Sunday, July 30, 2006

This is my dream

Everybody has a dream. Well, most of us have many dreams, but now I'm not talking about the one where we walk in and find the Olsen twins making out in our shower stalls, or the one where an alien spaceship crashes next to us and strange radiation gives us amazing superpowers which we use to save the Earth from an invasion of evil Betelgeusians, after which there's a big parade and, you know, the Olsen twins are making out in the backseat of a big convertible with us.

No, I'm talking about, you know, the more plausible dreams, the more or less real life dreams, that don't involve a menage a trois with inaccessible celebrity skanks or powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Dreams of wealth and success and self-fulfillment, sure, but grounded within the boundaries of what we understand to be reality.

For many nowadays -- and I think this is sad -- these dreams simply come down to winning the Lotto. I have my Lotto dreams, too, but I barely count them as plausible; I am, in fact, starting to regard the very idea of Lotto winners as an urban legend -- it always seems like everybody knows somebody who knows somebody else who won one of the big jackpots, but nobody seems to be able to get any closer to a payout than that. I'm certainly not really counting on ever grabbing one of those nebulous jackpots myself.

However, I do have my own slightly more plausible dream, even if it's only just barely within the bounds of possibility in today's marketplace -- I dream of becoming a published author. No, even better than that, I dream of becoming a successful published author; somebody who can make a decent living off his writing.

It's a dream that glimmers in my brain like a multifaceted gem, that lures me onward like a mirage of shimmering crystalline water in the middle of a desert.

In one facet of the gem, I see myself rising with a yawn at 8:30 or 9 in the morning, shuffling down the hall in my pajama bottoms and my scuffed up leather mocs while pulling some old tattered two sizes too big tshirt emblazoned with a graphic of the Silver Age X-Men or a lovely George Perez illustration of the Avengers over my head, grabbing a leisurely shower, making myself a plate of breakfast in the otherwise empty kitchen, then eventually plonking down in my leather desk chair in my shabby, cluttered home office, where eventually, I'll start clattering the keyboard as I roll out my 2500 words for the day, or whatever goal it is I've set so that I can hit my eventual deadline on this bitch of a novel I'm trying to sweat out, without having to work too many weekends along the way.

While I'm there, of course, the phone rings two or three times, and it's my publisher, or my agent, or some Hollywood studio guy, and they all want to talk about my contract, or my royalties, or an option, or something else that in some delightful way indicates that someone out there likes my work enough to be willing to cut me a check with at least four digits to the left of the decimal point in the AMOUNT box.

That's one facet. In another, I'm out at the mall, sometimes alone, sometimes with SuperFiancee and the SuperKids, and we wander into a Borders or a B.Dalton or a Barnes and Nobles and right there by the front door is the big cardboard dump bin full of my latest book, with big pull quotes all over it from the rave reviews I'm getting and all the paperbacks say BY THE AUTHOR OF or even, sometimes, when I'm feeling especially wistful, BY THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF with the names of several of my other books right there above my name, and then I walk over to the SF/Fantasy section and run my finger down the stacks and there they are, two or three or half a dozen books with my name running down the spine and you can take them out and there's an ugly picture of me on the back grinning out at me like a loon because, you know, when they took the picture I knew it was for a back jacket photograph on my books and who wouldn't be grinning like a loon when they do that?

And then there's the bit where I'm at a con and various geeks are fawning all over me and some of them are even dressed up like characters from my books and that's really cool. And then there's where I'm on a talk show and the host is fawning all over me and that one's not as cool except when the next guest is Tom Cruise and I get to hit him with a fire extinguisher until he dies... but, okay, now we're straying from anything remotely like reality, so never mind.

Still, this is my dream, and I'm sure there are thousands if not millions of wannabe published authors out there who have dreams just like it, and what I hate, I mean, hate-hate-hate-hate-HATE, is that an entire cottage industry has grown up that does nothing but ruthlessly exploit this dream, taking advantage of the starry eyed hopes and dreams of me and my fellow wannabe authors, doing its utmost to milk us for whatever we have by promising us exactly this dream, when they have no power to or even the slightest intention of delivering it to us.

I hate these people.

PublishAmerica is one such group of people who package and shill this dream of success to wannabe authors. They tell you they'll pay you up front for your work, and they do... they pay you a dollar. They tell you you'll be doing bookstore signings and you will... if you can talk a bookstore into letting you do it, after you provide all the materials, including the copies of your book you plan to sign, which you have to buy yourself from PublishAmerica beforehand. They sort of vaguely indicate your books will be available at all the bookstores in America, and they will... by order, if anyone walks up to the circulation desk and specifically asks for your book by name, at which point the bookstore will put in an order and PublishAmerica will happily print them a copy.

This particular scam employed by the cottage industry that is specifically designed to prey on the dreams of wannabe writers is called POD publishing, or Publish On Demand. These publishers essentially use desktop publishing technology to create a nice, professional looking electronic copy of your book. If someone orders a copy, they happily print one out and send it to them. But they risk nothing, because they print nothing without an order in hand... and they make no effort whatsoever to generate any orders. It's up to the author to market his own books.

The way this generally works out in practice is, the author him or herself ends up being the main (or oftentimes only) source of a POD publisher's income. They offer the author a discount on cover price, and a greater discount if the author orders in bulk. The author is then supposed to buy several hundred or several thousand professional looking copies of his own book, which makes the POD publisher happy, at which point it's up to the author to find some way to move those copies to potential readers at a profit. (S)He can set up a table at cons, (s)he can try to talk bookstores into letting him do signings, (s)he can hang around outside bars and shill his book to drunkards... whatever. But what (s)he can't expect is for his/her publisher to ever pay him/her anything for his/her work, or make any attempt to sell this work to anyone else, because by this marketing model, the author is actually the publisher's customer... or, to put it more accurately, the publisher's rube.

The good part about this, if there is anything good about it, is that POD publishers don't ask their authors for any money up front. All they generally want is a signature on a contract that gives them the rights to your book for a certain number of years. Once they've got that, though, you're pretty much screwed; you can't do anything else with that book until the contracted time period is up unless you go through the publisher you've signed with. So either you buy a bunch of copies and flog them yourself, or you perform a miracle and get somebody else to buy a bunch of copies, for whatever reason they might want to buy a bunch of copies for... but remember, your POD publisher only prints copies that someone has already paid for. They have no interest in marketing your book, because they have no investment to offset. All they've put into it is what they paid to the staff people who took your electronic manuscript and edited it into a professional looking, but still electronic, file copy suitable for printing out... assuming they ever get any orders. But, again, generating those orders is up to you. They won't do it for you.

They don't tell you this prior to you getting into the deal, of course, and in fact, it's my experience that if you get wind of any of this before you're committed and ask questions, they will vociferously deny it.

PublishAmerica, for example, still vehemently denies in every word they publish about themselves on the Internet that they are a POD publisher. What these 'publishers' do is take advantage of the desperation, and general ignorance, of we millions of wannabe authors out there. They know we have this dream, and they ruthlessly exploit it.

The thing is, this scam has been around for awhile now, and many authors have learned of it and become wary of POD publishers, which is why PublishAmerica, and others like them, are so quick and so vociferous to deny that they are POD publishers. They've evolved a wide array of tactics to mask their essential status.

Some of their authors actually have books in bookstores, they'll tell you, and some of them -- the CEO of the company, maybe, or her sister, or her cousin, or her niece -- actually do have three copies of their slim poetry volume on a shelf at one Borders location in a mall close to the corporate offices, where somebody they have coffee with three times a week works as a part time stocker.

They spend large sums of money on marketing their books (one recent quote I got from an assistant editor at a company trying to huckster me into yet another one of these deals was 'approximately $60,000' -- according to this goober, his company was going to spend 'approximately $60,000' marketing my book), although you can never actually get any kind of itemized accounting of how much money they really spent or what they spent it on.

So a big flashing warning light these days is, if you suspect a 'small press publishesr' is actually a POD publisher, and they deny it at the top of their lungs, but have absolutely nothing they can point to as proof that they aren't (like, any books at all at your local bookstore with their imprint on them), well, they are.

I got sucked into this again a few months back. A publishing company I'd never heard of, whom I will call Whacking Day Publishing, contacted me and asked me about using my HeroClix House Rules in an upcoming book about HeroClix. I was, naturally, flattered, and said yes, sure, use 'em. I didn't ask for or expect any payment, but when you're trying to get your foot in the door, any exposure is generally good, and it wasn't like I'd solicited them. They came to me, and weren't asking me for any money, and they wanted to use my work; that's all good.

But then I checked out their website and discovered that they apparently publish a lot of SF and fantasy. So I inquired, and was invited to submit, which I did, at considerable expense to myself, since they asked me for hardcover copies of half a dozen of my novel length works, and it wasn't cheap, shipping it to them.

And now, they want to publish 3 of my novels. Which is also all good, except, well, SuperFiancee did a little prudent research on them, and we found a couple of not very complimentary chat threads regarding them on 'Authors Beware' type websites, and apparently, they are in fact just another POD firm... they just, you know, hide it a little better than PublishAmerica.

Having been bitten already by PublishAmerica with this lousy, crappy POD deal, I've tried to be wary, and not have much hope for this deal actually going any where.

There have been fairly big warning flags even before this company finally called me up a few weeks ago and said they wanted 3 of my novels. First, I had near daily email contact with the editor who contacted me about the HeroClix House Rules. That was nice. However, once I actually submitted the Big Box O' Manuscripts, this email contact stopped. No explanation at all. I simply didn't hear from her again, and to date, I have not heard from this woman again. I'm supposed to have my House Rules included in a book that is supposed to be coming out 'this autumn', I've submitted half a dozen other manuscripts at her direct invitation, after a month of near constant, friendly email with her... and suddenly, she's gone. Follow up emails go unanswered. I'm abruptly speaking into a dead phone.

Now, in one of her last emails to me, she had advised me that I would hear a response on my submission 'by the end of the month'. This seemed frankly unbelievable to me. I never expected this fantastic promise to be kept; I had just submitted six novel length manuscripts, and I couldn't see any way I could get any kind of meaningful response to that quantity of work within a couple of week. In all honesty, I hoped the promise wouldn't be kept; any kind of response I might have gotten within a couple of weeks would be one I couldn't have taken seriously at all.

And yet, at the same time, making this kind of promise, and then breaking it, would be a pretty strong indication of rampant unprofessionalism, and would make it very difficult for me to have any trust in this company, or this editor. So it seemed to me that this woman was setting up a situation where nobody could win.

Well, I didn't hear anything 'by the end of the month'. So I let a few more weeks go by, and then I called the number on the company website. This website advertises that any messages left are responded to within 24 hours at the most, so I expected to get an answering machine. Instead, however, I got another woman, with the same last name as the woman I'd been speaking to (this is apparently a family business).
This woman seemed rather exasperated with me for calling her, but she was more or less professional with me. She'd never heard of me, or any of the work I'd submitted, or even the work her company had specifically solicited from me, and in fact, didn't even seem to be aware her company was doing a book about HeroClix, or have any vague idea what HeroClix was. But she promised me she would look into things and either call me back within 24 hours or have my original contact send me an email within the same time period.

So, eight days later, I called her again, having heard nothing. This time, she pretty obviously WAS rather pissy about my insistence on bothering her, but, again, she said she would check things out for me and get back to me. She didn't give me a definite time frame after that contact.

A week or so later, I got an email from some idiot I'd never heard from, as follows:


Managing Editor [Ninja Deathstar] and Senior Editor [Shamalama Ding Dong] have finished their review of your manuscripts. They have a number of questions before they can reach a decision. Please get back with the answers at your convenience.

1. Would you be willing to tone down some of the swearing and slang in "Timewatch" or any of the other books where it poses a problem.

2.In regard to "Universal Maintanence" would you be willing to work with our legal department to end your contract with PublishAmerica?

3. "Endgame" and "Earthquest" are the first and second books in a Trilogy, by what date would you be ale to complete and submit the third book in the trilogy?

4. Have you purchased and reviewed any of Charles Phipp's source books? A source published by Fandom Press is required for any series to be included in the Share Universe Project.

5. Right now we are considering both Universal Maintenance and the tilogy as good Shared Universe Project candidates. However, we would need to know how quickly you could get source books prepared for each of the books because they are published the same time as the novels.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,
Whacking Day Author Management Team

Couple of things.

First, no one working with an 'Author Management Team' who can't spell 'trilogy' or 'maintenance' (when 'maintenance' is half the title of a manuscript he's speaking of) is going to inspire any confidence in me. Call me snotty, but, well, that's how it is. If someone is going to 'manage' me, he or she had better know how to spell, or at least have enough goddam professionalism to run spellcheck before they send me their email.

Second, this is the first time anyone has mentioned anything to me about 'preparing sourcebooks' for me to include my novels in a 'Shared Universe'.

Third, this is the first time anyone has mentioned anything to me about writing a completely new novel before the first two in the 'tilogy' can be considered for publication.

Fourth, this is absolutely the first time anyone has mentioned to me that I need to buy a copy of something else Whacking Day has published before they can consider my work.

Fifth... well, this isn't really 'fifth', because this one I was willing to swallow, however much it choked me... the idea that I should tone down some of the swearing and slang in "Timewatch" or any of the other books where it poses a problem frankly pissed me off at the time and still pisses me off now. But, hey, if it got me into a store, fine. Still, the idea that a book where the main character has fairly explicit sex with a computerized hologram is acceptable, but only if I 'tone down some of the swearing and slang', truly annoys me. We can show the characters fucking and taking a shit, I guess, we just can't call it fucking and taking a shit.

Sixth or fifth, however you want to count it -- my first contact with this company had advised me that 'we work with PublishAmerica authors all the time; we just send PublishAmerica a letter and they release the rights'. Now, all of a sudden, I have to be 'willing to work with our legal department to end [my] contract with PublishAmerica'?

So, I was a little cheesed off by this note. My response:


I appreciate you guys timely response.

>>1. Would you be willing to tone down some of the swearing and slang in "Timewatch" or any of the other books where it poses a problem.

Er... yeah, I guess so. If at some point this is going to make me some money, I'm willing to do nearly anything. Without specific examples of what you are referring to, I can't be sure what you're talking about... I try to give my characters realistic dialogue that shows their personalities. Still, I don't think any of the 'swearing and slang' is crucial to any story elements.

>>2.In regard to "Universal Maintanence" would you be willing to work with our legal department to end your contract with PublishAmerica?

Well, sure, whatever it takes. I admit I'm confused... Jen had advised me that this was a simple process; you simply wrote a letter to PA and asked them to release the book, and they did it. But if it's more complex than that, yeah, I'll help. As I said above, if there's money in this eventually, I'm on board.

>>3. "Endgame" and "Earthquest" are the first and second books in a Trilogy, by what date would you be ale to complete and submit the third book in the trilogy?

It's a tough question. I know the plot to the book, but I work a full time job and my household includes three kids, so I don't have a great deal of spare time. On the other hand, I compose and type very quickly. I'd say at the outside I could have it done in six months.

>>4. Have you purchased and reviewed any of Charles Phipp's source books? A source published by Fandom Press is required for any series to be included in the Share Universe Project.

I didn't realize this was a requirement. I remember reading on your web page that I could request a complimentary copy of one of your books to see what sort of stuff you publish. I guess if you need me to buy something from you in order to consider my books, well, that's certainly a factor for me to evaluate in our relationship. But, again, this is the first I've been informed of such a requirement.

>>5. Right now we are considering both Universal Maintenance and the tilogy as good Shared Universe Project candidates. However, we would need to know how quickly you could get source books prepared for each of the books because they are published the same time as the novels.

Not having seen a sourcebook, I have no idea what preparing one entails, so I can't answer this question. If I'm writing the third book in the Webster Madison, Hired Gun trilogy and preparing three source books, though, it seems like a great deal of uncompensated work to cram into a schedule that already includes a full time job and being a full time parent.

Maybe it would be better to just focus on one of my books, that I've already completed. I could probably much more reliably commit to preparing a single source book, and then we could see how well that book does, and you could see how much you like working with me, before we embark on further projects.

I really do appreciate your timely review of my work. Thanks for getting back to me.

If the HeroClix book is still in the works, please advise Jen, or whoever is in charge, that I've made some changes in my House Rules and would be happy to send her an updated copy.

Thanks again,

[Happy Little Me]

To which Robert responded:


Thank you for writing back. In terms of your requirements, we have a many requirements for submitting manuscripts that are detailed on our website. One is that authors have actually seen the quality and type of books that we publish, specifically in terms of the Shared Universe Project. You need to see a Fandom Press source book in order to know if you will be able to write.

The requirement is not that you buy a source book but that you see one. You can look at one at your local library, though source book that we suggested, written by Charles Phipps, is only $9.99, compared to the $60,000 we invest in publishing just one of your books.

We were under the impression that you have already reviewed our books. The fact that you haven't means that we need to revaluate your submissions. Fandom Projects are very demanding. We do not want to contract you for a project that is too demanding for you.

I can either tell the editors to hold your work until we hear from you about the source book or you can send an SASE and we can return all the manuscripts. Whatever you decide we will completely understand.

Thank you,
Whacking Day Author Management Team

What a dickhead.

So, I wrote back and told him that he and the entire staff of Whacking Day should grease themselves up with petroleum jelly and then do their level best to insert themselves headfirst and up to their ankles in the Very Anus Of God Himself.

Okay, I didn't. Here's what I sent back:

Dear Robert,

It sounds as if I've annoyed you. It wasn't intentional. I really felt I'd established a good rapport with [Singalong Sue], and while I have read your site, I hope you'll understand when I mention that I wasn't aware of certain specific requirements when [Singalong Sue] specifically requested me to submit five manuscripts for review, and I hope you'll also understand, without taking offense, that every bit of advice an aspiring writer hears or reads these days is, the second a publisher asks you to buy something from them, you need to seriously re-evaluate the situation, because serious publishers NEVER do that.

Again, I thought I had established a much better rapport with [Singalong Sue], and again, she hadn't advised me of any further requirements, beyond creating detailed outlines for each submission, and the specific mailing information I put on the hefty package I submitted at Whacking Day's request. There was nothing said about me having to prepare source books for my material, or complete an unfinished novel completely on spec prior to any of my material being accepted, and she certainly didn't mention any requirement that I buy something up front.

I am in no way saying I can not or will not comply with whatever requirements you may have. I am just trying to get this all straight before I make a commitment. I hope that's acceptable to your company.

[Singalong Sue] had advised me that when you guys find an author you want to work with, you're serious about working with them, and you do everything you can to facilitate the partnership. Your site certainly gives that impression as well. I understand you'll be investing money in publishing and marketing my book, I also understand that you're not going to do that unless you think the material is strong enough to make us both some money.

I got involved with PublishAmerica under the mistaken impression that they were a real publisher and were going to actually publish my books, and they were careful to foster that impression without providing any real details as to how their process worked until I was too far into it to back out. I appreciate the fact that you guys are being more straightforward.

I do want to clarify one point -- I did not initiate contact with your company. One of your senior editors found a piece of my writing on the Internet that she felt was suitable to an ongoing project. She wrote to me and asked if your company could use it, to our potential mutual benefit. She and I established a friendly rapport and after I mentioned having written several SF/fantasy novels, including one with PublishAmerica, she reviewed synopses of all my work, outlines of some of it, and then invited me to submit five separate manuscripts and gave me instructions on specifically how to do so. I understand you guys expect your authors to 'jump through hoops' (it's the phrase repeated over and over in your submissions guidelines) but I did, and I did it willingly and promptly. I created the detailed outlines, I did all the printing out (not inconsequential for manuscripts this size, when you have a home printer like we do) made the copies, spent the money to ship it all to you in a hefty box, and I did this because I believed, from my interactions with [Singalong Sue], that your company was genuinely interested in my work.

To suddenly be told that if I don't want to buy a product from you that I was never advised I'd have to buy, I can just send an SASE so you can return my work, strikes me as a remarkably abrupt change of attitude on the part of your company. (It's also going to have to be an extremely large SASE.)

If Whacking Day believes I am a good enough writer, and that my material is marketable and worth the necessary investment, then by all means, let's work together. If Whacking Day doesn't feel my material is strong enough, I understand, and again, thank you for the time you've taken with me to date.

I certainly understand that I am an unpublished author and my work may need extensive revision to reach professional standards, and I'm not in any way balking at that. I understand that your company has much more experience in this area than I do. It seems to me that we would probably do best to work on one manuscript at a time.


[Happy Little Me]

And then he said:


Thank you for your email. I was in no way annoyed with you and I am sorry it came across that way. I will forward everything to [Shamalama DingDong] and [Ninja Deathstar] who will make all final decisions.

Whacking Day Author Management Team

And that was that... or so I figured.

Then, a few weeks later (a few weeks ago) I got a call from someone named Shaylin, or something like that, and she asked me if UNIVERSAL MAINTENANCE, ENDGAME, and TIME WATCH were still available, and I said sure, and she said they'd like to publish them. So I said 'sure' again, and she said that their lawyer, Jerry Garcia, would be sending me some contracts.

Well, actually, it turns out their lawyer isn't named Jerry Garcia, it just sounded like that on the phone.

Now, at this point, there were all those big red flags waving, but still, these guys wanted to publish three of my novels, how bad could that be? SuperFiancee was thrilled, and I myself was trying very very hard not to be thrilled, because, you know, this could very well turn out to be an empty bag, and if it did, well, I didn't want to be crushed yet again.

But still, underneath, I was a little thrilled, too.

And then SuperFiancee, because she is wonderful and fabulous and always looking out for me, went out and did some research on the Internet, and turned up several chat threads on Authors Beware boards specifically warning new authors from getting involved with Whacking Day. They mentioned that Whacking Day's contract was a joke, that their frequent promises of budgeting sixty or eighty thousand dollars per book they published was nonsense, that even books published by Whacking Day's founders could not be found anywhere in any physical form in any bookstore anywhere and the only way you could get these books was by ordering them from Whacking Day...

...that, in short, Whacking Day was just another POD publisher, taking advantage of the dreams of up and coming wannabes. That they wouldn't publish anyone's book without a specific order for those books, and that the responsibility for generating all those orders is on the author him or herself.

But this was just what people said about them on the Internet, and, well, there are a lot of people who say bad things about ME on the Internet, too. More research was called for.

So, SuperFiancee printed out for me a great many of the pages of Whacking Day's very self congratulatory website, including lengthy lists of Whacking Day's published authors and their books. And we went to the library and punched in the names of these authors, and their books.

The library had never heard of them. And River City has a VERY extensive library system.

So then we went to Borders, and did the same thing. All the books listed on Whacking Day's site, including a book by Whacking Day founder and senior editor [Singalong Sue] that was advertised at Amazon as having 'already sold 2,000 copies', were available by order only. No copies existed in physical form at that Borders, or at any other Borders, anywhere.

Since then, I've gotten the following letter from not-Jerry Garcia, Whacking Day legal counsel:


I have quite a few contracts to issue you but I also have a good number of questions before I can do so. If you could get back to me at your earliest convenience, I'll get the contracts finalized and sent. Thank you for your assistance, Darren.

1. Universal Maintenance is under contract to PublishAmerica. There should be a clause in the PA agreement that allows you to cancel the contract. They should then have six months to allow the book to go out of print. If you can't locate this clause then the contract isn't their standard agreement and I'll need you to fax or mail me a copy to review. If you can find the clause, then all you need to do is send them an email (or letter, if the contract stipulates) stating that you wish to terminate your contract and quote the clause. Once this process is under way, I can issue an agreement for the book to be published as part of Whacking Day's Shared Universe Project.

2. Is Universal Maintenance a stand-alone title? If it isn't, what are the titles of the other books in the series?

3. How many novels are in the EarthQuest series? What are the titles?

4. How many titles are in the Endgame series? What are the titles?

5. Is Time Watch a stand alone or a series? If a series, what are the titles of the additional books?

6. We'd like to publish EarthQuest, Universal Maintenance, and Endgame in the Shared Universe Project (Time Watch would be released through Whacking Day mainline). However, this will involve the creation of sourcebooks about each universe for your votary authors. Did [HoHo] discuss this with you? We always release sourcebooks at the same time as the first book in the series with titles such as "SERIES NAME Sourcebook." Is this acceptable to you?

7. We need to chart out your "Date of Submission" for each title. This is the date that you'll be sending us the final digital file of a book. I would need you to send me a list of the titles we'd like to contract followed by the Date of Submission for each title. For instance:

Universal Maintenance Sourcebook (September 1, 2006)
Universal Maintenance (September 1, 2006)
Universal Maintenance Attacks (January 1, 2007)

Game Universe Sourcebook (October 1, 2006)
Endgame (October 1, 2006)
Middlegame (November 1, 2006)
Startgame (December 1, 2006)


I look forward to hearing from you, Darren. Thank you again.

not Jerry Garcia
Director of Contracts, Rights & Legal
Whacking Day Publishing

So SuperFiancee and I talked it over, and we decided to impose a test on Whacking Day Publications, because, at first, last, and utmost, I do not want to be a book salesman, I do not want to be hooked up with a POD publisher, and I do not want to be the kind of 'author' who travels around from one outlet to another in an old beat up Hyundai with a cardboard box full of vanity copies of my sad, lousy SF novels in the backseat, trying desperately to get bored clerks behind glass counters to let me set up a card table at the front of their store so I can do a signing of a book that no one has ever heard of because my 'publisher' has no marketing department and isn't really a publisher at all.

So, I sent this back to not Jerry Garcia:

Dear Ms. Garcia,

My most profound apologies. With three girls in the house, ranging in age from 6 to 17, things are always in a state of low grade chaos around here, but with school starting again in two weeks, well, it's been a circus lately, and I'm not the ringmaster... I'm not even the chief clown! And it's not likely to get better any time in the immediate future.

I'm working on those questions you asked me. In the meantime, I've done some studying on your site and would very much like to check out some of your other publications. I went over to Amazon and it seems as if [Singalong Sue]'s [MONKEY MASTER] is one of your better sellers. I'm also very interested in [Hung Lo, Chinese Porn Star]'s [FRITO BANDITO] series, and [Chupa Lupa]'s [BLUE CHEESE FOR AN ERMINE COMMANDER] sounds very cool to me, too.

I have a big road trip coming up this weekend, due to a family event, but I'm planning to work in some errands and a little shopping too. I'll be all over the Louisville/Southern Indiana area Saturday and Sunday. Could you please advise me as to a bookstore where I could pick up these titles? I'm happy to invest some money in your line so I can hold one or two of your volumes in my hands, turn the pages... get a real feel for where I'll be going with your company.

If you could let me know by this Friday so I can work this into my itinerary, I'd really appreciate it.

Thank you very much,

[Happy Little Me]

And that was last Friday, and since then, I've heard nothing.

I have a dream.

And I guess, for now... it's going to stay that way.

Martian refusal

Okay. So, I was going to try very hard to finish uploading all my Martian Vision articles to the new Martian Vision blog/site this weekend, since the kids went to their dad's house on Saturday.

Ran into a problem Friday night -- I couldn't successfully upload anything. Blogger would say it was loading, get to 80% or 90%, and then in big red letters would flash up THERE WERE ERRORS.

When I clicked for more information, I was just told to contact Blogger Help.

So I did that, and got no response, and the weekend is fleeting, so I set up an entirely new page and started uploading to that. And got about fifteen articles up there (it's at, if you want to check it out) and then suddenly that site started doing the same damn thing as the first site.


So, that isn't going to get finished any time soon, it appears. My apologies.

Friday, July 28, 2006

This just in...

FEMA has, apparently, reversed their policy on allowing Katrina refugees access to the media.

I myself...


Well, I'm doubtful it's this simple, but, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. So I'll wait and see.

Still, it's hard to accept that they'd have a policy shooing reporters away if there wasn't anything to hide. If there's something to hide, well, I find it hard to believe they'll suddenly allow reporters unfettered access. But maybe they just think the media is so thoroughly on the leash they really don't need to worry about it any more.

I don't know what would give them that idea. (Last link via Digby.)

Glowering inferno

I just don't have the chops to give you anything cogent on the current Middle East mess. But everyone else is blogging about it, and I find I have some stuff to say on the subject too, however witless or unoriginal it all may be:

I hate to employ hoary old cliches any more than I must, so I want to avoid calling the Middle East a 'tinderbox'. Anyway, I'm not sure it really is a tinderbox. It strikes me that it's much more like a 55 gallon drum of nitroglycerin. And right now, Israel and Hizbullah are taking turns lobbing hand grenades at it.

I have no sides to take here. I've hated Arabic culture, and the violently xenophobic fanaticism it perspires, since long before 9/11. And I've long sympathized with the plight of Israel. However, I have no degrees or training or experience with complex international politics, and even I can see that Israel is fucking up right now. Responding to terrorism with terrorism is never a justified move, and even the argument that Israel is constantly fighting for its survival against determined, fanatical, and ruthless enemies on all sides won't stretch to cover its latest decision to start shelling Lebanese civilians.

Again... I don't know. Hizbullah isn't a nation, and it's inarguable that it takes advantage of civilized notions of morality. It deliberately hides weapons caches within civilian residential areas. Its fighters wear no uniforms, or deliberately wear uniforms identical to those of its enemies. And it openly embraces terrorist tactics like targeting civilians, using the justification that when facing an enemy like Israel, there are no non-combatants. How do you fight a movement like that? I guess you kill everything that walks, crawls, or flies in any area where such a movement might be hiding. And I guess that's what Israel is doing.

But, again, I have no novel insights here. At bottom and last, I want to like Israel more than its various Arabic enemies, because Israel, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't pay death benefits to the families of suicide bombers, nor does it think dressing a baby up as a suicide bomber is a funny joke, nor does it regard mandatory genital mutiliation of its female citizenry as being an important ethnic tradition. But, still... dropping bombs on civilian targets isn't cool.

So I don't know.

Here's what I do know -- in 2004, OPEC countries accounted for 40% of the world's oil production. And all that oil flows through the Middle East. And if you keep throwing hand grenades at that particular drum of nitroglycerine, eventually it's going to explode, and all that oil will stop flowing... maybe forever, but at the very least, for a very very long time.

Our strategic petroleum reserve is something less than one billion barrels. By which I mean, it's supposed to be at a billion barrels, but right now, it's at considerably less.

Even if our reserves were at the level the government deems they should be, a billion barrels only sounds impressive. The U.S. actually consumes just under 23 million barrels of oil a day. (Probably more, that's a 2005 figure.) Do the math. If the Middle East blows up and the oil stops flowing, we have around 40 days supply in the bank.

Actually, considerably less than that, given that our oil consumption is undoubtedly higher right now (it never goes down, regardless of price; we Americans simply will not conserve unless you put a gun to our heads, as Dick Cheney so admirably puts it, "the American way of life is not negotiable") than that estimate, and our reserve isn't anything like a billion barrels. (And most of what we do have is sour crude, not sweet, which takes more refining, and yields less usable fuel. And our lords and masters have been dipping into the strategic reserve to keep gas prices artificially lower than market price domestically, anyway, as it's an election year.)

Of course, should the Middle East blow up and a state of emergency be declared where we actually have to really dig into the SPR, we won't continue consumption at our 'normal' level. At that point, massive conservation programs would become mandatory to stretch our reserves as far as possible, with priority being given to vital national interests, like farming and trucking and keeping planes in the air and continuing to blow up civilians in Iraq and keeping those advanced munitions pouring into Israel and making sure all the SUVs and Cadillacs being driven by members of Congress keep running. Which will mean gas rationing for the peons, like you and me, and suddenly the American way of life will become very negotiable.

And any of this could happen at any moment. Because, as I say, the Middle East is a 55 gallon drum of nitroglycerine, and right now, a bunch of maniacs are lobbing hand grenades at it.

And, of course, the maniacs on our side won't do anything towards getting a cease fire in place, because... well, I don't know. If I were paranoid, I'd say it's because Bush and Cheney are hoping the Middle East blows up, because a state of emergency is a wonderful time to declare martial law, and this is, after all, an election year, and the polls aren't running well for the National Socialis... er... I mean, the Republicans... right now.

Personally, I see all these liberal blogs counting down the days until Bush leaves office, and I just want to bang my head on the wall. Anyone who thinks Bush... or at least, the current administration... is leaving office at the end of this term is nuts. Maybe we'll have a Presidential election in 2008, in which case, the current people in power will cook it as thoroughly as they have the last two. But more and more these days, I doubt we'll even bother going through the motions. There is plenty of time to find some excuse to declare martial law... and I simply cannot believe that the evil greedy fucks in office are ever going to surrender power again, now that they've achieved near total lockdown on the apparatus of government here in America.

Like they say about their guns, we will at this point have to pry the machinery of power from their cold, dead fingers.

I'm not saying it isn't a good idea. I am saying, however, that it will be much harder work than any of us want to be bothered doing. In the end, as long as they can keep the electricity on, we will sit here like good little drones, enjoying our central heating/AC, and watching whatever they allow us to watch on cable TV.

Unless, of course, the barrel of nitroglycerine blows up. But that won't get the evil greedy fucks out of power; it will just mean we won't be as comfortable while we're getting screwed.


I was over on Talking Points Memo and I saw an ad in the sidebar there. It was something about genetic predeterminism, and it showed a picture of an adorable little baby, with a big red GAY label stamped on its forehead.


I doubt we've isolated a sexual orientation gene, and personally, I doubt we'll ever be able to, since I suspect sexual orientation derives at least in part from environment and conditioning. I could be wrong, though; I don't claim to know much about this stuff. My degree was in... oh, wait. I don't have a degree. Well, my areas of expertise are Silver Age superhero comics and the writing of Robert A. Heinlein. So I claim no special insights here.

Still, the image made me speculate. How much, and how well or poorly, would the world be changed, if it was possible to determine, before birth, or shortly after, what your child's adult sexual orientation would be?

The first thing that comes to mind is that hard core conservatives might do an abrupt 180 on the abortion issue, if it became possible for them to determine that the fetus in Mrs. Cleaver's tummy is going to grow up to be a goddam worthless hellbound deviant civilization destroying indecent faggot.

Then other stuff crowds in. How fast would laws be passed regarding the privacy of this kind of information? What kind of laws would they be? Conservatives would want sexual orientation determined and then publicly trumpeted as early as possible.

Even if this wasn't made mandatory, I'll bet you anything that any conservative couple with a heterosexual child would publish the results of that kid's sexual orientation test in the papers and on billboards. Hell, I have little doubt that conservative parents would organize focus groups to do this; there would be national publications doing little more than listing the names of straight toddlers... and a presumption would quickly spring up that if your kid's name isn't in this month's NORMAL BABY, then your kid must be some kind of deviant.

Imagine the cottage industries that would condense out of the very ether to service the new, sudden need for parents everywhere to accredit their kids as heterosexual. We Can Make Your Baby Straight. We'll Help Your Child Get Past The Sexual Orientation Test. Reorientation Courses For YOUR Budget (With Church Tax Credit!). Don't let your child be denied the best opportunies due to their orientation!

I mean, fuck.

Worse... how many of us can honestly claim we'd look at our own children the same way if we knew their sexual orientation from early infancy? For myself, I sincerely couldn't care less that Super Drama Teen has a girlfriend, I'm just happy she seems happy with her current relationship... but if my 17 year old soon to be stepdaughter were a soon to be stepson instead, and dating another guy, well, I know myself well enough to understand that it would be an emotional issue for me. I'd do everything I could to keep that from being an issue for the kids in question, or anyone else... but it would still bother me. I'd be annoyed with myself for it, but I know it's true.

How much worse would it be, if I had a son and knew from infancy onward that he was going to grow up gay? Would I try harder to make him straight? Or would I just give up on him, and concentrate on his straight little brother?

How different would the pictures my mom just sent of my adorable nephew Ben seem to me, if I knew Ben was going to grow up homosexual? How differently would his parents treat him? His grandparents? His other uncles, and his aunts, and his cousins?

Lastly, as another odd note, when I first started typing this, I automatically wrote the first sentence of the second paragraph as "I doubt THEY've isolated a sexual orientation gene, and personally, I doubt THEY'll be able to". I saw that, and went back and changed it. I like the way the sentence reads much better now... instead of treating the educated, intellectual folks who actually do scientific research in the field of genetics and human behavior as some isolated, and no doubt, suspicious if not subversive elite, well... anyway. I like it better.

Mind you, I'm not trying to in any way say that I, myself, have the necessary qualifications to undertake this kind of inquiry. I'm just, you know, trying to avoid treating the egghead class as some sort of inhuman outsider category.

I guess I'd just have to make the same effort with kids whose sexual orientation I was aware of from a very early age.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Portents of doom

This isn't the thing about my writing I promised -- that probably won't come until this weekend -- but it's certainly a portent.


I did read your material. In fact, just processed it all recently.

I think you have a fertile mind, but I think your material is in need of an amount of editing I'm not prepared to give right now -- I just don't have time given my full plate.

If you should generate something in the future, I'd be happy to consider reading something else down the road.

Thanks for your patience.

Best of luck with your material.

Best Regards,

Some Dickhead Agent Who Doesn't Know His Ass From a Hole In The Ground

So, you know... there.

I'm getting the distinct impression I really don't write all that well after all.

::sigh:: Call center for the rest of my life.

If I weren't engaged to the finest woman in the entire universe, I suspect I'd be deeply depressed right now.

Everything is everything

End times, or just a passing fancy?

A search at the Google News page under 'power outages' shows how frayed and tattered our civilized infrastructure is growing. New Orleans is still largely a dead city, and the worst part of the storm season is still ahead of us. When you exist at the mercy of a predatory government, it's hard to figure out the agenda -- are they trying to make us desperate enough to join the military (just in time for the big invasion of Iran) -- or are we approaching the hour of the knife, when the privileged and the powerful just start culling the herds of useless 'eaters' by the billions?

The only good news I have -- and it's entirely local -- is that SuperFiancee advises me the River City area gets its electricity from hydroelectric installations along the Ohio River. At least we aren't as dependent on a dwindling natural gas supply as other areas are. None of which will matter, if a battery of tornadoes takes all the lines down.

More locally, the car curse continues -- the part that was ordered for SuperFiancee's vehicle turned out to be incorrect, and the new one didn't come in as it was supposed to yesterday. Last we heard were promises that as soon as it arrived, the mechanic would 'pull people' and get them to work, and if it showed up last night, they would 'work all night if they had to'... but, you know, it was supposed to be fixed in time for SuperFiancee to pick me up at work Monday night at 8 (when my shift was scheduled to end) and instead, I had to hustle out of there early at 5:15 to catch the last bus, as not only was the car not operative, but SuperFiancee's family seems to have given up on us after a month of support services, leaving us pretty much on our own.

We'd figured the car would have to be fixed yesterday, which happened to be my day off, so it wouldn't be a problem rolling into Wednesday, but here we are rolling into Wednesday and it's still a problem. If we don't get satisfaction today, I'll be leaving work early again tonight... during a week when I'd volunteered to do overtime, because we don't have enough people working the evening shifts.


I had a pleasant day off yesterday, though... got several more articles posted to the Martian Vision site, took the girls out to lunch at Fat Jimmy's and dessert at Graeter's Ice Cream, and just generally lolled about in a most satisfactory fashion. I wanted to take a moment to note my thanks to Mike Norton for leaving a few comments there, which it's been too crazy around here for me to answer, but which are nonetheless hugely appreciated.

The hit counter hasn't exactly been going nuts over there, but I know how the Internet works... now that the stuff is up again, it will start creeping into search engines, and people will turn it up randomly, and eventually, a whole new subset of assmunches will start whining and sobbing like infants about how I've said mean things about the Modern Age Superboy and Frank Miller's DAREDEVIL and they think they're gonna cry.

These are trying times, friends. We all have to do what we can.

I want, as always, to note SuperFiancee's ongoing support for all my foolish efforts. When I couldn't get the frickin' A: drive on this home PC to work well Monday, she took a discful of Martian Vision to work with her and loaded about 40 of my tediously long winded essays up onto the site her damn self for me, where many of them still sit, awaiting final editing and posting.

I could probably go on existing without her, but I wouldn't call it living, and I certainly wouldn't enjoy it. I'm grateful every waking moment for her and the SuperKids; without them, this would be, to paraphrase schoolteacher Matthew Burke, 'a busted axle 40 years'.

I will almost certainly have some news about an ongoing thing with my writing by this weekend, but right now, putting down anything firm would be premature. However, the news will almost certainly be bad, and I have a post for the most part finished, I'm just waiting on the ending. Either I hear something by this weekend, or I don't; either eventuality will give me a pretty good idea where I stand.

And on that note, I have a very early bus to catch, although I should also state my gratitude to SuperFiancee's co-worker Lexus, who lives across the street from us and who is giving SF a ride to work today, sparing her a couple of bus trips. Public transportation is fine when you can't avoid it, and I'm glad we have it available (and would ride it at night if it ran out to the sticks when I get off work), but if you don't have to get into a cattle car, well, I say, don't. And judging from the traffic I see out there every day, most of you (even those billions who will never read this) agree with me.

Gotta go. If you have electricity and air conditioning right now -- and I assume you at least have the former, if you're reading this at all -- enjoy them while they last.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Martian re-Vision

For quite a few months now, the link to the Martian Vision site has been non-fuctional. So I'm starting the laborious process of getting all my Martian Vision articles back up online. To that extent, I've created another blog to post the articles to. There are only a few over there at the moment, but I hope to get a few more up a week, at least, until I have them all back on the 'net again.

In the meantime, as a special bonus, here's a little thing I meant to publish as a Martian Vision article and never got around to, based on some experiences I had while working for the Tampa City Clerk's office several years ago:

* * * *


The Justice League of America, convened in an adjourned regular session at 9:00 p.m. on this the 18th day of March, 1990 with Hawkman, Chairman Pro Tem, presiding. Members present upon roll call were: Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Fire, Ice, Flash, Booster Gold, Metamorpho, Martian Manhunter, Animal Man, Black Canary, and Crimson Fox, constituting a quorum. League member Batman arrived late. Guest non-member Wonder Woman was in attendance.

Maxwell Lord, League Executive Officer, was in attendance.

Upon the invitation of League member Martian Manhunter, the demon lord Trigon delivered the invocation followed by the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

There was some discussion by various League members as to the desirability and practicality of kicking Trigon's ass during the invocation. Guy Gardner advised that Trigon was a big ugly monkey and should be beaten like a pinata. Flash wept into his hands as he chokingly recounted various atrocities Trigon had visited upon his former teammates in the New Teen Titans. Animal Man declared that he would do anything for there to be just one small bear or gorilla in the room he could absorb the powers of. The Martian Manhunter told everyone to shut the hell up or he'd kill them all.

During the Pledge of Allegiance, the Crimson Fox seemed to be protesting something, but no one, not even the clerk, could understand her outrageous French accent.

With the invocation and Pledge completed, Trigon advised the League that soon he would extract the souls of everyone on Earth and devour them. He then hit Batman in the face with a cream pie and vanished in a puff of smoke.

Chairman Pro Tem Hawkman called the room to order and asked if there was any old business.


File No. 90-0022 - Ordinance No. 90-0317

Presenting an ordinance that Guy Gardner have to wear a fully hooding head mask because he is so damn ugly, or at least, get a better haircut. (Original motion sponsored by Flash and Booster Gold, Guy Gardner absent at first vote.)

Guy Gardner appeared before the League to address this ordinance. He stated that he would personally rip the eyes out of Flash and Booster Gold's heads and piss in their empty sockets if they didn't shut the hell up and stop messing with the only real man the League had. He advised that they were messing with their heartbeats.

Batman appeared before the League and advised Guy Gardner to sit down and shut up.

Booster Gold withdrew the motion, over the ridicule and derision of League members Flash, Blue Beetle, and Captain Atom, who indicated that they thought he was a baby, a coward, and a wuss.

File No. 90-0023 - Resolution No. 90-0832

Resolution authorizing the immediate expulsion of the entire League membership except for Batman, Black Canary, the Martian Manhunter, and Hawkman, and the immediate offering of membership to Superman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, the Atom, and Wonder Woman.

Blue Beetle appeared before the League to ask what the hell?

Guy Gardner appeared before the League to state You wish.

Maxwell Lord appeared before the League to say, Never happen.

Motion: (Batman-Hawkman) That said resolution be adopted. Motion defeated, with Metamorpho stating for the record "Ya ya, bite me, Bat-ears."

Motion: (Guy Gardner-Captain Atom) That all the old League fogeys be shoved out the airlock. Motion not voted on at this time because Batman gave everyone a dirty look and they sat down and shut up.

Motion: (Flash-Blue Beetle) That someone order pizza. Motion carried.

File No. 90-0023 - Resolution No. 90-0833

Resolution approving the League's determination to fight evil at all times, wherever and whenever it may appear, and enacting that determination as an imperative League law. (Original motion sponsored by Batman and the Martian Manhunter.)

Ice appeared before the League to express her deep admiration for this resolution and her willingness to abide by it provided it did not ruin her manicure.

Motion: (Ice-Fire) That said resolution be amended to include a clause allowing League members with nice manicures to excuse themselves from fighting evil if there was a significant chance they might break a nail. Motion carried with Batman, the Martian Manhunter, and Hawkman expressing disgust.

Flash appeared before the League to express his total support for the resolution assuming there was nothing good on TV, otherwise, fighting evil would have to wait until FRIENDS or the basketball game was over.

Motion: (Flash-Booster Gold) That said resolution be amended to include a clause allowing League members to excuse themselves from battling evil if there was something good on TV, specifically but not limited to a new episode of FRIENDS or a good basketball game, or any sporting event during playoffs. Motion carried with Batman, Hawkman, and the Martian Manhunter threatening to kill everyone else in the room if they voted for the motion.

Motion: (Fire-Captain Atom) that a resolution that the League fight evil anywhere it might appear, at any time, provided said evil battling activities not have a significant chance of breaking anyone's nails, or occur during the broadcast of anything good on TV, including but not limited to, new episodes of FRIENDS, a basketball game, or any sporting event during play offs. Motion carried. Batman, Hawkman, and the Martian Manhunter absent at time of vote, due to their leaving in disgust.

File No. 90-0023 - Ordinance No. 90-0032

Booster Gold spoke at length suggesting a new ordinance for the purposes of making the process of granting League membership more rigorous and selective.

Presenting an ordinance requiring all present female League members and future female League applicants to provide full frontal personal nude photos as part of their application, as well as to submit to personal interviews designed to test their capacity to 'work with the team' and 'enhance the morale of the male team members', said interviews to be conducted specifically by Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Guy Gardner.

Animal Man appeared before the League to state that he fully supported this ordinance and would like everyone to know that he could easily absorb the sexual endowment of a horse or a mule if necessary, and because of this, he strongly suggested the ordinance be amended to include himself on the membership review committee.

Fire appeared before the League to state that she would personally kill anyone voting for the adoption of this ordinance.

Wonder Woman appeared before the League to state that anyone Fire killed, she would use the Amazon purple ray to raise from the dead, so she could kill them again, really painfully.

The Crimson Fox appeared before the League to state something completely unintelligible.

Motion: (Captain Atom-Guy Gardner) That said resolution be adopted. Motion was defeated. Immediately after the vote, Guy Gardner asked for a recess so he could dig Wonder Woman's boot out of his ass.



Chairman Pro Tem Captain Atom invited anyone in the audience wishing to speak before the League to come forward.

Dr. Bruce Gordon appeared before the League to state that he wanted to build a gigantic ring of satellites that would create conditions of artificial daylight 24 hours a day throughout the world. He stated that there would be virtually no chance that these satellites could fail in such a way as to create an artificial eclipse.

Baron Winter appeared before the League to state that he thought Dr. Gordon's idea was truly appalling.

Kent and Inza Nelson appeared before the League to state that they would save the universe... as soon as they were finished walking the dog.

Maxwell Lord appeared before the League to introduce an amazing dancing frog. The frog, dressed in a top hat, sat unmoving for several minutes with a small cane laying on the floor next to it. Finally, Maxwell Lord put it back in a box and took it back to his seat, muttering.

Nightwing appeared before the League to state that he was not either gay and he would beat up anybody who said differently.

Power Girl appeared before the League to jump up and down several times while giggling vapidly.

Captain James T. Kirk appeared before the League, looked around in apparent confusion, spoke tersely into a very small cell phone, and then vanished in a strange, glittering gold haze.

Bloodwynd appeared before the League and stated that he was really John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL, also known as Doc Nebula, and occasionally as other things as well.


Finance Committee - Maxwell Lord, Chairman

FILE NO. V007-93

Resolution that all residents of India be taxed one chicken to support ongoing Justice League activities.
Motion: (Lord-Gardner) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

FILE NO. L0019-93

Resolution that Batman be fined $14 billion for being scary and snotty to his fellow League members.
Motion: (Lord-Gardner) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

FILE NO. V0025-93

Resolution that Maxwell Lord's expense vouchers be accepted and paid without undue scrutiny or oversight.
Motion: (Lord-Gardner) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

FILE NO. V0026-93

Resolution that Guy Gardner be granted access to a League expense account for purposes of entertaining potential recruits.
Motion: (Lord-Gardner) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

Transportation Committee - Chairman The Flash

FILE NO. G0087-93

Resolution that NO FAT CHICKS signs be posted on all League teleportation tubes.
Motion: (Flash-Beetle) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

FILE NO. T0012-93

Resolution that all non Earthly space craft found within 1 A.U. radius of Earth be impounded and sold at auction to raise revenues for League activities.
Motion: (Flash-Beetle) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

FILE NO. T0032-93

Resolution that Wonder Woman be requested to pilot a visible plane and wear an invisible costume.
Motion: (Flash-Beetle) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

Building & Expansion Committee - Chairman Metamorpho

FILE NO. T0065-93

Resolution approving addition of new series of chambers to JLA's Secret Sanctuary for the specific purpose of adding a wet bar, full screen TV with satellite reception, sauna, hot tubs, bowling alley, video and pinball games, foosball and air hockey tables, and a fully staffed kitchen at all times. Said renovations to be paid for by Wayne Enterprises.

Motion: (Metamorpho-Beetle) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

FILE NO. T0073-89

Resolution that the League build a really bitchin' intergalactic space cruiser to go kick Adam Strange's wimpy little ass with and give his girlfriend a chance to see some real men in action. Said space cruiser to be paid for by Wayne Enterprises.

Motion: (Metamorpho-Beetle) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

Crude Non Politically Correct Stuff Committee - Chairman, Guy Gardner

FILE NO. V0063-97

Resolution approving the use of Oberon in dwarf tossing contests.

Oberon, a dwarf, appeared before the League and begged piteously that he not be degraded in this fashion.

Motion: (Gardner-Lord) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

FILE NO. V0078 CH 43

Resolution requiring the language in all League documents be altered in such fashion as to substitute the phrase 'big hooter babes with ultrapowers' for 'superheroines'.

Motion: (Gardner-Lord) That said resolution be adopted. Motion defeated. Guy Gardner once more asked for a recess to pull Wonder Woman's boot out of his ass.

FILE NO. V0015-28

Resolution that the League recruit some spics, chinks, gooks, kikes, or jigaboos pronto, before the Feds got on the League's ass about affirmative action.

Motion: (Gardner-Lord) That said resolution be adopted. Motion carried.

Motion: (Beetle-Metamorpho) That Guy Gardner be instructed to find some hot gook bimbo with superpowers to join the League immediately, because gook chicks are easy. Motion carried.

FILE NO. V0017-32

Resolution that J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, be required to shapeshift in such a way that during all League meetings and functions, he appears identical to Yasmin Bleeth in a bikini.

Motion: (Gardner-Lord) That said resolution be adopted. Motion defeated when J'onn J'onzz burned a threatening message into the metal wall of the satellite's meeting room while listening to the meeting with his Martian hearing from Earth's surface.

A D J O U R N M E N T:

Motion: (Flash-Beetle) That JLA meeting be adjourned, and any interested members reconvene to discuss global security, humanitarian interventionalism, and negotiated international trade accords, at the Pink Kitty Lounge in Star City. Motion carried.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Ultimate Evil

The horrified shrieks of Annamar's children filled the late night. Starting up in bed, Annamar threw back the covers and jumped upright. The kids were supposed to be asleep this late -- what could possibly have happened to terrify them so...?

Annamar ran down the hallway, following the sounds of childish exclamations of fear and dismay. They were in the front room, huddled around the freevee. Something loud, garish, and obviously quite antiquated from its lack of visual depth, was playing there.

"There, there," Annamar said, rocking the children one to each arm. "It's just a late night horror movie... babies, there's nothing to be afraid of."

Annamar scooted the kids back to bed, soothed them with a few more words and a glass of liquizine each. Eventually both went back to sleep again, but Annamar was afraid they might have nightmares. The local stations shouldn't be allowed to project anything that scary, even this late at night...!

Oh, once such things had been common, Annamar knew. There were still some old folks left who remembered those days... even some who were still... unrefined. (Annamar shuddered just a little at the obscene thought.) As long as they kept to themselves, their continued existence was tolerated (after all, Annamar lived in the most civilized culture yet created by humankind). Annamar had studied those Unrefined Days in school, had seen pictures, even videos. And yes, they still showed those old movies late at night, to send a shudder of vicarious fear through some of the more jaded people... but Annamar would never have permitted the children to watch them. Little sneaks...

Back in the days before the great scientist Hurlikos had made it possible for all reproduction to be done artificially, perfecting the pseudowomb tanks and the extrabiological DNA recombination techniques that allowed the race to continue propagating itself without recourse to unpleasantly atavistic biological methods, the viewing of such terrifying projections had been normal, Annamar knew. Everyone, adult and child alike, would watch such things all day and all night, with enormous equanamity. But those had been dark, savage times, filled with barbarism. Testosterone poisoning, estrogen rage... the entire population had lurched from one violent confrontation to another, all because of raging unchecked hormone levels. The obsession with reproductive acts of biological intercourse, and worse, non-reproductive acts of biological intercourse, had been insane. The existence of the human race, and even the planet Earth itself, had been so close to final destruction...

But Hurlikos' genius had made real evolution possible at last. Within two generations of the implementation of artificial reproductive technology on a widespread basis, selective genetic engineering had brought real, permanent peace to all humankind. Raging libidos were at last quelled, as all that ickiness became eternally unnecessary. Annamar's was a world without rape, without molestation, without harassment, with very little violence, physical or verbal. A world of gentle decency, of kindness, of empathy, of quiet dignity... a truly civilized human world, at last.

Annamar gazed down at its smooth, slim, sexless body with quiet pride. In the utopian world Annamar inhabited, physical attractiveness meant little, but aesthetic beauty still had its social rewards, and Annamar was aware that it was exceptionally aesthetically pleasing... as were its children, who had each been carefully designed to reflect the best attributes of their contributing parents' genetic codes.

Then Annamar caught another glimpse of the late night horror movie still playing on the freevee. Thrusting phalluses spewing ropes of vile stickiness, grotesquely hyperinflated mammaries, hideously glistening, hair covered pudenda, hirsute buttocks bobbing up and down, up and down... it was terrifying. It amazed Annamar that anyone could still enjoy watching such grotesquery.

With a resolute twist of its wrist, Annamar turned the fearsome images off. Thank ghod humankind had evolved beyond all THAT nastiness...!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Suddenly... Bane!

Like all good supervillains, just when you're sure he's dead (although you haven't actually seen a body), he pops back up.

Last Sunday, SuperFiancee and I were sitting at the kitchen table playing Magic when someone came pounding on our back door. Usually when this happens, it's one of the residents of our big converted house's other three apartments, wanting to ask a favor or bitch about the limited parking behind the house or something like that. Or it could be SuperFiancee's dad, who sometimes parks out back and comes up the back steps.

So this time, expecting nothing more than one of those options, I glanced up from my cards and saw... the gigantic, grinning head of Bane, peering in through the window beside the door!

So we let him in. Turned out, he'd lost our phone number, and he never answers his phone unless he sees someone he recognizes on the caller ID, and when I called from our home, he hadn't remembered SuperFiancee's real name (and she has the phone in her name).

So. Not dead, after all.

The visit itself was very pleasant, but honestly, there's nothing much to write about here. He didn't want to play HeroClix or learn to play Magic, so we hung out, chatted, made one trip over to Great Escape, where I picked up the latest issue of 52 and a booster of Magic cards for SuperFiancee and two Sinister boosters for me (which yielded up, along with the usual detritus, a flying jet packed SHIELD Agent and a Unique Ka-Zar, so I was content). We talked about comics we liked and didn't like, and Bane mentioned his life's ambition to collect every issue of Batman ever published, I suppose so he can ardently study every move the Caped Crusader has ever made in order to be better prepared for their next encounter.

I figured the kids would enjoy seeing him, so I invited him to stay for dinner, because I foolishly thought we had plenty of food. This necessitated in SuperFiancee running out to Kroger's for more fish (we had a big fish fry Sunday night), which makes me a bad, inconsiderate Highlander indeed. But the SuperKids all enjoyed having Bane around (SuperAdorable Kid especially seems fascinated by having a real life giant in the house), as did SuperFiancee and I. And, as always, SuperFiancee did me proud, acting the gracious hostess and once again displaying the extraordinary culinary prowess that makes me believe River City would vastly benefit from her opening her own restaurant.

Hopefully, Bruce will understand us giving shelter and comfort to his enemy. Otherwise, I may have to polish up the ol' ancient katana, and show him yet again why there can be only one.

Bane and I exchanged email addresses this time around, and he even now has this blog URL, so hopefully we won't become such strangers again.

Bringing light into the dark corners of the universe

...or, well, Solar System, anyway...

The Lucifer Project is scary stuff, kids. You can go to that link and read about it yourself, but in a nutshell, it seems that a very small group of super scientists thinks it would be a good idea to drop the unmanned Cassini spacecraft (already orbiting Saturn as we speak) into Saturn sometime in summer of 2008. Their intention? Nothing less than to use the fissionable materials aboard Cassini to set off an ongoing fusion reaction in Saturn's dense atmosphere and transform the ringed gas giant into a newborn star.

Motivations for this are three fold -- first, it's a massively egoistical move on their parts to utterly transcend human limitation and alter the fundamental layour of our physical universe in a way that can literally, and very nearly only, be described as godlike.

Second, with Saturn turned into a sun, Saturn's large moon Titan will experience a considerable warm up. Scientists currently feel that Titan has all the incredients necessary to make a fine Earthlike soup if only someone can supply a lot of heat; so much so, in fact, that projected timelines call for humans to be able to set foot on a Titan very similar to prehistoric Earth in 2033... if we can just put a match to Saturn in 2008.

Third -- and this is the scary one -- if successful, the birth of a new star will cause an ejecta shell of hardened particles to be blasted outward, which will cause Earth to undergo an intense, three week bombardment of high radiation -- or, to quote from the page itself --

"In an Saturn ignition Earth would receive a miniscule amount of solar heating from a Saturn star, but brightness could be 100's of times what Saturn is now. Around July/August 2008, the distance is about 10 AU or 1,500,000,000 km from Earth. More importantly though, Earth could receive a nasty shower of hot hydrogen a few weeks later, the real reason for concern."

Now, we'd like to think this is something that the Powers That Be would want to avoid, because like Lex Luthor's nefarious movie schemes, it will kill billions. But, well, the Powers That Be may well think that's a fine idea. The Earth is undeniably overpopulated, and many of those in power may very well believe it's time to drastically cull the herd... and it's not like they don't all have comfortable fallout shelters to wait out the particle storm in. Billions of the rest of us won't be so lucky. And you've got to admit, it's a helluva way to solve pretty much every problem we have at one stroke. Oil shortage? No such thing, my good fellow, plenty to go around now. Fresh water shortage? See above. Overcrowding? Dear me, no. Disposal of all those bodies...? Well, that's why we insulated those tenement basements for the servant class, dontcha know. And now they all know their place, too; there will be none of this nonsense about civil rights in the Glorious New Era.

For what it's worth, here's a projected timeline from the site --

Conspiratorial theory and timeline of events (speculations and wild conjectures are italicized)

1945 (July)-- we ignite our first atom bomb

1950 -- a team is assembled to study how this new technology can be used to create a star. Some of the world's best scientists work on it secretly. This group is the “JASON Group” within the “JASON Society”, a think tank of geniuses that work full time to solve many major science problems.

1968 – Arthur C. Clarke promotes the “Lucifer Project” in books and movies entitled 2001 and 2010, using Saturn initially, but is later told to use Jupiter. (Once something spectacular occurs in a movie, it takes on a non-real possibility) 1972 – William Cooper sees or hears of the “Lucifer Project” during his time with the U.S. Naval Intelligence Briefing Team. 1983 – An unnamed craft or “lost” craft is secretly sent on a course to nudge a comet currently on a near collision course with Jupiter to a direct collision course with Jupiter. 1989 – Galileo is launched with two secret missions: 1) Collect information about the interior of gas giants using data from an upcoming comet collision with Jupiter (SL-9). 2) Impact Jupiter to ignite it, or if that fails, to collect more information about the interior by igniting as far beneath the atmosphere as possible, thereby bringing the interior to the surface. 1990 – William Cooper exposes the reality of the “Lucifer Project” in his book “Behold, A Pale Horse”. 1991 – Galileo's main antenna supposedly deploys incorrectly. In reality, the antenna is fine and is being used to send the prime data to a few elite “higher-ups”.

1994 – Someone “in the know” helps Shoemaker spot the comet and the proper viewing is set up with Hubble and Galileo, etc. The high quality Galileo-SL-9 imagery and data is kept from the general public. 1994 – Data collected from the SL-9 collision is used to tweak the specifications of the Cassini RTG setup in order to improve the odds of a Saturn ignition.

1997 – Shoemaker is killed in a car crash in Australia. I am not aware of any evidence of foul play. 1997- Cassini is launched for Saturn with a tremendous load of Pu-238 dioxide (72 lbs!), many times the amount actually needed to run the craft's instruments. 2003 – NASA scientists decide to plunge Galileo into Jupiter after claiming there is no other logical option after initially implying that the craft would be sent to deep space, crashed into a moon, or left in orbit. 2003 (July) Geographer, J.C. Goliathan publishes a report stating that a nuclear reaction is slightly possible if Galileo goes into Jupiter. 25 2003 (early Sept) Physicist, Jacco van der Worp publishes a report warning of what could happen if Galileo plunges into Jupiter citing Goliathan's report and actually crunching the numbers to prove it. Jacco sites the low probability, but believes the risk is high enough to warrant a warning. 2003 (Sept. 21) Galileo dives into Jupiter at the equator. As was likely expected, nothing happens. Then 4 weeks later: 2003 (Oct. 19) Olivier Meeckers images a “mystery spot” the size of Earth with a streak trailing away near the equator of Jupiter. All other professional telescopes ignore the spot! 2003 (late Oct.) Richard C. Hoagland publishes a report detailing the entire amazing scenario showing that the “mystery spot” is most likely Galileo's plutonium that had drifted down 700 miles into Jupiter at 1 mph for most of the trip! 2004- Cassini arrives at Saturn to study the system. The start of attempt #2. 2005 (early) - Cassini-launched Huygens probe studies Titan in depth revealing its primordial earthlike attributes.

2008 (early July to late July) – Cassini plunges into a polar region of Saturn in order to increase acceleration of gravity before impact (Saturn is very oblate). This will give the pellets a head start and a much greater penetration depth than if the equator were used. Also the polar region is less likely to have a storm brewing. A few days later, or maybe weeks later, the plutonium pellets reach crush depth and implode 15-25% of the way to the center of Saturn and igniting it entirely into a star. NASA does not have to officially deny responsibility because the question is never asked of them “Did Cassini cause this?” just as they were never questioned about the mystery Jupiter spot at the point where Galileo went in. The trick has been all along how to get the pellets in deep enough for a significant disturbance to occur. Saturn allows this with much less density than Jupiter and less of a radius to start with especially going into Saturn at its pole where the radius is 10% less than Saturn at the equator. Jupiter may have been a hopeful first try and more of a test or precursor to Saturn. Even A.C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick originally envisioned Saturn as the best candidate. Another thing to note is that a Saturn ignition is much safer for Earth than a Jupiter ignition as far as ejecta disturbing our atmosphere. The amount of ionized hydrogen that reaches us from Saturn will be a fraction of that from a Jupiter ignition, but still risky . I estimate the mass of ionized hydrogen intercepted by the Earth to average .015 kg/m2/day for every square meter of the Earth for about two weeks and traveling at high speeds. During the last couple days heavier elements will reach the Earth in smaller quantities. 2008 (late July) – The new star is named, possibly Lucifer, or a derivative of that. The “sign from the heavens” is used to ordain a great world leader, or a leader who had just taken power prior to the event.

2008 (Jul/Aug/Sept) – After a few weeks of 24/7 talk of the implications, causes, effects, etc. of the new star, Earth begins to get showered with the ejecta from Saturn. The shower lasts 2 to 3 weeks and includes some heavier elements towards the end. This directly or indirectly kills millions of people and animals on Earth - a great boost for population control. Those “in the know” hide out in underground cities and bunkers for several weeks to several months until Earth's ozone shell has recovered. 2009 – The new world reality sets in. After coping with the effects of the event, the survivors find that having a second sun is novel. Earth is completely changed, all infrastructures, political structures, and religions are thrust into chaos. The strongest surviving military force soon takes control of the Earth. 2010 – A call goes up to investigate and explore the new system of Saturn/Titan. 365/24/7 time and unlimited resources go into the new international venture. Terraforming plans start on a grand scale.

2033 - Humans set foot on an earthlike Titan.

There's obviously more than a tinge of the 'woo-woo' to this theory/hypothesis/sf-fantasy story, whatever you want to call it, and it's not helped by the couple of paragraphs in the middle discussing the Ancient Egyptian and Freemasonry Connections, going into detail about the covert "Hall of Records" supposedly found beneath the right paw of the Great Sphinx whose contents have been kept secret for almost a century, and which will only be revealed after the new star's birth.

Still... it's interesting. Especially since, if there's any truth to it, all the pieces are already in place, and there's nothing we can do to stop it at this remote remove.

I wonder how deep a cellar should be to protect one from "a nasty shower of hot hydrogen"...?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The order is rapidly fadin'

Tiiiiiime... ain't on my side.

It ain't on anyone's side, not really, not anyone mortal. It wears on, we get older, and so does everything else we love. This is charming and pleasant in infants, of course; nothing I've found is more fulfilling than watching a child you love grow up straight and strong and happy (and, most likely, nothing is more heartbreaking than the converse). Yet it's true that having a young child in your day to day life is like having a death-clock hung around your neck; your perceptions of your own life quickly build their own comfortable filter of seeming immutability, but kids sprout before your very eyes, like seeds in some vastly speeded up educational film from the 1960s. It can be depressing, when that nephew or niece you remember rocking in your arms and babbling baby talk to insists on turning 13 and you start hearing about their boy or girlfriends; how much more depressing, then, is it to contemplate how old you'll be when your 6 year old soon to be stepdaughter graduates from high school.

Grim stuff. However much we may try to con ourselves that our 40s, or even our 50s, are still just 'middle age' and in some important, vital sense that we know full well actually makes no sense at all, we're 'still young', when we start planning the tracks of our lives into our 60s, that illusion quickly crumples. And, as I say, when you're in your 40s and trying to make plans for the care of a 6 year old child, well, that's the destination your careful considerations arrive at pretty quickly.

It is without a doubt depressing. And would be, even if we didn't also have to cope with all the doom and gloom looming on our personal horizons, as a century of petroleum profligacy comes due with a vengeance -- and with the climate change directly caused by releasing all that stored heat back into the atmosphere tacked on as rather usurious interest, too.

But I vastly digress; this entry wasn't meant to be anything like this somber. I started out simply to talk about how the times do change, and how that change can pile up gradually and fool you into thinking that the way things are now is the way they've always been -- until you get forcibly smacked in the chops with what the Wolfman used to like to call 'a blast from the past'.

One such blast went off on me Sunday morning, when SuperFiancee was idly surfing around the cable dial and came up with the opening credits of REAL GENIUS on one of the pay stations that we don't pay for. I asked if she'd seen it and upon her admission that she hadn't, promptly demanded the remote and commanded her to sit there and watch it with me. REAL GENIUS is a fondly remembered favorite film from back in my Cinema Board days; in fact, it was a favorite of nearly my entire college clique, with its reams of emininently quotable and often hilarious dialogue, along with its generally anti-authoritarian, pro-intellectual tone.

SuperFiancee didn't enjoy it much, and even I had to admit that the movie hasn't worn well since I was in my early 20s, or I've been hit in the head too many times since then to really appreciate it as fully as I once did.

Yet one thing I did notice, and it's what I'm blogging about now, is that there's more to this film that marks it as an artifact from a bygone era than simply its presently unheard of embrace of intelligence as a positive attribute. (In the post- GUMP era, we only see smart people in movies if they're safely ensconced in wheelchairs or twirling their mustachios while trying to take over the world. The heroes we'd actually like to be -- or that most of the audience would actually like to be -- are firmly non-analytical, anti-intellectual types who solve all their problems through physical violence, or, at the very least, who quickly learn that any thought process at all is overthinking, and the key to all success is to 'go with your gut', or rely on one's basic human decency to carry one through every crisis into eventual affluence and hot sex with Robin Wright-Penn.)

But I'm not on about that now, or at least, not primarily -- my culture's near constant hatred of anyone smarter than the norm is, admittedly, an obsession I keep returning to, but I'll try not to dwell on it here, although, again, REAL GENIUS' variation from this form is undoubtedly one of the reasons I've always liked the film, silly though it is. But what I'm really talking about here is just how hard I got slapped in the face by the scenes where 15 year old intellectual prodigy Mitch is getting his swerve on with two different older chickie poos -- one of them a rather sexy, mature woman who apparently collects sexual encounters with geniuses and who has, in her words, "been waiting three years" until Mitch was "old enough for this". And after Mitch turns her down, he heads on down the dorm hall to where the nerdy-but-still-sexy 19 year old Jordan stays, and she, of course, welcomes him, in the words of the old Who song, with open arms and open legs.

REAL GENIUS was released in 1985 (and was, therefore, most likely shot in 1983 or 1984 and written around 82 or 83) and it's hard to believe, here in these days of Debra LaFave and so many other adult seductresses of teenage boys who are all doing hard time (or sobbing with upheld Bibles in court to escape with mere probation for life and permanent social condemnation as sexual predators), that only two decades or so ago, our society was much cooler with the notion of sexual liaisons between underage males and adult females. And yet, apparently we were; I watched this movie probably four times back in the 80s and early 90s, frequently surrounded by groups of my peers, and I can't recollect any reaction whatsoever besides outright envy, mixed with disbelief that Mitch wouldn't hit the blonde babe before going down the hall to the hot she-nerd. (Of course, the slang phrase 'hit that' hadn't been coined as yet, so we didn't put it that way.)

Now, some of this we can put down to the eternal double standard. Had a handsome late 20s/early 30s male character been depicted running around seducing female geniuses, and had that same character decided to hit on the naive 15 year old female protagonist of such a film, our emotional reactions would have been very different. (When the 15 year old turned the slickster down and went off to get boffed by a 19 year old boyfriend, though, we probably wouldn't have thought much of it.) And it's partly our determination over the past twenty years or so to eliminate all such double standards that has led to the incarceration of most of these sexually predatory women.

Yet it's important to remember that a desire for equal application of law isn't the only thing in play here (and in fact, given the growing intensity of assaults from the right wing on Title XI over the last two decades, such a desire would have to be seen as inconsistently applied, to say the least). What has really changed the filter through which our society regards such incidents over the past few decades is the conservative movement's continuing and increasing obsession with pedophilia. What was once regarded as an illegal but harmless dalliance is now a disgusting moral blight, and there is absolutely no tolerance or perceptual difference seen between true pedophilia (which is a sexual perversion in which adults are attracted to sexually immature children) and relations occurring between sexually mature human beings, where one meets society's arbitrary standard of adulthood and the other does not.

If one wants to really see just how hard and how fast the times they have a changin'ed, one need only to look slightly further back, to 1978 and the release of a movie called Animal House. What most of us remember about this movie is the toga parties, the dead horse in Dean Wormer's office, and the final, climactic parade apocalypse, but it also features a story arc in which our hapless protagonist Larry, who is most likely of adult age, ends up sleeping with a 13 year old girl. Yeah, it's all for laughs, but it's important to remember that nowadays, any such film depicting any such relationship would either never be made, or would be mandated by contemporary morality to end with a grisly denouement for 'Larry the child molester'. Anything else would simply be disgusting and unacceptable... but in 1978, I don't think anyone so much as blinked. (I myself took note of it in passing while watching it with some fellow Cinema Boarders, mentioning that I wondered if good ol' Larry might not have been wiser to tactfully retreat once advised of the girl's true age; the response I got from one fellow a few years older than I was "Nah, but I'd have probably moved her under the bleachers instead of doing her on the 50 yard line". Such was the innocence of the 80s, in this regard, at least.)

That's one odd instance of me being suddenly confronted with how the passage of time can forcibly alter one's perceptions of something. Another occurred to me recently when I was watching a new episode of Deadwood -- geez, people have completely forgotten what an evil sonofabitch Al Swearingen is.

Honestly, it amazes me, mostly as I observe my own emotional responses to the character while watching him of late. I can clearly recall how starkly his utter immorality and unredeemable corruption was portrayed back in the first few episodes of the first season. Lest we forget, this fellow Swearingen was the ultimate boss of a gang of highwaymen who ambushed, robbed, raped, and tortured to death a hapless family of Norwegian immigrants; when Swearingen learned there was a young female survivor to the atrocity who might one day testify as to the identities of her family's tormenters, Al sent a hired knife to kill the girl.

Now, other factors, including other, better characters (take that adjective however you like) intervened, and the 'squarehead kid' survives to this day, mostly as an adorable blonde plot device whose apparent purpose for existence is to further complicate the lives of the former Mrs. Garrett and her current husband, the inestimable Ellsworth. But Sophie remaining alive to possibly tell her tale certainly has nothing to do with any goodness in Al Swearingen's heart. He's a bloody murderer, a rapist, and a ruthless exploiter of all human weakness to his own profit... and it amazes me just how difficult it is for me to remember that, and more, to make it emotionally resonate with me, these days.

The writers on DEADWOOD have accomplished all this through a simple expedient -- after establishing Al as the resident rotter in chief, they brought in other characters who are even more rotten than Al, and set those characters up as opponents to not only Swearingen, but to other factions in the camp we like rather better, like Bullock & Star. This has caused Swearingen to ally himself with more heroic folk, and that alliance has caused him to hide his own tendencies to ruthless evil. We still see him as an amoral schemer, but we've also been subjected relentlessly to sad stories about his terrible childhood in an orphanage, and that, in combination with Al's sudden role as potential savior of the camp from the horrors of Cy Tolliver and/or George Hearst's depredations, seems to have rather convinced the audience in general to forgive Al's earlier sins and to regard him as very nearly a hero.

Of course, everyone on DEADWOOD is flawed in some particular; Al is just, perhaps, the most flamboyantly straightforward in his malevolence. This is most likely why we admire him; he represents everything we somewhat furtively wish we could be -- not only evil and for the most part utterly uncaring about anything except what serves his own selfish agenda, but happy, even proud to be so, and to be regarded as such by everyone around him.

Still, I try hard these days to remind myself, when I'm watching Al scheme and conspire at trickery, blackmail, bloody assault and cutthroat murder, that just because he's doing this all as part of a campaign against a considerably less prepossessing set of villains, it doesn't make Al any less wicked. He's still a very bad man, it's just that somehow or other, somewhere along the line, he's become our bad man, standing as some sort of champion against the imminent oppression and exploitation of the poor by corporate wealth that Hearst and his lackey Tolliver both represent.

Nonetheless, however much I may enjoy watching him, I try hard to remember that he's an evil prick, and as such, is not someone I really want to find myself liking or admiring.