Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sinister presents

So, I was bitching a little bit earlier this week because, you know, what with one thing and another (legal fees, medical bills, auto repair costs), there hasn't been a great deal of money to spare for foolish indulgences lately. And, well, 'lately' has been going on for a few months now. And it's starting to really, really wear on all of us.

Oh, there's always a little spare cash. I can generally afford to pick up the new issue of 52 every week. I've bought some Magic cards lately. But today is the day that the latest HeroClix set, Sinister, hit the shops, along with the newest starter set, Danger Room. I badly, badly wanted to order a case of Sinister, because it has taken me forever to get all the figs I've wanted from the past four or so expansions that I haven't been able to order cases of, and since WizKids has adopted new fig distribution policies, ordering a case honestly seems to be really the only feasible way to get everything you want in a set... otherwise, at least two or three Vet figs will elude you forever, because they're harder to get than any of the Uniques, and anyone who has them refuses to trade them, and you can't even find them in the shops as singles, and if you did, you'd be paying ridiculous prices for them. (I finally managed to snag a Vet Captain America and a Vet Ultron from Armor Wars; I had to trade my extra Krypto to get them. Before I had the extra Krypto to offer, nobody on the WK boards would even admit to having extras of those two figs, because they were so hard to get and avidly sought after.)

I also badly wanted a Danger Room starter set, for the figs (which you can't get anywhere else) and the map and the new 3D objects and the new rules book... but unlike previous starter sets, this one books at $14.99. And, frankly, while I can scrape up a few extra bucks a week for an issue of 52 or some Magic boosters, a couple of hundred for a case of HeroClix, or even $15 all in one place for a starter set with six new figs and some other stuff in it... that was a different thing.

So I was bitching about it a bit earlier this week. Just venting. I know we have three kids, I know SuperFiancee needed the medical procedure she had a few months back, I know we need to keep the car running, and I very much know there's an asshole ex husband in the equation who is smugly pleased at his ability to force his ex wife and I to spend a few thousand dollars on absolutely avoidable legal fees for no reason besides spite... and beyond all that, I know the lawyer-cash was and continues to be well spent, because the less time the kids have to spend with their dickhead natural father, the happier they are and the saner they will grow up.

I know all that, and I accept it, and if that's where pretty much every spare cent SuperFiancee and I make is going these days, well, it's okay. SuperFiancee is happier and healthier, the kids are happier and healthier, the car continues to function... I say, good business is where you find it. So, you know, I'm okay with it... but still, I was feeling a little down because, you know, Sinister was coming out today, and I really really wanted to be looking for an email from some geek shop telling me when my case was going to arrive by FedEx, and it wasn't going to happen.

If I haven't mentioned this before, I am the luckiest man in the world.

See, I came out of work tonight and as always, SuperFiancee was there to pick me up. This time she had Super Dependable Teen in the back seat, which isn't that unusual. So I got in and kissed my beloved hello and said hi to the middle baby and off we went, and we were talking about this and that and half-listening to something on the radio and abruptly SuperFiancee started snapping her fingers and I gave her a "what the hell" look, and she shrugged and said, acidly, "Somebody doesn't seem to be picking up on the signal", and I thought, for a moment, that I had forgotten something vital and pre-arranged, but no, it was SuperDependable Teen, who said "Oh yeah!" from the back seat, leaned forward, picked something up from under my seat... and handed me a big brown paper bag.

Inside which were 5 Sinister booster packs, and a Danger Room starter set.

To prove that SuperFiancee still has the magic touch, out of 5 boosters she chose for me, I pulled 4 Uniques --

Nick Fury
Baron Strucker

Out of these 4, the only one I really want is Baron Strucker. But I don't mind having the others; even the wretched Ultimates Nick Fury will make a nice boost for a SHIELD team, and if I insist that he's actually Gabe Jones, well, that's just me making the best of a bad situation. (Actually, I have every intention of trading Wolvie, Nick and Forge to any one foolish enough to offer me something better for them, but even if I can't, I'll find used for them.)

The rest of the booster contents went as follows:

2 SHIELD Snipers (the Experienced level of the SHIELD REV)
1 SHIELD Trooper (the Rookie)
1 Veteran Swordsman
1 Rookie Hydroman
1 Rookie Paste Pot Pete
1 Veteran Trapster
1 Experienced Beetle
1 Experienced Wizard
1 Veteran Fixer
2 Rookie Sprites
2 Rookie Nighthawks
1 Experienced Madrox
1 Jamie Madrox pog
1 Experienced Meggan

I also got a Pummel, a Sgt. Tork, a Mary Jane Watson, and a Statue object token.

Out of the Danger Room starter set, I got all the figs you see in the graphic, as well as the two new 3-D objects and the new map. The new starter set also gave me a new rules book, more dice, some more object tokens and map markers, another ring of power.

All told, a pretty decent haul, on a day when I expected absolutely nothing but a ride home and an excellent dinner (unless I cook, which is very rare, dinner is always excellent here at Castle Anthrax).

Unpleasantly, it turns out that reports of no Avengers TA on the Vet Swordsman's dial were true. I can and will House Rule the appropriate TA onto the piece when necessary, but still, it's aggravating, as is the appallingly low 9 Attack Value for the most skilled swordsman in the entire world. Nonetheless, I'm very happy to have a Swordsman fig, even one with a monumentally incorrect dial.

I was pleased to get a Rookie Nighthawk to add to my Daredevil villains sub grouping. I wish to God he was in the correct costume, but still, it's okay, and he actually has a vaguely useful dial... the combination of Super Strength and Willpower allows, under my House Rules, for a Grab/Smash maneuver that would normally force a fig to take a click of pushing damage; heretofore, only the Experienced Moon Knight has been able to pull it off. (It's a useful maneuver; on the first turn, the attacker grabs an opposing fig; on the second turn, assuming the grabbed fig hasn't escaped, the attacker can use the fig as a bashing weapon to attack another opponent with. It means you can effectively deal damage to 2 different opponents at once. Normally, though, as I say, since you have to take actions two turns in a row, you'd end up giving the attacking fig a click of pushing damage.)

I was also happy to get a Vet Trapster, and wish I'd gotten a Vet Wizard to go with him, although I can settle for the Experienced for now (and am very glad I got one of each piece).

Hydro-Man is an idiotic Denny O'Neil creation I can take or leave, but he was for one brief interval a member of the Frightful Four, and he's got a very nice sculpt. If I have to have one, I'd rather have the Vet, though.

It's always good to get more SHIELD cannon fodder, and I was happy to add the Vet Fixer to my Thunderbolts line up... again, I'll House Rule the appropriate TA onto him when I need to. And I was very pleased to get a Beetle fig, although, as always, I'd rather have a Vet.

The rest I don't much care about.

As to the remainder of the set, my sought after pieces will be:

HYDRA soldiers
SHIELD agents, especially the jet pack equipped Veteran levels
Mockingbird, hopefully a Vet
a Vet Wizard
a Vet Electro
a Vet Rhino
Mach IV (the vet level, natch)
a Vet Valkyrie
any level of Deathlok (honestly, he should be a Unique)
a vet Radioactive Man
a full REV of Captain Marvel
a Vet Daredevil
a Vet Bullseye
a Vet Kraven

Purple Man
Black Bolt

So, this should give me something to do until Supernova comes out...

Oh, yeah, I realize everyone but SuperFiancee was completely embarrassed by the previous entry where I shrilly accuse Kurt Busiek of swiping a bad superhero I made up in high school for a not particularly great one use character appearing in a six year old issue of Astro City. I do understand this; it's like, you read that and you just don't know where to look. And it's okay. I know how I sound. I didn't expect anyone to comment, really.

But, nonetheless, I'm still correct, dammit. He totally ripped off the Red Tiger. I know it, and he knows it.

And one more oh yeah.. the title is supposed to be read as sounding like "Sinister presence". But it looks like "Sinister pre-SENTS", as in, Ed Sullivan
pre-SENTS the Beatles. I realize that. But I can't come up with a better header at the moment. Sorry.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Heroes Die Hard!

Couple of things –

First – in 1978, I created a superhero character named the Red Tiger. He was nothing if not unoriginal; largely derived from a deservedly obscure and even more justly short lived Atlas Comics hero named Tiger-Man (wretchedly written by Gerry Conway, beautifully drawn by Steve Ditko) whose second issue I’d snatched up when I found it on the bottom of the magazine rack at the hole in the wall drugstore in the tiny little town of Holland, NY.

As imagined by my sometime high school collaborator and never-quite-friend Jim Marek, the Red Tiger looked like a fat free refugee from a 1930s wrestling film, togged out as he was in a crimson wife-beater, crimson tights, and crimson swimming trunks snugged down tautly over his manly areas, accented with tigerskin boots, gloves, and headband circling the upper edge of his mask where it merged into his hairline.

The Red Tiger was a grim n’ gritty urban crusader type of hero; a roof-leaping creep-pummeler in the classic Batman/Spider-Man mold. He lived, loved, vaulted across rooftops and kicked thug ass in Chicago, because, you know, I was trying to be different (although I suppose not that different, since Marvel had only a few years previous to this test-flown a female superhero named the Cat who operated in Chicago, and for all I remember, Tiger-Man may well have been set there too), and similarities to Tiger-Man continued in that my Red Tiger also had claws built into his gloves (unlike the rather sociopathic Tiger-Man, however, he didn’t use them on actual people; they were there to help him scale the sheer sides of tall buildings).

If there was anything non-derivative about the Red Tiger, it lay in his origin sequence. In the first three pages of RED TIGER #1, I’d scripted a sequence in which a bunch of crooks were hanging around on a skyscraper rooftop doing ‘crook stuff’ (I’m fairly sure I didn’t bother getting more specific; I wasn’t all that analytical or introspective about the clichés of comic book plotting back then). The Red Tiger showed up and began beating holy hell out of them, as superheroes are wont to do. Suddenly, a shot rang out – a concealed rifleman had just shot Chicago’s premier superhero in the head! Killed instantly, the Red Tiger toppled from the tower, falling sixty stories to the unyielding pavement below. But, in a big splash panel, I cautioned the reader not to lose heart, because even in Chicago – “HEROES DIE HARD!”

After which, I had the Red Tiger’s roommate stumble across a secret closet full of Red Tiger costumes, along with a syringe full of the experimental serum that had given the Red Tiger his super powers. Thus, this mook (his name was Eric Tellins) decided to become a new Red Tiger, and take up where his now dead roommate had left off.

As I say, in 1978 I wasn’t particularly analytical or introspective, but even I recognized there was something pretty workable, if not outright cool, in this concept. You had, essentially, a novice superhero who really didn’t know a frickin thing about being a costumed crusader for justice, taking over the mantle of a long established, well respected mystery man who was generally hated and feared by the local underworld. The new guy would be walking into an extremely dangerous situation; my assumption was that the original Red Tiger had been around for as long as any of the other contemporary DC or Marvel characters, and had built up an impressive Rogue’s Gallery of his own, any of whom would have grudges against him… all of which the new guy would naturally have to deal with.

Even then, I was savvy enough to have plans for future stories in which the new Red Tiger would be guided by his deceased roommate’s secret diaries, allowing cool flashback sequences which would be narrated in the voice of the first Red Tiger, (with those cool captions using a cursive font to simulate handwritten journal entries) and I even figured I could occasionally do a back up series called Untold Tales of the Original Red Tiger.

Ah, the ambition of youth.

Jake and I did one issue of the Red Tiger together, and honestly, I was so non-plused by the generic, uninspired pencils Jake turned in that it rather put me off working with him again (although we did eventually do one more comic book together, a sad-ass Killraven rip off called Rebel, Fighter For Freedom From The Far Flung Future, in which Earth had been conquered by aliens, and a future human civilization, knowing from their historical texts that this had been our planet’s darkest hour, had genetically engineered a super soldier and sent him backwards in time to lead mankind’s rebellion against their evil alien overlords).

(The inset, by the way, is not the original Jake Marek drawn Red Tiger page. For one thing, we couldn't afford a colorist and didn't want to do it ourselves; for another, I lost my copies of the issues long long ago. So that page is one I whomped up in a couple of minutes in between calls at work today, using the generic Windows Paint program, because sometimes, a picture really is worth any number of words, even a really really badly drawn one.)

When I arrived at college and met, among many others, Kurt Busiek, he and I exchanged descriptions of the many and varied characters we’d created and the comics we’d written back in high school. To my surprised pleasure, Kurt (who seemed much more knowledgeable and experienced than I did, back then) seemed delighted by the Red Tiger, often referring to the character in conversation over the succeeding years, drawing him in various sketchbooks, coming up with dialogue for him, suggestions for possible stories… he really seemed to like the guy. He liked the costume, the powers, the gimmick with the protagonist being a replacement hero… he even liked the first issue tag line “Heroes Die Hard!”

It was all rather heady for me.

That’s one thing.

Now, here’s something I wrote about Kurt Busiek’s Astro City about six years ago, on an Internet chat board:

Done any work in the Golden or Silver Age on a superhero comic? Want a quick reassurance that it was, in any way, marketable or of the slightest enduring appeal? Check out ASTRO CITY. Chances are, if you created a character or wrote a plot in superhero comics at any time prior to 1980 that was any good at all, you'll find Kurt Busiek has filed the serial numbers off it, slapped a fresh paint job on it, and written a three issue story arc around it... and if it was really good, well, hell, Kurt might have an Eagle Award that belongs to you sitting on his mantle, and if you ask him really nicely, maybe he'll let you look at it for a few seconds.

The list of creators outright plagiarized by my old college buddy in Astro City is, in my opinion, voluminous. When you add in the number of comic book writers and artists whose work Kurt has ‘re-imagined’ in Astro City, but where said ‘reimagining’ might fall short of actual creative larceny and simply dwell within the vague, fuzzy margins of what many refer to in the trade as ‘homage’, well, as I note above, there are quite a few people who might very well feel, with some validity, that Kurt Busiek should at least share some of his many Eagle and Eisner Awards with them.

Members of this list of folks whose work has been 'homaged' by the Great Man include such auspicious names as Jerry Siegel, Joe Schuster, Cary Bates, Bob Kane, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Steve Ditko, Alan Moore, Marv Wolfman, Denny O’Neil, Carmine Infantino, John Broome, Gardner Fox, Joe Simon, Neil Gaiman… all the biggies. Quite a few of the not so biggies, too.

Never until recently, though, did I think to find myself included in such an august company.

However, as I’ve mentioned prior to this, I’ve been borrowing some Astro City TPBs from the library lately, and wasn’t I surprised to turn a page in the Local Heroes collection last night to find this li’l fella snarling at me:

Men call him… The Crimson Cougar.

Now, let’s be fair: this character isn’t a real superhero; within the fictional reality of Astro City, the ‘Crimson Cougar’ is a fictional character himself, an imaginary superhero appearing on a local Astro City soap opera called Tomorrow’s Dawn. Other than the name, he bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Red Tiger.

But the name is pretty startling… so much so, in fact, that I find it impossible to believe Kurt didn’t create the character while specifically recalling the Red Tiger.

It’s odd, and disorienting, to find a character you’d thought was yours… that, however derivative it may have been, still, that you knew you yourself had created, that has lived in your head and in your private papers and in your sketchbooks for decades, whose existence you had only shared previously with a handful of friends… a character and a concept that in any moral or ethical sense, inarguably belongs to you… suddenly show up, in altered but still very recognizable form, in someone else’s work, without the slightest credit being given to you.

It seems my old buddy Slappy is still slapping me around… even if he and I are the only people who realize it.

I guess, in a way, though, it’s flattering to find one of my concepts hanging around in the same room as so many characters created by Lee, Kirby, Kane, Ditko, Siegel, Schuster, and Simon’s.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Garbage in, garbage out

During the two years I spent working for the Tampa City Clerk’s office, I was exposed to a lot of new and different information. I learned far more than any sane person would ever want to know about the astonishing corruptness and inefficiency of the local metropolis’ government on every level, and about things like zoning, and Architectural Review Committees, and neighborhood action groups, and all kinds of crap like that.

And, I learned a fairly astonishing statistic, simply from transcribing so many reports given by the Solid Waste Department to City Council… the average American generates about 1.5 tons of garbage a year.

We whip right on by that statistic, don’t we? It causes nary a ripple to our consciousness. 1.5 tons of garbage a year… nah, that really doesn’t sound like that much. 3,000 pounds of offal and detritus we don’t want and have no use for, going into plastic bags and out to the curb for people we don’t know to haul away for us to some destination we are not aware of, per American, per year. 57.7 pounds o’ crap a week per you and you and you and you. (Probably 57.8 per me, since I throw out a lot of HeroClix packaging, at least, lately.)

8.24 pounds of shit we don’t want any more per day, per person.


That’s the equivalent of a gallon of water, or a human head’s, worth of mass that each one of us throws away every single day.

Well, you’ll protest, there’s just no way – that’s got to be wrong. I mean, all those wrappers and hamburger cartons and paper bags from fast food places and newspapers I’ve read and… all that stuff is light! There’s no way I toss out eight pounds worth of shit each day!

And, in fact, if we go back to what I said way above, for the sake of hyperbole, when I was talking about how we pay people to haul this crap away from the curb for us and take it to someplace out of sight, and thus, out of mind, well, no, we don’t generate 8 pounds of that each day. If I generated 8 pounds of throwaway crap each day, I’d be hauling 42 pounds of garbage out to the curb, 21 pounds at a time, twice a week. I’d notice that, I’m not in very good shape.

But that’s because about half of our output of waste material each day is, well, waste. It doesn’t go into the trash can beside your recliner, under your desk, or over by the wall in the break room at work. It goes out the bottom of your commode and into the solid waste disposal system lying beneath your feet even as you read this… and said system belonging to the major metropolis I used to work for handled between 600 and 1000 tons of solid waste per day.

Don’t think your liquid waste doesn’t weigh anything, have mass, take up space, or have any environmental impact, either. It may seem like nothing when you’re flushing it away after lunch, before heading back to your cubicle. But it’s not nothing, not at all. It’s enough material that, when your power goes out and stays out and the Solid Waste department can’t get electricity to run the pumps and water pressure to flush the pipes, suddenly you and several hundred thousand people living within ten square miles of you have a serious problem.

Now, here’s the thing – no matter what you may hear, we recycle very very little of this crap. There’s no real way to get a handle on just how much or little, because, well, the people who run the recycling plants have no vested interest in being truthful about such things, and even if they were, many recycling processes generate run off wastes of their own that nobody mentions in the brochures. Still, a wildly generous estimate of how much of this garbage we find some other pragmatic use for would be 5%. That means about 2,850 pounds of trash per American per year, going… somewhere.

And that means, given that we’re around (rounding off ) 295,000,000 strong this year, so, well, that’s (yes, I have a calculator, I’m going to hit you with the figure, prepare to flinch) 840,750,000,000 pounds o’ crap going… somewhere… every year.

Eight hundred forty BILLION, seven hundred fifty MILLION pounds of garbage. Per year.

That’s 420,375,000 tons, if that makes you feel any better.

Bear in mind, it is a basic physical law (we believe) that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Ultimately, all you can do is convert it from one form to another. All of us do this every day, when we convert a Big Mac into shit, and Pepsi, which is mostly water with certain additives, into urine, which is mostly water with other additives.

We also do this to some extent when we send some of this trash (I have no idea how much – 10%? Let’s call it that) to an incinerator. We then turn it essentially into ash and smoke and heat, much of which goes up the incinerator chimney and into our atmosphere… say half of that ten percent does this, so that’s 42,037,500,000 pounds of hot soot we put each year into the fairly thin layer of gases surrounding our planet without which life on Earth cannot continue to exist.

Where do we put all this crap that we don’t recycle? Any place where we don’t have to look at it, or smell it, on a daily basis. We burn some of it, and see above for what that does. The vastly greater part of this unimaginable mass of refuse we bury.

Now, here’s the thing. All of these impressive sounding figures don’t mean much of anything without comparison figures, like, what is the total capacity in pounds of Earth’s atmosphere? How many square feet or miles of Earth’s accessible surface area do we have to use as landfills and toxic waste dumps? How many sea bottom trenches and valleys can we fill up with crap before the oceans die? In other words, how much ecosystem do we have to tuck this crap away into?

I imagine those figures are probably available somewhere on the Web, but I have no idea how to find them. But I’m willing to admit, most likely those incredible figures I listed above as to the tonnage of trash we generate every single day don’t add up to 1% of the volume of the space we are pouring our waste materials into in that same time frame.

Maybe not even a fraction of one percent.

Here’s the other thing, though --

Most of this stuff won’t go away.

The soot we throw into our atmosphere doesn’t just vanish. It collates around suspended water molecules, and in the process, it alters weather patterns substantially, and eventually falls along with rain, and aggregates on the ground, or in our sewers, or in our water supply. It doesn’t vanish, and there really isn’t any particular place that it would be, you know, good, for burned up waste that we didn’t even want in the first place before we burned it up, to eventually accumulate in.

The heat we throw into our atmosphere doesn’t go anywhere, either, and that’s a whole different story, and one I won’t go into right now, other than to note the story in today’s paper about glaciers all over the world steadily diminishing at unheard of rates since the 1980s, and disturbing projections that human cities with populations totaling in the millions who depend on those glaciers for run off water may have to suddenly relocate, en masse, sometime in the next decade, as those vast, millenia old geological water stores simply vanish.

And while a lot of the organic trash we throw out… left over food, orange peels, potato skins, old lettuce, that crap… will rot and return some sort of value to the soil, and so will the metal cans, unless they are treated not to, still, a lot of it is man made plastic or ceramic or styrofoam, and that shit isn’t going anywhere. That shit will still be sitting, pretty much exactly as it is now, wherever it is we dumped it, ten thousand years from now when curious alien archeologists come down from Arcturus and start excavating.

My point is, however slowly we are doing it (and I have a feeling that it’s honestly not all that slowly), we are filling up a very finite amount of storage space. And when it’s full… what are we going to do with our trash then?

All of this, by the way, was brought to mind by another story I saw a while back while reading the paper, about a gigantic manure fire somewhere out West that had been burning for three months at the point I read about it and that just wouldn't go out. They couldn't simply dump a lot of water on it, because they were worried that several thousand tons of cattle shit might run off and poison the local water table. They tried scattering it around with heavy machinery, but then the smaller piles caught fire… it was, apparently, a pretty significant problem.

And it only seems like a comical one because, you know, we’re lucky enough to be way over here. This problem arose because over the past few decades, these feed lots have become big business. Farmers ship their cattle to these feed lots from all over America, where their cows are fed on high protein feed to beef them up for a couple of months before they are slaughtered. This feeding regimen apparently can generate 9 pounds of cow shit per bovine per day… and at any given time, these feed lots have up to 12,000 cows on them, eating their fool heads off.

That’s 54 tons of cow shit a day these guys have to figure out what to do with. Apparently, what they do with it is, they pile it up out behind the barn. And, since manure gives off heat, this pile of shit tends to spontaneously combust after a while.

A couple of entries ago, my good buddy Mike Norton made a comment, at the end of a blog entry on how long it had taken him to get to work one particular day due to snow-slowed traffic, that we need a plague.

Grim though it is, I’m tending to agree with him.

And I strongly suspect we’re gonna get one, too, sooner rather than later, with all this garbage lying around… not to mention the burning manure.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Rock on

So, we got SuperGirlfriend a ring yesterday.

All the kids were there. The moment when I slid it onto her finger for the first time... words won't get there, but try 'joy'. Or 'euphoria'. Or 'ecstacy'.

Actually, there was more to it than that. A feeling of utmost satisfied happiness... like after looking for my entire adult life, I'd finally found where I belonged.

Like I'm home.

In my childhood, we moved from house to house a great deal. I'm sure I can't remember them all, but I know we lived in at least two different houses in Watkins Glen, another two in Montour Falls, an upstairs apartment in a broken down farm house in a miserable little town named Katherine, an apartment in Waterloo... I spent about six weeks living in my grandmother's back bedroom in sixth grade. Then we moved to Holland, NY and lived in two different houses there.

In my childhood, there were a few different places that felt like 'home' to me... the basement bedroom I had for four years or so when I went to high school in Holland. And, maybe oddly, the house in Corning my great Aunt Hazel owned and shared with her sister, my great Aunt Helen. (Great in every sense of the word; I still miss them both.)

In college I lived in dorms, then in a house on Strong Avenue with four housemates (whose identities changed over the course of the two years I lived there), another house over on South Beech, one on Cambridge Avenue, one brief stay in basement apartment I rather liked, despite the psychotic bitch I rented it from, a tiny studio apartment on Westcott Street, then off to the North Side where I lived in one apartment, then another, on North Salina for about ten years, until I got chased out of Syracuse entirely by the culminated consequences of bad life choices and Pataki's idiotic economic policies. Then I lived in my mom's spare bedroom, then in an overpriced apartment in Tampa in an ant colony apartment complex, then in my brother's apartment in Zephyrhills, then in a tiny cinder block duplex.

All that, prior to SuperGirlfriend swooping to my rescue, loading all my crap in the back of a rented U-Haul, and driving me back up here.

I made some good memories in most of those adult dwellings, or at least, most of them had reasons I liked them. Dorm rooms aren't homes, but my first ever romantic relationship was conducted entirely in dorm rooms (well, we spent a week at her parents house over Christmas break one year, true) and that was nice. I did a lot of gaming and spent quite a few nights in pleasant bullshit sessions with college buddies in dorms, as well. Read a lot of books and comics, typed a lot of papers, rolled a lot of dice, ate a lot of Zorba's pizza, had one particularly excellent Christmas celebration with my college clique. Life went on that way for the most part in every house and apartment I lived in in Syracuse, too... which may be why I miss Syracuse so much; the extended childhood just never ended, despite the endless array of rotten temp and permanent jobs I worked during that period to finance it after dropping out of college.

The house on Strong Avenue I moved into with four good buddies, comic book geeks all. After a knock down drag out fight over it, we named the house Stately Wayne Manor, and things were fine until our old buddy Slappy moved in in September (he'd been abroad for a semester sparking Scott McLeod's future wife Ivy over the summer). By the time that next school year ended, friendships were strained and everyone but me moved out, but still, I have fond memories of that house, and the big upstairs bedroom I lived in for a year after I filled the rest of the house with relative strangers.

The house on South Beech was a tumbledown wreck but it had an interesting basement and a nice big kitchen and a big empty sun porch off the kitchen where Tom Dunning lived in nice weather, and a huge sagging front porch that was mostly enclosed by rusty old screens where you could sit in the gloom on a beat to crap old couch my housemate Mike Schechter and I had rescued from a street corner and watch the whole world go by, without any of it knowing you were there. We were right next to SuperDuper and right behind Westcott Cinema and we did a lot of gaming sessions there and a girl named Lynn spent the weekend with me there once and yeah, we got burgled twice and I was working as a bagboy at Peter's for most of our time there, but still, I liked that old house.

The house on Cambridge where I rented an upstairs bedroom had a wonderful little private screened in second floor porch/balcony that overlooked the back yard; just big enough for a chair and a card table and I sat out on that porch the entire summer after I got back from Basic Training and ate Peppino's Pizza and read and re-read Zelazney's Blood of Amber over and over again, because I liked it that much. And an ex girlfriend visited me in that house for a few days, which ended awkwardly, and a few other girls visited me in that room, too, including one in particular who came up to help me pack (when I was moving to the basement apartment) and didn't actually help me pack at all.

The basement apartment was fine until the Late Great Jeff Webb came to stay for a weekend one time and my landlady, who lived in the house above the basement, suddenly became a whirling psychotic. To get me out of there and make sure I never transgressed against her insane policies by having an overnight guest again, she started doing fun things like turning off my heat and searching the apartment in the day time while I was working at Sunburst Optics and moving my stuff around just enough so I'd know she was there. So I got out of there and into a small studio apartment off Westcott Street, about which I have nothing good to say at all; from there I moved into a back apartment on top of a threadbare clothing store on North Salina Street, and I stayed in that apartment until the larger front apartment in that building opened up, after which my then girlfriend Kristy and I moved in there and adopted a kitten I named Casablanca and we played a lot of Magic and I got my first computer and we nearly went broke running up the AOL hourly bill (remember when AOL billed by the hour? Jesus) and we had a lot of not particularly exciting sex and did a lot of RPGing and had a few good Christmases and one or two that weren't so good. We outlasted some spectacularly lousy neighbors, and then my then girlfriend dumped me for my then friend Gary and eventually I got evicted and moved to Florida.

The apartment in Tampa was a nice big one with a pool, and after a few years the mall across the street put in a cinema multiplex and there was a Boston Market about a mile up the street and all that was very pleasant. It was a ground floor apartment with two apartments over it and I was all the way down on the far end of the building so when the pipes clogged about four times a year everybody's sewage started to back up into my bathtub, which sucked. I was never happy in that apartment and I was always lonely, but I have to admit, I loved that pool and I loved those movie theaters and I miss them still.

Then I got evicted from those apartments because the State of Florida only allows landlords to raise rents by a certain percent a year on residents, and the street value of living space in Florida always rises by more than that percentage, so after you've been in an apartment a few years the landlords regard themselves as losing money by renting to you. So I got evicted so they could rent the apartment for more money to someone new, and I ended up moving in with my brother in a horrible little town named Zephyrhills, which, if you Google it, you'll start to discover just why I say that, and how much it's true. Which had a lot of bad (roaches!) and some good to it, but when my brother's best friend Scott turned out to be a sociopatch and the woman my brother fell in love with was a crazy married bitch who I knew was going to be terrible for him and whom I couldn't stand anyway, I moved into that tiny little cinder block duplex, about which I have no good memories except I wasn't in my brother's apartment any more, and then SuperGirlfriend came down and rescued me, and now I'm home.

I'm home.

It's not the apartment, although this apartment is easily the roomiest, loveliest, most pleasant apartment I've ever lived in, and I love our huge front porch and I love our basement and our big back bedroom and our gynormous living room and SuperGirlfriend is very fond of the built in pantry in the kitchen and some day, when we have enough money, I'd like to rent the single room studio across the hallway to use as an office, because it's the apartment I lived in when I first moved here and I hate seeing other people living in it.

It's not the neighborhood, although I love this neighborhood, populated as it is with pleasant, affluent liberal folks who plaster their cars with bumper stickers saying WHEN CLINTON LIED NOBODY DIED and RE-ELECT GORE IN 2004, and second hand junk stores and interesting little restaurants and a pretty cool comics/geekware shop named THE GREAT ESCAPE and a head/music shop called ELECTRIC LADYLAND and a fabulous record store called EAR X-TASY and a nice big supermarket where I worked cleaning floors last summer and don't work cleaning floors any more, and shot through as it is with lovely narrow unpaved alleys lined by wooden fences all overgrown with ivy, behind which, whenever SuperGirlfriend and I walk down them in the early purple evening light holding hands, you can hear dogs barking and people talking and sometimes kids running and laughing and playing, and where nearly every house has a big sprawling front porch and we never run out of houses we can point to and say "I really like THAT house", all the while knowing that the house we like most of all is the one we actually live in.

No, it isn't any of that, although I've never lived in any house or any neighborhood or any city where I felt more at home.

It's people that make up the map of the heart, or at least, the map of my heart, and the map of my heart is filled with SuperGirlfriend and SuperDrama Teen and SuperDependable Teen and SuperAdorable Kid.

Yesterday, the love of my life let me put an engagement ring on her finger, and our kids stood around and cheered while I did it, and all day long she kept looking at it with awe and wonder and giving me goofy happy little grins.

I'm home.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I come back to you now... at the turn of the tide

Or at least, so we hope.

SuperGirlfriend went in for a check up yesterday. It's one of the things that had been deviling us the last few days... this bad luck streak we've been on had been coming pretty close to lickin' us, it seemed only too likely that this would be the knock out punch... that the condition she'd been so assiduously dieting these last few years trying to avoid, the one that all the other women in her family inevitably fall victim to... had finally come knocking on our door.

But, her blood sugar was normal... not just okay, not just doing better, not even 'good'... it was normal. As in, not a hint, not a speck, not a smidge of the elevated glucose level we'd been dreading word of.

So that's excellent.

Beyond that, we've seen another small but extremely satisfying victory over the forces of chaos and entropy -- upon following Mike Norton's advice and downloading a fabulous free program called Ad-Aware, we finally seem to have beaten the goddam pop ups. I can't tell you what a relief it is to be on the computer for longer than five minutes at a stretch without having to deal with ads for casinos, ads for adult dating sites, ads for cut rate pharmaceuticals, ads telling us our computer is not safe, ads for I don't know what the hell all else, all popping like a gun belt full of bullets some Jimmy Stewart character had just kicked into a campfire, hoping to distract the rustlers (or the Comanches) long enough to let him get to the rifle (most likely a Winchester '73) hidden underneath the bench seat on the buckboard.

I, personally, was astonished to watch Ad-Aware going through our hard drive and harvesting no less than 168 different problems that our Symantec Anti-Virus and Yahoo Anti-Spy and No-Adware programs had all missed. (That last one, due to a complete lapse of judgement and intelligence on my part, cost us $37 to 'register', and it still didn't work. I have hopes we'll be able to get a refund, but not high hopes.) But, in the end, I finally rechecked Mike Norton's email, found the program he'd recommended (which I'd mistaken No-Adware for, due to the proprietor sneakily setting up a website one letter off from Ad-Aware), downloaded that... and we're free at last, free at last, O Lord, hallelujah, free at last.

Mike Norton is officially declared Hero of the Month at Castle Anthrax. (Dr. Piglet, Dr. Winston...practice your art.)

We've also had a lot of automotive problems this last week or so, and yesterday the car broke down once again. Right now it's over waiting to be looked at... but I think, if this is truly the turn of the tide, that that's going to turn out okay, too.

And if not, well, we're young and we've got our health... (and a virus free computer)... what do we need with a car?

Friday, June 23, 2006

The gang who couldn't shoot straight

Super-Bush and his Awesome Electronic Interceptors have done it again. Last time, they'd foiled some insane plot no one ever heard about to blow up LAX. This time, they've busted 7 idiots who contacted an undercover FBI agent thinking he was with Al Qaeda, offering to blow up several American buildings in exchange for equipment and funding.

It's good that these guys were caught, since otherwise, they might very well have taken out a few innocent bystanders in the back blast when they inevitably and inadvertently blew themselves to pieces while ineptly trying to rig a detonator out of an old coffee can stuffed full of blasting caps in the back of a van full of fertilizer. And it's nice that the FBI has undercover agents out there soliciting dumbasses like this to do dumbass things. But please keep in mind, as the media blitzkrieg builds to a fever pitch -- this is not a triumph in the War on Terror, and these idiots had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, or however the hell it is we're spelling it this week. This was law enforcement in action, taking some dipshits off the streets before they hurt themselves or others.

Mind you, I'm all in favor of taking murderous conspirators off the street. But we don't need to give up our civil liberties to catch guys like this, nor do we need any troops in Iraq to do it, either.

That is all.

If you try sometime, you just might find...

Okay, a couple of things suddenly high up on the Want List here at Castle Anthrax (where bad naughty wicked SuperGirlfriend is forever setting alight the grail shaped beacon, and I am your King!) --

The pop ups are driving us insane, and nothing seems to help. We're now running on Mozilla Firefox; I like the browser, but the pop ups continue to barrage us in utter scorn of its much vaunted capacities. I downloaded a free pop up blocker; it stands there haplessly, wringing its hands and rolling its eyes on our desktop.

So, if anyone out there can think of anything else we can do, we'd really appreciate any feedback. I'm thinking we may need to just go out and buy a really good pop up blocker and install it ourself. SuperGirlfriend is thinking of setting alight the PC shaped beacon. I hope it doesn't come to that.

Less annoyingly, Super Drama Teen likes to play Magic: the Gathering. She doesn't have many cards, and I had gotten out of the horribly addictive game back in the early 21st Century, selling off everything that was worth anything in the late 20th, and finally giving the remaining boxes of worthless land cards, common, and uncommon spells to a friend of my little brother's as thanks for helping me move.

But now (you saw this coming a parsec away, I'm sure)
Super Drama Teen's desire to have accessible play partners has drawn me back in, and me idly teaching SuperGirlfriend to play the game has seen her bitten hard with the bug, too. And... well... we have VERY FEW CARDS.

Now, back in the day, when I was playing Magic, I remember sending out large batches of cards to various vaguely interested parties whom I was trying to share the wealth (and, admittedly, the horrible eye-twitching addiction) with. This was in the tradition of a guy I once knew named Karl, who, after hearing I was steadily resisting being sucked into cardboard crack at the hands of my usual bunch of gamers at that time, came by my house one day and literally threw a big bag of Magic cards at my head. And I fell. Oh, how I fell.

So, in that tradition, I'm now throwing open an empty bag to the world and saying, if anyone out there has any extra Magic: the Gathering cards they don't need, especially basic Land, especially Swamps (but, really, we could use 'em all), well, we here at Castle Anthrax will give them a good home.

I certainly don't expect anyone to send us any Rares; if I had Rare Magic Cards I didn't need, I'd sell 'em on Ebay. But there are apparently 10.3 gazillion Magic cards that have come out over the last six years that I am unfamiliar with, and most of them must be Common or Uncommon, and what we mostly need is Land, so we can actually build decks out of the few cards we get. (We can buy Land at the local shops, but they want like 25 cents apiece for them, which is highway robbery when you need 20 lands at least per deck.)

Anyway, the Castle Anthrax Shelter for Unwanted and Otherwise Surplus Magic Cards is now open.

Also, if anyone out there could make George R.R. Martin get off his fat ass and finish up the next Westeros book, I'd be grateful for that, too.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


SuperGirlfriend and I have been on a minor streak of bad luck lately. With actively hostile eyes constantly scanning this web page in hope of finding some advantage in our misery, I won't go into details right now. But it's been a trying week or so. Not without high points, obviously, but still, stuff keeps piling up.

Right now, one of the more minor, but still very aggravating, stress points is with the computer. This weekend we seem to have inadvertently downloaded some kind of virus. After a lot of painstaking effort I think we've finally gotten rid of it, but while it was here it seems to have stripped away all our protection from pop ups. Now we get barraged with pop ups constantly whenever we're on the Internet, and for that matter, even when we're not, and the various pop up blockers we have (AOL's, Yahoo's, Viewpoint's) are now all ineffective, even when I de-install and then re-install them.

So if anyone out there has a good remedy against a constant barrage of pop ups, we'd love to hear about it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Kinda sorta Father's Day

...for a kinda sorta father, I guess.

I'd always ignored Father's Day. Not having a father myself, I mean. This year, however, was delightfully different.

It's not the loot so much. I'm very touched that the kids love me enough to give me Father's Day presents, and I'm very pleased with their choices -- a t-shirt with the motto BY READING THIS TEXT YOU HAVE MOMENTARILY GIVEN ME CONTROL OF YOUR MIND, a pair of rubber sandals for sprinkler wading (there's a park near us with a big fountain-sprinkler the kids like to go to) and the second season of HILL STREET BLUES on DVD.

But what really made the day for me was the cards they gave me. The oldest and the youngest shared a card, wishing me a Happy Father's Day from 'your stepkids, the fringe benefits you get from marrying our mom'. (They'd put in 'nearly' with arrows in front of 'stepkids' and 'marrying'). The middle SuperKid, on the other hand, picked out her own card, and put the following note inside:

"I know you aren't really my dad. But you feel like it. I'm so glad that you came into my, my mom's, and my sister's lives. You have made us all so happy."

We got viruses on the computer, we got jobs we can't stand, we got a car that works when it feels like it, we got people doing their level best to make us as miserable as they are just because they're miserable people, we got too many bills and not enough money...

...and we have these kids. These amazing kids, these incredible kids, these kids who illuminate my life every minute of every day in ways I never imagined were possible. These kids who were so brilliantly and fabulously parented by their mother. These kids who are, in some strange, wonderful, astonishing fashion, part of my family now.

These kids, who let me celebrate Father's Day for the first time in my life.

Making a home for SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids, and with SuperGirlfriend and the SuperKids, is the finest thing I have ever done. I love these people, and they love me, and whatever else may befall us, we at least have that.

Feudin and fussin and fightin

So, we've been hassling around here for a while. Somebody says something mean about me on their blog page, I make a retort. We go back and forth. It's the way of things. Both parties, apparently, are 'considering the source', while continuing to heap abuse on each other. It seems kind of funny, I guess, if you're not an offended party.

But now I find out that one of us offended parties has just been told that somebody very close to them is dying of cancer.

So I'm very sorry about that. That has to really suck, and for whatever it's worth, I'm very sorry for this person's imminent loss, and I sincerely hope for a better resolution than she expects.

Okay, that's all I got.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Is that you, baby... or just a brilliant disguise?

So my buddy Jix Casey and I were sitting at our customary cafeteria table yesterday at work, talking about next year's football season. Jix is a Chicago fan. I like the Seahawks, mostly because they have a really cool helmet emblem.

Apropos of nothing, Jix glanced over my shoulder, sighed heavily, and shook his head. "Check out Dimbulb," he said, disgust in his tone.

I turned and looked that way. For the past several days, I'd noticed some vaguely familiar New Guy in the cafeteria, sitting a few tables over from Jix and me. He dressed in a loud plaid suit with a polka dotted bowtie, wore Groucho glasses and a pretty obvious wig. I'd first noticed him two or three tables away from us, sitting with a couple of the other people who work in the same section as Jix and I. Over the course of the week, he'd seemed to be gradually moving closer to us.

"That's Dimbulb?" I said. I honestly hadn't been paying that much attention.

Dimbulb is a guy Jix and I know. He only got hired here because Jix switched to my department over a year ago, and the boss of Jix's old department was desperate to fill Jix's position. Even after Jix's transfer, his old boss had been heard to lament that he knew he'd never find anyone as good as Jix, but he needed to fill the position, even if it was with second best.

We'd tried to be nice to Dimbulb at first. He wasn't a bright guy. His sense of humor was rudimentary at best, and he wasn't exactly a sparkling conversationalist. But some of our co-workers liked him okay, and Jix and I try not to be any more unpleasant than we have to be. So we'd been friendly to him when he came around our cubicles. When he'd admired several of the Hot Wheels cars I had on my computer monitor, and allowed as to how his kids loved stuff like that, I'd dug into my spares and pressed several extras on him, along with a lot of surplus pieces of track his kids could run the cars on. When he'd seen the drawerful of old paperbacks Jix had at his desk, and mused about how he'd always wanted to read Jack Higgins' THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, but never had the chance, Jix had insisted on loaning him a copy of the book. We didn't like the guy much, but like Buckaroo says, we don't have to be mean.

Things had been a little weird with Dimbulb right from the start, though. We'd been introduced to him by Jix's old boss, of course. But shortly after that, he'd started hanging around with us in the cafeteria and on our breaks, wearing this ridiculous disguise... not the same one as he had on now, but very similar... plaid bowtie, polka dotted sports jacket, different color wig, horn rimmed glasses, fake mustache. He'd claimed to be someone entirely different, yet on one notable occasion, he forgot to take off his name badge. Had it clipped right to that dumb ass jacket. Jix pointed that out and this guy was horribly embarrassed. He couldn't explain why he'd done it. He didn't know. But he was very sorry and he'd never do it again. That's what he said, anyway.

Jix and I had shrugged it off at the time. Jix's old boss has been pretty hostile to Jix and me since Jix transferred out. We figured maybe Dimbulb was trying to be buddies with us without pissing off his new supervisor, or something. It seemed gutless, and more than a little weird, but what the hell. We decided to accept Dimbulb's apology for the sake of civility and move on.

But it's a small shop where we work. Word started to trickle back to us. Apparently, this guy was mocking us to other co-workers behind our back. Laughing it up about my stupid little toy cars, and advising them with a snide little snigger that I was a failure both professionally and in my personal life. He was saying a lot of unpleasant, uncalled for things about Jix, too. So right about then we started to refer to him as Dimbulb between the two of us, and next time he came around, we made it pretty clear he wasn't welcome to hang with us any more.

And now... "You're right," I said, staring intently at the newly disguised Dimbulb. "I don't know how I missed that. What the hell is he doing?"

"Working his way back," Jix said. "He's establishing relationships in disguise with the other people who eat at the tables around us, so by the time he gets over to us, we'll be used to his new fake identity and accept him when he finally sits down at our table again."

At that point, Dimbulb threw back his head and gave his distinctive, horselike bray of laughter. "Oh my god," I said. "He can't possibly think he could have fooled us for long."

"I don't think he's that bright," Jix said. He took out his own name badge and showed it to me. "Otherwise, he'd realize that with the new tracking technology in these badges, any of us can figure out who he really is just from the pings he leaves whenever he comes into our section of the shop. It's not like this is the early 90s any more."

So I raised my voice. "I honestly can't believe he's THAT stupid," I said, loud enough for everyone in the cafeteria to hear me. "Trying to fool us again the exact same way." I wasn't looking anywhere near Dimbulb when I said it.

Dimbulb flushed deep red and leapt to his feet furiously. "I'm not, I'm not, I'm NOT!" he screeched. "I'm not trying to fool anyone! I just wanted to change my wardrobe!"

He turned to the guys he'd been eating lunch with. "There is a CERTAIN TABLE," he said huffily, "that I will NEVER EAT AT AGAIN. I just wanted to buy some new clothes. I'm not trying to deceive ANYone."

He started going from table to table, repeating this. He even sat down and wrote up a sign -- NOT TRYING TO FOOL ANYONE JUST BOUGHT SOME NEW CLOTHES -- and taped it to his lapel.

Jix got up. "Where YOU goin'?" I demanded.

"I have to go apologize," Jix said. "To all these people... this is all my fault. If I hadn't transferred to your department they wouldn't have to put up with this."

See, this is what Jix is like... innately generous, and takes responsibility for his actions even when he's not at fault, and he always tries to fix things for other people. It's why he's my best friend ever.

"It's NOT your fault," I told him. "It's Dimbulb's fault. He's a grown up. I have no idea what his damage is, or why he's so obsessed with hanging out with us, especially when he talks so much trash about us behind our back... but these are the consequences of his behavior, not yours."

Jix just shook his head. Dimbulb, meantime, was continuing to go from table to table, insisting that he hadn't been trying to fool anyone, and there was a certain table he would NEVER eat at again.

"I just don't get it," Jix said, finally, sitting back down. "What the hell is his problem?"

I shrugged. "I think he's just retarded," I said, turning back to my lunch. "Hey, the Jello has little marshmallows in it today."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Even your code-name?

I know the feeling.

The urge, the impulse, the compulsion to get back inside. To prove them wrong. To belong to the group again, even… or especially… when the group doesn’t want you.

At nearly every well populated blog I post comments to, I end up making myself unpopular. People begin responding to me with hostility. Eventually (quickly) they stop responding to me at all. Whoever’s in charge of the site may send me an email asking me to go away, or they may just start deleting my comments, or they may even block me from accessing their page entirely.

It’s the nature of the beast which we all carry within us to want to break into other people’s boundaries, to transgress, to overrule the limitations they are trying to set upon us, to go where we’re not supposed to. The forbidden sings to us. We wouldn’t be human if it didn’t.

So I’ve thought about it, sure. When Aaron Hawkins threw me off his blog for the dreadful crime of, you know, being smarter and funnier than he was, I considered the option. When Augury Hayden Frazier, or whatever the hell his name is, over at Grabbing Daylight, or whatever the hell that blog is called (Making Light? Maybe that’s it) advised me to ankle it, fast, I contemplated the alternative. Which is to say, I could have pretty easily just gone back into those particular communities and continued posting… under a different pseudonym. After all, on the Internet, we can be whoever we want to be, right?

I didn’t do it. There were many reasons I refrained, all tangled up together. For one, I dislike pretending to be something I’m not, especially for extended periods. Past that, it’s the one very commonplace, nearly universal, yet largely unforgivable sin out here in the strange land of the Internet. Nearly everyone has done it at one time or another… put on a cyber-mask, pulled an electronic hood over their face, tried to fool people who knew them under one name into thinking they were someone new… back in the day, AOL used to be crammed to the gunwales with folks who had poisoned a particular chat well under one sn sneaking back in under another. But when you get caught… and you nearly always do get caught, eventually… it’s humiliating and embarrassing and people hold a grudge forever over it. They never forget, and they won’t forgive, although, as I say, very few of us who have been out here for any amount of time are entirely innocent of the sin.

Past all that, I’m generally too stinkin’ proud to want to bother venturing back into a place where it’s been made clear to me that I’m not welcome. My feelings are, if someone doesn’t want me around, it’s their loss.

I want to be clear, here… I’m not talking about simply using a pseudonym on the Internet. I’ve used half a dozen, at least... you can’t blog with anything like real honesty, or even comment on other people’s blogs, under your own name these days without the risk of losing your job, at the very least, if the wrong set of eyes tracks across what you’ve written. I’m not even talking about the act of taking up a different psued simply for the purposes of dodging some trolls who seem to have no other purpose in life besides making yours as miserable as possible. That’s just self defense. What I’m talking about is entirely different… the act of creating a new identity so you can re-infiltrate a particular community where you have previously made yourself unwelcome.

Sometimes you may feel you have a good reason to do it… maybe you were treated poorly by some group and you don’t feel you deserved it. Or maybe you just want to start over again… there’s a lot of baggage attached to your previous sig, and you just want to shrug all that off and breathe free again… let people judge your work for the work’s own sake, and not based on a reputation you hope is spurious, or that, at least, you want to believe you’ve outgrown.

But sometimes… maybe most of the time… the reasons are shabbier than this. Maybe you just want to hang around with a crowd you think is cool, and you’re resentful that they have chosen to exclude you. Or maybe you get a sick little kick out of feeling like you’ve pulled the wool over somebody’s eyes… a kind of ‘ha ha, you tried to throw me out but now I’m back and you don’t even know’ kind of thing. Maybe you’re gloating… they thought they were so smart, but who’s the smart one now, huh? Or maybe you’re just some pitiful little fool with no self esteem at all, who can’t stand rejection and who has to keep pressing their nose up against the window, or sneaking in through any unlocked portal you can find, just to feel like you belong somewhere.

Good reasons, bad reasons… it’s not something I’ve done in a long time. I guess I like to feel as if I’ve outgrown the urge to shove myself in where I’m not wanted. I generally find that the people who get along without me just fine are folks I generally wouldn’t want to hang out with, anyway, when you look at it clearly. Maybe that’s a sour grapes attitude on my part. But honestly, if someone won’t be friends with you when you’re being yourself, why would you want to be friends with them as someone else?

From the other end… well, I’ve had any number of blogs and websites at this point, and over the past decade or so, I’ve had myself a few infiltrators… people I didn’t want to interact with for various reasons (sometimes they’re obnoxious, often they’re just boring) and who seem to think, if they just keep changing their names, I’ll suddenly decide they’re scintillating conversationalists, every one. It doesn’t work; whatever it is about a person that makes another person tend to dislike them, or find them annoying, generally comes through no matter what name they use.

When they persist, past all sense or reason, through pseudonym after pseudonym, even starting up new, spurious websites to try to lend verisimilitude to their latest sad and shabby sig, it starts to make me wonder just how badly damaged such a person may be. This kind of behavior seems to go beyond mere pathetic neediness, into some actual level of sociopathy. It can be worrisome, especially if one of these persistent pests is actually someone you have some kind of (however reluctant) real life relationship with. You have to wonder what kind of weird lizards such a person has living in their head, to be so apparently obsessed with you… or, at least, how stupid does this person think you are?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Children of the corn

Here we go:

As I've fallen further and further down the Peak Oil rabbit hole, and I've discussed it a bit with other people, one thing I've consistently come across is the Surely Ethanol Will Save Us All theory. This is the notion that when we run out of cheap oil (an event that even many energy industry experts agree is imminent, although Big Energy certainly isn't mainstreaming the news as yet), we will painlessly and seamlessly switch over to biomass fuels -- ethanol and butanol seem to be the front runners, there -- and carry on with the American Way Of Life unimpeded. After all, Dick Cheney himself declared "The American Way of Life is not negotiable", and we all know what happens to people who piss off Dick Cheney.

So far be it from me to quibble with a man who seems to enjoy hunting humans for sport. Nonetheless, a quick bit of trolling around the Internet today turned up these interesting factoids --

In 2005, us fat happy Americans consumed 320,500,000 gallons of gasoline per day. That works out to 116,982,500,000 gallons per year -- which is to say, one hundred sixteen billion, 982 million, 500 thousand gallons of gasoline per year.

Or, as the author of this site puts it -- "EVERY DAY, the US consumes enough oil to cover a football field with a column of oil 2500 feet tall. That's 121 million cubic feet. 55-60% of US consumption is imported at a cost of $50 billion+ per year, amounting to the largest single element of our trade deficit. In summer 2004, thanks to higher prices, increased demand, and lower production, record trade deficits of more than $50 billion per month were recorded, with approximately 30% of that attributable to imported energy costs. In September 2004, the US reported its lowest monthly oil production in 55 years, at an average of 4.85 million barrels per day."

Now, a few things about ethanol, or its somewhat better cousin, butanol, which we can actually run right into our currently existing gas powered vehicles without any kind of conversion, and which supposedly gives us even better gas mileage than either ethanol or gasoline --

According to this site, U.S. ethanol production has grown significantly in recent years. In 2005, 97 ethanol plants in 21 states produced a record 3.904 billion gallons of ethanol—an increase of more than 14 percent over 2004 and up an incredible 139 percent from 2000. (Source: Renewable Fuels Association)

Obviously, I'm just nosing around on the Internet and all this research has only taken maybe an hour, and I can't really do much fact checking in that time. However, given that the source of the above figure is a group promoting the viability of ethanol, it seems safe to assume that if their figures are in any way inaccurate, they would err towards exaggeration of ethanol production totals, rather than reduction.

So, straight up -- in 2005, we sucked down just under 117 billion gallons of gasoline. We managed to produce around 4 billion gallons of ethanol.

But we can do it! It's not emergency time yet; when it is, a million men will sprint to... er... corn shucks... overnight, and we'll ramp those figures right to fuck up! It's the AMERICAN WAY, Highlander!

Okay, here's another site with another figure: "...more than 9 billion bushels of corn produced by U.S. growers in 2002."

I don't know exactly what the hell 'more than 9 billion bushels of corn' translates to in actual objective figures, but let's be generous. The stat is four years old anyway. So let's say... oh... we have a national corn production capacity right now of 12 billion bushels of corn. Over here, I find out that

"Comparatively, in Ramey's process, a bushel of corn (maize) produces 2.5 US gallons (370 l/Mg), as opposed to 1.3 US gallons per bushel (190 l/Mg)in a traditional fermitive process. At 2.5 US gallons (up to 2.8 gal.) per bushel, Ramey's anaerobic fermentation process produces a volume of butanol comparable to the volume of ethanol produced from a bushel of corn in the traditional fermentative process."

All of which boils down to, you can generally get about two and a half gallons of ethanol out of a bushel of corn. The 'Ramsey' the article refers to is an experimental researcher; his process hasn't proved out yet. If it works, then we could get that much butanol -- the better biomass fuel, remember, ethanol provides about 2/3s the energy of gasoline -- out of a bushel of corn, too.

At 12 billion bushels of corn a year, that's 30 billion gallons of biofuel. Per year. That's slightly more than 25% of our national gasoline consumption.

Already, this equation sucks. Let's pile on:

First, we don't just use oil for gasoline. We use it as a base or a derivative in the synthesis of damn near everything -- medicines, plastic, lubricants, industrial fuels, and the heavy grade fertilizers we use to grow all that goddam corn. Now, I have no doubt we'll get really creative with our biomass derived products, and we'll most likely be able to get industrial fuels and lubricants back out of them, and maybe even some plastics (I understand they're doing some interesting stuff with soybeans there) but I'm not at all sure we'll be able to turn biomass into medicines... and while biomass by-products do make excellent animal feed and probably would make decent fertilizers, you can't get more out of a system than you put in.

Second, we can't just convert all the corn we grow into biofuel. I mean, we could, sure, but then, we have nothing to feed to our livestock, and there goes our entire meat industry -- poultry, cattle, swine, they all eat corn derived feed. Unless you're a zealous vegetarian or a serious seafood lover, you don't want to live in that future.

We'd also have to say good bye to a significant section of our snack food industry -- no more tortilla chips, no more corn chips or corn bread, no more canned corn or frozen corn or corn on the cob, no more corn meal... and I'd imagine that shortage would be felt in many, many other ways, as well, that I'm not knowledgeable enough to speculate on.

And, let's remember, even if my 12 billion bushels a year figure isn't a wild exaggeration, and assuming we do convert all that corn into fuel -- we're still about, oh, 72% down on our national fuel consumption -- in 2005, mind you. Fuel consumption rates in industrialized nations never decrease, they always increase. So in point of fact, right now, we are doubtless consuming even MORE fuel than that absurd, prohibitive, astronomical figure I already threw out.

We have a lot of fallow farmland here in America, it's true. We could, theoretically, start farming every square inch of it, and refining everything we grow into biofuel. I have no idea if that would realistically let us replace our oil consumption with biofuels, but, what the hell, let's light up a pipe and dream a special dream where it does.

Pragmatically speaking, the kind of large scale industrial farming we are talking about is entirely dependent on intense application of modern technologies -- which means, yes, oil. All our modern technology, pretty much, has been based on and driven by oil. Oil is almost literally a gift from the gods, a one time geological dividend. It's finite, it took millions if not billions of years to create, and over the past century and a half, we have used up about half of what exists within the planet -- the half that is easy, and thus, cost effective, to dig out. The half that is left is much less accessible, and much of it will almost certainly never be exploited, because it would cost more in energy to drill down to it and pump it out than we'd get back out of burning it. Large scale superfarms (the type that currently grow most of our biomass) burn prodigious amounts of fuel in their farm machinery, they consume oil and natural gas derived fertilizers by the kiloton, and much of our arable farmland is made that way by extensive irrigation projects, which are also products of a cheap energy age that is moving into its twilight.

Many informed speculators have stated with authority that the wars of the 21st Century would be fought over water. In point of fact, they will be fought over dwindling resources of many different kinds, but water is certainly among them... meaning that heavily industrialized irrigation products will also be a luxury few if any nations will be able to afford, as the cheap energy we take for granted continues to draw down.

All of which means, ramping up our farming industry in order to ramp up our biofuel production is not a practical option, either.

One thing I quickly picked up on, as I poked around the net this morning looking for source material, is that the Surely Ethanol Will Save Us All religion is indeed pernicious and ubiquitous. Website after website extol the virtues of ethanol and butanol, among other biofuels. Many of them sing hymns of praise to currently experimental processes that no sane being could ever possibly doubt will certainly revolutionize global society in the very near future.

What I find interesting about that is how everyone wants new technology that will revolutionize global society, so that we Americans and Europeans can continue to live our insanely, rapaciously gluttonous lifestyles without let or hindrance.

There's an inherent fallacy to this that no one seems to want to analyze... and that seems to equally apply to the numbers themselves. Everyone wants to believe biofuel is the answer; nobody anywhere seems to have actually done the arithemetic.

117 billion gallons of gasoline consumed per year.

30 billion gallons of ethnanol potential production -- if we all give up eating red meat and a lot of our favorite snack foods.

Now, you can make biofuel out of things other than corn, like, for example, sugar cane, and soybeans. So, maybe, if we start turning sugar and soy into biofuel, we can make up some of this shortcoming. But, again, these industries are as oil-dependent as any other modern agricultural system, and we currently use those products for other purposes. If we start diverting significant percentages of our corn, sugar, and soybean production into creating a replacement for the oil we rampantly consume, it's going to mean less of something else -- less cattle feed, less snack foods (especially if sugar supplies are also diminished), less plastic production (from soybeans). And it's occurring to me as I type this that much of our food is currently made out of fats and oils, and whether those come from livestock or biomass, we can also count on that supply dwindling as we ramp up biofuel production, too.

All of this directly, and hugely, impacts the American Way of Life that we are told (and that we all desperately want to believe) is non-negotiable.

What I suppose might work... I'm doubtful, but it's possible, I guess... would be a ramping up of biofuel production, with the necessary adjustments to our current consumer economy, coupled with a national conservation effort similar to what Americans willingly undertook back in World War II. When I say this would 'work', I am basically stating that such a concerted effort might allow us to maintain our current population base at something roughly approximating our current level of technology supported affluence and comfort. I'm not sure that's at all possible -- the loss of cheap, petroleum derived synthetics, in and of itself, will certainly be a body blow to our entire social structure -- but I suppose it's possible.

Considerable sacrifice would have to be made on an individual basis. Our individual fuel consumption would have to be cut sharply -- a national initiative on the part of our government to rejuvenate our aging rail system, and greatly extend it with new light rail add-ons, would be a huge help here, as would a willingness on the part of the American citizenry to actually use new mass transit systems, like rail and biofuel powered bus lines. We'd most likely also have to cut down on our meat and sugar consumption, to increase the amount of biomass for fuel.

The loss of cheap plastics could be catastrophic; at the very least, we'd have to willingly give up large segments of our entertainment industry -- CDs, DVDs, computer discs, computer games, maybe all kinds of Internet access... I have no idea. If we start using wood pulp as a biofuel base, there goes the publishing industry.

The problem with all this is that present day Americans simply are not willing to sacrifice, in any way, shape, or form. They... well, we... expect our comforts and entertainments to continue to be regularly supplied, in exchange for working a job and paying taxes... some of our taxes, anyway. Any American elected official who tries to tell the American public that we need to give something up is committing political suicide... which is one very large reason why nobody in power in our government is telling us any of this.

Ignoring an earthquake won't make it go away, however.

One thing we haven't even begun to address is the coming crisis with mass electricity production. Pragmatically, the best solution to that is a Federally led nuclear plant building project... but, again, any such attempt would be heavily fuel dependent; the longer we wait to get started, the more impossible it becomes.

Ultimately, the American Way of Life may not be negotiable... but the laws of nature don't negotiate, either. An adjustment is going to be made. Given how deeply we have our collective heads buried in the sand, I'm thinking it's going to be a bloody, brutal one.


Your Linguistic Profile::
45% Recently Re-Awakened Neanderthal
25% Insane Shapeshifting Alien
15% Hideous Nuclear Wasteland Mutate
10% Upper Denizen of Hell
0% Jam Stealing 19th Century Ragamuffin

By the flaming tusks of Arroog the Mastodon-God! I'll fastform myself into some duplicitious semblance, find whoever programmed this wretched bit of code, skin them alive with my monofilament edged flint knife, drag them through seventeen different radioactive plague-stricken dimensions back down to the Inferno with me, and feast on their entrails while they wail in utmost horror!

Dadrat it!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Life is good

Okay. Below THIS post there are two other entries I just put up, on really depressing scary real world stuff I'm not in a position to do anything about. Given that, well, it's time to retreat into my comforting cocoon of normalcy and geekish escapism --

We ordered a stone for SuperGirlfriend's engagement ring today. I'm pretty happy about that. She seems to be, too. Life is good, here in the bubble. For a while longer, anyway.

Libraries are fabulous. I'd lost sight of that over the past several years, when I had no access to one, but last Wednesday SuperGirlfriend and I went over to the nearby branch, where they have a Teen Room. One entire wall of this room is devoted to comic book graphic novels, and I took out a big stack... the Jenkins/Lee INHUMANS, one of the David/McFarlane HULK compilations, an AUTHORITY collection by Warren Ellis, Kirkman's INVINCIBLE, and four ASTRO CITY collections -- LIFE IN THE BIG CITY, CONFESSION, FAMILY ALBUM, and THE TARNISHED ANGEL.

I've plowed through the first three ASTRO CITY collections, and am halfway through the fourth. I may or may not post what I think of them... nearly anything I say will (and probably should) be dismissed as colored by the personal stuff between me and ASTRO CITY 'creator' Kurt Busiek. Still, while I find some of the stuff entertaining, well, I'm seeing flaws and problems everywhere I look, and overall, I guess the word I'd use as an overall description, even if I try to move past my intense dislike of near-plagiarism, is 'second rate'.

Take that however you want to take it.

Moving on to Friday... as it was a payday, I indulged myself a little bit. Having set aside some of my check for the brand spanking new joint checking account SG and I recently opened (we plan to use it as a savings account), and another chunk for SG's engagement ring, I spoiled myself and SG a little bit with what was left, picking up the third season of Angel on DVD for the love of my life, and a few new clix singles for me -- a Mojo, an Icons Lex Luthor, and a Ralph Dibney LE.

And today, we get the girls back. No big plans... maybe a trip to a park, if the sun comes out. Still... it's a good day.

Behind the wire

In other scary stuff that's really happening, but that you won't find news of anywhere but on the net, check out this post, a first person account of a visit to a FEMA run camp for displaced Katrina victims.

And then there's this, which would dispel any thoughts we might like to nurture about how the first thing is just an isolated incident.

What scares me most about stuff like this... well, it's hard to pick which aspect scares me most about it, honestly, but, still... I read stuff like this and I can't keep the phrase 'trial run' out of my head. It's very much like someone out there is seeing how well this whole 'detention camp' thing can be run... is our bureaucracy up to it? Will our law enforcement and our military just follow orders? Will the press cooperate?

Most important of all, will we lie down for it?

First they locked up a bunch of Middle Easterners they grabbed up in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we didn't do anything, because we weren't Middle Easterners from Afghanistan or Iraq. And then they declared a few Americans enemy combatants and locked them up without trials because of what maybe they might have been planning even though there wasn't any evidence of it, and we didn't do anything about it, because, you know, it was just a few Americans, and they were kind of ugly anyway. And now they're detaining a few thousand American disaster victims, and we aren't doing anything about it, because it isn't in the papers and all those people are just trashy black folk, anyhow, so who cares?

How long is it going to be before they're locking up our neighbors... our co-workers... our family members... or us? And who's going to care then?

They insist that they have the right to detain pretty much anyone, indefinitely, without charges or a trial, in the name of national security. They insist they can eavesdrop and surveille us, without oversight or notice or limitation of any kind, in the name of national security. They insist they have a right to torture, in the name of national security.

How bad does it have to get before we all wake up and realize we don't want these people to have power over us? That it's not safe? That they are not protecting us, or our friends, or our children... that, in fact, we have a predatory government and they really are out to get us?

Yeah, they're moving slowly. You know why? Because they're afraid of us. They're afraid we're going to wake up and do something, before it's too late.

Although, honest to Christ, I don't know why they're afraid of us. All we've done for the last century is act like a goddam deer in the headlights.

Onward Christian Soldiers

For a truly scary look at how our masters are going about keeping troop strength up without re-instituting a draft (which they don't want to do, because, you know, it might make us sheep uncomfortable and we might actually think about getting up off our asses and doing something about it), check out this lengthy post, liberally garnished with even scarier photographs.

I find it hard to believe this actually goes on in my America, but then, this sort of thing isn't going on in MY America. It's just, you know, the America we all actually happen to live in now, whether we like it or not.

My level of comfortable denial thinned to nothing on this when I realized (you have to look carefully) that the church this took place in isn't far from me... just over and down a bit, in Lexington, KY. I don't know WHY I always feel safer when I read about this stuff happening in some other state, or some other country... it's not like that means anything these days, with the world shrunk by modern technology. But still, somehow, seeing that it happened only a hundred or so miles away made it even scarier.

I have no doubt events like this occur on a nightly basis throughout America; apparently, though, you have to go out on the Internet to learn about it.

Which is, in and of itself, pretty scary, too.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The right to remain comfortable

The mythos, the ideal... the American dream. A shining light to the world, a beacon to its oppressed and down trodden, a source of hope and pride and inspiration to We, The People.

I don't know. At what point do we get to call bullshit on all this irrational rhetoric? How many bullets have to be fired in the name of America's wealthy elite, how much blood has to be shed to maintain or increase corporate profit margins, before we are willing to admit that high falutin' phrases like 'mythos', 'ideal', and 'dream' all pretty much boil down to a self-righteous delusion that America is something exceptional... a delusion we all use to justify and rationalize away the undeniable, objective fact that throughout the world, millions still suffer every minute of every day from a lack of critical necessities... food, water, shelter, a healthy local environment... while we Americans cheerfully ignore it all, as we mindlessly pursue our own God given and utterly inalienable rights to continuous comfort and endless entertainment?

The true history of America is now, and always has been, one of barely hidden greed, selfishness, dehumanization of ourselves and others... in short, outright evil, swaddled in poetic parchment. Ask the American Indian tribes, ask the native Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, Alaskans, Mexicans, ask the descendents of the Chinese and the Africans we imported to build our infrastructure, ask the Japanese we put in detainment camps.

Now, America's global image as the shining exceptional light of freedom etc etc etc has taken some hard shots under the conservative consortium over the last half decade or so. Many of us prefer to believe that this conservative consortium has degraded the essential identity of America in some way. I think our political masters have simply become so brazen, as we enter what are almost certainly the last days of our current state of civilization, that they've allowed their customary mask to slip a little.

Why not? Who's going to actually do anything about it? No one else in the world dares to stand up to America. We'll kick their asses.

We The Peepul won't do anything ourselves about any of this, of course, other than whine a little bit on the Internet, and maybe go to a few meaningless public protests (after which we'll get back in our SUVs and head to the nearest upscale chain coffee house to congratulate ourselves over lattes). Our rulers have surreptitiously hijacked most if not all of our liberties, but they've been careful to let us keep our luxuries, our indulgences, and most important, our entertainments.

Americans will turn into an angry mob that our 'elected' officials feel some actual need to assuage... when? Over what? Free speech zones? Illegal wars? Random and endless imprisonment of our fellow citizens at presidential whim? Covert domestic surveillance? The imprisonment, torture, rape and murder of innocent non-Americans, many of them children? Secret prisons, support of viciously tyrannical puppet regimes, corporate exploitation of the poor?

No. We'll get pissed off by 'high' gas prices... and when I say 'high', of course, I don't mean, actually approaching anything like the gas prices the rest of the world has been paying for decades, I mean, about a third of that. But we can be lulled back to sleep there, too, if the autocracy just releases some of our national reserve to temporarily drive the market down again. It's not any kind of solution to the long term problem at all, but it keeps us off the streets and in our air conditioned houses watching SHOWTIME for another election cycle... which is all anyone cares about.

The American way of life has, honestly, never been anything but a mass glorification of individual human selfishness. The American dream is to be better off, more comfortable, and more entertained than our neighbors. Is that something that can be degraded? I don't think so. But it's something that can be destroyed from within by its own internal fallacies, as we suddenly find ourselves facing the cessation of the resources we kidded ourselves into thinking were perpetual... oil, land, cheap foreign labor.

America's problems... the world's problems... are not, in essence, political, although they have certainly been exacerbated by the absolute evil exemplified by the conservative corporate coalition that has taken overt control of our elective apparatus over the past half decade. Our problems mostly stem from a rampantly out of control consumer lifestyle that is rapidly approaching a point where it will simply become insupportable.

What we're going to do about that, I have no idea, but it's interesting that neither political party wants to even mention it. Present day Americans don't sacrifice, and they don't vote for anyone who asks them to... not that that matters any more, in a land where the results of elections are largely determined before anyone does any voting, anyway.

My self righteous ire, so self evident as you read this, stems from the same source as yours, of course... I'm not so much pissed off that I find myself in a time of historical crisis, as I am that it seems like I may have to do something about it, or die. I hate this. I see the problems all around me, and like any good, middle class, spoiled brat of a U.S. citizen, I want someone else to take care of it for me. As Homer Simpson -- in so many ways, the voice of so much of America these days -- has put it, "Did we lose a war or something?" I feel that I'm entitled to sit back in air conditioned comfort while channel surfing from one station to another, eating microwave kettle corn while other people -- I don't really care who, just, you know, not me -- set things to rights again. I want the judiciary to do it, I want the justice system to do it, I want the Democrats to do it, I want Patrick Fitzgerald to do it, Christ, I want Captain America and the Hulk to do it... I just don't want to get off my fat ass and do it myself.

Why should I feel any different? This is America! I go to work. I pay my taxes. What more is expected of me? If the tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots, well, isn't that someone else's job? I have a family to support! I can't be expected to be out there getting petitions signed, carrying a placard, lying down in front of buses, getting thrown in jail... Christ! I might miss an episode of Deadwood!

All of which is to say, I'm no better than any of the people I'm yelling at. What am I willing to do to solve all these problems? Why, I'll whine about it on the Internet. And then I'll go get myself a popsicle.

Why the hell isn't someone else taking care of all this stuff for me?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Life under the bridge

We Internet savvy types like to throw around the word 'troll'. I've started to wonder what it means.

I like to think I use words with reasonable precision. This isn't always true; sometimes I'll work for emotional effect instead of measured objectivity. I've been known to call someone a polehumper, for example, without having any actual knowledge that said dickweed does, in fact, hump poles. Communication is a science, but sometimes it's an art, too. Even the most articulate of us feel our way.

And many words, especially abstracts of the pejorative inclination, are largely or entirely subjective. 'Bastard' and 'sonofabitch' are relics from an earlier age, when the status of one's birth was considerably more significant from a social perspective, which the contemporary discourse makes liberal usage of without consideration regarding the actual circumstance's of the intended subject's origin. And then, of course, there are those blooming bouquets of invective like the aforementioned 'dickweed', along with 'douchebag', 'wanker', 'pud walloper', 'dingleberry', 'buttmunch', 'muffin stirrer', 'turdherder', and... well, the list is as limitless as an overpopulated planet's collective imagination, one must suppose.

Many of these coinages have no actual meaning other than the user's displeasure with their subject. Others do have a specific meaning -- for example, there are many insulting twists of verbiage that essentially boil down to either (a) this person masturbates, or (b) this person enjoys certain non-mainstream forms of intimate intercourse -- but such attacks, when rationally considered, do not constitute much of an actual insult, since only the emotionally unhealthy or the sexually disabled don't masturbate, and what one does or does not in the privacy of one's home with other consenting adults really isn't reasonable fodder for negative commentary.

Such, also, is the word 'troll', when hurled about with mad abandon by most Internet consumers. I have, for example, seen the word 'troll' used simply to describe someone who, upon coming across a particularly objectionable screed on some stranger's blog, happened to comment in a fashion differentiated from the mainstream of commenters on said blog only by the fact that this particular comment was not notable in its sycophancy to said blogger.

"What a troll!" the spineless lickspittles inhabiting such comment threads will opine... leading one to wonder as to the specific meaning of the word 'troll' as it exists within their rudimentary intellects, as well as, perhaps, how in the name of sweet baby jebus they manage to type at all, with their tongue engaged so firmly within the region of the blogger's taint.

Yet I've historically hired the word "troll" to do some work for me within this particular vineyard as well, and I hope I haven't directed its labors so disadvantageously as to describe someone as such who merely showed up on my blog and voiced an opinion I found unpleasant. In fact, I'm fairly sure I manifest somewhat more discernment than this when I apply the label.

Past all that, though, let's see if we can't refine us some sugar from all this cane, or, if not, then at the very least render down a few quarts of molasses out of it.

What, then, is the proper framework for deploying the phrase 'troll'?

Anonymity is generally a fine indicator of true troll stature. It isn't always an adjunct; some people are just unable to decipher the log in requirements of certain comment threads, while others may end up posting anonymously by accident. Anonymous comments do, on occasion, add something worthwhile to the discussion.

Yet, still, those that mean to do harm, whose only purpose on the Internet is to deride and insult and cause as much injury to others as possible from a safe and sheltered distance, generally use anonymity, or a carefully unattributed psuedonym (sometimes an entire array of such) to maintain their own immunity while they work their petty, childish, insecure spite.

And it is here, in this further explicatory passage, I feel I may have struck close to the heart of the matter. Anonymous or not (and few if any troll openly under their own names, although I suppose there may be some in the employ of powerful patrons who feel protected against any potential personal repercussions of their spew, and are thus emboldened to take a byline), a troll is someone who seeks only do wreak havoc and do harm. Someone like my self declared enemy Gandalf, who from the depths and toils of his own insecurities and mediocrities, possessing no vestigial capacity for self control whatsoever, takes furious umbrage when some unknown says something he disagrees with on the Internet, and thus vows a personal electronic jihad of a sort perhaps more appropriate to lunatics strapping plastique to themselves in hope of explosive translation to a more pleasurable afterlife.

A troll is someone who brings nothing to the table but bluster and invective, who raises no valid topics, who adds nothing of interest or even amusement... and, sadly, most trolls are so incapable of formulating even a proper sentence, much less a graceful one, that their insults and imprecations aren't even a pleasure to read, unless, of course, they suborn some more verbally talented lackey to serve as their locutory Boswell.

A troll is someone who hopes to ruin someone else's day, generally, one assumes, because they are powerless to have any other effect in any other meaningful way within actual objective reality. There have always been trolls; before the Internet they made crank phone calls, or wrote vicious letters to their betters, often anonymously, generally displaying only the crudest rudiments of coherency in their painful, spiteful efforts. They have nothing meaningful to say so instead they heap up invective and strike a match, hoping some passing steamboat will take notice and tie up at their ramshackle dock. Their comments have no cogency; they cannot construct an argument or make a point; their shrill sputterings are a blind, furious, and ultimately vacuous middle finger flung petulantly into the face of a universe they believe has done them wrong by not providing them with the comforts they regard as their just due merely for existing.

Now, on the other hand, you come across some post in which some venomous twat is screaming to her suck-ups about how horrible her husband is for having the intransigent and intolerable temerity to sing along, in public, while in her company, with a song she herself doesn't like very much, and you take a few moments to try and give this obsessively self orbital shrew an actual reality check... that would not make you a troll. That would, in fact, make you someone with enough self respect to point out the truly wretched misbehavior of a very nearly worthless human being who is showing her ass to anyone who may happen across her bilious screeching, and on behalf of all humanity, find it somewhat embarrassing.

Still. You know, I generally believe in living and letting live, and when I'm offended by someone else's idiocy, I generally let it go. I imagine I should have in this particular case as well, but... I don't know. I miss the girls. It's been a stressful week at work. A couple of people I've tried to be kind to have spent the last few days doing their best to get their pointy little heads as far up my ass as possible. All of that, and I came across this one post, and, well, I guess I just went off a little.

It doesn't make me a troll; the blogger in question is, to all appearances, someone with the emotional maturity of a spoiled six year old, and the coterie of asskissers in her comment threads are pretty clearly not part of any kind of solution to any problem that exists anywhere in the universe. Still, I'm generally more forebearing than that; this woman doesn't live anywhere near me, and if her husband wants to put up with her pitiful tantrums, I suppose that's his look out. And certainly, mean spirited selfishness is a common enough impulse; it's no shock to me that she's managed to attract and engage a pack of equally immature satellites who take her passages on her emotional inadequacies as validation of their own.

I generally leave such messes to tend themselves. I should have in this particular, as well.

But what the fuck. At least I got a blog post out of it.