Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No uvas for you!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Super President's Day

What a joy to celebrate Presidents' Day with a President worthy of celebration!

Speaking of super Presidents...

This might be a good day to reminisce about Super President.

Super President was a short-lived animated series that aired on Saturday mornings in 1967 and '68. The show's title superhero battled the forces of evil using his power to transmute the molecular structure of his body into any substance he could imagine. (Think Metamorpho the Element Man, who debuted in DC Comics a couple of years earlier.)

In fact, Super President's morphing ability wasn't limited to forms of matter — I distinctly recall episodes in which he changed himself into things like electrical energy and radio waves.

When he wasn't fighting crime, Super President was... well... President.

You read that correctly. Super President's secret identity was James Norcross, the President of the United States.

By now, you've figured out the essential flaw in the Super President concept.

The most visible public figure on the planet becomes a costumed hero, and in order to protect his identity from supervillains, he gives himself a code name that advertises who he really is.

And no one ever figures this out.

Although he was not a DC Comics character, I always supposed that Super President must be the Chief Executive in the DC Universe, an alternate reality in which people fail to recognize that Clark Kent is Superman because Kent wears horn-rimmed spectacles, whereas Superman does not; and where no one realizes that Oliver Queen, the billionaire mayor of Star City, is Green Arrow, despite the fact that both the Emerald Archer and His Honor sport the same distinctive facial hair, and GA's only disguise is a domino mask.

Aside from the issue of its hero's pathetically obvious secret identity, the Super President series never dealt with how the Secret Service got comfortable with Norcross disappearing from the White House for hours at a time without accounting for his whereabouts. Fortunately for America, no international or domestic crisis ever arose at a moment when Super President was off adventuring, causing people to rush into the Oval Office and freak out because President Norcross was nowhere to be found.

Only the President's chief of staff, apparently a genius in a world of morons, ever sussed out who Super President really was.

Personally, I think President Obama would make a wicked cool superhero. If he was, however, I have a feeling that we'd figure it out.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jonesing for Obama

One further thought...

As I'm watching and reading the inauguration coverage, political bloggers and reporters keep referring to Obama as a "Baby Boomer." Although that's technically correct — the traditional cutoff for the post-World War II Baby Boom is 1964— as Obama's immediate peer (we both were born in 1961; he's a few months older than I), I don't think it's sociologically accurate.

Those of us born in the late 1950s and early 1960s better fit the description of "Generation Jones," as defined by pop culture savant Jonathan Pontell. We have far more in common with today's young adults, a.k.a. Generation X, than we do with the more conservative Boomers who arrived in the decade before us.

Like our younger colleagues, we Jonesers tend to be more liberal politically, more tolerant socially, and more savvy technologically than our Boomer elders. (Obama's infamous Blackberry is an excellent illustration of this latter point.)

We mark a striking transition between the children of WWII veterans — the generation that voted Ronald Reagan and both Bushes into office (as well as Bill Clinton, who ran as a conservative Democrat) — and the enthusiastic youth who helped sweep our new President into the White House.

It's an important distinction to make, I think.

Our generation elected Barack Obama. The Baby Boomers would have elected John McCain.

So let's call Obama, not the last President of the Baby Boom generation, but the first President born of Generation Jones.

Now, my fellow Jonesers, let's go change the world.

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Marshaling my thoughts in the wake of President Obama's inauguration...
  • Ironic, in a way, that I was in my minivan returning home from taking my daughter to class at the local junior college (her car is still in the shop after she was rear-ended two weeks ago) as Obama took the oath of office. History is made... but everyday life goes on.

  • Memo to Chief Justice John Roberts: For pity's sake, man, memorize the Presidential oath. And if you can't memorize it, write it down.

  • As stately and majestic a President as Obama makes, Michelle is every inch as stately and majestic a First Lady. They both chose well.

  • Glad as I am to see Bush 43 leave office, it's a touching moment watching him and the former First Lady board that Marine helicopter for the final time. Bush was among our worst Presidents ever, but he was still our President.

  • I'd describe Obama's speech as soberingly electric. He clearly understands the gravity of his new office.

  • Obama also made clear the distinction between his incoming administration and that of his predecessor: "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." Cut to Bush squirming in his seat.

  • I love the fact that Obama didn't run from anything in his speech: not the challenges ahead, not the mistakes of the past, not the darkness of racism, not even his own middle name — which he used in taking the oath.

  • They should commission Maya Angelou to write the inaugural poem every four years. No disrespect to the writer who composed today's poem, but... she's no Maya Angelou.

  • I was surprised that Dianne Feinstein blew off the Constitutional deadline for the new President's swearing-in, in favor of Yo-Yo Ma and Yitzhak Perlman playing John Williams. But when in doubt, go to the arts.

  • How fitting that Dick Cheney gets trundled out of office in a wheelchair, given everything he's done to cripple the country while he's been Vice President.

  • I'm reminded of that old Peugeot commercial with tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis showing off his new car to his unimpressed father. "Is a nice Peugeot, Vitas," said the elder Gerulaitis after his son finished extolling the virtues of his ride. "Now when you are getting a haircut?" In that same spirit: It's a nice inauguration, Mr. President. Now it's time to get a haircut, metaphorically speaking.

  • Yet, at the same time... what a spectacular, enthralling, glorious moment for our nation, and indeed, for our planet. America is indeed ready to lead once more.

  • You go, 44.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Heroes of the day: America's veterans

We are humbled by your sacrifice, veterans, and that of your fallen comrades.

May all your brothers and sisters who are manning foreign battlefields and bases return home safely, and soon.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hoppin' John

I can't allow the moment to pass without saying this:

If John McCain had given on the campaign stump more speeches of the kind that he gave last evening in conceding defeat, he might well have won.

For what it's worth, I don't think McCain is a bad guy. I think he got a ton of bad advice from the extreme wingnuts in his party, and decided to take it.

Which tells us both why he didn't get elected, and why it's probably a very good thing that he didn't.

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Dawn of a new day

Did Obama still win?

Yes, it appears that he did.

There may be a handful of folks surprised that the sun rose this morning, on the day after an African American man was elected the 44th President of the United States. But it did. And, I suspect, that handful is smaller than it ever would have been before today.

What still stuns me most is not so much the fact of Obama's victory — although, to be honest, I'm considerably stunned by that alone — but the nature of that victory. Just consider the popular vote: Obama's 52.4% (which may change by a tenth of a point either way, once all of the absentee and provisional ballots are tallied) is the highest mark for any President-elect in 20 years. By way of comparison, Ronald Reagan racked up only 50.7% in 1980, running against a hugely unpopular Jimmy Carter.

Obama won Florida. He won Virginia. He won Indiana, for crying out loud — I would not have believed that possible, based upon my brief personal experiences in that state. North Carolina's 15 electoral votes may yet fall into Obama's column — we're talking about the state that kept the virulently racist Jesse Helms gainfully employed for decades. Obama got 56% of the vote in New Mexico, and 54% in Iowa. He garnered 55% in Nevada, which, despite its proximity to California and its legendary embrace of casino gambling and legalized prostitution (only in counties with populations under 50,000, though — not in cities like Las Vegas or Reno), is a fairly conservative place with a sizable Mormon citizenry.

The overall popular vote favored Obama by roughly six percentage points, which is fairly close to the final pre-election aggregate of the major polls. The vaunted Bradley Effect didn't manifest itself to any significant degree — which, again, surprises me, but not as much as it might have a decade ago.

As ludicrous as it sounds, I think that popular culture helped pave the way for a President who just happens to be African American. Millions of people saw Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck in the movie Deep Impact; who's not cool with Morgan Freeman? (Well, maybe his soon-to-be-ex-wife, but that's another issue.) Millions more watched Dennis Haysbert as President David Palmer on the first three seasons of 24; Haysbert was so authoritative and reassuring that he's now the "you're in good hands with Allstate" guy. D.B. Woodside then followed Haysbert to the 24 White House as President Wayne Palmer, David's brother and indirect successor. (I was going to mention Chris Rock as President Mays Gilliam in Head of State... but that's probably not a good example.) Seeing these talented African American actors playing strong, capable, decisive Presidents may — even at a subconscious level — have planted the notion in people's minds that, yeah, okay, a black guy could be President. You've gotta name it before you can claim it, as the saying goes.

Certainly, for President-to-be Obama, the tough journey is only beginning. Getting elected is one thing; governing effectively enough to get re-elected is entirely another, as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush could relate. Everything we've seen of Obama gives me confidence that he's equal to the challenge. How great a President he will be, only time will tell. But he will be President, which in itself is something special.

The additional symbolism of Obama as our 44th President resonates with me, too. One of my favorite baseball players of all time is Willie "Stretch" McCovey, the long-time San Francisco Giant whose number 44 hangs in retired glory at AT&T Park. McCovey was a smooth, cool, easygoing man whose quiet authority made him a respected team leader, and ultimately, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. His 1959 selection as National League Rookie of the Year, 1969 National League Most Valuable Player Award, six All-Star appearances, and 521 home runs — including a National League record 18 grand slams — contributed also. The Giants' annual "most inspirational player" honor, the Willie Mac Award, bears McCovey's name.

Although he won't take office for another 76 days, Obama 44 is already in the running for that "most inspirational" tag.

Now, he'll have to earn it.

In local election news, I was glad to see that my neighbors passed Measure Q, which provides funding (via a quarter-cent sales tax increase) for the SMART passenger-rail system. SMART will run from Cloverdale, Sonoma County's northernmost outpost, to Larkspur in Marin County, where the Golden Gate Ferry terminal is located, with 14 stops in between. SMART has been on the ballot at least twice before, and has lost narrowly each time, mostly due to opposition from Marin County interests. (In 2006, SMART received 65.3% of the combined Sonoma-Marin vote, just short of the two-thirds majority required for a sales tax hike.)

In this era of high energy costs, and given the perennially impacted commute corridor on U.S. 101, SMART makes excellent sense. The railway easement, a now-dormant line formerly operated by Union Pacific, already exists. Now that funding is approved, SMART should be up and running by 2013.

On a related note, it looks as though California voters also approved Proposition 1A, a bond measure that will help fund a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with eventual extensions to San Diego in the south and Sacramento in the north. Again, this transportation solution is an idea whose time has long since come, and I hope that the measure is officially passed once all of the votes are counted.

All right, election over. Everybody back to work.

One more quick note: This morning on KCBS News Radio, I heard a psychologist talking about the effects of Post-Event Energy Deficiency, a condition many folks may be suffering in the aftermath of an intense and attention-commanding election. That's as may be... but that condition would benefit from a better acronym.

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The Big O


349 electoral votes. That's with North Carolina (leaning blue) and Missouri (leaning red) still to be officially called at 2:45 a.m. PST.

I'm almost afraid to go to bed, for fear that by morning, the wingnuts will have engineered a way to snake the election, as they did in 2000.

But in the interest of good faith, I'll give it a shot.

Congratulations, Mr. President-Elect.

You too, Mr. Vice President-Elect. (Can I still call you Joe?)

America... you done good.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008


According to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters, our vote-by-mail ballots have been received.

This means that, whatever else happens, Barack Obama got at least three votes.

It's hard for me to express how elated I am that, in my daughter's first Presidential election, she has a choice at the top of the ticket that resonates with her, and for whom she was excited to cast her first vote for President. Although I know it won't happen every time, it's important to me that her first experience in helping to choose the leader of the free world be inspiring and positive, rather than the usual ennui-inducing coin flip between two tapioca-bland evils.

I'm glad that for once, we have a choice that actually matters. And yes, I'm a wee bit tickled that it's a choice that is not only right for the time, place, and office, but also reflects the nature of my family, my community, and the man I see in the mirror every morning. In my lifetime, I've never been offered a choice like that before. I'm pleased that my daughter won't have to live to be my age before she is offered such a choice.

I wrote this in July 2004, after Barack Obama's keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention:
The phrase that leapt out of Obama's speech for me was "the audacity of hope." I don't tend to be hopeful about humankind in general because we are what we are and will never change, but at the individual level we must either hope or die. "Hope does not disappoint us," as the apostle wrote, because it impels us onward and gives us reason to face each new day. Sometimes we don't get all that we hope for, but if we never hope, we will never strive, and therefore will never get anything. And yes, it's an audacious concept -- as audacious as the day two bicycle mechanics launched their ungainly Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and said, "Hope this works." Maybe the Wrights' machine would have crashed and burned. But they'd have never known had they not hoped enough to try.
Today, we can make a choice as a nation that says something good about us as Americans. We need to hear that. The world needs to hear that. God knows we've said and done enough in recent years to make us look vain and mean-spirited and vicious and stupid. It's about time we stood up once again and said, "This is who we really are. We are honorable and decent and just. We have intelligence and compassion and strength. We are a people of hope."

If you went to the polls today and voiced your choice, good on you. If you haven't yet voted, but are going to vote before your precinct closes, good on you. If you, as did our family, voted early by whatever process your state offers, good on you. I hope you made, or will make, the right choices.

That means I hope that you made your choices — not just at the top of the ballot, but all the way through — in light of the noble hope that makes this country such a wonderful place to inhabit. We may not always be a people who do the right thing. But we should always be a people who try.

By this time tomorrow, we will all know whether our efforts — and our hope — were enough.

I'm SwanShadow, and I approve this message.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

I vote for free coffee!

In our litigious world, no honorably intentioned deed goes unpunished.

Just ask the people at Starbucks.

Last week, Starbucks announced a promotion that would provide a free cup of coffee on Election Day to every customer who told the barista that he or she had voted. The company pitched the deal aggressively via viral marketing, as well as through a spot that aired on NBC's Saturday Night Live.

Then came the call from the government.

Federal law forbids offering people any form of incentive to vote. Apparently, "incentive" can be broadly construed to include a tall cup of Pike Place Roast.

Rather than incur the wrath of The Powers That Be, Starbucks has decided to make the offer of free coffee open to everyone, including nonvoters.

The good news is that now all Americans — including convicted felons on parole, and anyone too lazy, conflicted, or forgetful to have registered to vote — will be able to drop by the Sign of the Naked Fish-Tailed Lady tomorrow and slug down a tasty snootful of gratis Joe.

Make mine Biden.

Not the plumber.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Olympic bling from Beijing

As the familiar five-ringed flag sinks slowly into the Beijing sunset, here are the sights, sounds, and random synapse-firings that I'll carry away from the Games of the XXIX Olympiad:
  • So, Michael Phelps... what are going to do for an encore? You could start by buying Jason Lezak a Porsche.

  • Baseball and softball are no longer worthy to be called Olympic sports, but synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics — or, as KJ calls it, "that Cirque du Soleil thing" — stay? Well, plug my nose with a rubber clip and tie me up with a ribbon.

  • Nothing against beach volleyball — and certainly nothing against our two gold medal-winning teams, Misty May-Treanor / Kerri Walsh and Phil Dalhausser / Todd Rogers — but... NBC sure aired a surfeit of beach volleyball, didn't they?

  • There's a reason why the two Americans competing in the modern pentathlon finished 19th and 21st: They're the only two people in the United States who know what the modern pentathlon is.

  • Congratulations to my former schoolmate — we were students at Pepperdine at the same time — Terry Schroeder for coaching the U.S. men's water polo team to a silver medal. I still think the game would be more fun with horses.

  • Call me crazy, but I believe the members of the Chinese diving team possess the mutant power to separate water molecules telepathically. That's the only way I can figure that they can make so little splash.

  • Speaking of diving, Laura Wilkinson reminds me of my friend Phil's wife. I don't know whether Jane dives, though.

  • Most appropriately named athlete: Usain Bolt. It's absolutely usain how fast that guy is.

  • I don't know what happens to rifleman Matthew Emmons during the Olympic three-positions rifle event, but he's gotta be seeking therapy after blowing a gold medal on his final shot in two consecutive Games.

  • Probably no competitor in the Games overcame more painful and immediate personal tragedy than U.S. men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon, whose father-in-law was killed, and his mother-in-law seriously wounded, in a random act of violence while touring Beijing. I'm sure that a gold medal is small consolation, but I'm glad Hugh got one anyway.

  • Hey, Dara Torres: Way to represent for the over-40 crowd. Children of the '60s rule!

  • I hope that decathlon gold medalist and unofficial "World's Greatest Athlete" Bryan Clay doesn't go all crazy with the plastic surgery in later life, like a certain predecessor who shall go nameless here. (***cough***BruceJenner***cough***)

  • Needing a dose of graciousness: American speedster Jeremy Wariner. Who tinkled on your cornflakes, Jeremy?

  • Two words for the French 4x100 meter freestyle relay team: Crush this.

  • Happiest guy to win a bronze medal: David Neville, who dove across the finish line to place third in the men's 400 meters, and afterward beamed like a six-year-old at Christmas.

  • It's amazing — and more than a trifle tragic — to realize that, 20 years after she set them (and nearly a decade after her death), the late Florence Griffith-Joyner still holds the women's world records at both 100 and 200 meters.

  • Of course the Kenyans and Ethiopians dominate the distance races. Those guys run farther than that just to find breakfast.

  • I thought the American gymnasts, women and men, showed beaucoup class throughout the competition. Shawn, Nastia, Alicia and the rest are welcome to come hang out with my daughter anytime.

  • Way to go, Redeem Team, for living up to the hype.

  • Our local hero, cyclist Levi Leipheimer, bagged a bronze medal in the men's time trial. You go, Levi!

  • My daughter KM, ever the horsewoman, was thrilled when the U.S. equestrians (including KM's heroine, Beezie Madden) won the team-jumping gold. This bugs me, however: Why do the riders get the medals when the horses do all the work?

  • Dunderhead of the Games: Cuban taekwondo competitor (I'm No) Angel Matos, who kicked a referee in the face after getting disqualified for overextending an injury timeout. Enjoy the lifetime ban, loser.

  • And of course, the Chinese gymnasts are all 16. In dog years.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Defend your right to bear flags

On this date in 1846, 33 men hoisted a flag in the square of the little town of Sonoma — just on the other side of Sonoma Mountain from here — and proclaimed themselves independent of the Mexican government, which held the local reins of power at the time.

That flag, emblazoned with a lone star, a red stripe, and the silhouette of a grizzly bear (at least, what creator William Todd intended to be a grizzly bear — wags commented that Todd's bear looked more like a pig), marked the dawn of the short-lived California Republic, nicknamed "the Bear Flag Republic."

The hardy band of insurgents took as their prisoner General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, commandant of the Presidio of Sonoma, and installed one of their own, William B. Ide, as president of the Republic. On June 23, the fledgling state was reinforced by the 60-man California Battalion, under the command of Major John C. Frémont. The following day, Frémont's battalion and the Bear Flag crew routed 50 Mexican troops led by General José Castro at Olompali (in the vicinity of present-day Novato) — the first California battle of the Mexican-American War.

On July 9, the Bear Flag in Sonoma was lowered and replaced with the Stars and Stripes, as the republic accepted annexation by the United States. The Bear Flag's general concept lives on today, in the state flag of California.

As a Californian for the past 32 years, I'm proud of my adopted home.

Even if we do have a bear on our flag.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Bombshells! part B

When last we assembled for Comic Art Friday, we introduced our new comic art commission theme, Bombshells! In case you were unlawfully imprisoned at a Uwe Boll film retrospective seven days ago, whip back in time and see what all the fuss was about.

I'll wait.


Up to speed now?


Anyway, you now grok the basic Bombshells! concept: Superheroines from the 1940s, featured in pinups modeled after World War II-era bomber nose art. Mighty doggoned inventive, yes?

So let's check out a couple more. Like the first two Bombshells!, today's drawings showcase the sleek stylings of penciler Dan Veesenmeyer and the solid embellishments of inker Bob Almond.

First, allow me to introduce you to Bulletgirl.

Although Susan Kent (hmm... where have I heard that surname before?) was featured in the stories about her paramour, Jim Barr — a.k.a. Bulletman — from the beginning (Nickel Comics #1, May 1940), it wasn't until almost a year after their debut that Susan became Bulletgirl (Master Comics #13, April 1941). The projectile pair continued their war against evil throughout the 1940s, eventually fading from the scene — along with most other costumed comic book characters — at the end of that decade.

Bulletgirl, while not widely remembered today except by comics historians and hardcore aficionados, proved in many respects a pioneer of things to come. She was the first superheroine to fight alongside her similarly uniformed husband (Susan and Jim having tied the proverbial knot along the way), foreshadowing such familiar characters as the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four. Bulletgirl also blazed the nomenclatural trail for the myriad Batgirls, Supergirls, She-Hulks, and Spider-Women who followed.

In addition, Bulletgirl was one of the few superpowered heroines to appear regularly — as something other than a damsel in distress — on comic book covers during her Golden Age heyday. Many of the early costumed females in comics who became popular enough to make cover appearances (i.e., the original Black Cat and the Blonde Phantom) lacked any superhuman abilities.

Speaking of the Blonde Phantom, she's now a Bombshell! too.

Unlike Bulletgirl and her ilk, the Blonde Phantom needed no namesake masculine counterpart on whose coattails she could travel. She was not only skilled enough to operate solo, but also fetching enough to sell comics with her own code name in the title. Following her premiere in All-Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946), the Blonde Phantom took over the masthead with the very next issue, titled Blonde Phantom Comics #12. She headlined the book until its cancellation in 1949.

Also unlike Bulletgirl, the Blonde Phantom — one of the few characters in comics history to make her hair color a selling point (Red Sonja is the only other I can think of, off the top of my head) — had no superscientific helmet to endow her with paranormal might. She had to make do with dispatching foes the old-fashioned way — with fashion, finesse, and a .45.

Like Ginger Rogers opposite Fred Astaire, the Blonde Phantom did everything that Batman or the Spirit could do — only she did it all in a floor-length evening gown (albeit with a thigh-high slit for... ah... freedom of movement) and stiletto pumps.

Did I mention that the Blonde Phantom was the first significant superheroine created by the legendary Stan Lee, a good 15 years before the dawn of Marvel Age of Comics?

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Primary post-mortem

Rubbing the sleep gunk from my eyes and reflecting upon yesterday's electoral events...

You go, Obama.

This is, without question, the funniest thing I've read all week. Mark Evanier said it, over at his excellent blog, News from ME:
Going into this election, McCain has certain advantages and Obama has certain advantages. Obama's biggest one may be that there are no photos of him hugging George Bush.
The funniest thing I've heard aloud all week was spoken last night by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, asked about the historic nature of Obama's now-certain nomination:
It's certainly a historic moment in our history.
Which is where historic moments occur, historically speaking.

Back to McCain: Was that the most agonizingly dull political speech any Presidential candidate ever delivered, or what? I was driving to rehearsal as McCain was speaking, and I darn near dozed off at the wheel. And he wants to go face-to-face with Obama in ten town hall meetings this summer? Egad. Someone in his campaign needs to talk him out of that idea, pronto. It'll be JFK vs. Nixon all over again.

What does Hillary want? For the entire planet to kiss her pantsuited little butt, apparently. Memo to Hil-Rod: The fat lady hasn't just sung; she's recorded an entire soundtrack album, packed up her microphone and Viking helmet, and headed for a nice leisurely vacation in Hawaii. Let it go, already.

By the way, is Hillary taking oratorical lessons from John McCain? Yikes, that was dreadful. If you're going to be irritatingly ubiquitous, at least be entertaining.

I can't believe that Obama would seriously consider Hillary for the second slot on the ticket, given the way she's dragged this mess along. I think he might roll the dice with Kathleen Sibelius, the governor of Kansas, a savvy manager (Time Magazine named her one of the country's five best governors a couple of years back) who's popular with the electorate in an generally Republican state. Obama still, however, seems more likely to choose a seasoned veteran with foreign policy experience — a Sam Nunn or Chris Dodd type. Bill Richardson wouldn't be a bad choice, either, and could help Obama draw in some Latino voters.

In local politics, not such a good night for me. The candidates for whom I voted in both our State Senate primary (Joe Nation) and the county supervisor race (Tim Smith) lost by wide margins. I'm better at picking racehorses than politicians.

Ah, well. There's always Obama.

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Friday, May 30, 2008


If you hang out here at SSTOL very often, you've probably heard me mention that I grew up in a military family. My father served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, of which I was around for the last 15. Although my dad's work had nothing to do with aviation — he was a carpenter by trade, and later, a building inspector — in that environment, I couldn't help but become interested in military aircraft, and the lore and memorabilia surrounding them.

That little history lesson helps explain my boyhood fascination with nose art.

For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, please be assured that nose art has nothing to do with human noses, nor any art created using or appliedthereto. Nose art refers to decorative, often fanciful designs — squadron insignia, logos, cartoon characters, pinup girls, sometimes combinations of two or more of these elements — painted on the fuselages of military aircraft. The term "nose art" derives from the fact that these designs were usually affixed to the forward part (that is, the nose) of the plane.

Although the earliest examples are as old as military planes themselves, nose art became ubiquitous in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, and the U.S. Air Force (the separate service created from the USAAF in 1947) during the Korean conflict. In reality, the origins of nose art can be traced to the elaborate figureheads that adorned sailing ships in ancient times.

A couple of years ago, while browsing a few Web sites displaying photos of nose art, I had a brainstorm: Wouldn't it be cool if someone created a gallery of nose art-style pinups featuring comic book superheroines from the 1940s? Given my twin affections for nose art and characters from the Golden Age of comics, it seemed as though I might be just the man to spearhead such a project. I patted myself on my metaphorical back for dreaming up this brilliant concept.

Then I more or less forgot about it.

Until a few months ago, when the subject arose during an e-mail exchange with my good friend and fellow comic art collector, Damon Owens. Damon, who shares my enthusiasm for the neglected heroes and heroines of comics' past — his incredible collection of commissioned art contains countless homages to the Golden Age — thought the nose art theme had genuine merit. Our discussion reminded me of how excited I had been about the concept when first I thought of it.

So, I began considering artists I might enlist (no pun intended) for the project, which I nicknamed "Bombshells!" As fate would have it, as I was pondering, I received an e-mail from Dan Veesenmeyer, a talented "good girl" artist with a retro feel. I pitched the concept to Dan, we kicked around a few ideas, and Dan chose four Golden Age heroines for his initial creations. Bob Almond — known in Comic Art Friday circles as the man who puts the "King" in "inking" — readily agreed to embellish Dan's pencil drawings.

Thus, the first Bombshells! were born.

And what better way to kick off the Bombshells! theme than with that symbol of all that's good and female about these United States, Miss America?

Miss America — not to be confused with the beauty pageant of the same name, although Miss A. could certainly have competed — arrived on the scene in Marvel Mystery Comics #49, in late 1943.

Madeline Joyce acquired the powers of flight and superhuman strength through one of those bizarre pseudo-scientific mishaps favored by Golden Age comics writers — she was struck by lightning. What with a war on and all, Madeline donned a red costume with a star-spangled shield on the chest to become Miss America. She appeared steadily in both Marvel Mystery and her own eponymous series until 1948, by which time the initial excitement over superheroes had run its course.

Miss A. also served time as a founding member of the All-Winners Squad, Timely Comics' (which morphed into Marvel Comics by the early 1960s) first attempt at a superhero team.

Our second Bombshell! features one of the more cleverly named heroines of the Golden Age, Liberty Belle.

Liberty Belle — in civilian life, Elizabeth "Libby" Chambers — debuted in Boy Commandos #1 (cover date, Winter 1943). Her powers, which included great strength, speed, and stamina, derived — in true Golden Age fashion — from a mystical connection with the actual Liberty Bell. Whenever that venerable American icon is struck, Libby receives a rush of adrenaline that fuels her powers. (As you might suppose, this necessitated Libby hiring an operative in Philadelphia who could tap the bell whenever she needed to leap into action — presumably, without said operative being arrested for mishandling a historical landmark.)

In the modern era, Libby's daughter Jesse wears her mother's former costume and code name (after a few years of operating under the handle Jesse Quick), and has inherited her mom's powers — which she can exercise without needing a recharge from the grand old gong.

We'll look at a couple more Bombshells! next week.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Monday, May 26, 2008


If you do nothing else this Memorial Day, go read Frank Schaeffer's blog post entitled "A Memorial Day Speech Obama Should Give."

I wish I'd written that.

If you have time to do one other thing this Memorial Day, pause for a moment to reflect upon the sacrifice made by the men and women who have given all to help preserve our most important liberties, as defined under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
If we don't have those five freedoms, we are nothing.

And can we end the madness in Iraq, already... please?

Uncle Swan says: Enjoy your Memorial Day!


Monday, May 19, 2008

Sign of the Apocalypse: Blackbyrd

This morning, West Virginia's senior U.S. Senator, 91-year-old Robert C. Byrd, formally endorsed Barack Obama for President.

Robert Byrd... who six decades ago was the Exalted Cyclops of his friendly neighborhood klavern of the Ku Klux Klan.

Robert Byrd... who in the 1940s opposed the integration of the U.S. military, saying, "I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side."

Robert Byrd... who actively campaigned against civil rights legislation throughout the 1960s.

Robert Byrd... whose state handed the all-over-but-the-shouting Hillary Clinton campaign a 41-point victory in its Democratic primary just a week ago.

That Robert Byrd.

In announcing that his superdelegate vote will be cast for the junior Senator from Illinois, Byrd said:
I believe that Barack Obama is a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq, and to lead our nation at this challenging time in history. Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support.
Robert Byrd said that?


This settles the reality — if all of the other overwhelming evidence fails — that when Obama speaks of himself as the candidate of change...

...he's not just whistling "Dixie."

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Monday, April 14, 2008

What's Up With That? #62: Ain't no party like an Uncle Sam party

Pop diva Alicia Keys opines that gangsta rap was created by the United States government as "a ploy to convince black people to kill each other."

Umm... what?

I'm trying to envision a collection of Caucasian policy wonks holed up in a bunker in Washington, D.C. writing the material for N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton. The imagery just isn't working for me.

Even if we assume, for the sake of ludicrous argument, that shadowy figures at the Justice Department did in fact concoct the idea of gangsta rap, there's an element that I still don't comprehend:

How did the government persuade the performers who ostensibly began the gangsta rap phenomenon to begin recording this stuff?

Maybe the conversation went something like this...

FBI Guy: Hello, Mr. Ice-T. Thank you for meeting with us.

Ice-T: Whatever.

FBI Guy: Mr. Ice-T — may I call you Mr. T.?

Ice-T: Naw, man, that's the brother with the Mohawk and the bling. Just call me Ice.

FBI Guy: All right, Ice. Recognizing that you are a loyal American and a decent, law-abiding citizen, your federal government would like to make you the point man on a unique public relations project.

Ice-T: I'm listening.

FBI Guy: Your government is taking note of this hip-hop — do I have the term correct? — business that's all the rage with the young African-Americans these days. We believe there's a wonderful opportunity here to accomplish something very special for this country, and for the black community in particular, utilizing this exciting medium. And we would like for you to take a leading role.

Ice-T: What do I have to do?

FBI Guy: Our crack staff — no pun intended, Ice — has been composing some funky-fresh — did I say that properly? — lyrical material for the hip-hop genre, which we want you to record. We believe that if you were to make this material popular with the African-American youth, other performers would follow suit.

Ice-T: A'ight. Lemme see what you got. (Pause.) "Six in the mornin', police at my door..." Are you kidding me, man? (Another pause.) "Cop Killer"? What the [expletive deleted] is this?

FBI Guy: We realize that some of this material may seem — how should I put it? — extreme. However, it's our position that...

Ice-T: This crap has me advocating the murder of police officers! Man, some of my best friends are cops!

FBI Guy: I know, it sounds somewhat counterintuitive. But...

Ice-T: I can't record this. It'll incite people to violence. I'm a lover, not a "cop killer."

FBI Guy: Ice, are you familiar with the concept of reverse psychology? That's what we're going for here.

Ice-T: I don't know, man. This seems like crazy talk.

FBI Guy: This isn't crazy, Ice. It's your federal government at work. Some of the brightest minds in Washington are hard at work on this project.

Ice-T: Whatever. So what's in all this for me, man?

FBI Guy: International fame and a multimillion-dollar recording career, for starters.

Ice-T: You gotta give me more than that. I'll lose all my friends in the 'hood once they find out I'm working for The Man.

FBI Guy: How would you feel about a permanent costarring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit?

Ice-T: Dick Wolf? I'm down.

FBI Guy: You're a true patriot, Ice.

Ice-T: Whatever.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

For what it's worth

Five years.

3,990 American lives.

29,314 Americans wounded.

Over $512 billion (with a B) spent.

No end in sight.

"It's worth it." — George W. Bush

You be the judge.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The missing Linc

It's Lincoln's Birthday today!

Oh, what a joyous occasion!

Lincoln has always been a hero of mine. He hung tough in the face of adversity and violent opposition. He stood determined in his resolve to battle injustice and hatred. Charismatic, yet possessed with a dignified cool. A champion defender of the disenfranchised, and a staunch advocate for the rights of black Americans.

Plus, his monster Afro and aviator shades were wicked cool.


Oh, you meant this Lincoln...

...not this Lincoln.

Never mind, then. Carry on.


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Monday, February 04, 2008

Barack the vote!

We're still a few hours from Super Tuesday here in the Golden State, but here at Casa de SwanShadow, we've already done our civic duty.

KJ and I have regularly exercised our franchise via the mail since the 2000 election season, when she was first diagnosed with cancer. This year, KM joins the ranks of registered voters — her absentee ballot for tomorrow's primary election was the first she's had an opportunity to cast.

In case you're curious, I voted for Barack Obama.

The fact that Obama and I have much in common — both biracial; both the same age (he's four and a half months older than I, which I will never let him forget); both spent the earliest years of our lives in Hawaii — is less central to my vote than the fact that of the available alternatives, I'm confident he'll make the best President.

That's not to say that the "connection factor" is completely without effect. The fact that I can look at Barack Obama and see what I might have become, had I been gifted with Type A ambition instead of Type B laissez-faire, certainly offers an incentive I've never had with another candidate. I'd be disingenuous if I stated otherwise.

But the bottom line is that after eight years of mindlessly mediocre, incorrigibly bull-headed leadership in the White House, this country needs radical redirection and, even more importantly, a dose of electric inspiration. Obama can supply both of those qualities in a way no candidate for President has in my voting lifetime. (Reagan did that for conservatives, I guess, but let's be honest: With the perspective of history, Grandpa was wrong about darn near everything — except for the Berlin wall, and that was all David Hasselhoff's doing, anyway.)

Were Hillary to win the nomination, I wouldn't have a problem voting for her. But I would do so with the same lesser-of-two-unappealing-choices lack of enthusiasm with which I marked the box for John Kerry four years ago. Hillary would make a decent Chief Executive — she'd look positively Lincolnian in the aftermath of Bush 43... but then, so would I — but I'll have a tough time forgetting that she drank the Cheney Kool-Aid on Iraq. Obama is the only candidate who can rightly say that he smelled the poop in the punchbowl from the very start. That's the level of courage and vision we need right now.

America deserves a President who can instill hope in our citizens and trust in our allies — that last a commodity Bush and Co. have pretty well burned through during their perverse reign of terror. I believe that Barack Obama will be that President, given the opportunity.

If you live in a Super Tuesday state, please be sure to exercise your franchise tomorrow — regardless of which party or which candidate you favor. After our First Amendment freedoms, the right to vote (and yes, the right not to vote, if that's your choice) is our greatest liberty as Americans.

If you're a registered Democrat, or an independent in a state where you can vote across party lines, may I kindly suggest that you vote for Senator Obama? Deep in your heart, you know it's the right call.

I'm your Uncle Swan, and I approve this message.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Still the dream

But for an assassin's bullet, and barring further untoward incident, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 79 today.

From Dr. King's speech at the Great March on Detroit, June 23, 1963:
We've been pushed around so long; we've been the victims of lynching mobs so long; we've been the victims of economic injustice so long — still the last hired and the first fired all over this nation. And I know the temptation.

I can understand from a psychological point of view why some caught up in the clutches of the injustices surrounding them almost respond with bitterness, and come to the conclusion that the problem can't be solved within, and they talk about getting away from it in terms of racial separation. But even though I can understand it psychologically, I must say to you this afternoon that this isn't the way.

Black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy. No, I hope you will allow me to say to you this afternoon that God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men. God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race.

And I believe that with this philosophy and this determined struggle, we will be able to go on in the days ahead and transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
Preach on, brother Martin. Preach on.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

We got your human rights right here

How ironic that, on Human Rights Day — the date on which the United Nations issued the first global declaration on human rights — the White House orders Presidential press secretary Dana Perino not to comment on the CIA's destruction of videotapes showing terror suspects being tortured.

Because torture doesn't really have anything to do with human rights.

So, happy Human Rights Day...

Unless you're a prisoner — or an employee — of the Bush administration.

In which case, you don't have any.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What's Up With That? #53: George 1, Kids 0

Just when I think the current resident of the Oval Office can't ascend to greater heights of lunacy than he's already reached, he vetoes health insurance for lower-income children.

Ye gods.

The bill President Bush vetoed would add $35 billion to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) over the next five years, enabling an additional four million kids to participate in the program. (About seven million children are presently enrolled, mostly from families earning more than the Medicaid maximum, but who can't afford private health insurance.) The additional money would come via a 40-cent-per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax.

Because wealthy tobacco company executives and lobbyists are more valuable to the current administration than poor kids in need of health coverage — many of whom, if allowed to grow up healthy, would probably vote Democratic anyway — George put the kibosh on the legislation.

Bush can spend countless billions sending America's dedicated servicemen and servicewomen to their deaths in his pointless family vendetta in Iraq, but he can't stand to see a few bucks going to keep American children healthy.

The mind boggles.

The Prez's argument against the SCHIP upgrade is that it's a step in the direction of government-run health care. Again, government-paid death and destruction, good; government-paid health care for lower-income kids, bad. In a word: Huh?

Here's hoping that enough Congressional Republicans realize that poor people vote — especially when the interests of their children are at stake — and get off their partisan dime to overturn this indefensible veto.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No surprises

It really should come as no surprise that, six years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, we still haven't managed to capture Osama bin Laden.

After all, no one's found Jimmy Hoffa in 32 years, and Hoffa is presumably (a) somewhere on the North American continent, and (b) not actively eluding detection. Heck, they can't even find Steve Fossett, whom I presume would want to be found.

It's more surprising that 3,800 of America's servicemen and servicewomen have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, even though we're reasonably certain that Osama isn't hiding there.

Even more surprising is the fact that, six years later, most Americans still believe that the 9-11 attacks were an assault on our freedom. We have yet to figure out that most Islamic extremists couldn't care less about your freedom or mine. They don't care that we eat at McDonald's, or drive SUVs, or wear blue jeans and belly shirts, or vacation at Disneyland. They care about their own economics, and our government's foreign policy, and the inextricable relationship between the two. Everything else is window dressing.

Until the people running the show in Washington figure that out — or we replace them with people who already have — all you and I can do is wait for the inevitable next shoe to drop.

Which makes the tragedies of September 11, 2001 all the more tragic.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Check out that purple mountain's majesty

Happy birthday, USA. You're looking pretty good for 231. Well, except Georgie and Dickie and that whole Iraq thing.

I'm blogging from Denver, Colorado, a mile high amid the Rocky Mountains. As previously noted, I'm here for the Barbershop Harmony Society's International Convention — my chorus, Voices in Harmony, is competing in the chorus contest on Friday afternoon.

So far, Denver seems like a pleasant enough city. I've never spent any time here before — my family passed through (without stopping) on a cross-country drive sometime in the 1970s, but that's the extent of my previous Mile-High experience. They've certainly rolled out the red carpet for us here — everywhere you go in the downtown area, there are signs welcoming the BHS. It's nice to be welcome. We'll try to leave a few bucks.

I'll let you know how the contest goes on Friday. And before I depart on Sunday, I'll attempt to give you a fuller flavor of the impressions Colorado's capital makes on me during my stay. (Quick summation thus far: I love the Pepsi Center and the 16th Street Mall.)

So if you're a Denverite (Denverian?) and you see me strolling about your fair city, feel welcome to offer any good dining tips. I'm always interested in the local cuisine.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

And on this memorial day we shall fall short of our duty if we content ourselves with praising the dead or complimenting the living and fail to make preparations for those responsibilities which present times and present conditions impose upon us. We can find instruction in that incomparable address delivered by Abraham Lincoln on the battlefield of Gettysburg. It should be read as a part of the exercises of this day on each returning year as the Declaration of Independence is read on the Fourth of July. Let me quote from it, for its truths, like all truths, are applicable in all times and climes:
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it cannot forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

"The Unfinished Work." Yes, every generation leaves to its successor an unfinished work. The work of society, the work of human progress, the work of civilization is never completed. We build upon the foundation which we find already laid and those who follow us take up the work where we leave off. Those who fought and fell thirty years ago did nobly advance the work in their day, for they led the nation up to higher grounds. Theirs was the greatest triumph in all history. Other armies have been inspired by love of conquest or have fought to repel a foreign enemy, but our armies held within the Union brethren who now rejoice at their own defeat and glory in the preservation of the nation which they once sought to dismember. No greater victory can be won by citizens or soldiers than to transform temporary foes into permanent friends. But let me quote again:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Aye, let us here dedicate ourselves anew to this unfinished work which requires of each generation constant sacrifice and unceasing care. Pericles, in speaking of those who fell at Salamis, explained the loyalty of his countrymen when he said:
It was for such a country, then, that these men, nobly resolving not to have it taken from them, fell fighting and every one of their survivors may well be willing to suffer in its behalf.
The strength of a nation does not lie in forts, nor in navies, nor yet in great standing armies, but in happy and contented citizens, who are ever ready to protect for themselves and to preserve for posterity the blessings which they enjoy. It is for us of this generation to so perform the duties of citizenship that a "government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

-- William Jennings Bryan, Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day, 1894


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Reason to Despise Modern Comics #25

Captain America, dead?

Yeah, right. They said that about Supergirl, too — 22 years ago.

Needless to say, when I made my weekly pilgrimage to my local comic shop, I did not waste four bucks on Captain America #25.

In my opinion, the Captain America who surrendered like a whipped puppy at the conclusion of Marvel's recent Civil War miniseries, and then was gunned down like a rabid dog in the just-released comic mentioned above, was not really Captain America anyway. I'd have shot that loser myself. The real Cap always went down fighting.

Instead, I prefer to imagine Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada dressed in a Red Skull costume, thus:

There will always be a Captain America.

There may not, however, always be a comic book industry, if they keep pulling stupid publicity stunts like this.

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Friday, February 23, 2007


This just in: Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack has decided to end his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

This also just in: A new poll shows that 92 percent of Americans have no idea who Tom Vilsack is, much less that he's running for President.

The remaining eight percent mistakenly believe that he's the guy who invented the footbag.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Deuces, aces, and Presidential faces

Because you can never have enough iconic representations of old white dudes in your pocket, the U.S. Mint has unveiled its new series of dollar coins featuring portraits of all 43 Presidents.

Or at least, all of the dead ones.

The new dollar coins capitalize (no pun intended) on the popularity of the 50 States quarters the Mint has been circulating for the past several years. Every year, four new Presidential Dollars will hit the streets, following the chronological order of the Chief Executives. All of the Presidential dollars showcase a sharp new bust of the Statue of Liberty on the reverse...

...plus an innovative edge design, inscribed with the circulation date, along with the traditional mottoes E Pluribus Unum and In God We Trust.

The Presidential Dollar coins supercede the Sacagawea Golden Dollar, a relief to the overwhelming majority of Americans who can neither spell nor pronounce "Sacagawea."

Looking at the first four iterations of the Presidential Dollar, one unassailable fact occurs to me: Our Presidents have not, in the main, been attractive gentlemen.

One more reason to vote Obama in '08.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Monday, and remember to drink your MLK

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.

I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.

I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent, redemptive goodwill proclaimed the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid."

I still believe that we shall overcome!

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 1964

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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.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

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, September 11, 2006

How fragile we are

Some called it "the day that changed America forever."

Five years ago today, a band of nineteen outlaws piloted jet airplanes into New York City’s World Trade Center and the seat of American military power, the Pentagon. Another jet, bound for the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. plowed into a field in Pennsylvania. At the end of the day, 3,000 lives had been lost, the second and third tallest buildings in the United States had been reduced to rubble, and a nation had been traumatized.

As the fifth anniversary of September 11, 2001 arrives, what’s changed?

Not much, it seems. Want proof? Think about it — what was the biggest story in the news this week? The war against al-Qaeda? Airport security? The potential threat of biological or nuclear attack? Nope — what’s had America buzzing the loudest is the unfortunate death of Australian TV personality Steve Irwin, and heiress Paris Hilton’s drunk driving arrest.

In the aftermath of what we have come to call "9/11," life in these United States has continued pretty much apace. Sure, the check-in lines are a little longer at the airport, but in my experience, airport lines have always been interminably long. It takes a few minutes more to enter a ball game or amusement park, and you can’t take as much stuff in with you as you formerly could. I can live with that. I believe most people can. But has the substance of our lives changed? Not so you’d notice.

I don’t mean to minimize the loss experienced by those whose loved ones died in the terrorist attacks. Without question, their lives were irrevocably altered. But in a materially different way than anyone else who’s had a family member murdered, or killed in an accident, or succumbed to a painful illness? Not really, no. Granted, not everyone’s death is replayed ad nauseum on the evening news. But still, death is death, and will be mourned no matter who, or how many, die.

Many speculated that the tragedy of 9/11 would turn more people to religion. Perhaps it did, momentarily — to that brand of religion that offers gentle homilies and smooth platitudes while demanding no true moral conversion or spiritual growth. That effect, like the effect of all self-centered and materially based religion, fades quickly, like dew evaporating off the hood of a car in summer. I haven't seen any evidence that more people are seeking genuine truth, or that people have been motivated to significantly change their approach to spiritual things. We remain as shallow and superficial a people as we ever were.

Which is too bad, really.

Human beings are remarkably — or perhaps the word is notoriously — reluctant to change. We manifest an uncanny resistance against doing or becoming anything different from what we’ve always done or been. Even the most horrific events in the world around us rarely improve us for very long. And even the sternest warnings of possible disaster fail to cause us to redirect our behavior.

We always seek the silver lining in dark clouds, the happy outcome of every tragic event. That’s why, I think, Americans want to believe that the evil perpetrated on September 11, 2001 has made us a better country. We’d like to hope that out of such bitter catastrophe some good might come. First, though, we’d have to be willing to change.

And that, my friends, ain't gonna happen.

I still believe Sting said it best...

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Good luck and Godspeed, Discovery

Let freedom ring

Yesterday afternoon, the girls and I spent a couple of hours walking the Pacific coastline at Salmon Creek State Beach in Bodega Bay, about 30 miles from our front door.

We smelled the surf, listened to the roar of the waves, and combed the beach in search of mussel and limpet shells. We rescued a couple of jellyfish and a sea snail, returning them to the water.

Families were flying kites and building sand castles. Windriders were surfing with parasails. Dogs chased Frisbees and sticks of driftwood. Couples held hands as they strolled along the sand.

Then, this morning, I twice crossed the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, the second time with someone who was seeing that wonder of engineering for the very first time.

And I thought to myself...

It's pretty awesome to live where I live.

Enjoy the Fourth wherever you are, my American brothers and sisters. Remember, we can be proud of our land, our legacy, and our liberty without denigrating anyone else's.

And one more thing...

Wonder Woman loves you.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

The true North, strong and free

Happy Canada Day to our Canadian readers!

While we have your attention, Canada...

Thanks for Rae Dawn Chong...

And Catherine Mary Stewart...

And Cobie Smulders...

And my close personal friend Alex Trebek.

I'm not sure that entirely makes up for your sticking us with the likes of Celine Dion, Shania Twain, William Shatner, and Jim Carrey.

But it helps.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Towering infernal

Architects in New York City have revealed the latest design iteration for the Freedom Tower, the 1,776-foot-tall structure to be built on the site of the late, lamented World Trade Center.

There are three certainties in life:
  • Death.
  • Taxes.
  • The Freedom Tower will be completely redesigned a few more times before they get around to building the darned thing.
It's clear that NYC's Powers That Be are trying to please everyone with the tower's design. And we all know how successful that approach usually is.

I'm no architect, but it seems to me that this new design is far more... umm... prosaic (translated: boring) than earlier versions. But that's what you get when, as in the case of the proverbial camel, you attempt to design a horse by committee.

I'm reminded of the furor over architect Maya Lin's concept for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. When Lin's design was first unveiled, the public howled. But the backers of the project stuck to their guns, and built the memorial the way Lin envisioned it. Today, of course, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of the most revered and beloved icons in the nation's capital.

If only the bigwigs in New York had cojones that size.

As a side note, there appears to be no validity to the oft-repeated rumor that the original plans called for the building to be dubbed the French Tower. In case you were wondering.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

An action plan for Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. (At least, it's Monday Holiday Bill Memorial Day. The real thing is actually tomorrow. But you probably have to work then.)

To honor the contributions of the men and women who have sacrificed their lives to help ensure our continued freedom, go out and smack a Nazi.

It's what Captain America would do.

If you can't find a Nazi to smack in your neck of the woods, any of the following will suffice:
  • Donald Rumsfeld.
  • Jerry Falwell. Or Pat Robertson. (Unless they're the same guy. Which I think they might be.)
  • Rush Limbaugh. Or anyone who says "ditto."
  • Ann Coulter.
  • Any random member of the Fox News staff.
  • Pat Buchanan. Or Bay Buchanan. Or James Buchanan, except I think he's dead.
  • Ward Connerly.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Just be prepared to run. Remember what happened to James Earl Jones in the first Conan movie.)
  • Anyone with a Confederate flag on his truck. Or his belt buckle. Or his baseball cap. Or anywhere.
  • Charles Krauthammer, as long as you don't have a problem with smacking a guy in a wheelchair. If you do, I understand.
  • James Sensenbrenner.
  • Antonin Scalia. Or Clarence Thomas. (Unless they're the same guy, wearing different makeup.)
  • Anyone who quotes William F. Buckley, William Shockley, or Ayn Rand in casual conversation.
Mind you, I'm not implying that any of the people listed above are actually Nazis... just that they might benefit from a good smack, if you happen to run into them today.

It's what Captain America would do.

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