Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dissent and disloyalty

Keith Olbermann is one of the talking heads I don't usually pay much attention to, so I'm glad the ever-vigilant Crooks & Liars is on top of things. Olbermann gave a fiery, Paine-like response to cheap and vicious comments Donald Rumsfeld made during a recent speech to a gathering of the American Legion.

In case you missed it, Rumsfeld compared critics of the Administration with Nazi appeasers and said the world faces "a new type of fascism." He also said dissenters suffer from "moral or intellectual confusion."

In other words, if you don't agree with Bush and his star chamber you're a fascist, immoral and stupid. This is what your government thinks of you if you think for yourself.

Think about this, too: Elections are coming up, and the Administration would like nothing better than to scare the hell out of everyone so they can talk tough and appear decisive right until November. Don't be scared. Don't be bullied. And don't be fooled when the new talking points start to stir up the ghosts of facism and the fight against the Third Reich.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I wish I had the words to express all the feelings that come with today, a year after Hurricane Katrina began tearing apart cities, towns and lives across the Gulf Coast. I feel angry at the continued failure of my government and the apathy of some of this country's citizens, frustration at my own powerlessness, sadness for the dead and living.

But I also feel hopeful and seeing pictures of people, particularly those in New Orleans, picking themselves up and somehow finding the strength to start over, to start from nothing, makes me feel like crying as much as the images of suffering did a year ago.

I'm also worried. With all the talk of recovery and grand plans for the future, it's far too easy to forget what happened, and how people are still trying to find solid footing. Race, class and social responsibility are issues conveniently being swept aside while people continue to live in FEMA trailers and pray that the first hurricane of the season will change paths somewhere in the Gulf.

In an e-mail earlier today I said the difference for those who lived through Hurricane Katrina and everyone else in the U.S. is like the difference between being hungry and starving – you can't equate one to the other. You can barely begin to understand how they even compare. I’ve been hungry but I've never been starving, and for that I feel fortunate. I’m hoping people will realize that if they’re lucky enough to be able to take care of themselves, maybe they can spare a little more effort for someone else.

Because sometimes words just feel empty.

In-depth coverage on Hurricane Katrina and it's continued impact can be found at Yahoo News (link in title), National Geographic, NOAA and various news outlets online. Take some time to check it out.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Favorite Panel Friday goes through a phase

Sometimes it's hard to pick a favorite panel from the weekly stack of comics: This time, it was almost impossible to pick a favorite out of the single issue that is Astonishing X-Men #16.

When I was just a little pastelito, I was a hard-core X-Men fan. Then, like a lot of people, I grew up. The melodrama, the impossibly convoluted plots and the constant hammering of Claremontisms became too much until finally, with a "feh!", I stopped reading any title that started with "X."

For the most part, I've never regretted it. But when Joss Whedon started writing a new Astonishing, I was in. And month after month, along with the outstanding art of John Cassaday and the perfect coloring of Laura Martin, he reminds me of what I used to love about the X-Men. It's funny, it's heartfelt and it's action-packed. Whedon is a great writer with a talent for dialogue. Even better, he understands what makes these characters great, and you can tell he cares about them as much as we do. He's updated them without ruining them, making changes feel organic instead of like a gimmick.

And you can tell that Whedon - like the rest of us - always had a crush on Kitty.

Astonishing X-Men #16: Writer, Joss Whedon; Artist, John Cassaday; Colorist, Laura Martin

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Weird science

Normally, I'm right there with Science. We've been buds for a long time, and that gravity thing? Fantastic.

But saying Pluto isn't a planet? I don't care what you say, Science - Pluto will always be a planet in my mind. I know you've got some things to work out, and trying to get everyone to agree on what is and isn't a planet must be tough. But c'mon - this is Pluto we're talking about. He's been a planet since he was discovered in 1930, spinning along the outer reaches of our imaginations for as long as most people have been alive. Pluto is OUR planet (so to speak).

So it crosses orbits with Neptune; so what? What has Neptune done for us lately? At least Uranus gives us a cheap laugh.

So you tell Pluto, out there on his long, lonely circuit through space, looking back at us with puppy-dog eyes, you tell him he's not a planet anymore. Because I'm not gonna do it.

Back on the homefront, we've got bigger problems. Problems about the size of a VW bug.

Giant nests perplex experts

By Garry Mitchell
Press MOBILE -- To the bafflement of insect experts, gigantic yellow jacket nests have started turning up in old barns, unoccupied houses, cars and underground cavities across the southern two-thirds of Alabama. Specialists say it could be the result of a mild winter and drought conditions, or multiple queens forcing worker yellow jackets to enlarge their quarters so the queens will be in separate areas. But experts haven't determined exactly what's behind the surprisingly large nests.

I'll tell you what it is - Step 1. Step 2 involves work camps and humans building giant hives. You don't even want to know about Step 3.

Auburn University entomologists, who say they've never seen the nests so large, have been fielding calls about the huge nests from property owners from Dothan up to Sylacauga and over into west-central Alabama's Black Belt. At one site in Barbour County, the nest was as large as a Volkswagen Beetle, said Andy McLean, an Orkin pesticide service manager in Dothan who helped remove it from an abandoned barn about a month ago.

Entomologist Dr. Charles Ray at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Auburn said he's aware of about 16 of what he described as "super-sized" nests in south Alabama. Ray said he's seen 10 of them and cautioned people about going near them because of the yellow jacket's painful sting.

Ladies and gentlemen - your "no-shit" quote of the week.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Bride of Favorite Panel Friday

I love Fell. I love everything about it; it's consistently some of Warren Ellis' best writing, and Ben Templesmith has one of the most unique and distinctive illustrative styles in comics today. I like that every compact issue is a self-contained story, but is also another chapter in a vaguely creepy, overarching storyline.

Fell, will you marry me? You and Lopez! can work out the schedule.

OK, let's put this in perspective: Ellis has written some of my favorite books, like The Authority, Transmetropolitan and, most recently, Desolation Jones. He is, as the kids say, the shit (do the kids still say that?).

And Templesmith combines traditional drawing and painting styles with Adobe-fueled technology to create work that looks simplistic at first but drips depth and atmosphere. He practically reinvented vampires with 30 Days of Night, and his current Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse should already be on your pull list.

All this is a long-winded way of saying the panel from Fell #6 above is a nice example of snappy dialogue and moody scene-setting, a combination of casual patter and building tension in a book that manages to be crime-noir, horror and love-letter to the fictional Snowtown all at once. With this panel, you're rooting for Rich Fell, in every sense.

Special bonus! Hey, the first issue of Fell is available – for free, you deadbeats – online. Check it out, why don'cha?

And man, what's with that Nixon-nun?!?

Fell #6: Writer, Warren Ellis; Art, Ben Templesmith

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Con safo

Since I grew up and lived most of my adult life in El Paso, I like to consider myself an expert on graffiti. Gang tags, spray-paint murals and bathroom scrawls - I've seen it all. According to authorities, graffiti is on the rise in Austin, which is a shame and a blemish I hope we can get a handle on before it becomes something beyond control.

But, if you're going to do it, for Christ's sake do it right. When Lopez! and I went to dinner earlier today I made a side-trip to the bathroom, and as I washed my hands I noticed someone had written on the frame of the mirror:


And then they drew one, with flowing, flowery stems sprouting from the top.

That's just wrong.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Favorite Panel Friday, the Destroyer

And THAT'S why, when Conan tells you he's joining your caravan, you don't try to shake him down for money.

Here's a handy rule-of-thumb to remember: Conan doesn't negotiate. He's Conan! He doesn't have time for your coy wordplay. He barely has time to kick your free-range melon out of the way.

Speaking of wordplay, I've been enjoying Joe R. Lansdale's scripting on Conan and the Songs of the Dead, a five-part mini-series which carries on the regular title's love of beheadings with this lopping from issue #2. I especially like the shot of humor he's given Conan (even if the dialogue sounds a little too much like something out of a Hap and Leonard scene sometimes), and it's always nice to see Lansdale's words coming out of art drawn by Timothy Truman. Remember how creepy their Jonah Hex stories were? Throw a battle ax and some people speaking "medieval" in there, and you've got an idea of what's going on in Songs of the Dead.

Oh, and don't forget - Conan was captain of the debate team for a reason.

Conan and the Songs of the Dead #2: Writer, Joe R. Lansdale; Art, Timothy Truman

Friday, August 04, 2006

Refried Beans

Aaaahh! That was a refreshing naparini! So, what time is it any … what?!? Damn you, snooze button! Damn you to heeeellllll!!!

Yeah, sorry about that. You know that feeling you have after you’ve taken a vacation, even a short one, where you kinda say to yourself, “Eh … I’ll get to it later.” Multiply that by a bajillion and that’s about where we’ve been.

We know you'd love for us to drop highly detailed stories about the trip on you, but I’m sure we’ll bring it up here and there so, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, let me sum up.

In Germany, the people are friendly and helpful, and there’s a lot of beauty to enjoy in the countryside and in the cities. “Relaxing” wasn’t a word I would’ve associated with Germany, but it felt very comfortable there. We were in Frankfurt when Germany won its semifinal game, and we got to see the empty streets and squares (they were inside watching the match!) fill up with hundreds of people and honking cars.

Paris: Listen up, "people who hate Paris because it’s stinky and the people are rude" – sack up. Seriously, the people we ran into (and believe me, we asked people on the street for help on a regular basis) were unfailingly kind and generous with their time. I think people mistake a big-city attitude – meaning they’re busy people in a busy city and don’t have time to kiss your ass – for rudeness. Lopez! and I decided we could live here like happy little clamatos. We did all the touristy stuff, which was a lot of fun, and included the Eiffel Tower (amazing and impressive), the Mona Lisa (made Mom cry) and Notre Dame (magnificent). Oh, and almost everyone walks around eating baguettes.

Brussels: OK, you know all those things they say about Parisians? Well, they’re wrong – it’s the fucking Belgians. Hands-down the rudest people we ran into, the worst of whom was a man who totally blew off Lopez! when she tried to ask him a question. He wouldn’t even make eye contact, and just sort of shook his head and kept walking. Prick! I thought Lopez! was going to crawl up his ass and keep going ‘til she came out his mouth. Oh, and there was one waiter who refused to serve Lopez! soup. If you know Lopez!, you know this is a bad idea. If you ask her about it she’ll still go off on the guy (we’ll tell the whole story in another post). We did see the EU headquarters and the Manneken Pis, and the Atomium kicks ass.

Amsterdam: Everything you’ve heard about it is true. It’s beautiful, it’s very “international” and generally relaxed and groovy. We went to the Rembrandt and the Van Gogh museums, and you can see why these guys are giants. Also, it made "De Nachtwacht" my favorite painting because you ain't seen a painting until someone turns it into a multimedia extravaganza. Amsterdam was another place where we could see ourselves living. They even have outdoor, public urinals, which is so weird it’s awesome. I mean, OUT. SIDE. You could see guys taking a whiz. Craziness! We didn’t get to see the Red Light District (stop groaning), but we did have the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted. Bar none. Even better than anything I’ve had here in Texas. Even crazier craziness!

Berlin: It’s interesting how a city with so much history could be missing so much of that history. Since most of Berlin was destroyed in World War II you see a lot of buildings that were erected between the 50s and 70s, and it shows. It feels a lot more like the Cold War Berlin of your mind than the Nazi Germany Berlin that you might automatically imagine. We saw what was left of the Wall, and our tour guide (a real person) would point out things like the square where the Nazis had their book burnings and lamp posts that were from the Reich era. Sad and a little chilling. But lucky for us, we had the World Cup to help us shake it off. We didn’t have tickets to an actual game, but we went to the “Fan Zone” that had been set up and stood outside for hours watching crappy pre-game bands and jostling with other soccer fans. President Clinton showed up to tell us it sucked that we didn’t have tickets, but that he hoped we enjoyed the game anyway. People went nuts – you would’ve thought he was a rock star. And in a way, he is … sniff. Oh, and the apartment we rented was great, so yay again for Melanie!

Throw in a lot of running around on train platforms and wrestling matches with airline counter people and that’s our trip in a nutshell.

Alright, time for a nap.