Thursday, September 30, 2004


Just so's you know...I will be off the blog for the next couple of days. I'll fill you in on the skinny when I return to the keyboard on Monday. Not to worry — it's a fun thing.

I'll leave you with this thought to mull over the weekend:

No matter how old and tired and decrepit I get, as long as we both live I'll still be three months younger than Heather Locklear.

(Did you know that the perennially fetching Ms. Locklear has a touch of African and Native American ancestry? So say the folks at the PBS documentary series Frontline. You go, sister!)

"I'm not going to debate you, Jerry."

Immediate take on Prezlemania I:

Nice solid performance from Kerry. I didn't hear a standout soundbite on the order of "There you go again" or "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy," but he was straightforward, resolute, spoke clearly and didn't go off on one of his usual highfalutin, somnolence-inducing stump speeches.

The President, on the other hand, looked and sounded even more deer-in-the-headlights than usual. In my lifetime, we've had plenty of Presidents with whom I disagreed politically (at one point or another, on one issue or another, that would be all of them). We've had Presidents I thought were scoundrels (Richard Nixon, a pretty bright guy with some decent ideas in certain areas, but completely undone by his rampant paranoia), scalawags (Bill Clinton, whom I liked — and still like — for his intelligence, his manner, and his efficient and effective governing style, but whose judgment in personal life was reprehensible), and well-meaning incompetents (like George Bush the First, a capable corporate vice president-type who ran headlong into the Peter Principle when he became CEO, and Jimmy Carter, a good and noble man who for all his goodness and nobility also had no business being President). But Bush 43 is the first President in my lifetime whom I truly and sincerely believe is a moron.

I don't mean that viciously. Not everyone can be Charles Steinmetz. I know plenty of folks who aren't especially bright, but who shine in other areas of life — wonderful parents, loving spouses, hard-working citizens, faithful Christians. I don't think the President is a bad guy. He seems, in fact, like a decent fellow. (As in: "You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you." "You seem a decent fellow. I hate to die.") But whenever I listen to him speak, I can't help thinking, "He's just not very smart, is he?" Again, that doesn't condemn him as a human being. It sure makes me nervous, though, that he's the most powerful man in the world.

Lots of us thought Ronald Reagan was an idiot when he first ran for office. As time passed, it became clearer that he was a smart enough man, just rather singularly focused and disconnected from reality, in love with the pomp and circumstance of his quasi-royal position but not especially interested in its nuts and bolts. After four years, I wish I could give the current President the benefit of the same doubt. On the basis of everything I've heard from him this campaign season, and tonight especially, I just can't.

Fortunately for Mr. Bush, the vast majority of the American people are, like himself, of mediocre intellect. To them, he seems like plain folks, and therefore likeable enough to be President. Kerry, clearly a man of keen intelligence, all too often — though not tonight particularly, which was encouraging — sounds like a pedantic, ponderous bore. Not unlike the last Democrat to bear the party's standard in the Presidential race. And we all know what happened to him.

I think Kerry "won" the debate, though debate it isn't, and winning is mostly not saying something stupid enough to lose. Was it enough to help him in the polls? Probably not. If anything, the stumbling, tongue-tied performance by Bush probably earned him enough sympathy points to maintain his narrow but incontrovertible lead.

If these are the two best people we can find for the highest office in the land, we're a sad society.

Heroes for hire

This awesome original art page arrived in the mail this afternoon. It's page 14 from Iron Fist/Wolverine, issue #3. Jamal Igle is the penciler; Rich Perrotta finished the drawing in ink.

I don't know anything, really, about the comic itself, so I have no idea why the main character seen here in addition to Wolverine is Luke Cage, aka Power Man, the former Hero for Hire, while Iron Fist himself is nowhere to be seen. (Cage and Iron Fist costarred in the Power Man/Iron Fist series back in the '80s, but this book is of much more recent vintage.) I can't tell you much about the artists, either, other than that I hear good things about Jamal Igle's work.

I don't have to know much about the storyline, however, to appreciate the bold images here: the action shot of Power Man slugging the dragon in panel one; the full-body Wolverine pose in panel two; the expressive close-up of Cage in panel four. Wicked cool stuff.

A lifetime ago though it was, I still remember vividly the night in 1972 when I purchased the inaugural issue of Luke Cage: Hero for Hire. My family was just returning to the U.S. from our two-year stint in Greece, and we were on our way to our next duty station in California. We were visiting my aunts in Kokomo, Indiana — my mother had three sisters living there, two of whom have since passed on — and my cousins and I went shopping at a local grocery store. I did what then came naturally: I gravitated toward the comics rack.

There I saw a remarkable wonder — this comic with an African American (we were still just getting used to saying "black" then, but you know what I mean) superhero as the title character. Of course, I had to have this comic — brothers weren't getting breaks like that every day back in the Age of George Wallace (and I don't mean the comedian). Was the character a little stereotypical in the early '70s blaxploitation mode? Sure, to a degree. I could have done without the chain around his waist and the faux ghetto dialogue. (Cage had an annoying habit of shouting "Christmas!" as an expletive. To this date, I've never heard any black person of my relation or acquaintance speak that way.) But in many ways — as had been the character of T'Challa, the Black Panther, before him — Cage represented an image young comic readers of all colors desperately needed to see: A powerful man of African heritage who was no one's sidekick, valet, or lackey.

Before you even ask: No, I don't still have that copy of Luke Cage: Hero for Hire #1. Due to the transitory nature of our military life, and the weight restrictions that applied every time we had our belongings shipped to or from an overseas destination, my comic collection routinely got pitched in the trash every time we relocated. Not that it would have mattered, because in those days, we treated comics as reading material, not as collector's items. We dragged them around in bicycle baskets, crammed them in hip pockets, tore the covers off so we could cut out the pictures of our favorite heroes and tape them to our bedroom walls. Who knew they'd be worth a small fortune someday?

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Question: What is Art?

Answer: What you call a guy with no arms and no legs, nailed to your wall.

Oh, stop. You thought it was funny in sixth grade.

Speaking of art, some arrived today. The Mark Spears pencil drawing of Captain America and Batman duking it out is sweet. And the Saviuk/Williams Spider-Man pages are knockouts. Everything came perfectly packaged and arrived in flawless condition.

I'd bought insurance on the Spidey pages, so I had to sign for the package. Abby wanted to devour the mailman, but she couldn't swallow anything that big anyway. She had to get her bark on in the garage while I signed.

So I'm thinking: Now I need frames.

It's always something.

I'll Grant you this

The snazzy and colorful new $50 bill hits the streets today.

And if you're packing enough geedus that you know firsthand what a fifty looks like...God bless you.

Am I the only one who finds it peculiar that a man generally considered by historians one of our lesser Presidential lights, Ulysses S. Grant, rates the portrait spot on the fifty? Since they were going to redesign the thing anyway, surely the U.S. Mint could have found a more deserving subject.

They're creepy, but they're rich

You're worth what someone will pay you, I suppose, but it's baffling to me that Warner Home Video would sign the Olsen twins to a 10-year distribution deal yielding an eight-figure advance.

Is there that much demand for Mary-Kate and Ashley — whose appeal is entirely lost on me; I think they resemble a Margaret Keane poster for Children of the Corn — that a studio will spend upwards of ten million bucks just to have them stand around for the next decade? The mind boggles.

I just hope the girls take some of that money and order a pizza. With everything. And eat it.

It's clobberin' time!

The movie news site Coming Soon is showing off new photos of the actors starring in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, complete with costumes.

My first reaction: I hope they fix the gloves on Michael Chiklis's Thing costume, and make the seams a little less obvious. It looks as though his left hand is breaking off at the wrist. Ouch!

My second reaction: I'm sure Chiklis will be fine — and given his appearance in this film, it's no wonder he's chiklis (Thank you! I'll be here all week! Try the shrimp cocktail!) — but the casting of the other three primary roles still feels peculiar to me. Ioan Gruffudd seems a little young, or maybe just a little too callow, for the role of Reed Richards. There should be a greater disparity between his age and that of the actor playing Johnny Storm — in the original Lee-Kirby comic, when the Four become Fantastic, Reed is already an established (if not particularly distinguished, in the eyes of his peers) scientist, and Johnny is still in high school (as Peter Parker was when he became Spider-Man). Likewise, Johnny and his sister Susan should not be the same age; it's essential to the group dynamic that Sue be substantially older than her "little brother." And Reed and Ben Grimm are supposed to be old college chums, and thus about the same age — here, Chiklis is 11 years older than Gruffudd. Ideally, Reed and Ben should be mid-to-late 30s, Sue early-to-mid 20s, and Johnny about 16. (I'll admit, though, that the casting decision about which I was most skeptical, Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, looks pretty good in this photo.)

I'm always nervous when comic icons — particularly Marvel characters, because I have a greater emotional and nostalgic connection to them — are translated to the screen. The Fantastic Four has already been done badly, in a never-released micro-budget production produced by Roger Corman. But Marvel has had remarkable success of late, with the Spider-Man, Hulk, Blade, and X-Men films (I didn't care for Daredevil quite so much, but it was still very well done; it's Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner I didn't like), so I hope this one turns out okay. That they've hired a director known mostly for comedy (Tim Story, who directed Barbershop) doesn't thrill me, but I'll cross my fingers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Tonight, Tonight, won't be just any night

Tongues certainly are wagging about the Tonight Show story. (In case you've been locked in a trunk by armed desperadoes for the past couple of days, NBC announced this week that Jay Leno will be "retiring" from the Tonight Show in 2009 — five years hence — with Conan O'Brien moving up from Late Night to replace him.)

Personally, I find this bit of pop culture folderol a yawner. I've never been a big fan of Jay Leno, finding him at best mildly amusing most of the time. (However, the "Headlines" segment Jay usually does on Monday nights, where he displays odd and errant items clipped mostly from newspapers, consistently delivers five of the funniest minutes on television — because it's real.) And I must confess to never having watched Conan O'Brien's show for more than a handful of minutes — his brand of snarky and witless humor just doesn't do it for me. So I really couldn't care less who's hosting the Tonight Show. No one's a match for Carson.

If I watch late night talk at all — and "watch" is giving my action far too much credit, because it's more like "have on in the background while I'm working" — I'll turn on David Letterman. I usually find Dave's show worthwhile, because he manages to convey an arch (but not too arch) disdain for the trappings of the format while at the same time paying respect (but not too much respect) to its traditions and style. Plus, he's funny. Dave's nightly "Top Ten" is more often than not as hilarious as "Headlines," and Dave's writers (a) actually come up with the material, rather than cull it out from viewer submissions, and (b) do it every weeknight.

I also have a soft spot for Letterman, because I met him a few times eons ago, and he seemed like a decent, down-to-earth guy. When I was at Pepperdine University in the very early 1980s, I was one of the radio broadcasters for the Pepperdine baseball team. During home games when I wasn't on the air (we had two broadcast teams, and I was the number two guy on the "B" squad), baseball fanatic that I am, I'd hang out in the stands and watch the game. Letterman and his then-girlfriend, comedy writer Merrill Markoe, lived in Malibu at the time, and would drop around to watch also. I recognized Letterman from his abortive daytime talk show that ran for a handful of weeks in the spring and summer of 1980. So I would sidle over and sit near them — for weekday games, there would never be more than a handful of people at the ballpark — and chat Dave up about baseball.

Even when Dave introduced himself and his companion to me by name, I never let on that I knew he was a celebrity (and of course, he wasn't yet the household name he would become in a couple of years when Late Night began), and we never had a conversation about anything other than baseball — except for the one time he mentioned being from Indiana, and I mentioned that I had (and still have) relatives in Kokomo.

Both Dave and Merrill (no looker, she, but very smart...sort of like Dave himself, now that I think about it) seemed like genuinely pleasant people. (And not especially humorous in normal conversation.) Of course, with superstardom and mega-fortune, Dave may have changed. I'd hope not.

No, she's not a character on Alien Nation

If you're interested in what's new and happening in the world of Internet business, check out Bambi Francisco's weekly column Net Sense, at CBS This week, Bambi dishes the dirt on Google's mysterious public silence about its financial goings-on. Good stuff.

You can subscribe to Bambi's column in e-newsletter form on the CBS MarketWatch site, along with gazillions of other financial news bulletins. I subscribe to the daily market updates (not that I have a fortune in the stock market, mind you, but it's a fair barometer of how the business community is doing) and the weekly Internet news items.

And doesn't it just put a smile on your face to know that somewhere in America, there's a real live human being named Bambi Francisco?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Art day!

The two Geof Isherwood drawings I purchased arrived today. Très magnifique, as they say in Montreal, where Mr. Isherwood resides. As awesome as the scans look, they really only hint at the detail this artist puts into his work. Isherwood's line work is truly incredible.

Incidentally, Geof's art rep at Empyreal Press is a gem to work with, especially given that her commission on these two pieces couldn't be all that much given what I paid for them. Friendlier and more efficient customer service you will not find anywhere, especially in the art world, where folks aren't always famous for their business and people skills.

If you're a comic art fan, go check out the Geof Isherwood Gallery and admire some of his other works. And if you feel inclined to make a purchase, I'm sure you'll be taken care of expeditiously.

I consider the success of this transaction a sterling example of U.S.-Canadian synergy. The art dealer mailed this package on Friday in Montréal via Canada Xpresspost (the Northland's equivalent of Priority Mail), and it arrived in California today. Now if we could just work out a deal for legal import of Canadian pharmaceuticals, we'll be getting somewhere.

A meaty slice of birthday Loaf

I see Meat Loaf is 57 today. I presume that's Heinz 57.

Kidding aside, I've always enjoyed the musical stylings of Mr. Loaf. Bat Out of Hell would place somewhere in my all-time Top 20 favorite rock/pop albums. In fact, one of the songs on that album, "Heaven Can Wait," may be one of the prettiest (yes, I know I'm talking about Meat Loaf) pop ballads ever recorded. It's just the Loaf, some backup singers, and a piano, without all the usual Jim Steinman bombast (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Think maybe I'll throw Leap of Faith in the DVD player for background noise this afternoon, in honor of the Meaty One's BD.

Does whatever a Spider can

Yesterday I picked up on eBay a set of four original art pages from Web of Spider-Man #45: pencils by Alex Saviuk, inks by Keith Williams. Not a great issue, as this review on the SpiderFan site will attest, but there are some extremely cool images on the pages I bought:
  • Page 2 is my favorite of the group: five panels of Spidey webslinging his way through downtown Las Vegas. (Two of my favorite things in the world — Spider-Man and Vegas — together at last. Sweet!) We catch glimpses of the Golden Nugget sign as well as the façade and signage of Binion's Horseshoe.

  • Page 19 depicts an aerial battle between Spidey and his old nemesis the Vulture. Six panels, with some great action sequencing.

  • Page 21 features a 2/3-page splash panel of the Wall-Crawler delivering the coup de grace to end the fight, before passing out from the drug the Vulture injected into him back on page 19.

  • Page 22 wraps up the story with some flirtacious byplay between Spidey and an attractive government intelligence agent whom he met earlier in the story, in her cover guise as a flight attendant. The two of them literally walk off into the Nevada sunset. (Sigh!)
Alex Saviuk was the regular penciler on Web of Spider-Man for seven years, beginning in 1988 — a remarkable tenure given the volatile nature of the comics business. He also was the primary artist on Marvel's youth-oriented Spidey titles, Spider-Man Adventures and Adventures of Spider-Man, both of which tied into the then-current Spider-Man animated TV shows running on FOX, as well as the Amazing Spider-Man Sunday newspaper strip which he draws to this day. Aside from his Spidey work, Saviuk is probably best-known for the X-Files adaptation series Topps published in the late '90s.

Keith Williams regularly inked Saviuk's pencils on Web for more than four years, from February 1988 until February 1992. He's worked on a number of Marvel titles over the years, most notably Silver Surfer and Warlock, as an inker primarily. Since 1995, he's inked the daily version of Lee Falk's perennial Phantom newspaper strip, over George Olesen's pencils.

The scans wouldn't do justice to the pages in the size I'd have to make them to fit in the blog template, but I'll try to work on getting up a linked page elsewhere on the site for viewing purposes.

Funky up in here

I've been in something of a funk the past couple of days. Not sure why exactly, but I'm just having a difficult time focusing and getting my head around anything. I'm sure it will pass.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Half-birthday half-splash

Today is KM's half-birthday. The first person who mentions that she's now old enough for a learner's permit will be flogged without mercy by a large, angry father.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanatic that KM is, I picked up this sharp original art page as her half-birthday gift. It's the first page of issue 19 of Dark Horse's Buffy comic; the page was penciled by Cliff Richards and inked by Joe Pimentel. For a modern-style piece, it looks quite nice — the face-to-face close-ups in panel three are interesting, and the half-splash action shot is nifty. KM was very excited when she saw the scan, and even more excited when I explained to her that it's a one-of-a-kind article. Once framed, it will look terrific on the wall of her room, amid all the other Buffy photos, posters, and memorabilia.

While I was combing eBay for KM's present, I stumbled on something for myself. (Oops!) This dramatic pencil drawing, featuring a face-off between Marvel icon Captain America and DC stalwart Batman, is the work of Mark Spears, a young artist (I believe he's still under 30) who's probably best known for Image Comics' Ultiman and the Marvel/DC crossover Hulk vs. Superman. Mark's style is clean, simple, and vividly retro, with hefty doses of Curt Swan and Carmine Infantino in it — he'd have been right at home in the Silver Age, had he even been born yet. I loved the intensity of this drawing the instant I saw it.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The wicked flee when no one pursues

As reported by the Associated Press and E! Online, Irish chanteuse Sinéad O'Connor took out a full-page ad in today's Irish Examiner newspaper, demanding that people stop making fun of her.

Memo to Sinéad: In order to make fun of you, people must actually be thinking about you. Which no one has been. For a dozen years.

Doesn't make "Nothing Compares 2 U" not one of the greatest female pop vocal performances of all time — it is. But get over yourself, colleen. No one cares. You are so last millennium.

Incidentally, it appears that the shorn-headed songstress got her knickers in a bunch after the Irish press ridiculed her call for a "National Delousing Day" on the Emerald Isle. I guess we now know why Sinéad keeps her hair so short.

Iron Man

Jack LaLanne turns 90 on Sunday.

If you're under 30, you probably only know Jack LaLanne as a brand name seen on a chain of gyms or a juice extractor. But for those of us who grew up in the '60s and early '70s, Jack LaLanne was Mr. Fitness. He was the original TV exercise guru — before there was a Jake Steinfeld or Tony Little or Billy Blanks or (dare I say it) Richard Simmons, before Suzanne Somers was hawking Thighmasters, before Jane Fonda workout tapes, before Aerobicize put Showtime on the cable map, even before anyone had ever heard of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack LaLanne was the man who pumped you up. He was on the tube touting healthy eating and vigorous exercise long before anyone else. He once did a thousand pushups on a TV show without breaking a sweat.

And, given his remarkable longevity, I guess it's worked for him.

I met Jack LaLanne in person once, about 25 years ago. His son Jon and I lived in the same dormitory at Pepperdine University. (Don't make a big deal out of that. We weren't like best buds or anything. We lived on opposite ends of the building, and probably said all of three words to each other the entire time.) It was arrival day at the beginning of my sophomore year, and Mr. LaLanne was there helping Jon move in. He's not a tall man — he's a few inches shorter than I am, and I'm only five-eight and change — but he was built like a fire hydrant and had a handshake that could turn coal into diamond.

You get the idea sometimes that a lot of the well-known fitness touts are sneaking chesseburgers and taking the escalator when no one's looking. But I'm convinced Jack LaLanne is the real McCoy. He's apparently still in pretty solid shape at an age when most people are...well...dead. I hope he lives another healthy decade or two. Me, I'll order the medium fries instead of the supersized today, in honor of his birthday.

Sure cure for the blues

Sing a classic funk tune at the top of your lungs.

It is impossible to be miserable while belting the Commodores' "Brick House" with all the gutbucket growl you can muster. (Yes, the Caucasians in the room can do this too. Just give them a little extra space, so they don't hurt anyone.)

No human being can sing lines like "She's migh-tay migh-tay, just lettin' it all hang out" and "She knows she's built and knows how to please — sho'nuff could knock a strong man to his knees" with getting at least a little bit happy.

Go ahead. You'll see. Shake it down. Shake it down now.

P.S. If old Stax numbers are more your flavor, "Soul Man" by Sam and Dave works almost as well.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Yo ho, yo ho, the writer's life for me

Someone (and you know who you are) asked me today why I don't blog about my work. Since inquiring minds want to know, let's chat about it for a bit.

The primary reason I don't blog about work should be obvious to any SSTOL reader: I blog as an alternative to my daily grind, not for the purpose of reliving it. I'm a hired pen — all right, hired keyboard, if you want to get nitpicky. Although I enjoy copywriting immensely, I'm writing what I'm paid to write, not necessarily what I might choose to write about. This blog is an outlet for the myriad random thoughts that come pinwheeling out of my skull in and around the mercenary gigs.

Second, I learned early in my freelancing career (and repeatedly since) to be rather circumspect about the specifics of my work. It's not like I'm writing classified documents or anything like that; it's just that some of the entities for whom I work prefer that I not broadcast the nature of the work I do for them. Fair enough — if they pay the invoices on time, they're entitled to a modicum of discretion. Most of my clients are advertising and marketing agencies, whose creative abilities are their stock in trade. It just so happens that, in certain instances, their creative prowess is, at least to some degree, mine. So my copywriting practice is like Fight Club: the first rule is, don't talk about it. Rule Two: See Rule One.

(Sidebar: Quite a few freelance copywriters market themselves mostly to businesses that will access their writing services directly. It just happens that my client base has evolved so that I get mostly agency work. I actually prefer it that way, because I don't have to do as much self-marketing, and I have a smaller and more personal client base to manage. I have a whole stack of marketing brochures that I printed a year ago for a mass mailing I intended to do, and I've yet to need to send them out. My agency clients take excellent care of me, and I'm grateful that they do most of the prospecting...mainly because I suck at it.)

There's a third reason beyond the above: As interesting as my work is to do, it's not all that interesting to discuss. Listening to someone talk about writing is a little like watching chess: Monumental brainwave activity may be going on, but there's not a great deal of visual excitement for the spectator. Plus, I can't explain my process. I sit down with the necessary background information, stare into my 19" Envision monitor — sometimes momentarily, occasionally for hours — and eventually my fingers start tapping. I can't tell you how I write any more than a hen can tell you how she lays eggs. She squats, and eggs appear. I type, and words appear.

But all that aside, since you asked, here's what I have on my plate right now:
  • A brochure for a hospital's new breast cancer facility (a topic near and dear to my heart, as the husband of a breast cancer survivor).
  • The holiday advertising mailer for a kitchenware company.
  • An array of feature articles and press releases.
  • Some marketing materials for a medical services company.
  • A set of ads for an accounting firm.
  • A newsletter for a public library system.
  • A Web site for a business services company.
  • A Web site for a law firm. This one is the only direct client in the bunch (an interesting story, that, but I'll wait until the project is over to tell it). All the other projects are assignments from my beloved agency clients.
All this, plus a stack of reviews to edit for DVD Verdict, and the weekly battery of materials I prepare for church.

There's yin and yang to everything. Being a self-employed writer can be a sporadic means of ensuring one's material living. The hardest part of freelancing for me in the beginning was learning to live without a biweekly paycheck that arrives like clockwork. You have to enjoy being by yourself — which I do, more than most people. You have to be self-motivating, which isn't much of an issue for me because I like to eat, and to sleep knowing the utility bills got paid this month, and to not live in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass. You have to enjoy the sometimes arduous, frustrating, and mindbending process of writing, which I love as much as life itself — which some of you tell me is reflected in this blog.

On the positive side:
  • I like my independence.
  • I like commuting to an office that's ten feet from my living room.
  • I like drinking my morning coffee in the security and quiet of my own surroundings.
  • I like driving my daughter to school in the morning, having my dog snoozing at my feet while I work, and occasionally having dinner ready when my wife gets home.
  • I like being able to do things more or less when I feel like doing them, deadlines permitting.
  • I like working in a T-shirt and sweats.
  • I like not having to make small talk.
  • I like being sought out and valued as a specialist in my field, rather than devalued and taken for granted as an employee.
  • I like being able to say "No thanks" to work I don't want to do. (I don't always, sometimes for fiscal reasons but more often because I like helping my regular clients, but the point is that I can say "no" if I so decide. Self-determination is an illusion, but the illusion is a wonderful thing.)
  • I like knowing that, most of the time, success and failure depends on my own abilities, and not on decisions made by people who couldn't pour water out of a glass if directions were printed on the bottom. I've worked for two companies that went bankrupt because the people who ran them did things I wouldn't have done were I in charge. If I fail as an independent contractor, it's no one's darn fault but mine.
Now, aren't you glad I don't write about work more?

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


The world is short one candle's light this evening.

In the wee small hours of this morning, a dear man named David Trudell slipped the surly bonds of Earth and departed this mortal coil. Dave was a pilot, a gentleman, and a pretty fair barbershop bass for a fellow with only one lung. He was a longtime member of my chorus, though he had been inactive the past few years due to his failing health. He was a sweet guy who liked to laugh and loved to sing.

Even in his "retirement" from the chorus, Dave and his wife Marty remained as active in the life of the organization as Dave's health allowed. Until the last few months, when Dave's increasing need for care led to her stepping away from her own chorus, Marty would come over to our rehearsals every Monday evening after the ladies called it quits for the night, and watch the last twenty minutes or so of our workout. I always tried to make it a point to ask about Dave, and I could tell the last few times I saw her that things weren't going so well.

When Dave was still active, he and Marty used to join our commute group occasionally for a late dinner after rehearsal. He had a million stories, and knew about that many jokes. Even though you knew he didn't feel that well most of the time, Dave always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

When KJ was diagnosed, Dave and Marty — who barely knew her, having only met her on the rare occasion when she accompanied me to a chorus function — sent her a card in the mail almost every week during her chemotherapy. Every card contained a handwritten note of encouragement from the Trudells. That they went to that much effort for someone they knew so little demonstrates the kind of people Dave was, and Marty is. I will never forget their kindness to my wife — in her darkest hours, those little cards and notes were heaven-sent.

By Marty's report, Dave passed from this life peacefully, attended by people who loved him. There are many others of us who, though not at his bedside in his final moments, loved him too.

Dave, my dear friend, you'll be missed.

In fact, you already are.

First thing we do, let's kill all the network executives

So I'm watching the first two new episodes of Law & Order for this season (one good, the other so-so; Dennis Farina's an interesting addition, though I'm not sure yet what they're aiming for with his character) and leafing through the Fall Preview edition of TV Guide — I have every one of these going back I don't know how many years.

And here's what I'm thinking as I watch and leaf: I enjoy my work, but you know who really have sweet gigs? The people who pick the new TV shows for the networks. Because those people are no doubt raking in cash by the containerload, and they don't have to do anything intelligent in exchange.

Look at the dreck they have lined up for this new season. How many of these shows have so much as a prayer of being good? As a professional critic, I know better than to render judgment on a product I haven't actually seen. But I'd like to see at least a glimmer of hope going in. Too many of these programs simply reek with the stench of flop sweat, from the premises alone.

Listen Up!: Jason Alexander, the erstwhile George Costanza, plays a character based on sports-talk personality Tony Kornheiser, with Malcolm-Jamal Warner as his sidekick. Admit it — the instant you heard the names Jason Alexander and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, you'd already written this one off as DOA. Name one cast member from Seinfeld or The Cosby Show who's been in anything halfway decent since.

I'm waiting.

Still waiting.

See what I mean?

Moving on...

House: An obnoxious doctor who walks with a cane because he's afflicted with something called "muscle death" in one thigh. Yeah, that sounds entertaining. Here's a clue: "Muscle death" is not a selling point.

Clubhouse: It's about a batboy for a baseball team. No, really. That's it. Thrill-a-minute there. Whew. If this is successful, look for Balldudes, an action-packed funfest about the senior citizens who shag stray grounders at SBC Park.


Father of the Pride: A cartoon about Siegfried and Roy. I know I just said this, but here it is again: "Muscle death" is not a selling point.

Storming ahead...

Lost: Castaways on an uncharted island in the South Pacific. (Let me guess...there's a millionaire and his wife, a movie star, a professor, a farm girl, and a couple of ambiguously oriented sailors.) It's like Survivor, with a script; that is, if you really believe Survivor is unscripted. Pass.


The Mountain: A soap about a bunch of way-too-good-looking people who live on heck, that's too easy.


Center of the Universe: John Goodman stars in it. That's all you need to know (see Jason Alexander and Malcolm-Jamal Warner above).

Thank you, sir; may I have another?

How about...Commando Nanny: Apparently, it's about Juliet Mills and her shocking disdain for undergarments. Can't possibly be as bad as the title makes it sound, but I'll bet it is.


dr. vegas: Two words: Rob Lowe. Plus, when the only way you can make a show appear hip and exciting is to spell its name without capital letters, as though it showcased e.e. cummings's adventures as a casino physician, you're already looking for the exit.

There are many, many others besides, but I'll stop before you reach for the cyanide.

Here's the kicker: someone, somewhere, drawing a minimum of seven figures annually, decided that each and every one of the foregoing, plus dozens of other embarrassments of similar ilk, should be manufactured at a cost of millions of dollars per episode and pumped into the public airwaves where innocent and unexpecting citizens might stumble on them accidentally, thereby destroying an incalculable number of brain cells and faith in humanity in the process.

Where do I sign up for a job like that?

SSTOL famous! Will acclaim go to our heads?

SSTOL received a very complimentary review today on 3-Blogs A Day. You can check out the featured review — which will probably cause you to ask, "Did they read the same site? All I ever find on SSTOL is arcane muttering about nothing in particular" — by clicking this permalink.

Many thanks to FryGuy at 3-Blogs A Day for the kind and generous words. If you've never visited his site, the premise is right there in the title: FryGuy checks out and writes capsule reviews of three blogs a day. It's well worth a tour. Tell him SwanShadow sent you.

I guess Franz Liebkind wasn't available

Speaking of Pauly Shore...

What does it say about the state of American screenwriting in this first decade of the 21st century that the newly elected president of the West Coast branch of the Writers Guild of America, Daniel Petrie Jr., is the guy who wrote (if that's the appropriate word) the script (if that's the appropriate word) for Pauly Shore's 1994 film In the Army Now?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Carrot Flop

KM taped Last Comic Standing during quartet rehearsal tonight, so she can watch it in the morning before school. I sat through it (okay, I fast-forwarded through most of it) because the season premiere of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit was the next thing on the tape. Plus, there are a couple of the LCS comedians who really do make me laugh — Ralphie May from the first season always gives me a chuckle, and I enjoy Alonzo Bodden and Kathleen Madigan from Year Two.

Tonight's special guest stars on LCS were Louie Anderson and Carrot Top. Louie is just sort of dull and innocuous (unless you're alone with him in a hotel room, or so I'm led to understand), but Carrot Top...who are the people who find this guy funny? Were they dropped on their heads as infants? Toilet-trained incorrectly? Unwitting recipients of prefrontal lobotomies?

Perhaps a better question is, what highly placed Hollywood talent scout does Carrot Top have on candid video with two midgets and a goat who keeps finding a place for this clown on TV? Seriously — Carrot Top almost makes Pauly Shore look like Richard Pryor. (Almost.) He's absolutely painful to watch, whether he's doing his ghastly neo-Gallagher prop "comedy" (and I use that latter word accommodatively) or hawking some product in a commercial. Apparently someone, somewhere enjoys him, but I can't imagine who those people are. I'm just grateful that they don't live next door to me.

This is Dan Rather Be Anywhere But CBS News, reporting

As difficult as it is to comprehend, Dan Rather — who's been around long enough to know better — forgot the first rule of journalism: Verify, verify, verify.

It's been a while since I was in J-school (for those who don't know, or have forgotten, I majored in journalism my first two years of college at Pepperdine, before transferring to San Francisco State to earn my degree in Radio and Television with a broadcast journalism emphasis), but I do remember being taught that you never run with a story without a minimum of two — and preferably three — verifiable, corroborative sources. Not ever.

What sucks most about this is that it comes on the heels of the Jayson Blair story, and the Mike Barnicle story, and the veritable plethora of other recent stories about journalists fudging facts, or slanting the truth, or just plain making stuff up. I remember Dr. John Hewitt, one of my journalism professors at SFSU, telling us, "Objectivity is a myth. No human being can truly be objective, and journalists are human beings. But we can always be fair. And we must."

I've said since the beginning that what Lt. George W. Bush did when he was a wet-behind-the-ears Ivy League punk is pretty much irrelevant, as is what Lt. John Kerry did when he was a Swift Boat commander in Indochina. That was 30 years ago, people — everybody give it a rest. But the actions of Rather and his 60 Minutes crew in this instance will make a greater issue out of this story than it deserves, and it can only hurt the loyal opposition. Right now, that opposition needs all the righteous help it can get, and with friends like CBS News — if indeed friends they are — Kerry scarcely needs enemies.

Bonds is the Terminator: He'll be back

ESPN is reporting that the Giants have called a news conference for later this afternoon, in which they will announce that they have guaranteed Barry Bonds's contract for the next two years. That move should keep the slugger in San Francisco for the remainder of his Hall of Fame career.

The Giants hold an option to void the last year of Bonds's current deal, which runs through the 2006 season, if he failed to make 500 plate appearances in 2005. Apparently, the ownership group has decided to tear up that option.

To which I can only say, it's about time.

This isn't rocket science, folks. Barry Bonds is the San Francisco Giants. And you'd let him shatter the home run record in Yankee pinstripes, or Dodger blue? I don't think so.

Monday, September 20, 2004

I got your Mjolnir right here

As it turns out, great resources for comic art are like potato chips — it's nearly impossible to eat just one.

So here are the two newest items I picked up: a dramatic pencil drawing of Thor (quite possibly the most compelling image of the character I've ever seen) and a somewhat more whimsical take on the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four. Both arise from the creative genius of comics artist Geof Isherwood, whose best-known work was on Marvel's Dr. Strange, Conan the Barbarian, and Sub-Mariner, as well as DC's Suicide Squad. He's also renowned for his fantasy art, and he does a considerable amount of storyboard art for major motion pictures, including Battlefield Earth and Gothika. (Yes, those were dreadful movies. But you can't really blame the storyboard artist for that.)


As you can see from this pair of drawings, Isherwood employs a finely delineated, powerfully realistic technique that's clearly based in modern comics, but also hearkens back to the classic styles of such giants as John Buscema, Jim Starlin, and especially Barry Windsor-Smith. What I like most about his art is that it's neither overdrawn in the Todd McFarlane manner, nor underdrawn like most of the sketchy, grotesquely cartoonish, anime-derived trash that pervades TV animation these days.

Isherwood is a generation post-Bronze Age, having broken into comics in the early '80s, but I admire his work so much I'm going to let these two pieces sneak into my collection anyway.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Will sing for cake

The quartet sang for my mother-in-law's birthday this evening. Actually, her birthday was a couple of weeks ago, but her sister and brother-in-law were in town, and they wanted to surprise her with a belated birthday treat.

We sang "Happy Birthday" and about two-thirds of the repertoire we've covered since our new bass joined us. We did pretty well for only having had three rehearsals in the new configuration -- it wasn't perfect, and one song got completely derailed and we had to restart in the middle, but overall it was fine. A fun, easy, no-pressure performance opportunity. The honoree was delighted, and a good time was had by all. (Good cake, too.)

Emmy Emmy ko-ko bop

By show of hands: Who cares who wins at the Emmy Awards?

That's what I thought.

The Emmys used to interest me a great deal more when television in general interested me a great deal more. Now, most of the programs that get nominated are shows I've never watched, and most of the ones that win, I probably never would. I'm probably the only non-Amish American citizen who's never seen an entire episode of The Sopranos, Frasier, or Sex and the City. (I tried to watch Sex and the City once, when Jack Koenig, the actor I displaced as Jeopardy! champion when I won my first game, made a guest appearance. I found the show so self-adoringly precious that I stuck around just long enough to say, "Yep, that's Jack," before switching channels. Now I just try to catch Jack when he turns up on one of the Law & Order series, which he does about once per season.)

I was glad to see Allison Janney win again, because (1) she does a consistently nice job on The West Wing, (2) every time I've seen her interviewed, she seems unpretentious and reasonably human, and (3) if she didn't get it, they'd have given it to Jennifer Garner, who can't act her way out of a wet Daredevil movie.

More than that, I was delighted to see James Spader win for the final season of The Practice. His Alan Shore character was, hands down, the most fascinating personality on network television last year. I just hope that Boston Legal doesn't try to turn him into Ally McBeal.

Synchronize your watches

According to the Associated Press, Britney Spears, a.k.a. America's, got married yesterday.

Okay, who's got 3 p.m. Tuesday in the annulment pool?

Stop a bullet cold, make the Axis fold...

All right, the suspense is over. I won my first eBay auction. Yes, I realize this is a small event, insignificant in the order of the universe, and unlikely to change the course of human development or life on earth as we know it. But it's still pretty cool.

I'll have to fire off a check to the seller tomorrow, but until then, we can all admire this scan, and imagine the actual picture proudly displayed on the wall of my office.

You can probably figure out that it's a drawing of Wonder Woman. The artist is comics veteran Dan Adkins, who started out in the business as assistant to the legendary Wally Wood of EC and Tower Comics fame. (Wood was also the artist who designed the now-familiar solid red costume worn by Marvel's Daredevil.) Adkins is probably best known as an inker, and at one time or another he's worked on most of the major heroes in both the Marvel and DC pantheons. Here's a terrific interview with the artist, conducted by former Marvel writer and editor Roy Thomas, from Alter Ego Magazine.

I think this piece, which was penciled, inked, and signed by Dan Adkins, is striking — a close-up portrait as opposed to an action pose. As soon as I saw the scan, I said, "I've gotta have that." It'll match quite nicely with some additional original Wonder Woman art I'm hoping to acquire. I'm giddy in anticipation of its arrival!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

You'll find it on eBay

As part of my ongoing effort to force my habit-shackled middle-aged self to sample new and exciting things (hey, I already started a weblog and bought a wireless phone already this summer; what more could I ask of me?), I'm currently involved in a bidding war on eBay.

I've always said I'd never buy anything on eBay. The idea of sending money blind to someone I don't know gives me the willies. And, as any salesperson who's ever attempted to sell me a new automobile can attest, haggling makes me cranky. (My picture appears in the Universal Car Sales Manual with the caption, "If you ever get this guy as your up, it's time for a break. The commission isn't worth the hunks of flesh he's going to rip out of your butt. Let the snot-nosed rookie deal with him.") Just tell me what you want for the darned thing, and I'll tell you whether I'm amenable to paying that.

But in an idle moment this afternoon, I was leafing through eBay's listings of original comic art for sale, and I discovered a couple of pieces that intrigued me (and would look wicked cool on my office wall) at opening bids that seemed reasonable. So, as someone said to me just the other day, "Never say never." (No, it wasn't Sean Connery.)

If I win the auction, I'll tell you what I bought.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Welcome to the 700 Club

With an easy, looping swing that almost looked as though he'd been fooled on the pitch, Barry Bonds stroked the 0-1 third inning offering from San Diego hurler Jake Peavy (who was probably feeling a little peevish as he watched the ball sail into the left field bleachers) out of SBC Park for his 700th career home run.

After Bonds rounded the bases, he took a curtain call to thank the San Francisco home crowd. A banner unfurled from one of the light towers, revealing a full-length likeness of Bonds's familiar post-swing stance and the number 700. At the conclusion of the inning, as Bonds took the field, groundskeepers unveiled a sign on the left field fence showing Bonds alongside the other two members of the 700 Club, Henry Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714), and the inscription, "A Giant Among Legends."

Best of all, the horde of collectible-seekers who crowded McCovey Cove in watercraft of every description was thwarted when Bonds took the ball to the opposite field.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

That's not Good Eats

Based upon tonight's Iron Chef rerun on the Food Network, here's why the USA will always have a leg up on our good friends in Japan:

No matter how relentlessly innovative their technological advances or how enthusiastically dedicated their work ethic...

...our neighbors across the Pacific still countenance the eating of such bizarre fare as cod roe ice cream.

Don't get me wrong: I love both good sushi and good caviar (much to KJ's chagrin, who refuses to eat anything that ever came in contact with sea water). Just not in my frozen dairy delight. Please.

I've eaten — even enjoyed — many an odd (from a Western cultural perspective) foodstuff in my time, but if the Good Lord had wanted us to put fish eggs in ice cream, Ben and Jerry would have it in every supermarket in America, in a colorful carton and with a funny name.

In memory yet green

I received both a lengthy phone call — when you're traversing the continent from Maine to California, anything longer than "Howdy!" is a lengthy call — and substantial follow-up e-mail from DL today...a most unusual occurrence.

We chatted in depth about the post I wrote a couple of months back about our interestingly circuitous friendship. We also talked a good bit about that one fateful incident of osculation (look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls) we shared one long-ago afternoon. Funny how two people occupying a proximate location in the space/time continuum can experience, and later recall, the same event so differently.

I'm sure I'll have more to write about this exchange, once I figure out exactly what it is I'm thinking. But the turning over of those recollections in the lapidary of my mind kept a Mona Lisa smile flitting across my face all afternoon.

Down in The Boondocks

This should be worth staying up late for — unless you're a night owl like myself and generally up late anyway, in which case, all you'll have to do is flip the dial.

Cartoon Network is bringing Aaron McGruder's comic strip The Boondocks to animated TV life, via its late-night Adult Swim program. The Boondocks is one of the few strips these days that can generally provoke at least a smile from me, so I hope the animated version retains the best qualities of McGruder's work.

Speaking of The Boondocks, that phrase always makes me think of the classic Sixties rock 'n' roll tune, Down in the Boondocks. The song was written by Joe South, a country/folkie singer-songwriter who also penned such hits as Games People Play, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, and Walk a Mile in My Shoes. The best-remembered version of Down in the Boondocks was recorded in 1965 by Billy Joe Royal, who later parlayed his Billboard Top Tem hit into a moderately successful career as a country singer — if indeed singing country music can be accurately called either "successful" or "a career" — but it's been covered by numerous other artists, including Kenny Loggins and Billy Joel.

The lyrics, in case you want to croon this one nostalgically in the shower tomorrow morning, went something like this:
Every night I watch the lights from the house upon the hill
I love a little girl who lives up there and I guess I always will
But I don't dare knock upon her door, 'cause her daddy is my boss man
So I got to try to be content, to see her whenever I can

Down in the boondocks, down in the boondocks
People put me down, 'cause that's the side of town I was born in
I love her, she loves me, but I don't fit her society
Lord have mercy on a boy from down in the boondocks

One fine day I'll find a way to move from this old shack
I'll hold my head up like a king and I never will look back
Until that day I'll work and slave, and I'll save every dime
But tonight she'll have to steal away to see me one more time...

Down in the boondocks.
The word "boondocks," incidentally, comes from the Tagalog word for mountain, bundok. Thanks to my having spent two years in the Philippines, I know a few other Tagalog words and phrases...most of which aren't suitable for publication in a PG-13 blog. My handiest Tagalog, as is true of most of the languages of which I've picked up snippets in my travels, consists of words for the local cuisine, such as lumpia (a sort of Philippine take on the wonton or spring roll) and pancit (a thin rice noodle, often served mixed with vegetables and seafood). Mmmm...good stuff.

Neither the song nor the cuisine have anything to do with Aaron McGruder's comic strip. I just free associate this way sometimes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

New on the DVD rack 9/15/04

Man On Fire.

I'm really looking forward to watching this. Everyone knows I'm a huge Denzel Washington fan (okay, smart aleck, I'm just plain huge, but that's not what I meant and you know it), and this looks like one of his better roles in a while. Director Tony Scott blows hot and cold — he's done some films I really enjoyed (including Crimson Tide — another Denzel film — Enemy of the State, True Romance, and Top Gun — yes, I said it, I liked Top Gun) and some I found embarrassingly weak (one of the worst sports-related movies ever made — The Fan, with Wesley Snipes playing a San Francisco Giants superstar who couldn't be more closely modeled on Barry Bonds if the screenwriter tried, and Robert DeNiro more or less reprising Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy as the unbalanced fan who stalks the ballplayer — comes immediately to mind, as does Beverly Hills Cop II). Writer Brian Helgeland has also written (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) and directed (A Knight's Tale, Payback) some very fine pictures.

Man On Fire is a remake of a decent but little-seen film of the same name made in the late '80s, with Scott Glenn in the Denzel role.

Are you being served?

As I dutifully write my quarterly Federal income tax this morning, I find myself wondering...

Why is the tax-collecting outfit called the Internal Revenue Service? What service am I being provided? I'm doing all the work. (Okay, my accountant did most of the work. But he's already provided the service, for which I have remunerated him appropriately.)

Is the fact that the government calls it the Internal Revenue Service instead of the Internal Revenue Agency or the Internal Revenue Bureau supposed to make me feel better about writing this check? If so, their plan is failing miserably.

I suppose it's related in some way to the impulse we have to say "thank you" to the toll officer when we ante up at a toll bridge. What are we thanking her for? All she did was take three bucks we wouldn't fork over if we didn't have to do so to get where we're going. She didn't provide any service other than to accept the toll, which, in my view, is a service to the state and not to me. If anyone should say "thank you" in that transaction, it should be the toll officer thanking me on behalf of my Uncle Arnold. Maybe she could bid me "Hasta la vista, baby," as I go my way.

The State of California, I notice, is not trying to fool anyone into thinking that their publicans are providing any service to the tax-paying citizenry. The state calls its tax enforcement folks the Franchise Tax Board, which seems more honest. They don't call it a service, and they put the word "tax" right in the name, naked and unashamed. But I mostly like them because, unlike the IRS, I don't have to write them a check today.

Got AK-47?

Rednecks, dope dealers, and Second Amendment-spouting gun nuts everywhere rejoiced this week when President Bush allowed the federal assault weapons ban to expire, without pushing Congress for follow-up legislation to keep these weapons illegal for sale or distribution. California's rednecks, dope dealers, and Second Amendment-spouting gun nuts were disappointed to learn that in this state, at least, the law still prohibits the sale of military-style armament to the average Joe Beerswiller. So here in Cali, our rednecks, dope dealers, and Second Amendment-spouting gun nuts will have to travel next door to Nevada to pick up their shiny new AK-47s.

What baffles me everytime the subject of firearms comes up is that the gun nuts always point to the Second Amendment. Not that gun nuts have actually read the Second Amendment, mind you — as though gun nuts could read — because if they had, and if they had the intelligence God gave a giant isopod, they'd know that it doesn't say one doggoned thing about assault weapons.

In fact, here's what it does say:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
That's it — the entire text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Did you see anything in that single sentence about automatic rifles? Of course not, you say — they weren't invented yet when the Second Amendment was written. True enough. But here's a more challenging question: Did you see anything in that single sentence about individual citizens owning projectile weapons of any type at all? If you actually read those 27 little words, your honest and forthright answer must be, "No, I did not."

What you read in the Second Amendment is about "a well regulated Militia." What is a militia, you ask? According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, 11th Edition (an exceptional standard reference, incidentally, and highly recommended here at SSTOL), a militia is:
A part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency; or, a body of citizens organized for military service.
Did you catch that word "organized" which the lexicographers so skillfully employed twice in that definition? One of its synonyms is "regulated," a word that, interestingly enough, appears in the Second Amendment, modifying the word "militia." "Regulate" means:
To govern or direct according to rule; or, to bring under the control of law or constituted authority: to make regulations for or concerning.
So what have we learned thus far, boys and girls? That the Second Amendment begins by talking about an organized military force governed by rules and laws. Hmm.

Why is a well regulated militia important, according to the framers of the Bill of Rights? Because it is "necessary to the security of a free State." Therefore, whatever the aforementioned well regulated militia is empowered to do by this codicil to the Constitution, it is for the purpose of guaranteeing the security of the State; that is, of the nation itself. Hmmm.

And what is this well regulated militia, which is necessary for the nation's security, empowered to do? Notice that it is here that the Second Amendment introduces "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms." Notice also that "the people" is a plural noun, used in the Constitution to refer to the entire population of the country. If you recall your Schoolhouse Rock, you know the Preamble that opens the Constitution, and you know that it begins with the words, "We the People of the United States..." Therefore, "the people" are the citizenry. Not any one individual citizen. Hmmmm.

I'll ask the question again, in case any rednecks, dope dealers, or Second Amendment-spouting gun nuts have tuned in since last I asked it: Did you see anything — even one word — in that Second Amendment, which we have now thoroughly and completely dissected, parsed, and otherwise examined in its constituent parts, about individual citizens owning firearms? Say it with me: "No, I did not." What you saw, as clear as the crystal Jack Nicholson mentioned to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, is that the Second Amendment grants for the keeping and bearing of arms by the citizenry of the United States — not individual citizens — in the sole and only mentioned context of an organized military force charged with preserving the security of this free State. Period. End of story.

The Second Amendment authorizes the organization of a militia — let's call it the National Guard. The Second Amendment authorizes the citizenry to arm that well-regulated entity for the purpose of national defense, which means simply that we as a people can build and supply an armory for the National Guard. The Second Amendment says not one word about the arming of individual citizens with any armament for any purpose whatsoever. No matter what Jim Bob and Bubba tell you — it just ain't in there, to speak in language that rednecks, dope dealers, and gun nuts comprehend. You can look it up. In fact, you just did.

And if you honestly believe that every individual citizen is legally empowered to take any action the citizenry as a whole is legally empowered to take, I'm coming to your house tomorrow to collect taxes and exercise eminent domain over your property, making it my own. You can just put the key under the mat when you leave.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Dude, I'm getting a Panther

Now that you're wondering — and I know you are — how I came to be scanning five-year-old interviews with comic book artists on the Internet, I'll explain that I've been hunting for some of the all-time greats of the comics biz to create some commissioned artwork for me, to decorate my office space.

Can you believe that great comic artists will actually do commission work for nobodies like me? I couldn't believe it myself, when I learned about it recently. Of course, many of the giants from the '60s through early '80s, when I was in my comics-reading prime, have either passed on (Jack Kirby, John Buscema, et al.) or faded into retirement. But a surprising number are still active, and, even more surprising, some accept (even actively solicit) commissions from comics fans and collectors for original artwork.

My first commissioned piece is being created for me by Bob McLeod, probably best known as the co-creator of Marvel's New Mutants series. Bob was the inker — and at times the penciler — on Amazing Spider-Man and other Spidey titles during a lengthy run. In fact, he was the artist who inked the first two issues of Spider-Man penciled by then-unknown Todd McFarlane.

Bob also was the inker for several issues of one of my favorite forgotten Marvel comics: Jungle Action, starring the Black Panther. Despite its now embarrassingly politically incorrect title, Jungle Action was a landmark book, even though few of today's comic-reading kids have heard of it. It was one of the first mainstream comics to feature a black superhero as its lead character, and one of the first to be drawn on a regular basis by an African American artist, a guy named Billy Graham (no relation, so far as I know, to the famous evangelist). The issues of Jungle Action inked by Bob McLeod featured a storyline in which the Panther (who in his everyday identity was the king of a mythical African country called Wakanda, which specialized in advanced technology) battled a group of villains patterned closely after the Ku Klux Klan. It was heady stuff for its time, because no other publisher in the comics industry would have dared even flirt with such volatile subject matter.

Anyway, Bob has very kindly agreed to create an original pen and ink drawing of the Black Panther for me, in the style of the old Jungle Action series. I can hardly wait to see his finished design.

Hey, come check out my...oh, never mind.

Here's one of the funniest lines I've read all week. It's from an interview with artist Frank Brunner in the Fall 1999 issue of Comic Book Artist magazine:

"There was never a more obscene title for an overground comic than Giant-Size Man-Thing."

That almost made me snort coffee. For years I read those comics, and never once thought anything untoward about that title. I'm sure no one at Marvel Comics did either, back in the day. How our sensitivities have changed.

Patience, my child

Yeah, I know the posts have been a trifle sparse here at the old SSTOL the past few days.

It's been a hectic time: Saturday the chorus had an all-day coaching session followed by a performance in the evening — the MC work was particularly stunning (ahem); Sunday are always frenetic, and especially so when the day before has been flat-out exhausting; Monday was a killer (in a good way) day for business -- I picked up three new clients and several new projects, which will make the bank account (and my CPA) happy once I get the work done and get paid.

But never fear, faithful reader. I'm jotting down copious notes referencing topics I want/need/will love to blog about, and those thoughts will be winging your way as soon as I have a couple of spare hours when I'm not writing for money.

So hang in there.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Miller has two faces

Remember that classic '70s soul hit by the O-Jays (who are no doubt thankful their career dried up before old Number 32 went cruising in the white Bronco) called Back Stabbers? The lyrics included these lines:
A few of your buddies they sure look shady
Blades are long, clenched tight in their fist
Aimin' straight at your back
And I don't think they'll miss
(What they do?)
They smile in your face
All the time they want to take your place
The back stabbers
I guess maybe the O-Jays had met "Zig-Zag" Zell Miller. You know Zell; the turncoat weasel — I mean, the Democratic Senator from Georgia — who keynoted the GOP Convention a short while back, taking the opportunity to rip John Kerry a new nether orifice on national television.

You mean, the same John Kerry Zell praises to the skies in this 2001 speech, archived on his own Web site? The John Kerry Zell calls "one of this nation's authentic heroes, one of this party's best-known and greatest leaders — and a good friend"? Yes, I mean that John Kerry.

With "good friends" like Zell Miller, Kerry sure doesn't need Osama bin Laden on his Christmas card list.

Here's a word of advice for you friendly folks from Georgia: If you invite Zell Miller to your next cookout, keep him away from the barbecue cutlery. And don't turn your back.

Friday, September 10, 2004

"I'm going to Disneyland"

Michael Eisner has announced that he is walking away as CEO of the Walt Disney Company at the end of his current contract in September 2006.

No doubt, at the home of Roy E. Disney, there was much rejoicing.

As a lifelong Disney partisan, it's hard to categorize my feelings about Eisner. On the one hand, he took a company that was teetering on the brink of collapse in the early 1980s and transformed it, Sorcerer-like, into the entertainment industry's 800-pound gorilla. Under Eisner's reign, Disney reenergized its foundering feature animation department, expanded its theme parks and other live entertainment offerings, built a wildly successful partnership with Steve Jobs's upstart computer animation company Pixar, and gained a central position in the television field with the acquisition of Capital Cities, which included the ABC/ESPN family of networks and cable channels.

The flip side of the coin, however, reflects the fact that after the renaissance, Eisner and the beancounters drove Disney feature animation into the ground, to the degree that it now no longer exists, for all intents and purposes. The people he put in charge of the theme parks cut corners to the point that entertainment venues that had once been without peer are now scorned by a fair portion of their fanbase for resorting to the cheap and slapdash far too often. ABC has fallen from the first-place broadcast network to the fourth. The future of the Pixar partnership stands very much in doubt. Disney's foray into sports franchise ownership with baseball's Anaheim Angels and the NHL's Mighty Ducks has been an unmitigated disaster — the Angels have already been sold off, and Disney would gladly divest itself of the Ducks if a buyer could be found.

I believe Eisner has always been well-intentioned, and that everything he's done has been with the good of Disney at heart. I just think he got himself and the company overextended, and that finally it became impossible to keep all the plates spinning. Going back to Walt's conservatism — which is what I believe Roy E. would do if he were in command — isn't the answer; what worked in the 1950s and '60s isn't going to fly in the 21st century. But the next generation of Disney leadership, whoever they may be, would do well to consider what the company's core competencies are (listen to me, sounding like a management consultant when I can barely balance a checkbook) and focus on those. From my perspective, that would mean concentrating on the television, film, and theme park aspects of their business, and ditching everything else. I'd also ensure that a freer hand went to the creative people in each of those areas, and less control to the number-crunchers. "Let Disney be Disney" should be the mantra for a successful future.

And I hope Michael Eisner takes the time to really enjoy the fruits of his retirement. The past few years have been strife-ridden and rocky, but he deserves credit for saving Disney from its death throes and elevating it to one of the world's premier companies. Eisner should be proud of those accomplishments. I hope he really does go to Disneyland, not as the boss, but as a fan once again...and enjoys the rides.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Formula for winning the White House: Be cool. Don't be the Other Guy.

I'll be glad for many reasons when election season is over, not the least of which is so that I can stop filling this blog with quasi-political ramblings and get on with more fun stuff. But right now, the race for the Presidency is like beef: it's what's for dinner.

I don't know whether the new documents that purport to reveal various peccadilloes committed by one Lt. George W. Bush back in the Age of Superfly are legitimate or not. But I've thought all along that this issue is a non-starter. Suppose Little George did get help from friendly fatcats in avoiding combat service, and did skip out on some classes, assignments, and physical exams when he was in the National Guard. What kind of person were you 30 years ago? I'd hope we've all changed, grown, and learned a thing or two since then.

I'm not justifying anything Bush may have done that he shouldn't — you know me better than that. I'm just saying that it was 30 years ago. The accident's over, people. Nothing to see here. The same applies to all the Swift Boat malarkey about Kerry. Give it a rest. Today's a new day. Let's focus on the here and now, and look from here to the future.

Speaking of Kerry, his real problem right now is superficial, but simple: he's just not cool. Cool is critical. Cool is one of two ways you get to be President. His other problem is that he has to avoid becoming the Other Guy — whoever is the popular whipping boy of the day. Think I'm kidding? Let's look at the Presidents who've held office in my lifetime, and why they won election:

• Kennedy '60. Cool as the other side of the pillow. As several women not his wife who shared that pillow could probably attest.

• Johnson '64. Not the Other Guy. Remember: Vote for Goldwater and the little girl gets nuked.

• Nixon '68: Not the Other Guy. The Other Guy was the specter of a criminally unpopular LBJ, personified by the sitting Vice President, Hubert Humphrey.

• Nixon '72: Not the Other Guy. This time, the Other Guy was that Commie McGovern. Nixon was a master at not being the Other Guy, or at least making the Other Guy seem like an infinitely worse choice.

• Carter: A little of both. He had that aw-shucks good ol' boy vibe going on — which other President ever inspired a sitcom about his hometown? And he wasn't the Other Guy who pardoned Tricky Dick.

• Reagan: The King of Cool. Personally, I think the man was a dimwitted fraud, but you can't argue with the love and devotion he inspired in people.

• Bush 41: Not the Other Guy. All it took was one picture of Michael Dukakis looking like Snoopy the World War I Flying Ace in the turret of a tank. You can't be dorky and be President. We will forgive the leader of the Free World many sins; dorkiness is not one of them.

• Clinton '92: Not the Other Guy. By the time November 1992 rolled around, you, I, and any of a dozen of our closest personal friends could have been elected President. Everyone just wanted dull, dorky, incompetent King George I to beat feet to Kennebunkport, and not let the White House door smack him in the patoot on the way out.

• Clinton '96: Cool. By now, we really liked the big lug.

• Bush 43: Who cares? He didn't really win anyway. I'm sorry — that's a copout. Bush in Y2K was the second coming of Jimmy Carter: a little hillbilly cool combined with an Other Guy who came off as stiff, robotic, and humorless.

Between now and November, John Kerry has to overcome two key challenges: (1) he's not cool — at all; and (2) most people don't hate Bush enough yet for the Other Guy Syndrome to sufficiently offset Kerry's inherent dorkiness.

There's only so much Kerry can do to combat these issues. The Cool Factor is tough; the guy is what he is, and cool he isn't. He can try to substitute by making the cool people at his disposal more prominent in his campaign. Unfortunately, Clinton's rehabbing from open heart surgery and won't be a major factor on the campaign trail. Kerry's already added John Edwards, who seems pretty cool, as his running mate. (Problem is, no one gives a rat's spit who the running mates are. If that weren't true, Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney would have kept Bush elder and younger from ever darkening the carpet in the Oval Office, and Lloyd Bentsen would have won the Presidency for Dukakis.) Most of the other cool Democrats — the Hillary Clintons, the Barack Obamas — aren't positioned to generate much juice. And, to be honest, the Democrats don't have many people in prominent roles right now who are cool. That's why John Kerry is the nominee.

So, even though he's ducked this as long and as hard as he can, Kerry has to make Bush the Other Guy. He needs to start hammering home the image of 1,000 dead Americans in Iraq, while Osama bin Laden — who, unlike Saddam Hussein, has actually shown the means and the willingness to attack the U.S. on our home soil — runs free. He needs to plaster the $422 billion deficit figure on every available billboard. He needs to count aloud the jobs that have been lost since Bush took office. He needs to look every American squarely in the eye and ask the question: How many more of your sons and daughters do you want to sacrifice on the altar of this man's ego?

More than anything, he needs to hurry up. The election is less than two months away.

Farewell, Aaron

I'm stunned and saddened to read of the death of young Aaron Hawkins, known to many throughout the Blogosphere for his popular journal site, Uppity Negro. We have far too few talented, thoughtful young men — and especially young men of color — to lose even one.

The grief-stricken testimonials so many have blogged today reflect the impact one person can have on the lives of countless others, even those whom they never had occasion to meet in person. I'm sorry that perhaps Aaron did not see his own impact clearly enough to keep him in this world, touching hearts and minds.

Aaron's was one of the first blogs I read when I became interested in this phenomenon. Like many others, I knew him only from his words, but they were good words. He owned a unique and powerful voice, one that is now stilled long before its time.

My heart goes out to Aaron's family, and to his friends throughout the blogging community.

We got your sports right here

Remember the good old days of ESPN? Back before the NFL and MLB contracts? Before the network was the most lucrative cash cow in the Disney broadcast/cable arsenal? Back in the Dark Ages when, to fill out their meager schedule in between the actual, heavy-duty sports events, ESPN regaled us with...

• Australian Rules Football?
• Curling?
• Bass fishing?
• Caber tossing?
• Hour after hour of nine-ball pool tournaments?

Those days are back on Fox Sports. Right now, even as I type, Fox is airing...

World Championship Darts.

The UK Open, to be precise. Fat, sweaty, pasty-faced English guys sticking little feathery, pointy things in a corkboard while legions of ardent, alcohol-fueled pub-crawling fanatics scream in the background. Brought to you by Budweiser.

Try to restrain your excitement.

Right you are, Holmes

I see Maureen Dowd at the New York Times must have read my post on Dick Cheney's scare tactics. One step ahead of the mainstream media yet again.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

You can call me Al, if Al's got a check coming

The quartet and I had a fascinating (well, fascinating to me, anyway) e-mail discussion today about names and their impact on our personal identities.

The ball started rolling when I looked at a check our new bass had given me last night, reimbursing me for his quartet outfit. I noticed for the first time that, although I know him as "Eddie," his first name and middle initial are "Lawrence H." Curious — which isn't my middle name, but should be — I shot him a note asking how the nickname, which doesn't appear to derive from his given names, had originated. He explained that it was a family thing, a sort of tribute to his late maternal grandfather, to whom he was very close. Plus he never much cottoned to being called "Larry." (I can understand that. All I can think of when I hear "Larry" is that noxious, tuneless song "My Name is Larry" by some guy called Larry "Wild Man" Fischer. Dr. Demento used to feature that noise on his radio show almost every week when I was in high school.)

Which prompted me to thinking about my own name. I spent the first 35 years of my life trying in vain to convince people that my first name is Michael, not Mike. I never introduced myself or signed my name as anything other than Michael, but invariably, people reverted to Mike despite my best efforts to the contrary. The last straw came when I started singing in the local barbershop chorus eight years ago. The person in charge of ordering official chorus name badges handed me one that said "Mike" on it, despite the fact that all the membership paperwork I turned in said "Michael." With a sigh, I surrendered to the inevitable, since people were going to call me what the badge said, regardless.

This is mostly a male thing, I've noticed. With one exception, my female friends and acquaintances have always called me Michael, and do to this day. DL is the one holdout — I've never quite figured out why, after knowing me for a quarter of a century, she insists on calling me Mike, especially given that I always sign my e-mails to her with my full given name. The only other women I know who address me as Mike are wives and SOs of other barbershop singers. KJ, who has been in a relationship with me for 23 years, has never, ever called me Mike, and it still raises her hackles a little (though less than it used to) to hear other people do it. Men, on the other hand, are incorrigible in this regard. I can introduce myself to another guy, "Hi, I'm Michael," and get the immediate reply, "Good to meet you, Mike." Sigh.

So I've surrendered. I no longer correct people who call me by the once-despised diminutive, and I even use it myself in a sort of joking way. In nearly 43 years on this crazy planet, I've learned to choose my battles wisely. This one isn't worth the fight.

If you don't re-elect this President, al-Queda will kill this dog

Dick Cheney in Iowa, apparently thinking that just because they're farmers, they must also be ignorant rubes:
It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.
The Vice President of the United States should know better. But he doesn't.

Cheney's comment reminds me of that legendary — or infamous, depending on your perspective — "Daisy" political ad devised by the Lyndon Johnson campaign to slam Republican challenger Barry Goldwater during the 1964 election season. (According to some sources, Bill Moyers, later a respected TV newsman and commentator, was the architect of the ad.) The spot showed a cherub-faced little girl picking daisies in a meadow, as a voiceover announcer intoned a countdown. At the end of the ad, the meadow dissolved into a nuclear mushroom cloud, followed by the words, "Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home." The message, though not explicitly stated, was unmistakable: Vote for Goldwater, and this kid dies. (You can view the "Daisy" ad in its entirety on's Goldwater obituary page. Scroll about two-thirds of the way down the page and you'll find the QuickTime link.)

Years later, the humor magazine National Lampoon parodied the theme in its notorious "Death" issue, the cover of which featured a sad-eyed mongrel hound with a revolver pointed at its head, and the caption, "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog."

Speaking of Barry Goldwater — and, oddly enough, I was — he was an interesting character. Though he was the guy most responsible for the shift of Southern voters away from the Democratic Party to the GOP, and was the most doggedly conservative idealogue of his heyday (and a notorious opponent of civil rights legislation, ostensibly on the grounds of states' rights), Goldwater never embraced — and often openly opposed — the so-called religious right. In his later years, he spoke out against such conservative darlings as the ban against homosexuals in the military, anti-abortion legislation, and the Whitewater prosecution. Which just proves, I suppose, the old "Hitler painted portraits and loved dogs" rule: no one can be entirely pigeonholed, even (perhaps especially) in politics.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Good rockin' tonight

The quartet had a brilliant rehearsal this evening.

This was our first rehearsal in three weeks, and only the second with our new bass vocalist. It was our coach's week off, so it was just the four of us, but we accomplished a tremendous amount of successful work. We plowed through everything we were scheduled to rehearse, threw in a couple of things that weren't on the schedule, and even started working up a brand new arrangement three of us had never seen before. Chords rang, overtunes buzzed and spun in the air, and a great time was enjoyed by all. We made more music than this quartet ever made in five rehearsals in its previous incarnations. It's only been a half hour since everyone went home, and I'm already counting the minutes until next Tuesday night.

I don't know what people who don't sing do to achieve this thrill. Eat lobster, have sex, or ride roller coasters, I suppose. Two of those are messy, and the third requires heavy equipment. Singing is clean, and you don't need anything but your voice.

Prez sez: Just call your OB/GYN the "Love Doctor"

Here's what President Bush said today while stumping in my parents' home town of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, the pride of Butler County and gateway to the Bootheel:
"We need to do something about these frivolous lawsuits that are running up the cost of your health care and running good docs out of business. We've got an issue in America. Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."
I didn't know the canons of medical ethics allowed them to drum up their own business like that. Now I know why Eric "Otter" Stratton went into (ahem) that field.

That crazy George W. Sometimes, you've just got to smile and shake your head at the goofy little devil. If he didn't have his finger on the "nukular" button, he'd almost be comically lovable.


Three zeroes too many

One thousand American lives.

Husbands and wives. Daughters and sons. Fathers and mothers. Grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Coworkers. Neighbors. Friends.


All in the service of a quixotic personal vendetta on the part of an ill-informed, ill-advised President of the United States, and a tunnel-visioned desire on the part of the Vice President to fatten the pockets of his pals in the military-industrial complex. Oh yes...and to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his wacked-out sons.

One out of three isn't bad...if you're a hitter in baseball.

But if you're talking about the rationale for the loss of 1,000 American lives — not that the lives of those from other nations, including Iraq, are meaningless, but let's keep the focus simple for the moment — you owe them, and the families they leave behind, a much greater percentage than that.

As the son of a career Air Force noncom, I value and hold precious the lives and service of the good men and women of our armed forces. I understand intimately the conditions they face at home and in the field. I applaud them for their courage, their patriotism, and their dedication to duty. I am proud of their acceptance of this grave challenge — proud to call them my countrymen and countrywomen, my homeboys and homegirls. I pray earnestly for their protection every day on the battlefields and in the mean streets of Iraqi cities. I hope they will all make it home to their families and loved ones swiftly, safely, and soon.

But I weep for the impossible situation into which their leaders have injected them, and I fear that it won't end without more of their lives being added to the toll.

As though one thousand were not already far too many.

Happy Birthday, Google

Google, the Internet's premier search engine, turns six years old today. I'd be hard pressed to think of another company that became not just a household name, but a ubiquitous, essential part of my everyday existence, in that short a time. I'm not yet convinced about the long-term value of their stock, but I'm definitely a believer in the product.

And yes, this blog is powered by Blogger, now part of the ever-expanding Google empire. But they're not paying me to say that.

I want my $1,440!

New figures released today by the Congressional Budget Office reveal the federal deficit to be in the neighborhood of $422 billion. If you calculate it out, that means every American citizen is approximately $1,440 in the hole, all 293 million of us.

There goes our vacation fund.

The White House is celebrating these numbers because, as recently as a month ago, their estimates pegged the deficit at over $450 billion: "See? We're not ripping you off as bad as we thought." Never mind the fact that when this administration took office, the government had been in the black for nearly four years, with record surpluses.

Where'd my $1,440 go, George and Dick? Into the vacation fund of some topkick at Halliburton, no doubt — Cheney's cronies whose contracts the Pentagon is yanking because the Defense Department finally figured out just how brutally they're getting overcharged.

It's funny how the Republicans always seem to get away with labeling the Democrats as the tax-and-spend party, yet when the Dems hold the reins, the national debt goes away. The last two administrations to preside over record deficits? Ironically, the two most conservative Republicans: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The only President in recent history who balanced the budget — not just once, but consistently for almost an entire term — was that evil Bill Clinton.

Isn't that interesting?

Maybe Clinton couldn't keep his fingers off the hired help, but at least he kept them out of my wallet.

Monday, September 06, 2004

What's Up With That? #7: Why is it called "Labor Day" if everyone's off work?

We should call it "Non-Labor Day." Or "Labor-Free Day." Or "Anti-Labor Day." Or something.

I didn't actually labor today, but I've been busy nonetheless. I edited a handful of reviews for DVD Verdict, and banged out the first draft of my MC script for the chorus performance on Saturday. The chorus is rehearsing tonight, despite the holiday, what with the performance in five days and District contest three weeks after that. I'm MC'ing this evening's rehearsal — which I did for two and one-half years before taking a hiatus — so it should be an interesting time.

Still hot, though. It'll be days before the fire up at The Geysers is under control.


Sunday, September 05, 2004

Steele moving after all these years

Sports columnist David Steele has written his last article for the San Francisco Chronicle. He's moving all the way back east to the Baltimore Sun. Steele's been one of my favorites in the Sporting Green: reasoned, tough, never flashy, always thoughtful. I first turned on to him when he was the Chron's Warriors beat writer; he's probably the best day-in-day-out basketball writer I've read. As a columnist, he showed that he was pretty smart about a number of other sports too.

I'm sure he'll still be readable online at the Sun's site, but I'll miss him as part of my daily Chron-crawl at SF Gate. Best wishes, Mr. Steele, and thanks for all the good words.


In honor of the hottest weather in these parts this season, we celebrate SwanShadow's Top Three Slurpee Flavors.

1. Coca-Cola. It's the real thing.

2. Piña Colada. If you like Piña Colada Slurpees, you probably also enjoy getting caught in the rain, the feel of the ocean, the taste of champagne, and making love at midnight in the dunes on the cape.

3. Blue Raspberry. Great flavor, but drinking one always reminds me of George Carlin's rant about the fact that there is no naturally occurring blue food.

Honorable Mention: Mountain Dew (the original, not these newfangled Dews that come in bizarre flavor/color combinations other than the original nondescript citrus/Day-Glo chartreuse). All the skater kids to whom Dew is hot and happening have no idea that this soft drink used to be promoted with a caricature of a barefoot hillbilly hollering, "Yahoo! It's Mountain Dew!" back in the days when "Yahoo!" was an Ozark mating call rather than an Internet megalith.

Sour grapes from the Peanut Gallery

Let me take a wild guess: Barry Bonds once stiffed Neil Hayes for an interview. Or blew him off when Hayes was on deadline and desperate for something newsworthy. Or urinated in his Cha-Cha Bowl. Or something.

Neil Hayes is a columnist for the Contra Costa Times in the East Bay, and a contributing writer for MSNBC. In an article on that latter site, Hayes not only raises the oft-repeated chestnut that Bonds is an inferior player to Babe Ruth, but also claims that Bonds is inferior as an all-around player to Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio.

DiMaggio? You've got to be joking.

Look, Aaron himself says that Bonds is superior to Ruth. Hayes quotes the retired Braves slugger in his own article:
"You have to say in this generation, and I’m sure it’s going to be argued and debated among sportswriters and others, people will say Babe Ruth was the greatest, and I wish them all the luck in the world, but you have to put Barry a little past Babe Ruth."
If I have to judge between the baseball opinion of the all-time home run king and Hall of Famer, and a writer who probably — like most of his local peers — has been pushed aside and walked over by the Giants' sometimes-surly superstar...well, call me kooky, but I'm giving the nod to Hammerin' Hank.

No one asked Aaron, but I'm sure that in his heart of hearts he also knows Bonds is a better player than he was. Make no mistake: Aaron, despite his home run and RBI records, may be the most seriously underrated man in the top echelon of players all-time. You could hit 30 homers, a pretty solid number, every season for 25 years — and almost nobody plays that long — and still be five dingers shy of Hank. But Aaron, as good as he was (and he was a terrific defensive outfielder and baserunner as well as hitter), didn't scare people into changing their entire game plan the way Bonds does. Neither did Willie Mays, who was a better all-around player than Aaron, and probably the best of all until his godson came along.

And DiMaggio? Again, you've got to be joking. I could name 25 players who were better than DiMaggio, and probably leave a few people off the list who should be on it. DiMaggio was as overrated as Aaron was underrated. He may well have been the most overrated star player in the history of baseball, all because of one lucky streak wherein he hit in an incredible 56 consecutive games.

The true mark of a warrior is the fear he instills in his enemies. No one has ever terrified opposing managers, pitchers, catchers, and fielders the way Bonds does daily. And the amazing thing is the success he has despite the drastic measures most teams take against him — the incessant intentional walks, the infield shifts, the wall-hugging outfield stances, the too-careful pitching. Still he crashes homer after homer, and leads the league in batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. Leads, heck — the guys in second in those categories are flyspecks in Bonds's rear-view mirror.

Hayes raises the old argument that Ruth was a great pitcher as well as hitter, and of course Bonds never pitched. That's a little like saying Joe Montana wasn't a great quarterback because he didn't have to play both sides of the ball. Ruth played in an era when that kind of two-level dominance was possible, because he was so much better than anyone he ever played against. Bonds has spent his entire career as a contemporary with some of the greatest power hitters ever — Sosa, Griffey, A-Rod, et al. He's faced more dominating pitchers than Ruth ever dreamed about, including devastating closers — a facet of the game that didn't exist in Ruth's day. And he's outshone them all, year after year, for a decade and a half, and is more imposing at 40 than he was at 30. When Ruth was Bonds's age, he was sitting in taverns in his street clothes pickling his liver and bragging about how he used to be somebody.

Unlike Neil Hayes, I don't know Barry Bonds personally. It's quite possible I wouldn't want to hold his hand and sing "Kumbaya" if I did know him as closely as the writers and players who rip him consistently. But I know this: he's the greatest baseball player I've ever seen, and, not coincidentally, he's the best that ever lived.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

It was on fire when I lay down on it

A sizable wildfire is blazing away north of here, up near the Sonoma-Lake county line. Apparently it was touched off by an electrical malfunction of some kind at the geothermal power plant at The Geysers (the world's largest plant of its type, and yes, we're darned proud). Our power hasn't been affected yet, but if they have to shut down all the outgoing lines from the plant, we may be in the dark later. As hot as it is, that won't be fun.

I don't envy the firefighters — it's a sultry (in the low 90s), windy (with gusts up to 35 miles per hour) day, which is exactly the combination of elements you don't want when battling a wildfire. Even though we're a good 40-plus miles away, the column of smoke has befogged an otherwise crystal-clear sky. Fortunately, it's a relatively remote area that's burning, at least residentially speaking — there aren't more than a couple of hundred folks living in the pathway of the fire. Not that that makes those couple of hundred folks feel any better right at this moment.

Meanwhile, I'm barbecuing three hefty slabs of London broil, just to contribute my portion to the smoky air. My recipe is simple: I soak them in soy sauce, and rub them with Montreal steak seasoning plus a little extra black pepper and garlic powder. I'd save you a slice, but you'd have to come over to eat it, and I don't even know you.


Friday, September 03, 2004

Nominee for the Most Ironically Named Professional Award

Courtesy of the funlovers over at

Let this be a warning to you aspiring parachutists: if the instructor's name is David Pancake, take a pass on those skydiving lessons.

What's Up With That? #6: Pointy-toed shoes

Ladies, help a brother understand: I don't get the pointy-toed shoe thing. Easily the dorkiest women's footwear innovation since those backless sneakers that were all the rage a few years ago.

Here's my take on pointy shoes:

They can't possibly be comfortable.
The human foot doesn't conform to a sharp, skinny point. Feet are naturally narrower at the heel and wider at the toe, not the other way around. (I've heard that some women are undergoing surgery to shape their feet to better fit these shoes. Seriously, if you're altering your body surgically to facilitate implementation of a clothing fad, you need professional help.)

They aren't attractive. Trust me on this. I've been male for nearly 43 years, and I have never said to myself, nor ever heard another male say, "Check out the hottie wearing the shoes that look like letter openers." (Incidentally, most of us couldn't care less about stiletto heels either, so you can get over those too.)

They're self-defeating. Women always think their feet are too big. Do you not realize, ladies, that those pointy shoes make your feet appear twice as long as they actually are? Some of you look like you're wearing kayaks on your feet, for pity's sake.

Bottom line: just because some Eurotrash clothing designer is selling your sisters a bill of goods with these ridiculous cockroach-killers, and just because the paparazzi snapped some Hollywood bimbo wearing them to an awards ceremony, don't you buy in. Fight the fashion. Your feet and your podiatrist will thank you.


Blogs for Bush: America yawns

Frank Barnako at CBS MarketWatch reports in his Internet Daily newsletter today that practically no one read the 16 blogs that were accredited to cover the GOP convention.

What a shock.

Barnako also notes that according to Hitwise, a company that measures online traffic, receives nine times more visits than

Again, what a shock.

Proof once again that (a) Republicans just aren't very interesting, and (b) most people who vote Republican don't read.

Speaking of CBS MarketWatch (a terrific source, incidentally, for a plethora of informative e-newsletters and bulletins to which you can subscribe, free of charge), take a moment to read financial guru Marshall Loeb's column reviewing the President's empty, feel-good convention speech last night. The title, "Missed Opportunity at the Garden," pretty well sums it up.

Get well soon, Slick Willie

Here's a positive thought for a speedy recovery to former Prez Bill Clinton, who was hospitalized today with chest pain and is scheduled to undergo quadruple cardiac bypass surgery on Tuesday.

Keep your mitts off the nurses, willya Bill?

Grand Old Party pooper

He's soft-pedaling the thing publicly, but I suspect there's a good deal more than meets to the eye to Governor Schwarzenegger's determination not to campaign for President Bush outside California.

Strong evidence of this lies in the press conference Arnold conducted yesterday at Planet Hollywood. Check out this line from the Governator:
"It is extremely important for me to stay in California and do my job. We have, as you know, a huge majority of Democrats in the state, and a lot of them have voted for me. And I have to represent them. I have to fight for them. I really have to get things done. It would be wrong to see me every day on the road, going from state to state. That's not what people voted for. That's not why people sent me to Sacramento."
Or this:
"People always say if you're not totally for the right, you're not really a Republican. That's nonsense. This is what I wanted to let everyone know: 'Hey, let's be inclusive.' I think that we are on to something in California, that we are going to try to bring things to the center. The action is in the center; it's not always to the right."
My thought is that Arnold, despite his rousing stump speech at the GOP Convention, isn't much of a Bush guy. Truth to tell, the two don't have much in common ideologically. Arnold's more centrist: he's pro-choice (though he opposes partial-birth abortion and supports parental notification), supports gun control (he favors eliminating the gun show exception and backs the Brady Bill), pays at least nominal fealty to the concept of gay rights (though not gay marriage), and at least thus far opposes off-shore oil drilling.

More than that, though, I believe that Schwarzenegger, a fiercely competitive guy, just doesn't see Bush as a winner. He's reluctant to hitch his wagon to what he considers a falling star. Arnold would like to be President himself someday — assuming his supporters can push through a Constitutional amendment that would permit a naturalized citizen to be elected — and thus isn't jazzed about being too closely aligned with an administration that will need plenty of luck to win a second term.

So, Arnold says to the Prez what he said to the dope pusher in Kindergarten Cop: "I'm the party pooper." The Grand Old Party pooper, that is.

One interesting sidelight: I happened to be in the car listening to KCBS NewsRadio yesterday when the Arnold press conference broke up. Doug Sovern, the KCBS reporter on the scene, was the only radio journalist invited into the conference, and was apparently read the riot act by the Schwarzenegger camp about not scooping his brethren by revealing too many specifics of what the Governator had said. Sovern was clearly agitated by the restrictions — though he was absolutely professional about it on the air, one could hear the anger tinging his voice when he reported the story and mentioned that he had been ordered not to tell most of what he'd heard. Schwarzenegger, who more than any other politician owes his office to mass media, should know better than to pull that kind of stunt with the fourth estate.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

I Wish I'd Said That #2: From Nixon to Newt in one scary generation

Here's the finest and funniest paragraph I've read this political season, by the inimitable Garrison Keillor. In an online essay entitled, "We're Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore," published on the In These Times Web site, Keillor makes this observation about the current state of the Republican Party, wondering how the decent, pragmatic party of Dwight Eisenhower became the paranoid, hostile party of Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush:
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No. 1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Now I'd call that "having a really bad day"

Gentlemen, you won't even want to think about this.

This is the reason one never goes strolling nude in Albuquerque. One of the reasons, anyway.

He shoots, no one scores

So the prosecutors are dropping the Kobe Bryant case. No surprise. The only real shocker is that they dragged the thing out this long before deciding that their case was a non-starter.

I don't know what happened in that hotel room between Bryant and the young woman who brought the allegation originally, other than that both parties appear to agree that sexual relations of some fashion took place. I have no clue whether Bryant is a vicious misogynist who forced himself on the girl, or whether she's a cold-blooded gold digger who saw an opportunity to cash in on a momentary assignation with a celebrity. I wasn't in the room when it happened — no matter what either of them may tell you — and the only people who were there present different accounts of the events. The physical evidence, apparently, is inconclusive as to the issue of forcible assault.

But here's what I do know: were the man involved not Kobe Bryant, star forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, the whole matter would have proceeded quite differently. Most likely, he'd be in the hoosegow already, for one thing, whether guilty or innocent — in a he said/she said where no one disputes the act, only the consensuality, tie goes to the accuser. Especially if the accuser is fair-skinned and blonde, and the accused is...well...not. (If you doubt that, I know nine fellows from Scottsboro, Alabama with whom you should chat.) And whatever the outcome, you and I, who don't live in the tiny mountain hamlet of Eagle, Colorado, would never have heard about it.

As I said, I don't know what happened. I suspect the truth lies somewhere between the two tales told by the participants, and I've no way of knowing to which it's closer. No matter who did or didn't do what to whom, it's Mrs. Bryant who was the real victim here, because even if her husband didn't rape the young woman, he did in fact do something else with her that he ought not to have done with a person not his wife. All the diamond rings on Rodeo Drive won't make that go away.

Let's tell secrets

Here's some food for thought you won't hear amid the rhetoric at the Republican National Convention this week:

Since President Bush took office in January 2001, America has lost 1.1 million jobs. To look at it another way, if you're looking for a job today, you have 1.1 million fewer chances of landing one than you did four years ago. No Presidential administration since the Depression, Republican or Democratic, has overseen a net loss of jobs. Unless corporate America suddenly decides to hire an extra 1.1 million people for whom they're not currently hunting, Bush 43 will be the first.

Per the newly released Census figures, 1.3 million more Americans are living below the poverty line today than were at this time last year. That includes nearly 25 percent of African Americans (not that the President bothered to accept that invitation to the NAACP convention to discuss it, mind you), and 17.6 of America's children of all shades. These are the people to whom those massive tax cuts for the wealthy are supposed to be trickling down. Looks like someone put a tight new washer in that faucet where the trickle used to be.

Overall, the median household income has plummeted 3.4 percent in the past three years. That means the average American household is trying to skate by on $1,500 less per year. How much are you enjoying that challenge? No wonder consumer debt has pushed past the $2 trillion mark — people are mortgaging their futures to pay bills in the present.

When President Bush assumed the White House, the Federal budget was running a record surplus of $236 billion, and had been balanced for three consecutive years. Today, the budget sits at a record $445 billion deficit. I've done the math for you — that's a negative turnaround of $681 billion. I don't know about you, but that money didn't fall into my bank account. Where'd all those simoleons go? Start with the farm subsidy bill the President signed two years ago, even though it was a prime example of the kind of big-government boondoggle Republicans are supposed to despise. Oh, yeah, and you might have heard some scuttlebutt about this Iraq thing. If the Governator wants to find some "economic girlie-men," he might think about looking up in the Presidential box.

As I said, you won't hear any of the above at the GOP Convention. But you should.

Björk, the other white meat

Speaking of Björk...

The a cappella community is all abuzz these days about the Icelandic icon's new album, entitled Medulla, because it's garnering more attention than any all-vocal recording since "Don't Worry, Be Happy." The Pride of Reykjavik chats up her new work here, in her typically oddball style.

If you're curious to check what kind of sounds Björk and her supporting cast (including an Inuit throat singer, which everyone should hear at least once in a lifetime), John Neal has a sample posted over at A Cappella News. It's not going to be everyone's cup of vanilla latte — I wouldn't want a steady diet of it myself — but it's definitely intriguing. (If you like what you hear, John's company, Primary A Cappella, will gladly sell you a copy of the CD. You can tell him I sent you.)