Thursday, February 28, 2008

You talkin' to me?

There's no one else here, you MUST be... oh, wait. There's like five million other people here. Which explains why, apparently, nobody is talking to me.

Ah, well.

Whispering hoarsely into the void:

* I'm pretty sure everyone who is going to read the short story I've posted for feedback here has done so at this point. So I'm planning to take it down sometime this weekend. If there's anyone out there who would like me to leave it up a while longer, or email them a copy, let me know soon, pleez. Tenkew.

* Have I mentioned before that I seem to have picked up some kind of shit? It started last Friday; I noticed my throat was a little sore. Since then, my sore throat has gone away, but my sinuses are all stuffy and I have progressively lost more and more of my voice. I think it's peaked and I'm on the road to recovery now, and hopefully will get there in time to start work on Monday at my new assignment. (Barring a truly major downturn, I'm fine to work and have been even while sick; this thing isn't causing me any discomfort, I just haven't had much of a voice for several days.) In the meantime, I continue to gargle maniacally with salt water (it seems to help a lot) and throw down Tussin as necessary. Pray for me. Or, you know, just send money.

* The Man Most Men Call Nate gifted us all with Powerball tickets last night. I've gone through the four that I could find readily under refrigerator magnets and, alas, we did not win -- in fact, on those four tickets, we did not match a single number, except for one which matched the floating red number at the far right. Which is impressive, in some sort of truly bizarre fashion. But I appreciate the thought on the part of Natus Maximus.

* Girl Scout cookies are in the house. Yes, we picked up our large consignment of Scout-sanctioned sweets last night, and are planning to get out and deliver them to those who ordered from us last month sometime this evening. It cannot happen too soon, because if those cookies stay confined within the same walls as I for much longer than 24 hours, I will be required by God Almighty to eat every single one of them (except for the nasty sugar free ones, o'course, o'course, those I will save to feed to any barnyard swine I happen to see). After consuming every last morsel of Thin Mints, Trefoils, All Abouts, Do-Si-Dos, Samoas, Jesus-Loves-Yous, Papyan Pole Dancers, Kalikaks, Jukes, or whatever the fuck all else they're called this year, I may very well expire of massive hyperglycemic shock, but we've all gotta go sometime, and if it has to be, then a death by Girl Scout Cookie overdose is as good a death as any, and better than most.

* I'm reading a CONAN book. CONAN THE USURPER, by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp. True Conan fans sneer at the DeCamp Conan material, because it's not 'real' Conan, meaning, every single word was laboriously typed by that sad-ass unsexed dimwitted mama's boy Howard, but, frankly, I'm happier to read something deCamp had a hand in than otherwise.

Even with deCamp finishing out fragmentary Howard stuff, or giving a final polish to something Howard had only roughed out, the limitations of Howard's rudimentary talent stick out all over like stigmata. What I've always found tedious about Conan (beyond and above the fact that he's a strutting, grunting, scratching celebration of the triumph of brawn over brains) is that Howard has absolutely no shame about making up whatever the fuck he needs to make up about Conan from one story to the next as the plot requires it. In one story, Conan will be running around with some Kushite hill bandits slaughtering goddam Aquilonians with mad abandon, because he's a fucking barbarian and they're all civilized pansy-weenies and that's just how Conan rolls, by Crom. In another, he's off in the ass end of Pictland and there are all these pirates from Zingara plus the men at arms of an exiled Barachan nobleman and they're all trying to kill Conan to get this treasure and Conan should just leave them all to be slaughtered by the Picts, but then we wouldn't get a big battle scene, so Howard makes up some horseshit about how Conan's 'barbarian code of honor' won't let him abandon white men to the mercies of darker skinned races... which is the first and probably last time you'll ever hear of that particular aspect of Conan's 'barbarian code of honor', which seems to be best expressed as 'whatever will make Conan do whatever the plot requires him to do at any given point in any particular story'.

Having said all that, Howard did have some writing talent and I do respect the thought he put into his Hyborian Age setting. deCamp is, of course, one of the best writers in fantasy and science fiction, so if you're going to read Conan crap, or, at least, if I'm going to, it's best to have the Howard/deCamp combination.

* I found a blog called I Am TRex which is pretty good. The commenters there are mostly pretty cool, which is a rarity at most popular blogs, I've found.

* I rarely have the pleasure of discussing Heinlein with anyone, and when I do, I imagine I bore people out of their minds pretty fucking quickly with my blather on the subject. Case in point: Jim Henley made a passing reference to PODKAYNE OF MARS in a short post a few days back, and I would imagine I made him regret it nearly immediately. But judge for yourself. Henley is one of many bloggers whose work I read who never responds to me directly in any way, which I imagine is intended to get across some kind of message to me, but if Al Swearingen is stupidest when he tries to be funny, well, I am at my dumbest when people are subtly hinting to me that I should just fuck the fuck off.

* I know when this winter finally ends and summer rolls around again, it will be unbearable and I'll be cursing every second of it, but still, I'm fucking over winter, already. How about we just start up spring, have that until mid September, and then roll straight into autumn, and keep that going until, say, March again? That would work for me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Moments in time I would like to visit...

...with a high powered electric cattle prod.


SOME DIPSHIT PRODUCER: So, the DAREDEVIL movie is a go! We've inked Ben Affleck to do the title role, and....

ME: (quirking my eyebrows as I smoothly draw my taser) Hmmmm? Ah... No. No, I think not.

F.X.: (as I zotz this idiot over and over again in the genitalia with a heavy duty taser) ZZZOT! ZZZAAP! ZZZOWW!


Oh, yeah.


SOME DIPSHIT PRODUCER: It's an adaptation of that Jimmy Stewart movie BELL, BOOK & CANDLE. And we're going to call the lead male character 'Darren'...

ME: (suddenly springing from the underbrush) Suffer and DIE, dipshit jamoke!

F.X.: (as I zotz this idiot over and over again in the genitalia with a heavy duty taser) ZZZOT! ZZZAAP! ZZZOWW!


Oh MY yes.


GEORGE LUCAS: So, essentially, yes, the film has the same central plot as STAR WARS, only the Empire is trying to blow up the Ewok home planet with their new Death Star instead of the Rebel base. However, we do the big reveal that Luke and Lea are brother and sister, and both the children of Darth Vader, resolving the Luke/Lea/Han triangle neatly. And Darth Vader repents his evil ways and then at the very end he shows up as a happy ghost with Obiwan and Yoda...

ME: For the love of all that's holy I must at this juncture in space/time destroy your testicles with electricity, Mr. Lucas.

F.X.: (as I zotz this idiot over and over again in the genitalia with a heavy duty taser) ZZZOT! ZZZAAP! ZZZOWW!




SUPREME COURT JUSTICE REHNQUIST: So, all things considered, I believe it is best to halt the recount process mandated by the lesser court, and...

ME: (appearing in a Star Trek transporter special effect) For the future! For the WORLD!

F.X.: (as I zotz this idiot over and over again in the genitalia with a heavy duty taser) ZZZOT! ZZZAAP! ZZZOWW!


Justice, like lightning, ever shall appear.

I'm pretty sure I'll do a lot more of these later.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Apocalypse watch (first, probably, of a series)

Jim Kunstler, today:

The Daily Grunt
~ If I have anything to say
February 26, 2008:

Breaking News at
DOW Up 32 points at 11:10am Wednesday

* Producer Prices in U.S. Rise at More Than Double Pace Economists Estimated

* Consumer Confidence in U.S. Declines to a Five-Year Low as Economy Cools

* Bernanke Fails to Lower Rates for Most Americans in Push for Easier Credit

* U.S. States May Seek Congress's Aid as Debt Costs Rise on Subprime Fallout

* Goldman, Lehman May Discover They Haven't Dodged Subprime Losses Just Yet

* Home Foreclosures in U.S. Surged 90% in January After Mortgage Rates Reset

Isn't that all rosy news?
(oh yeah... and oil moved above $100-a-barrel this morning)

And then there's our robust and dependable energy grid:

MIAMI - A problem with Florida's electrical grid caused a nuclear plant to automatically shut down Tuesday and intermittently cut power to up to 3 million people from Daytona Beach through the Florida Keys.

Authorities said there were no safety concerns at the nuclear plant. While many areas were hit hard, the outages were short lived and only about 20,000 people lacked electricity during the evening commute home. Most of the evening outages were due to bad weather, not the grid problem, officials said.

Traffic was even more miserable than usual in the Miami area as many stop lights briefly were without power. The outages occurred on a day when temperatures soared into the mid-80s and Floridians needed their air conditioning.

An equipment malfunction in a substation near Miami disabled two power distribution lines between Miami and Daytona Beach, and in response, Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point nuclear plant south of Miami stopped operating around 1 p.m., Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Kenneth Clark said.

The utility said it was trying to determine what caused equipment failure and a fire at the substation that led to the outage. The company said such equipment failure should not have caused the widespread blackouts...

...The outages have no connection to terrorism, Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez said the outages were technical, not criminal.

"It's a matter of just a cascading effect," he said.

Florida emergency management officials said the outages cut power to about 2-3 million people.

...Bob Wild, a sports marketing consultant who lives in Miami's southern Kendall neighborhood, said he didn't even notice the outage, thanks to his home's generator.

"We're a hurricane family. We've been though Hurricane Andrew and everything before and since," he said. "Our daughter called us from Washington and said she'd seen the blackouts on TV. That's when we found out."

The moral of this story? Buy yourself a good generator and a better gun. That way, you'll be well positioned to defend your precious household electricity, and continue to 'jack gasoline to run it with, well into the coming disaster.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Eight comics to die before you read... or something...

Tony Collett points me to this article, and, naturally, I must exceptionalize:

First, here's what The Authoritaz (i.e., Peter Hartlaub of the S.F. Chronicle) say:

Here's our ultimate comic book mix tape - title it Eight Comic Books You Need to Read Before You Die, or the only slightly less cumbersome Comics for People Who Think They Hate Comics. I would suggest reading them in the order listed below. All of these are available as trade paperbacks, which compile several comics into one book. In the case of Y: The Last Man, Bone and Sandman, which have multiple editions, we've chosen the first volume - read the rest of the saga only if you get hooked.

Y: The Last Man: Unmanned (Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra): I'm an even bigger fan of Vaughan's "Ex Machina," which weaves an intriguing alternate reality around the Sept. 11 attacks. But the recently finished Y: The Last Man is his masterpiece, taking a B-movie premise - what if every man on the planet suddenly died - and turning it into an intriguing, realistic, funny and ultimately touching epic.

Daredevil: Born Again (Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli): Forget that bad Ben Affleck movie. This mid-1980s work from Sin City and 300 writer Frank Miller is a powerful and wrenching tale, throwing the attorney-by-day-crime fighter-by-night down a staircase of addiction and betrayal. It looks a lot like the old X-Men and Avengers comics that you used to enjoy but shows a maturity that will mark much of Miller's later work.

Swamp Thing (Alan Moore): Another early work by a comic book legend, Alan Moore took over this DC Comics franchise in 1984 when it was all but dead. He completely re-wrote the character's history, but what could have been a "Highlander 2: The Quickening"-style disaster works in all the right ways, with narrative depth and a love story that resonates.

Marvels (Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross): Told from the point of view of a photojournalist, Marvels gives a street-level view of the greatest moments in superhero history - covering half of the 20th century. Busiek's story is interesting, but the selling point here is the hyper-realistic art from Alex Ross, who later drew the equally incredible-looking Kingdom Come.

Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville (Jeff Smith): Imagine if someone took a handful of Looney Tunes characters and tossed them into a Ronnie James Dio song. This cartoonish independent comic, which ran for more than a decade in the 1990s and early 2000s, can be very funny but also has a "Lord of the Rings" vibe. And not just the happy parts in Hobbitland.

Watchmen (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons): We'll have to see if the version from "300" director Zack Snyder, co-written by Lowell High graduate Alex Tse, can make what appears to be an impossible transition to the big screen. ("Watchmen" is coming in 2009.) The 1986-87 publication tells the gripping and incredibly dense story of costumed adventurers wrestling with their past and future during the Cold War. Arguably the greatest comic book in history.

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (Neil Gaiman): Gaiman is known as a strong storyteller, but his biggest gift is with language. This introduction to his most famous character - Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams - passes through a reality and fantasy world, painting an often pessimistic portrait of mankind. Later volumes are better, but this is a necessary introduction to the series.

The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller): The tale of Batman's rebirth as an aged crime fighter is packed with action, with a storyline that includes the Joker, Two-Face, a one-armed Green Arrow and an epic showdown between Batman and Superman. This 1986 series is Miller's best work, filled with darkness and despair but also an underlying hope.

My (spit) take:

I haven't read "Y: The Last Man", so, no real comment there.

DAREDEVIL: Born Again is solid work. Miller's apology for all that godawful ninja hackwork and retroactive insertions of ex-girlfriends turned assassin and crusty but lovable mentors we'd never previously heard of that he inflicted on Matt Murdock in his first writing assignment on the title, this particular Daredevil saga goes to eleven, and as such, was a very welcome breath of revitalizing air in the midst of the sea of stomach churning stupidity that the Daredevil comic book quickly became under Miller's first turn as writer, and remained under his various successors, especially the appallingly ungifted Ann Nocenti. Miller even seems to apologize for and retract his idiotic insistence that Matt Murdock had never had a radar sense, as Matt frequently makes use of said sense all the way through this story. Miller seems unable to write very well when he's doing his own art, so it falls on me to be especially thankful for David Mazzuchelli, whose brilliant visual depictions on this and on BATMAN: YEAR ONE seem to inspire Miller to the best writing heights he has ever achieved. Yeah, yeah, this is definitely a comic everybody should read.

Alan Moore's SWAMP THING: Up through the seemingly endless "American Gothic" story, this is some fine stuff. After "American Gothic" starts, it rapidly gets very tedious, other than a two part story guest starring Adam Strange, which completely rocks (but which seems to have been ret-conned into oblivion since).

Busiek and Ross' MARVELS -- The first two issues are great, the third is a let down, the fourth is pretty much crap, and nobody but me and Kurt's mom would have bothered with the thing at all if it had been illustrated by Sal Buscema (no knock to Sal). But, yeah, the Alex Ross artwork is a wonder to behold.

BONE Volume 1: I don't know. Maybe you can read BONE and enjoy it. Maybe you have it in you. After hearing people heap praise on it for decades, I finally tried to read one of the collections a few months ago (got it out of the library) and found it... disappointing, to say the least. I'm not saying I wanted to roll it tightly, set it on fire, and cram it entirely up Jeff Smith's ass or anything, but I sure couldn't see what everybody else apparently does in the fricking thing. Pass.

WATCHMEN, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - WATCHMEN is overrated, but nearly everyone overrates it, so, whatever. Moore has done much stronger stuff than this since; I'd far sooner see an uninitiated non-comics fan (especially one with literary pretensions) exposed to PROMETHEA or FROM HELL than WATCHMEN, which is so full of inside-superhero comics references that a non-geek would probably find it mostly baffling, anyway.

Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN - Yeah, yeah. Good stuff, go read it, etc etc. I love Gaiman's SANDMAN, so does everyone else, and it's especially nice to read it all these days, because if you do, you can skip AMERICAN GODS, where he basically retreads all the cool concepts from SANDMAN without dumber and more boring characters. (I wanted to type 'without the pretty pictures', but, unfortunately, other than for brief artistic insurrections by Shawn McManus and Charles Vess, the artwork Gaiman works with on SANDMAN is near universally a horror to have to look upon.)

Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS - Nah. As with WATCHMEN, this is very overrated. Read Miller and Mazzucheli's BATMAN: YEAR ONE instead. As with their BORN AGAIN, this story very much seems to be Miller's apologia for all his idiotic excesses in DARK KNIGHT.

My own "Eight Comics to Read Before Dying"? Well, the arbitrary '8' number is a ridiculous limitation, but, well, let me take a hack at it:

FROM HELL by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell - simply breathtaking graphic storytelling, perhaps the finest the comics storytelling medium will ever see. Campbell's deeply unconventional visual stylings and lettering make this extremely hard to get into in the beginning, but once you're twenty pages in you'll realize that it's perfect for the story and never be bothered by it again. Moore tells his story in an equally challenging manner, mixing non-linear and layered narrative techniques in a way that is guaranteed to baffle and perplex nearly any ALL NEW, ALL DIFFERENT X-MEN fan who has ever lived... but if you can get through it, it's maybe the most rewarding comics work you will ever read.

Either "DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN" or "BATMAN: YEAR ONE" by Miller and Mazzuchelli. Both are fine works in the superhero comics sub-genre.

"The Laughing Fish" Batman/Joker two parter by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers. Or the "Nomad" story in CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON by Englehart and Sal Buscema. Or the AVENGERS/DEFENDERS WAR by Englehart, Sal Buscema, and Bob Brown. Or the Sise-Neg/Genesis story in Dr. Strange by Englehart and Brunner. Or the Gods Go West/Squadron Supreme story in AVENGERS by Englehart and Perez. Or the Englehart/Milgrom CAPTAIN MARVEL stuff. Or... y'know what, just go read everything Steve Englehart wrote for Marvel or DC in the Silver Age. Yeah. That will cover it. Plus, Englehart's first eight issues or so of GREEN LANTERN, leading up to the CRISIS.

"Flash of Two Worlds" by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. You cannot be a superhero comics fan if you do not love this story. No. I'm not listening to you. You. Can. NOT. Be a superhero comics fan if you do not LOVE this story.

Steve Gerber's DEFENDERS. Or his MAN-THING. Or his HOWARD THE DUCK. Or his OMEGA THE UNKNOWN. Or his... y'know what I said about reading everything Steve Englehart wrote in the Silver Age? Same for Steve Gerber, plus, his FOOLKILLER series from the early 90s.

Jack Kirby's KAMANDI. I cannot speak with you as regards the art of comic book storytelling if you do not worship Jack Kirby's KAMANDI. And his OMAC. And his FANTASTIC FOUR. And his AVENGERS. And his X-MEN. Plus the whole FOURTH WORLD thing... well, maybe not FOREVER PEOPLE. Still. Kirby stuff, 60s and 70s. Go read. I'll wait.

Yeah, yeah, Gaiman's SANDMAN. Especially if you're trying to get that hot non-geek babe you know who just WON'T read comics to change her mind. SANDMAN will nearly always do it, especially if you start out with "Dream of a Thousand Cats". Chicks absolutely cannot resist that story.

Lee-Ditko's SPIDER-MAN. Have superhero comics ever been finer? No, no, I think they have not. Amazingly intricate Ditko crime-oriented plots and fantastically fluid Ditko pencils awesomely enhanced by some of Stan Lee's best dialogue and caption work ever. Life don' ged much bedda dan dat, at least, in superhero comics.

Well, except for Busiek and Perez's JLA/Avengers crossover. Which everyone should read, too, even if that makes nine, instead of 8.

Now, how about "Eight Comics To Die Before You Read", just to really piss people off?

* Anything by Warren Ellis. I know, I know, everybody seems to love Ellis, and I'd profess not to know why, but I'm pretty sure that in fact I do -- he works with fabulous artists, throws in a lot of sex and violence, and his characters are always really really pissy with each other. On the other hand, his plots make little sense and in addition to being pissy, his characters are also puerile little pud-wallopers with dumb ass powers and fucking retarded names. If you're all about the pretty titties and strange energy beams issuing from odd orifi... but wait, what am I saying? That's the Modern Age in a tokamak powered nanotech-augmented super-suppository right there.

* Anything written by Gerry Conway. Unless you're looking for a horrified laugh at just how bad superhero comics can be, avoid anything with Conway's name in the credits box at all costs. Possible exception: some of his run on SPIDER-MAN, around the time Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin both died. However, I've heard rumors that Jim Shooter punched up a lot of Conway's dialogue around that time, too. Extra credit for being perhaps the worst thing ever to happen to superhero comics for being the Marvel Editor in Chief who drove Steve Englehart to DC and Steve Gerber off DEFENDERS.

* Every single post CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS reboot except BATMAN: YEAR ONE and Alan Brennert's lovely Black Canary story in SECRET ORIGINS.

* Everything ever published by Image Comics, unless it was written by Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman.

* Everything Chris Claremont has ever written. Except maybe IRON FIST, which I have a childish fondness for despite its histrionic wretchedness.

* Everything Marv Wolfman has ever written. Except maybe for TOMB OF DRACULA, which I have a childish fondness for etc etc etc

* DEATH OF SUPERMAN. Right hand to Jesus, if anyone ever says you have to read this comic or DIE, choose death. It is without a doubt the worst superhero comic book ever published, and yes, I am including all those truly appalling Jerry Siegel scripted MIGHTY CRUSADERS stories, too. A mesmerizingly meretricious story arc that climaxes with an issue entirely comprised of single and double page spreads in which Superman dies, kind of, for a little while, until he gets better. That final issue is like some sort of demented "WATCH A SPIKEY GUY POUND SUPERMAN INTO TROPICANA'S PURE PREMIUM EXTRA PULPY ORANGE JUICE" coloring book, that somebody has already colored for you, completely ruining what little utility it might have once possessed. Seriously, rip your own eyes out with a pasta ladle before you peruse this one, True Believer.

* AVENGERS FOREVER by Busiek and Pacheco. What? You think a miniseries in which a writer establishes that any character in the Marvel Universe could at any time in the past, present, or future actually have been or could still be or might well become a Space Phantom, without even necessarily being aware of it, is a good thing? Helloooooo, Warren Ellis fan! Also, bite me.

Okay, I have to go take a shower.

Untap, upkeep

Pete Vonder Haar over at A Perfectly Cromulent Blog has been kind enough to blogroll me, so I have reciprocated.

Under my last entry, Reading Railroad, I've added a pretty lengthy review of BLUE BEETLE 1 - 12, which I forgot I'd read until recently. If you think that doesn't bode well for my reaction to the series, well, what a clever little person you are.

I seem to be fighting a throat and sinus thing -- no fever and my mucus is still largely clear, so it seems like liberal libations of Zycam and frequent salt water gargling is holding it short of turning into an infection, but my nose is stuffed up and my voice is largely shot. (That last may in part be due to strain from the first lengthy roleplaying session I've had to DM in a while, yesterday... but I'm happy we had a chance to do it, as I managed to wrap up a long-hanging scenario and get the survivors back to the present day again.)

And I have a new assignment with my latest employer starting in a week or so. This one looks to be longer term than my previous stint with them.

Hey, checking around my usual haunts a little I see Mike Norton has updated his blog again, which is always a welcome occurrence. Go leave him a comment or two. Tell him Bobo sent you. That should confuse the fuck out of him... ;)

And that may well be all, until, at least, my next post.

Vayos con guevos, my friends, my friends.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reading railroad

Okay, I've knocked quite a lot of material out of my In Stack lately. In no particular order --

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman - all of Haldeman's stuff is intensely readable; his writing style pulls you forward through his narrative like a torpedo you've been inadvertently handcuffed to. However, Haldeman's plotting quality went spectacularly south right after ALL MY SINS REMEMBERED, and while occasionally he manages to recover his senses for the length of a book (as in BUYING TIME or TOOL OF THE TRADE), a solidly good Haldeman book that one cannot immediately look back on and see several enormous problem areas in upon closing the back cover is a rare gem indeed.

Unfortunately, this latest one also falls pretty badly short of the heights Haldeman manages to achieve in his better books.

Haldeman pretty obviously plotted this one as he was typing it. Several times in the book it's clear he changed his mind about the where he wanted the story to go and, rather than toss out anything he'd already written, he just decided he'd, well, make it so that the stuff we pretty clearly thought had happened, actually didn't.

Combine this with a central character who has essentially no discernible personality whatsoever (he, basically, just thinks, feels, and does whatever the plot requires him to think, feel, or do at any given moment, even or especially when the plot requires him to think, feel, or do something entirely contradictory to something else he felt, thought, or did at a previous point in the narrative), a plot that is full of essential plot devices that do what they do for no reason Haldeman ever troubles himself to explain in any more than the vaguest terms, and a string of future human societies that are tediously cliche, and, frankly, unbelievably stupid (14,000 years in the future, people still speak recognizable 20th Century English, and why? Because everybody watches 20th Century movies and tv shows, of course), and you've got a book that never really seems to go anywhere or do anything, full of characters you find impossible to care about in the slightest.

Books like this -- and the last four or five Haldeman books I've read have been 'books like this' -- really make me want to rethink my blind presumption that Haldeman is one of my favorite writers. It's pretty much the Zelazney Effect; THE FOREVER WAR and MINDBRIDGE were so good that they've blinded me to Haldeman's subsequent inadequacies. But when you stack up a great many completely inadequate books in one place -- HEMINGWAY HOAX, WORLDS, WORLDS APART, WORLDS ENOUGH AND TIME, FOREVER PEACE, 1968, THE COMING, CAMOUFLAGE, OLD TWENTIETH, and now this one -- well, the impact of even stuff as brilliant as Haldeman's first two SF novels gets a little dissipated. I want Joe Haldeman to give me another brilliant SF novel, I really, really do. I'm just really starting to think it's never, ever going to happen.


The Hulk volume reprints the first 6 issues of the Hulk's original series, which got cancelled at that point. After that, the Hulk moved into a long running spot sharing TALES TO ASTONISH with, first, Giant-Man, and after a few issues, the Sub-Mariner. But these first six issues of Hulk's run I had never read, although they introduce characters and concepts that cast shadows and sent ripples all through the Marvel Universe and which were frequently referred back to in later appearances of the character, and even other, related characters.

Similarly, the CAPTAIN AMERICA volume reprints the first 23 Cap stories published after Cap got his own spot in TALES OF SUSPENSE, which he shared with Iron Man. These stories, from TALES OF SUSPENSE 59 through 84, also depict seminal Cap adventures and antagonists that future issues I had read frequently referred back to.

To a Modern Age fan determined to loathe everything about pre-Modern Age superhero comics, these stories would present plenty of vindication for their disrespect and opprobrium, as characterizations are crude and plots are often ridiculous. To a Silver Age Marvel fan who had never previously read these stories, however, they were a wonder and a delight.

The Captain America volume makes me yearn to pick up the parallel publication for Iron Man, so I can see the stories referred to by the TALES OF SUSPENSE covers faithfully reproduced throughout. And as I'm starting a new job soon, hopefully I'll be able to snatch that up with little difficulty in the near future.

Facilitated by a recent Bane visit and comics loan/swap, I've also gotten to read THE SINESTRO WAR, THE LIGHTNING SAGA, and the first four parts of Geoff Johns SUPERMAN AND THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. In reverse order --

* SUPERMAN AND THE LOSH -- an interesting story with some decent characterizations, but (a) I cannot stand Gary Franks' interpretation of Superman and the Legion, and (b) if this story doesn't end with some kind of time travel paradox wiping out every single event that takes place within it, I will be entirely aggravated. Some retarded Legion reject gets enormous powers and manages to turn all of Earth-native humanity against, you know, other Earth-descended humans who were born on other planets? I find this so ridiculous that I'm only going to accept it in an alternate future that never actually happens. If these events become future DC canon, well... um... well... I guess I'll just wait for Mark Waid or somebody to ret-con it away again. Yeah, yeah, that works.

* THE LIGHTNING SAGA - as a vehicle for a lot of really cool Johns and Meltzer character interaction, explication, and dialogue, this was a smashing success. On the other hand, as an actual story with an actual resolution, this one kinda blows. The Legion sent 7 members back into the past to hold up lightning rods so Wally West and his entire family (the twins now, conveniently, old enough to be interesting) could come back to life? What? Why did they have to do this in the past? Why couldn't they do it in the future and then send Wally and Co. back into the past? And, frankly, any time a plot requires every single one of its 30-odd characters to rote-repeat at some point "It's 30th Century technology; it isn't supposed to make sense", that plot needs a LOT more work.

I enjoyed seeing many aspects of Silver Age LOSH lore validated in this story, including the original, extremely wonky resurrection of Lightning Lad -- but there's no way I believe that resurrection process could ever work without someone dying. If all you have to do is hold up a lightning rod and then get out of the way when the lightning strikes, well, it would be easier to just mount seven lightning rods on steel arms all around whatever corpse it is you want to revive and never endanger anyone in the first place.

Also, since when does Wildfire have an android body, much less, Red Tornado's body? That's just stupid.

All of which boils down to, I greatly enjoyed this story up until its conclusion, but its conclusion was vastly unsatisfying.

* THE SINESTRO WAR - It's up, it's down, it's all around. There were times when I was reading this that I thought it was the most brilliant thing ever scripted and drawn; there were other times when I thought it was appallingly idiotic, and the vast majority of the time, I was just bored. All I remember from the whole thing is that Sinestro is very, very bad, and Green Lanterns can kill now, and Arisia apparently cannot move without exposing most of her boobs, and Sodom Yat is a jerk, and boy, Geoff Johns really likes that story about Abin Sur that Alan Moore wrote one time, and, oh yeah, the Guardians are still all idiots... and, wait, why is there a little blue female Guardian when we found out twenty years ago that the Zamorans were actually the female half of the Guardian race?

Well, never mind.

I'm starting to think, though, that some time in the last couple of years, Geoff Johns pretty much went into a steady creative decline. Occasionally he seems to spike up in quality again, but, overall, I've seen nothing that makes me want to start buying comics again.

* And that would include BLUE BEETLE 1-12, which I recently read after finding the issues collected in two volumes at the local library. As I read John Rogers' blog regularly, and as I have a casual interest in how the various Charlton derived franchises are doing in their adoptive universe, I'd been curious about the new series, which features a teenage Hispanic boy taking over the 'mantle', as it were, of Blue Beetle from predecessors Ted Kord and Dan Garrett.

One of the major differences between the Modern Age of Comics and its predecessors is pacing and plot density per issue. In the Silver Age, at least, Stan Lee and any of his various artistic collaborators (Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Gene Colan, etc) would generally manage to compact an enormous amount of eventful action, accompanied by much emotional characterization and plot development, into 22 or 23 pages of story. Even the comics that were divided between two characters, generally resulting in only 11 or 12 pages of story per issue per character, had much much more story content packed between their covers than one generally gets in a Modern Age comic.

Reasons for this vary, but I suspect it largely comes down to the way storytelling conventions have devolved from Silver to Modern Age. As the Modern Age has tried to more and more reflect something like 'real life' (whatever the hell that may mean given the deliberately and inescapably fantastic parameters of the superhero milieu) within its pages, so too have 'intrusive' and 'unrealistic' storytelling tools like captions and thought balloons been largely removed from the Modern Age writer's tool kit. This leaves the Modern Age writer with few colors on his or her storytelling palette to work with other than spoken words (dialogue), pictures, and the occasional sound effect. This means that, like movies and television, Modern Age comic book narratives largely unfold in 'real time'. As the Modern Age fan still demands plenty of highly emotional, melodramatic character interaction and heaping gobs of (often violent) super powered action in each issue, this leaves little room for actual plot development.

Thus, in Modern Age superhero comics, plots advance and unfold slowly and incrementally from one issue to another, and if a particular comic book has a large and varied cast of characters, well, even very obvious relationship dynamics can take very very long periods of time to develop. Thus, in the Silver Age, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko would introduce a romantic interest for Peter Parker on page 4 of a story, have Peter Parker go on a date with her on page 6, have her kidnapped by the Green Goblin or Dr. Octopus on page 7, have Spider-Man rescue her on page 9, have her express scorn with Peter Parker's cowardice and timidity (as compared to Spider-Man's dreamy heroism, or, in a typical Marvel change up, have her express relief that Petey is 'a normal, sweet guy' as opposed to Spider-Man's creepiness) on Page 10, and then, somewhere around page 14, introduce a rival for said romantic interest's affection, and intimate strongly that said rival is, himself, some sort of secretive organized crime figure, requiring investigation for the remaining eight or nine pages of story.

In the Modern Age, by contrast, Giffen and Rogers design a teenage superhero in the Spider-Man mold (which was, itself, largely derived from Archie comics formulas) and give him a similar supporting cast, which includes a fairly obvious potential romantic interest... and in the first 12 issues, that romantic relationship has remained entirely potential, advancing maybe a Silver Age panel's worth of distance in all that time. (Which is to say, one character has advised the girl in question that "it's obvious" she has a crush on the protagonist, which she has loudly protested, but then, later, in private, wondered to herself if it might not be true.)

In the Silver Age, after 12 issues, the protagonist and his romantic interest would have had several dates, fallen madly and melodramatically in love with each other, she would have had to be rescued at least nine or ten times from various perils and/or villains, they would have broken up and gotten back together again at least once, and by this point, the hero would probably have met another girl and started to become interested in her.

Beyond the glacial pace of the characterization, what I remember of the new BLUE BEETLE is a jumble. There's something about a super powered street gang that isn't actually a street gang, or even entirely super powered, a fast, contemptuous (and contemptible) diss of DC's previous Hispanic superhero El Diablo, some New Gods characters we've never previously seen, a grand niece of Dan Garrett's who wonders why the Blue Beetle scarab never did any of that stuff for her great uncle (a good question that, now that it's been raised, I myself wonder at the answer to), some pretty good dialogue for Batman, and I honestly can't remember what the hell all else.

Suffice to say, I wasn't overly impressed with what I read.

One reason -- probably the BIG reason -- that I did not buy this comic on its own merits when it first came out was that I have absolutely no respect for Keith Giffen as a writer at all. John Rogers has been extravagant in his praise of Giffen's contributions to this comic, both as plotter and layout artist, on his own blog, but my experiences with other comics pros have taught me that few comics pros will publicly bad mouth other comics pros, especially their creative collaborators, and in fact, most comics 'rookies' are boisterous to the point of fawning sycophancy over any better established professionals they work with early in their careers. Sometimes that fawning sycophancy is genuine, as when my old buddy Slappy was fortunate enough to draw Don Heck as penciller for one of his TALES OF THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS. Other times, it's rather more calculated, as when Slappy worked with... well... other, less talented artists, and praised them fulsomely in public, while expressing rather different feelings in private about the visual gibberish he was required to somehow paste over with descriptive captions and evocative word balloons in such a way that a reader would be able to in some way discern some vague idea of what was actually supposed to be happening on the page.

So I don't know. Rogers is a helluva smart guy, and is certainly capable of seeing shortcomings in his commenters and fellow bloggers that he does not hesitate to point out on his own blog, at great length and in very explicit, occasionally profane, detail. And one of the real problems I had in reading BLUE BEETLE 1-12 is the artwork, very specifically the layouts that Giffen was apparently responsible for, where, more often that not, when the action starts up and energy effects are going off and things are blowing up and people are flying up into the air and then falling down into dumpsters or on top of other gang members or through inexplicably appearing circus tents or what have you, I cannot tell for the life of me exactly WHAT is happening (although often times Rogers, apparently realizing this problem, will try to help a brother out with a few descriptive word balloons).

So I presume Rogers is aware of Giffens' actual deficiencies as a plotter and an artist, as he himself spent much of the first 12 issues of this series hewing wood and hauling water in their service. Rogers' apparent awe of Giffen may well be gunuine, as Giffen is still regarded as something of an icon in the industry at this point, and it's very possible that Rogers, as a younger comics fan, found Giffen's takes on LSH, JL, and various other concepts (including the truly appalling Ambush Bug) to be as enthralling as I thought they were alternately grotesque, misbegotten, and noisome. So maybe he's genuinely thrilled to be carrying the old man's colostomy bag, I don't know.

(I myself have to dig back in my memory all the way to Giffen's first appearance as an artist, on a wonky Bill Mantlo one shot in MARVEL PREMIERE named Woodgod, to rediscover any fond feeling for the man at all, and any I might have had way back when was ignominiously murdered and buried with a stake through its heart at the crossroads of his pre-CRISIS work on LEGION OF SUPERHEROES, only to have its rotting corpse dug up and repeatedly violated since that time by Giffen's increasingly more loathsome and execrable work on post-CRISIS Legion reboots as well as the entirely repulsive JUSTICE LEAGUE variants and offshoots that Giffen and his various co-conspirators inflicted on the DC Universe throughout the late 80s and early 90s.)

Whatever the case may be, though, BLUE BEETLE hasn't overly impressed me, and certainly isn't any reason for me to start buying comics again. I will say this for Rogers, though -- at the point where Giffen stops plotting the comic and Rogers take over the writing duties in their entirety, the story quality makes a quantum leap upward. It's still very light in plot specifics, and there's only so much even a decent writer can do with the underlying mess Giffen designed, but the book did become more readable and even enjoyable once Giffen largely took his chitinous hooks out of it.

Probably the central problem Rogers is going to run into (or, perhaps, already has) is that the character is almost entirely undefined -- the scarab is some sort of 'advanced alien technology' that is apparently capable of enclosing its symbiotic host in some kind of protective body armor that can mold itself into any of an innumerable number of advanced alien high tech artifacts, like jet packs and shields and blaster cannon and what have you. This is fine as long as the central character has no real idea how the hell to use the armor, but once he figures stuff out, he's going to very quickly become invincible, and the book is very quickly going to become even more boring than it already is.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Subject to review

Okay. Tony Collett sent me a link to a place that actually pays for short stories. They're looking for a very specific kind of story -- something concerned with the near future, set on Earth, growing out of contemporary concerns. And the editor apparently really likes cyber punk.

I've written something for them, which I'm going to append under the jump. If my very small readership would look it over and tell me what you think, especially as what you may find wrong with it or what improvements you may feel it needs, I'd appreciate it.

It's a weird story, and I honestly have no idea what I think of it.

Also, I don't have a name for it as yet, so if anyone can suggest one, that would be great, too.

If I decide to submit this story, I will have to pull or at least edit this entry, as the editors do not want any stories submitted that have already been published elsewhere, so I won't want it out on the blog forever.


UPDATE: Below the jump is a slightly revised version of the story, including a working title. Any further comments are welcome.

By D.A. Madigan

Streaming video from, 11/23/37:

VISUAL: Close up on Nikki Danger, dressed in gray synsilk. She looks tired, her eyes lined, her hair mussed. Her voice is scratchy. She’s sitting in a bleak, shabbily furnished room somewhere. There is a window behind her; the blinds are drawn. An old fashioned holo keyboard and holo-cube, drawn in lines of bright green light, are hovering in the air to the side of her, most likely over a data-pod, which must be out of sight beneath the cam-frame.

HOTU.COM: Cameron Crane here, with… FIVE QUESTIONS FOR NIKKI DANGER! First, Maz Danger, thnkz for taking the time…

DANGER: Hold on, let me… okay, I’ve got ten-four-five-by-five on the scramble from my end, our signal is totally jitterbugged. I have no idea where you’re calling me from.

HOTU.COM: No idea where you are, either, and no-way-Jose the Figs can break a Nikki Danger crypto. Wherev U R, though, it looks like the place should be condemned… noffense.

DANGER: Notake. This place should be condemned. So should nearly every place that people like U-n-me gotta live. It’s the way things are for 90% of the global pop right now… the 90% that isn’t rich. We live in slums that still need hardwires to get power, most of us working 60 hour weeks to pay the electricity bill so we can stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Why? Because we can’t afford antenna to pick up broadcast power… but that’s point five lies. We shouldn’t need antennas when a Power Cube the size of a vid player can produce enough zap for free to run an entire city block.

HOTU.COM: Power Cubes are dangerous, though, right? They can leak hard radiation… go critical while being assembled, like in the High Orbit Blowout of 2016… that’s why they only assemble ‘em in space, right? And only install ‘em in places like offshore islands, deserts, mountain tops… kak like that, right?

DANGER: Corpshit. The High Orbit Blowout of ’16 was faked by the Powers That Be… what did anyone really see? Big light in the sky. “Oh nooooo Mr. Bill a Power Cube blew up in orbit! They’re too DANGEROUSSSSS for youuuuuuu!” Fuggin’ kak.
Here’s the resta-the-story: PowerCubes are put together on assembly lines by slave labor in China, Unified Korea, and the UAR and shipped in the hundreds of thousands throughout the industrialized world. Every heavy duty Armored Assault Vehicle in the world has its own Power Cube in it, as does every aircraft and ocean liner. What do you think runs the satellites and the rocket sleds that service them? What do you think they use for power in the Moon bases? Every United Federal Shipping Service has a roomful of Power Cubes; they wouldn’t be able to transmat freight if they didn’t.

HOTU.COM: Huh. Yet all that skludge… military vehicles, United Federal Shipping Service, satellites, rocket sleds, Moon bases, aircraft, ocean liners… that’s all government, or things only rich people can afford. Maybe PowerCubes are just really expensive...?

DANGER: Kak and kak again. It’s like going from tape-n-vinyl to disc, back in Old Twenty. When the disc format came onto the market, it was priced 120% higher than the same content on any other recording format, although its manufacturing cost was only about 6% of tape or vinyl. Why? It was a more portable format, more easily accessed, and everyone wanted it. The media companies could charge more for the product, so they did. Cost had nothing to do with it, it was all about profits. Same thing with PowerCubes. They must be easy to make and the components must be inexpensive, otherwise, you wouldn’t have political prisoners and eco-slaves doing it. And they gotta be pretty safe to operate; the only major meltdown we’ve ever heard of never really happened.

HOTU. COM: Yeah, mebbe. But if they so safe why don’t every richie rich in America have one or two in their basement? They get their power broadcast. We could do that too if we had the money for the antenna…

DANGER: But if the powers that be sold Power Cubes on the open market at a fair price, everyone could buy them, and chances are, you’d only need to buy maybe half a dozen over the course of your life. What happens to Big Energy’s profits then? So they tell everyone Power Cubes are complex and dangerous and they require licenses to own and operate them and charge a fortune for them. So utilities get their power broadcast to them from offshore Cube installations and sell it to us over the wire, same as it always was. And richie rich buys a broadcast antenna, cuz it’s cheaper than getting a Cube license… but, again, Cubes perfectly safe, n cheap to make! Licensing is just a way for Powers That Be to keep their thumbs on us.

HOTU.COM: Huh. Interesting. Okay. There are a lot of rumors about your background out on the inters. Can you tell me anything truthful about where you came from?

DANGER: I was born in a Nola relocation camp… my parents got scooped early by Homeland Security and never came back again, so I got sent to a State home in Michigan. The Big Flash in ’17 knocked out the whole northwest power grid and fried nearly every bit of local data, so now nobody knows who my real parents were. Took my name from a comedy disc this one kid used to play over and over again at the home.

HOTU.COM: And you’re no friend to the Figs?

DANGER: Nobody who isn’t rich is a friend to the Figs… you know where that comes from, right? ‘Federal pigs’ – it’s obsolete. Goes back to a time when there were different kinds of security troopers… city, county, state. Now all we got are Homeland troops, but it wasn’t always that way.

HOTU.COM: Okay, last question. You’re credited with monkeywrenching several major Fig moves. There are Fig warrants out for you for eighteen different crimes, most of them data-related, but an impressive number actual real world violations. Is there an endgame, or are you content to just throw sand in the gears when you can?

DANGER: There’s an endgame. The Figs keep us down by controlling our access to energy. If we work hard for them and don’t give them atty, they keep us juiced… unless there’s a rolling brown out, of course, which they throw at us a few times a month to keep us scared. But they limit our access to real energy through bogus licensing laws for PowerCubes. The Figs don’t want people to have Cubes, because if we had Cubes, we’d have infinite energy, forever… and with infinite energy forever, you get all kinds of other chocolatey goodness… antigrav, transmute, force throwing, even tee-pop. Give every citizen their own Power Cube and we’d be free… really free… for the first time in human history.

HOTU.COM: Huh. So how do you give every citizen a Power Cube? Seems like they’re pretty well guarded.

DANGER: Sorrycharlie. Outta time.

Streaming in the air three inches above an open cellphone lying on the ground several feet away from the burning wreckage of a 2036 Hummer Alpha hovercraft:

VISUAL: A youngish man wearing fullview specs and the kind of halfie haircut popular in ’31 and early ’32 is speaking earnestly into cam. Only his head and shoulders are visible in the cubical view area. His voice is unprofessional, agitated:

“…cut off, after Westinghouse famously asked Tesla, ‘where do I put the meter?’ and Tesla just shrugged. Free power was discovered again in 1989 by the chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann at the University of Utah, although said discovery was almost instantly discredited by a campaign of misinformation erroneously claiming that the effect could not be duplicated. In actuality, the Pons-Fleischmann apparatus was confiscated and a non-functional simulacrum was put in its place.

With the sweeping black outs of ’15 and ’16 spreading around the planet cutting disastrously into global production of every sort, the powers behind the powers finally admitted publicly to the existence of free, limitless energy… but claimed that the Power Cubes were too difficult to manufacture, and too hazardous to operate, to be allowed into private hands. Governments set up Power Cube stations on satellites, mountaintops, and in the middle of deserts and licensed existing public utility corporations to receive broadcast power from those Cubes through expensive antenna installations few private citizens could afford. The utilities resold the power over the wire to the vast majority of the people, and life went on much as it always had, with most citizens paying for the electricity they consumed on a month to month basis. Those who decide such things for all of the rest of us had indeed figured out where to put the meter…”

Graffiti written in glo-paint on the side of an abandoned former bakery in Wappingers Falls, NY:


United Nations Treaty Organization Missile Command Log Entry for 03232039, 04:23:36 hours:

Unidentified craft detected entering atmosphere in UNTO airspace at [coordinates classified]. No response to hails. Craft employing stealth technology which prevents full radar lock but does not prevent tracking. Hailing craft.

04:24:38 hours:

No response to hail. Repeating hail.

04:24:52 hours:

No response to hail. Repeating hail. Final warning.

04:25:22 hours:

No response to hail. Comm of Watch issues WEAPONS FREE, SPLASH INTRUDER order.

04:25:45 hours

T-ROC missile cluster fired at unidentified craft.

04:25:49 hours

UI craft taking evasive maneuvers.

04:26:06 hours

UI craft destroyed by T-ROC missile.

Footage from a Hydra-Co security hover-cam, specific location classified:

VISUAL: Two people, moving down a mountain road. They are moving single file; one is several paces behind the other, and has a gun in hand, pointed at the leader’s back. In the valley below, heavy grey oblongs rumble between, and sometimes over, primitive stone, mud, straw, and wattle buildings, many of which are in flames. Screams can be heard, distantly, like a thumb repeatedly rubbing against a glass beaker.

The lead figure is female, tall, slender, with short red hair, garbed in a singed Wetherproof outdoor coverall and PakPak memory foam boots. The trailing person, holding a gun on the lead female, is male, has blond hair expensively cut in a long bangs/short crop reverse mullet, heavyset, and has ice-eyes – mirror like ocular inserts that work like fullview glasses and that don’t require recharging, but are usually more uncomfortable. The gun in the male figure’s hand is a Taurus Magnetic, which holds 60 metal pellets capable of being accelerated through the gauss-turbine in the weapon’s base and driven at barely subsonic velocities down the short barrel. Its accuracy is fair out to ten meters and poor beyond that, but any living biological hit by it will generally fly to pieces.

Over each figure letters flicker, obviously the results of a visual data-search for meta-information. Superimposed over the male: JASON VAN der WITTEN, EXECUTIVE TRAINER/SENIOR FIELD ADJUSTER – HYDRA-CO. Over the female: NICHOLE DANGER (pseud?), ECO-GUERILLA/HYPERCORPS SABOTEUR. Scrawling along the bottom of the picture: EXACT LOCATION UNKNOWN, PROBABLY EAST/CENTRAL EUROPEAN MOUNTAIN PASS: 03/23/2039.

VAN der WITTEN: Amazing you even survived that crash, Nikki. I would not have thought, scanning the wreckage from a distance, anyone could come out of it alive.

DANGER: Well, don’t feel bad or anything. You did manage to kill Jerry.

VAN der WITTEN: Jerald Landers? The Canadian? I had no idea he was in the vehicle. Were you sleeping with him?

DANGER: Not when the missiles hit, no. Although, if I’d thought of it…probably would have been more fun than evasive maneuvers…

VAN der WITTEN: You will not make me angry, Nikki. You will not goad me into a foolish mistake.

DANGER: No, huh? Did you authorize this op?


DANGER: The dozen Velociraptors down in the valley smashing everything into rubble. Your idea?

VAN der WITTEN: Of course. After intercepting your teleconference, I –

DANGER: There’s no gold, Jay.

VAN der WITTEN: No gold…?

DANGER: Yuh huh. Also, all those screams? Fex. I had a girl in here a week ago warn all the natives. They’re all up another mountain hiding out in caves right now.

VAN der WITTEN: Fex?

DANGER: F.X., special effects, fugg, Jason, did you every study anything besides HyperCorps Rape & Pillage? The screaming is all sound effects. It’s fake. Udig?

VAN der WITTEN: Oh, I see. So I’m supposed to believe that this is all one of your famous jokes…? Very humorous, but, no, Nikki. Fool me once, shame on you. You will not fool me again.

DANGER: You are one sad silly little loogie, Jason. It’s not a joke. I figured you’d send in AAVs. You sent in AAVs. Now my people just need to knock one out long enough to grab its Power Cube.

VAN der WITTEN: That is… no. That is inconceivable.

DANGER: Heh. Don’t tempt me with PRINCESS BRIDE dialogue. Also, I’m about to escape you and leave you totally sutye.

Danger steps casually over towards the cliff edge of the road.

.VAN der WITTEN: Sut-yee?

DANGER: Shit Up To Your Eyebrows. Dumbass.

Danger takes another step towards the edge.

VAN der WITTEN: Stop it, Nikki. I remember you very well, and since we parted ways I have followed your exploits closely. You cannot possibly surprise me –

At this point, Danger steps off the sheer cliff side overlooking the mountain valley. From the security-cam’s POV, which is obviously hovering somewhat above the two, it can clearly be seen that she catches herself on an outjutting tree, swinging around it acrobatically. Van der Witten would not be able to see this from his POV on the road behind Danger.

VAN der WITTEN: Gott im himmel!!!

Van der Witten rushes over to the point Danger stepped off from. Danger’s legs, at full extension, swing up from below, one foot striking his wrist, the other the gun in his hand. The gun flies into the gorge. Danger’s legs scissor around Van der Witten’s neck. Danger twists on the branch like a gymnast doing a 180 on a parallel bar. There is an audible crackling sound, like a wooden branch snapping, and Van der Witten’s body is yanked off the road. Danger swings around the branch again, opening her legs. Van der Witten, his head visibly at an unnatural angle on his neck, follows his gun into the gorge.

Danger swings around the branch four more times before kipping upward at full extension and rolling back onto the roadway. She reaches into a pocket and takes out a cellphone.

DANGER: Connie… I know, I know, very late, yeah… okay, listen, Jerry’s dead… yeah, sux, I know, but I don’t have time for it now. Look, I can hack the security grid from here now that I have a couple of minutes… vector everybody else into the village proper…try to get everyone set up with a good shot on an AAV for when the force fields go down. Uh huh. Okay, see you down there.

Danger disconnects, then thumbs a code in on her cell phone.

In a burst of static, the security footage goes blank.

From Jason Van der Witten []
to N.D. [],
date Tue, Apr 25, 2026 at 2:12 PM
subject My LAST Word


All right I get that you are thinking you are done with this and surprise surprise now you have me in agreement with you. I will say for the final time the Claire thing had nothing to do with you or with us. My relationship with Claire was a completely separate matter and I never allowed it to in any way have any effect on your life or my feelings for you. I am very sorry that you were hurt finding out about it but I have to say one more time I never intended you to discover it and I took every possible precaution. What happened was completely out of my control and I think you should give me some credit for that. However you are clearly going to be unreasonable continually so we are better off moving ahead.

I will say again that you are not the only one hurt by your decision in this. I have feelings too and I did truly have feelings for you and you are being extremely unfair in not taking my concerns or needs or desires into any consideration in any decisionmaking you have about us. But you were always trying to be inappropriately controlling in all the time we have been together and you know this has been an issue for us. I have tried and tried to compromise with you and in the end this is what I receive. Fine. But you need to understand that in life things go in circles and we will come around again and when we are once more together then it will be my turn to treat you as badly as you are now treating me. Karma is a real thing and someday I will be in a position to make you crawl. And I will, Nikki, believe me when I say, I will.


Transcript of a scrambled teleconference held by Extremely Low Frequency transmission on 1/12/39:

Voice 1: Gold?

Voice 2: Six hundred tons of the shit. Nazis stashed it in a huge subterranean pocket under a mountain village named Kroos back in 1943.

Voice 1: Okay. Nazi gold. Ripleys, but, whatever... But commerce is all virtual now. It’s all labor-credits and energy-credits and kak. Why…?

Voice 3: Gold is one of the best engineering metals in the world. Very ductile, fantastic conductivity. Absolutely terrific for electronics. And we’re not mining much of it any more. 600 tons in one place is an attention getter for anyone who does manufacturing, engineering…

Voice 4: …and that’s another thing. With no gold standard any more, it’s hard to say how much 600 tons of gold is worth. That much coming on the market at once… It would have depressed the price for months in the old days. Now, though… a couple of billion? I don’t know.

Voice 1: Oh-KAY. So… where did we get this from?

Voice 2: United Nations geological survey team doing deep resonance scans in the Balkans for oil pockets. Only the lead surveyor saw the analysis showing the presence of the gold… refined gold. He brought it to us for a finder’s fee. It’s never been anywhere but on the disc he gave us… hold on… okay, I’m emailing you all a coded version.

Voice 3: All right. Let’s break to look it over and we’ll all hook up again at six tonight PST.

TRANSCRIPT of COCKPIT RECORDER, final two minutes, 2026 Hummer Alpha model hovercraft registration number NZ333389QR45012D (masked in flight), digitally date stamped 03-23-2039:

VOICE 1: Are they all out?

VOICE 2: That’s the last of them – and there’s the last chute. We take the high road, they take the low road…

VOICE 1: I wish we were goin’ to Dublin. There’s this nice little pub…

VOICE 2: Hey, have you seen this pod-cast I’m working on about free energy? It’s nearly ready to upload. I like this part…

VOICE 1: Yeah, you’ve shown me some of it… that bit about figuring out where to put the meter is brilliant. Hey, your phone isn’t broadcasting right now…?

VOICE 2: I’m not that big an idiot. Here, we’re coming up on that part you like…

[VOICE ON RADIO A] Unidentified aircraft, this is United Nations Treaty Organization Missile Command. You are not authorized, repeat, you are not authorized for your entry vector. Please respond immediately.

VOICE 1: Goddamit, Jerry, I thought this thing had stealth capacity.

VOICE 2: The package is 8 months old… fucking UNTO must have upgraded.

VOICE 1: Maybe they won’t shoot. She sounds kind of conflicted.

VOICE 2: Nikki, you know better than that. You plan for what the enemy can do, not what they will do...

[VOICE ON RADIO B] Guten tag, Nikki. You seem to have your cell phone turned off, so I am breaking into this radio signal. This is Jason. I am sure you remember me. You can thank me, or, rather, Hydra-Co, for the excellence of the local missile command’s detection systems. We also provided them recently with some new T-ROC hunter missiles. I told you one day I would pay you back, my dearest.

VOICE 2: Oh you’re kidding. One of your ex boyfriends wants to get closure NOW?

VOICE 1: Heh. He’s going to be WAY pissy when he figures out how badly we’ve suckered him this time. Wish I could see his face. Okay, evasive maneuvers…!

[VOICE ON RADIO A] Unidentified aircraft, this is United Nations Treaty Organization Missile Command. This is your last warning. You are unauthorized and if you do not respond immediately I am going to blow you out of the fucking sky. PLEASE RESPOND GODDAMIT.

VOICE 2: On the other hand… hunter missiles? Your ex seems to be severely overcompensating for something…

VOICE 1: He had a lot to overcompensate for. Shit. I’m showing missile launch. I don’t see missile lock, though…

VOICE 2: No lock, the stealth package was worth that much… but damn she’s a good shot! You’d better spin this baby…

VOICE 1: Going evasive –

NOTE: Voiceprint identification 96% certain VOICE 1 = Nichole Danger, U.S. national, 99.7% certain VOICE 2 = Jerald Thomas Landers, Canadian national. 100% certain VOICE ON RADIO A = UNTO Missile Command Tech Commander Echelle St. Zell. 98.4% certain VOICE ON RADIO B = [classified]

Overheard on a Baltimore go-ball court, 07/12/35:

SPEAKER 1: So, you think Nikki Danger could hack Homeland Security’s mainframe?

SPEAKER 2: Bitchpleez. Like, with her tongue stud, I’msher.

Pirate video burst-transmitted globally on 4/27/39:

VISUAL: Image is fuzzy, interrupted with static bars, but some kind of sophisticated vehicle control board is still very discernible.

VOICE 1: Sorry for the poor visual, I’m using my cam phone and this thing’s has a pretty good built-in anti-elint field... okay. This is Nikki Danger and you’re looking at the controls to a Velociraptor 5500 Armored Assault Vehicle, built to military specifications on contract to the United Nations Security Department by the General Defense Products Company, a fully owned subsidiary of Hydra-Co. A group of undie guerillas has just liberated it and I am uploading this to be re-transmitted simultaneously across every comm-sat in orbit around Earth in… what… a few hours…?

VOICE 2: More like a few days. We need to get to a good dish so I can hack the arrays.

VOICE 1: Okay, a few days, then… all right. Now let me spin the cam around here and… Rina, can you open that hatch… that’s great…

VISUAL: Image blurs for a moment as the cam is moved, then steadies again on a green metal cube roughly one foot on a side, installed inside a metal cabinet, with heavy cables running out of it into the sides of the cabin. A very dark skinned woman with a shaved head is holding a hatch open so the cube can be seen.

VOICE 1: That, for you folks at home who have never even seen a picture of one before, is a Power Cube. It’s not radioactive or in any way hazardous to anyone’s health. Every military vehicle, as well as the few private air and seacraft left in the world have at least one installed in it. Why? Because the antennae that receive broadcast power can only soak up so much in one location at one time, and things like force field projection, or anti gravity, or matter transmutation, or even teleportation, take huge amounts of energy. And all those things have military applications, or are important to long distance transportation. Broadcast power won’t get it done.

VOICE 3: Speaking of which, I just figured out how to engage the anti-grav drive… hm… and the forcefield will keep enough oxygen in so we could do a transorbital if we needed to. We can’t stay outside the atmosphere more than… hem… six minutes, tops… but that would be twice as much time as we’d need.

VOICE 1: Great! Okay, you folks at home heard the man. Power Cubes are VERY heavily guarded; the last thing the powers that be want is for us po’ folks to get our hands on one, and getting access to THIS one has cost several lives so far… but now we’ve got one, and we’re bringin’ it home. So stay tuned, peeps. Within a year at most, we should be able to mass produce Power Cubes for everyone who wants one… and when we can, check your back doorz, cuz one of these days there’ll be one sitting on your stoop.

VOICE 3: Everybody hold on to something. This could be a bumpy ride…

Excerpt from transcript of U.S./UN Congressional/Security Council Sub-Committee on Energy and InterNational Security secret hearing, 4/16/39 classification level Ultra-Horus Zeta:

SENATOR RAMSHACKLE: So this Danger woman basically conned you.

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: It could seem that way.

REPRESENTATIVE LOGG: Seem that way…? She deliberately let you overhear a teleconference talking about 600 tons of Nazi gold that didn’t exist, in hopes that you’d put military assets in a Central European mountain valley where her team could jack a Power Cube, and you put military assets in a Central European mountain valley where her team could jack a Power Cube. How is that not the Danger woman conning you?

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: Her plan was unsuccessful. Her team did not…


JASON VAN DER WITTEN: No, sir, she underestimated me. As can be seen in the actual camera footage I have submitted to this subcommittee.

DELEGATE ANSEUER: Wait. You mean where she does the gymnastic routine around the tree limb and kicks you in the…

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: No, ma’am, those graphics were synthesized by sophisticated computer program. They were, as Nikki herself would say, ‘fex’. That is not what actually happened.

SENATOR RAMSHACKLE: So you mean the footage where you shot her.

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: Yes. That is what truly occurred. She took a sudden step towards the edge of the cliff, and knowing how dangerous she was, I shot her twice.

REPRESENTATIVE LOGG: Right, all right, I remember watching that. You shot her…


JASON VAN DER WITTEN: I was on the German fencing team the year she won the gold medal for the United States, sir. The same year she took a silver in gymnastics and martial arts. Yes, I shot her in the back. Twice.

REPRESENTATIVE WAGGONER: And then she went over the cliff…?


DELEGATE ANSEUER: And to date her body has still not been recovered…?

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: Six hundred feet to the valley floor from the point she went over, ma’am. With two bullets in her back. Much of the loose snow at that altitude is thirty, forty meters deep. We may never find her body, but, still…

SENATOR RAMSHACKLE: All right. Never mind. So, you’ve faked the footage where she breaks your neck, and this other thing… where she’s talking about capturing a Power Cube and mass producing it…

REPRESENTATIVE LOGG: I don’t understand it at all. This whole plan. Go over it again. If you release these videos, won’t this make people expect things to change? Get them all riled up? We don’t want them riled up, there’s an election next year…

REPRESENTATIVE WAGGONER: Short term impact of the fake videos will be good. It’ll keep people quiet. But in a year or so when nobody gets any Power Cubes, there’s going to be hell to pay.

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: No, sir. There will be Power Cubes. We’ll leak the videos onto the Internet. Everyone will think Nikki Danger stole a Power Cube and is off somewhere manufacturing more of them for her beloved ‘peepz’. In about ten months, we’ll send a thousand or so ‘home made’ Power Cubes off to various citizens…


JASON VAN DER WITTEN: Not so much. People on the public dole… the permanently disabled, the chronically unemployed… people no one will miss. But people Nikki would have naturally sent the first Cubes to.

SENATOR RAMSHACKLE: The woman was crazy. Pure-d squirrels in the attic hella-bad bold face 24 point font crazy. But all right, as long as productivity won’t be impaired.

REPRESENTATIVE LOGG: I still don’t understand. If a thousand U.S. citizens get Power Cubes… even disabled people, slackers, losers, whatever… I mean, if even one of them has any kind of mechanical aptitude, or access to any kind of decent workshop, they could take it apart themselves. Learn the schematics. It’s lunacy…

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: These Power Cubes won’t work right, ma’am. I mean, they’ll generate power, but they’ll leak hard radiation pretty badly. They’ll need frequent recharging. And a few of them will eventually go critical when recharged.

REPRESENTATIVE WAGGONER: I assume those locations will be selected very carefully, son.

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: Oh, yes, sir. Nothing that will seriously hurt U.S. productivity. And nowhere near any significant populations or landmarks.

SENATOR RAMSHACKLE: So you’ll end up killing… what… do you have casualty estimates?

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: Total – from overload explosions and radiation leaks… no more than a few thousand.


JASON VAN DER WITTEN: Between two and three.

SENATOR RAMSHACKLE: And then… nobody ever trusts Nikki Danger or anyone else in the 'underground' again.

REPRESENTATIVE LOGG: Or wants to have anything to do with a personally owned Power Cube.

DELEGATE ANSEUER: Jesus Christ. That’s…

SENATOR RAMSHACKLE: That’s brilliant, son. Brilliant. This government owes you a huge debt of thanks.

JASON VAN DER WITTEN: Thank you very much, sir.

United Nations Geological Survey, Grid 109.442.21, DAILY REPORT 03/23/39:

Nothing notable in terms of geological deposits.

Discovered human female suffering gunshot, fall trauma, minor frostbite.

Administered first aid.

Subsequent discussions with female contraindicate filing this report electronically.

More to come.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Oh, fuck.

Steve Gerber died.

I can't possibly do it better than (or as well as) so many other more talented people are or will be doing it all over the world, but, still, let me try... it sucks and it hurts to suddenly be in a world without the mind behind Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown... not to mention uniquely brilliant renditions of the Defenders, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Man-Thing, Morbius the Living Vampire, Shanna the She-Devil, and Daredevil, the Man Without Fear.

He even did a comic where the rock group Kiss took on Dr. Doom, and it didn't suck. YOU try pulling that shit off sometime.

It's hard for me to pick a favorite story or comics series or concept by Mr. Gerber. I will say, however, that in a period when I'd grown accustomed to being disappointed whenever one of my Silver Age favorite writers tried to do something in the Modern Age with one of their old characters, Mr. Gerber surprised me very pleasantly with his utterly brilliant early 90s FOOLKILLER miniseries. If only my other 70s icon Steve Englehart had managed to return to any of his old textual turf even half as well with WEST COAST AVENGERS or BIG TOWN or DARK DETECTIVE... ah, but this isn't about that.

It's about one more creative genius going down into the big long endless dark, and how much that sucks to those of us who knew, and loved, his work.

I imagine it must suck much, much worse if you knew Mr. Gerber personally; I understand he was a helluva guy.

Me, I'm just mourning that now, we really never will see any more Gerber MAN-THING or DEFENDERS stories. And most likely, we will never actually find out what the fuck was up with that goddam elf with a gun.

Quote of the day

...well, yesterday, actually:

When Americans can no longer run their cars on a whim, they will simply go apeshit and you can kiss normal politics goodbye.

Jim Kunstler is someone I frequently quote and/or refer to on this blog. He strikes me as having a lot of expertise, in-depth knowledge, and wisdom (not to mention basic writing talent) and that's a combination I find hard to shrug off. Still, he's been dry-washing his hands together and cackling in barely repressed glee over the imminent death of what he calls America's Happy Motoring Utopia for years now and none of his predictions have come true as yet. I have to imagine he wonders why, and here's the answer I would give him, from the far reaches of my own inexpert, completely shallow, utterly non-wise (and not particularly well expressed) foolishness:

Mr. Kunstler, the world people live in is largely subjective, and while I know the merest thought of this drives you crazy, so, too, is the 'science' of economics'. Things are largely what people think they are, and while markets may go up and down and businesses may thrive or fold, nonetheless, if the majority of people in the world do not really believe we are having a crisis, then we are not really having a crisis.

People understand that times are hard when they can't feed their kids any more, or they have to choose between necessities -- you want food on the table this week, you have to short the landlord and hope to dodge the deputies with the eviction notice, or not pay the utility bill and live by candlelight for a while. THAT's when times are hard, THAT's when people start to panic. I don't think the majority of Americans are living that way yet; at the very least, I don't think a significant number of Americans who have been managing to pay all their bills and still eat pretty well have seen that status drop precipitously to this point.

Yeah, everybody is hearing rumblings, and everybody is wondering what comes next... but for now, most people still have money coming in and can still cover their nut.

Times are bad, but what you do not seem to get, Mr. Kunstler, is that most Americans (the Great UnWealthy Class, as it were) honestly believe that times have always BEEN hard for them. You and I know this isn't true, but that's what most of us believe anyway, largely because we have never been able to go out and purchase all the toys that we see our more affluent co-citizens enjoying on TV. So the current coughing and rattling we're hearing in the economy doesn't trouble us much, cuz we think we're tough. When the banks all close and our debit cards don't work any more, when gas hits $4 or $5 a gallon, when the lights go out, when the deputy sheriffs show up to put our shit out on the curb... this is when the American people will finally understand that times really do suck, and all we ever were, really, was rough, tough cream puffs.

Until then, though, most of us will just continue with business as usual, because what the fuck else are we supposed to do? Buy gold? Stock up on emergency rations, guns and ammo? Become insanely religious? Fuck. As long as the TV works and there's something crappy to watch on it, the American Way of Life will remain non-negotiable.

I'm not really being as snarky as I sound; I kinda half believe that the average American's obstreperous capacity to ignore the bugling sounds of impending crisis all around him/her and just keep on truckin' may be our greatest resource for getting through the no-doubt impending calamity. If we continue to just rock on with our bad selves regardless of what tries to tip the boat over, who knows? Maybe our arms will yet hold us safe from a rolling sea... or some shit.

Having said all that, let me hasten to add -- when Americans really can no longer fill up and go wherever the fuck they want whenever the fuck they want in their private automobiles, they (we) will INDEED go apeshit... unless, of course, someone has schooled them (us) to the necessity of embracing other options prior to that point.

I have to hope that, however much they do not want to raise the possibility now (because truth-speaking doomsayers never get elected President), our front running Presidential nominees are aware of this necessity, and making plans to address it once they achieve their desires.

Otherwise, all the wishful thinking in the world will almost certainly not avail us.

Still, I think it can put off the crisis for a little while yet.

Or so I wishfully think, at this point.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Power down

An hour or so after I hung today's posts, our power flickered, all the lights gradually dimmed... and then, went out. Which made me sad.

It also made me a little nervous. Whenever the power goes out, I always wonder, somewhere in the back of my mind, if it's going to come back on again at some point -- or is this it? Has the Apocalypse begun? Will I never post another stupid little thing to my blog? Will I never check my email again? Are the meat-gangs with their stewpots a block up the street and heading my way, chanting "Blood, blood, blood makes the stew sweet"?

Mostly what it did, though, as power outages always do, was cause me to stand just where I was exactly as everything went dark, and say to myself, "Okay, now my world has turned to suck". Because, you know, when you get as much of your life out of those little sockets on the wall as I do, it's kind of bewildering when suddenly, nothing works any more.

I'm better off than many, living in a house with thousands of books, at least 15 of which I haven't read yet and am planning to. Thanks to SuperWife, we have lots and lots of candles, too (but few matches, and the firelighter is nearly out of butane... whoops... well, I never said I was the guy you wanted most to be hanging with in case of sudden emergency...). So if it WERE the Apocalypse, we'd do a little bit better than some, for a little while... but in the end, I expect I'd be going into that stewpot.

Well, it might buy some time for SuperWife and the kids to beat it out the back door.

However, the lights came back on three hours later, so, once again, at least for a while, all is well.

Kicking over milestones

BTW, apparently 'Stylin', a few posts back, was my 500th post. I noted to myself a while back (around 488) that the 500 thing was coming up, then promptly forgot about it until a minute or so ago, when I was checking SuperWife's blog and saw she'd noted one of her own blogiversaries.

For whatever it's worth, while the first post on this blog is dated 11/10/05, it's a reprint of a post from 10/21/05 from this blog's precursor, which went by the same name but which I had set up using Angelfire's blogshell. THAT blog apparently started up on 10/21/05, so... well, as with nearly everything I do, ultimately, it's all debatable. Still, it would seem I have a three year blogoversary coming up next autumn on some date or another, and I passed my two year last October or November, depending on how you want to count.

How time flies when you're winging rapidly towards the grav... er... having fun! Yes, that's what I meant. O'course, o'course. ::coughing::

Gone away is the bluebird

All of Kentucky and Southern Indiana has been under a major winter storm warning for the past 15 hours or so. Last night around 4 pm flurries began to flake down slowly; by six o'clock, this had turned into a pretty serious snowfall. We probably picked up four inches overnight.

Now, I grew up in New York State. My childhood was spent moving around from one tiny little town to another in Western New York, and then I went to Syracuse NY to go to college and stayed there nearly 20 years (arriving there in September of 79 and moving away again in August of 1997). From Syracuse I went to Florida to begin a period of involuntary exile from all that is right and good in this world that lasted until 2005, when SuperWife (then SuperGirlfriend) came down and rescued me.

So I've seen the extremes. In New York State, especially Western New York or Syracuse, nobody would even notice 4 inches of snow in February, especially since it would most likely just be another four inches sitting on top of the two or three feet that have been out there since late November. The roads would already be being regularly plowed and salted. People would grumble their way out of bed, snarl a few sleepy obscenities when they saw they had to brush off their car, do so, and roll off to work. No biggie.

In Florida -- well, in my time in Florida, I was never lucky enough to see snow, although I badly, badly wanted to. But, nonetheless, I became experienced enough with the Florida emotional gestalt to know that if four inches of snow ever blanketed Florida, there would be catastrophic panic. People would be out looting with torches in their hands, tittering maniacally, convinced that it was the end of the world. One inch of snow down there would be a cataclysm of Old Testament proportions; the braver people would all die in flaming highway pile ups, while the majority of the population remained huddled in their homes and waited for the Evil White Shit to go away. (None of this applies to kids, who would be outside running around in the shit whooping their heads off because they have only ever seen snow before on TV and when they go visit relatives who live in New England. And then they'd be down for a week with colds and/or pneumonia, because nobody in Florida owns mittens, hats, scarves, or cold weather boots.)

River City hits somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. They get maybe one significant snowfall a year, if that, so nobody here buys (or sells) snow tires or tire chains, and there isn't much business done in winter recreation items that require snow, like sleds or snowmobiles. As such, River City denizens never really learn how to drive in snow. (And, like everybody else in places where they never really learn to drive in snow at all, the vast majority of these people can't drive for shit in the rain, either. It always amazed me how much traffic slowed down in Florida when it rained, and the same thing happens here, and I finally figured out why -- if you never learn to drive in snow, you will never learn to be complacent about driving in rain. One is apparently a necessary precursor of the other.)

According to SuperWife (who drives in both snow and rain quite adeptly, but (a) SuperWife is super-competent at nearly everything, she's like a Real Life Heinlein Woman, and how she got stuck with Your Humble Narrator The Clueless Floundering Geek Boy I still cannot figure out, and (b) Super-Wife is also a Yankee by birth, so, y'know, she's got that going for her, which is nice), River City used to be nearly as hapless in the face of any kind of accumulation of snow as Florida. However, a few years ago, a major snowfall utterly paralyzed the city, and UPS, which is like the local mob around here, threatened to relocate their Midwest hub if River City didn't get its goddam act together as regards keeping the streets clear in crappy weather. So River City clicked its heels together, screamed "JAWOHL, MEIN FUHRER!" and bought up a fleet of heavy duty snowplows and salt spreaders. So, now, when an inch or two of snow falls overnight, the local populace has found it in themselves to man the fuck up and deal with it. Kind of. As best they can, y'know, without snowtires or chains.

However, when the weather report predicts four to six inches of snow overnight, you can hear panic in every newscaster's voice and see a tiny, flickering, semi-hysterical light dancing in the back of every native or longtime local's eyes -- the "Is it time to go crazy and tear down civilization in a frenzy of plunder, pillage, rapine, and arson?" lamp has been lit for all these mooks, and while it starts out blinking at yellow, all it will take is one horrified shriek of "OHMYGOD THERE ARE NO -- MORE -- HO-HOS!!!!" at a local market for the bloodbath to begin.

So if you're wise, you monitor weather reports closely in winter and tornado season, nip out to the market early when there's a storm predicted(hopefully, while most people are still at work) to lay in staples (I slogged over at 4 yesterday afternoon as we needed milk, bread, and a few other sundries; there was an undercurrent of mob hysteria in the gathering crowd, but it was still well under control and I got in and out pretty quickly, all things considered), and then you lie back at home, one eye on the TV, the other cocked for the sound of angry mobs or insane, gibbering shrieks out your window.

And you, for the love of God, Montresor, keep your powder dry.

So, as I said, we got four inches of snow last night, which has pretty much paralyzed the city... local schools are closed, along with a great many local businesses, and the businesses that are open are all running on a two hour delay. But plows and salt trucks are running and the streets seem passable -- SuperWife went off to work today and apparently had little trouble getting in (but most people will be off the streets, and the new minivan has front wheel drive, which is a big help). I guess that's a big change from the way it would have been here, say, six years ago, after four inches of snow overnight.

However, it's now raining gently outside, and then supposed to crash back down to around 18 degrees, so, you know, things are likely to get really really messy again...

The kids are over at their Bio-Dad's this week, which is never a happy occasion for us here anyway, and it's especially not when they have a snow day, as there's always an enjoyable feeling of shared disaster and snug indoor warmth when we're all together on a day like this.

Ah, well.

I've shoveled the back and front steps, the front walk, and spent about ten minutes clearing off the minivan for SuperWife this morning. I'm thinking my work here is done.

Now for a hot shower and some breakfast.

Monday, February 11, 2008

State of the Primary

Bopping around the usual poli-blogs I pay attention to (Washington Monthly, Unqualified Offerings, Talking Points Memo, This Modern World, and a few others I'm too lazy to type in right now), I'm getting a sense that the liberal/progressive blogosphere is sharply divided as regards the potential role of superdelegates in deciding who the Democratic nominee for President is going to be.

One group is outraged, outraged at the notion that the Democratic Party's convention superdelegates might possibly swing the nomination to a candidate that the majority of voters in Democratic primaries and caucuses did not vote for. Mind you, the superdelegates have been part of every nominating process since the 1980 election and they haven't seemed to bother anyone to date, but, well, we haven't had a Democratic primary this close in all that time, either, so the superdelegates weren't really a factor. Now that they might be, a great many people are extremely upset about the possibility.

The other group is pretty much complacent about it -- yeah, the superdelegates can vote for any candidate they want to regardless of how the various votes in the various primaries and caucuses came out, but, y'know, don't sweat it, that's what the whole superdelegate idea was formulated for in the first place; this is the system, just sit back and relax and let it work itself out.

Here's what I'm noticing, though, and maybe it's just me, but, still, so far, this seems a reliable observation --

If you're deeply, deeply upset that the superdelegates might vote for a candidate who did not win the majority of the primary votes, then, well, you're an Obama supporter.

On the other hand, if you feel that all is copacetic and the system is fine and the superdelegates should be free to vote for whomever they think would make the best Democratic nominee for President, well -- chances seem pretty good you're wearing a Clinton button on your beanie.

Funny how that works.

It's ridiculous to think that this has anything to do with any sort of completely unfounded yet deep seated, nearly instinctive foreboding that the Clintons have long ago sewn up the superdelegate vote... right?

Yeah, that's just silly.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings goes all plaintive over those who criticize Barack Obama on the grounds that he's all talk, no action:

I came to Obama by an unusual route: as I explained here, I follow some issues pretty closely, and over and over again, Barack Obama kept popping up, doing really good substantive things. There he was, working for nuclear non-proliferation and securing loose stockpiles of conventional weapons, like shoulder-fired missiles. There he was again, passing what the Washington Post called "the strongest ethics legislation to emerge from Congress yet" -- though not as strong as Obama would have liked. Look -- he's over there, passing a bill that created a searchable database of recipients of federal contracts and grants, proposing legislation on avian flu back when most people hadn't even heard of it, working to make sure that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were screened for traumatic brain injury and to prevent homelessness among veterans, successfully fighting a proposal by the VA to reexamine all PTSD cases in which full benefits had been awarded, working to ban no-bid contracts in Katrina reconstruction, and introducing legislation to criminalize deceptive political tactics and voter intimidation...

...Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard people saying that Obama wasn't "substantive". It was exactly like my experience in 2004 when, after hearing Wes Clark for the first time, I went and looked up his positions on a whole host of issues of concern to me, and only then started reading media accounts of him in which I "learned" that no one knew what his positions were.

As some of my students would say: I was like, wtf?

I've been making the point in conversation (it's not original to me, and I'd credit wherever I saw it first if I could remember it right now) that Obama is the Ronald Reagan of the 2008 election season -- he's all about emotionally stirring, even inspiring rhetoric that, unfortunately, seems to have little or no actual semantic value. "Yes we can!" and "Change we can believe in" strike me as little more than liberal/progressive flourishes rung on Reagan's "It's morning in America".

And, okay, I can see that Obama has some substance to him, even given his relatively short career in politics to date. What I can't see, though, is how he's using the enormous media attention generated by his Presidential campaign to address any of the truly urgent, truly global issues confronting every living being currently drawing breath or in some way processing energy on the planet today. Just one example of this is Obama's energy policy, as explained in this speech he gave in 2006. Dewey scholar/ecoblogger "David Roberts" advises that he thinks this is a 'pretty ballsy' speech and rejoices that "That man's got a pair, you gotta give him that" (perhaps underscoring the huge fundamental perceptual disadvantage Hillary Clinton has in this election, but never mind that for now)... but in point of fact, as an energy policy, this is all worthless feel-good Hollywood happy ending bullshit.

Obama calls for a much more marked increase in the fuel efficiency of American manufactured motor cars. He wants more hybrids, and he especially wants to see more production of alternative biofuels. Which is to say, this is more of what James Kunstler might call Happy Motoring horseshit.

Like every other ambitious politician out there, Obama is paralyzed by the thought of trying to tell the truth to the American electorate. The simple, brutal, horrible, unacceptable, unavoidable truth is, we have to change our way of living, because the cheap energy is running out. America uses up a massively disproportionate amount of the world's available consumables, especially petroleum derivatives and natural gas. And we are going to have to stop. If we don't, the rest of the world will do its level best to make us, and if it turns out they can't (and global civilization survives that eventual determination), well, eventually (not far in the future, at the rate we suck it down) the oil is all going to run out, anyway.

I can certainly understand why Obama is all style, no substance when it comes to, well, substantial issues. And, certainly, a Reaganite circa 1980, confronted with someone criticizing his or her candidate on the basis of what seemed like a lot of high falutin', pretty soundin', but ultimately empty rhetoric, might well shoot back that Reagan's two terms as governor were full of substantial political accomplishments -- Reagan legalized 'therapeutic abortion' in California (something he claimed forever afterward he regretted), he sent in the Highway Patrol and the National Guard to break up student protests in Berkeley, resulting in one student death and hundreds of injuries, he spoke out strongly in opposition to what he saw as excessive Federal tax rates and social spending, and in favor of capital punishment.

Yet what Reagan did not say when he was running for President in 1979 was, "I'll cut your taxes, eviscerate social spending, and, at the same time, run up historic deficits by increasing America's defense budget 40%." The first two would have sounded very good to both economic and social conservatives; the last one, however, would have probably lost him some votes among everyone but service members, their families, and defense contractors. Had Reagan also admitted that there was a very good chance his economic policies would result in the national unemployment rate rising from an unpleasantly high 7% to a staggering 10.8%, he most likely would have lost the votes of everyone in the country making less than $40,000 per year... and with them, the election.

Similarly, there is a reason Obama does not specifically and substantively address extremely serious problems like the global energy crisis, preferring instead to focus on stirring sounding but still essentially trivial microissues like weapons regulation, government corruption, and the welfare of our military veterans. And there's also a reason why, when he does address energy issues, he does it with half truths and half measures. Just as with Reagan, if Obama were to tell the whole truth about these issues, and what measures will really have to be taken to deal with them, it would cost him votes... in fact, were Obama to ever publicly state "Here's some change you can believe in -- if we want to survive as a species on this globe, Americans are going to have to give up our private automobiles, rebuild and substantially expand our mass transit systems, and stop wasting so much of the world's irreplaceable resources. Which means we have to eat healthier, exercise more, and stop using so much electricity" it would certainly cost him the election.

So I can understand why Obama prefers high flown elocution to talking about the actual nuts and bolts of tough policies that will not be even remotely popular with the American people.

Nonetheless, whether I understand it or not, whether it's justifiable or not, it's still valid to say that Obama avoids talking about substantive policy by substituting stirring rhetoric... and pointing to his past legislative record and saying "Look, look, he really has done stuff" isn't going to change that.