with a strange, slow procession. It gave gooseflesh to a phys-ed teacher in Pennsylvania, made a market researcher in Texas weak in the knees, put a lump in the throat of a crusty old man in Minnesota. It convinced a cynic in Connecticut that all was not lost.

It goes on in that vein. I hear it caused a lifetime paraplegic to walk for the first time. And a woman emerged from a twenty-year coma. Also.

We were five years and 4,000 dead soldiers into Iraq. The story jolted us back to sanity, people said, and restored our faith, and reminded us that goodness and decency and honor still exist.

Really. "People" said that, did they? I guess I have to accept that people did indeed say that, as the article is sprinkled with hyperbolic letters people wrote to Holtman (who is, with a certain unconscious sexism, referred to as "Mallory" throughout the piece)--including, hilariously, one from a guy who relates how a Little League team he was coaching got screwed over because, in hitting a home run, one of his players missed the base, and now he's going to passive aggressively send the news along to the opposing coach. With true love and brotherhood!

The whole article is just determined--so determined that its motives look vaguely suspicious--that you will think this is the greatest sacrifice that one human being could possibly make. It culminates thusly:

Some will say that only a woman would have done what Mallory did, that a baseball player in the same situation would have left his opponent in the dust. Some will say that only an amateur would have done what Mallory did, and only a player from a Division II college or lower, because in Division I and professional sports the purity of competition is tainted by money. There will be plenty of debate, except on one point. Almost all of us who hear Mallory's story will search the high meadows of our souls for hope that we would have done the same thing, or that we will, if we are ever given the chance.

Um. Yes. Could we step back from the ledge for a moment? When I'm hypothetically wondering whether I could display the moral courage of heroic individuals, I generally think of people like John Brown, Rosa Luxemburg, or Kurt Gerstein. I know "having perspective" is generally viewed as an Unamerican thing to do, but come fucking on. "The high meadows of our souls?" Really? Christ, people, what this amounts to is a team giving up a run in a softball game. It ain't quite the crucifixion.

You really want an answer? Okay, fine. Yeah, in the same situation, I probably would have done the same thing, had I thought of it. "Had you thought of it?" Yeah. Because it might not have occurred to me. And it might not have occurred to me because--hate to throw cold water on the proceedings, but--this incident is simply not a big deal. I am thoroughly baffled that--on the evidence of this article--people are positively building a cult of personality out of it. Is our society really that morally impoverished? Or do we take sports so seriously that the idea of anyone willingly making any kind of sacrifice therein is in fact crucifixion-level? Regardless, if we're really this starved for transcendence, then it's clear that we really are the most spiritually impoverished nation on the globe. Not that that would be a terribly shocking revelation.

I don't want to belittle Holtman's achievement but--wait a second, that's the point of this entire post! What am I saying?!? To reiterate: it was a nice thing to do, but it's not anything more. The fact that we feel the need to lionize it isn't exactly a condemnation of our culture, but it sure does show that our values are deeply irrational.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Duck Comics: "The 'Colossalest Surpise' Quiz Show"

Admit it--you thought I'd given up on this. I'm not offended. It would have been the only logical conclusion.

Actually, it's at least partially because I bogged down in my effort to write an entry on "Old California." It's a fascinating story, in large part because it's the least characteristic thing Barks ever wrote, and it deserves a thoughtful, thorough entry--but I think I may have to rethink my usual MO for that one, since the entry was just spinning out of control.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

"When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."

If I have to suffer through moronic verbal excretions from Sun-Duhzette readers, I don't see why you should be exempt.

Doug Loss laments the liberal tactic of re-defining terms to suit their ends. Unfortunately, liberals have done this for decades as they cannot argue with they try to re-define the argument.

Here are some corrections to the attempt by liberals at redefining arguments:

Waterboarding is not "torture"

Semi-Automatic firearms are not "Assault Weapons" nor are they "Machine Guns"

Conservative talk is not "right-wing hate"

Terrorists are not "freedom fighters"

Free stuff is not a "right"

Abortion is not "healthcare"

Government spending is not an "investment"

Paying taxes is not "patriotic"

Erik Latranyi

Fun fact: the "Doug Loss" he mentions--a prolific letter-writing ideologue--works in the public library here. I know that because for some unknown reason I'm on their mailing list, and as such I sometimes get emails from him. So: "Conservative goon thinks fellow conservative goon's job is unpatriotic." That's a headline I want to see.

There's still a part of me that wants to actually try to engage the nonsense that this evil motherfucker (and yes, I reserve the right to use the word "evil" for torture apologists) and others like him propagate, but what's the use of trying to--OH JESUS CHRIST, "paying taxes is not patriotic?!?" Are you four years old? Do you have ANY GODDAMN CLUE how society works? What exactly do you think is supporting the troops you assholes love to piously natter on about? The sheer cumulative spiritual energy provided by millions of yellow ribbon magnets? The dead and the permanently wounded thank you for your "support," I'm sure.

I hope some lunatic sets your house on fire, and the fire department does its patriotic duty by letting the fucker burn, and the police department does its patriotic duty by not even trying to get the guy who did it. It's your warped, diseased worldview; you deserve to live with the consequences.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The machine that goes "Bing!"

Those commercials for Microsoft's new search engine thingie are clever, but holy god, how is it possible that a behemoth like MS couldn't afford to get a consultant to point out that the term "decision engine" sends a very clear message, and that message is "we think you rabble are all weak-minded buffoons incapable of making your own decisions. Why don't you sit back and rest your tired li'l brains while we decide what you do and don't need to know?"

I don't know; maybe it's a great feat of engineering, but I'll never know, because seriously: fuck me? No, Microsoft, fuck you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

All the King's Men

In the Noel Polk version of All the King's Men, Willie Stark becomes Willie Talos. TALOS?!? Yes, I get the classical allusion, but that doesn't mean it's not a terrible name for the character. He's supposed to be a hardscrabble, down-and-dirty American politician, and you're giving him a highfalutin, European-sounding name like "Talos?" As opposed to the perfectly-fitting Stark? This egregious miscalculation makes me seriously doubt Polk's judgment on all matters relating to this novel. I stuck with the original.

And the original is enough. Because really, people. This novel is badly overwritten as IS. Almost grotesquely so in parts. Do we truly need MORE of this? Warren is very much given to investing events and characters with baroque, pointlessly elaborate verbal curlicues that quickly collapse under their own weight and only serve to gum up the novel and remove whatever narrative momentum it might have had.

The opening is a great example of this: two and a half densely-packed pages describing the highway on which the protagonists are driving. What does this do? Does it contribute to the plot? Does it add any sort of meaningful atmosphere to the proceedings? No and no. And it certainly is not sufficiently arresting on its own terms to make up for that. It's empty, self-indulgent fluff. All that it does is demonstrate that Warren is truly madly deeply in love with the sound of his own voice. And if we weren't convinced, he demonstrates it again. And again. And BANG.

This isn't a political novel. Don't let anyone tell you it is. Everyone always identifies Willie Stark as the central figure--presumably because otherwise, it would be hard to nail it down as being about much of anything--but he is very much a secondary character; we only get a very sketchy idea of who he is or what his appeal to his constituents is, and his corruption, such as it is, is so laughably picayune that you barely raise an eyebrow. The mechanics of power are barely explored. "The rise and fall of an American dictator!" my copy breathlessly proclaims on the cover. Yeah, not so much. There are the seeds of something interesting here, but they never grow into anything.

No, this is about the narrator, Jack Burden. Forget Willie; forget all the other characters--none of them are more than half-formed; it's a stretch to even call them "characters." This is All Jack All The Time. Which means an awful lot of windy philosophizing about morality and duty and history, none of which amounts to much of anything. A deep psychological exploration this is not.

The fact that no one else is defined in any real way also means no one to care about and no drama either. There is a murder. It's meant to be the novel's climax. It's not climactic, because all the people involved are just shadowy puppets. Nothing they do matters or signifies.

I do admit that I was caught up on occasion. I liked the Cass Mastern story, and I liked the Judge Irwin plot. But then, oh lord, I had to slog through the Ballad of Jack and Anne. I think I'm at least as romantic as the next man, but I defy anyone to claim with a straight face that this long digression is in any way affecting. It's not. Anne's not a character (did I mention that there's a fair bit of misogyny here?), and Jack's not an interesting one. Overall, the interesting-to-mind-numbing ratio here is distressingly low.

I see that most of the negative review on amazon seem to come from apathetic high school kids. My normal inclination is to mock such people, but in this case, I have to admit, the apathetic high school kids kinda have a point. It was painful enough for me, a graduate student who's used to this stuff, to get through--you're gonna force it on teenagers who have no interest in literature? I mean, at least for me, there's a certain value in having read such an (however inexplicably) acclaimed book; for them, it just seems pointlessly sadistic.

The Sun-Gazette letters page never disappoints.

I wander if President Obama knows if he has an office in Washington. The way he has been traveling the world and bowing to a king, shaking hands with Chavez, telling Castro what a great leader he is and all the rest of the Middle East countries how great they are doing, all that does is make the U.S. look weak. Obama campaigned on a platform of change; now we know what change he was talking about, giving the U.S.A. away. Obama wants to be a dictator and he has a very good start. Who is going to liberate the U.S. from dictator Obama?

David W. Frye

I know this sounds undemocratic, but gosh. We live in a country where people like this can vote. Really incredibly, unambiguously stupid people. How is it possible that this is an even remotely tenable system? Would it be so much to ask for there to be a very basic critical thinking skills test to qualify for suffrage? Okay okay; I know there are all sorts of problems making that a very bad idea, and wingnuts would quickly figure out how to game the system anyway, but at least that way they couldn't play dumb--we would know they were arguing in bad faith, instead of charitably imagining that they might be dumber than a worm-infested stump--as I am about ol' David here.

You do know, David W. Frye, that letters like yours help Evil Dictator Obama? Because there's plenty of space to criticize the man from the left, but when the most visible critics are completely batshit right-wingers, it creates the impression that he is indeed a man of the left, and that's what people want these days.

I apologize for the above; I realize that that level of cognition just hurts your brain and makes you want to break stuff. It just seemed somehow ethically wrong to let you keep gleefully blasting shell after shell into your foot without making some token effort to get you to stop.

New Disney Comics. So what? Disney Comics are go. So why am I not more excited? Several reasons.

First, these comics are clearly aimed very squarely at very small children. And maybe this is how it has to be to be profitable. I don't know. All I know is that the descriptions of these initial issues make me die a little inside. There is absolutely no concession made to those of us who care seriously about the history of the form. Gemstone may not have been perfect, but it seems positively Shakespearean compared to this. "Kids! Ever wondered what would happen when all the superheroes of the Disney comics universe star in an epic clash against all the super villains with the fate of the world at stake?" Only in my worst nightmares, Boom. Only in my worst nightmares.

Second: twenty-four pages? Seriously? A lot. I mean, REALLY--Gemstone's non-prestige titles, before they were discontinued, were thirty-two pages. Twenty-four isn't enough for many of the great adventure stories even if Boom wanted to publish them. What especially baffles me is all the people in the linked thread going "yes! Only three dollars each! That's MUCH better than Gemstone!" I'm not naming names, but SOMEBODY seriously sucks at math, here. Yes, Gemstone's Prestige titles cost eight dollars each by the end of the run. They were also sixty-four pages long. In other words, proportionally, you're paying exactly the same amount per page.

But, oh ho, no you're NOT! You're actually paying MORE this way, since the Prestige titles were printed on high-quality, acid-free paper that was meant to LAST. Got some of the earliest Gladstone Prestige titles from 1993? Okay. Notice how they're the same quality as they were the day you bought them (unless you've smeared peanut butter on them in the meantime)? Now check out some regular comic books from the same era. Notice how they're, um, not? So basically, you're getting substantially LESS for your dollar than you did from Gemstone. Innumeracy strikes again! Sigh.

Okay, so the reason is obvious--these are aimed at kids, who don't CARE what state they'll be in fifteen years later. But it's highly disappointing to me. I guess I can still hope that the to-be-announced titles are more what I'm looking for, but I'm not optimistic, and if this is their general attitude, then we can kiss that longed-for, hardbound Carl Barks Library in Color goodbye.

If they publish stuff I haven't seen by William Van Horn and Marco Rota (which seems pretty unlikely to me--but remind me to write sometime about my slow, painful conversion to tentative Van Horn fandom), I guess I'll still check it out on occasion, but I sure won't be a regular buyer. The reason I wanted Disney comics to go on in the first place was because I wanted Barks and Rosa to receive the critical and commercial respect they deserve. If that's not going to happen, the whole enterprise can go to hell for all I care.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The things one is supposed to do

"Buck is gitten on," Old Man Stark said. "He ain't right spry any more." Then the old man went to the steps and stooped down with a motion which made you expect to hear the sound of old rusty hinges on a barn door. "Hi, Buck, hi, Buck," the old man wheedled without optimism. He gave up, and lifted his gaze to the Boss. "If he was hongry now," he said, and shook his head. "If he was hongry we could guile him. But he ain't hongry. His teeth gone bad."

The Boss looked at me, and I knew what I was paid to do.

"Jack," the Boss said, "get the hairy bastard up here and make him look like he was glad to see me."

I was supposed to do a lot of things, and one of them was to lift up fifteen-year-old, hundred-and-thirty-five-pound hairy white dogs on summer afternoons and paint an expression of unutterable bliss upon their faithful features as they gaze deep, deep into the Boss's eyes.
-Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men

Friday, June 12, 2009

Stephen Colbert in Iraq

When Stephen Colbert first announced that he was doing a week of shows in the Middle East, it seemed to me like a sensible idea. The soldiers there probably need all the entertainment they can get, and the general concept fits in well with the character's bullet-headed, jingoistic persona.


This week was the week. And the results were, I'm sorry to say...weak. And worse, they were weak for reasons that should have been entirely predictable.

Obviously, you have a big rhetorical challenge on your hands if you're trying to do something like this. Colbert is known as a satirist, but if you're trying to appeal to a general audience (as opposed to the entirely self-selecting one that watches the show in the States), there are very definite limits on what you can and cannot do. Limits which, honestly, might well be insurmountable.

There were funny moments. Of course there were. It's Colbert. But not nearly at the same frequency as there are in the regular show. Instead, we got an incredibly toothless, anodyne barrage of jokes--most of them recycled several times--to the effect of "boy, it sure is hot here, isn't it?" "boy, there sure is a lot of sand, isn't there?" "boy, Saddam's palaces sure were ostentatious, weren't they?" "boy, alcohol sure is illegal here, isn't it?" This is what is known, in scientific parlance, as "weakass shit." It would no doubt have been better if you were there, but it was never going to be comic genius. There were a few exceptions--a joke about soldiers clandestinely masturbating in outhouses surprised me--but only a precious few.

There were also video clips from a strenuously bipartisan array of politicians, each of whom made an incredibly insipid, canned joke. And the metajoke--oh look, the powerful politicians are getting WACKY--wasn't much either.

So: kinda lukewarm. But what's more insidious--and the reason why, in my opinion, this whole enterprise shouldn't have been undertaken in the first place--is that the entire week was basically a long combination army recruitment campaign and Iraq War PR video. There is never any question but that the soldiers are on a noble, victorious mission. Under the circumstances, how could you possibly expect anything else? But more to the point, the actual situation in the country is badly distorted by the fact that--again, completely inevitably--all the guests were military personnel. If this show were your only source of news on the war, you would never guess that there was still any sort of significant violence still going on. You would really and truly believe that the invasion was a good and noble thing, that we're basically done there, and that the end results will be unalloyedly positive for everyone involved. If we were talking about World War II, in which our involvement was widely uncontroversial and the reasons for fighting were clear and unambiguous, that would be one thing. But this is not that, and under the circumstances, painting this picture strikes me as rather malignant.

You know those Kraft ranch dressing commercials where Samantha Bee goes to various places purported to be "Hidden Valleys" (and who knew the rivalry between salad dressing manufacturers was so bitter?) to see how people like The Great Taste Of Kraft Ranch? Those commercials are distasteful because they represent a big corporation attempting (pretty ineptly, but it's the effort that counts) to co-opt, and thereby neuter, Bee's Daily Show persona in order to sell shit.

Same principle here, only much worse. If Colbert were nothing more than an apolitical song-and-dance man, I wouldn't say anything--but he has a well-earned reputation as a sharp satirist, and seeing that reputation being used by the military to prop up an illegal war and occupation--not a pretty sight. Compare this to his White House Correspondents' Dinner performance, in which he viciously insulted President whatsisname to his face. This is very much Colbert Defanged.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A brief note on rhetoric

Look down, I realize--for people who don't know me, at least--that it might seem like I'm just this ball of violent, non-differentiated rage. I mean, if I can get that worked up about a dumb comic strip, then what do my angry posts about anti-abortion terrorists even MEAN? To clarify, then, I should note that when I write about posts about Shoe or anything equally ephemeral should be classified as recreational ranting--ie, sure, Shoe sucks and it should be axed to make room for new, talented cartoonists, but it's not like I'm spending any significant amount of time fulminating over it's badness. Whereas when I write about domestic terrorism, it's just pure, undiluted RAGE that we live in a society that nourishes such monstrous people.
I trust the difference is readily apparent.

I have perhaps said negative things about the most extreme versions of feminism in the past. Like any absolute belief system, there are indeed blind spots and problematic aspects to this kind of thinking. But I must say, with things like this going on, none of that really matters--under the circumstances, it seems dialectically indefensible to be anything other than a radical feminist.

Murderous anti-woman terrorists win.

Annals of terrible comic strips

So I know complaining against shambling undead comic strips like Shoe is like shooting fish in a special fish-restraining device with a high-powered rifle constantly trained directly at them at point-blank range, but this past Sunday's Shoe demands comment.

You can just SEE them straining, can't you, to try to get through an entire Sunday comic to their weakass pun? I've taken to reading these zombie comics backwards, to see how long it takes to figure out what the joke was, and here we have a record: ONE PANEL: "The Jolly Green Giant's son is allegedly addicted to internet corn." Just read that, and you'll get all you're going to get out of this comic. So what the screaming blue FUCK did we need all the build-up for? Because Cassatt, Brookins, and MacNelly are BIG FAT HACKS, is why. Would it be superfluous of me to point out that...sigh..."internet corn" is not actually illegal, making the whole thing even MORE stupid? One imagines that they were shooting for "child corn," but that that was not considered appropriate for the comics page. But THIS crime against humor was? In either case, it would, if any actual children read Shoe, lead them to ask "daddy, what's so bad about corn?" so you wouldn't be PROTECTING anyone by changing "child" to "internet," although you might be the catalyst for a whole lifetime of sexual neurosis. But since NO CHILDREN READ SHOE, the change is even MORE bootless, and "child corn" would at least be logical, at least within the context of the deeply anti-logical world of Shoe. Or hell, what do I know--perhaps the authors of this monstrosity haven't a clue on god's green earth about ANYTHING, and imagine that internet pornography--or perhaps pornography in general--IS illegal. Or maybe they were just operating under the common assumption that any reference to technology they only vaguely understand is hip/cutting edge/a laff riot. But that might be overthinking it; perhaps we should just stick with the most obvious answer: that the world of Shoe is a nightmarish dystopia where any nonsensical, credulity-straining bullshit makes PERFECT SENSE, as long as you can get a stupid, terrible, lazy pun that nobody in the entire world will ever ever EVER find funny or charming or even SLIGHTLY amusing in ANY WAY out of it.

Do these people find their work fulfilling, I wonder?

Monday, June 08, 2009

Radha ramana hari govinda jaya jaya

Kula Shaker (for whom I know I've professed my affection before, but now I'm doing it again. You have problem?), of course, is the neo-psychedelic band with strong Indian flourishes that the British music press lionized for about four seconds in 1996 before deciding that they were a terrible, terrible band, not to mention terrible, terrible people, and savaging them with a level of cruelty and vindictiveness more often reserved for serial child rapists (seriously). This is an utterly predictable ritual of theirs that represents a deep-seated self-loathing on their part more than anything else; I think it mainly comes down to a sense of terror that anyone anywhere might think them somehow uncool. Business as usual, at any rate.

They were, naturally, right the first time; their second album was admittedly sort of a letdown, but their debut, K, remains an absolute delight--and that's true regardless of how cool or uncool I therefore am! Amazing but true! I only bring this up because this album is the obvious correct answer to the avclub's recent question. Surprised no one caught that. The opening salvo of "Hey Dude," "Knight on the Town," "Temple of Everlasting Light," and "Govinda," in particular, is unimpeachable.

And hey, they've regrouped? And they have a new album? Over a year ago? And I didn't notice? Baffling! Anyway, I look forward to checking it out (the NME thinks it's worse than the Ebola Virus, which is surely a good sign).

This post has no real point, other than to note that this band rocks, dude. I'm done.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Duck Comics Plagiarism update

You remember this? No? What am I PAYING you people for? Anyway, out of nowhere, I got an email from Thomas Andrae. Here is what he says:

Let me set the record straight: in the acknowledgements section in my book on Carl Barks I clearly state that Geoffrey Blum “co-wrote with me some of the material on which this book was based.” This is the case with the passage from my book which you quoted. As Geoffrey told you we discussed Magica together and we came up with ideas which we both used in our respective works. I did not footnote Geoff on this passage because I had already given him a general acknowledgment for our co-authored material in my book.


This. I've been pretty consistently enraged these past few days, looking at the moronic fucking responses to the Tiller murder. All these dimwitted, christfucking troglodytes (yeah, Tucker Carlson, you bowtie-wearing jackass, and Bill O'Reilly, you loathsome pile of excrement, I'm looking at you guys) talking about how, yeah, the murder wasn't a good thing, but what a horrible, horrible person he was. No, you fucking epsilon-minus semi-morons, he was a hero who helped untold numbers of women through the most agonizing decisions they were ever forced to make, in spite of constant harassment, threats of physical violence, and ultimate fulfillment of those threats by you and yours. If you had even the slightest bit of empathy or Christ-nature you might at least dimly be able to see that, but no--you're antichrists (in the Biblical sense, not the Left Behind sense, obviously) with the emotional intelligence (the regular intelligence, also--you being the same people, remember, who thought Terry Schiavo might spring up any second and start dancing a lively gavotte) of slow-witted four-year-olds. You disgust me more than I can put into words.

So anyway, I've been feeling pretty down about what a diseased culture we live in, where such evil (and I mean that word with all its theological weight) thinking is prevalent. But I feel a little better when I see that there are heroic people out there who'll keep fighting the good fight. I choose, perhaps naively, to believe that as long as such individuals are among us, the flame will never be extinguished.