Friday, April 30, 2010

I'm back

Well, the family and I spent the last few days in Pigeon Forge doing Smoky Mountainy things. You'd know this if you were my Facebook friend.

We did not do Dollywood. The weather was too bad on the days we had considered going. We did wind up going to the Comedy Barn (much funnier than I anticipated) and going to Wonderworks. Wonderworks was a bit of a disappointment to me, but the kids loved it, so, it was worth the time. We also drove through Cades Cove - which was just amazing. We also took a quick drive through Gatinburg and discovered why everyone wants to go there.

I think the biggest lesson learned is that there are probably more timeshare agencies per capita in the Smoky Mountain area than anywhere else on Earth. I also learned that I really should have taken today off too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The game is called SlugBUG for a reason, folks

What the hell is up with this “red one,” “blue one” Volkswagon commercial shit? I hadn’t thought about slugbug in years. Decades. Then this freaking semi-funny commercial comes on and they’re all “red one,” and we’re all “Yes, Mr. Wonder, you’re right,” even though it's a yellow cab.

Because of this commercial, my kids have picked up the habit. My middle child, Daughter Number 2, has developed the ability to pick out a Volkswagon with laser accuracy. She keys in on them in a 360-degree perimeter before anyone even realizes their approach. “White one!” she yells and smacks someone. I think she’d make a hell of a forward observer.

I can’t stand this though. First, I don’t like the kids hitting each other. Not in the car anyway. It just makes them too angry at each other and it gets too noisy too fast. Mostly, though, I hate the fact that they’ve perverted the game of slugbug. Think back, folks, you didn’t smack your best pal remorselessly on the arm when you saw a Mircrobus or a Rabbit; no, you saved the best, knuckle-forward smacks for when you caught the rare, faded orange VW Bug puttering ‘round a corner. It was never (or rarely) a free-for-all. It was a rare thing.

So, DN2 asks, “Why does it have to be a slugbug?” My wife answers, “Because your father doesn’t like change.”

Pshaw. I am fine with change. I just respect tradition.

UPDATE: FYI, this "punch dub" nonsense must be stopped.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Michael Yon and Milbloggers: A growing chasm

It’s really sad to see what’s happening between Michael Yon and a variety of military bloggers out there. If you’re not up-to-speed on what’s going on, I suggest reading this post at Blackfive, this one by Grayhawk and even looking up Michael Yon’s Facebook page for some perspective on what everyone’s talking about.

I wish I was better informed about what’s all going on, but all I really know is this: Michael’s been really critical of Gen McChrystal and of PAOs. He’s been “disembedded” from a recent embed and lays that blame squarely on the PAO. But this isn’t the first time this has happened (in fact, if Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive is to be believed, this was the fourth time he’s been disembedded). I remember reading some time ago about his getting pulled from an embed and he blamed the PAO then. I also remember him cutting into the PAO for not providing adequate facilities for journalists.

When I first read his dispatches about this first disembed, I just kind of wrote it all off. I was a bit upset about his rough treatment of PAOs (hey, being one, it’s hard not to side with your occupational brethren), but I figured it’d been a pissy experience for him and I let it go. However, his Facebook posts over the last month or so have just been wild. He refers to all the PAOs in-country as “crazy monkeys” and says that Gen. McChrystal “needs to be watched.”

I don’t know where Michael is coming from on a lot of this. I respect everything he’s done. I think he’s a hell of a patriot and a hell of a photojournalist. However this all seems so out of character. I get that he might have had one bad experience with on bad PAO – but four freaking times? That just doesn’t make sense. And how can every PAO in country be against you?

There are several milbloggers who have written to and about Michael’s recent FB postings. A lot of folks are reaching out to him; asking him to take a look at what he’s doing and what he’s writing. But there are a lot of folks who are coming to Michael’s defense. It’s sad. I can only comment on what I see and it looks like Michael’s in the wrong here, but all this is really going to do is further factionalize the folks out there who are trying their damnedest to provide us information about our War. That’s the shame, regardless of who’s right or wrong.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks

A fun, fast-paced, campy adventure in WWII-era England.

The Doctor has been summoned to England by Winston Churchill, but when he arrives it’s a month after the prime minister made his call. In that time, an English scientist has created a devastating new weapon – the ironsides which look suspiciously like a Dalek. Of course it’s all a Dalek plot and their scheme winds up firmly planting the Daleks back into the Doctor Who continuum without having to keep coming up with rebirth storylines.

There are tons of nods to Star Wars in this episode. Spitfire planes in space attacking a large spacecraft, an android who gets his hand blown off – there’s a lot of fun going on here.

Also interesting to this episode is how Amy Pond once again swoops in to save the day. Producer Stephen Moffat has talked about how fifth Doctor Peter Davison is his favorite and how we’d see a return to this style somewhat – given how prominent companions were to the fifth, it makes perfect sense to see Amy having a very active role in things.

That said, next week’s episode is one I’m really looking forward to. We’re getting a return of the angel statues from Blink.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kick-Ass: Meh, it was OK

I started reading the Kick-Ass comic series when it came out in 2008 because it was All. Anyone. Was. Talking. About. I swear, I couldn’t put up with another, “This is the story of what would happen if a kid REALLY put on a costume and tried to fight crime!!!!oneone!gasm!” No. It’s not. It’s a slightly more realistic story about a kid who decides to put on a costume and see what would happen if he tries to fight crime. By slightly I mean that the story should have ended shortly after his first encounter.

So, I can’t really do a decent review of this movie without giving too much away. So, for those who don’t want SPOILERS I’ll just leave it at this: If you like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez movies and aren’t bothered by that level of violence and profanity, you’ll be fine with this movie. If those things bother you, avoid this movie. Now, for the rest of you, there are SPOILERS below:

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

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There are three big problems with the movie Kick-Ass. The first problem is that you have to greatly suspend your disbelief for the central thesis to work. Two, as I said above, the kid should not have survived his first encounter. Three, it’s nowhere near as good as the comics are.

The primary story focuses on 16-year-old David Lizewski, a comic-book geek in a single-parent household who decides to start wearing a costume (a wet suit) and see what he can do to fight crime. So far so good – this isn’t too far out there. There are plenty of comic readers who want to do this. But on his first real trip out, David runs across a pair of hooligans who are trying to steal a car. When he tried to fight them, he winds up getting his own ass kicked and stabbed in the stomach. After the stabbing, he stumbles into the street where he is hit by a car (the driver of which promptly drives away). In the comic and movie, he survives. His body is put back together and in a few months he’s pretty much as good as new. Heck, in some ways better – he’s only got about 15% of the feeling left in most of his body.

I’m not saying that a person could not have survived what happened to the character, but it would have been a hell of a long shot. On top of that, to make a full recovery is beyond disbelief. So, there are problems one and two – you have to believe that not only does this kid survive, but that his injuries provide him with “special” properties – metal plates and pins “protect” him rather than hinder (like they do to every other person who’s ever had a pin or plate) and the numbness means he can take a hell of a punishment. But, hey, it’s a movie. In fact, it’s a comic-book movie. We can write all that off.

Problem three is a bit more detailed. See, in the comics, David gets the hell kicked out him, winds up falling in with these two other costumed characters – Big Daddy and Hit Girl – and barely survives taking on the mob. When all is said and done, his life as David does not change. He’s the same person. His second life had some unintended consequences on his civilian life, but not so much that he became anything more than he was before. However, in the movie, it is completely due to his Kick-Ass alter-ego that he becomes a cool guy and is eventually able to hook up with the girl of his dreams. There’s a happily ever after ending that just doesn’t exist in the comics. Not like it’s presented in the movie, anyway.

The other issue with the comics vs. movie is that all the primary characters in the comics have pathos. We understand their motivations or we’re at least given enough to identify in some way with why these things are happening. It’s even heavier for a comics reader, I think. The movie doesn’t give us this. Rather, we’re fed some pap that’s as clich├ęd as every other action-comedy out there.

This following comparison and contrast, to me, illustrates the difference in the execution and mentality between the two. In both the comics and the movie, David Lizewski is infatuated with his classmate Katie Deauxma. Katie is an attractive popular girl who doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. After the mugging and car accident, though, Katie is suddenly chatting him up and wanting to have coffee with him. He eventually finds out it’s because everyone at school thinks he’s gay and that Katie has made him her gay best friend. David wants her so bad that he doesn’t deny, goes along with it just to spend time with her. Now, in the movie, he eventually gets fed up and appears to her as Kick-Ass only to unmask, apologize, almost leave, but then be welcomed into her bed. They wind up hooking up and becoming a couple. It winds up being a primary motivation for him in the movie. This happens to him about 3/4 into the film. In the comics, David ALMOST approaches Katie as Kick-Ass. He stands in the Alley below her window and yells out to her, but before she can show up, he runs away. She catches a glimpse of him running away. At the VERY END of the book, he finally comes clean to her and she is so offended that she has her new boyfriend kick his ass. She and her friends send him abusive text messages and she even sends him a sexually explicit photo of her with her boyfriend.

The comic book ending seems like something that’s more likely to happen in real life. It doesn’t make you feel good inside, but it rings more true. There was no catharsis to David’s stupidity. Not in the comics anyway.

Hit Girl was great though. They pinned her character to a tee. The movie’s worth seeing for her alone.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taxed enough already

Yeah, yeah, think what you will of all the word associations that have been made recently to TEA Parties, but I count myself among them ideologically. The point I disagree with them on, though, is the "taxed enough" part. I mean, it makes for a catchy acronym, but I think the "enough" bit needs to be fleshed out some. I think it needs to be further nuanced - we need to be taxed fairly. I don't mean that in some hipply, lib, commie way, so hear me out.

I earn a little bit more than the U.S. median income, but because I am married, have three kids and am a homeowner, I actually get a refund on my taxes. Here's the rub, though, I didn't pay any federal taxes. Why do I get a refund? Of course, I'm a hypocrite. Although I'm disturbed by the fact that the government's giving me money for nothing, I willingly take it. In principle, it's wrong though.

So that's what I'm getting at. If we (the big, national we, that is) didn't pay out to folks like me who live at a certain income level and still qualify for refunds, we'd probably lop off a good bit of fiscal expenditures.

The second TEA Party ideology I want to talk about is one with which I'm completely on board: responsible spending. You can go ahead an talk about how bad the Republicans were with spending during Bush's administration and you'd be completely right. For those of us fiscal conservatives, it made us sick to see the fed grow and grow. It hurts people's feelings when we say that we can't or won't provide a service they want or that we have been providing, but the simple truth is that until we get our deficit under control, we have to reign in spending.

Although I won't be out carrying a sign today, I am with my countrymen in spirit.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Doctor Who: The Beast Below

The second episode featuring our new Doctor sees he and Amy Pond visiting a space-bound England (literally a flying megalopolis) 1,000 years in the future. Of course, strange things are afoot. The pace is high, the setting is amazing and the quotable quotes are a-plenty. Amy Pond really came into her own as a character this week. I was wondering last week. It wasn’t that she was bad, but just didn’t really stand out. Her role last week was (understandably) a far second to the new Doctor. This week she settles into her normal companion role and does an admirable job of it.

I love it when the Doctor episodes keep a good pace where so you’re never wondering when the episode’s going to move along. I also like it when they don’t get too preachy. This ep cruised along wonderfully and didn’t venture too far into preachy land like the majority of last year’s specials did.

Matt Smith again, proves that he’s the right man for this job. I just hope he chooses to stick around for a few years.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Eleventh Hour



Wibbly-wobbly, timey, wimey, indeed! The Doctor returned recently with Matt Smith taking the mantle in the longest-running science fiction series. I admit, I was rather skeptical about him. His age - he's just too young for the part! His looks - he just didn't seem right. But as soon as he climbed out of a tipped-over TARDIS, he was immediately the Doctor. It was like when Tom Baker finally stepped out the TARDIS in his long coat and scarf - he became THE Doctor. I haven't had an immediate reaction like that until this episode with Smith. Which is exactly what the series has needed.

David Tennant admirably stepped into the role after Christopher Eccleston revived the character in 2005. Eccleston was, to me, the very embodiment of what the Doctor could be. He added both an edge and a sophistication to the role that hadn't existed since John Pertwee rangled the time tubes back in the 70s. Tennant was a different Doctor than Eccleston and, at first, that really upset me. I still have problems with, but I admit that Tennant's run became quite good. His supporting cast was stellar and he shined even when the scripts did not - and those scripts increasingly worsened toward the end of his tenure. Still he rose above them and owned every scene. It was sad to see him go.

If you haven't seen The Eleventh Hour yet, you're in for quite a treat. Much has been made about the Doctor's new companion Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillan), and there's no denying that she's an attractive young lady. In my opinion, the jury's still out on how much she'll add or detract from the show. In the episode the character appears as both a young girl and her current-day self. It's probably not saying much for Gillan that the young Amelia Pond stole co-star spotlight. I still have hope for Gillan though. It's not that she came across poorly or anything, it's just that the pacing of the show didn't really allow her the opportunity to do anything other than be very reactionary. This episode belonged to Smith's Doctor and he took possession with style.

Watch it for yourself and see. I think we're in for quite the treat with this Doctor and this Season. Many of our favorite baddies are returning. Don't blink or you might miss 'em ;)

LOST: Final Season: The episode that aired last night

Good to see Desmond back, always like his character.

For the life of me, I can't remember if they explicitly said that Faraday was Widmore's son last season, but they made it painfully clear well before they dropped it on us.

I couldn't stop saying - "See what we did there? Aw, yeah, we flipped that bitch" because that's what last night's show was all about.

Even though every single they did last night was easily spotted well before they executed it, it was played out very well.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I sold out long before you ever even heard my name

Yesterday, reading Cara Ellison’s blog, she made a quick comment about “selling out” on a post about Kurt Cobain.

Selling out … it’s something I’ve been trying to describe and define, mostly to myself … to attribute some kind of qualification or quantification to for some time. And I’m really just talking about music though the term applies across the creative spectrum – music is where most people apply it.

For a long time I have said that selling out is when a musician or band stops making music for the purpose of making music. It’s always been an oversimplification, but the obvious implication is that the artist(s) is now putting profit before creativity. And while that may be true in some cases, I’ve always had a problem with it because I DON’T really have a problem with people making money. In fact, I think it’s kind of crazy to expect someone to go out and make a product – consumable or no – and expect them to not want to make money from it.

So, I’m tossing out my previous definition. Instead, I lit upon something yesterday when I was mulling this over. I think the best simple description of selling out is when an artist starts “phoning it in.” When the music starts to lack passion and it seems as though they’re only going through the motions – that’s selling out.

To me, it’s kind of like Kevin Spacey is to acting. A lot of people like Kevin Spacey’s acting. I would go as far to say that most people think he’s a rather good actor. I would be one of those people. I think Spacey is capable of being a really good actor. He has all the requisite skills. He has shown in some of his films that he can really embody a role. However, the dude has been riding his early success for a long time. I’m not going to defend that point (it’s a pretty big rabbit hole); suffice to say, I think he’s become overrated.

So that’s where I’m going with this – selling out, to me, is either an artist(s) who was once good and now just kind of phones it in, or was never good but is strangely popular.

One of the best examples, in my mind, is Aerosmith. Aerosmith is a band full of amazing musicians. Individually these guys are outstanding in both their musical knowledge and their ability to play. However, they consistently put out pap. There’s that one song that’s on Guitar Hero that’s kind of good. Dream On is an overblown nightmare, but hey, it’s a ballad so you kind of have to sing along here and there. Walk This Way was improved exponentially when Run DMC covered it. Aerosmith is a musical debacle that somehow found their one-trick pony in the 80s and has been riding it ever since. Ever noticed how Every. Single. Song. they make sounds the same? The time signatures are similar. The keys are similar. The tone is similar. It’s formula rock. It’s Enfamil for the ears.

This next example is sure to be more contentious, but in my mind Metallica did the same thing with their Black Album. Sure, it can be argued that they opened up their music to an entirely new audience, but as they did so they alienated their original fan base. The Black Album in and of itself isn’t necessarily a “phoning in,” but after its success they began the process of churning out more formula rock. It was at this point that they started riding the waves of their past successes.

But heck, Aerosmith and Metallica are just more recent examples of the phenomenon. How long has the Rolling Stones been churning out the same tune? How long has Eric Clapton been relying on Cream and Derek and the Dominos (and that’s a real shame because Clapton is a monster guitarist)?

Perhaps I need to clarify the “riding their past success” point a bit. There’s formula rock and then there’s formula rock. Take Slayer. They’ve put out the same-sounding stuff since they gelled it in their 1986 release Reign in Blood. But here’s the thing – they didn’t break from their mold to achieve some kind of commercial success. They’ve been the same band forever. There’s a difference between that and a band like Nickelback who achieve an amazing degree of (stupefying) success and continually churn out songs that don’t deviate from that mold. They don’t challenge themselves creatively because they’re afraid of losing their success. The guys in Slayer don’t challenge themselves creatively because they’re afraid of losing fans. There’s the rub, I guess. Which of these points shows the most integrity?

The supposition in “selling out” is that those bands that haven’t sold out have some kind of moral high ground over those who have. I’m not making that argument. In fact, the point of this post (beyond working through a definition) is kind of to say that it’s silly to think that. Who’s laughing – the musician who ekes out an existence being true to their roots or the musician who embraces audiences that bring them financial success? Selling out, while I believe it is a real and true phenomena, is less about integrity or ethics and more about a philosophical justification that lesser successful artists, or at least those with low self-esteem, use to make themselves feel better at the end of the day.

How much of your soul do you really "lose" by making music for money? You're still doing something you feel passionate about, right? There's a line, I'm sure.

I don’t find much parity between Metallica and the Monkees, for example. Metallica is an entity whose members made their own choices and marketed themselves based on those choices. The Monkees were a marketing gimmick from the beginning. I just stopped enjoying Metallica’s music when it became noticeable to me that they weren’t making music for me any longer. Like pop music isn’t my niche, these bands that attempt to broaden their horizons aren’t really in my shot group either.

But who am I? I’m just one guy with an opinion. My disposable income isn't very, so it's not like my spending dollar is going very far. And that’s what really matters in this game. Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments.

For a little more perspective, here’s Maynard James Keenan’s take:

All you know about me is what I've sold you,
Dumb fuck
I sold out long before you ever even heard my name.
I sold my soul to make a record
Dip shit
And then you bought one.

All you read and
Wear or see and
Hear on TV
Is a product
Waiting for your
Fairly dirty Dollar.
So shut up and
Buy, Buy, Buy,
My new record.
Buy, Buy, Buy,
Send more money.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Hm

I just noticed. Two posts ago I takled a little bit about subjecting moral authority on others and in the last post I talked about an encounter where I was faced with that reality.

Maybe I should write something about winning the lottery.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Other people and their children

I was in Walmart yesterday doing some last-minute Easter shopping. During the trip, I had an encounter that made me want to hit a man more than I can remember ever wanting to hit someone.

Before I get into the incident, I want to preface this by saying that I play with my kids. I mean, we have a banter. I tell them that I’m gonna smack ‘em upside the head. I tell them that they’re wusses. I call them weak. But it’s in fun. They say the same things to me. It’s only when we’re playing around. I also make sure that I only say things like this at appropriate times. When we’re wrestling around, physically or verbally, or whatever – we’re playful folks but there are no doubts whatsoever how we feel about one another or how close we are.

OK, so the wife and I are in Walmart and it’s a bit of a madhouse. We’re in the seasonal aisle picking over the slim remainders when I overhear a dad verbally disciplining his kid. He tells the child, “Your attitude is disgusting. You need to change your attitude or we just might cancel Easter.” Perhaps a bit harsh, but I’ve had to make such threats before. I don’t know what this guy is getting on to his kid for. Heck the kid could have been threatening to run over his sister with a lawnmower for all I know. I didn’t think much about it.

Seconds later I’m on the other side of their cart where I can see them and the dad’s still going at his boy. Now I see the young ‘un is about 5 or 6 and is now sitting in the cart, legs pulled up to his chest, arms circling them, and is just bawling. Then, THEN, the dad says to the boy: “You are such a wuss. I’ve never seen such a wuss as you.”

I’ve got to tell you folks – I almost went to jail last night. Were I more of a man, perhaps I should. I feel guilty that I didn’t at least say something. I don’t know though, on the other hand, I don’t want other people butting into my life. I guess I hope that that kind of verbal abuse isn’t common. I hope that if it is, the mom sees through it someday soon and realizes what it’s doing to their kids. I’ve got that poor boy’s image burned in my mind and if I ever see that dude in Walmart again, he better hope he’s being nice.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Hey Larry!

I was a huge comic-book geek growing up. I learned a lot from comics. Sure, I read a lot of “real” books too, but many ethical and moral issues that many people suss out in literature, I got through comics.

Comics is a wonderful medium that, at its best, condenses good and evil into easily recognizable actions and personas. The best comics put the good guys into moral quandaries such as those oft-visited: “Do I save one person I love or sacrifice him/her for a large group of unknown people?”; “Am I becoming what I hate by fighting evil on their terms?”; “Do the laws of man supersede a higher moral authority?” and in a similar vein, “What gives me the right to ignore the law in lieu of my own moral authority?”

It can be pretty heady stuff. Again, at their best, comics delve into these issues and at their very best, don’t offer any real answers. The characters find solutions, or justifications that suit their needs, but it’s obvious to the reader that it’s not a universal answer. There is no panacea for soul-searing ambiguity.

I’ve been going through some of the comics of my past. My favorite comic when I was in the 11-13-year age range was The Badger – an independent comic by prolific comic writer Mike Baron. What I find great about the book is that is does not seek to answer any of the “best comics do this” kind of questions. The premise involves a mentally disturbed, multiple martial arts expert, Vietnam vet who dons a costume and whups up on wrong doers, animal abusers and guys named Larry.

It is a glorious celebration of fists to the face, spin kicks upside heads and multiple personalities appearing at the most inopportune times. The lack of any high-minded moral exposition accomplishes two things: it makes the book approachable and fun, and it leaves the reader to make his own high-minded moral exposition based on the events portrayed. It’s not that Badger doesn’t cover the same oft-tread ground other comics do, it just that it doesn’t patronize the reader by having the characters climb atop tall buildings for pages worth of thought-bubbled introspection. While Spiderman laments his great power and great responsibility, the Badger is downing a six-pack of Point and smacking some dude upside the head with a bo staff.

When I was first reading these books, I had friends that were into their own books. One pal was into an underground sci-fi book called Albedo Anthropomorphics. This was the beginning of the hey day of anthropomorphic comics and cartoons. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the most commercially accessible, but there were tons of books: Boris the Bear, Albedo, Usagi Yojimbo, etc. Anyway, my buddy who was into Albedo, was also trading letters with the creator, and I decided to drop the dude a note as well. I had attempted to write the creators of Badger, with limited success (artist Bill Reinhold wrote me back!). Anyway, I started a conversation with Albedo’s creator and talked to him about the Badger. As many people, he dismissed the book as childish, violent and inane. And that really ticked me off. I couldn’t quite verbalize it then, but in retrospect, to have a guy who wrote space operas involving anthropomorphized forest creatures call your favorite comic “childish” is kind of ironic, especially considering his particular brand of comic helped fuel the furry explosion.

There was going to be a point to all of this, but I lost it somewhere along the way. I’ve kind of gone and pissed myself off remembering the whole Albedo crap. How fucked is it to essentially call someone’s favorite book a piece of crap? Well fuck you Albedo creator dude who I’m too lazy to look up at the moment. Fuck you and your anthropomorphized world. Except for Boris the Bear. Cause he’s cool.