Thursday, November 30, 2006

Baze blazes to racing record

Congratulations to jockey Russell Baze, who today tied Laffit Pincay Jr.'s record for career wins by notching victory number 9,530 aboard Christie's Fame at Bay Meadows race track.

In all likelihood, Baze will eclipse Pincay sometime tomorrow, as he's scheduled with seven rides on Friday's Bay Meadows program.

A veritable legend in thoroughbred circles around these parts, Baze has, despite rarely appearing in the celebrated Triple Crown and Breeders Cup races, amassed a résumé unparalleled in the history of his sport. He has won at least 400 races in a single year eleven times, a accomplishment no other jockey has attained more than three times. For ten consecutive years (1995-2004), Baze won the award given to the U.S. jockey with the highest winning percentage. Last year, he became only the second jockey in history to tally 9,000 career wins. He has been a member of the National Racing Hall of Fame since 1999.

Baze is an unusual jockey, for several reasons beyond his stunning statistics. He has toiled for most of his career here in northern California, riding at both local tracks — Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields — and on our summer county fair circuit, instead of chasing the greater prestige and purses of the major tracks in southern California. By all accounts, he's a decent, unpretentious family man in an industry filled with sharks and poseurs. And, unlike most jockeys at his level of achievement, he still rises early every morning to work out horses, just because he enjoys being with the animals.

I've had the privilege of watching "Russell the Muscle" bolt to the winner's circle on numerous occasions over the years, during the Sonoma County Fair's annual meet. I just happened to be present on the day eleven years ago when he won his 5,000th career race here. I've never seen him dog a race, give up on a struggling horse down the stretch, or be anything but cheerful and engaging with his many fans. He's a genuine gentleman of the sport of kings.

Baze's current goal, now that he's caught Pincay, is to rack up 10,000 wins before he retires. He's 48 now, but when I saw him at the track this past summer, he certainly looked as though he had another 500 blue ribbons in him, easy. I hope he gets his 10 grand, and more.

Way to go, Russell. Long may you ride.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Are you who you think you are?

In the latest bizarre twist in the Michael Richards story, the embattled comedian — who recently spewed racial invective at a couple of African-Americans who heckled him at L.A.'s Laugh Factory comedy club — apparently made similarly insensitive and bigoted comments about Jews during a performance in April.

"But that was okay," Richards assures us, "because I'm Jewish."

Except... he isn't.

According to Richards's publicist, Howard Rubenstein, Richards "really thinks of himself as Jewish." This despite the fact that neither of the comedian's parents are Jewish, and that he himself has never converted to Judaism. (Rubenstein, on the other hand, actually is Jewish, and ought to know better.)

Personally, I think this is just a big misunderstanding. I don't believe Richards meant that he thinks of himself as Jewish — that is, as a person who is a Jew. I think he meant that he thinks of himself as Jew-"ish" — that is, as sorta kinda like a Jew. You know, like when a woman says in her Yahoo! Personals ad that she's "thirty-ish," when she's actually 43.

That, or Richards figured this ploy had a better chance of success than him saying, "Of course, I used the N-word. But it's okay, because I think of myself as black."

Although I once met a man who did exactly that.

For many years here in Sonoma County, one of our most beloved local citizens has been Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Johnny Otis. Johnny, who was born and raised just east of here in Vallejo but now lives around the corner in Sebastopol, made his first impact on the national music scene in 1945, when his big band recorded the beloved jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne." In 1957, Johnny released his classic R&B hit, "Willie and the Hand Jive." Along the way, he also enjoyed success as a promoter and A&R (artists and repertory) man for various record companies — discovering such future music legends as Etta James, the Coasters, and Jackie Wilson; as a popular radio disc jockey; as a political operative (he served as chief of staff for a Congressman named Mervyn Dymally, who later became Lietenant Governor of California); as well as a popular performer.

Johnny Otis was born Ioannis Veliotes, and is of Greek heritage. But he has always thought of himself as black, as do most of the people who know him. As was the case with Bob "Wolfman Jack" Smith, the late radio personality, many people who know Johnny Otis only by his music and reputation are often surprised upon meeting him to discover that he is, in fact, Caucasian. I know I was.

It works for Johnny Otis. For Michael Richards, not so much.

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Mighty Morphin Power Stevie

Our SSTOL Hero of the Day salute goes out to four-year-old Stevie Long of Durham, North Carolina.

When two gun-toting robbers forced their way into the apartment occupied by Stevie, his mother Jennifer, and his five-year-old sister Mary, Stevie sprang into action. Dashing into his bedroom, the diminutive dynamo donned his Red Power Ranger costume, armed himself with a wicked-looking plastic sword, and charged into battle to thwart the evildoers. Stricken with terror, the cowardly criminals fled before Stevie's surprise assault, escaping with the contents of Jennifer's purse.

Stevie remains fully convinced that his awesome superpowers helped him save the day. "He fully believes he morphed," says Stevie's aunt, Heather Evans.

Whether Stevie actually transformed himself into a fearsome defender of justice, I really can't say. But trust me when I tell you:
  1. You do not want to mess with the Red Power Ranger, ever.
  2. You do not want to attend the next local chapter meeting of the Thieves' Guild and have all your fellow bandits find out that you got your sorry butt handed to you by a four-year-old kid wearing a Power Ranger costume and swinging a plastic sword. You do not.
  3. Clearly, the Red Power Ranger favors the pro-registration position in the Superhero Civil War, as he apparently has no qualms about unmasking in public.
  4. This effectively ends any attempt on the part of Stevie's mom to throw his comic books away.
And that, friend reader, is no Durham bull.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What's Up With That? #39: Sha Na Na no-no

A convicted child molester recently attended a Southern California charity fundraiser in support of abused children, posing as Bowzer, the gaping-mouthed greaser from the '50s nostalgia band Sha Na Na.

Bowzer himselfaka Jon Bauman — is reported to be "outraged beyond words."

I had to read this story several times before all of the implications fully penetrated my consciousness.

First: Of all the D-list celebrities in the world, who'd imagine that Bowzer is the one someone would choose to impersonate? You'd think this sex offender would have picked a star with more current cachet, especially if he's trying to get close to kids.

Second: Although Bowzer is understandably outraged at being impersonated by a child molester, deep in his heart of hearts he's got to be at least a little bit jazzed that a guy walked into a event and introduced himself as Bowzer, and everyone present didn't say, "Who?"

The last time I recall seeing Bowzer — the genuine article, not the sex-offending fraud — was about 20 years ago, when a fresh-scrubbed and degreased Jon Bauman hosted a short-lived revival of the game show Hollywood Squares. According to his official Web site, the Bowz still actively performs with a new nostalgia act, promotes oldies shows, and lobbies for legislation targeted against knockoff acts that tour using the names of musical groups from the '50s and '60s. (Now there's irony for you.)

As strange as the Bowzer's-pedophilic-doppelganger story is, it's only the second most bizarre fact connected with the formerly famous flexer. Top of the list? Sha Na Na was the penultimate act at Woodstock, immediately preceding Jimi Hendrix's legendary show-closing set. Of course, Hendrix once served as the warmup act for the Monkees, so I suppose turnabout is fair play.

Remember, kiddies: Grease for peace.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Burning off the tryptophan

Now that the turkey carcass has been decimated, the dressing and candied yam residue has been scraped from the baking dishes, and the pantry is down to one solitary can of cranberry sauce...

...let's see what's now and exciting (or at the very least, space-filling) in the pop culture universe.
  • Teri Hatcher is sorry that she appeared as a Bond girl in 1997's 007 flick, Tomorrow Never Dies.

    Not as sorry as we Bond fans are, Teri.

  • Last night, 60 Minutes presented a story about a new drug that may erase unpleasant memories.

    This is news? I know several people whose entire memory of the 1970s has been pharmaceutically eliminated.

  • Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock are divorcing after four stormy months of marriage.

    Who said it wouldn't last?

  • A Bruce Lee memorial park is being built on the site of Lee's ancestral home outside Hong Kong.

    At last — one place in the world where no one will look at me funny when I start rattling off dialogue from Enter the Dragon. "Boards don't hit back."

  • Tawny Kitaen is facing drug charges after sheriff's deputies discovered cocaine during a search of her home.

    Is Tawny still raking in enough residuals from Bachelor Party and that infamous Whitesnake video that she can actually afford cocaine? And aside from rabid fans of Bachelor Party and Whitesnake, does anyone still remember who Tawny Kitaen is?

  • An automobile engineer at Jaguar based his concept design for the new XK coupe on Kate Winslet's figure.

    This just in: Hummer debuts the Roseanne Barr SUV.

  • Here's irony for you: H. Donald Wilson, the man who founded LexisNexis, the pioneering online database that brought the legal profession into the electronic age, died earlier this month of a heart attack...

    ...while sitting at his computer.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The uncanny Dave Cockrum (1943-2006)

Sad news today...

Dave Cockrum, the comic artist who co-created (with writer Len Wein) the modern version of the X-Men — including such beloved characters as Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus — died this morning following several years of diabetes-related ill health. He was 63.

I still vividly remember the day in 1975 when I first laid eyes on Cockrum and Wein's revamped mutant heroes, in Giant-Size X-Men #1. (The comic book was giant-size. The X-Men, for the most part, were not.) It was in the base exchange at Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, to which my parents and I had driven down from Clark Air Base on a shopping jaunt. (Interesting side note: Like myself, Cockrum grew up as a military brat — his father was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force.)

As a major fan of the original X-Men — whose book had been reprinting stories from the '60s for several years — I was excited by the team's return to first-run adventures, but initially disappointed to discover that the "All-New, All Different" X-Men now included only one of my long-time favorites (field leader Cyclops). I was soon won over by the new cast, especially Storm — the first black superheroine I could remember seeing.

The new artist was already known to me, as Cockrum had been the regular penciler on another favorite series, DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, for a year and a half before joining Marvel and X-Men. Therefore, I was familiar with Cockrum's dynamic pencils and his distinctive fashion sense — Storm's costume shared several features in common with the uniform Cockrum drafted for the Legion's Saturn Girl. (In fact, it's fair to say that Cockrum was one of a very few comic creators whose character costume designs were instantly identifiable, even when drawn by another artist.) At least one of his new X-Men, as it turns out, was a carryover from Cockrum's earlier series — Cockrum had originally developed Nightcrawler for use in Legion.

In addition to his X-Men work, Cockrum cocreated Starjammers, a spacefaring series spun off from X-Men. He also drew covers for numerous Marvel books throughout the late '70s and early '80s, as well as projects for DC and other publishers.

Cockrum's deteriorating health prevented him from doing more than occasional work in comics in recent years. Fans of a certain age, however, still praise his classic work on Legion and X-Men, and of course, the incredible characters he helped bring to life.

Dave Cockrum's passing closes yet another chapter on the comic saga of my youth. He was a giant-size talent (yes, pun intended), sadly robbed by illness of many opportunities to create even more memorable art. Now, he's gone too soon.

My sincere condolences to Dave's wife Paty, and his family and friends.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Reindeer games

This being the Comic Art Friday that coincides with the unofficial opening of the Christmas shopping season, it's only appropriate that we debut an artwork with a vaguely Christmas-related theme.

The latest entry in my Common Elements series — you know the drill; pairings of otherwise unrelated superheroes who share some factoid in common — depicts a pitched battle in an urban alleyway between a Golden Age hero called the Comet, and the Vixen, best known as a member of DC Comics' Suicide Squad and, more recently, Justice League of America. Suicide Squad penciler Luke McDonnell, also known for his long run on Marvel Comics' Invincible Iron Man, created this action-packed scenario.

What do Comet and Vixen have in common? By now, you should have guessed: They're the only superheroes who share their fighting names with two of Santa Claus's reindeer.

The Comet dates back to 1940, a fertile time for the creation of superheroes. He sprang from the inventive mind of writer-artist Jack Cole, who's best remembered today as the creator of Plastic Man. The Comet's superpowers will be familiar to anyone who's ever read an X-Men comic or seen any of the X-Men movies: He emitted destructive rays from his eyes, much like the much later — but today much better known — X-character Cyclops. The Comet also holds a unique position in comics history, in that he was the first (though certainly far from the last) superhero to be killed in action. Interestingly, the late hero's brother was spurred by the Comet's murder to become a superhero himself, as the Hangman.

The Comet's original adventures were published by MLJ Comics, more familiar today under the name Archie Comics. Archie has revived the Comet a few times over the years, most notably as a member of the Mighty Crusaders, its 1960s takeoff on the Justice League.

As for Vixen, she also merits a special distinction, as the first black superheroine created by DC Comics, which for years lagged behind competitor Marvel in the introduction and promotion of heroes of color. Vixen very nearly became the first character of her ethnicity and gender to headline a comic series in 1978; her book, unfortunately, was canceled before the premiere issue was published — a casualty of a barrage of draconian cutbacks today remembered as the DC Implosion.

Like Marvel's Black Panther, Vixen — real name: Mari Jiwe McCabe — is African-born. She came to America as a young woman, gaining fame and fortune as a successful fashion model. Her powers derive from a mystical totem (shaped like the head of a fox, hence her nom de guerre) that enables her to imitate the abilities of any animal. Following stints in DC superteams Checkmate and Birds of Prey, Vixen recently rejoined the roster of the Justice League of America, to which she belonged once previously in the mid-1980s.

Artist Geof Isherwood, who first inked Luke McDonnell's pencils on Suicide Squad, then followed McDonnell as penciler on the series, places Mari front and center of the Squad's actitivies in this tension-filled scene. Joining Vixen are Suicide Squadders Bronze Tiger, Nightshade, and Deadshot.

The artist known as Buzz captures Vixen's feral temperament in this ink sketch, created at WonderCon 2005.

With that, we send you off into the seething masses of holiday shoppers. You may need both the concussive blasts of the Comet and the raw animal power of the Vixen if you're planning to purchase, say, a PlayStation 3. Stay safe out there, friend reader.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Electric Boogaloo

As the sights and sounds of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade billow from the television, and as the enticing aromas of roast turkey and its various accoutrements filter in from the kitchen, I pause to honor a long-standing annual tradition here at SSTOL. Herewith, an alphabetical sampling of that for which I am grateful on this Thanksgiving Day 2006. (Yes, my Canadian friends, I'm aware that you all did this a month ago. Indulge your southern neighbors for a moment, won't you?)

A cappella. No instrument creates more expressive music than the unadulterated human voice. My chorus, Voices in Harmony, helps remind me of this every Tuesday night. (Incidentally, if you'd like a rousing dose of vocal excitement to kick your Christmas season into high gear, and you happen to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, join us for our holiday show at Flint Center in Cupertino on Saturday, December 2.)

Blogger Beta. As you may have noticed in recent days, I'm now able to categorize my posts. Of course, Blogger waited until I had written over 1,100 posts before they released this functionality. So far, I've categorized about one-third of the backlog. The benefit to you, friend reader, makes the effort worthwhile.

Commissioned art. Thanks to all of the talented artists who added custom creations to my comic art collection this year: Ron Lim, Ale Garza, Rags Morales, Charles Hall, Michael Dooney, Al Rio, Roy Cover, Ron Adrian, Anthony Carpenter, Buzz, James Taylor, Lan Medina, Darick Robertson, Luke McDonnell, and the redoubtable Bob Almond.

DVD Verdict. Still the Internet's finest resource for reviews of films and TV shows on DVD. Site owners Mike Jackson and Michael Stailey keep breathing new life into the venerable site.

eBay. Whatever "It" is, you'll find "It" on eBay.

52. DC Comics' weekly blockbuster is the highlight of my comic shop visit every Wednesday.

Google. Quite simply, the most valuable tool in cyberspace. Yes, they've gone all corporate now, but the important thing is -- the darn thing works.

Heavy Metal. The one movie I throw in my DVD player every few weeks, just to be reminded of how much fun it is.

Internet Movie Database. Next to Google, I love IMDb best. When you absolutely, positively need to know who appeared in or worked on a movie or TV show you're watching, and you need to know now.

Jeopardy! Still adding seconds to my fifteen minutes of fame, more than eighteen years later.

KJ and KM, my girls. A better wife and daughter, no man deserves.

Las Vegas Advisor. The definitive locus for all things Vegas, their Question of the Day teaches me something I didn't know about my second-favorite city every day of the week.

Michael the waiter at JK's. Whenever I walk into my favorite lunchtime hangout, Michael always has my Diet Coke ready.

Notepad. Perhaps the simplest program on my computer, yet one I rely on more than almost any other.

Olfactory sense. Smells evoke memories that life would be lessened without.

Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits. We finally got a franchise in my home town. Love that chicken! (The red beans and rice, and the fried crawfish with Boss Sauce, aren't half bad, either.)

Quarterflash. I heard "Harden My Heart" on the local classic rock station just the other day. I wonder what Rindy Ross is doing these days.

Rachael Ray. Because a woman who can prepare a complete repast in 30 minutes and eat three meals in any city in the world for under $40 is my kind of woman.

"Save the Cheerleader, Save the World." Until 24 returns in January, Heroes is consistently the most compelling hour on television.

TV with MeeVee. A fun and informative TV blog that helps me get in touch with my inner couch potato. Plus, they have a terrific copy editor... if I do say so myself.

United States Postal Service. Say what you will, it's still one of the world's great bargains. Donnie, the clerk in our local post office, greets every customer with a cheery "Good morning!" no matter what time of day it is.

Vixen. I was thrilled when Mari McCabe, one of comics' first African-American superheroines, made the revamped roster of Justice League of America this year. I predict she'll be making a special appearance for Comic Art Friday tomorrow.

World Series of Poker. One of these days, I'm going to play in the Main Event.

Xerographic technology. If we couldn't photocopy stuff, life would be a lot more complicated.

YouTube. The online repository of more funny, interesting, and just plain bizarre videos than you can shake a mouse at.

Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Because someone, somewhere, ought to be thankful for Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. Today, I am that someone. You blow, Zamfir.

Whatever your blessings may include this day, friend reader, I hope you are genuinely and expressively grateful for each and every one. Thank you for stopping by here, and for continuing to open the Pandora's box of my mind. May you and yours have a pleasant, peaceful, and tryphophan-bombarded Thanksgiving.

(If you're interested in discovering what some of my fellow bloggers are thankful for, check out the sharefest at The Art of Getting By.)

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Just say no to norovirus

Here in beautiful Sonoma County, we've had several recent outbreaks of norovirus. A school district in Santa Rosa is currently afflicted, and a number of local senior citizen communities have been wrestling with the problem for about a month now.

To paraphrase Mike LaFontaine in A Mighty Wind, you do not want to be in Sonoma County when norovirus breaks out.

For the medically uninformed, norovirus — also known as Norwalk virus, after a not-so-fondly remembered outbreak in Norwalk, Ohio, in 1968 — is the scientific term for those nasty little microbes best known for sending hundreds of cruise liner passengers each year scurrying for the water closet with diarrhea and vomiting. Norovirus isn't fatal in people who are otherwise healthy, but can take even the hardiest gastrointestinal system on a gruesome, dehydrating E-ticket ride for 48 to 60 hours.

What amuses me about news accounts of our local norovirus problem is the euphemistic way journalists describe — without actually describing — the spread of the havok-wreaking bug. Last night, a reporter on KCBS, the Bay Area news radio station, noted that norovirus contamination is caused by "inattention to personal hygiene." Today's San Francisco Chronicle says:
The virus, which is present in vomit and diarrhea, travels on human hands. Lapses in personal hygiene, particularly among food handlers and young children, are often associated with outbreaks.
In all honesty, I find these references far too vague and genteel. What does it mean to have a lapse in, or inattention to, personal hygiene? Does one contract norovirus from lackadaisical teeth-brushing? Insufficient application of antiperspirant? Not shaving regularly? What?

As a public service to my fellow Sonoma County residents — and by extension, everyone else, including you, friend reader — your Uncle Swan will break down the hidden meaning behind these feeble warnings, in no uncertain terms.

Some people don't wash their hands after going poop. When their foul, poop-ridden hands touch other people's food, norovirus is spread.

There. I said it.

I know, I know. You're grossed out. Frankly, I feel a tad queasy myself. But at least we all now know how to keep norovirus outbreaks from occurring.

Here's the bottom (no pun intended) line, people: Wash your hands — with warm water and soap — after you poop. Or use some of that liquid hand sanitizer stuff. It's cheap, it's quick, and it works.

Your Uncle Swan thanks you.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman (1925-2006)

Perhaps one of the most recognizable stylists among American film directors, Robert Altman took his newly minted honorary Oscar and vacated the premises yesterday, at the age of 81.

Whether you liked Altman's films or didn't — to be honest, I wasn't a major fan — you had to give the guy credit: He made the movies he wanted to make, the way he wanted to make them. Altman never seemed to give a fig whether his films attracted big box office or wowed the critics. Indeed, he often made films that defied any chance of accomplishing either. (Was there ever another big-name, highly regarded director with as many commercial and critical flops on his résumé as Altman?) But you always knew an Altman film when you saw one, and to the director himself, that was what mattered.

Altman was an actor's director. In stark contrast to, say, Hitchcock, who governed his players with tyrannical control, Altman's approach was simply to let the actors create the performances they wanted to create. He valued improvisation and freedom in front of the camera, which was why so many talented actors leapt at the chance to participate in an Altman film, even though he generally worked from modest budgets and delivered only the occasional hit.

As noted, I wasn't especially partial to Altman's films. In my opinion, his work often lacked focus and narrative drive — a failing I'm willing to accept in certain directors (I love the films of Christopher Guest, even though his directing is so laid-back that his movies threaten to slide off the screen), but which didn't resonate for me in most of Altman's pictures. My favorite Altman film, without question, is Gosford Park — an atypical work that found the director using a more structured approach. M*A*S*H remains a monumental and influential picture. The Player, Altman's scathing peek inside Hollywood, is as effective a satire as M*A*S*H, and in my judgment, a more effective film. And whenever I stumble upon it while channel-surfing, I always stop to enjoy The Long Goodbye, even though Altman's snarky approach did complete violence to author Raymond Chandler's gritty noir Los Angeles milieu. Although I've yet to check it out, I'm looking forward to someday seeing Altman's final film, A Prairie Home Companion, which a number of friends have recommended to me.

When Altman was due to receive his honorary Academy Award earlier this year, Hollywood was abuzz with trepidation about what Altman would say to the industry that snubbed him for so long and with which he often appeared at odds. When the moment came, Altman showed class, grace, and more than anything, gratitude for the career he had been afforded.

I'm glad that's the final public memory of Altman that lovers of film will have.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

If I had blogged about O.J.'s book and TV special, this is how I'd have done it

I'm shocked — shocked, I say — that News Corp. has canceled O.J. Simpson's speculate-all book, If I Did It, and the accompanying television special due to be broadcast on FOX next week.

You'd think Rupert Murdoch woke up this morning with ethics in his cornflakes.

Although that might be expecting too much.

Setting aside the overwhelming ick factor in having a man describe in graphic detail how he murdered his wife and her paramour — hypothetically speaking, of course, I'm mostly relieved that any potential success on the part of News Corp.'s abortive O.J. project won't lead to a slew of like-minded self-exposes by other alleged celebrity malfeasants:
  • If I Knew It by President George W. Bush.

  • If We Sang It by Fab Morvan, the surviving half of Milli Vanilli.

  • If I'd Written It by Stephen Glass (who actually more or less did this number already, in his novel The Fabulist).

  • If I Did It, Then Had It Done to Me, in a Denver Motel by Pastor Ted Haggard.

  • If I Had Sexual Relations with That Woman, Whom I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With by former President Bill Clinton.

  • If I Took My Handgun to My Favorite Italian Restaurant by Robert Blake.

  • If I Made Home Movies, an anthology featuring the collected works of Rob Lowe, R. Kelly, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears.

  • If I Was Anti-Semitic by Mel Gibson.

  • If I Was a Racist by Michael Richards.

  • If I Were Gay by [insert the potential author of your choice here].

  • If I Were a Moron by [insert name of your Congressional representative here].
This whole O.J. confessional debacle is yet another entry in the ever-growing pop culture category, "Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?" — the same category that brought you Crystal Pepsi, mullets, and the Iraq War.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Next offer: Beachfront property in Kansas

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District — the governmental entity that oversees, among other things, San Francisco's most recognizable landmark — is seeking corporate sponsors for the world-famous suspension span.

Why not? Everything else has a corporate sponsor these days.

I think that sponsoring the Golden Gate Bridge could be a marketing boon for any of several dozen major corporations. Wouldn't you just know... I have a few examples in mind.
  • McDonald's. Paint the bridge yellow, and it'll look like inverted golden arches.

  • Coors Light. Because nothing goes better with the Golden Gate than the Silver Bullet.

  • Poligrip. Who has more experience in supporting bridges?

  • 20th Century Fox. This might help reassure people who didn't realize X-Men: The Last Stand was fiction that Magneto did not, in fact, relocate the Golden Gate to Alcatraz.

  • The Republican Party. The way to counteract "San Francisco values" — whatever the heck that means — might be to plaster the GOP all over San Francisco's greatest symbol.

  • Starbucks. Grab an espresso or a latte as you pay your toll.

  • Disney. They built a replica at the California Adventure amusement park. Why not have the real thing?

  • Dell. Dude, you're getting a bridge.

  • Microsoft. Bill Gates already owns everything else.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

It's officially TomKat

Congrats to the new Mr. and Mrs. Tom Cruise on their wedding today in Bracciano, Italy.

Apparently, there was no truth to earlier rumors that the Scientology ceremony would involve Tom and Katie wearing pointy hats and riding around on broomsticks.

Yes, we poke fun. But it's hard to take seriously a religion that was invented by an underpaid science fiction writer specifically as a money-making ploy.

(In case you haven't heard the story: Back in the late 1940s — the actual date remains the subject of some dispute — future Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard reportedly commented at a social gathering of fellow fantasy scribes, "If I started my own religion, I could make a million dollars." It may have been the only thing Hubbard was ever right about.)


Friday, November 17, 2006

Extract of Almond: a few drops more

Previously on Comic Art Friday, we looked at a pair of before-and-after examples of inking commissions undertaken by one of my favorite inkers to work with, Bob Almond. Today, we'll examine another set of Bob's embellishing projects.

I have long admired the work of artist Chad Spilker, one of the best "good girl" pinup stylists in the business. Chad's busy schedule of late hasn't afforded him time to take on commission projects, so I hadn't been able to add a piece of his art to my gallery. That's why I was elated when he offered up this rough sketch of one of my favorite heroines, Mary Marvel. A preliminary test for a commission Chad drew a few years ago, this unfinished piece reflects the smooth linework and playful personality that characterizes Chad's work.

Bob Almond has proven, in previous commission projects, his uncanny ability to transform a raw sketch into a fully realized artwork. I asked Bob to photocopy Chad's sketch onto Bristol board (the heavy art paper generally used for comic book art), ink it, and add a basic background design that did not incorporate lightning. (Everybody draws Mary with lightning.) Bob chose a dramatic starfield that sets off the primary figure perfectly. You can read Bob's own comments on this project here.

I enjoy the work of Ron Adrian, a talented artist recently named the new penciler on DC Comics' The Flash: Fastest Man Alive, after stints on such books as Birds of Prey and Supergirl. This Supergirl drawing captures the finely detailed linework for which Ron is acclaimed.

This was the second Adrian commission I'd asked Bob Almond to ink. Previously, he worked his magic on a piece from my Common Elements series, featuring Adam Warlock and the Scarlet Witch. Bob did such phenomenal work on that project that I knew immediately that I wanted him to take on my next Adrian as well. Bob really brings out the power and grace of Ron's art in this piece. You'll find Bob's notes about this project here.

So, the next time someone suggests to you that all a comic book inker does is trace the original pencils, kindly kick that person in the hindquarters. Then give him or her a link to these "Almond joys."

And that, mes amis, is your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Curses, foiled again!


I got passed over for People's Sexiest Man Alive again?

How could this happen? This is an injustice — a heinous, barefaced travesty, I say! How on earth could they rule that any other man on the planet is sexier than I am? How could...


What's that?

George Clooney?




Forget I said anything.

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K-Fed's got your Evian right here

As we reported here yesterday, Kevin Federline's concert rider (yeah, I know — it cracks me up just typing it) demands that the performance venue provide him and his entourage (snicker!) with, among a legion of other items ranging from Altoids to Doritos, six liters of bottled water of — specifically — any brand other than Evian.

But what have we here? A grinning K-Fed, holding — do these aging eyes deceive me? — a bottle of the dreaded Evian. In fact, Kevin is seated behind a veritable frosty bucket of the stuff. There's even an Evian logo on prominent display in the background.

Dude, this is not going to help your street cred (ha!) in the least. No wonder the Britster gave your sorry butt the boot.

Well, that, and the whole no-talent loser thing.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Backstage with the Fed

Your thought upon viewing Kevin Federline's concert rider, posted recently at The Smoking Gun, will likely mirror mine:

When a guy can't even give away $20 ducats to one of his gigs, and barely sells enough copies of his purported CD to tile his bathroom, he's got more to worry about than what amenities inhabit his dressing room.

However, it's fun to see what K-Fed demands at performance (and I use that word accommodatively) time. Among the required items...
  • One (1) chest or appropriate container of clean ice with scoop. Because you definitely don't want any of that dirty ice catering companies are so likely to serve.

  • Six (6) one-liter sized bottled spring water (cold, no Evian please). Kevin doesn't like Evian because it's naive spelled backwards, and someone told him it was named after his rap-star dreams.

  • Assorted cans of various Coke products (including at least 12 cans of Coke). Coke is a Coke product? Who knew?

  • Six (6) cans of Red Bull. That's what we want to see: no-talent punks hopped up on sugar and caffeine.

  • One (1) quart-size bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Apple Juice. Kevin calls cranberries "the ninja fruit."

  • Hot water tea set-up with assorted herbal teas, sliced lemon and honey. Which K-Fed will doubtless sip with his pinky jutting straight out.

  • GNC Emergen-C powder. Obviously, K-Fed is a disciple of Linus Pauling.

  • One (1) bottle of Jack Daniels; one (1) bottle of Grey Goose vodka. So much for the herbal tea and Vitamin C — let's get K-Fed plastered!

  • Beer?? I'm not sure whether this means K-Fed actually wanted beer, or if he was asking himself whether he wanted beer. Or perhaps he was simply contemplating the sound of the word "beer."

  • Two (2) packs of Marlboro cigarettes (1 red, 1 light); one (1) ashtray. It's never too early to start working toward that case of emphysema you always wanted, kid.

  • One (1) bag of Doritos (Regular or Cool Ranch flavor). As the great philosopher Jay of Leno once said: "Crunch all you want — we'll make more!"

  • One (1) bag of BBQ Chips. Good thing they didn't mistype "buffalo chips," or someone might have gone out and filled a bag with K-Fed CDs.

  • Box of Altoids, red. Altoids are "curiously strong." Just like K-Fed himself.

  • Four (4) clean towels. With these and a pot of boiling water, K-Fed is ready to deliver babies at the drop of a hat.

  • Two (2) aromatherapy pillar candles. A K-Fed with a balanced qi is a happy K-Fed.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Linda Blair makes my head spin

Linda Blair, who first came to fame as Regan MacNeil, the bile-spewing, demon-possessed twelve-year-old in 1973's seminal horror film The Exorcist, is attempting to jump-start her dormant acting career. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Blair revealed nine interesting facts about herself that most of her fans (all three of them) probably didn't know.

Of course, Blair's revelations spawned random thoughts in the fertile mind of yours truly. The first of which is: Why did the LA Times headline this article "Linda Blair's 10 Biggest Secrets" when there are only nine? (Then again, maybe that's the secret.)

1. Linda Blair believes in angry spirits and dog angels. If you're imagining angels in the form of dogs, Linda, you've been hitting the angry spirits a little too hard.

2. She has enjoyed acting more as an adult than she did as a kid. Let's see... Before she exited her teenage years, Blair was:
  • Possessed by the devil (The Exorcist; The Exorcist II)
  • Raped with a broom handle while in juvenile detention (Born Innocent)
  • Terminally ill aboard an airliner that crashed into another plane (Airport 1975)
  • Addicted to demon whiskey (Sarah T.: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic)
  • Kidnapped and raped by an escaped mental patient (Sweet Hostage)
  • Terrorized by her cousin, who's a witch (Stranger in Our House).
Who wouldn't have enjoyed a childhood like that?

3. She'd rather do comedy than horror. Anyone who's seen any of Blair's films of the past 25 years can attest that the comedy in them is usually unintentional.

4. Despite her prominent role in "Roller Boogie" she no longer roller skates. But does she still boogie?

5. She went vegetarian in '88 and never looked back. Because tofu and mung bean sprouts are just so satisfying and tasty. Plus, Blair so clearly had a yen for split pea soup, even in her Exorcist days.

6. She begged out early on Halloween this year. Her revolving cranium was freaking out the trick-or-treaters.

7. She's only living in LA for the sake of the animals. Yeah, I've been in some of those LA neighborhoods, too.

8. She likes a simple breakfast in the mornings.
Nine-grain cereal, vanilla soy milk, and a vegan burrito? Aren't Krispy Kremes vegetarian?

9. A dog named Sunny changed her life. Mine too. But I promised Sunny that would remain our little secret.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thanks, veterans

If you have served or are currently serving in the United States Armed Forces, thank you for your contributions.

Captain America loves you.


The pallid bust of Palance just above my chamber door

When I think of Jack Palance, who passed away yesterday at the age of 87, four disparate images come to mind:

1. Palance as the villainous gunslinger Jack Wilson, striding into town while leading his horse by the reins in the classic Western Shane. The film is almost an hour old by the time Palance makes his first appearance, and he has only twelve lines of dialogue. But he steals the movie from its titular star, Alan Ladd. (In the Clint Eastwood comedy, Any Which Way You Can, Eastwood's character Philo Beddoe engages in a climactic fistfight with another tough guy named Jack Wilson, played by frequent screen villain William Smith — who bore a remarkable resemblance to Palance and was usually cast in similar roles. Coincidence? I think not.)

2. Palance as the tough old codger doing one-handed pushups on stage at the 1991 Academy Awards, when he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in City Slickers. Personally, I thought the movie was no great shakes, but Palance was Palance, and that counted for something. (Interesting that two of City Slickers' key players, Palance and Bruno Kirby, have both died within the past three months. I wonder how Billy Crystal is feeling these days?)

3. Palance as the unlikely pitchman in an unforgettable TV commercial for Mennen Skin Bracer aftershave. After splashing the odiferous product onto his craggy mug, Palance leered into the camera and intoned in his trademark gravelly baritone, "Confidence is very sexy. Don't you think?" (You need Palance-like confidence to wear Skin Bracer. That stuff smells like my high school gym locker.)

4. Palance as Morbius, the Living Vampire, in Amazing Spider-Man comics. No, seriously. Legendary comic artist Gil Kane, who cocreated and designed the Morbius character while the regular Spider-Man penciler in the early 1970s, modeled the vampire's facial features after those of Palance. At least, that's the story Kane told, and I'm sticking to it. (Palance did, in fact, portray Count Dracula in the 1973 telefilm adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. The film was directed by Dan Curtis, best known as the creator of the '60s TV horror serial Dark Shadows. Curtis also passed away earlier this year. Hmmm.)

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Extract of Almond

As foreshadowed last week, today's Comic Art Friday spotlights the talents of veteran inker Bob Almond. Bob recently completed a series of inking commissions for me, the results of which you'll see over the next couple of Comic Art Fridays.

Although I've showcased Bob's inking on other occasions, I don't know that I've written much about Bob himself. A lifelong comics fanatic, Bob studied art at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He broke into comics professionally in 1992, as the regular inker (over the pencils of such artists as Angel Medina, Tom Grindberg, and Patrick Olliffe) on the Marvel Comics series Warlock and the Infinity Watch.

Bob went on to work on numerous other projects for Marvel, but he's most closely associated with Black Panther, on which he teamed with writer Christopher J. Priest and penciler Sal Velluto for a memorable three-year run. As a Black Panther fan, I consider the Priest/Velluto/Almond Panther one of the two greatest sequences in the character's storied history. The other? Writer Don McGregor's Jungle Action series in the early 1970s, featuring art by pencilers Billy Graham (no, not the evangelist — one of the first prominent African American artists in mainstream comics) and Rich Buckler, and inkers Klaus Janson and Bob McLeod.

Bob Almond later partnered with Sal Velluto on other titles, including DC Comics' Justice Society of America and Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril for Penny-Farthing Press. (The two are so closely associated that many fans refer to them as an entity, "Sal 'n' Bob.") At the moment, Bob's regular gig is inking the pencils of Kevin West on the Wildstorm Comics series Nightmare on Elm Street, based on the popular Freddy Kreuger films.

Because of Bob's fond association with the Black Panther, he's always interested in inking new images of the Wakandan king. When I acquired this striking pencil drawing, commissioned from longtime Green Lantern artist Darryl Banks, Bob immediately expressed an interest in finishing the piece. How could I say no?

As you see, Bob added dimension and drama to Darryl's art with solid shadows and a bold framing element. Check out Bob's own comments on this project here.

One of the qualities I appreciate most about Bob as an inker is his amazing ability to adapt to the individual style of any penciler. As seen in the drawing above, Darryl Banks uses a bold, powerful pencil line. In stark contrast to Darryl's approach is that of Michael Dooney, a specialist in "good girl" or female pinup art. Michael's linework is fine and often quite delicate, as in this drawing of the Amalgam Comics character Amazon — a melding of DC's Wonder Woman and Marvel's Storm.

Notice how Bob Almond takes a lighter, more subtle approach when inking Dooney as opposed to Banks. Also evident here is one of Bob's trademarks — the sophisticated use of a patterned film called Zip-A-Tone to create unique effects that would be impossible to replicate by hand, such as the reflective sheen in Amazon's cape. Bob shares his technical perspective here.

We'll look at more before-and-after examples of Almond's art next week. For now, that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sign of the Apocalypse: Pickler TV

20th Century Fox has signed former American Idol contestant and trailer-park diva Kellie Pickler to a development deal for her own TV sitcom.

Even as this mind-bending news is breaking, the Pickler's debut CD, Small Town Girl, lands at Number One on the Billboard country chart.

I expect official word of the death of Western civilization any second now.

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Ed Bradley (1941-2006)

I was both stunned and saddened this morning when I learned of the death — from leukemia, at the age of 65 — of veteran CBS newsman and 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley.

I hadn't even known that he was ill.

When I was studying broadcast journalism in college in the early 1980s, Bradley had recently completed a stint as CBS' White House correspondent and anchor of the network's Sunday evening newscast, prior to joining the 60 Minutes team. In those mad moments when I actually aspired to a career in the field, Ed Bradley symbolized the kind of journalist I wanted to be. He was authoritative without being stuffy or condescending, tough without being combative, and unflappable in the most chaotic of situations.

Ed Bradley was a journalist's journalist. His career accomplishments read like a Hollywood script: 19 Emmy Awards, plus enough duPont, Peabody, and Overseas Press Club Awards to sink a battleship. Bradley was wounded in the field while covering the Vietnam War; on the scene when Cambodia and 'Nam fell; landed the only television interview granted by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; interviewed countless public figures with grace and gravitas.

And, of course, became the first male network broadcaster to wear an earring on camera. Only Ed Bradley was cool enough to get away with that.

I always enjoyed Bradley on 60 Minutes as the perfect balance between the old-school pomp and bombast of Mike Wallace and the slicker, more modern approach of some of the show's more recent additions. Unlike Wallace, I never got the sense that the focus of Bradley's reports was himself, as opposed to his subjects. Ed knew when to push hard and get in an interviewee's craw when the situation called for it, but he always kept his iron fist in a velvet glove.

In 2000, Bradley received the Paul White Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association. The highest honor given by the RTNDA, the Paul White Award recognizes an individual's lifetime contributions to electronic journalism. Without question, Bradley's career warranted the honor.

Sad to think that such a noteworthy lifetime is now ended.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Six years, 2839 American lives too late

In the wake of the overwhelming Democratic sweep in yesterday's midterm elections — results that saw the Donkey Party recapture control of the House of Representatives, and at worst an even split in the Senate, pending the outcome of the Virginia race — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned.

Go ahead, Don: Let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.


If you wanted to stick any other body parts out there for a smack, that would be okay too.

As Rumsfeld's replacement, President Bush is nominating Robert Gates, the former CIA director who's currently president of Texas A&M University. Given his predecessor's performance, Gates could hardly do worse.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Curb, meet K-Fed

Mouseketeer Spice and Vanilla Ice, The Sequel are splitsville.

That sound you just heard was double-wides across America tumbling off their cinder blocks.

Yes, Britney Spears filed for divorce today from her talentless leech husband, Kevin Federline, after two years, two kids, and too much white-trash chic for even the NASCAR faithful to stomach.

I predict a tabloid field day. Let the feeding frenzy begin.

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Rock the vote, but don't tip the vote over

Sunday morning on Face the Nation, CBS newsman Bob Schieffer made the following cogent observation: "If all you knew about the election was what you see in the political ads, you'd think there was no one running except crooks, deviants, and fools."

To which I can only respond: And your point is, Bob?

Although today is Election Day across America, I have already cast my ballot. KJ and I have been permanent absentee voters for the past six years, dating back to her chemotherapy days. It's a far more civilized manner in which to conduct this practice. You actually have time to sit down with your ballot pamphlet -- which for this election was roughly the thickness of the Los Angeles phone book -- read through the various propositions and candidate statements, and take your time making up your mind about which of the many evils is the lesser. In my considered opinion, they should simply close the precincts and have everybody vote by mail. Even better, let those who can do so vote online, though I realize there are technical and security concerns surrounding that choice. Hopefully the day will come when those obstacles can be circumvented. The easier it is for people to vote, the more likely they are to do it.

Of course, the real problem with our modern elections is that most of the people voting have absolutely no idea what they're voting for, or why. That's especially true in California, where the ballot is perennially clogged with a series of convoluted initiative propositions that require a law degree, higher mathematics, and advanced study in semantics and Latin to fully understand. Call me an extremist, but I believe that asking the general electorate to vote on most of these issues is a complete waste of time. The vast majority of folks simply shrug their shoulders and pick the option they think is less onerous, based on what limited understanding they have of what the measure is actually about. That's no way to run a railroad, much less a state. We pay politicians to wrangle with and make decisions about these kinds of things. We shouldn't be forced to both pay their salaries, and do their work for them too.

Plus, in actual practice, the initiative process in California is simply a way for every well-heeled corporation -- or crackpot political group, take your pick -- to compel the population to vote on something that is only important to the people who put the measure on the ballot in the first place. Again, that's no way to run a railroad. In my view, the companies or organizations that sponsor initiatives ought to have to bear the entire cost of the election, not just of the ads they run pushing their positions. Maybe that would keep the truly frivolous items off the ballot, thus reducing the size of the ballot pamphlet to roughly the thickness of the Sonoma County phone book.

I recognize of course that most of our readers are not Californians. However, as a public service to those of you who are, I'm going to share with you how I voted on some of the offices and issues in today's general election. You can either follow my choices, or you can choose to do the exact opposite of what I've done in every instance. In either case, I’ve just simplified the election for you immensely, and you are equally likely to be right whichever course you choose.

Governor: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican. I know what you're thinking: The devil you say. And you'd be right, in that I have spent the last three years mercilessly mocking the Governator as emblematic of what's wrong with politics in this country. The thing is, once you get past that ridiculous special election Arnold foisted on the state last year, he's actually done a fairly decent, middle-of-the-political-road job. I also give him credit for acknowledging that his special election was stupid, and for apologizing for wasting money on it. When’s the last time you saw a politician admit a mistake? But the real reason I voted for Arnold is that his opponent, Democratic state treasurer Phil Angelides, is an idiot. Angelides couldn't have mounted a less competent campaign if he'd hired two spider monkeys and a dingo to run it. I don't get the sense that Angelides would be any less hapless were he elected to the statehouse. At least with Arnold, you have a guy who knows what he wants to do, even if you always don't agree with him. Confidence always trumps cluelessness in my book.

Lieutenant Governor: John Garamendi, Democrat. Another "at least he's not the other guy" selection. Garamendi's Republican opponent, Tom McClintock, it is a right-wing whack job who has no business anywhere near public policymaking.

Attorney General: Jerry Brown, Democrat. I've always been a fan of Jerry's, going back to his days as California's governor in the swinging '70s. In fact, in the very first presidential election in which I was able to vote, in 1980, I voted for Jerry for President. He was a good governor, and he's been a good mayor these last eight years in Oakland. I don't know whether Attorney General is the office I would have chosen as his next political challenge, but I'm willing to give him a shot.

Insurance Commissioner: Steve Poizner, Republican. I actually like Poizner, a Silicon Valley business type who seems like a pretty reasoned guy for a Republican. Not to mention which, his Democratic opponent, current Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, covers at least two of the three categories Bob Schieffer mentioned in the statement quoted above. I don't think Cruz is a deviant, though.

US Senator: Dianne Feinstein, Democrat. I think Senator Feinstein does a heck of a job. I'm actually glad that she missed getting elected governor when she ran for that office back in the ‘80s, because it was that loss that pointed her toward the Senate. She's tough, smart, thoughtful, practical, and dedicated. You don't get that five-tool combination in politicians very often.

US Representative: Lynn Woolsey, Democrat. I've never been fond of Woolsey, who’s a passionate advocate, but usually on the wrong side of almost every issue. However, no Democrat has ever been able to mount an effective challenge against her, and the GOP basically rolls over and dies in the face of her continuing popularity in our Congressional district. We could probably do worse, though I'm not sure how. She probably can't break anything in the next two years that she hasn't already broken.

Propositions 1A through 1E: Yes. Collectively known as “Rebuild California,” these five bond measures will fund a host of public projects from highway construction to shelters for battered women to disaster preparedness. I wish we didn't have to mortgage the future to pay for necessary things like this, but that's politics for you.

Proposition 83 (Sex offenders): No. Like many California ballot propositions, Proposition 83 is an apparently good idea written into horribly bad law. Designed to impose more stringent rules upon sex offenders, the result of Prop 83’s passage would be to relocate many such offenders into sparsely populated areas of the state – parts of my home county, for example -- where it would be much harder to keep tabs on their activities.

Proposition 84 (Clean water): Yes. Who could be against clean water?

Proposition 85 (Abortion notification): No. Another seemingly well-intended idea whose ramifications were completely ignored by the people who wrote the measure. Proposition 85 would require parental notification before a minor could undergo an abortion. Moral questions about abortion aside – and I’ll share my thoughts on that another day -- it's an incontrovertible fact that a certain percentage of underage girls who become pregnant are the victims of sexual abuse within their own households. This law would require an abusive father, for example, to be notified of his molested daughter's pregnancy. Again, no matter what qualms one has about abortion, I would hope one could see that this is not a good idea.

Proposition 86 (Increased cigarette tax): Yes. As libertarian as I am, anything that discourages people from smoking (especially in my breathing space) is, from my perspective, worth doing.

Proposition 87 (Alternative energy): No. I wanted to support this measure. Really, I did. But in the end, I simply couldn't get behind this badly overwritten approach to a much-needed area of public policy. I hope the people who wrote Prop 87 will try again, and do better next time.

Proposition 88 (Education funding): No. One of those measures whose end result would be the exact opposite of what most people voting in favor of it think it will accomplish. Prop 88 could be the poster boy is for how broken and futile the California initiative process is.

Proposition 89 (Campaign financing): No.
See Prop 88, above.

Proposition 90 (Eminent domain): No. Would increase governmental power in an area of law where the government already has more power than it needs. Pass.

Now go do that voodoo that you do so well. And may the least harmful candidates win.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Score one for the gaydar

All right, show of hands:

Who here didn't already think that Neil Patrick Harris was gay?

See? Nobody. Waste of effort, that big exclusive in People. Tell us something we didn't know, Doogie.

When you look back on all of the celebrity self-outings of the past few years, were any of them really a surprise? Seriously, if you didn't know that Ellen and Rosie were lesbians, or that, say, Lance Bass and Richard Chamberlain were gay, long before they made public spectacles of the fact, your gaydar isn't just broken — it was never installed.

T.R. Knight surprised me only because I'd never heard of the guy before. In fact, not being a Grey's Anatomy viewer, I still don't know that I could pick him out of a photo array.

I could, however, easily make a list of a dozen or so celebs who, if they came out tomorrow, I would say, "Big deal. We knew that already." I'll wager that you could make such a list yourself.

What I keep waiting for is that stunning revelation by someone no one would ever have predicted. Suppose Clint Eastwood published his memoirs, and disclosed that he's gay? Now that would be a headline.

Doogie Howser? Not so much.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Hey, girls, gather 'round...

To those of you who dropped by earlier in the day and found yourselves asking, "Where in tarnation is my Comic Art Friday?" please accept my apologies. It's been a hectic week at SwanShadow Communications. Good for the bank account — for the blog, not so much.

But there's no need to fear: Comic Art Friday is here!

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to longtime comic artist and fellow San Francisco Giants fan "Joltin'" Joe Sinnott, whose beloved wife of 56 years, Betty, passed away earlier this week.

Although his work in comics spanned the gamut of genres and styles, Mr. Sinnott is most vividly remembered as one of the better inkers (in my opinion, the very best) to embellish the pencils of perhaps the most influential artist in comics history, the legendary Jack Kirby, during Marvel Comics' Silver Age in the 1960s. Mr. Sinnott also recently celebrated his 80th birthday on October 16. My sincere condolences to Mr. Sinnott and his family in their time of grief, and belated birthday well-wishes to Joltin' Joe himself.

As I've observed on Comic Art Fridays past, inkers are the unheralded heroes of the comic art field. Long toiling in anonymity, these artists are responsible for transforming the pencil artist's drawings into camera-ready art for publication. But more than that, the great inkers lend transcendent beauty to art that, when it arrives on their drawing tables, may barely be recognizable.

Today, I wanted to share with you three pieces that were finished for me on commission by inker James Taylor. No, he's not the well-known singer of the same name. He is, however, a "handy man" with pen, brush, and India ink, as you're about to discover. James's published work can be viewed in the series Decoy and Para, from Penny-Farthing Press.

Here's an original pencil drawing of Saturn Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as depicted by Comic Art Friday's favorite "good girl" artist, Michael Dooney.

Now here's that same piece again, with inks by Taylor. Notice how much crisper and sharper the image becomes, plus the almost imperceptible touches of personality Taylor adds.

Next, another Dooney creation — this time, the world's most powerful girl, Mary Marvel.

Mary again, with inks by Taylor. Sweet, huh?

Our third example is one of my special favorites: the very first Mary Marvel in my collection, drawn by the talented Michael McDaniel.

After the ministrations of James Taylor, the eye-catching result.

In upcoming Comic Art Fridays, you're going to be treated to some of the latest creative output of one of my favorite inkers to work with: Bob Almond, currently inking over Kevin West's pencils on Wildstorm's new Nightmare on Elm Street horror comic, based on the popular films of the same name. Bob just put the finishing touches on the last piece in a group of inking commissions that are simply going to astound you. I'm expecting the arrival of these pieces next week, so stay tuned.

For this week — despite the lateness of the hour — that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Art of Getting Name-Checked

Today, it is my signal honor to serve as the featured guest poster at one of my favorite blogs: The Art of Getting By.

TAoGB is the online domain of a charming young woman named Janet, a New Jersey grade-school teacher with a flair for insightful prose, an often unconventional perspective on her chosen profession, wisdom belying her tender years, and generally excellent taste in music, television, and film. (Except for that whole New Kids on the Block thing. But no one's perfect.)

Janet's weekly in-house meme, "Tell It to Me Tuesday," invites readers to wax eloquent on a topic of Janet's choosing. She follows with her own commentary on the subject in an extended weekend post. The best of TAoGB, though, is simply Janet being Janet, nattering in her cogent, clever way about life, education, pop culture, and everything.

My schedule being as hectic as it often is, I don't always get around to every stop on my blogroll every day. But I never miss my daily lesson in The Art of Getting By. Neither should you, bunkie.

Go take a seat at the head of the class, sit up straight, and brightly say, "Good morning, Miss Janet." Take an apple for the teacher, if you're so inclined. And tell her your Uncle Swan said that you deserve extra credit.

Maybe she'll let you clap the erasers.