Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Iraqi Blogger Debate

For me, one of the most wonderful aspects of blogs from Iraqis like Salam Pax and Riverbend (links at sidebar) is what happens to the people who read them. You can't come away from Where Is Raed? or Baghdad Burning and continue to see these folks as part of an amorphous mass living in some backwards culture (i.e., Them). After reading their day-to-day travails in a land under U.S. occupation after an invasion none of them wanted, you (at least I) can't not care about them, and by extension about their friends and neighbors and countrymen. And I learn so much even from their disagreements with one another, as Salam responds to Riverbend today regarding al-Hakim's death. This is the kind of technology use that jazzes me - when people throughout the world come together via this amazing tool to learn about each other and civilly debate and learn and realize our common humanity even when our leaders don't.
Compassionate Conservative Report Card

As it's getting harder and harder to tell the ployers without a scorecard, Quiddity of Uggabugga (link at sidebar) presents the list of projects, promises made and broken, and excuses trotted out, all in a handy-dandy table format! (And don't miss his Rupert Murdoch organizational chart!)
Classy Posts

Groom Lake, writing on Jerry Bowles' blog (link at sidebar), gears up for Labor Day by reviewing where the labor movement stood when he was growing up as opposed to today. Link is bloggered so scroll down to "Labor day... que est que c'est." South Knox Bubba (link at sidebar) also has a nice Labor Day weekend writeup.
Iraq v Germany

Seems to me that to even compare the current US situation in Iraq to the Marshall Plan is to buy into the US-propagated myth that Saddam=Hitler, disproven over and over by our failure to find evidence of any WMDs, much less designs on any other nations since the Kuwait fiasco (and Iran before that, but the US encouraged and helped arm Hussein for that war). But Aziz Poonwalla (link at sidebar) puts things much more succinctly than I could. "Iraq was a totalitarian state, but not a fascist one."

Saturday, August 30, 2003

And Now, These Messages From Our Sponsors

I think I've talked a bit before about perusing the old adverts available at TVLand and TVparty. Today Robin's getting back at me by looking at all the old ads he remembers from his youth on a site called TV Ark. At last I understand why "the water in Majorca don't taste like what it Oughta!" Although I'm not at all convinced that's A Good Thing.
Sucker Punch

In the Appall-O-Meter section of the September 15 issue of In These Times, Dave Mulcahey makes fun of the stupid GWB action figure (no, not this one) as have so many other clever folks, but then decides to push his luck and writes,
I shudder to think what today's 12-inch action figure enthusiasts might do with this thing in their homes. They're a rather strange bunch. The Associated Press reports that a 1963 G.I.Joe sold for $200,000, and the sucker who bought it thinks he got a deal. "I remember playing with G.I. Joe when I was a kid, and who'd have thought some 40 years later I would be buying the actual prototype for this action figure," said the sucker in question, a comic book distributor. "It's just a great coup for me."
You know, I'm not sure Mulcahey is any sort of real reporter (apparently he used to write for The Baffler so he must fancy himself some sort of literary guy), but you'd think the guy would do a little teeny bit of research before he stuck out his metaphorical tongue. Steve Geppi isn't just "a comic book distributor," he's the comic book distributor, a very shrewd and wealthy businessman who's described variously in glowing terms and ruthless ones, and he could probably buy and sell the likes of Mulcahey ten times over. Geppi is many things to many people, but a "sucker" ain't one of them. And by the way yeah, an item that sells for $200,000 after the minimum bid was cut from $600,000 to $250,000 at auction can be considered a relative bargain. Of course, if Mulcahey actually followed and understood these types of markets, whatever would he find at which to sneer dismissively?

It doesn't take much to make fun of dolls. Here, I'll show you. I got my Carol Wright catalog yesterday, and side by side on page 18 were the Musical Soldier and the Mr. Wonderful dolls. The online ads don't do them justice compared to the print ads, particularly for the latter, "the perfect man who says the words you long to hear!", phrases that women would never hear coming out of Real Men's mouths, like-- "I love you."! Creepy. I'd sooner have an action figure of Battle Nun Guinevere, thanks all the same.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Wedding Bells

Via Julia H (link at sidebar), Janis Ian and Patricia Snyder have just gotten married and are spending their honeymoon at WorldCon. Having flirted with sf fandom in my deep dark past, I could only smile at Snyder's explanation: After 14 years, it's about time. "I think the idea of spending my wedding week with a group of geeks masquerading as giant lobsters and Star Trek characters is perfectly in character with my life with Janis."
Fun With Anagrams

Via Tom Tomorrow, the Online Anagram Generator (and what it did to my name). Like I needed another steam write time-waster. (Dan's toon this week is wonderful, I love the composition!)
Damn Limey Lapdogs

Geez, they gotta copy us on everything.
The War Between the Stateless

"One of the reasons I opposed this war," says Jeanne D'Orleans in the comment section to her blog entry about the bomb explosion in Najaf, "was that any fool -- even I -- could see long before the war began that this sort of chaos would be the result. It's inherent in the act of invading a multi-ethnic country held together by an iron fist." She soberly concludes, "Iraq is very close to civil war."
Cardboard Cowboys of a New Frontier

I love the randomizer aspect of Robin's CD changer. Phil Ochs' The War Is Over just finished playing. Very timely, even today. Check out the lyrics and other info about it. And now a brilliant piece of Peter Sellers obfuscation, Party Political Speech, just started. It's basically a speech where nothing is actually said, and I wish I could find the transcription of it somewhere online... Yes, I'm home for the 3-day weekend, I've taken my iron supplement in the form of a tall cold pint of Guinness, I get to watch Robin work whilst listening to astoundingly prescient stuff on the CD changer and, despite the sporadic noise emanating from young Christian's room upstairs, life's pretty good at the moment... Okay, this is seriously weird, another Ochs tune just came on...
MadKane Makes Good

If you didn't know MadKane (link at sidebar) is one of the best song parodists and general political humorists around nowadays, well, now you have a USA Today article to prove it. Just think, someday when she takes over Mark Russell's gig (at which she's sure to be way better than he is) you can say you knew her when! Frankly though, I'm disappointed they didn't include her picture along with Bill Maher and Lewis Black and Elaina Newport (who?). She's way prettier than either Maher or Black.
When I Grow Up...

...I want to be Granny D. (Thanks to Anne Zook, link at sidebar, for leading me to Doris Haddock's website!)

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Out of My Hands

Blogspot seems to have been, well, spotty the last couple days. I can get into my post-writing and editing functions just fine, but I can't always view the blog itself, either in my lower publishing window or just from my browser. Says Blogger's status blog, "BlogSpot is having troubles. Some blogs are reachable while others are not. We are fixing the problem and will update this blog once things are back online. We apologize for the inconvenience." So now you know where we've been (if you haven't been able to reach us) and how to find out what's going on in case we go away again. Again, not a complaint - after all, I'm not paying a cent for this service - just an informational thingie.
What's Left on the Right

John Hawkins has written to inform me that his blog Right Wing News has just released its article Left-Wing Bloggers Select The Greatest Figures In American History. My picks are among them, but I'm not saying which they are. :) If anyone actually cares, I'll publish my criteria and list here this evening (it's on a database at home).
Out of the Inkwell

The recent news regarding a comics publisher owing money to a number of freelancers (Update: More here and here and here) has not only resulted in a lot of folks coming here in search of my entry which helped "break" the story, but in many curious and interested fans and pros who had no idea a mailing list for inkers even existed, and who enthusiastically signed onto the Yahoo Inkers group. Aside from a temporarily annoying troll the discussions were expanding nicely - until we realized the group's moderator and owner was nowhere to be found, and there were a whole bunch of files that needed cleaning out (many from inactive members) which only a moderator has the power to do en masse. As you can imagine, on a graphic-intensive list like this one, where many pros and aspiring pros put up their work for critique, this is not an optimal situation. So Chuck Gibson took it upon himself, with agreement from all concerned, to create a new Yahoo group called The Inkwell, with himself as moderator/owner and (in one of those moves that made me go "duh, why didn't anyone think of doing this before?") an agreed-upon backup co-mod also installed to help with file maintenance and such. The new group has picked up right where the old one left off, the only bump so far being that Yahoo bandwidth limits sometimes prevent folks from immediately viewing all the new files being uploaded. One of the best ideas generated these past few days has been in the Database section (I'm on half a dozen Yahoo groups and I never noticed the Database sections!), where a few members have gathered a listing of editors and assistant eds at the major comic book companies for use in preparing portfolios, keeping up to date on who's where, etc. A great resource, as is the list itself. For a process wonk like me who was interested in how comics were created long before I married an artist, the list is both educational and tons of fun, although I should probably include fair warning that inkers are (among) the kwaziest people and discussions can turn bawdy or scatological with little prompting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Take it Away, Emily!

Just 'cause I'm feeling punchy and silly and I miss Gilda:
What's all this I hear about Ramsey Clark considering running for President? Why, I can't believe it! Shouldn't he recuse himself from the Vote To Impeach George W. Bush website and have someone draft a new version of the Articles of Impeachment if he's hoping to run against Bush? Shouldn't he be out defending folks against Ashcroft by reminding them of his own stellar record as Attorney General against excessive surveillance? And what happens to the International Action Center? Those poor kids, preparing for the October 25 march on Washington with nobody to lead them, nobody to inspire them because Ramsey Clark's thrown his hat into the ring, why it just breaks your he-- what? Wesley Clark? That nice-looking fellow who talks about peace even though he made his living from war? Ohhh, that's very different. Never mind!
In all seriousness, W. Clark does seem like an okay guy and all, for a general, but I'd still rather it were R. Clark considering the hat-throw.
Shrugging at Four-Oh

Happy 40th birthday to Julia H (link at sidebar) of Sisyphus Shrugged! Don't worry kid, 40's nothing. Wait till you hit 45. ;)
To Loud Applause

Notes the Times,
"No nation can be neutral in the struggle between civilization and chaos,'' Mr. Bush told members of the American Legion gathered in St. Louis for the group's convention. "We've adopted a new strategy for a new kind of war,'' Mr. Bush said, to loud applause.
I'll bet. Most of the Legionnaires I've seen are fairly old, ultra-conservative and somewhat out of touch with reality, unlike other veterans' groups. And at this point I suspect one would need to have fairly selective reasoning to hear "civilization and chaos" (what a coincidence! another simplistic either/or dichotomy!) and not wonder whether we're actually imposing chaos upon a country which was (while great segments of the citizenry were oppressed under Hussein's regime, although possibly not as many as were oppressed under US UN-imposed sanctions formally lifted in May by the Security Council and last Tuesday by Russia) formerly civilized. And to applaud imperial dictat and first-strike invasions as if our "get 'em before they get us even if they're not out to get us until we've gotten them" foreign policy is a good thing? Kinda chills me. (Update: Bob Goodsell, link at sidebar, fisks much of the speech.)

And I figured it would bother a lot of others too, so I Googled to see how the protests went. Because there are always protests, and they're always downplayed as much as the reaction to Bush's speeches by hand-picked attendees or rich campaign contributors is overplayed. And this instance was no different. I did a Google news search on "Bush American Legion Protest" and found three articles in the local St. Louis press. Two - from an NPR outlet, no less! - employed the tactic of discussing groups planning to protest (one noting without irony that the group in question sought more visibility), always a good way to claim protests were covered when only the idea of protests was covered. The other I found, from a Hearst-owned paper, employed the more familiar marginalization tactic of reporting from the POV of, and only featuring quotes from, a Legionnaire chastising the protesters. The corporate press continues to aid and abet the powerful, and distort reality, by ignoring and dismissing citizen opposition to dangerous government policy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

One for My Ex

This Thursday, Starz/Encore's Western channel (which would probably have been on 24/7 had Steve Chaput [link at sidebar] and I had cable TV when we were married) is showing the documentary Images of Indians: How Hollywood Stereotyped the Native American. It promises to be either interesting or, as Hartford Courant columnist Roger Caitlin puts it, "a half-hour apology for just about everything else that runs on this Starz! channel offshoot." Considering the channel also runs movies like Smoke Signals, I'm not nearly as hard on them as Caitlin is. Maybe it's also because he sounds like White Man Taking Humbrage on Others' Behalf, whereas I've known Mashantucket-Pequot folks (and used to be related by marriage to some Mohegans) up around his way. So instead of being smarmily dismissive of a documentary I haven't even seen yet, I can hope for the best and productively link to cool Native American film sites.
Over the River and Through the War

Are you reading Riverbend's blog yet? It's there on the sidebar (under "Da Gals"). She's a fascinating Iraqi computer geek, and her day-to-day story chronicled in Baghdad Burning is gripping and vital. Highly recommended.
Invisible Columnists

Here's Paul Krassner's Terminal Velocity Television, from this week's NY Press. Doesn't look like there's any way to link to a permanent archive of Krassner's biweekly Zen Bastard column or, for that matter, to Walter Cronkite's regular column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which is a shame as you'd think these publications would want to tout names like this and make it easy for readers to keep visiting. Heck, the Inquirer doesn't even have a byline on what I think is Cronkite's latest (presumably it's him since his e-mail info appears on the bottom). Fortunately, Paul Krugman is a very visible columnist, today taking on invisible Dust and Deception, Google-linked for you there although you can also "say the secret woids" thanks to Lis Riba by logging in to the NY Times using the member name "corporatemedia" and the password "stillsucks"...
A Dichotomous Nation

Thanks to Anne Zook (link at sidebar) for leading me to this Farewell America essay from Guardian writer Ed Vulliamy. It's a good overview, from someone with excellent perspective, on how much this country has changed in the last half dozen years (since his arrival here), in terms of how the rest of the world views us and of course how non-duped American citizens view the smirking chimp naked Emperor. I'd recommend following it up with this terrific opinion piece from Kimberley Fox (link at sidebar) talking about how the UN might be able to help us out of our current imperial dilemma. [Update: Looks like Senator Robert Byrd agrees about the necessity of the UN.]

One thing that's struck me about Vulliamy's essay, and so many others I've read lately, is the prevalent idea of an either/or America. "You're either with us or you're against us." Says Vulliamy, "we are left with an America which sees the world as a football game: you win or lose. It has lost all sense of nuance." Personally, I think it's debatable whether, like a sense of irony, this country ever had any sense of nuance, but the point is taken. And this doesn't just play out in the political arena. One reason I'm not on comics message boards as often now as I was before I started this blog is because of all the silly either/or assumptions that abound. "You read superhero comics, that means you don't like indies [or vice versa]." "You're expressing disappointment with one aspect of how Company X does business, that means you hate them and their books." "You didn't like this particular book, that means you have it in for the writer and/or artist." To these folks, critiques can't possibly be more complex than all-or-nothing. I've even seen this mentality come into play with blogging - is my blog a personal blog? a comics blog? a political blog? a New York blog? a comedy blog? Can't it be a little bit of all those things and more? Heaven forfend we stand in the way of pigeonholing or categorization.

Robin sometimes describes America in terms of a multiple-choice test rather than essay questions. It's increasingly looking like "multiple" means "two."
Top That, Calpundit

I adore Friday Cat Blogging from Kevin Drum (link at sidebar), but I rarely laugh as hard at a cat story as I do when Neil Gaiman (link at sidebar) tells one. I swear this one sounds like a bad Python sketch. It's even better than his mirror story.
Ignorance is No Excuse

Dwight Meredith (link at sidebar) tells the heartbreaking story of Torrance Cantrell, an 8-year-old autistic child killed by American religious fanatics. This is the kind of all-too-common tragedy that makes it very difficult to keep reminding myself that religion doesn't always lead to evil deeds. Update: And some New Age'y beliefs and fads are just as horrific, as Trish Wilson (link at sidebar) reminds us.
Mars Our Destination

Via Sheila Lennon (link at sidebar under "Journalists"), lots of good links and advice about photographing Mars tonight and tomorrow morning, when it will be at its closest to the Earth in 60,000 years. Robin snapped a few pictures of the moon and Mars during the blackout (here's one) but at 1:30 AM he wasn't about to set up the tripod for a longer exposure, so I'm thrilled that the Hubble site is going to have all those nice high-res files tomorrow.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Divided by a Common

Via Jenny (link at sidebar), Guardian writer Gary Younge tries to figure out this whole church-state separation thing from across the pond. I can sympathize with his dilemma, as Robin occasionally finds it peculiar as well. Yeah, our country can be a little bipolar, if you look at it as the one big homogenous mess that it isn't. But you see, it make sense to wonder what the fuss is about if you're Christian to begin with. If you're a Jew who's grown up with getting eggs thrown at your house when you put up Chanukah decorations, or feeling totally left out of school holiday singalongs because the songs are all about Jesus or Saint Nick, or just plain wanting equal treatment and respect and not to be beaten up because you have different beliefs-- well, it's a bigger deal to outsiders. I'm not sure what recourse non-Christians have to be given equal consideration in Christian countries like the UK. (Budgie, care to speak on that? Update: Thanks Budgie!) But I do know it was really nice to have the law on our side when my mom fought for Jewish kids' rights in my elementary school.
Treadmill Day

Mark Evanier (link at sidebar) puts up Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup cans when he's too busy to blog. I'd put up a JPG of a treadmill but every time I stick an image up here, no matter how small, it screws up my formatting, and besides all the treadmill clip art seems to be copyrighted. Maybe I'll have Robin draw one up. In any case, I'm glad I got everything done this past weekend insofar as shopping and meal planning and finances and getting through my blogroll, because today's work day has been horrendous, and I feel like I'm right back on that uphill climb to nowhere that pushes back any plans I might have had for an actual life. Hence no real post yet except to say that I've rearranged the sidebar a bit and added a few people, and those looking for an update to my August 13 post (you know the one) may wish to check out this essay.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Neil Takes a Stand

Happy birthday to my old friend Neil Ottenstein. Remember when I was talking about apas yesterday? Neil and I have been in at least one together, maybe more. He's good folk, and to celebrate his birthday he's started a blog, NO News is Good News, link now at sidebar (his name's in the Kultcha section).
Happy Bats Day To You

Leave it to a graphic artist to come up with this idea. Hope all "Gothic, Death Rockers and Rivetheds" in the area can wake up early enough on a Sunday to participate. Via Wil Wheaton (link at sidebar), who just celebrated his second blogiversary*!
*yes, I'm told Jeralyn Merritt coined that word

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Radio Pick of the Week

Via Neil Gaiman (link atop sidebar): "From Saturday morning US Time 'I Have a Cunning Plan' will be available to listen to, probably for the next week -- it's a half hour radio documentary" about the Blackadder television series. Robin and I just finished listening, and thoroughly enjoyed hearing stories of the series from regulars Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry and Patsy Byrne, as well as writer Richard Curtis and producer John Lloyd. In fact, he's now surfing through Blackadder websites. Oh lord help us, he's just found a quote generator...
Newbie Notes

Tim Dunlop (link at sidebar) offers up his advice in Letters to a New Blogger. This is one of those times I shrug and say, "but isn't all that just common sense?" before remembering that I've been doing one-to-many communications since I was 13 years old and passing around stories (a page at a time, right after I'd finished writing them) in homeroom. During my high school and college years I had up to 150 penpals. After college I self-published two overlapping zines for a decade each, wrote for apas, then Usenet and message boards and now blogs. Everything Tim says about blogging can easily apply to most of these other endeavors; the scope and tools and pace may have changed, but it's still essentially one-to-many writing. So if you truly are a newbie to this kind of communication, I'd recommend the Letter. Otherwise, keep on keeping on with the same kind of sensibilities you've used in your other 1-2-M writings.
Breaking News

Via CNN/AP: "John Geoghan, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest and convicted child molester, has been killed in prison."
Watch Out For That Treeeeee!

If you're not sick of Blackout '03 investigations yet, the Times reports today on "the most extensive analysis of the blackout yet." Key quote: "At a certain point in time, things happened so fast that human intervention was not possible." Honestly, should our technology ever get this far ahead of us? If the question was good enough for Mary Shelley, it's good enough for me.
No Other Gods Before Me

I've got little patience in general for preachy idiots who mouth platitudes about freedom of religion (which they rarely mean anyway, as their benevolence almost always extends to religions which are relatively inoffensive to their skewed sensibilities) but don't permit freedom from religion. I always interpreted the aspect of religious choice enshrined in the First Amendment as obviously referring to citizens' decision to worship any deity they chose, or not to worship at all if such was their choice. In other words, it seeks to establish the practice of religion as a private matter, not a governmental one. Which is why I have no problem with a copy of the Ten Commandments being on someone's lawn, where neighbors can either throw flowers or point and mock depending on their mood. But not, you know, in a public building. 'Cause yeah, some of those Commandments are nice common sense things that I wish more people who purport to be religious would actually practice - the strictures against killing or bearing false witness or stealing, for instance. All good stuff.

But I could so do without that Second Commandment (or the Second Amendment for that matter, but that's another rant). It seems to do nothing nowadays but encourage differing interpretations of "my god's better than your god." And as many thinking people acknowledge, religious competition has been the source of probably more misery and death than, well, certainly than a tiny bunch of atheists sitting around theorizing how so many people could be so beholden to superstition in the 21st century. One of the latest twists on "some pigs are more equal than other pigs" comes from Fiji. Reports Jonathan Edelstein, the Head Heeb (link at sidebar), "A small nationalist party in Fiji plans to march next month to prohibit the practice of non-Christian religions." The New Nationalist wingdings want to "traditionally request President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to stop non-Christians, particularly, the Hindus and Muslims from practising their religion publicly among other things." Now I know religious discrimination does have a long tradition, but I didn't know the encouragement of same was actually codified anywhere to the point where requesting it was a tradition as well! Sayeth head wingding party president Saula Telawa,
They should not be allowed to practice their religion publicly. If they want to hold a session of Ramayan or other religious activities, they do it inside their homes or if they are living on Freehold land, they can do it there but not on our native land. And no public holidays to mark Hindu and Muslim religious festivals, all this must stop.
Now, I can see his point - I'd like to see religion practiced in private as well, but all religion, Christianity inclusive. And not private as in underground, just private as in your religions, like your sexual practices, really aren't any of my business. If it makes you happy and secure and content to believe whatever you want, and if your beliefs don't infringe on my rights or my beliefs (note, that's "infringe on," not "agree with"), go for it, just don't push it in my face, or sneak stone tablets onto courthouse grounds in the middle of the night, or petition your government to ghettoize every belief except yours.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Foxy Mocksy

"Parody is a form of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment. The keystone to parody is imitation. Mr. Franken is clearly mocking Fox." It's really nice to find a judge who actually understands a bit about comedy and satire. Takes me back to my old college days, it does. Goddess bless my liberal arts education, I actually took courses called Comedy and Satire toward credit requirements for one of my majors (English) but there are a lot of folks who can analyze the stuff intuitively without benefit of academia and it's great to see when someone Gets It Right. With Franken's victory I have removed the "Fair & Balanced" stuff from my subtitle and sidebar. By the way, Lis Riba (link at sidebar, keep trying until you connect!) has a couple interesting posts about how Fox's news site itself handled the report of this hearing. And I smiled when I checked out Amazon's current top-seller nonfiction list, thanks to a tip on Atrios' comment section. Franken at #1, Conason at #2, Hightower at #4, Palast at #5, Ivins at #6 (in pre-release), Moore's latest still holding pretty strong at #13, Weapons of Mass Deception at #15, Ehrenreich at #17, Alterman at #18, and lookie, Howard Zinn at #19! That's quite extraordinary, and certainly seems to put the lie to the meme that the country's become more conservative.
Old Friends

This one's for Cat, currently filming a fairy tale in Saskatchewan. Via Cyndy Roy at Mousemusings (link at sidebar), Paul Krassner relives the early days of The Realist in the NYPress, where his weekly column, "Zen Bastard," debuts next week. The link doesn't seem to be working for me at the moment, but I'll take Cyndy's word for it and check again later; and of course Paul will be blogrolled in the Columnists section when ZB starts! Paul was always a great inspiration and help during my INSIDE JOKE days (while I've seen him perform I don't think we've ever met, but we did write little cover notes to one another when we mailed out our respective zines in those before-the-Internet days), and it does my heart good every time I see his rabble-rousing!
Hear Me Now And Believe Me Later

Here's your NYT-reg-free Krugman column for the week! (Although, to reiterate, if you want to bypass the NY Time's incredibly intrusive registration process you can also sign on with member name "corporatemedia" and password "stillsucks" - all thanks to Lis Riba, link at sidebar!)
Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

In addition to Conason's book (see the post below, and do read all the excerpts!), much of blogtopia* knows that Al Franken's book is being released today to coincide with the 3:30 PM hearing by U.S. District Judge Denny Chin on the nuisance "trademark dilution" lawsuit brought by the anything-but-Fair-and-Balanced Fox propaganda network. While I'll probably wait for the paperback, maybe we'll get lucky and Salon will reprint the chapter that's headed "The Chapter on Fox: They Distort, We Deride or We Retort, They Have Lied or They Purport, We Decry or They Are Short, We Have Plied or Smorty Smort, Blort Deblort." Update: "Top Six"ers Steve Chaput (in the comment section) and Mark Evanier (on his blog) have both mentioned that Eric Hananoki (link at sidebar) has an excerpt from Franken's book up at his blog The Hamster.
*yes, skippy coined that word!

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Duck, Duck, (Silly) Goose

Is Joe Conason being shunned by Madame Coulter? Horrors, that sounds positively-- elitist! (Salon requires a day pass, so click and minimize unless, well, you know...) As many bloggers know, Salon's been running excerpts from Conason's new book Big Lies all week. Here's my ready-made index:
  • Part One
  • Part Two
  • Part Three
  • Part Four

    Update on 8/22: Here's Part Five, and Salon's Day Pass for August 22 is actually sponsored by the book so don't minimize your screen for that part. :)
  • Viral Inflections

    Well, I thought my systems weren't infected, having not actually seen any e-mail with the dweaded woims, but I've now had both my home and work computers updated and, our IT fellow informs me, I was indeed hit at the office. (As opposed to getting banged up in the deli, which was the day before yesterday. That's the last time I try to get out of someone's way in a narrow aisle; from now on, let 'em wait for the fat gal instead. I just bruise too easily, as the back of my hand now attests. No good deed goes unpunished. But I digress.) And I don't know what's up with my office machine but it's driving me nuts that I can't read Elaine's and Lis' blogs from there, so I've now moved their links to a separate section on the sidebar to remind myself to catch up with them from home base. Hope you're all having a glitch-free day!
    Stone Cold

    If this is a step in the right direction, my question is, will the defenders of church-state separation then take on the still-standard practice of swearing in witnesses on a Bible?
    Four Moms

    Via Lisa English (link at sidebar). I have some more new heroes now.

    These are the times that try bloggers' souls. Emma at Late Night Thoughts (link at sidebar) expresses things well: "Lately watching the world is like watching a slow motion train wreck, and writing about it seems to be too much, or too little, or simply useless. I thought at the beginning I would have something to say, but...well, I don't anymore. Not really. I have been spending a great deal of time reading, and most of it has been disheartening..." I think many of us can relate. We've known for awhile that all the dissembling going on in governmental and corporate circles is so overwhelming it's hard to even keep track of, much less effectively counter. But I always bear in mind one of the themes from the movie Contact: "Small moves." This isn't the first time in our country's history, and certainly not in the history of the world, that things have looked so bleak for so many. Politics, corporate crime, all of it goes in cycles, and while we're certainly in a negative cycle at present (from the POV of workers and non-privileged citizens; from the POV of the rich and powerful the cycle is always positive and profitable, it's only a matter of degree) that's not to say we cannot begin to effect change on a national level as early as 15 months from now, and on a local level perhaps sooner than that. We just need to step back every now and again. An angry, blame-shifting tirade from a government mouthpiece often indicates that our efforts to reveal truth and secure justice have already had some desired effect in putting them on the defensive against We, The People. We cannot take their words at face value (and let them depress us) if we already know they routinely lie. But neither can we dismiss them. We must acknowledge that they're People too, not just some faceless "enemy" even if they paint us that way. We must continue to seek more effective ways of increasing our understanding of each other's viewpoints. (John Hawkins of Right Wing News is an excellent example of someone reaching out to liberals and leftists from the conservative end of the spectrum.) And we need to maintain perspective. If we get momentarily disheartened or angry or frustrated, we have to remind ourselves "this too shall pass," "this will cycle around again," "the people united cannot be defeated," any other mantra that works for each of us. All the direct action in the world without this accompanying mantra of perspective will burn us out that much faster.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2003

    What Amendment Was That Again?

    Looks like the NYCBlogger/RNN pollsters are backsliding again. Today's question: City Grants Permit For Million Youth March: Was This the Right Decision? That they should even be asking if a government allowing "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" is "the right decision" says a lot about the fragile state of our rights as American citizens.
    Call for Patriots

    Lis Riba (link at sidebar - remember, you may need to click on it more than once to connect properly) notes that "the Justice Department has just launched www.lifeandliberty.gov, a new website for their pro-PATRIOT Act Propaganda. In response, I have just registered www.lifeandliberty.info, with which I intend to combat their false propaganda claims. The site is not up yet. (I only registered it an hour ago.) I haven't even decided on a format, whether it be static pages reflecting and rebutting the originals, a weblog, a wiki, or something else entirely. If anybody would like to work with me on this site, I'd love to hear from you. [If the ACLU or EFF or other such organizations are interested, I'm even willing to sell or give away the registration, so long as it will be dedicated to the use described above.]" What a terrific and productive idea! Please submit your content suggestions to Lis in her comment section.
    Errors, Errors Everywhere

    In addition to this message which many of us blogged about back in February (and which made the rounds again earlier this summer when amused web surfers found that typing "WMD" into Google and pressing "I'm Feeling Lucky" elicited the same page), via Neil Gaiman (link at sidebar) we're directed to another "Cannot Find Server" page. I agree with Neil, "I think we need more pages like that on the internet..." Does anyone know of others?

    Tuesday, August 19, 2003

    Tom Redux

    Well, I succeeded in my goal to meet both Tom Tomorrow and August Pollack (links at sidebar) for the first time (in the case of Tom/Dan, it only took 20 years!). Here's a picture of all three of us. I'm the fat middle-aged broad on the right. Isn't August just the cutest? Nobody who looks that yummy would even give me the time of day when I was August's age. Okay, one guy, with whom I've recently become reacquainted due in part to this blog (and he's even participated in the comments sections) and who happened to be at the reading/signing as well. Here's a picture of me with Spencer. But of course it wasn't about me, and I just wanted to say that Dan didn't seem nervous at all and did a tremendous job with his multi-media presentation, as he read from the panels projected on the TV set to his right. Big crowd, easily around 100, SRO and all that. Very partisan, as you might expect, and very enjoyable. Robin even seemed to have a great time chatting with animator Howard Moss (loved the "Plan 9 from the Beltway" animation, guys!). Off to cap off a great evening by watching The Daily Show now (they really should call Dan, y'know?)...
    Breaking News

    Via Natalie Davis (link at sidebar): a truck bomb has "devastated the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad." The NYCBlogger/RNN question of the day is: Should We Have Expected This? Not really the kind of thing I'd want to answer yes or no without a huge backing essay talking about how "we" (what you mean "we," kemosabe?) should have expected or at least anticipated most of what's happened there given our behavior since we invaded, so I'll leave it up to y'all to address in the comment section, if you so desire.
    Sherman's Follies

    As many readers know, I grew up on the songs of Allen Sherman. (Just check my July 14 entry, for instance.) Sherman has delightfully "ruined" more standards for me than I can count. So I was intrigued by this article in the L.A. Times (via both Mark Evanier and Lis Riba, links at sidebar - you may need to try Lis' link twice, it almost never activates the first time on any of my computers, and I can't get to it at all from my primary work machine) talking about not only the 40th anniversary of "Hello Muddah Hello Faddah" and the inspiration for that song (Sherman's son Robert) but giving a pretty good synopsis of the novelty artist's life as well. As the L.A. Times requires registration before you can read any of their articles, Lis has taken care of that for you - just log in using the member name "corporatemedia" and the password "stillsucks" (thanks Lis!). Update: Heh, that member name and password works for NY Times online articles too. Lis, you're a total treasure!
    Jugglenot of Terror

    Via Cyndy Roy (link at sidebar), the Democratic Underground presents Equal Time with Bob Boudelang. On the basis of his August 15 tirade alone, I'm adding this one to the Columnists roll on the sidebar.
    Tom Tomorrow, Today!

    Just a reminder, Dan will be at the Barnes & Noble in Chelsea this evening. I am prepared, Great Big Book of Tomorrow and digital camera in hand. All in attendance will doubtless be celebrating the news that "an exceptional vintage is expected this year" from French vineyards, which of course more than makes up for all those unseemly heat-related deaths. Oh, and the normally publicity-shy fellow would still very much like The Daily Show to give him a call; I second that!

    Monday, August 18, 2003

    Four-Eighty Five

    Thanks to traffic generated from Comic Book Resources and Rich Johnston's link, this blog had its highest daily viewership ever today, at 485. Welcome, new readers.

    Lots of bloggers have religion on their minds lately. Emma opines, "Among the industrialized world, no culture is as deeply steeped in religion as America's." Anne Zook says, "I'm hoping this much-publicized 'wave' of religious feeling in this country is like the last flare-up of a dying campfire." Jeanne d'Orleans links to folks who talk about moderate and progressive believers. And of course, Natalie Davis always has thoughtful spiritual posts; this is one of my favorites, but the whole site is worth perusing for many thoughtful posts about faith. As for me, I'm doing whatever the secular equivalent of praying is that I get out of here at a reasonable hour, but whatever Powers That Be exist seem to have smiled kindly on me for having gotten this far through my first boss-back-in-office day relatively unscathed. The only Faith in which I'm currently interested is my cousin's daughter, my "little buddy," off to college in a couple weeks (see yesterday's brief entry). Update: Ms. Musings is back!, and Christine has an interesting post on The Magdalene Sisters, a film "which tells the heartbreaking story of women who were forced into service at the Catholic Church-run Magdalene laundries in Ireland to atone for their “sins.” "

    Sunday, August 17, 2003

    Sunday Best

    Family doings today (congratulations, Faith!) coupled with TCM's Gene Kelly day prevent me from doing more than a quick hello. Off to watch On The Town now, trying to forget the increasing noise upstairs and the fact that my boss returns tomorrow...

    Saturday, August 16, 2003

    Digby on Election 2004

    Dang, this is good. I think he's got it exactly right. If so, American politics are starting to feel a bit too much like a Frank Miller book.
    One-Dimensional Thinking

    Via Christina Parsons, the latest installment of David Koenig's Mouse Tales, entitled Suspended Animation, discussing the almost certain closing of Disney's traditional (2D) animation division. Yet again, a "triumph" of style over substance as Disney head honchos insist on believing the problem with their less successful animated pictures has to do with the tools used to create them rather than with lousy story ideas and execution. Update: More here.
    Pen-Elayne For Your Thoughts - Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

    Writer/Artist: Marjane Satrapi
    Translation by L'Association, Paris, France
    Jacket and Binding Design: Jean-Christophe Menu
    Publisher: Pantheon Books

    Here's what I thought...

    Warning: May Be Spoilers Ahead

    Autobiographical comics are often a tricky proposition. I think you really need three things to do them successfully - an interesting life or point of view in the first place (or at least one interesting enough to hook a significant number of readers); an accessible, welcoming art style; and the wisdom to know where the dividing line is between bringing readers into your world and just being self-indulgent. Satrapi has all three of these ingredients, in spades.

    Satrapi is described on the book jacket as "The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors." How much more singular can a voice get? You have your exotic land, royalty, social revolution, the gender divide - Satrapi's story is the kind that can draw in everyone from fantasists to feminists to political activists. And it's the best true coming-of-age tale I've ever read. For instance, she writes of and illustrates her childhood ambition, "I wanted to be a prophet... because our maid did not eat with us. Because my father had a Cadillac. And, above all, because my grandmother's knees always ached," where the last of these three panels features Marjane's grandmother on a bench saying "Come here Marji! Help me to stand up," as the child complies thinking "Don't worry. Soon you won't have any more pain. You'll see." (This panel is also a fine refutation of the current received "wisdom" that thought balloons are somehow evil or too hokey, rather than just another tool in the comic creator's arsenal that can either be used deftly or clumsily depending on that creator's skill.)

    The whole book has such little moments interspersed with country-altering (and indeed world-changing) events, told in a simple style, cartoony but not exaggeratedly so. Satrapi's command of body language and facial expressions is clear and perceptive. She's not drawing to show off, she doesn't over-render into oblivion - she's just engrossing the reader in her story. Satrapi notes, "I think the pictures, they say always more than the words can say. Also, in pictures, they help me to have the distance without becoming cynical, and be able to describe a part of the story with humor -- which I couldn't do otherwise." In a way it's kind of like Anne Frank's diary if she would have lived and escaped the Nazis. Because, as harrowing as the Islamic revolution was for many in Iran (particularly educated women who were relatively secular in their everyday practices), Marjane's family had the means and the sense to get their daughter to safety in Vienna once the warning signs became too numerous to ignore.

    My one frustration with the book is that it ends just as she and her parents separate, and I was so enthralled and rooting for her so much that I wanted to see more closure, and was hoping for something akin to a happy ending. But Satrapi plans to release her autobiography as a series of four graphic novels, of which this is the first. I can't wait to read about the "vagrant life" she led in Vienna, her move to Sweden, her marriage and divorce and life in France, and above all whether the rest of her family is okay. In the meantime, this book can stand its own with some of the best true-life graphic novels ever published, and I give it my highest recommendation.

    So, what did y'all think?
    Too Long Lived, Too Late Gone

    Idi Amin has finally shuffled off his mortal coil. Quoth Aziz Poonwalla (link at sidebar), "Allah's mercy is infinite, but the voices of Amin's victims' will seal his fate." It speaks to what a sad specimen of American media I am that my first thought was, "there goes that Garrett Morris impression."
    Amp on Censorship

    If you have an hour or so to spare, you could do far worse than mosey over to Alas, A Blog, where Ampersand (link at sidebar) starts off by discussing the CBLDF's Castillo case and then censorship in general, including laws on child porn and rape porn. Start here, then here, then here and please don't skip over the comment sections; Barry always attracts erudite and passionate comments. Finally, Barry rounds up what others have said on their fora about the Castillo case.

    Friday, August 15, 2003

    Fair and Balanced Blackout Theory

    Here's one from Greg Palast (link at sidebar). Via the comment section of Lisa English's Ruminate This (link at sidebar).
    "Here, I'll give you a topic. Fox News - neither fair nor balanced. Discuss."

    This is the best Fair and Balanced site of the day so far. Mind you, I haven't been through my blogroll at all yet, I got the link via e-mail. Update: Blah3 has actually made a list of all F&B participants (via Sasha, link at sidebar), so if you're not on there and you've been doing some fair and balanced blogging, add your name in!
    I've Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway

    [I know, tons of others will probably use that header, but I didn't sleep that much in the heat last night so I figured I'd go for the easy one instead of wracking my brain overmuch. What follows is my Fair and Balanced personal account of "The Blackout of '03."]

    So I was talking to Robin on the phone yesterday around 4 PM. Suddenly the lights above me flickered, and I remember saying something like "Oh my God, that's weird." Then the phone went dead, and everything in our office just... shut... down. I immediately called Rob back on the cell, and he responded that nothing was operational at home either. We have one phone line in the kitchen that's not connected electrically and that was working, but the cord wasn't very long so Rob had no mobility to be able to find out any other info. I said, "Hang up, get a radio and call me back on the cell." Big mistake; we wound up not being able to connect with each other for another hour.

    The news was sporadic - only one person in the office got his radio to work, but couldn't tune in any news stations. All we knew was that there was no electricity, and it wasn't localized to just our building or even to Manhattan. After staring out the kitchen window at the 34th Street entrance to Penn Station, and seeing a massive throng confusingly milling about outside, a number of us decided, heck with it, we're outta here. I asked the President if he happened to be driving past the GW Bridge, from which area I knew I could probably walk if need be, and he expressed concern that he might not even be able to retrieve his Jeep from the garage. So I and a coworker who lives the next neighborhood over walked one block east to try and catch the express bus back to Riverdale.

    When we arrived the waiting queue was already about 4-5 rows thick, and people were trying to squeeze and push onto the bus that was already there loading. We decided to try and get on the next one if at all possible. It took about 10 minutes for that bus just to turn the corner on 32nd Street to get onto 6th Avenue; the roads in the Macy's/Greeley Square area were teeming with with pedestrians as well as gridlocked vehicles, and it was hellish trying to navigate the points where Broadway intersected with both an avenue and a street. By some miracle we were both able to get on the next bus, she standing in the back and me toward the front, with only a few people allowed on after me. Rudy, the driver, was very professional about the whole thing; once the bus was full, that was it. It must have been terribly hard for him to turn desperate folks away, but we were all anxious to get back to our loved ones.

    Looking around at how NY'ers reacted, it was hard not to flash on September 11, 2001. I was one of the lucky ones then as well as yesterday; I managed to get home on the first subway back to my area on 9-11, and here I was on the second bus I'd spotted. Moreover, after variously trying our home phone and his cell for nearly an hour, I was finally able to connect again with Robin. He gave me the news he'd heard up until that point, which I passed along to the other grateful passengers (most of whom had been going through the same troubles with their cells). I reassured him as best I could that I was safe, that the trip was bound to take a long while but I still hoped to be home before dark, and that I wanted to conserve my phone's battery (which has been acting wonky lately anyway), so I'd call again upon our arrival in the Bronx.

    That trip would take two and a half hours. And again, I stress that we were the lucky ones. We passed throngs of people walking uptown, water bottles in hand; I've no doubt that many of them reached their destinations before we did. We passed minivans with signs on their windows saying "$5 a ride." We passed young men "hitching a ride" by hanging onto the backs of buses and UPS trucks. We passed folks setting up makeshift booths selling water and such. Almost all the storefronts we passed were locked up tight. (As someone noted when we finally got to the area of the Broadway Bridge and the new mall they're building, "if the McDonald's is closed you know this is serious!") And we passed, and Rudy turned down, dozens of people begging to be let on. One guy just wouldn't take no for an answer; he delayed the bus for 5-10 minutes by standing in front of it refusing to move. Rudy passed that time by helping cheer and calm a young boy in the front of the bus, talking about his daughters who were around the boy's age. Finally a woman in the front seat got up and pleaded with the schmuck through the glass, "Look, I'm pregnant and I'm sick, I need to get home, please get out of the way!" and that seemed to prick what little conscience he must still have retained through his selfishness, so we were finally able to move on.

    But for the most part, from what I observed, New Yorkers understood very well that it wasn't all about them. They all remembered 9-11 too. Many chose to help direct traffic in the absence of electric signals. Many were videotaping their surroundings for posterity. Lots of pedestrians travelled in groups, and their faces ranged from resigned to animated and nearly happy, as if to say "we're the greatest city in the world, we take things (literally) in stride!" Rudy was patient and professional throughout the midtown jam, the turn onto a near-empty Central Park South to get to Columbus Circle, the uptown jam around 96th before we traversed the park, the standstill at 3rd Avenue and 120th Street which diverted us onto 120th to pick up the FDR, and the brief tie-up at the GWBridge exit until we could get on the side road to take us off the highway and onto Dyckman Street. The bus was relatively comfortable, with its ceiling vent and many windows open and the AC on full. Still, I was grateful I'd just gotten my hair cut, and the water bottle I'd brought was near empty by 110th Street (about 1½ hours into our journey). Rudy had suggested that the seated passengers help out those who were standing and having problems, so I gratefully accepted the invitation of the woman in the seat "below" me to take a load off; she actually seemed happy to give up her seat, as it meant she could lean on the seats across the aisle where her teenaged daughters were and help comfort them better.

    I accomplished my goal of arriving at the house before dark. The bus dropped me off at 230th and Corlear around 7:15. I hugged my coworker goodbye and told her I'd probably see her Monday, called Robin's cell and talked to him as I hiked upwards through Ewen Park towards the apartment building. Met our upstairs neighbors on the way, and we walked up the stairwell together. Stopped panting and gasping for air about five minutes after arriving at the apartment, and Rob filled me in on what he knew. He also mentioned he'd run out and gotten new batteries so we were set with the radio, but we had fewer candles than we'd thought. Not that big a deal, we had torches (flashlights) that worked and we spent most of the evening in the bedroom anyway, listening to the radio. I thought Bloomberg's address was fairly professional, and even the President didn't sound buffoonish (except when he mentioned how much better prepared we were today "than 2½ years ago" [what a coincidence, he became president right about 2½ years ago!]).

    Pretty soon the glow I'd felt at making it home not much later than my usual hour despite the emergency situation gave way to my discomfort at being in a situation where I could use neither fan nor air conditioner. "Shut up," I kept telling myself, "this is nothing compared to what we've put people through in Iraq, have a little perspective" - but it's always been hard for me to deal with the heat. Maybe it's 'cause I'm big, maybe it's 'cause I'm spoiled by AC, but I knew I wasn't going to get much sleep. I kept as hydrated and cool as possible - Rob had filled the tub with cold water and showed me the trick of keeping your wrists in the cold water for about half a minute to cool the blood as it circulates through your body. Only temporary relief, though.

    Nonetheless, there was something almost countrified about the near utter darkness. It felt and sounded a lot like the last time we'd visited England. Well, okay, except for the occasional fireworks some neighborhood folk decided they needed to set off around midnight 'cause, you know, God forbid we all partake in a quiet atmosphere we're not likely to have again. About 1:30 AM Robin motioned for me to come to the window. The darkness which had been fascinating me had yielded another bonus - we could actually view the waning moon and Mars. He took pictures; here's the best one that he got without setting up a tripod to prolong the exposure which he wasn't about to do in the dark at that hour.

    The acetaminophen PM I'd taken finally enabled me to sleep through my sweat for a few hours, and when I woke up about 9 this morning the electricity had been back on for nearly half an hour - again, I still feel like we're among the lucky ones, we only have to worry about things like cleaning out the fridge (I'm hoping we can still use most of the stuff in the freezer, but the ice cream and the chicken that had sat on the bottom shelf because I couldn't use the toaster oven last evening will probably be dumped). The subways still aren't running, and I've yet to receive a call from anyone at work so I'm going to assume nobody else bothered coming in either. So today I'm going to catch up on the sleep I missed, immerse myself in news, send lots of mojo to Cleveland and even more to Iraq, and keep hugging Robin and reminding myself of our relative good fortune. Here's hoping everyone else similarly affected is doing okay.

    Thursday, August 14, 2003

    Tom Today

    Great interview with "Top Six"er Tom Tomorrow, aka Dan Perkins, on Salon. Remember, if you're not a subscriber you have to sit through an ad in order to get your free "Day Pass" so, you know, minimize the screen for a minute or so unless you, like, have a thing for The Sprint Guy. As this blog site seems to have attracted a lot of new viewers in the past day or so, I wanted to point you to my review of Dan's Great Big Book of Tomorrow down below. And New Yorkers, don't forget his B&N signing next Tuesday! Update: I just noticed that another "Top Six"er, Mark Evanier, links to this interview as well. He also answered a question I've been wondering about for awhile, linking to this update on why it's taking so long for SCTV to come out on DVD. Honestly, it's hard enough trying to explain to Robin the nuances of Perini Scleroso, Monster Chiller Horror Theater or even free budgies until these DVDs finally appear. Mark's blog has really been in the zone lately, what with all the Dick Van Dyke comic book synopses (brilliant work considering said comics don't actually exist) and the news about Eric Idle's Spamalot and Rutles 2 projects.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2003


    My gratitude to everyone who's made today the highest hit count ever for this blog. Will try to keep informing and entertaining. Look for a Pen-Elayne For Your Thoughts review of Marjane Satrapi's amazing graphic novel Persepolis in the very near future. Meantime, I'd like to recommend the latest Guardian column from Iraqi blogger Salam Pax (link at sidebar).
    Almost Cut My Hair, Man...

    Shorn and happy! Ten bucks plus tip. 42nd Street subway station entrance, southwest corner of 40th Street, mere feet away from Midtown Comics (link at sidebar, and my heart goes out to them for having dealt with the Blaster virus yesterday as well). Ask for Mel. Don't tell him I sent you, he has no idea who I am.

    Happy first Blogiversary - yes, Jeralyn Merritt (link at sidebar) coined that word! - to Lee "Budgie" Barnett (link at sidebar), my favorite male British Jew (Hilary being my favorite female British Jew... okay okay, I only know two)! The link on the header is due to a Google search; I notice Google's logo today features a silhouette of Hitchcock with a friend from The Birds on his head, but alas, the bird is not a budgie. If you're so inclined and have shekels or quid to burn, buy something from here and make his day.
    Angelic Comments

    The reason Haloscan (button at sidebar) has been wonky in the last day or so is because they've been changing servers. I found this out when I logged onto their site to see if it were possible to delete duplicate comment posts. And it is (I can even edit them if I want to, but have no desire to do so). If anyone cares to look through back-comments sections and let me know of duplicate posts, I'll be happy to delete 'em. (Already done for the comments to my previous entry.)
    Double Crossed

    Back when I first started getting to know more about the comics industry than what went on between the covers, I was warned repeatedly that the more I found out the more ugliness I was destined to encounter. For the most part I don't think this has borne out; I still have many more friends in the industry than "enemies," and my husband (although still without a regular assignment on a specific book, for almost a year now) has been kept busy enough in the past few months that we've been able to pay the bills, so for the most part I'm not soured by any lack of editor-freelance professionalism shown by the Big Two (Marvel and DC) the way some others may be. Aside from a very few people who just rubbed me the wrong way to such an extent that I can no longer look at their work, my comics reading hasn't shifted all that much; I'm still generally buying and reading books I really enjoy.

    All that changed a couple months back.

    I'd been one of the more vocal supporters of CrossGeneration Comics. CrossGen's content output seemed tailor-made for a reader like me - their core books were big on fantasy and epic storytelling, and while the body types didn't vary as much as they might and the women were still a bit more underdressed than the men, there was much eye-candy of both male and female characters. With a woman (Barb Kesel) as head writer and another (Gina Villa) as co-creator of the overall structure of the "CrossGen universe," the company's girl appeal has always been evident. And they've bent over backwards to help spread the word to potential readers, by doing things like sending me boxes of books to hand out from the Friends of Lulu table at last year's Shoujocon. In fact, when the first box was waylaid by the post office, CrossGen sent a second one via overnight courier directly to the hotel where the con was being held. Just about every encounter I've had with CrossGen folks and with most of their books has been rewarding. And I've supported the company not only with my reader dollars but very vocally both online and at conventions.

    But as I said, that has now changed. I'll let Robin take it from here. He posted the following message this morning on an inkers' mailing list to which we both belong:

    On Friday May 2nd Crossgen assistant art director Rick Magyar phoned and asked me to ink issues 34, 35 and 36 and the covers to #35 and 36 of The First over the pencils of Andy Smith. I agreed and he said the first of the covers would be with me on Monday May 5th and the interior work would be following in about three weeks later. No deadline was mentioned other than the mention of a page a day being the expected work rate. The agreed upon rates for this work was $150 per page for interiors and $250 for covers. Rick said he expected the contract would be included in the package. Later that day Andy Smith left a message on my machine saying that he was looking forward to working with me. The cover duly arrived as agreed. No contract but I knew they were in a hurry so I went ahead and inked it that day and sent it out the next day, Tuesday 6th May. When it reached them the following day I received calls to tell me that they were very happy with it.

    Towards the end of the month I called Andy Smith to suggest he may like to bring any pages he had done to WizardWorld East in Philladelphia over the weekend of 30th May to 1st June. He said he didn't like to carry pages to cons. I told him I'd try and stop by the booth that weekend just to say hi. Rick Magyar called on Thursday May 29th to let me know that he was sending out the first four pages. I mentioned I still hadn't got the contract and he said he'd look into it. Later that day Michelle Pugliese, their freelance coordinator, called and apologised for not getting me the contract and promised I'd have it soon. I asked her about payment for the cover I had done three weeks earlier and she told me that their accounts department didn't like cutting "small checks". For entirely unrelated reasons I won't go into here I didn't feel like doing a lot of meeting and greeting that weekend so I never did stop by the booth so I've still never actually met Andy in person.

    The pages arrived on Monday June 2nd. No contract enclosed but I decided to start working on them while I awaited the paperwork. Call me old fashioned but if work is supposedly being done under contract I like to have actually read the thing before I do the work. At the beginning of the following week I received another three pages (hardly a page a day) followed by another call from Rick asking when he could expect to see some finished pages. I told him that I had pages underway but none completed and that I was still awaiting the promised paperwork. He said that they really needed pages to get their colourists working on and asked if I would be able to get 4 pages to them by Friday June 13th (that day sounds ominous in retrospect). I said that would be no problem and I'd get more to him if I could. We also agreed that thereafter I would send out whatever I had finished on each Monday to keep a steady flow of pages for the colourists.

    Over the next few days, even though I had still not received the promised contract, I not only finished the 4 pages that had been requested but every other page they had sent me as well. I sent off all seven pages on Thursday June 12th and they received the pages the following day.

    On the morning of Monday June 16th June Rick Magyar called to tell me that my services would no longer be required. He said that he hadn't been in the office the previous Friday when my pages had arrived but that Andy Smith and Bart Sears had gone over them and decided that I "wasn't a good match for Andy". He assured me that they would pay me for all the work I had done.

    A month or so later I read Bill Roseman's assertion that art director Bart Sears has called all Crossgen freelancers to explain their cashflow problems and to promise full payment in 45 days. I have received no such call and have in fact never spoken to Bart. On Tuesday July 15th I called Rick Magyar again to ask about payment and why I hadn't received the call that supposedly all other freelancers had. He told me he'd check into it and get Bart Sears or Michelle Pugliase to call me back. Michelle called and explained to me that I hadn't been on the list of people Bart had called because I was "just under 30 days" but that my check would be in the next batch to be cut which was due to be by Wednesday July 30th.

    In the last week of July I came accross four pages of my work from The First #34 published as an online preview to several internet sites in advance of the publication date of 08/06/2003 (along with other titles release date pushed back to 08/13 and then again to 08/20). The cover had already been published in Previews and various web sites including Crossgen's own despite the fact that they have not paid for the reproduction rights to that image nor do they have any paperwork signed by me relinquishing such rights for any of the pages I've worked on for them.

    On Thursday July 31st I emailed Michelle asking her to confirm that my payment had been sent as promised. I've received no reply to my email.

    It's now 98 days since they received the cover I inked for them and 61 days since they received my interior pages. I have received no payment for any of the work I've done for Crossgen. The account due is for one cover @ $250.00 and seven interior pages @ $150.00, a total of $1,300.00.
    Now, bear in mind, a copyright still belongs to whoever does the work until it's signed over. As Robin says, the CrossGen paperwork relinquishing the reproduction rights (and, from what I'm given to understand, also featuring a non-disclosure clause) was never sent to him. Seems to me this makes the online (and now in-store) publication of Robin's work of questionable legality. But more importantly, from what we've been able to gather Robin's far from the only unpaid freelancer. And much of this seems to be swept under the rug. None of the comics news sites have seen fit to report it (although in fairness CrossGen co-sponsors one of those sites so reporting news like this might cost them business). And I've also heard reports of a few CrossGen employees badmouthing Robin's work (which was exemplary) and spreading untrue stories about "courier problems" being the reason for the sudden inker change - even implying that Robin turned in pages late, when they were actually early and well in advance of the contracts he's still never seen.

    This tears me up. I really love most of CrossGen's books. I can't stop buying the ones that have hooked me (although I'm coming close, obviously), and I hate not being able to read them because of the foul taste they've put in my mouth. And I hate reading poster after poster on the comics news sites talk about how wonderful and honest CrossGen is in their business dealings as opposed to All Those Other Horrid Companies, when I've known for months that it's just not true. Marvel and DC have always paid Robin promptly, and have never fired him so brusquely and illogically. But CrossGen's been like this teflon comics company - no negativity seems to stick. Well, maybe I'll get lucky, and this post will prompt something to happen.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2003

    Sidebar Notes

    Why are we Fair and Balanced (top and sidebar)? Because Atrios suggested it, and I'm an unabashed jumper on this bandwagon. Also because some people apparently don't believe parody is protected from stupid nuisance suits. In addition, I've moved ex-hubby-and-still-buddy Steve to the Top Six section and moved Priest (who hasn't updated his blog since 5 July) down to the Kultcha section; added folks like Oliver Willis and Roger Ailes (The Good One); and added a New Yawk section just 'cause, y'wanna make sumpin' of it? Oh, and one more note that has nothing to do with the sidebar: you may have noticed Haloscan hasn't been working well today. I'm sure the comments sections will be back soon...

    Posting will be sporadic today, as my office has apparently fallen victim to some sort of worm or other and first there is an Internet connection, then there is no network, then there is. Plus, I have a lot of job-work today, and I just found out my boss will be back next Monday (a week earlier than any of us expected), so it'll take me awhile to adjust...

    Monday, August 11, 2003

    Not Fit to Print

    Last time I delivered pages to Marvel for Robin, I tried to walk back to work but Fifth Avenue was closed off right around the library. Some sort of police action. Try as we may, neither Robin nor I could ever ascertain what had happened. Today there are rumors going around the office that portions of the George Washington Bridge have been closed down because there's a would-be jumper on the bridge. I've been through all the local news sites' front pages and traffic sections, and all I've been able to find has been some vague nebulous wording about the area being subject to gridlock due to a "police action." You know, I don't think the cops should unduly frighten citizens nor encourage copycats, but neither do I think it's too much to ask that the reasons behind police actions be explained or reported on a bit more often. Just take a few column inches away from Ahnuld and Kobe, that should do it. Unless, of course, the local papers don't feel it's actually important to report news that informs NYC residents and workers, rather than "news" that brings in revenue.

    I've talked before about how I'm not really big on coding, how I need folks to talk me through things. The sidebar looks the way it does (and BTW I've added some more cool buttons) mostly because folks have helped me out and I've been able to copy and paste the proper coding to achieve the effects I wanted. And I'm still not all that happy with the layout of the blogroll portion. But be that as it may, I'm also not really big on paying money for something I can get for free. I'm really happy that Jeanne D'Orleans and Anne Zook and others blogrolled on my sidebar have moved to TypePad or Movable Type or whatever other Blogger competitors are out there and are satisfied with the change (and don't their sites look gorgeous!). I'm the first person to agree that Blogger is far from perfect, particularly when it comes to permalinks or archives; "bloggered" seems to be the new verb for "effed up" in many circles. But I've almost always shrugged it off as "you get what you pay for."

    So I'm not going to throw too many hissy fits over something that doesn't cost me a penny to use or maintain, and I doubt I'll ever make a big deal about my PayPal tip jar (heck, I don't even know if my PayPal account works!) the way some others do, because I don't have to. I like my blogging not being dependent on the kindness of others, or on my varying disposable income. And while Blogger's free program does give you the option of hosting your blog on your own site (and I think you get that with TypePad too?), I'm very reluctant to do so, as space and bandwidth considerations would still probably mean paying more for our site than we do now, and I'd rather reserve that space and bandwidth for Robin's art stuff and my old Pen-Elayne reviews anyway. Until the latter are finally all uploaded (and it's a tedious process, to which I may actually be returning now that the WDC baton has been passed) I don't want to do anything new with my side of the site aside from the occasional update of my intro/bio page.

    Now, all this doesn't mean I won't change my mind in the future - for instance, I'm finding Anil Dash (link at sidebar) a charming correspondent, and that sort of personal interaction goes a long way towards changing my mind in favor of actually considering paying for a service that I can get elsewhere for free. But for now, particularly with the economy in the state it's in, I'd rather save my money if I can or spend it on frivolities like bills and rent.

    Sunday, August 10, 2003

    Picture This

    I got a lovely e-mail the other day from David Chin, a university student from Melbourne, Australia. He's launched a fascinating web project called A Picture's Worth which I think will appeal to a lot of folks. Sayeth the site,
    Officially launched on the 1st of August 2003, A Picture's Worth is a personal project that aims to highlight the inspiration that can arise from a photograph and to capture it in the form of words which in turn can reveal the true beauty of a photograph. Ultimately, the project seeks to inspire and enhance captivating story writing and beautiful photography.

    In line with the idea that 'a picture is worth a thousand words,' visitors are invited to share the memories, emotions or creative stories triggered by a photograph of personal significance. It is hoped that a new photo essay will be posted on the site daily.
    A very nifty idea and, with photo blogging becoming a pretty big deal nowadays, one whose time has more than come. The few photos and essays in the gallery so far come from all around the world. Highly recommended.
    Pen-Elayne For Your Thoughts -
    The Great Big Book of Tomorrow: A Treasury of Cartoons

    Writer/Artist: Dan Perkins aka Tom Tomorrow (link at sidebar)
    Design by Dan Perkins and Kevin Pyle
    Production by Kevin Pyle
    Editor: Keith Kahla
    Published by St. Martin's Press

    Here's what I thought:

    Back on September 15 of last year, I mentioned how excited I was to have gotten my first plug and welcome from Dan's blog.
    So we got up early this morning in anticipation of my friend Leah's arrival to drive us to the Renaissance Faire, and I immediately go check my list of must-read blogs - and Tom Tomorrow (see link at left) mentioned me! I've followed Tom's work since I was doing INSIDE JOKE and he was (to all intents and purposes) one of the "house cartoonists" of a great zine called Processed World with which I was utterly enthralled. So even though he now lives in NYC too and, both being involved in comics, we probably know a lot of the same people (although to my recollection we've never met), I still feel, like, "ohmiGOD!" Which doesn't come at all as a surprise to me, I get that way over a lot of people whose work I admire, friend and acquaintance and stranger alike. I kind of live by the adage that just about everyone in this world is more interesting than me, so I'm afraid anyone who reads this blog will be subject to occasional bouts of gushy-fangirl.
    So you see I'm not exactly unbiased here. I've followed Dan's work for =gasp= a couple decades now, and have two previous collections (Greetings From This Modern World [intro by Bill Griffith] and Tune in Tomorrow [very funny Clinton blurb quote on the back cover]) although, for whatever reason, my collection seems to stop there.

    Which is of no consequence now, because The Great Big Book of Tomorrow reprints all the material from those two books and probably a few others as well (like The Wrath of Sparky, When Penguins Attack! and Penguin Soup for the Soul), which is not only convenient but an amazing trip through recent political history. Dan has taken the national pulse so steadily through the years that rereading his 4-panel strips is a great way to remind yourself, in this info-saturated world, of the items that caught progressives' attention over the past dozen years.

    The thing that struck me about this memory jogger was how, more often than I expected, "everything old is new again." So often we think that one national crisis or another is happening for the first time, and it's helpful to recall the cyclical nature of many of these problems. Gives me hope that we'll work through them as we've done in the past. Nor are they always tied to Republican administrations; many of these strips were done during the Clinton era, and are just as hard-hitting and incisive as the ones skewering the more radical right-wing politicos. Dan has a wonderful way of getting to the heart of what's bothering him right off the bat - critical when you only have four panels to get your point across while entertaining your readers, a Herculean task for even the best cartoonists. His ability to zero in on the absurdities we encounter as participating citizens of This Modern World is a gift that keeps on giving. It was great to read so much stuff for the first time ever, including Tom's old collage work in the original TWM long-form story and the special "reporting" strips he did for the SF Chronicle, Village Voice (in color!) and other papers during Republican and Democratic conventions. And even the sillier stuff is done well, like the saga of TMW mascot Sparky's brief unemployment during the time he was replaced by a talking stomach.

    Dan's winks to other cartoonists are likewise inclusive rather than obscure and in-jokey. And his own art style has remained remarkably consistent throughout his career. Only wonks like me would notice things like how his reversal of captions from black-on-white to white-on-black in the past couple years has punched up his readability as much as the 3-D shadowing on about 80% of his word ballons. Which is great - the point of design is (or should be) not to call attention to itself, but to serve the narrative. And every design element in Dan's panels, from the zipatones to the easily-recognizable caricatures to the background "Easter eggs," serves the points Dan succeeds in getting across.

    The book itself is designed quite well, with some great little side remarks here and there about incidents that led to strips being dropped by one outfit or another (most having to do with people not getting or being able to deal with Dan's skewed humor). Dan's forwards are always great to read - he may not be comfortable talking about himself but he still does it wonderfully - and the photographs (here's Dan with Marilyn Quayle! There he is with Ollie North!) are a hoot. I could wish for some sort of reference help when looking up specific strips for review purposes, but I don't see how Dan and Kevin and Keith could have pulled that off; a table of contents would be rather a waste since there are only a few "chapters," and what would you put in an index? Best to keep flipping back and forth, pausing - as I inevitably do - to reread something that strikes my fancy. I'm completely bowled over by how a work can be so specific to a time (in terms of content) and so timeless (in terms of form and accessibility) simultaneously. I can't thank Dan and Keith enough for sending this to me, I think I'll be flipping through it for a long time to come.

    Oh, and by the way, Dan is not only responsible for putting me on the blogosphere roadmap, but for my single largest one-day page viewing, which occurred just this past Friday thanks to him mentioning my BloggerCon post below. He may downplay his influence in this ephemeral venue and the admiration fellow writers and artists have for him and his work, but many of us know better. Thanks again, Dan, for your continued curmudgeonly presence as well as a hell of a lot of great comic strip commentaries.

    So, what did y'all think?