Monday, November 24, 2008

I Stole This Idea From Cullen Bunn

And there's not a DAMNED (see what I did there?) thing he can do about it.

In my 36 years I have...
  • Been nearly buried alive in a rockslide.
  • Won a Commodore 64 in an essay contest. That's computing power, baby!
  • Become an Eagle Scout.
  • Taught Archery.
  • Been a concert T-Shirt salesman.
  • Driven to a city 200 miles away because I was bored and had never been there.
  • Met Glen Danzig---at a science fiction convention (I also met The Iron Shiek there).
  • Helped create an award-winning mock flyer.
  • Co-created an entire web site for a completely ficticious rock band.
  • Become a Discordian Pope (not really much of an accomplishment, since everyone is a Discordian Pope, but most people don't know it so I think it should count).
  • Seen George Carlin perform live.
  • Established beyond a shadow of a doubt that I should never be alowed to drink Rumplemintz.
  • Seen Johnny Cash perform live.
  • Seen a 3-D porno on the big screen, which is not nearly as cool as you might think.
  • Watched "Dancin' Outlaw" so many times I've probably got it memorized.
  • Lived with a stripper.
  • Graduated from Transylvania University with a degree in Fucking Useless.
  • Had a beer with Larry Elmore.
  • Managed a comic book store.
  • Driven a cab.
  • Gotten drunk with some of the guys from Ghoultown.
  • Created a Role-Playing game (actually more than one, but only QAGS was ever published).
  • Written the first book where Robert Kirkman's work was ever published. Of course, we published his artwork, not his writing. Keen business decisions like this are why Kirkman's the golden boy of comics and we're languishing in obscurity.
  • Co-Founded a game company that's survived tax troubles, having thousands of dollars stolen from it by a a jackass, and the virtual collapse of the industry.
  • Written, co-written, or contributed writing to a bunch of game books (but I hope to one day move into something respectable--like porn or comics). Edited, done layout, drawn maps, and otherwise contributed to even more.
  • Partied with Dr. Demento--on multiple occasions.
  • Wandered around Pulaski County, Kentucky doing a photoshoot of people with lots of guns...on the same day the Sheriff was assassinated. I suspect we were the subject of lots of good gossip in the following weeks.
  • Taken a road trip to Vegas.
  • Gotten a Nebula-Award Winning author drunk (and, we think, laid).
  • Stood on the corner in Winslow Arizona.
  • Interviewed Dr. Demento, Shannon "Too Much Coffee Man" Wheeler, the guy who writes Deep Fried, and probably some other people I'm not thinking of right now.
  • Given Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed a ride from the movies to their hotel--without realizing who they were until they were walking into the hotel.
  • Beaten Steve Jackson at his own game (live action TOON).
  • Shaken hands with Bruce Campbell.
  • Received (on behalf of Hex Games) a Certificate of Achievement by a drunken man in a kilt during a very solemn ceremony that took place in a hotel bathroom at 2 in the morning.
  • Participated in (and, in fact, helped create) bogus mystical rituals.
  • Had an article I wrote linked from Penny Arcade, which meant it got like a zillion hits.
  • Signed autographs--that's always kinda weird.
  • Been Gaming Guest of Honor at two sci-fi conventions.
  • Somehow accquired the nickname "Chainsaw."
  • Carpooled with a hitman who, as it turns out, had done a hit on the family of a girl I went to college with (to my credit, I didn't know this at the time).
  • Probably been an acessory to more crimes than I want to think about.
  • Hung out backstage with members of Jackson Browne's band.
  • Been rumored on the internet to have received a Cease and Desist Order from 20th Century Fox and/or Mutant Enemy Productions (or at least a nasty letter from Joss Whedon). These rumors are false.
  • Actually received a C & D from the Game Manufacturer's Assocation, which isn't nearly as cool.
  • Written a complete RPG in 24 hours.
  • Created a Discordian Holiday (St Zevon's Day, January 24, when people are encouraged to listen to Warren Zevon, enjoy a sandwich, and (mooon phase permitting) turn into a werewolf and terrorize London).
  • Had a couple of photoshop pieces published on
  • Moved back to the place I hated growing up and gotten a day job. Hopefully life will get interesting again someday...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Appetite For Illusions

It's been a long time since I've written here--the whole "grown-up job" thing is slowly killing me (or at least leeching my creative energy). But it's been even longer since Guns N' Roses released an album. Ignoring The Spaghetti Incident? (which was all covers and mostly sucktacular--though not quite as bad as most people claim), the last time we've heard from G N' R (other than that awful song from the Aaaanold vs. Satan movie) was in 1991, when they released both Use Your Illusion albums on the same day. Just to give you an idea of how long ago that was, here are some fun facts about what was (or in some cases, wasn't) going on in the world as I stood in the cold at Midnight to get my hands on these two tapes (yeah, that's right, tapes--the albums also released on CD, but they were still kind of a new thing):
  • I had been a freshman in college for less than a month.
  • The first George Bush was President, and the first Gulf War had only been over for a few months.
  • It would still be three more years before Rick Rubin would revive Johnny Cash's career with the first installment of the American Recordings series.
  • O.J. hadn't killed anyone yet.
  • The Big Lebowski was still 7 years away.
  • The Chicago Bulls had just won their FIRST NBA championship.
  • The interwebs didn't really exist yet. No Facebook, no MySpace, no Wikipedia, no blogs, no Strongbad, no porn. Just a handful of BBSes that only a few hardcore nerds even knew about.
  • The term "former Soviet Union" was just coming into the collective vocabulary.
  • Freddie Mercury was still alive.
  • Hex Games (now celebrating 10 years of QAGS--buy your copy today at wouldn't be founded for another 6 years. In fact, I hadn't even met co-founders Leighton Connor and Dale French yet. I hadn't learned the fine art of the cheap plug yet, either.
Ok, so it was a long damn time ago. Chinese Democracy was first announced in something like 1994, but then the band imploded, Axl lost his mind and had his face replaced with a Guy Fawkes mask, and other bad things happened. Eventually "Guns N' Roses" became "Axl Rose and some other people who aren't really Guns N' Roses," but at least that's closer to being the actual band than "Black Sabbbath featuring Tommy Iomi." Anyway, eventually the band actually released a song on some new Guitar Hero thing and Axl said that the album would soon be released. Nobody believed it, including Dr. Pepper, who offered a free Dr. Pepper to everyone in the U.S. if Chinese Democracy came out before the end of the year.

Dr. Pepper is a powerful motivator (especially Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, which I'm reasonably sure contains crack cocaine), and in order to collect their share of the syrupy goodness, Axl and the boys (whoever that was at the moment) finished the album and announced it would release on November 23 at Best Buy (and only at Best Buy, but I think you can all guess my problems with that). I'm sure you can also buy the album online, but this is a case where I for one need the real thing. I'm fine with just a digital copy of the newest Kid Rock or whatever, but when it comes to serious music (or at least something as long-awaited as this), I want liner notes and album art and all that good stuff. So I dug out my portable CD player, picked up the CD at Best Buy, and hit the interstate, fully intending to (as Jon Bon Jovi might say) have my face rocked.

I had heard from a few sources that this album was supposed to be classic G N' R, and the first few tracks were promising, if not quite up to the Appetite for Destruction level of dirty rock goodness. After that, the album veers into Use Your Illusion territory and pretty much stays there. This is clearly the Axl rose show--not that there's anything wrong with that. Once you accept the idea that Chinese Democracy isn't going to kick your ass with anything approaching Welcome to the Jungle or My Michelle, it works pretty well as Use Your Illusion III--overproduced but very listenable. It's not the new Guns N' Roses album you really want, but when you think about it, Chinese Democracy is the new Guns N' Roses album that you probably should have expected.

As for the free Dr. Pepper, the company tried to make good on the offer, but the sheer number of responses crashed their site. They've extended the offer and supposedly increased their bandwidth, but so far I haven't been able to make it through. As you might expect, there are already several net forums where people are bitching and whining about how Dr. Pepper "scammed" everyone by not beefing up their website beforehand. I'm not sure how failure to anticipate participation in an offer for free product counts as a scam, but I guess idiots like that are the price we pay for porn and Strongbad.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Movie Madness

Since I live in Mayberry, I've been seeing a lot of movies lately because it's about the only thing to do. However, I haven't been very good about actually sharing my opinions of these movies with the unsuspecting world. I'm going to do that now.

I've heard a lot of bad reviews of this movie, but quite frankly I don't get them. Apparently some people think that it's supposed to have some kind of subtext or something--I've heard that it's everything from Will Smith dealing with his fame to a commentary on black America. My opinion is that these people went to see the wrong movie. This is a Will Smith 4th of July movie, and there are certain things we can expect from those: 1) Will Smith will play Will Smith, but that's ok because we like Will Smith; 2) There will be some explosions and shit; 3) The plot might not be great and there won't be any deeper meaning, but that's ok, because it's got Will Smith and explosions and shit. If you go in expecting anything more, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

So, there's this secret society of weavers who are also trained assassins with semi-magical gun-fu powers. They've got a magical loom that tells them who they're supposed to kill. Yeah, this movie is fucking stupid. Fortunately, the utterly ridiculous plot isn't a deal breaker, because you're going to see Angelina Jolie and guns, both of which are present throughout the movie. Plus, you get hear Morgan Freeman say "mother fucker," which just doesn't happen that often.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
This is a fun movie with some neat special effects while you're watching it, but it doesn't really leave a lasting impression--sort of the film equivalent of Chinese food. Apparently the company that made it went bankrupt before it was even released and some people (I think F/X guys, but possibly writers) didn't get paid. Brendan Frasier is trying to help them, which just proves once again that Brendan Frasier is a swell guy. That's why I still think somebody should cast him as Superman. We know he can do action and we know he can do the aw shucks boy scout Clark stuff, so what's the holdup?

Pineapple Express
Seth Rogen, like Will Smith, plays the same guy in every movie, but, again like Will Smith, we like Seth Rogen, so we're good with that. Throw in James Franco as a wacky drug dealer, Gary Cole as the bad guy, and lots of typical action movie stuff played for laughs and it's hard to go wrong.

Swing Vote
Nobody has (in the immortal words of Warren Ellis) given two tugs of a dead dog's cock about Kevin Costner in quite some time, but this movie has Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Grammer as the two Presidential hopefuls,and that's just the kind of thing that convinces me to pay good money to see a Costner movie. Despite the cliched kid/parent role reversal, this is a good movie up to a point. You see, Bud (Costner's character) is the average American voter (ie, a stupid, uninformed hick), and the movie does a good job of showing how catering to this guy (as both parties do every election cycle) is ultimately detrimental to the god of our country. That is, until they punk out and give him a brain. After all, the average voter is also the average moviegoer.

Death Race
Jason Statham and cars tend to mix well, so he was a natural choice for the Death Race 2000 remake. Throw in a combat Mustang built by Ian McShane and Joan Allen as an evil prison warden, and you've got brainless action movie gold. I challenge you not to enjoy the hell out of this flick.

The House Bunny
There's a lot of eye candy and some mild amusement value in this movie, but Anna Faris is funnier than this. Watch Just Friends instead.

The Rocker
The makers of this movie know what it takes to make a good Rock n' Roll comedy. Namely, Howard Hesseman. He's only got a few scenes in the movie, but his mere presence adds legitimacy to the whole thing. Overall, the movie is about what you'd expect, but thanks to a few nice touches--for instance, the British accents that come with fame--and a good supporting cast including Jeff Garlin, Christina Applegate, and Will Arnett (who is perfect as the lead singer of hair band Vesuvius), and the end result is a much funnier movie than you might expect from the previews.

Disaster Movie
Yeah, I knew this would suck, but there wasn't another movie starting for like 45 minutes. Maybe because of my extremely low expectations, I actually enjoyed parts of this movie. Juno's "overly written, clever-for-clever's sake" dialog was great in the first few scenes (though by the end it was just random webspeak), the Princess was pretty damned amusing, and there were some funny gags. Then there were the Death Metal Chipmunks, which I'd watch an entire movie about right damned now. Otherwise, it's Another BLANK Movie.

Burn After Reading
Ever since True Romance, we've known that Brad Pitt is great at playing stupid, and Burn After Reading lets him really shine at being dumb. The rest of the cast is just as good as you'd expect it to be, but nobody else really stands out any more than usual. Former Coen regulars Hunter, Goodman, and Torturo are (again) regrettably missing from the cast, but the addition of JK Simmons helps to make up for their absence, at least a little bit. Not the Coen's best work, but still a Coen Brothers movie, and therefore well worth watching.

Tropic Thunder
This is one of those movies that reminds you how funny Ben Stiller can be. Of course, since both Stiller and Jack Black are both kind of hit or miss with me, I didn't really have many expectations of this movie until I found out that Robert Downey, Jr. was playing the black guy. That made me want to see it, and Downey was by far the best part of the whole movie. The way the role is written and played, there's not even any real guilt about laughing at a guy who's essentially doing blackface. In addition to the main cast, there's a fun bit role by Matthew McConehoweveryospellWoodersonslastname and an incredibly uncharacteristic performance by--well, I'll just say "Les Grossman." Because if you don't already know that this guy's in the movie (or, like me, had already forgotten Stiller mentioning it on The Daily Show), I don't want to ruin the great "holy shit" moment when you find out who plays Les Grossman.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Facebook: A Skewed Sample of America?

Some people claim that the strip-malling of America has led to a citizenry that clamors for the lowest common denominator in all things. In order to find out whether this is true, I decided to compare the number of Facebook fans for various pairings. Since numbers don't lie (except on Fox News), this should tell us whether or not the average American is truly as dumb as a lot of people seem to think.

Death Match #1: Mark Twain vs. P.J. O'Roarke
Mark Twain: Humorist, novelist, essayist, and arguably the greatest American writer of all time.
PJ O'Rourke: A reasonably funny guy with horrific political ideas. O'Rourke is sometimes compared to Twain, and he probably has whatever Libertarians consider an orgasm every time that happens.
Facebook Fans:
Mark Twain: 138
PJ O'Rourke: 309
Winner: Mr. Let's Privatize The Fire Department

Death Match #2: George Carlin vs. Carlos Mencia
George Carlin: One of the greatest comedians who ever lived, and the man who Robert Anton Wilson once called "America's Greatest Philosopher."
Carlos Mencia: Aka Ned Holnitz. A man whose primary talent is the ability to steal other comics' material.
Facebook Fans:
Carlin: 3,531
Mencia: 450
Winner: Originality and Actual Humor

Death Match #3: Guinness vs. Budweiser
Guinness: Can the entire nation of Ireland really be wrong about beer?
Budweiser: America's most mediocre beer.
Facebook Fans:
Guinness: 42,024
Budweiser: 5,282
Winner: The one that doesn't taste like warm piss.

Death Match #4: Backyard Burgers vs. McDonald's

Backyard Burgers: Sure, it's fast food, but at least their beef is made of something approaching an actual cow.
McDonald's: You ever notice how right after you eat a Big Mac, you need to take a shit? That's because an alarming percentage of McDonald's "beef" is composed of cow feces, so there's no digestion necessary.
Facebook Fans:
Backyard Burgers: 3
McDonald's: 258,436
Winner: Toilet Paper Manufacturers

Death Match #5: Edward R. Murrow vs. Bill O'Reilly

Edward R. Murrow: Generally considered to be the greatest television newsman of all time.
Bill O'Reilly: Political hack who Stephen Colbert has made a career of parodying. Based on his appearances on The Daily Show and Colbert Report, I've developed a theory that Papa Bear is doing the same thing Colbert does, he just doesn't have the good taste to publicly admit it.
Facebook Fans:
Murrow: 76
O'Reilly: Doesn't even have a fan page.
Winner: America

Death Match #6: Terry Gilliam vs. Michael Bay
Terry Gilliam: Visionary filmmaker (and former member of Monty Python) whose works include Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, just to name a few.
Michael Bay: A guy who does explosions real good, if you can sit through the often ridiculous plot lines that lead up to them.
Facebook Fans
Terry Gilliam: 4,806
Michael Bay: 631
Winner: The man I hope gets to finish his Don Quixote movie one day.

Death Match #7: John Prine vs. Justin Timberlake
John Prine: The man Bob Dylan once called the greatest songwriter of the 20th Century.
Justin Timberlake: The guy who sang "Dick In A Box."
Facebook Fans:
Prine: No fan page. I find this deeply disturbing.
Timberlake: 466,819
Winner: J.T.

Death Match #8: Alan Moore vs. Todd McFarlane
Alan Moore: Author of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and countless other ground-breaking comics. Believed by many to be a magical being of pure energy.
Todd McFarlane: Creator of Spawn, the revenge story that never ends.
Facebook Fans:
Moore: 6481
McFarlane: 257, though Spawn has 903 fans (The Todd McFarlane is a Fucking Prick group has 7--soon to be 8--members).
Winner: Alan Moore. As it should be.

Death Match #9: Michael Chabon vs. Dan Brown

Michael Chabon: Award-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, an incredible book about comics, golems, and the American Dream.
Dan Brown: The man who swiped the plot of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, added the most two-dimensional characters this side of porn, and somehow ended up with a best-seller.
Facebook Fans:
Chabon: 528
Brown: 8,442
Winner: The worst author I've ever read an entire book by.

Death Match #10: Johnny Depp vs. Ben Affleck
Johnny Depp: Amazing actor whose roles include Captain Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Ben Affleck: The man who can only act when Kevin Smith is behind the camera.
Facebook Fans:
Depp: 224,152 (413,110 for Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow)
Affleck: 12,371
Winner: The right one.

The Results
In a surprising 60% of my test cases, the higher quality competitor had the most Facebook Fans. On the surface, this seems to suggest that George Bernard Shaw's math was off and the 100% American is actually only 40% an idiot. Unfortunately, this fails to take into account two important factors: (1)The international nature of Facebook; and (2)the fact that many, um, let's call them "Michael Bay Fans" are probably not Facebook users (though there's an excellent chance many of them have Adspace accounts). So, in the tradition of the Christian Right, I'm going to boldly ignore science and continue to believe that the average American is dangerously stupid.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Triumph of the Human Fucking Spirit

The Olympics have come and gone once again, and anyone who spends any time in bars has had to deal with the usual annoyance of people who, once every four years, try to act like they actually give a flying fuck about gymnastics or competitive swimmings. Worse than that, we've had to deal with the most puke-inducing aspect of Olympic coverage, the overly dramatic athlete biography in which every minor setback the athlete has ever suffered is treated as a great obstacle to be overcome--you know, when Bob Costas dramatically intones "in the third grade, the young athlete accidentally sharted at the school play..."--that kind of thing.

In the interest of eliminating these exercises in faux drama, and perhaps giving Bob Costas back an iota of self-respect, I now present to you the real and true story of every Olympic Athlete:

[Athlete] was born to an upper middle class family in [City]. At an early age, he showed a small degree of promise in [Sport]. At this point his father, an athletic failure, saw a chance to live vicariously through the child and perhaps even parley the child's talents into endorsement deals that would allow him to quit his soul-wrenching job. At the same time his mother, who by this point defined her entire existence by the fact that she had produced offspring, saw the child's talent as an indicator of her own self-worth.

There were probably other children equally or more talented in [Sport], and even children more driven to excel, but fortunately [Athlete] had overbearing parents with the cash to afford the trainers and coaches necessary to help the child improve his skills. [Athlete] soon grew to hate the sport and resent his family, but by this point the sport was the only identity he had. Fortunately by high school he was able to ad "Jock Asshole" to his identity, bullying those who were not as rich, popular, and athletically talented as him. Now, he hopes to win a gold medal and cash in on endorsements in the 3-6 months before the general public forgets about his sport for another four years.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


It's been a hell of a week here at the Gumbo Palace, so once again I'm going to be lazy and post in list format. This week, I'm going to give you a rundown on the people you probably need at least a passing familiarity with in order to follow this blog. Think of it as a suggested reading/listening/whatever list.

Charles Fort
I've already discussed Fort at length in a previous post. He's the guy who spent an inordinate amount of time collecting reports of anomalous phenomena and wrote books in which he cataloged them and subtly made fun of the scientific establishment.

Warren Zevon
Most people, if they know Zevon at all, know him as the guy who sang "Werewolves of London" and "Lawyers, Guns, and Money." These people are missing out on the best of Zevon's work. Zevon wrote songs of high adventure, the absurdity of the human condition, and even the occasional straightforward rock song. The best starting points for familiarizing yourself with Warren Zevon are Genius (a greatest hits type compilation) and Learning to Flinch (a live album).

Robert Anton Wilson
Robert Anton Wilson is probably best known as the co-author of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, which built upon the Discordian religion revealed to the world in the Principia Discordia(or, How I Found The Goddess, and What I Did To Her When I Found Her). He also wrote many books that combined occultism, psychology, literary criticism, political manifestos, and science into a unique, reasonably believable (and rather Fortean) way of seeing the world. In addition to Illuminatus!, those interested in exploring Wilson's work should pick up the Cosmic Trigger trilogy and Prometheus Rising.

George Carlin
I talked a bit about Carlin right after his death. Carlin once said that he divided his comedy into two broad categories: "the little world"--common everyday things that everyone experienced (pets, losing things, sports); and "the big world"--more theoretical things like politics and religion. While Carlin's "little world" bits could give Bill Cosby a run for his money any day of the week, the "big world" stuff was where he separated himself from the pack. Carlin had a fascination with language, an amazing ability to notice what was really going on in the world, and a healthily nihilistic attitude that made him, in the words of Robert Anton Wilson, "America's Greatest Living Philosopher" (before both he and Wilson died, that is). Check out some of his books and performances.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson was a political junkie, firearms enthusiast, and the father of Gonzo Journalism. Wikipedia defines Gonzo Journalism as "a style of journalism which is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first person narrative. The style tends to blend factual and fictional elements to emphasize an underlying message and engage the reader." My definition is a little shorter: realizing that there is a difference between reality and truth and focusing on communicating the truth of a situation. Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas is probably Thompson's best-known work, but his political writing, collected in books like Songs of the Doomed, is where you'll find the real magic.

This list could go on indefinitely, but I'm going to stop with a Discordian five. While there are other people who influence my way of looking at the world (some of whom, like comic book author and wizard Alan Moore and director Terry Gilliam, are still alive), but these five are the ones who pop up most often and most overtly. You should learn more about them. They're interesting bastards.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ten Observations

I've been dealing with stuff breaking down all week, so I'm gonna be lazy tonight.

1) Doing a buttload of data entry in order to open a video store hasn't gotten any easier since the first time I did it several years ago. In fact, I'm reasonably sure that the movie companies have invented new and interesting ways to hide release dates, screen formats, ratings, and other important information.

2) Speaking of release dates, a lot of movies I still think of as reasonably new are actually rather old. It's part of the whole "time running together thing" that I've noticed for the past, oh, 15 years or so. I blame it on two things that happens once you leave school: (1) No summer break; (2) Years at your job don't have convenient names like years at school.

3) I can think of a million smart-ass remarks to make about Hellboy (involving puppets, Elric, monsters with the "Unable to attack a major character" Weakness, and a bunch of other things). Ultimately, though, it's a fun movie so I won't make fun of it.

4) Step Brothers is just as funny as you think it will be. What some people might not expect is the percentage of the funny that's contributed entirely by Richard Jenkins.

5) I didn't give a rat's ass about the new X-Files movie to begin with. Now that I've spent way too many minutes of this week waiting for its ad to load on MySpace (which a few of my friends still insist on using) before my login would go through, I actively hate the new X-Files movie.

6) To the city of Lexington: Letting a vibrant and historic downtown block be destroyed to make way for a gigantic phallic symbol that nobody wants despite huge pubic outcry and the fact that the developers are openly dishonest and have a terrible track record when it comes to their grand schemes is really fucking stupid. When Cock & Balls tower stands empty and tumbleweeds roll through downtown while the Webb Brothers giggle about the amount of tax money they stole, maybe you'll understand.

7)To the city of Paducah: Your attempt to bring the creative class into your downtown area is admirable, especially compared to Lexington's apparent attempt to drive them out. Unfortunately, your program isn't really bringing in the creative class. It's bringing in people who briefly considered creative endeavors, realized that they don't pay terribly well, and got day jobs. Any creative energy these wannabe Bohemians may have had has been sucked out by years in the straight world. The real creative types were the ones who lived in the downtown area (because it was run-down and chaep) before you started your "artist relocation" program.

8) To Barack Obama: Every time you pander to swing voters, you undermine everything that made us vote for you in the primaries. Quit it. This kind of pandering is the reason the Democrats can't win an election and the definition of "far-left liberal" is now somewhere to the right of Nixon. If you stick to your guns, you've got this election tied up. If you fuck it up, you destroy a lot more than just your own political aspirations.

9) To the family in the Mexican restaurant on Broadway last week: I immediately disliked all 20 or so of you from the moment I walked in, all for different reasons (with special distaste for the couple who changed their baby on a table in the middle of the restaurant). I liked you even less when I heard one of the gentlemen actually bragging about leaving the server a 15% tip after he'd spent at least an hour (probably more) making sure your entire table was happy. But you really proved yourselves to be truly awful people when two members of your family actually had a conversation across MY table without even seeming to realize that you were doing something incredibly rude. I hope you all die in spectacular and embarrassing ways.

10) To whoever decided to remake Death Race with Jason Statham: You rock! The first time I saw the trailer, I tried to convince myself that it didn't look awesome. Now that I've seen it a few more times, I can't keep deceiving myself.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dark Knight

Looks like Sunday is the new Monday and Thursday. For the time being, I'll try to regularly post sometime Sunday night, with mid-week posts if I get time. Tonight, I'll join what I'm assuming is the rest of the world in talking about Dark Knight. There will probably be some spoilers, so if you haven't seen the movie be warned.

An appearance by Oliver Queen would have made this the Batman movie I've been waiting to see my entire adult life. I was really impressed with the Nolan's first Bats flick, and this one managed to surpass it in every way. The previous Batman series included one great movie, one pretty good one, one that was more or less watchable, and one that made my eyes bleed. Based on that math, if Warner cuts this series off before at least five movies (assuming the primaries, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, are still willing), a terrible crime will have been committed.

I'm sure everyone's talked about Heath Ledger's performance, and he did in fact play a hell of a Joker. Borrowing a little twitchiness from his own performance in Brothers Grimm, obviously paying attention to Mark Hamil's voice work as the Joker, and generally just being creepy as hell, Ledger's Joker was dark and, more importantly, completely mad. While I'm glad Ledger didn't go out like Raul Julia (whose last role was Street Fighter), it really sucks that he's not going to be around for the good stuff I hope is coming (we'll get to that in a minute).

I knew they were at least setting up Two-Face in this one, and loved the idea of Aaron Eckhart in the role, but wasn't sure if we'd get to see Two-Face as a major villain or not. In a way I was hoping not, since the "more villains each movie" thing helped to kill the last set. We pretty much got the whole Two-Face arc in this movie, but fortunately the writers studied their Sam Raimi and made sure that the extra bad guys dovetailed nicely into the main plot.

I'm a big fan of supporting characters in comics, so Nolan won me over in the first movie by making Alfred, Fox, and (most importantly) Gordon actual characters. To me, Jim Gordon's relationship with Batman makes him one of the most fascinating characters in comics, but all too often (especially in the last series of movies) he's portrayed as some bureaucrat who hangs out on the roof. In Batman Begins and Dark Knight, Gary Oldman's Gordon is what he's supposed to be: a good cop stuck in a corrupt system.

The Gordon thing is why I want a bunch of these movies and wish Heath Ledger were still around to play the Joker. Gordon's major role in the films, combined with Nolan's obvious familiarity with the darker corners of Bat-lore make me believe that he's the man to bring one of the most gut-wrenching Batman story arcs to life: The death of Robin and the crippling of Barbara Gordon. It could just be wishful thinking on my part, but young Barb has shown up (at least as a reference) in both movies. Assuming the casting directors can find someone to pick up where Ledger left off, there's a chance that around the fourth movie we might see some serious shit.

Of course, since Hollywood rarely listens to me, the next Batman movie will probably be directed by Brian DePalma (the Chuck Dixon of Film) and star Shia LeBouf as Bats, Vern Troyer as Bat-Mite, and Carrot Top as the Mad Hatter. Still, it would probably be better than Batman & Robin.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Southern Culture on the Skids, Part II

Late again--lots of overtime on the new job. Since unlike my last job I actually get paid for the hours I work, this is a good thing financially, but a bad thing when it comes to blogging. Anyway, now that I've gotten my personal feelings on the Confederate battle flag out of the way, let's discuss the articles I linked to last time.

We'll start with Morgan Brooke Wilkins's post, because, to be honest, I don't have a lot to say about it. While Morgan makes a few good points (and more than a few factual errors), she misses the main reason why a lot of people (myself included) assume that anyone waving the flag publicly is an ill-informed racist. Namely, that ill-informed racist have rallied around the flag and given it the negative connotations that it carries today. No matter what it meant 150 years ago, today most people see the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of racism.

The swastika is another good example of a symbol whose meaning has changed drastically over time. Originally it was a sun symbol, and therefore a symbol of life, and in some religious traditions it still carries that meaning. However, even people who practice these traditions would be unlikely to publicly display the symbol because the average person on the street associates it with the Hitler, just as the average person associates the Confederate battle flag with David Duke.

Now lets move on to TTP's response to Morgan's article over on the Barefoot and Progressive blog, which you should all probably be reading. TTP's first response is to the following paragraph from Moran's article, which reads:

"Social equality should not mean that blacks can take pride in any part of history they choose (even if their self-proclaimed leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X were murderers), whereas whites can only honor those parts of history which minorities and the Left deem politically correct."

TTP then talks about Nelson Mandela and the Right's "pissing and moaning" about politically correct language, but is suspiciously silent on the subject of Malcolm X. While Malcolm X was not a "murderer," he was a criminal and, more importantly, a separatist and a racist. His symbol (the stylized "X" popularized by Spike Lee's movie) is just as much a symbol of hate as the Confederate flag, but it's rare that anyone criticizes those who wear it. Exposing this double standard is, I believe, Morgan's point, and TTP sort of throws the baby out with the bath water by focusing on an obviously incorrect parenthetical statement.

After a brief tirade over semantics, we arrive at the issue of state buildings flying the flag, and TTP opines;

"What Morgan is here suggesting is that any part of history which has even one person (or in this case, one region) that reveres it, it should be made not only a part of the socially accepted canon of expression, but furthermore should be officially sanctioned by the state (ie, the confederate flag should be flown at state capitol buildings)."

No, she's not. She's saying that states who choose to do so have the right to fly whatever flag they want in front of their state buildings, even if if may offend someone. California doesn't have to remove the bear from its flag for fear of offending Stephen Colbert and Georgia doesn't have to remove its stars and bars for fear of offending most people who aren't from Georgia (and many who are). They just have to accept the consequences of continuing to display a symbol that some people find offensive.

TTP goes on to say:

"The suggestion, made in both her article and in our later discussions about it, is that just because millions of black Americans (and here we get to the elephant in the room) see the confederate battle flag as a symbol of institutionalized racism (which, as a matter of fact, it is), that doesn't mean that people like Morgan and her ilk shouldn't be allowed to fly the flag as a matter of Southern pride (even thought Kentucky was neither a confederate nor a union state) or as a celebration of "states' rights", a buzzword that is well-known to refer to slavery and Jim Crow."

TTP seems to be suggesting here that an individual's right to freedom of expression can be trumped by majority opinion. If that were the case, those of us who knew Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks would have been silenced in the lead-up to the Iraq war simply because the majority of Americans believed W's lie to be true. I'm pretty sure TTP knows better than that, so I'll move on to the final part of the paragraph.

While Kentucky was in fact officially neutral during the Civil War, that does not mean that it was "neither a confederate or union state." While the state government did not take sides, its citizens did, volunteering for both armies in droves. All of the "brother against brother" cliches about the civil war were especially true of our state. Because of this, many Kentuckians (especially those in the western part of the state, who went so far as to set up their own Confederate state capitol in Bowling Green) have just as much claim to Confederate heritage as the people of Alabama or Mississippi.

TTP is correct that in the Jim Crow era "states' rights" became code for institutionalized racism, but assuming that this has always been the case reveals a misunderstanding of history and the way our ancestors viewed the states and the federal government. In the early days of America, states were states in "sovereign nation" sense of the word, with the federal government serving a role more akin to the United Nations. The sovereignty of the state in the early days of America was such that it was not unusual for people to refer to Rhode Island or Pennsylvania or any other state as "my country."

Realizing that the people (especially in the South, an area who generally fell into the Anti-Federalist camp) identified more strongly as citizens of their state than as citizens of the United States helps to answer TTP's question, "What right of the states other than the right to possess slaves was being infringed upon by the North leading up to the Civil War?" Quite simply, the people of the South were defending their right to self-determination and self-rule.

While slavery was in fact the primary right of concern to the slave-holders who actually governed in the South, that does not mean that the average Confederate soldier was fighting in defense of slavery (most did not and could not reasonably expect to own slaves). The Confederate battle flag was a soldier's flag, and the average rebel soldier was fighting for patriotism and to defend his homeland (Robert E. Lee's letter regarding his decision to resign from the Union army makes this point well). Accusing the typical Confederate soldier of fighting in defense of slavery would be like accusing the average American soldier in Iraq of fighting in defense of war profiteering. As Steve Earle would say, the average Johnny Reb was "just another poor boy off to fight a rich man's war."

The Confederate battle flag has become a symbol of hate, but it didn't necessarily start out that way. While the vast majority of people who rally around the flag do so out of ignorance and intolerance, it can be a legitimate expression of heritage. Ultimately, however, a person's reasons for displaying the flag are not important. The First Amendment protects everyone's right to freedom of expression, and I for one believe that being exposed to unpleasant speech and symbols is a small price to pay for being able to speak my mind.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Southern Culture On The Skids, Part I

Apologies and Excuses
I'm not doing very well on keeping up with my Monday and Thursday schedule so far. My first two posts went up after midnight, one of them was a reprint of an article I'd posted elsewhere, and I missed my last posting date entirely. You're probably not interested in excuses, especially excuses that include shameless self promotion, but I'll give them anyway. In the past week, I've put the finishing touches on the Hex Games web site, helped oversee the release and marketing for Weird Times at Charles Fort High, started a new job, and helped prepare for the big 4th of July celebration that my parents host every year. I'm already posting Monday's blog earlier than normal, and I've got a feeling it will be long enough to make up for the missed post on Thursday, so hopefully that's a sign I'll do better in the future. Now on with the show.

My Confederate Flag
When I was in college, I helped a friend of mine (a Chinese American named Joseph Yeh, sadly no longer with us) move. At some point during the process, Joseph picked up a box, pulled a Confederate battle flag out of it, and handed it to me. "Here, you're a redneck. You should take this," he said. Joseph considered me a redneck (in a more or less joking way, I hope) because I was from a small town, liked country music, and (at that time) still spoke with a bit of a twang from time to time.

I'm not really sure where, why, or how Joseph got the flag, but I took it back to my dorm room and hung it on the wall, and it's stayed a constant part of my home decor ever since. At first I hung the flag was mostly ironic, but at some point I started to self-identify as a Southerner and the flag actually became a symbol of heritage for me. This was a little weird, since I'd spent high school dreaming of escaping my rural hometown and most of college trying to hide my redneck roots.

I'm not exactly sure where my inexplicable Southern pride came from, but I have a few theories. I think it really got started with a Civil War history class whose reading list included Michael Shaara's book,The Killer Angels. This book (which, from what I understand, is also the inspiration of my favorite TV show, Firefly) presents the battle of Gettysburg from the viewpoint of the men who fought there and is based heavily on person diaries, letters, and other primary source materials.

Of all the great men whose stories are told in The Killer Angels, none fascinated me more than Robert E. Lee. Although Lee did not own slaves or even agree with succession, he chose to resign from the Union army (which he had been offered command of) and fight for (and in fact lead, in a way Jefferson Davis never could) the Confederacy because he was first and foremost a Virginian. This very Jeffersonian reasoning appealed to me immediately, and as I learned more about Lee I began to realize (or perhaps more correctly, finally accept) that there was a lot more to the South than stupidity and hate.

Another thing that helped me "come out of the closet" as a Southerner was actually spending time in northern cities and began to notice the subtle difference in culture and behavior. A friend of mine verbalized this perfectly when he wrote about how many of the things that people in Columbus, Ohio (where he lived for several years) considered "Southern food" were things he had grown up thinking of merely as "food." In the same vein, Yankees just don't have the proper respect for Elvis. While those of us from the South enjoy poking fun at Elvis and his fans as much as anyone, at the end of the day we realize that he's still The King. Northerners just don't seem to get it.

Despite my burgeoning Southern pride and the Confederate battle flag I've carried around for a decade and a half, you'll never see wearing a rebel flag on a T-shirt, getting it tattooed on my body, or sticking it in bumper sticker form on my car. I realize that many people see the flag as a symbol of hate and bigotry, and in fact my usual assumption when I see the flag displayed in public is that the person displaying it is probably an ignorant racist redneck. That may seem strange, but it's true.

Speaking of Rednecks...
There is a well-worn white trash migration route that runs from Kentucky to Florida. Not surprisingly, many members of may family have traveled it at one time or another. The most recent was my cousin's son, Josh, who arrived back in Kentucky about two weeks after I (quite involuntarily) moved back to Mayberry (as I like to call this little corner of Western Ky.). When he got to town, he had a Confederate battle flag flying from the back of his truck.

Ever since he got here, various family members have been telling Josh that he needs to get rid of the flag before he gets his ass kicked, but so far he hasn't listened. I'd never met Josh before he moved back, and haven't really talked to him about why he was driving around with the Confederate Flag hanging planted in his truck bed, but I assumed that it had more to do with being young, misguided, and somewhat uneducated (he dropped out of high school) than active racism. That is, until today.

My brother, who is a volunteer fireman and former ambulance service director, usually keeps the scanner at his house turned on, and last night he heard the police commenting about a truck that kept cruising a particular apartment complex (where many of the town's few African-American residents happen to live). When one of the officers said "He doesn't have the flag this time," my brother knew it had to be Josh. Eventually, the officer commented that "he's learned the error of his ways." We assume that Josh was ticked for disturbing the peace or something similar, but have yet to confirm the actual charge.

Normally I'd be defending Josh's right to freedom of expression, but in this case I think I have to side with the police. I'm not sure if driving through a black neighborhood (or at least the closest thing we have to one) flying a Confederate battle flag is the same as shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, but there seem to be some similarities. Josh wasn't expressing anything, just causing trouble.

For Further Reading
As those of you who've read some of my old Death Cookie stuff known, synchronicity has a tendency of rearing it's ugly head whenever I start ruminating on all things Southern. So I wasn't terribly surprised to see this article (responding to this article) as I went through the archives of a blog I've been reading lately. I've got things to say about both articles, but I think it's best to save them for next time.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rose Colored Glasses

My parents gamble on the riverboat in Metropolis, Illinois quite a bit, and as a result they regularly get comped concert tickets. A few weeks ago, they asked if I'd be interested in going along to see John Conlee. While I'd lived within 40 miles or so of Mr. Conlee for the last 17 years (until I moved a couple months ago), I'd never seen him perform, so I took them up on the offer. I wasn't expecting a lot, but thought that it would at least be nice to see "Common Man" and "Rose Colored Glasses" performed live.

I got a lot more than I expected. Conlee started the show with a cover of "Let the Good Times Roll" that was incredibly energetic for a guy in his 60s. Except for one other cover (which we'll get to in a minute), everything else was a John Conlee original, and I'd forgotten how many great songs the man had recorded: "Backside of 30," "Friday Night Blues," "I Don't Remember Loving You," "Miss Emily's Picture," "Old School," and many others. Out of just over an hour's worth of songs, there were only a couple I didn't recognize immediately, and even those sounded kind of familiar.

The other song Conlee covered, "Busted" deserves special mention. As he was singing, someone came up and handed him a wad of cash. This was kind of funny, but got a little weird when several others followed suit. After the song, I found out that these were people who were familiar with Conlee's show. At some show in the past this had happened, and by the end of the song he'd made about $60. Ever since, this has become a tradition, with the proceeds going to Feed The Children. This year, the money is being split between Feed The Children and Wounded Warriors (an organization that's picking up some of the slack from the Bush administration's veterans' benefits cuts). Conlee set out a bucket and shook the hand of every single person who dropped in money for the rest of the show (barely missing a note the whole time).

Overall, I was very impressed with the show. Conlee's voice is as strong as ever, his stage banner was quite entertaining, and the band sounded great (when Conlee took a break, they tore into several classic rock tunes and then ended with an awesome version of the Star Wars theme). It was a far cry from the aging, moderately successful old school country act I expected to see. If you get a chance to see John Conlee, take it (and make sure to toss him some cash during "Busted"--it helps some great causes).

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Legend of Stagger Lee

I'm busy trying to make a web site do what I told it tonight, but in the interest of keeping the schedule I set for myself yesterday, here's an article I wrote a while back.

Anyone who’s ever listened to an oldies radio station has probably heard the story of Stagger Lee, as performed by Lloyd Price. In the song, Stagger Lee loses his money and “brand new Stetson hat” in a dice game with a man named Billy. He then proceeds to kill Billy, despite the latter’s begging and pleading. What most casual music fans don’t realize is that Price’s song is not the first or last musical version of Stagger Lee’s tale.

The events portrayed in Price’s song are based on an actual murder reported in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in December 1895. According to the article, “Stag” Lee Shelton murdered William Lyons after Lyons stole Shelton’s hat during a political argument. However, it is likely that Stagger Lee existed as a figure of African-American folklore before the St. Louis event. A Mississippi bluesman named Charles Hatler claims that he wrote the first Stagger Lee song in 1895, and not all songs and stories about Stagger Lee mention the murder of Lyons. This has led some experts to propose that Shelton gave himself the nickname “Stag” to associate himself with the Stagger Lee of folklore.

The Stagger Lee of early blues songs was an anti-heroic “badman” figure who sold his soul to the Devil in return for a magical Stetson hat that made him invulnerable. Because he could not be killed Stagger Lee was free to take whatever he wanted, usually from his peers in the black community. Despite his evil ways, Stagger Lee was respected in the black community because even the (white) authorities were afraid to tangle with him.

During the civil rights era, Stagger Lee became a role model for black men. Bobby Seale, for example, once identified himself and other civil rights leaders (including Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and Eldridge Cleaver) as “Stagger Lee” figures. James P. Hauser, in his article on the AKA Blues connection website, traces this evolution from “badman” to civil rights hero directly to Price’s version of the song. Though Price’s “Stagger Lee” is based on an earlier song by Leon T. “Archibald” Gross, Hauser describes how subtle changes in the song altered the character. The most important of these changes is the line “Stagger Lee threw 7, Billy swore that he threw 8.” This single addition transforms Stagger Lee from a sore loser who murders his opponent to a wronged man who gets revenge after being cheated. Starting with the Price version of the song, Billy Lyons—a black man in the early versions—came to be identified as a white man, and therefore an oppressor of blacks.

Stagger Lee has appeared in songs by over 200 artists, from Bob Dylan to The Clash. While many artists simply cover the Price version of the song, the majority create original versions, often with new themes and political subtext. For example, The Grateful Dead put a feminist spin on the story by having Billy Lyon's wife take her revenge on Stagger Lee. The sheer number and range of artists who have chosen to record Stagger Lee songs makes it unlikely that the legend will fade any time soon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Just a quick note to those of you wondering why there's not post today: The post-per-day thing was just for the first week, to get some content up here and give everyone an idea of the kind of stuff I'll be covering. For the time being, I'm planning on doing regular updates twice a week--Monday and Thursday. I may also throw int he occasional unscheduled post whenever I run across something that especially annoys or amuses me. I meant to mention this in yesterday's post, but was so bummed by Carlin's death that I forgot.

PS: I know I said I wasn't going to talk about gaming here, but the new, improved, and awesome Hex Games website will be launching later this week. You can take a sneak peek here.

Meet me back here on Thursday!

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Farewell to George

One of the unfortunate side effects of aging is that your heroes start dying off. In the past decade, we've lost Joey Ramone, Joe Strummer, Warren Zevon, Johnny Cash, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert Anton Wilson, just to name a few. Yesterday, George Carlin joined the list. Carlin's death wasn't all that surprising--after all, he was 71 and had a history of heart problems--but that doesn't make it any less depressing.

When I was in middle school, my friends and I started to discover the world of comedy. Dubbed tapes of Eddie Murphy, Stephen Wright, and countless others made the rounds, references to stand-up routines started to pepper our conversations, and the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live was the hot discussion topic each Monday. At some point, someone handed me a copy of one of George Carlin's tapes. I think it was Playin' With Your Head, but it might have been A Place for My Stuff.

I was hooked. There was something about Carlin that clicked with me. Not only was Carlin funnier than most comedians I'd been exposed to, he was smarter, edgier, tackled a wider range of subject matter, and could make me laugh with any style of comedy, from straightforward stand-up to sketch comedy to sheer absurdity.

Since I never had cable growing up, my awareness of Carlin's physical presence was limited to the photos on album covers. That changed around ninth grade when somebody loaned me a VHS tape of Carlin at Carnegie and I realized that "stand-up" wasn't the right word for Carlin's act. Seeing Carlin's facial expressions, insane poses, and pure energy took my enjoyment of his work to the next level.

By the time I was in college, Carlin had played a big part in shaping (or perhaps warping) the way I looked at the world. During my sophomore year, I got to see Carlin live. Even though I had already practically memorized many of the routines he did that night, the Carlin show ranks right behind Johnny Cash as the best concert I've ever seen.

When I discovered Lenny Bruce, I realized that a lot of Carlin's routines (especially those about language) were the logical continuations of what Bruce had started. Bill Hicks was Carlin's logical successor, but unfortunately Carlin outlived him by more than a decade. To my knowledge, there's not a single comedian working today who seems qualified to continue the tradition. Or, if there is, I'm not familiar with them--if you know who they are, let me know.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An Open Letter To Wildstorm Comics

[Warning: This post contains spoilers of the Lost Boys: Reign of Frogs comic]

Dear Wildstorm,

I saw The Lost Boys as a teenager, and, like most people my age, I thought it was awesome. Even after the seeing Near Dark (which, let's face it, was a better film) and watching the "cool vampire" thing get out of control in the 90's (culminating in goth's bastard step-child, the Vampire: The Masquerade Role-Playing Game), The Lost Boys still has a special place in my heart.

When I first heard that they were making a Lost Boys sequel (Lost Boys: The Tribe), I'll admit I was a little excited. That is, until I actually learned a bit about the movie: straight to video; The Coreys and that guy who played the other Frog brother returning; Keifer Sutherland's little brother as the head vampire (which is kind of like casting Joey Travolta as Jules Winstead's new partner in crime). I'll still watch the movie, but I know from the start not to expect much.

When I saw the Wildstorm prequel comic, I also didn't expect much. Wildstorm's specialty is flashy, variant-cover comics about anatomically improbable women, and there's nothing wrong with that. Sure, you occasionally give us something like The Authority, or America's Best Comics, but those are the exception, not the rule. And since neither Warren Ellis nor Alan Moore were signed on for the Lost Boys book, I expected at best barely readable fluff.

I wasn't expecting you to take a huge shit on the original movie.

We'll start with David's return. Even if we're willing to accept that nobody noticed his corpse just disappearing (remember, Lost Boys vamps don't "dust" like the ones on Buffy), and we're willing to accept your premise that Max wasn't really the head vamp, there's still a problem (or more accurately, three). If the head vampire wasn't Max, then Michael, Star, and Laddie would still be vampires, which was clearly not the case at the end of the movie.

You know what, since there wasn't a lot of denouement (do Wildstorm writers even know what that means?) to the movie, I'm willing to go along with you and pretend that Michael and friends only appeared to be cured, discovered otherwise, and left town without telling Sam and the Frog Brothers that they were still bloodsuckers. I have no idea why they'd do this, but I'll play along.

I'm not giving you Grandpa, though. According the final page of issue #2, Gramps is the head vampire. I'm sorry, but that's bullshit. I could cite the fact that we saw grandpa out in broad daylight at several points in the movie, but then you could claim that he's extra powerful and can stand daylight or something. But that's not the problem. The problem is that making Grandpa a vampire goes against the nature of the character.

Perhaps I should explain that last sentence. You see, to most writers (regardless of whether they're writing books, comics, or movie scripts), a good character has more depth than "a hot ninja chick with humongous tits." If a character is well thought out and presented well (through writing, art, and/or acting), the audience can guess a lot of things about him that aren't made explicit. In the case of Grandpa, for instance, it was very obvious from the script and Barnard Hughes's wonderful portrayal that he WAS NOT A FUCKING VAMPIRE.

I can't say whether or not I'll buy the final two installments of the mini-series, but at the very least I'll make sure to find out how they end. There is a chance, however remote, that your writers have come up with something truly brilliant that I'm just not getting. It's happened before (I almost gave up on The Invisibles after a few issues). If this is one of those cases I will take back everything I've said.

Of course, that's probably not going to happen, which means that I'll be skittish about purchasing future Wildstorm comics based on licensed properties. In the future, I urge you to pay a bit more respect to the spirit of others' creations, especially creations that are as beloved by so many as The Lost Boys. Doing so will allow your company to build upon the "not always utter shit" reputation that Ellis and Moore have helped you begin to establish.

Yours truly,
Steve Johnson

Saturday, June 21, 2008

We Left In Plastic As Numbered Corpses

Introduction (Now with Shameless Begging for Ad Clicks!)
Like most people (at least based on my Google AdSense stats), I rarely click on web page ads. Earlier today, though, I clicked an ad for a T-shirt, but not because I wanted to buy the T-shirt in question. I clicked because, according to the ad, six states had banned the shirt, and I'm kind of a fan of the whole First Amendment thing we claim to have in this country.

The Site and the Shirt
My click took me to a site called "Carry A Big Sticker," which sells a variety of left-wing T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other stuff. One of the items on the site is a T-shirt that lists the names of soldiers who have been killed in the "War on Terror" along with the message "Bush Lied, They Died." It seems that the shirt has stirred up a bit of controversy (and, ironically enough, probably extra profits for the site's owner, Dan Frazier).

The Controversy
Several different states have, often at the behest of families and friends of the fallen, passed legislation to prevent anyone (ie, Mr. Frazier) from using the names or likenesses of deceased soldiers (or in some cases any soldier) to make a profit or for political purposes. I'm going to ignore the ironic fact that the same friends and family members behind these lawsuits will probably be clamoring to have their loved ones' names emblazoned on a memorial at taxpayer expense in the near future, as well as the fact that they probably wouldn't be "mentally anguished" by the same shirt without the anti-war message. Instead, I'll focus on whether or not Mr. Frazier's shirt is entitled to protection under the First Amendment.

Disclaimers & Warnings
I am not a lawyer. The views expressed here are at best armchair extrapolations based on years of following coverage of First Amendment issues. Anything I say here could be way off base and, in all likelihood, can and will be used against me in a court of law, as I have given up my right to remain silent. Fortunately, I have the right to an attorney (and if I cannot afford an attorney the court will appoint one for me). Void where prohibited. Don't eat yellow snow. May cause drowsiness. If rash develops, see your doctor. Don't run with scissors. Never wear white after Labor Day.

The Coattails of a Dead Man
The names, likenesses, and personalities of American citizens are, as anyone who's seen Chasing Amy knows, protected by law, and you have ask permission (and in some cases pay) to use them. These rights are generally considered property rights, which means they can be passed to a person's heirs. Based on right to publicity (the legal name for likeness rights) alone, Mr. Frazier would in fact need permission from all the dead soldiers' heirs to use their names. Of course, most soldiers probably don't think to include likeness rights in their wills, so determining which relative has final say could be problematic.

Not So Fast!
There are exceptions to the general publicity rights laws for political speech, but most only cover non-commercial use. Frazier donates $1 from each shirt to charities that assist families of fallen U.S. soldiers, but he keeps the rest, presumably making a profit. However, the case of Riley v. National Federation of the Blind established protection for commercial speech that is "inextricably intertwined" with political speech. If a judge decides that the T-shirt meets this criterion, Frazier is entitled to full First Amendment protection. Frazier could also try to claim that soldiers are "public figures" and therefore not entitled to the same personality rights protections as a private citizen. This certainly applies to high-ranking military men (General Patreus, for instance), but convincing a judge that the average grunt is a public figure would be much more difficult.

Those Who Won't Be Prosecuted
If the laws that make the "Bush Lied, They Died" T-shirt illegal are upheld, the real sin will be that they will undoubtedly be selectively enforced, focusing on anti-war protesters like Frazier. Here are just a few people who are not likely to be prosecuted, even though they are using dead soldiers' names or likenesses for profit or political purposes:
  • The news infotainment show that airs a "profile in courage" of a soldier killed in the War In Iraq. If such a piece is being aired, it is being aired because producers believe it will bring in ratings and therefore profit.
  • The newspaper editor who includes a list of the fallen in the Veterans' Day issue in hopes of selling a few extra papers.
  • The politician who tells the story of a fallen soldier in a stump speech.
  • The minister who organizes a candlelight vigil for the fallen. Whether or not the minister acknowledges it, such activities are designed to attract new members to the congregation, which usually means profit for the church. Because religion and politics are so closely tied in this country, increasing the flock could also be considered political.
  • Toby Keith. I normally link all celebrity names to Amazon, but I'm not helping that redneck sell any CDs, even if I would get a cut. Try something by Steve Earle instead.

Of course, the sad fact is that, while Dan Frazier is trying to stop the war, many of these people have an interest in keeping it going, since it makes their jobs a little easier. Taken to the extreme, these laws would even technically allow the family of any soldier named "Charlie" or "Baker" to sue Billy Joel, who I stole the title of this post from. I just hope Billy Joel doesn't sue me.

Friday, June 20, 2008

5 Batshit Crazy Rumors About Barack Obama

Since the beginning of the current Presidential race, a cottage industry has grown up around spreading rumors about candidate Barack Hussein Obama. It seems that any claim about Obama, no matter how poorly documented or patently untrue, receives a disproportionate amount of media coverage. Not one to pass up a chance at free publicity, no matter how undeserved, I've delved into Obama's past and come up with five completely unfounded rumors in hopes that Bill O'Reilly or somebody will decide to run with on of them and send me some extra web traffic.

1) Barack Hussein Obama is the great-great-grandson of Jack the Ripper.
Considerable air time and column space have been dedicated to Obama's Kenyan father, but very few reporters have really delved into the family history of Barack's white mother. As it turns out, Barack's mother is the granddaughter of Abigale Gull, daughter of Royal Physician Sir William Gull. According to some sources (most notably Alan Moore's graphic novel From Hell) Gull was the infamous Ripper.

2) Barack Hussein Obama used to be a Nazi!
Anyone who studies Barack Obama's high school and college transcripts will easily come to this conclusion. In addition to 3 years of German language courses, Obama took such courses as Early 20th Century European History (which, let's face it, revolves around Germany), An Introduction to The Philosophy of Nietzsche, and Films of the Weimar Republic. Also, Obama is from Illinois, and anyone who's seen The Blues Brothers knows that Illinois is crawling with Nazis.

3) Barack Hussein Obama is a Space Alien!
A lot of people believe that Barack won't release his birth certificate because he was born in Kenya. In fact, Obama doesn't have a birth certificate because he was never born. Instead, Obama was produced through a very complicated form of asexual reproduction by a being name Zarcodidle who lives on the western edge of the Crab Nebula. He was then sent to earth to prepare the planet for alien conquest.

4) Barack Hussein Obama is a sexual predator!
According to a former neighbor, Obama is a child molester. The young boy (who asked not to be named because he does not, in fact, exist) claims that Obama used to come over and put on a "puppet show" with his naughty parts. He would then touch the little boy on his "pee-pee." Obama would then masturbate into a bowl of Froot Loops cereal, which he would eat with toast and a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

5) Barack Hussein Obama is a Werewolf!
On the night of December 20, 1997, while returning from a Kwanza Party, Barack's 1993 Saab slid off the road and into a ditch. As he walked through the snowy winter's night to get help, Obama was attacked by a large wolf-like creature who walked on two legs. Now, when the moon is full Obama transforms into a monster and prowls the countryside in search of prey.

Come and get it, Papa Bear!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Takei, Trek, and Tolerance: A Feeble Attempt At Investigative Reporting

Sulu Wedding Dance
George Takei, best known as Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series and movies, recently announced that he would marry his long-time partner and business manager Brad Altman. The couple's decision to tie the knot in one of California's first high-profile legal celebrity gay weddings just seems right on a number of levels. For starters, ever since Takei made his sexual orientation public in 2005, he has been a tenacious yet exceptionally good-humored advocate for gay rights. As both a gay man and a prisoner of a Japanese interment camp during World War II it seems only fair that at the age of 71 the actor is finally able to enjoy all of the rights he is entitled to as an American citizen. Finally, his association with Star Trek, a show purported by fans to represent a better future where prejudice and inequality are things of the past makes Takei a perfect representative in the ongoing struggle for truly universal civil rights.

Roddenberry's Legacy
There is little doubt that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had a political agenda when designing the show. The racially and ethnically diverse crew of the Enterprise--not to mention TV's first bi-racial kiss--showed us that in the future we really would, in the words of Rodney King, "all get along." Or at least that's what Trekkies (or Trekkers, to use the "politically correct" term) would have us believe. In reality, there was still a very real "other" on the show in the form of the Klingons, and it's not hard to see them as a stand-in for godless commies that we were supposed to fear during the Cold War era. The fact that the Klingons became Federation allies in the perestroika-era Next Generation series seems to further enforce the Russian connection.

Peace, Love, and Utopia?
While I do believe that Roddenberry had the best of intentions when creating Trek, I have never been convinced that the show is the great teacher of tolerance and diversity that Trek fans claim it to be. In part, this is because, as a game designer and former comic book store manager, I have met a lot of Trek fans over the years. While many do pay lip service to Roddenberry's Utopian dream, most Trek fans, like most members of the more general fan community, tend to be somewhat sheltered and naïve. While they may believe themselves to be tolerant and worldly, most Trekkers have had little experience with people who are not very much like themselves (which is to say middle class white males). As a result, they are frequently guilty of racist, sexist, or homophobic comments or actions without even being aware that what they're doing could be considered offensive. In addition, they often exhibit an obvious nervousness or change in attitude when interacting with a person of another race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Trek Fans And Gay Marriage
Getting back to George Takei, I have little doubt that some Trek fans will point to the community's support of Takei's lifestyle as yet another way in which Trek fandom encourages tolerance. The question, in my mind, is “do said fans have any right to make this claim?” Knowing that Takei's wedding announcement offered a perfect chance to get an idea of whether Trekkers practice what they preach, I Googled up some Trek forums and looked for discussions of Sulu's nuptials and the gay marriage issue in general.

What I Found
Oddly, I didn't find much. Of the five or six boards I looked at, only one ( contained any significant discussion about Takei's upcoming wedding, and many boards (all on the first page of the Google search for “Star Trek forums," and therefore theoretically the top Trekkie discussion forums) didn't contain a single post about gay marriage. In general, posts that were specifically about Takei were mostly positive, containing congratulatory words for the couple. While there was the occasional homophobic post, most of the controversy within these threads involved the guest list—specifically the fact that William Shatner isn't on it. The Trek BBS did, however contain one general thread about gay marriage in California, and the discussion was not as genial without Sulu as the focus. The thread was 670 posts long, compared to an average of about 20 posts for Takei/Altman wedding announcements. While the majority of posters were in fact pro-gay marriage, there were still enough homophobes (most citing Christianity as the reason for their anti-gay views) to keep the discussion going.

When I started this little experiment, I expected to find that Trek fans were in fact generally (but not universally) tolerant. While the thread on the Trek BBS was slightly more accepting of homosexuality than I expected, it was reasonably close to my hypothesis. Of course, that was one thread on one board. The fact that so many Star Trek fans are seemingly not talking about Takei's upcoming wedding may be more interesting (and frightening). Is it really possible that hardcore Trekkies are so isolated from everyday world that they simply haven't heard the news?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Top Twenty Three Twenty Threes

The 23 Enigma
The "23 Enigma" was first popularized by Robert Anton Wilson (R.A.W.), but Bob credits author William S. Burroughs with discovering the phenomena. The 23 Enigma is, simply stated, that "the number 23 shows up in the damnedest places." R.A.W. freely admitted that the 23 enigma is a self-fulfilling prophecy--if you feel that any number is significant, you'll pay more attention when it comes up, which will make the number seem all the more significant. Of course, knowing that doesn't make the enigma any less fun (and occasionally spooky).

Robert Anton Wilson has cataloged hundreds of 23's over the years and countless web sites have added their own discoveries to the list. Trying to put together a comprehensive list of 23's would be fruitless. Instead, I'm going to tell you about the instances of 23 that I personally find most interesting and/or amusing.

1. Burroughs 23's
This is the 23 that started it all. According to R.A.W., Burroughs knew a ship captain named Clark who bragged that he had never had an accident in his 23 years of sailing. Later that day, Clark's ship wrecked, killing everyone on board. As Burroughs considered the irony, he heard a report on the radio about a plane crash: Flight 23, piloted by a Captain Clark.

2. Jim Carrey and JC23
According to, actor Jim Carrey was introduced to the 23 enigma by a friend and started noticing the number everywhere. Eventually, he was inspired (by the 23rd Psalm) to re-name his production company "JC23." Not long afterwards he landed the lead role in the movie The Number 23. The movie began filming on January 23, 2006.

3. April 19th
A.k.a. 4/19 (4 + 19 = 23) was the last day of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the date of Charles Manson's sentencing, the final day of the Waco siege, and the day of the Oklahoma City Bombing. Conspiracy theorists, start your engines!

4. The Bard
William Shakespeare was (many believe) born on April 23, 1564 and died on April 23, 1616. The First Folio, which contains the most reliable versions of many of Shakespeare's plays, was first published in 1623.

5. DNA
Human beings have 46 chromosomes--23 from the mother, 23 from the father. Gender is determined by the 23rd chromosome.

6. 23 Positions In A One Night Stand
If anyone's studied this kind of thing, it's Prince.

7. John Dillinger
Dillinger is a character in R.A.W. and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! Trilogy, one of the early works that popularized the 23 enigma. In the books, Dillinger often used the phrase "23 Skidoo!" (an actual 1920's slang expression meaning roughly "get out while the getting's good"). In real life, the Chicago theater where Dillinger was killed by the F.B.I. was located at 2323 Clark Street.

8. Et Tu Brute'?
Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times.

9. Air 23
Michael Jordan was #23.

10. Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall
The earth's axis is tilted just a bit over 23 degrees (23.5, to be exact). The earth's tilt is the reason for seasonal variations in temperature.

11. Geometry
There are 23 axioms, according to Euclid.

12. Men on the Moon
The first moon landing was at 23.63 degrees East. The second landing was at 23.42 degrees West. The missions were Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 (11 + 12 =23)

13. The Templars: Not Just Characters In A Crappy Book By Dan Brown!
The organization had 23 Grand Masters. Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master was arrested (along with many of his brothers) by Phillip IV of France on October 13, 1307 (10 + 13 = 23).

14. Fire Walk With Me
In Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer's murder took place on February 23.

15. Freeeeeedoooom!
William Wallace was executed on August 23, 1305.

16. More Illuminati Connections
Adam Weishaupt founded the Bavarian Illuminati in 1723.

17. The (Decimal) Number of the Beast

18. A Beautiful Mind
John Forbes Nash (of Russell Crowe movie fame) was obsessed with the number 23. He published 23 scientific articles.

19. Hail Eris!
2 + 3 = 5, which is a sacred number to the Discordians. Discordianism, of course, was a major inspiration for the Illuminatus! Trilogy.

20. Biblical 23's
The Creation concludes in Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 23. Adam and Eve had 23 daughters. Psalms 23, ("The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.") is one of the most commonly quoted Bible verses.

21. AOL Illuminated?
The maximum number of users allowed in an AOL chat room is 23.

22. 9/11
9 + 11 + 2 + 0 + 0 + 1 = 23

23. The End of The World?
December 23, 2012 marks the last day of the Mayan calendar. According to some people, the world will end on that day.

Other Numerical Enigmas
As stated previously, any number assigned significance will seem to show up more frequently than other "insignificant" numbers. Kevin Smith fans will notice 37's wherever they appear. Readers of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy know that 42 is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, and are bound to take note of it. Potheads, of course, will note occurrences of 420 (42 x 10). Finally, some folks are prone to notice numbers that are associated with birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Who Is Charles Fort?

As I mentioned last time, "Forteana" (a catch-all word for weird stuff) gets its name from Charles Fort, an early 20th Century American author and thinker. Fort spent his time compiling and commenting on anomalies. His books (Lo!, Wild Talents, The Book of the Damned, and New Lands, now also available as The Complete Books of Charles Fort) collect stories of teleportation (according to most sources, Fort coined the term), strange lights in the sky, rains of frogs, and other strange occurrences. In addition to cataloging strange phenomena, Fort commented on them with keen wit and often very subtle humor.

At the heart of Fort’s philosophy is the idea that too much faith in anything, even established science, is ultimately counterproductive. All things should be evaluated according to the rules of evidence and the scientific method, even when they contradict what is generally accepted to be “truth.” In a way, the Fortean worldview is a form of agnosticism that doesn’t limit itself to questions of faith. Absolute proof or disproof can never truly be found, because we can never know anything with 100% certainty. There is always room for new discoveries that will alter what we perceive as reality. This way of thinking is very similar to the "Maybe Logic" of Robert Anton Wilson, who Fort certainly influenced. Fort summed up this way of looking at the world when he said “I conceive of nothing, in religion, science, or philosophy, that is more than the proper thing to wear, for a while.”

Though Fort did comment on traditional religion, he reserved his most pointed criticisms for the “religion” of established science. Fort believed that scientists are tainted by their own brand of faith and tend to ignore, discredit, or explain away data that does not fit the accepted “dogma” of science. He called these inconvenient pieces of information “the damned,” and his books are filled with "damned" information. Fort sometimes attempted to offer explanations for these anomalies—for example, he was likely the first person to suggest that strange lights in the sky might be alien spacecraft. More often, however, he crafted wild, tongue-in-cheek explanations designed to highlight the pomposity and overconfidence of the scientific establishment.

Fort was interested in all sorts of anomalies, but tended to focus on a few specific types of phenomena, especially strange things seen in or falling from the sky. Today, the term "Forteana" refers to a wide range of anomalies, unusual events, and fringe topics, from cryptozoology (the study of unverified, often quasi-mythical animals) to the study of unusual powers like remote viewing and telepathy. The word "Fortean" can be used as an adjective to describe Forteana (for example, "Fortean phenomena") but is more often used as a noun to mean "people who think Charles Fort had some good ideas."

Though Forteans tend to gravitate toward fringe topics, they should not be confused with “true believers” who accept such things at face value. At the same time, they should not be lumped in with skeptics like The Amazing Randi and Penn Gillette who deny the existence of weirdness with an almost religious fervor. Forteans walk the fine line between these two groups, tempering with the open-mindedness of the believer with the skeptic’s highly valued (but often less than admirably practiced) objectivity. In addition to Fort's books, anyone interested in learning more about Charles Fort, Forteana, and the Fortean philosophy should take a look at Britain's Fortean Times magazine, or at least their web site.


Hi, I'm Steve Johnson. You may know me from my work on QAGS (the Quick Ass Game System), Spooky: The Definitive Guide to Horror Gaming and other fine gaming products from Hex Games. If you're into that gaming crap, visit the Hex site or our soon-to-be-relaunching sister site, The Death Cookie. This blog isn't about gaming, it's about other stuff.

"What kind of other stuff?" you ask, and I've got an answer. Outside of gaming, my interests fall into three broad categories: Forteana, Pop Culture (especially music), and Politics. Most readers will already be familiar with the latter two, but may wonder what the heck "Forteana" means. Again, I have the answers you seek. Forteana is a catch-all name for all kinds of weird stuff: fringe science, ghost hunting, ufo lore, medical oddities, urban legends, oddball religion, etc., etc. The term gets its name from Charles Fort, an early 20th Century writer and philosopher who you'll learn more about in my next post.

While most posts here on Goat Head Gumbo will focus on one of the three aforementioned topics, from time to time we'll run into cases where two, or even all three, subjects intersect in interesting ways.