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Friday, September 02, 2005


Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I'm not wrong... this feeling's gettin' stronger
The longer, I stay away
Miss them moss covered vines...the tall sugar pines
Where mockin' birds used to sing
And I'd like to see that lazy Mississippi...hurryin' into spring
--Louis Armstrong

One of our best friends moved to New Orleans last year to start a new chapter in her life. On Sunday she left with her two cats, three changes of clothes and her laptop. Everything else is out of her reach, quite possibly gone forever. And she was lucky.

Right now on the Gulf Coast, food rots in dead refrigerators while dead people rot in attics or float down the streets. Babies and old people die for lack of water in makeshift shelters, untended by supposed authorities. The families I saw marching joyfully in a second line parade last winter may be dead or dying I as write this.

Five years of naked corrpution and craven incompetence at the highest levels of government have shown us over and over again: a government that makes all of its decisions based on that day's crassest politics ignores its responsibility--and negates its ability--to plan for the days ahead. 9/11. Iraq. New Orleans. Same shit, different day. Politicians are now circling the wagons, congratulating each other for doing too little too late, claiming that no one could have forseen what has in fact been forseen by responsible scientists and bureaucrats for decades. Of course those irresponsible should be held to account and punished. Bush's plunging poll numbers on his disaster response, and the news media's increasing disgust with governmental blame-shifting, dissembling and outright lying indicate that perhaps, just maybe, there really will be an accounting this time.

We'll see. For now, donate to the Red Cross here. It certainly can't hurt.

Meanwhile, our friend is hanging in there. She has her job, which thankfully wasn't based in New Orleans. She's found a place to live for now. She has her pets, and her life. But every day she's torn by thoughts of the people who couldn't get out, and haunted by what she may have lost--photo albums, books, new friends, a community. As a nation, we haven't even begun to understand what's gone missing.

Thursday, September 01, 2005



A couple of weeks ago, Vermont alt-weekly Seven Days got a letter ripping their publication of Burlington cartoonist James Kochalka's dialy diary comic strip, American Elf. For the past two weeks, they've run responses, including one I, ahem, find particularly insightful. Possibly even trenchant.

And good god, that's an assload of diapers.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Number 1 Asian Big-Boob Queen

Okay, to get why this was the strangest phone call I've received in a loooong time, you have to know who Minka is. Those who have heard "Loveline", the nationally syndicated sex/drugs/love advice call-in radio show, may be familiar with the predilection one of the hosts, Adam Carolla, has for the porno films of a woman named Minka. Apparently she's been a guest as well and at some point in her appearance she pointed out that she is the "number one Asian big-boob queen." I'm willing to bet that English is not her first language and the accent makes this already impressive statement all the more entertaining. Anyhow, that's the background. I leave Minka's actual appearance up to your imagination or googling.

So, this afternoon I got a call from a guy asking if I had received a delivery sent by Minka from Hollywood. Visions of a giant Asian brassiere danced in my head. Actually, I said (cleverly), "What?" Then he asked to speak to Rosemary because the delivery was really for her. Now I knew I had gone crazy, because at 4 days old Rosemary is a little young to be accepting gifts from known pornographers. Next thing you know Karl Hungus will be coming over for play date!

Ultimately it turned out that we were the grateful recipients of a gift even better than a vast eastern hooter-holder. My mother-in-law's friends Kurt (works at Minka lighting) and Richard sent Rosemary what appears to be a lifetime supply of diapers via a carrier named "Hollywood". Very good service, by the way. If you're looking to send someone a pallet of diapers give them a call.


Why can't he be both, like the late Earl Warren?

Just had a baby on Saturday, but I still can't help thinking about the recent inter-blogger fighting I've been following regarding the now infamous book, The Bell Curve. The arguments remain the same as when the book came out: the book either represents a laudably fearless confrontation of racial questions we all have in our minds but are too uncomfortable to discuss, or it's a thinly veiled racist tract that tries to revive the grotesque beliefs of the eugenicists using more up-to-date sounding language.

After a few semesters of statistics in college, I know just enough to know that I have no business trying to decide whether the methodology used by the authors is valid or not. However, I do have a strong opinion about how this book and the questions it raises are fuel for the casual racism that corrupts our social interactions across racial lines.

What I worry about is the bias toward binary thinking in our society. That is, that any observation made implicitly expresses a belief about a matching opposite. Like how Abbott and Costello form a matched pair, Abbott tall and thin, Costello short and fat. They've got the poles covered.

This becomes pernicious when ascribing "virtues" to entire classes of people by race. I usually notice this in connection with stories whites tell each other and themselves about blacks. Even the black/white matchup feeds into the dynamic - matched opposites. Someone will spout off about how blacks are naturally good dancers, athletes, musicians, etc. Perhaps they'll include some scientific-sounding explanation having to do with muscle fiber density, hyper-extension of the joints, or whatever.

What's the harm? I always hear the harm in the paired opposite that's floating around in the back of my head. "Naturally" for example. Doesn't that imply an unearned characteristic? If I study classical guitar from early childhood and laboriously perfect my technique would you be insulting me to call me a "natural"? Even worse, the set of virtues typically carved out for blacks are all physical with an implied mental "opposite". Sure, you can have a black football star, but he'd never have the mental capacity to coach - too much strategy involved. That's what I hear when the supposed black virtues are identified.

I think that as one takes the time to look for these false pairings, it becomes evident that they're all around us - an implied subtext to so many conversations we have with ourselves and others. The racial/ethnic context is the one that really bothers me, but you can certainly end up limiting your own ability to consider any question by forcing it into an on/off or good/bad pairing.

When I find myself slipping into this kind of thinking, I just ask myself, "Do you want your son to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or a sleazy male stripper?" Not a bad question to ask yourself.


Jack Kirby Haiku Wednesday

The King would have been 88 this past Sunday.

“Gone, gone, form of man
Rise the demon, Etrigan”
thus woke the devil

all creatures fear the
Ultimate Nullifier—
even Galactus

the comics moved on
so Jack went west, toward Thundarr
and Ookla the Mok

Tuesday, August 30, 2005



Comic book artist (Swamp Thing, Tyrant) and horror film/comic/book expert Steve Bissette has a new blog, after an extended absence from the net. His initial posts detail the 24-hour comic challenge hosted by the local art museum here in Brattleboro, VT this past weekend. 49 attendees spent 24 hours together each making their own 24 page comic books--reported to be one of the biggest events of its kind ever. Bissette lives in the area, is the second artist to complete a 24-hour comic (in 1990 on a dare from fellow cartoonist and 24-hour comic challenge inventor Scott McCloud) and gave opening/closing remarks at the Brattleboro event. No, I didn't participate, and yes I'm a chump.

Monday, August 29, 2005


1975: The Legend

There's a Simpsons Comic Book Guy love-at-first-sight story associated with this comic, involving a four-year-kid, a barber shop and a small town, all lit by the hazy glow of nostalgia. I'll spare you the pain of that, but I do want to talk about the book itself, Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth #29.

There are better comics. More skillfully drawn, more elegantly written, featuring more profound, subtle statements about the human condition. However, none of them feature a tribe of gorillas fighting across a post-apocalyptic landscape for the right to wear Superman's costume. Ah, Jack Kirby.

Just look at the cover. The bright red logo leaps out from the deep purple masthead that takes up the top third of the book, as comic covers were designed back then for maximum visibility on spinner racks and newsstand shelves. Patented Kirby Copy that I couldn't quite read at age four screams "When the Great Disaster had destroyed all else--his name was still alive--The Legend!" Below, in the background, you have Kamandi wrestling a mad, underwear-sporting gorilla in what looks like the heart of a volcano. But what draws your eye is what's in the foreground; the prototypical superhero's costume hanging from a cave wall--wrinkled, slightly off-model for the DC house style, and mysteriously empty.

Now, Kamandi was a picaresque. Each issue, in his aimless quest to survive, he would stumble across a new species of intelligent animal--lion game wardens, tiger armies, on and on. In this particular issue, he encounters a cult of apes who have passed down Superman's clothing as a kind of four-color Shroud of Turin. They worship Superman's story, but through the mists and half-truths of oral history, the details and even the basic point have become very fuzzy. They worship Superman's feats, but not their meaning. Accordingly, the gorillas have organized their society into ritualized reenactments of Superman's powers; pushing giant stones, taking mighty leaps, etc. Contrivance forces Kamandi to compete against an aggressive gorilla for his life and the right to the costume. He survives thanks to his wits and the help of his astronaut friend, the humanoid "mutant" Ben Boxer.

Much of the comic is the standard Kamandi formula, the power of which was recently decoded by Tom Spurgeon. But there's something about that empty suit that, for me anyway, gets straight to the heart of superheroes, their appeal, and how they've gone off the rails in the last couple of decades. There's the joy of absurd ideas, leavened with a sadness represented by the hollowness of that image--a Superman costume with no one inside. He's gone, likely dead fighting against whatever "Great Disaster" turned the world upside down. Yet there's his suit, his memory kept alive in a completely different context. The story is there, but it has been misinterpreted by an audience it was never meant for.

These days, DC Comics pitches its old kids concepts towards 35-year-olds by injecting a psychological pseudo-realism and grisly violence into characters not designed to bear those burdens. As fans lap up fin-headed super rape in satellites 23,000 miles above sea level, that costume and those misguided apes seem somehow prescient. Any given issue of Superman of Batman today is a 22-page empty suit, showing the same ritualized reenactments divorced from a context in which they make emotional or literal sense. And a readership of aging apes deludes themselves into thinking that increasingly terse violence approaching nilhism is sophistication. I recently read a high-profile DC comic which consisted entirely of one group of supervillains brutally torturing another group of supervillains, page after page. It was well-written and drawn for what it was, and may even be a commentary, if a shallow one, on the Gitmo-izing of our society. But still, it's a 22-page torture story packaged as cheap thrills for mainstream audiences. It makes me uneasy to see such deliberate, delineated cruelty become our casual entertainment. Call it the hazy glow of nostalgia, and I suppose it is, but I don't get that feeling from Kirby's Kamandi.

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