Friday, May 18, 2007

And to Think it All Started Here...

Yep, that's James Sturm and I moving his studio across the street to what was, in the summer of 2005, the new Center for Cartoon Studies building. Hard to believe it's been two years, but here we are -- the first graduating class, about to graduate -- tomorrow.

It's been a heady, at times heavy week at the Center for Cartoon Studies. We've completed the senior thesis review sessions, and I'm savoring a little breather between that intense block of work (the prep in particular, though I loved reading and re-reading the thesis projects -- pretty stunning group of cartoonists going out into the big, bad world this Saturday!). Tomorrow is graduation, and I've got a little work to do to prep for that.

The intensity has been in part revolving around the mounting finality of this transitional period. It's been sad to say goodbye to some folks, and that will accelerate tomorrow, as many of the folks who have been absolutely central to our day-to-day lives together are leaving after commencement to their respective family homes. I had lunch with Rich Tommaso yesterday; Rich has become a great friend, we've bonded over a number of shared interests and Rich was an invaluable part of the Drawing Workshop I helmed for the Freshmen class this spring. Rich and graduate Caitlin Plovnick are moving to Brooklyn on Sunday, and I sure am going to miss them. Of course, we'll all keep in touch, and be seeing each other in the years to come, but the reality of the community of the past two years going through inevitable, here-and-now change that necessarily revolves around the departure of so many key community members is a real roller-coaster ride.

That said, part of the transition, too, is the evidence of the new incoming freshman class of 2009 -- CCS discussion board posts from incoming fall students has been ongoing all month, and soon we'll see a new community arrive, merging with the standing CCS community and bringing all the excitement, change and transformation that implies.

Ah, CCS; I'm now part of a college community, and all that entails. I love it.

I saw Paul Verhoeven's new film Zwartboek/Black Book last night, and I can't recommend it highly enough. This is Verhoeven's best film in years, and a genuine return to form -- what The Pianist was for Roman Polanski, Zwartboek/Black Book is for Verhoeven.

For fellow Verhoeven fans (Steve Perry, take heed!), it's absolutely critical to note that this film isn't just his return to his Dutch roots, but also reunites Verhoven and writer Gerard Soeteman, who was absolutely central to Verhoeven's often brilliant pre-Hollywood body of work. In fact, Soeteman was Verhoeven's primary collaborative partner in the whole of the director's pre-Hollywood career arc, scripting and co-scripting what remain Verhoeven's best films, beginning with Verhoeven's debut feature Wat zien ik/Business Is Business (1971) and blossoming with Turks fruit/Turkish Delight (1973) and Keetje Tippel (1975), which in many ways provides a blueprint for Zwartboek, as did Soeteman/Verhoeven's breakthrough international hit Soldaat van Oranje/Soldier of Orange (1977). Zwartboek is almost a perfect fusion of Keetje Tippel and Soldaat van Oranje, chronicling as it does the often harrowing experiences of a Dutch Jewish woman (Carice van Houten, giving a powerhouse performance) struggling to survive WW2 in Holland, and the convoluted tangle of loyalty, deceit, devotion and corruption that entails.

Soeteman and Verhoeven built upon the success of Soldaat van Oranje with the excellent Spetters (1980), the marvelously delirious De Vierde Man/The Fourth Man (1983, which also introduced actor Thom Hoffman to international audiences; Hoffman features prominently in Black Book), and concluded this ripe collaborative streak with Flesh+Blood (1985, aka The Rose and the Sword), which sadly led to an acrimonious split of the team as Verhoeven rushed to Hollywood and launched that phase of his career by directing an episode of HBO's The Hitchhiker ("Last Scene," 1986) and the classic Robocop (1987).

That Soeteman and Verhoeven are back together is something to celebrate; that they are also hard at work at a second 21st Century collaborative effort, Azazel, is tremendous news, and promises Verhoeven may at last be free of the restraints Hollywood placed on his creative life (his last American film, Hollow Man, 2000, was derivative and disappointing at best). As already noted, this new work also reunites Verhoeven with Dutch actors from his classic Soeteman era: Thom Hoffman (who was Herman, the central object of desire in De Vierde Man), Derek de Lint (Alex in Soldaat van Oranje), Dolf de Vries (Turks fruit, Jack in Soldaat van Oranje, Dr. de Vries in De Vierde Man), etc. are familiar faces to Verhoeven fans, and it's exciting to see the chemistry onscreen anew.

All this makes Black Book the theatrical sleeper of 2007 thus far. Don't miss Zwartboek/Black Book if it's playing near you, and I'll post a review proper next week when I start squirting those overdue Cine-Ketchup packets all over the keyboard. It stands, along with Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others and El Laberinto del fauno/Pan's Labyrinth, as the best film I've seen thus far this year.

Sorceror's Apprentice: Bush, Gonzales (NY Times photo)

Speaking of "loyalty, deceit, devotion and corruption," in real life,
  • this week's Congressional testimony yesterday of James B. Comey, former Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft, was a real jaw-dropper
  • and demonstrates the monstrous extremes that the Bush White House pursued to carry out its illegal, secret spying program against the people of the United States. I'm no Ashcroft fan, mind you, but it's startling to see how vast the ethical gulf between Ashcroft's reign and Gonzales's dynasty in the Justice Department really is, and how far we've fallen.
  • If you're clueless on this, it's time to catch up (" account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source...") --
  • -- there's no more damning evidence of the corruption rampant in the Justice Department, and how irresponsibly current Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's behavior has been (and how fiercely he has exercised and exercises his loyalty to his President, placing that above US law and our Constitution).

  • Bye, bye, Wolfowitz (if you have the computer/high-speed access, also check out the two 'related videos' on the left menu bar at the Yahoo News site, particularly President Bush's gobsmacked incredulity); hello whatever next uber-corrupt crony President Bush appoints --
  • -- and we wonder (like children) why American credibility is so shot in the eyes of the world.

    Have a great Friday, one and all...

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    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    Late night (for me) post:

    This just in --

  • "...His words were greeted with restrained applause..." -- ya, I bet they were. Cheney dodged service, but talks the talk.

  • And:

    This spam.

    Did you all get this one, too?










    OF 100 BILLION TO 200 BILLION DOLLARS ($100,000,000,000 -







    Switchboard: 202.456.1414 Comments: 202.456.1111 Fax: 202.456.2461
    Email: --

    (Compliments of Jean-Marc Lofficier!)

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    Old Hikers Never Die,
    They Just Smell That Way

    So, Peter Money and I led a valiant group of CCS students up Mount Ascutney yesterday.

    Well, Peter led. Actually, Sean Morgan -- CCS senior, Brownsville local, a man who knows the mountain and was climbing like a mountain goat -- led. Peter and Sean led, joined by fellow vet woodsman and CCS senior Ross Wood Studlar and freshmen Chuck Forsman, Dane Martin, Bryan Stone and Alex (Joon-Ho) Kim. A fine time was had by all.

    As the oldest poopster of the party, 52-year-old Bissette held his own, sweeping behind for at least the final third of the climb, but I kept up and I made it to the top. But man, oh man, it was a climb.

    I hadn't hiked a mountain in over nine years -- I used to hike
  • the beloved North Duxbury landmark Camel's Hump
  • regularly in my youth. Even a couple of winter hikes, mind you -- I was a boy scout, and I loved hiking.

    But I was in my forties when I made my last climb (Haystack in Wilmington), and I tell you, I was feeling the years yesterday. Particularly in the last mile of the 3.2 or so mile hike uphill. The equivalent hike down went much quicker and (per usual) tested a whole different set of leg and foot muscles, but it was easier on the ol' bod that the climb up. Gravity, you know.

    As Dirty Harry quipped in Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations." I used to climb Camel's Hump's 4,080+ feet once or twice a year and love it, but I was a much younger man then. Mount Ascutney is far shy of Camel's Hump's altitude (see below), but it sure marks my current limit -- though I fully intend to visit the peak this summer, I'll take the car up to the near-summit parking lot and walk that mile versus the 3+ miles uphill we managed yesterday. It's unlikely I'll be making the hike we made yesterday ever again in this lifetime, unless it's as ashes in an urn for my students to spread over the summit.

    Peter and I planned this way back in December 2006 and this past January. It was our intention to bring the entire freshmen class on this end-of-the-year sojourn, but alas, due to a number of issues I shan't go into here, that didn't happen as we'd hoped. Still, we stuck to our staffs and those who could join us, did.

    Since the state park proper is closed until May 18th -- the day before CCS graduation -- planning a day trip that involved simply driving ourselves to just shy of the summit (there's apparently a parking lot between the south peak and summit; a less-than-a-mile foot trail takes you to the summit) was impossible. So, we decided, Peter and I, to make the climb to the peak on the Brownsville Trail, and just go for it.

  • Who is this Peter Money cat? He teaches at CCS, and he's a poet and a good man. Check him out.

  • What's this Mount Ascutney thang? Rather than bore you with historical and contextual blather, here's the Wikipedia listing for the mountain,
  • and here's the tech-stuff at, for those into such matters.

  • We made the climb. It was memorable, a great, grand experience. I'll write about it in some detail later -- jeez, I not only climbed it, I came home and prepped for the coming week of CCS and drew two complete pages for James Sturm's CCS class today (the climax to a class 'round robin' 'versus' comic, which concludes with my "Baby With Adult Legs vs. Bryan Stone" final round -- Baby With Adult Legs created by Joe Lambert, Bryan Stone by -- uh, Bryan's mom, I think. And his Dad. I hope.) -- so I'm too pooped to blog much today.

    I'm not sure how high up we were -- there's some confusion in the available literature on the mountain.

    Ross checked his hiking guide in the drive to Peter's house to eat after we were off the mountain, and reported it was 2600 feet, rated as a 'strenuous climb' (that it was!), but I don't know about that height.

    We passed the North Summit sign, marking 2600+ feet, and there was still considerable climbing after that. Since the parking lot for the park is reportedly at an elevation of 2,800 feet, I reckon we climbed at least a wee bit higher than that, whatever the hiking guide books say otherwise. I know that after the North Summit sign, we climbed for at least another half hour, and it was all climbing!

    Anyhoot, we made it to the observation tower. This was originally a fire tower; the cabin was long ago removed and the whole contraption has been relocated, and the views are breathtaking, encompassing the entire landscape round Ascutney's peak. We didn't make it to Brownsville Rock, which was about another 1/4 mile northwest of the summit -- Sean told us about this (it's a hang gliding launch site), but going to and coming from the tower we passed the sign for the Rock and simply continued on our way; nobody even commented on it. Next time, eh?

  • If you're into going yourself some time, check out the Vt. State Parks site, with mucho links to this and that relevant to such a trek.

  • Here's all the trail particulars, too, for those in any way interested in reading more about the hike.

  • OK, enough on that -- for now. If anyone who had cameras send me pics, I'll post 'em here!

    In any case, gentlemen -- Peter, Chuck, Sean, Dane, Ross, Alex, Bryan -- it was a real honor to climb that rock with all of you, and it's a day I'll savor to the end of my days. Thanks for making it happen!

    Things to ponder today:

  • As Head Honcho Asswipe continues to dodge his own culpability for this war-funding situation, acting like the sociopathic self-centered 'no one says no to me' colostomy bag leakage he continues to come across as (if it were so damned vital, why leave it out of the federal budget every single year of these interminable wars and require seven ancillary budgets to be voted through make up for the shortfall?),
  • and Vice-Cyborg McQuack-Quack further aggravates what Condi already fucked up so adroitly last week ("So we blew your country and all existing infrastructures completely to shit on false pretenses -- get over it! Get up on your own damned feet and act like men instead of like you're ravaged by four years of war, still without clean water, electricity, food or any shred of civilized security! What are you, a pack of pansies?"),
  • let's have another reality check in assessing how completely they've only spiraled the increasingly dire fiscal situation of the average American:

    "The real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers has declined steadily: they earned $27,060 in real dollars in 1979, $25,646 in 2005."

    - Heather Boushey and Christian E. Weller, "What the Numbers Tell Us," in James Lardner and David A. Smith, eds., Inequality Matters (New York: 2005), p. 36.

    "The 2006 round of tax cuts delivers 70 percent of its benefits to the richest 5 percent of Americans, and 6.5 percent to the bottom 80 percent."

    - Clive Crook, "The Height of Inequality," Atlantic, September 2006, p. 36.

    Have a Great Thursday, You Paupers!

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    Friday, May 04, 2007

    You May Have Survived This...

    ... But Can Any of Us Survive THIS???

    What, Me Worry? Bush Dances the Wars Away;
    And: Old Web Links Never Die...(They Just Turn Into Different, Glitzier New Links)

  • This was good news to wake up to;
  • I hope the Democrats hold this Administration's feet to the fire until our President learns what "compromise" and "negotiation" mean. He clearly has no idea; did you catch his reaction to a question about the possibility of Condi Rice inadvertently meeting the ignored-for-six-years Iranian ambassador? What are these people, arrogant self-centered pathological morons? Oh, ya. How could I have thought otherwise?

    Cleaning up old emails I've saved for their invaluable links, I find that -- old links never die, they just turn into useless, no-longer-relevant links.

    For instance, this grand email about
  • the origins of Alfred E. Neuman
  • -- and note that link has links that no longer lead anywhere -- was brimming with info on old Alfred's pre-Mad existence. Here's the text I saved, compliments of Miron Mercury sharing a 2005 email from his friend John (last name unknown), still invaluable though the links are now dead:

    Subject: RE : Quest For Neuman

    How did Alfred E. Neuman's mysterious iconic image become identified with painless dentistry? "It Didn't Hurt A Bit," say the old ads. One thing; his image was reproduced almost daily in Manitoba in two newspapers from at least 1909 to 1936 and was a familiar figure to a whole population of central Canadians. Cartoonists noticed him and possibly columnists took notice as well.

    Manitoba Free Press, 1928

    Winnipeg Tribune, 1909

    Children's Day. 1909: Grue, Winnipeg Tribune ;

    Old Swimmin' Hole. 1909: Grue, Winnipeg Tribune ;

    Curiosity led me to think that perhaps he had come from one of the early travelling medicine shows, perhaps as a label on the bottles of patented painkiller. I recalled reading an article years ago in the Weekend magazine, sent all over Canada with the comic sections. I looked it up.

    I don't claim this is the true story of Alfred E., merely a possible version, my version.

    The King of Canadian medicine men was Thomas Patrick "Doc" Kelley (1865-1931), who, starting in 1886, travelled Canada and the U.S. selling patent medicine like East India Tiger Fat and Passion Flower tablets. He was so well known that druggists in Toronto and Winnipeg stocked his wares in their drugstores. His favored stomping grounds were Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. Other medicine shows traveled the circuit, including the Kickapoo company, but they never seemed to make it outside of Toronto.

    Amongst the banjo players, wrassling bears &c., the most popular member of Kelley's troupe was a comedian, Jock McCulla, born in Scotland, whose pratfalls and slapstick, often of a very painful-looking nature, made him one of the most popular comedians in North America, pre-movies and vaudeville. I can imagine him saying after a particularly nasty fall, "It didn't hurt a bit," followed by sales of bottles of some type of pain-killer, stocked by drugstores all along the route for boys with teeth knocked out by hockey puck or baseball.

    He bore an uncanny resemblance to Alfred E., with carrot-top hair and a gap-toothed grin… well, judge for yourselves… here's Jock McCulla in the flesh, possible forerunner of the What-me-worry kid, sometime between 1890 and 1896:


    Another unpaid debt American pop culture owes to Canada!

    Clearly '' has changed hands and no longer hosts Canadian images (nyuk nyuk). Too bad the old links don't work -- still, glad I held on to this email (thanks, Miron), and if Cat and I can figure out how to post the email with images I saved, we'll do so pronto. What staggers my Luddite pea-brain is usually child's play to Cat.

    I'm glad, though, I've held on to other old emails with once-treasured links. Some I couldn't access before our move to Windsor and high-speed internet access this past January; so, I may not be able to access the original link's intent, but have found treasures nonetheless once I've explored their new destination points.

  • For instance, this link John Totleben sent me ages ago to an Alan Moore/Brian Eno interview no longer links to that (nor is the program even available or archived any longer, as far as I can see), but this has turned into one of my fave listening links for everything else it provides from BBC Radio 4.

  • Thankfully, though, some two-and-three-year-old links still go right where they were originally intended to go, and still delight.
  • Check out this 17th Century sculpture gem Rick Veitch sent me back in January of 2006, and enjoy.

  • Finally, this is a great & grand Friday because Tim Lucas solved the mystery of who John Austin Frazier really was.

  • I saw this preview trailor for the Europix Orgy of the Living Dead triple-bill over thirty years ago, and have wondered who John Austin Frazier may have really been all this time. I knew he wasn't really in a mental asylum, and I sure as shit knew not a single one of the films in the triple-bill had put him there, having caught that triple-feature twice myself.

    Hey, look, I'm fine. What, Me Worry?

    Anyhoot, go visit Tim's Bava book blog and read all about it.

    And then you have a great & grand Friday yourself.

    Dance them wars away...

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    Thursday, May 03, 2007

    I held back posting this photo on May 1 -- everyone knew. If you didn't, you're sound asleep. Sleep on.

    Mission is Not Accomplished, of course. And I'm not just referring to the Iraq War, or the war in Afghanistan, or the War on Terror. What the present architects of our nation have brought upon us -- whether intentionally or not simply no longer matters -- is the End of the Empire. We have seen the clear signs -- Hurricane Katrina is still the most devastating and visible landmark, though most continue to ignore it, just as we're right this moment ignoring the silent, invisible, inexplicable devastation of the honeybee hives presently underway. We are amid the process; we can ignore or deny it, but it is happening. The May 1st photo is a mere moment in that process, but a vital one nonetheless.

    I put it to you that what we are amid is nothing less than the eve of the collapse of the Empire -- a major change in US history, unprecedented and certainly unlike anything the present generation has experienced or even entertained, outside of dystopian sf.

    An essay well worth reading (thanks to Jean-Marc for steering this link our way):
  • "Closing the 'Collapse Gap': the USSR was better prepared for peak oil than the US" by Dmitry Orlov

  • "My talk tonight is about the lack of collapse-preparedness here in the United States. I will compare it with the situation in the Soviet Union, prior to its collapse. The rhetorical device I am going to use is the "Collapse Gap" – to go along with the Nuclear Gap, and the Space Gap, and various other superpower gaps that were fashionable during the Cold War..."

    Get ready, folks.

    Still, teaching must go on. We must draw. Yesterday's CCS Drawing Workshop was a two-part affair, building on last week's two-part session: last week, we were visited by botanical illustrators
  • Bobbi Angell
  • and Susan Riley, both making the old drive from Marlboro to White River Junction, VT, a drive I know well. Bobbi and Susan presented a two-hour workshop on observational drawing of plant life, which most of the freshmen jumped into with enthusiasm, though it'll take time to build the observational skills essential to the task(s). Bobbi and Susan were terrific.

    After that, we spent 90 minutes or so constructing a cardboard city -- a miniature, but for that fairly expansive: about 10' x 9' x 3', with a faux mountain overlooking the village like something out of a Guy Maddin film.

    For yesterday's session, both were followed up with:

    (1 PM - 2:45 PM)

    Building on last week’s session with BOBBI ANGELL and SUSAN RILEY, we are spending the first part of today’s session DRAWING OUTDOORS. I have lots of WOODS behind my house -- it’s all yours to draw in until 2:35 PM!

    THEN -- leave Bissette house at 2:45 PM, reconvene at the VERIZON BLDG., DOWNSTAIRS at 3 PM for PART TWO of DRAWING WORKSHOP.

    EXERCISE TWO, May 3, 2007 - Drawing Workshop!

    Composite Cityscapes

    This is a two-step process of drawing an imaginary cityscape from a constructed miniature -- our cardboard city -- and then customizing your drawings referencing from the real buildings, streets and sidewalks of White River Junction. You should end up with three drawings, completed in either pencil or ink, depending on your preference. These should be tight drawings, suitable for use in a comic, as illustration, or as tight reference.

    1. ROUGH OUT no less than THREE city areas from any view -- and please, choose three different observation points (from above, from street level, etc.) -- modeled from the constructed miniature.

    Be sure to use lighting to rough in the forms of the structures and a cohesive light source; we have enough lights for each group to create its own light source, or move them as needed once one group is done.

    These roughs should have no surface details -- no windows, doors, signage, fire escapes, etc. -- beyond what the constructed reference provides.

    Be inventive, be imaginative -- this doesn’t need to be a ‘realistic’ contemporary city, as much as an environment that looks ‘lived in’ and seems believably three-dimensional in construction. Perspective can be roughed out -- this is not an exercise in perspective per se.

    2. The three roughs will now be ‘fleshed out’ and COMPLETED from LIFE REFERENCE in and around our White River Junction neighborhood.

    Open your eyes, and complete your miniature-referenced buildings, streets, etc. with the details of LIFE. Add building textures (wood, brick, stone, glass), add attached structures (fire escapes, building signs -- including those painted ON buildings -- canopies, etc.), doors, windows, sidewalks etc. to create three fully detailed, rendered city scenes.

    I followed up with a short talk, which essentially said the following:

    Building on today's Part Two session, though this was a tight exercise timewise, the principle is simple:

    If you need to create a convincing urban scene, however small the town (e.g., White River Junction) or metropolitan the city (e.g., Tokyo, New York, Chicago, etc.), create a simple miniature for yourself using cardboard or board -- just to create the building forms, which you can then light for shadows -- then 'wrap' a more realistic or representationally convincing detailed street scene around those forms.

    Photo reference is invaluable in this process --
  • check out a standard Google search for city street scenes
  • and extend the exercise in your sketchbook to fully grasp the principle -- pick a city to reference, and turn your original cardboard city roughs into an imagined street from a specific city.

    This, after all, is what theatre set designers, special effects creators, miniature experts (still used for movie special effects, amusement park rides using '3-D' holographic imagery, like the Universal City Back to the Future ride, or for CGI creations for films, games, etc.), and many artists do.

    In comics, this is the kind of thing Gerhard used to do for Cerebus, Herge for Tintin, Richard Corben for his comix and comics stories, etc. -- construct models (usually out of matte board or a similar stiff, cutable board) of specific settings, interiors and exteriors, and use them for reference in creating their drawn panels and pages. I used to visit Dave Sim and Gerhard in their Kitchener, Ontario, studio, and Gerhard occasionally constructed very detailed miniature reference 'sets' for portions of Cerebus -- especially if it was an interior set (like Rick's Tavern) or exterior that would be in play for an extended portion of the narrative.

    I know this seemed a 'play' session, last week and this, but don't underestimate the value of the lesson, and the principle. It may serve you well in the future!

    OK, off to work. I have a heady morning with the seniors, and a relaxing afternoon savoring two back-to-back sessions with Ivan Brunetti teaching.

    Ah... until the Empire collapses, we will draw. After the Empire collapses, we will still draw. We may eat dirt, but we will use our spit to draw with it. It's what we do.

    Have a great Thursday.

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    Saturday, April 28, 2007

    Back From the Grave...

    You can't keep a Blog Zombie down!

    Well, not for long.

    Yep, thanks to the collaborative exchange of info/media/scans between my respective computer gurus Jane Wilde (of Absolute Computing Solutions in Marlboro, VT) and web cartoonist extraordinaire and early founding member of the extended & growing White River Junction/Center for Cartoon Studies cartooning community
  • Cayetano Garza aka 'Cat,'
  • thanks to whom my long-under-construction and long-overdue-for-revamping website will at last be up (gulp) this week!

    Cat is now my computer guru, and you have him to thank for today's blog being up and running at last. We've got a lot planned, and will be posting info, links, and opening up the long-overdue Bissette website -- keep your eye out here, and all praise Cat! He's been making web comics since 1996, and he's a demigod in this old-timer's book.

    That's a lot of back from the grave, eh?

    For those of you starving for Bissette comics work, there's a batch of stuff coming up and out -- but for now, suffice to note that Rick Veitch just sent me the first comp copy of his new King Hell anthology Shiny Beasts, which I previewed for ya
  • here
  • and here.

  • The book is gorgeous, and our collaborative Epic effort "Monkey See" never looked better (26 years out of print!), and there's also Rick and Alan Moore's long out-0f-print Epic collaboration to savor, too (including it's revelatory Bissette cosmic-VD panel) and Rick's afterword with vintage photos of his old hippy self (and Totleben and Bissette, in their younger years). A terrific package, if I may say so myself!

    Rick dropped by the house last weekend to pick up the oldest Veitch & Bissette "Creative Burnouts" art in my flat files -- including our first ever collaboration, drawn up on our Kubert School drawing boards in September 1976! -- and Rick is planning an upcoming anthology featuring all our collaborative work. But that's later, folks -- Shiny Beasts is out now.

    Shiny Beasts is shipping to comic shops pronto, and I'll post more on this blog once I know it's in stores and online. You might want to hold out, though, for buying the book via, as Rick, Alan Moore and I are currently signing signature sheets for PaneltoPanel's special promo of Shiny Beasts -- more info on that (and sales link) soon!

    This-here blog has been down the entire week of the White River Indie Film festival, which is too bad -- I had scribed and was planning to post a day-by-day diary of the event, and promote the hell out of it.

    Alas, bandwidth issues decided otherwise, and WRIF ends this very weekend -- today and tomorrow. My panels and such ended last night (more on that later this week, as time permits).

    Still, if you're in the area, as in today and tomorrow,
  • WRIF's current weekend lineup boasts some of the festival's best films (scroll down to the listings and info for April 28 and 29),
  • including a zinger Iraq War double-feature of The War Tapes and
  • Iraq in Fragments (which I wrote up here),
  • followed by panel discussion; the gender-issue one-two punches of Freeheld and Georgie Girl, likewise followed with lively panel discussion;
  • Adrian Grenier's Shot in the Dark and his short film Euthanasia (which I blogged about here),
  • (and the lingering possibility that Grenier himself may show up, live and in person); and more.

    Best of tonight's offerings, to my mind, is the African film Bamako, which I reviewed
  • on this very blog during our screening process (scroll down a bit to that writeup),
  • though I've no doubt the two most popular films of the fest may prove to be tonight's showings of Brick (reviewed in the same post as Bamako; see link, above) and The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which is one of my son Dan's favorite films.

    Sunday's program offers an intense lineup of "First Person" documentaries, including a panel on the genre. There's a lot of intensive scrutiny of abuses of power in these films, too: The Forest for the Trees,
  • the excellent Strange Culture (which I reviewed here),
  • the riveting Hand of God, and the 5:15 PM show of Sacrificial Lambs, which I will be introducing, followed by a panel with filmmaker Ed Dooley, Norwich Selectwoman and farmer Suzanne Lupien, the Faillace family, and farmer Doug Flack. Now, that should be a lively session! Tomorrow's program also includes
  • 51 Birch Street
  • and the evening begins with the marvelous
  • Absolute Wilson (Bissette review here)
  • and concludes with the amazing documentary Jesus Camp (my review, and some blistering fundamentalist comments, here; scroll down to the goodies).

  • Sorry I didn't have this venue available to promote all this past week's wonderful films and events, but c'est la vie. If you can come this weekend, see you there!

    My ol' pal Mark Martin has been posting some great vintage Mark Martin comics, art and stories on
  • his blog "Jabberous,"
  • and that's a perpetual treat.

    His latest excavation has yielded a complete MM parody of Harvey Comics's venerable bowler-derbied spook Spooky,
  • Dooky, who's short-but-sweet adventure begins here. Then click on over to
  • Dooky's page the second,
  • Dooky's penultimate panic, and
  • Dooky's ass-blasting last hurrah (and more)!

  • Now, tell me that ain't funny. Kudos to you, Mark, and here's hoping for a complete Harvey Comics parody comic from you one day!

    Everyone in comics knows about Dan Clowes's Harvey parody in Eightball, but this has been a rich vein of comics satire for ages, and it would be a corker of a book if someone would brave the legal hurdles and put them all together into one fat tome. My old XQB pal and vet Taboo contributor Tom Foxmarnick had cooked up a hilarious satire of Hot Stuff a loooong time ago, which I still fondly remember. Rick Veitch and I once roughed out a Harvey parody of our own (back in 1979) intended for Dr. Wirtham's Comix and Stories which we entitled "Li'l MicroDot," in which our version of Harvey's beloved dot-obsessed li'l girl character was tripping her brains out and finally, in desperation, grabs the phone to call for help, only to space out on -- the little holes in the receiver! As she is mesmerized by this miniature landscape of uniform holes, a clutch of tiny Art Linkletters pop out of them all, screaming "Don't jump, MicroDot! Don't jump out the window!"

    Well, it was funny to us in 1979. We never drew it, though, so it remains a layout in one of my sketchbooks, which ain't funny.

    What really ain't funny, and has prompted me at last to turn off the fucking news by yesterday AM, is
  • the utterly spineless news coverage of President Bush's latest pathological projection of blame -- it's just too infuriating for words -- isn't anyone going to call this latest GOP shell game for what it is?

  • Bush and Cheney and their corrupt cabal have manipulated their budgets year after year by keeping the genuine cost of the war(s) off the table, and out of their annual budget -- it's at last caught up with them. Is anyone really falling for Bush's bullshit? Cheney, per usual, is even more reprehensible in his rhetoric; I have never, ever so loathed a public figure in my life. The man is evil incarnate; typical of our times, he was keynote speaker at the Brigham Young University graduation recently. Now, there's religious values for you.

    I am so aching for any coverage of this current "showdown" to confront the core issue -- the President and Vice President's false budgeting of this war, by persistently not budgeting for these war, by absolutely refusing to budget for these wars -- for what it truly is: the consequences of this President's ongoing strategic shell game.

    These two bastards don't give a flying fuck for our troops -- they created this horrorshow, they have abused the military and military families every step of the way (note this week's Pentagon hearings), they created this current standoff by refusing to responsibly budget for and truly wage the war they claim our very lives depend upon, and they are the lowest slime to ever hold the highest office in our country in US history.

    Have a great weekend, one and all --

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    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    Big Doings at CCS...

    First up, the Center for Cartoon Studies community is celebrating its first newborn:

    CCS co-founder and Grand Omnipotent Benevolent Goddess-Being Michelle Ollie and her partner Michelle Roy gave birth this past Tuesday, April 17th, to their son Phineas Henry Roy-Ollie -- born at 5:05am, weighing 5 lbs 8oz. Everyone is healthy, well, but tired. Congrats to Michelle, Michelle and Phineas!

    Secondly, CCS senior
  • Sam Gaskin, who has poured this year into the creation of a phenomenal, one-of-a-kind first volume of Pizza Wizard strip
  • just won a Xeric Foundation grant -- allowing him to self-publish Pizza Wizard, hopefully in time for the upcoming MoCCA art festival. Keep an eye out here, and on Sam's site, for future announcements -- congrats, Sam!

    It's been a real treat to see Sam's skills blossom this past year. He began work on a planned thesis project that had its roots in an expansive strip he'd begun during his first year at CCS. However, something -- else presented itself, even as Sam worked on the planned project: a one-pager entitled "Pizza Wizard." During his first critique session as a senior, Sam shared that one-pager along with the considerable work underway on the thesis project, and we all responded with unexpected enthusiasm to this new eruption from Sam's imagination. Pizza Wizard thereafter took over -- when the muse alights, it's best to go where she leads -- and grew into the most ambitious undertaking of Sam's body of work to date. He finished Pizza Wizard's first volume this month, within days of receiving the phone call from home informing him of the Xeric decision.

    Sam is the second CCS student to win a Xeric -- not bad, one per year for the school's first two years in existence. But the prize belongs to the cartoonists/students, not the school, mind you. Still, nice to note. Sam's 'win' last week was well-deserved, as was last year's Xeric award to
  • Alexis Frederick-Frost for his excellent graphic novel La Primavera (2006).

  • Haven't got a copy as yet, or read it yourself? Well, that can be remedied promptly -- via I Know Joe Kimpel (link already provided, above -- and again, below). Alexis is already hard at work on his current graphic novel, and it's even better -- Sam and Alexis are both talents (and very different visions) to watch!

    Leading us to:

    Thirdly (?), the online venue for CCS comics, minicomics and graphic novels is expanding. This just in from senior Adam Staffaroni:

    "We've added a bunch of new people to the I Know Joe Kimpel site, added a blog, and there's a Press Release link on the top of our main page detailing all the good things people have been saying about Gabby [aka Ken Dahl]'s and Alexis' work."

    The sweet quotes are
  • beginning to appear here -- just scroll down the press page during this period of construction on the site -- and spread the word!

  • But that's not all -- like Adam says,
  • the blog is up and running, with its first post in place,

  • and here's the link to the whole "I Know Joe Kimple" site. Check it out, and often! Many changes, updates, and new stuff a-coming soon!

  • Fourth, I'm happy to announce that our beloved CCS intern Gabby aka Ken Dahl has completed, printed, and is about to debut
  • the second issue of Monsters, second volume of his Ignatz-Award-winning minicomic of 2006, will debut this week at APE -- or you can purchase your copy via mail order from this link at I Know Joe Kimple!

  • Congrats, Gabby -- I mean, uh, Ken -- and hope APE proves a festive and celebratory debut venue for your latest creation.

    Monsters #1 deserved the considerable attention and praise it garnered, and humble as Gabby remains, he sure earned that Ignatz Award. The above link will steer you to both issues, highly recommended!

    And last but by no means least, there's the good news that
  • CCS senior Josie Whitmore has just launched her new site, which waits for you here. Check it out, and keep doing so, as Josie will be adding to it regularly.

  • A sure sign of spring: so many new, fertile beginnings...

    Support this generation of young cartoonists -- they're gonna change the world, for the better.

    New England cartoonists, take note: The Trees & Hills Group wants YOU! This just in from T&H co-founder Daniel Barlow:

    Members of
  • the Trees & Hill comics group
  • are proud to announce that we plan to publish a second anthology of work by regional creators early this summer.

    Submission details for the new anthology are located near the bottom of this message.

    In October 2006, the comics group published the 60-page opus, Trees & Hills & Friends anthology, which featured cartoons by over 20 creators from New Hampshire, Vermont and western Massachusetts.

    The mini-comic, which featured work by Stephen R. Bissette, Cat Garza and Marek Bennett, has sold more than 100 copies. This total does not include the copies that we gave to contributors for their work, meaning there may be nearly 200 copies out there in circulation.

    The release of that book capped the first year of operation for Trees & Hills, which was formed by NH cartoonist Colin Tedford and VT writer Dan Barlow following a large turnout to a 24-Hour Comic event just more than a year earlier in Brattleboro, Vt.

    Publishing and distributing the anthology was the first major expansion for the group, which had since been focusing on holding semi-monthly drawing parties, managing a Web site and tabling at local comic book conventions.

    Format: The 2007 anthology – which does not yet have a name – will be 5.5 x 8.5 inches with a one-color cover and black and white interiors. It will be a mini-comic; the same size width and length as the previous anthology.

    Content: There will also be a change in the content we are looking for in this publication. This time around we are looking for all-ages contributions, whereas the first publication was a showcase of the talents of the many members of our group.

    Now, we are hoping for a comic that children, teenagers and adults will all be able to enjoy.

    Details: Every contributor will receive one copy of the book per page published. We're looking for copies of the content; please do not send original art. If you live in Vermont, please send the contributions to and New Hampshire artists can send their work to

    Creators from Massachusetts can choose either Dan or Colin to send their artwork to.

    Photocopies snail mail submissions can be sent to Colin Tedford, PO Box 645, Winchester, NH 03470 or Dan Barlow, 182 Main Street #2, Montpelier, VT 05602.

    The submission deadline is Saturday, May 26.


    Pro-Death President Bush did it: his reorientation of the Supreme Court resulted in the 4-5 vote yesterday that's a victory for anti-abortion, anti-choice activists. This is a major shift in our country, in personal freedoms, and in woman's rights.

    My family has had its own experiences with abortion -- no one's business, suffice to say -- but it was a choice the women involved had to make, did make, and live with, for good or ill. It was their choice to make, though, and thank God this country at the time provided some sane measure of safety and legal means for them to make those choices within.

    That's now threatened, possibly forever, and I've nothing but contempt for this President, this Supreme Court, and this country's decision to go down this road.

    Pro-Death advocates can also ponder this morning's surprise from
  • deeply disturbed Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui, who left his indelible mark on us all this week, spiced with the revelatory surfacing of videos he shot and mailed to NBC -- between the time his killing spree began shortly after 7 AM and resumed and escalated after he mailed these videos to NBC -- bringing horrifying new light to this national tragedy. This link will also take you to various links to the video excerpts that have been released (if you can make it through the Netflix commercials, natch).

  • Complete with references to Jesus Christ, President Bush, Columbine "martyrs like Eric and Dylan" and presenting himself as doing what he did to achieve similar media martyrdom -- "...I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people..." -- Cho's video confessional should provide a fresh, unavoidable national wakeup call and life-and-death debate -- but no. It's all being quickly, handily packaged, promoted, sanitized, trivialized. With every single radio, TV, online and government agency I was in eye or ear shot of yesterday immediately removing any serious discussion of gun control from the table, there's really nothing left to say, is there? Reports that Cho purchased his guns and clips at local pawn shops and Walmart speaks volumes. Go, NRA; you've got the nation in your pocket; that's another 32 notches to take pride in.

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    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Imagine That Newt is Orange...

    ...and then click over to
  • Bob McLeod's Rough Stuff site to read about this vintage Bissette/Totleben collaboration, our first painted Swamp Thing cover art.

  • Then, at your local comics shop or via
  • this link, pick up a copy immediately of Rough Stuff #4, featuring the interview with John Totleben and pencils section by yours truly.
  • George Khoury's interview with John is truly excellent reading, and (per usual for Rough Stuff) illustrated with some jaw-droppingly gorgeous reproductions of John's pencils for covers, story pages, pinups, concept drawings, etc. John's recollections about our Swamp Thing days are, also per usual, dead on the money right -- though I'll post some comments (in the way of additional info, in part since George asks John about my end of things more than once) later this week, as time permits. In any case, get your hands on Rough Stuff #4, and pronto!

    I'm speaking in Stowe, VT tonight at 5:30 at
  • The Helen Day Art Center; here's the particulars.
  • Maybe see one or two of you there? I'm working all this morning there at the art center with three groups of regional high school students (11th and 12th Grade) drawing comics -- fun, fun, fun! I dig these sessions, and some pretty lively comics come about as a result.

    Ya, I know, it's late notice. Heck, I've barely had time to post anything this week, and this bull run (between CCS workload and WRIF final prep) will continue thus into Friday. As time permits, though, I'll try to catch up.

    The Virginia Tech rampage is the fresh national horror; but this has had me wincing over the past week:

    One thing to keep in mind as you hear/read the increasingly bilious crap pouring out of President Bush's mouth this week: You know, if President Bush would just finance his war the way every other President in US history tends to -- within his annual budget -- instead of keeping it "off the table" with his bullshit sideline funding via emergency spending measures, he wouldn't have gotten himself into this dilemma. He alone is responsible for this, however much he stridently says otherwise. He is refusing to "fund the troops."

    The Congress is, at last, holding him and the Pentagon accountable (literally) for this war funding, and it's Bush's strategic burying/sidelining of the real cost of the war that led to this present showdown. The pork is a false issue -- the real issue is Bush, Cheney, et al set up this situation by never honestly funding this war, thus falsely cooking the annual books. It's Bush's own fucking fault -- however much he blisters the Democratic Party with his mounting rhetoric (and it was Republican votes that landed much of the pork attached to the war bill, BTW, so don't buy into that line of crap, either).

    OK, there's other stuff to get into.

    More later this week!

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    Friday, April 06, 2007

    Your Friday Gruel:
    Criswell, Bush and CCSers

    I have friends who worry about the time they think I waste.

    Like, blogging. Like, just doing nothing. Like, reading. Like, watching movies. Like, staying for all 172 minutes of David Lynch's exterior dreamscape Inland Empire. Like, reading comics. Like, drawing comics. Like, writing instead of drawing comics. Like, teaching. Like, having a family and raising kids. Like, getting married. Like, getting a divorce. Like, getting remarried. Like, drawing, instead of doing something useful, like plumbing. Like, working as I did co-managing a video store instead of drawing.

    You name it, something I do, one of my friends hates, and thinks I'm wasting my time, doing something my other friend thinks is worthwhile, and wishes I would just do more of, and wishes I would quit doing that other thing they hate, 'cuz it's a waste of time.

    Well, my friends, rest easy, now.

    And if you're "a very dear friend," you could really benefit.

    You see, Criswell had it aallllllllll covered, way way back in '69.

    Criswell Predicts!

    I predict that it is entirely possible for you to bequeath and will to someone your unspent time at your death!

    A new insurance policy soon to be issued, will permit funds to be paid to someone you wish to honor after your death, with full expenses on some trip which you could not take!

    This insurance policy will be listed in your estate as top priority, and cannot be cancelled by the whims of your relatives or the executor!

    It will be pre-paid out of your estate... a most wonderful gift... of your unspent time... plus expenses... for a very dear friend! You can bequeath your unspent time!


    Ah, but Criswell didn't predict Bush. He and his may spend everything. The massive debtload these motherfuckers are generating daily has spiraled into the realm of the cosmic, and that ain't the half of it.

    It's been a one-two-three sucker punch week from the White House, and it's only Friday. TGIF.
  • The whole veto dance has been quite a spectacle, with the most outrageous demonstration yet of the 'blame game' in recent memory
  • (duh -- the President vetoes, he denies the funding). Amid all that, most Americans miss the
  • Bush shenanigans that really hit home -- like, the very air we breathe --
  • -- which of course the superficial "news" that passes for news for most citizens considers beneath notice.
  • and demonstrating once again how well "Georgie plays well with others" and is "a uniter, not a divider" (another of his campaign promises that rings magnificently false)

  • This Pentagon leak surfacing the same week President Bush blasted the Democrats (threatening just this kind of consequence -- sorry, already in place, folks!) is a brutal blow to military families.
  • Just a little Easter gift from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and our beloved Prez.

    Better beef up those vet hospitals, and fast, Congress.

    With what's left of his term in office promising to only escalate all this madness into a high-density concentration unimaginable today, hang on, America!

    The fiscal hits everyone outside the elite continue to endure are taking a real toll, without a whisper of the consequences Katrina, annual wildfire season, and natural disasters play as a component of that toll. We're amid tax season, after all, wherein the Alternative Minimum Tax is delivering unexpected bodyblows to many middle-class families, the inevitable implosion of sub-prime lending and mortgage scams are gobbling up vulnerable family homes like Pac-Man, and the credit load of most Americans has no historical precedent. Gas prices hereabouts have soared over 30-cents-per-gallon in less than four weeks, with the promise of climbing higher (over $3 per gallon) with spring 'driving season' a-comin' in.

    For our part, Marge and I have battened down the hatches as best we can in pragmatic, day-to-day ways we can live with. None of us can displace these lunatics in office, though a fresh election season is coming 'round the bend -- but we can focus on our own corner of the asylum. We lucked out with the risk of relocation -- the purchase, the sale, the move went surprisingly well, it all played out in our favor despite the collapsing real estate bubble (thanks to the unusual real estate market Marlboro remains). We're working on our wills, we've eliminated our credit card debts, we've relocated to a place closer to our respective dayjobs, minimizing our driving and gasoline consumption, and we've finished our annual income tax ordeal (more fun guaranteed next year!).

    So it goes. Good luck with your own corner of the asylum; it's worth the effort cleaning up, I can now say.

    Time for more Center for Cartoon Studies student sites, man!

  • Jiffy Joe Lambert is a one-man comics band with a pen-and-brush line slippery as black ice, graceful and playful and mesmerizing -- check it out.
  • Joe also posts more photos than anyone at CCS, I think, though I'll be immediately corrected if I'm wrong; anyhoot, if you want an inside look at CCS life and some great art and comics, check out Joe's sublime online submarine.

    Some cartoonists inhabit their own interior worlds, and lucky us when they share them so completely. There's a handful of cartoonists in this rarified strata who come to mind, and lo and behold, we at CCS are fortunate enough to have another of this species among us.
  • Here's your ticket to Planet Dane Martin. I love visiting planet Dane Martin, with its unique lifeforms, social customs, lurking dangers and delirious curiosities. There is no other planet like Dane's, and there are times I wish I could live there.
  • There are also times I am greatly relieved I don't live there, but those moments make me love it all the more. I can't explain it any better than that.

    More tomorrow -- have a great Friday, if you can...

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    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    He Asks for Patience...

    Happy Fourth Anniversary of the Iraq War, one and all. Four years ago this morning, I was arguing with trigger-happy fans on the now-defunct Kingdom/Swamp boards, furious over the war's launch. "You've got your fucking war," I posted, prompting mucho heat from those who wanted war, but didn't want to fess up to war mongering.

    Everything those of us who opposed this war said would happen before it began has not only come to pass, but every reason we gave for not launching war has proven to be valid. The only lies that have been uncovered were the always-dubious reasons to go to war -- lies, lies, and more lies.

    And on this anniversary,
  • sans irony, President Bush

  • asked for patience this week.

  • Four years since he ignored all calls for patience with the inspection process,

  • since he recklessly plunged our country and our allies and Iraq (and the world) into this maelstrom of violence,

  • since he ignored all calls, pleas, protests for patience, diplomacy, due process,

  • since ignoring reality to pursue his own insane agenda, heedless of the consequences (save the fantasy he and his compadres fabricated), he asks for patience.

  • In preparation for this momentous call for patience, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow patiently
  • told CCN's Ed Henry to "zip it,"

  • a demonstration of Snow's impeccable, Fox-News-cultivated tact you can see here for yourself.

  • Of course, the momentous occasion of the anniversary has resulted in this event being downplayed (CNN's own immediate followup, to Ed Henry: "Ed, if it weren’t such a solemn day we could do about five minutes on that whole zip it exchange, but because of the the anniversary, we will let it go at that..."), though it is the most succinct summary imaginable for the rampant arrogance, hubris and power abuse that led us down this bloody path.

    Fuck these clowns; their arrogance is at last being challenged by the inevitable toll of reality -- not their manufactured reality, but reality -- and time.

    May it all crash down around their ears without taking the rest of us out.

    Happy fucking anniversary, U.S. of A.

    U R Invited!

    I'd be remiss not to mention, after the attention I gave to Frank Miller's invite to yours truly to attend the NYC premiere of 300, the fact that Jeanine Atkins and Peter Laird invited Marge and I to this week's Massachusetts premiere/preview of the new CGI Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature. Alas, it's timing (late afternoon) didn't jive with Marge's or my work schedule -- especially given the additional hour the drive entails for us now, living further north up I-91 -- but the invitation is greatly appreciated!

    As with 300, reckon we'll (or I'll) see it with the rest of the country.

    Former Mirage Studio compadre, Cowboys of Moo Mesa and Bog creator, and all around sweet guy Ryan Brown also sent the invite, here, to a parallel TMNT event in Ohio; again, distance prevents our taking advantage of this, but such is life.

    [It was great to hear from Ryan, in part because of Bog -- I'm making some plans that (if Ryan approves) will bring some new life to Bog after a number of years laying fallow, as bog-beasts do at times. More on that later, after Ryan and I can talk...]

    It's been fun, too, seeing the anticipation among some of the Center for Cartoon Studies students for this new TMNT movie. I've no idea how it might be impacting on Peter, Kevin or the remaining Mirage crew, but a whole generation that grew up on the Turtles will soon get their shot at seeing this new take on the now-venerable heroes of their childhoods that played such a key role in their own lives. I hope to attend one of the opening night shows, if only to see what the audience is like, and how they react.

    It's fascinating to me, personally, how little of any substance has been written about the Turtles phenomenon and Mirage Studios in particular. It's the great untold story of comics in particular and the pop culture in general, and it's one well worth someone telling one day, in all its ups, downs and compelling human dimensions.

    "Frank Miller invites you to attend a screening of 300 IMAX on March 8, 2007 at 7:30 pm at Lincoln Square IMAX 1998 Broadway, NYC. Please see attached invitation..." (visible here, now that the event itself is safely past)

    By now, most of you will have seen 300, so I feel it's appropriate to post my own views on the film later this week. I caught 300 opening weekend locally with some of my CCS student/compadres; though it was a 4:45 matinee, the theater was packed.

    It's been somewhat amusing to see, too, the ripples, including the
  • expected backlash against the film's caricature of history, Persia and its implications given current strained US/Iranian relations (or non-relations) and the Bush-fomented nuclear standoff,

  • and this petition against (chuckle) Warner Bros. prompted by ire against the film and all its stands for in the minds of those infuriated by its existence.

  • In the opening volley of the Iranian outrage directed against 300 visible to us stateside,
  • Siamack Baniameri wrote, "300 depicts King Xerxes as a fat homosexual and Persians as deformed and stupid monsters similar to what the Orcs looked like in The Lord of the Rings. Spartans on the other hand are revealed as rocket scientists trapped in bodies of Greek gods with comic book bravery and constant worry of losing their beloved and hard-earned "freedom and democracy" to the damn Middle Easterners."

    Well, almost.

    is in fact presented as power-body-sculpted as the Spartans, except he's got all kinds of "shit in this face" (Tarantino Pulp Fiction speak for facial adornment) and moves and speaks with the narcissistic bisexual/homoeroticism Mel Gibson assigned to the gliding devil of his Passion (of the Christ) (which, by the way, was staged with techniques stolen from Mario Bava's '60s horror films). This is especially funny in the context of the Greek/Spartan homosexuality that history proper designates as part and parcel of their culture (and warrior classes); as Bob already pointed out in his comments to this blog, the macho elements of 300 are as homoerotic as anything mainstream American cinema has yielded since -- uh, Alexander, which was just over a year or so ago.

    And the Spartans hardly come across as "rocket scientists", though those bods are clearly Greek classical in their perfect pec-and-ab (CGI-enhanced) refinements: the Spartans, in fact, come across as reckless warriors. In his graphic novel, Frank Miller made a point of adhering to the Spartan mode of warfare he made key to his narrative (the reason for the rejection of the hunchback as fit warrior material); for the film, director Zach Snyder adheres to Frank's stated reason for said hunchback's rejection -- then shows his Spartans time and time again dispensing with any reasonable strategic advantage to indulge more vain-glorious onscreen posing and mayhem, however vulnerable it might leave them. It's stupid, really, resulting at one point in a supposedly tragic death (a decapitation that looks as patently phoney as any seen in the post-CGI revolution; Snyder should have called in Tom Savini or the KNB crew) that is risible, neutering the consequences of any conviction. So, if I may be so un-PC blunt, from fag-boy Xerxes to dumbo Spartans, it's all a CGI cartoon, as so many action films are today.

    Let's face it, we're in a pepla revival -- pepla being the Italian Hercules-inspired wave of muscle-man movies that flooded international movie screens and TV screens in the late '50s and the '60s [PS: see Tim Lucas's comment on this post, below -- and note his correcting my initial post misspelling of pepla, which I indeed, off the top of my head, misspelled pebla first time around; oops!]. And 300, the movie, is a fucking great peplum, and as ridiculous as any of 'em. Instead of Carlo Rambaldi rubber monsters, we get CGI orcs (and yes, they do come across as orcs in the film, and have no corresponding source in Frank Miller's graphic novel); instead of paper mache rocks and fog and Spanish beaches, we get CGI-created fake cliffs and oceans.

    But "history proper" has little, if anything, to do with the kind of full-blown pepla -- a permutation of the fantastique more than historical epics per se -- imagery and kinetics 300 the movie revels in, any more than it informed Ridley Scott's Gladiator (which was and remains a much better film, but more on that later). For that matter, the ignorance most critics betrayed last week about 300's source material says a great deal: compared to director Zach Snyder's slow-mo celebration of machismo, violence and war, Frank Miller's 300 is a model of cunning storytelling economy and restraint -- and by far the more focused, successful creation.

  • Here's the most insightful and pragmatic analysis of the international 300 situation I've read to date,
  • from the online Payvand's Iran News (posted March 9th, "The Persian Empire Strikes Back"), in which Iranian author Darius Kadivar places the pre-release anger in its proper contexts.

    This is essential reading; Kadivar ultimately poses the core questions, "What is more shocking: To be depicted as Villains in a film that is supposed to be anything but a history lesson about an event that took place 25 centuries ago? Or, To be associated to an entity that exists no more that is the Persian Empire itself ever since its removal by a widely popular Islamic Revolution that put an end for ever to what its supporters considered as an evil and corrupt institution?"

    He continues, "What the controversy about this film reveals as in the case of Oliver Stone’s movie Alexander is that the Persian Empire, with or without its King or legitimate heir, still exists in the minds of all Iranians and probably transcends even political convictions. It probably has more to do with our own Ego ( justified or not ) or is it a Freudian sense of self preservation and of our role as a nation in the History of Mankind?"

    More to the point, Kadivar asks, "Do we as viewers have [to] adopt a partisan attitude towards a film we have not even seen?"

    This places the initial controversy, in Islamic terms, within the realm of the overreaction to the pro-Islamic Mohammed: Messenger of God (which, despite it's being pro-Islamic and a film by a devout Islamist, prompted violence in mere anticipation of its premiere), and in Christian terms in the arena of the pre-release outrage fomented by Monty Python's The Life of Brian, Jean-Luc Godard's Mary, and Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.

    And that, my friends, is meat for another post, later in the week.

    Now, given the fact the film has been widely seen, the outrage has only escalated, as the boxoffice for the film soars. So it goes with such controversies, by and large, though 300 had its own exceptional pre-release buzz (triggered in part by those ravishing trailers, the most effective in recent memory).

    I gotta run --

    Have a great Tuesday!

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    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    It's My Birthday!

    Yep, 'tis.

    Wish me luck!


    Amid a busy period of completing work on programming the upcoming April WRIF (White River Indie Film festivities, which now span almost the entire final week in April), my duties have included writing the synopses for the films we've selected. These include almost all the films I've written about at length on this blog over the past month or two; boiling that blather down, I arrive at:

    51 BIRCH STREET: "When it comes to your parents, maybe ignorance is bliss," filmmaker Doug Block says at one point during the multi-award winning 51 Birch Street. This is, literally, the real-life The Bridges of Madison County: Doug and his two sisters help their father clear out their suburban family home after his remarrying only three months after their mother's death (and over 50 years of marriage). In the process, they find their mother's extensive diaries, and therein a doorway to her most personal secrets and the reality of their married life.

    ABSOLUTE WILSON: Filmmaker Katherine Otto-Bernstein’s exploration of renowned theater & dance director Robert Wilson's life embraces it all, from his ongoing non-verbal movement & dance therapy work (with brain-damaged children and paralyzed patients) to the theatrical work he is now renowned for. The variety of Wilson’s theatrical creations -- the stark, iconographic imagery and movement; the inventive play with sound & music; the use of color, costume and body language -- are showcased throughout, accompanied by onscreen interviews with Susan Sontag, Philip Glass, Trudy Kramer, John Rockwell, David Byrne, Jim Neu, Earl Mack, and many others.

    BAMAKO: Abderrahmano Sissanko's new feature functions on many levels: African agitprop, pragmatic portrait of a world tribunal in a pauper's kingdom, meditation on 21st Century colonization, a sheathed castigation of the World Bank, G8, IMF and the malign influence of Western capitalism -- once this cinematic machete bares its blade, it cuts deep. “It is a work of cool intelligence and profound anger, a long, dense, argument that is also a haunting visual poem.” — A. O. Scott, The New York Times

    BRICK: Retrofitting the milieu of Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart crime thrillers to a contemporary California high school, this unique teen noir evokes dark gems like Over the Edge, The River's Edge, Heathers, Kids, and Bully, but trumps them via its complete submersion, sans irony, into its universe. The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew were never like this: as its oner hero (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ferrets out his ex-girlfriend’s killer, the 21st Century post-Columbine Bush-era underbelly of youth culture is explored with mesmerizing, gripping immediacy.

    DECAY OF FICTION (installation): A compelling meditation on malingering cinematic spirits in Los Angeles's now-abandoned & crumbling Hotel Ambassador. An uncannily shot and edited exploration of the physical (and metaphysical) environment... and all the while, 'ghosts' of performers, diners, thugs, children, hotel staff and various denizens of 1940s movies and the hotel's past rerun their long-past interactions. A brilliant conceit, mesmerizing and completely original.

    THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON: Welcome to the life and times of ‘fringe’ cult musician and artist Daniel Johnston! Having recorded himself from an early age (audio diaries, songs, super 8, video), this biographical documentary offers an introspective, incredibly detailed record of his thoughts -- which become even more compelling as it becomes clear that Johnston is wrestling with serious mental problems. A one-of-a-kind portrait of a fascinating and influential 21st Century creator.

    THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: A stirring portrait of Earth First activist Judi Beri and the Leftist legal team which represented her (led by the filmmaker’s father, Dennis Cunningham, who also defended the Black Panthers in the ‘60s and ‘70s) in a lawsuit against the FBI launched after Beri survived a mysterious car bomb attack.

    GRBAVICA: When uneasy pick-up lines like, “I’m sure I know you” leads to the commonalities of “Maybe you go to postmortem identifications?”, we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. Welcome to Grbavica, a modern metropolitan European city haunted by fresh memories of the Bosnian conflict, experienced via the day-to-day life of traumatized Esma Halilovic and her teenage daughter Sara. A potent, moving drama of Bosnian life in the 21st Century.

    THE HAND OF GOD: A fiercely intelligent, introspective, concise and surprisingly comprehensive dissection of the notorious Massachusetts Catholic Church scandal involving priests who were habitual child molestors. Director Joe Cultrera chronicles the case history of his older brother Paul, and the impact Paul's eventual disclosure of abuse (8 years before The Boston Globe ripped the lid off the wider scope of scandal) had upon Paul's entire family and community.

    IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS: James Longley's intimate, three-part portrait of the current situation in Iraq as experienced by Sunni, Shiite and Kurd individuals, each in their own corner of their war-torn country, sans polemics other than those manifest on the streets, in garages, in the city centers and mosques. Longley's meditative, poetic exploration of Iraq through the faces, plight and eyes of its people was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature.

    JESUS CAMP: Fascinating, compulsive viewing, whatever one's orientation to the subject. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady capture the lives of those involved with an evangelical camp (ironically based in Devil's Lake, North Dakota), from the organizers to the parents and attending children, focusing on three of the attendees, Levi, Tory and Rachael. A truly exceptional and timely documentary.

    MANHATTAN, KANSAS: NYC-based filmmaker Tara Wray returns to her childhood home in Kansas to reconnect with her mother, seeking some resolution for her difficult childhood and teenage years, and their co-dependent relationship. Unexpectedly, this process proves to have a cumulative, positive impact on both Tara and her mother; a most unusual, provocative autobiographical documentary.

    ...and so on and so forth. We'll be showing all this, and much more, end of April.

    Alas, some of our choices have been, despite the provision to the group of screeners, yanked by their respective distributors, including the excellent Ralph Nader documentary An Unreasonable Man. How unreasonable of them. As one committee member noted, "how Nader-like!" Too bad, but it's still shaping up to be a great festival.

    The April event is still coming together, as is the website announcement, but anyone living in the area should keep an eye on
  • WRIF's website for upcoming news, scheduling and announcements --
  • -- hope to see some of you there!

    "I acknowledge that mistakes were made here... I accept that responsibility."

    We've heard variations on that from the President and members of his Administration since the (ongoing) Hurricane Katrina debacle, but "I accept that responsibility" apparently never, ever means really assuming any responsibility in this Administration, unless you're part of the current Walter Reed Hospital scandal, which has military leaders falling on their swords right and left (the better to ensure no blame arrives at the Commander-in-Chief).

    The latest declaration of "I accept that responsibility" followed the revelations from recently-released documents revealing a two-year campaign by the Justice Department and White House to purge federal prosecutors has prompted a fresh call for Gonzales's head.
  • but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales rejected the yowls for his resignation --
  • -- no surprise there.

    The mistakes made he might be referring to most likely be the release of said documents, since "don't get caught" seems to be the only meaningful context for the ongoing Bush Administration troubles. Gonzales added, "I believe very strongly in our obligation to ensure that when I provide information to the Congress that it's accurate and that it's complete," which is disingenuous at best from the man who has so firmly stonewalled Congress every step of the way since his confirmation hearings -- which is, after all, when Congress should have shut this former Bush attorney out. But that would have taken a backbone, and a majority willing to do more than rubber-stamp that process.

    In the meantime, in the face of the South American-touring President's call for more troops, we find out, via
  • homophobic statements from the Pentagon's top general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Peter Pace,
  • that the military's policy against any gays serving their country has so far resulted in the discharge of "more than 10,000 troops, including more than 50 specialists in Arabic," since President Clinton instituted the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 1994.

    Hmmmmm, the Pentagon could sure use just about 10,000 troops, especially those 50 specialists in Arabic, just about now -- if they could pull their homophobic heads out of their homophobic asses long enough to think straight (with something other than their little heads).

    The most astounding statement amid the flurry that followed General Pace's mini-screed was no doubt White House spokesman Tony Snow's claim that President Bush "has always said that the most important thing is that we ought not to prejudge one another."

    Huh. When was that? From the man who prejudges everything, to all of us. A love button.

    But let's keep this all in perspective. I mean, it ain't so bad -- I heard last night on German radio news that thanks to Zimbabwe's governing ZANU-PF party's two-year extension (back in December) of President Robert Mugabe's reign and the subsequent atrocities, the life expectancy of the average Zimbabwe woman is now 34 years of age.

    By comparison, we've all got it sweet.

    And in that context, we're all lucky folks. I certainly am.

    I'm 52 as of today -- I've outlived some dear friends, I've got a great job, CCS has reawakened my creative life, I'm happily married, live in a new home, I have friends and family and two incredible now-adult kids I love, and to my mind any day over the half-century mark of life is a day worth celebrating.

    And hey, I've got you, don't I?

    I'm outta here!
    Gotta teach!
    Gotta draw!
    Gotta move!

    [Reminder: I won't be posting regularly again until Monday, most likely. See you here as time permits...]

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    Sunday, March 11, 2007

    Cine-Ketchup: Hannibal Dining

    But first:

  • "Bush seeks 8,200 more troops for wars;"
  • or, How Do You Say No to a Man Who Never Learned The Meaning of the Word?Center for Cartoon Studies :: View topic - CCS Photos

    Poppa and Momma Bush clearly never taught our Prez when he was a tot the fundamentals of right, wrong, 'yes' or 'no.' George don't wanna hear 'no,' George don't hear 'no,' George will go to South America to ignore 'no' and act like 'no' is 'yes.'

    George wants what George wants, come what may.

    Congress better grow some nanny-nuts and learn to say and mean 'no' to George, and make it stick, and fast.

    With this news, we're further into Vietnam in the 21st Century than ever before.

    OK, as promised in the title today -- a more personable serial killer and war criminal, wholly imagined and unreal:

    * Hannibal Rising (2007) - Author Thomas Harris and executive producer Dino DeLaurentiis bring their ongoing Hannibal Lecter franchise to its most recent fruition, a prequel detailing Hannibal’s back story. As I’ve detailed elsewhere (in my Video Watchdog review of Ridley Scott’s Hannibal, a film I quite love), Harris’s career has been perversely defined by Hannibal, an almost Frankensteinian dynamic between creator and creation that emerged from the character’s compelling supporting role in Harris’s novel Red Dragon to the pop boogeyman stature Lecter was elevated to with Silence of the Lambs, the bestseller and Academy-Award winning boxoffice blockbuster. Hannibal was and remains a brilliant creation, an ideal fusion of Dr. Fredric Wertham and the good doctor’s real-life patient Albert Fish: a progressive, astute psychologist & psychiatrist who also happens to be a cannibalistic serial killer. Thus, via his best two novels (Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs) and their original film adaptations (Michael Mann’s Manhunter and Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs), Harris evolved the atavistic, almost primal boogeyman archetypes of the ‘70s and ‘80s (the Ed Gein-inspired Leatherface, the non-cannibal Michael Myers of Halloween and Jason of the Friday the 13th sequels) to a whole new and much more terrifying threshold. Hannibal, forever fixed in the popular imagination via Anthony Hopkins’s Oscar-winning incarnation of the role, transcended the procession of Leatherfaces, Michaels, Jasons, Freddies and Pinheads to pluck a collective nerve that was both more adult and more primal: the patriarch as devourer, the vengeful father as uber-ogre, the cultivated carnivore capable of not only peering into one’s deepest fears but articulating and manipulating them, to his own needs, driven by a frightening but admirable personal aesthetic and ethical code (initially defined in his complex relationship with FBI agent Clarice Starling in Silence and its sequel, Hannibal).

    This is profound stuff, really, but it’s no surprise it has eluded Harris’s grasp a bit: as a novel and a film, Hannibal alienated many readers and viewers (though, again I must note, not I), and Dino’s decision to remake Red Dragon (making it the first movie ‘prequel’ of the series) only diminished the franchise (Brett Ratner was the wrong director for the project; it's a dim shadow of Mann's Manhunter, at best). Hannibal has since held Harris’s creative life in thrall, a blessing and a curse, and Hannibal Rising extends this (with Harris’s co-producer and screenplay credit asserting his control over cinematic franchise as well as the novels) retroactively, if you will, by chronicling the future serial killer’s traumatic childhood and teenage years.

    What made the man, it turns out, is very much a series of generic lock-step conceits: in the mode of The Shadow, Frank Miller’s then-innovative retooling of Marvel’s Daredevil, and a multitude of pop icons (including Batman) since, Harris provides Hannibal with a revisionist grounding in Asian cultural disciplines of spirit and samurai skills via a widowed aunt (the lovely Li Gong of Farewell My Concubine, 2046, Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice, etc.) who took him in after young Hannibal survived a Jerzy Kosinski-like WW2 childhood (e.g., The Painted Bird) and post-war orphanage maturation. This semi-familial relationship blossoms into incestuous possibilities the film teases but never explores (I’ve yet to read the novel), prefering instead to (as in The Shadow, Miller’s Daredevil comics, et al) apply this revisionist, superficial samurai discipline to Lecter’s serial killer roots. We see these skills -- built upon lethal survival/predatory instincts evidenced in the glimpse Harris provides of teenage Hannibal’s Dickensian orphanage years -- progress from exacting revenge against a French butcher (Charles Maquignon) for an insult against his aunt/lover to calculated, full-bore vengeance against the ragtag band of Russian rogues who cannibalized his younger sister on the Western front.

    This tragic motivation for Hannibal’s taste for human flesh was evocatively sketched in Hannibal (the novel, not the film); it is fully visualized here, as tastefully as possible (lest you fear a Hollywood-sanctioned companion to Herman Yau’s unflinching The Untold Story, 1996). This is all revealed in the film’s deftly executed first act, wherein 8-year-old Hannibal (played by Aaron Thomas) is most traumatically orphaned, whereafter we follow young adult Hannibal (very well played by Gaspard Ulliel) and his subsequent struggle with the traumatic memory -- recovered piecemeal not because he had suppressed the horrific reality, but to coax forth from his unconscious clear mental pictures of the men responsible for his sister’s fate. In these sequences, Harris, director Peter Webber and their cast and crew excel; make no mistake, Webber mounts Hannibal Rising with the same eye and ear for nuance, period and detail he brought to the lovely Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003) -- no slumming here. Ulliel (previously seen by American audiences in De Pact des Loups/Brotherhood of the Wolf, 2001, and A Very Long Engagement, 2004) is a most compelling Hannibal throughout, inhabiting the role with authority belying his youth, spiced with neatly observed correlations to Hopkins’s definitive claim on the adult Lecter role. Amid the borrowings of the distinctive ways of moving and looking Hopkins brought to the role, Ulliel particularly manages Hopkins’s cool, reptilian opacity without affectation, which keeps his Hannibal from seeming a mere sadist or lunatic. It’s only once the imposition of the faux-Eastern philosophical and (most important) samurai conceits appeared that my involvement as a viewer faltered. Still, I cannot consider this a lapse or failing, per se. Harris and Webber and their fine cast handle these confections with efficiency and precision: the allure of the basement alter, mask and the sword, Lecter’s corruption of the samurai code into his personal vendetta, etc. Sadly, the film doesn’t deflate as much as it too readily shorthands (what are, after all, profound cultural and religious belief systems), and my detachment was not, I hasten to add, due to the “desensitizing impact of cinematic violence” non-argument media critics and analysts love to embrace, but rather to the over-familiarity with the water of the communal pop well Harris chooses to dip into here. This Eastern-tinged origin story is so over-familiar, via The Shadow, Daredevil, Batman Begins, Kill Bill, etc., and has been so neatly satirized for a full generation by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that my reaction would seem universal and inevitable. After all, this seems quite out of step with the Hannibal Lecter backstory hinted at in previous novels and films; it raises as many clumsy questions as Harris, presumably, thought it would answer.

    Thus, the character’s previously displayed rarified knowledge of psychological and psychiatric science (refined, no doubt, via professional experience and medical practice -- he is, after all, Dr. Hannibal Lecter -- as well as a university education) and deep love for art, drawing, European cities, fine wine, and even rarer culinary delights (his appetite for ‘long pig’ notwithstanding) is subsumed by a young adulthood steeped in, uh, ninja assassin techniques? Well, roll with it, if you can. Auntie disapproves, but she loves her fine young Hannibal, and thus Hannibal Rising eases into its true groove -- Hannibal’s systematic investigation of and assassination of the men who killed and ate his little sister, and his pursuit by a dedicated detective (Dominic West, now onscreen in 300) with his own post-WW2 atrocity obsessions to slake.

    This potboiler builds a strong head of steam by the end of the second act, and worked quite well for me as a film -- it’s a polished 21st Century horror movie revamp of Nevada Smith (1966). Henry Hathaway’s Steve McQueen vehicle was a staple of my youth, essentially a sort of Grand Guignol western in its day, deterministically detailing its obsessed young hero’s vengeance with a cruel streak many found disturbing (though that would soon seem pale alongside the stronger Guignol of the spaghetti westerns soon to open stateside). Hannibal Rising adheres to that tradition to its graphic conclusion, punctuated throughout (like Nevada Smith) by effective characterizations and setpieces. As in the best '60s westerns, the men Hannibal so relentlessly pursues are marvelously cast and played, led by Rhys Ifan (Notting Hill, Enduring Love, etc.) as the amoral commander and Richard Brake, Ivan Marevich, Goran Kostic, Stephen Walters and Kevin McKidd (a very nice turn, here, from the Scot in Trainspotting, Dog Soldiers, etc.) as his soldiers, all of whom have settled into various niches of safety after the war. Again, this is more evocative of the 1960s Western revenge films than, say, revenge-horror-films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971, which provided the narrative and thematic template for Se7en and the Saw series). Thus, young Hannibal shares Nevada Smith’s and his ilk’s appetite for their victim’s agonies: as in Nevada Smith, the violence essential to Hannibal savoring his revenge is disturbingly intimate and personalized, the whole of the carnage ritualized, which was also true of the best and worst of the Italian revenge westerns.

    This aspect of Hannibal Rising hasn’t, to my knowledge, been noted by any other critic writing about the film, though it’s as central to its focus and purpose (and formula) as, say, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) was to David O. Russell’s Three Kings (1999). I think everyone has, as with Hannibal (which was a marvelous, passionate, demented love story), quite missed the point. This makes for a slickly-done, sumptuously mounted and most satisfying revenge tale, though not the horror or Hannibal film many seemed to wish for -- choose your poison. For me, save for one key caveat (Harris's opportunistic adoption of the samurai trappings), Hannibal Rising is a solid piece of work, and one well worth revisiting once it's on DVD.

    Have a great Sunday, one and all!

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    Saturday, March 10, 2007

    Everyone: "Ahhhhhhhh, it was a tough week for the White House..."

    I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard "It's been a tough week for [insert corrupt White House official here]" on TV or radio this week.

    It's been tough for this pack of dogs because reality, as always it will, is catching up with each and every one of 'em -- and fast, though not fast enough.

    Let's start, arbitrarily, with the current Administration's top two law enforcement honchos, who
  • admitted this week that the FBI broke the law under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's ongoing refuting of the U.S. Constitution (see "Gonzales, Mueller admit FBI broke law").

  • Pardon me for deriving absolutely no comfort from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller (pictured, below) saying they're going to "fix this," or Gonzales's claim that he might pursue "criminal charges against FBI agents or lawyers who improperly used the USA Patriot Act in pursuit of suspected terrorists and spies." Gonzalez, Mueller, and all those directly involved in this entire affair have abused their powers throughout their participation with the present Administration, and now we have 126 pages of damning evidence proving all that those of us who howled at the initial revelations concerning the illegal extension of the USA Patriot Act to spy on Americans were right, damn it.

    Thus far, thanks to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine's current audit, we now know agents appropriated personal data on citizens sans official authorization, "improperly obtained" phone records sans authorization, and "underreported" (i.e., lied) to Congress about how often agents used national security letters to "ask " (i.e., demand) various businesses, institutions and employers to turn over customer data.

    It's everything many of us feared -- and worse.

    And this, I betcha, is just the tip of the iceberg.

    In the meantime, in the wake of the guilty verdice against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, which may indeed prompt a Presidential pardon (curious to see, though, when President Bush plays that trump card -- after all, his pop-a-rooni pardoned the Iran-Contra culprits, who now serve under George W. -- our tax dollars at work), we must note that
  • the Guantanamo Bay camp kangaroo-court tribunals have, at last, begun.

  • The shame of America is at last reaching courtroom status: these tribunal hearings (involving many seized by the CIA overseas, illegally imprisoned via "extraordinary rendition" abuses of all international and domestic laws and/or treaties, and tortured) are being held with no defense lawyers present; reportedly, the three-man military panels will consider "evidence obtained by force" as viable. Welcome to Amerika, as the '60s radicals and revolutionaries used to say.

    Furthermore, as also predicted by myself and everyone else who paid attention to more than the bullshit Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al have shoveled since March of 2003, it's proving increasingly impossible to maintain troop levels in this God-forsaken war --
  • but don't take my word for it; see "Pentagon struggles to find fresh troops," circa this morning.

  • "Why would any rational person serve under this Commander-in-Chief?" is the growing White Elephant in this quiet disaster taking shape, which I still fear will lead to an inevitable draft -- unless the government arrives at some more creative solution, like using military service to clear personal or family debt in the face of the growing economic crisis (similarly underreported in US media). "Why, indeed?" one must also ask, given the stellar care vets can expect
  • upon their return home after serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., further exposing the monumental incompetence, indifference and lack of even the basest empathy harbored by the Chicken Hawk President, Vice-President and Administration for those who serve their craven reliance on militaristic 'diplomacy.'
  • The chicken-hawks are at last being taken to task for their Katrina-like follow-up to their unending "Support Our Troops" retorts to any questioning of their decisions, methods, and madness.

    You know it's bad when our President considers
  • a trip to South America (here seen with with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at the start of their meeting in Sao Paulo)
  • preferable to facing the music in D.C. or pondering the weakest rating of any second-term president in 56 years.

    It's even more incredible that he's South of the Border as
  • the the Bush administration considers a risky military rescue of three Americans held hostage more than four years by "drug-trafficking leftist rebels" in nearby Colombia --
  • -- or hadn't you noticed that was going down?

    And that, again, is just the tip of the iceberg. Don't even get me going on the tax situation, including the encroaching damage the Alternative Minimum Tax of 1969 is wreaking among middle-class taxpayers in 2006, even as Bush crams his tax-breaks-for-the-rich down our collective throats. Don't even.

    Hooooooooooboy, it's going to be a wild March. In like a lion, indeed!

    Have a great Saturday.

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    Sunday, February 18, 2007

    Blocks & Cine-Ketchup (Pt. 2)

  • For the second time in two weeks,
  • Republicans senators halted progress on a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's recent decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

  • As the latter link/newsstory notes, "Republicans blasted the Democratic leadership for refusing to allow a vote on an alternative that ruled out any reduction in money for troops in the field." This now comes down to funding a war that the President has kept funding issues diverted from for six years.

    Another day to remember, another example of Republican democracy at work -- remember next election, and be sure to vote.

    Cine-Ketchup, Part 2:

    * 51 Birch Street (2005) - "When it comes to your parents, maybe ignorance is bliss," director Doug Block says at one point amid the revelations of his parent's past in the documentary 51 Birch St. This is, literally, the real-life version of The Bridges of Madison County: Doug and his two sisters, while helping their father clear out the Port Washington, NY suburban family home after his remarrying a mere three months after their mother's death (and over 50 years of marriage between the parents), find their mother's extensive diaries, and therein a doorway to her most personal secrets and the reality of their married life. Cinematically, this works quite well, with the nonintrusive but effective score by Machine Head a real plus (so few documentaries use music well). Block does a solid job with the film, which builds to a conclusion that may or may not work for viewers (I didn't find it dishonest, per se, as some have), arriving at some measure of peace with his dead mother (via a dialogue with her best friend: "What a relief for someone to really know us...") and his father (one on one), but I must say I find Tara Wray's Manhattan, Kansas (2006) the more powerful and memorable recent film of this type (to be reviewed later this week).

    * Antares (2005) - This Austrian/German feature is narratively structured like Mystery Train, Go!, Crash, etc. and a bit like Closer: in a single city apartment complex, the lives of three couples intersect in unexpected ways, each linked to one another by various (or a single) 'collision' point -- literally, in the case of the framing moment, punctuated by an unexpected car accident. These lives all cross orbits amid their respective struggles with loneliness, the core theme of the film, and the manner in which director Götz Spielmann orchestrates these narratives is surprisingly engaging and affecting. Eva (Petra Morzé) is a nurse, wife and mother juggling a superficially "happy" home life with a torrid affair with a visiting businessman (their first sexual encounter is very explicit, as it must be to convey her passion and sexual satisfaction from these furtive hotel-room couplings); a restless young woman working as a check-out girl in a local market is consumed by suspicion and jealousy & convinced her fiance Marco (Dennis Cubic) is cheating on her -- and he is, with: a recently divorced woman whose abusive ex refuses to let go, bullying and threatening her (and, eventually, others) as his barely-repressed rage and libido simmers dangerously to a boiling point.

    The contrasting behaviors of these couples is the meat of the film: Eva's family listens to Schubert and life seems to revolve around their loving affection for their teenage daughter; the dysfunctional dynamic between Marco and his girlfriend, Marco and his lover -- the former pretending to be pregnant, the latter with a young son relegated to being ignored when Marco shows up for fleeting fuckfests, and a pawn between mother and abusive father when troubled Dad shows up. Spielmann deftly juxtaposes and interlocks these turbulent lives, staging their moments of juncture with convincing versimilitude, culminating in the final act's satisfying (for the audience, not the characters) coda. Eschewing melodrama but not drama, the rhythms of daily lives are succinctly portrayed, as are the sudden eruptions and displacements that shake them. This is a truly adult film, sadly overlooked; note that the explicit sex scenes between Eva and her lover (onscreen fellatio, copulation, cunnilingus) may be problematic for some US viewers.

    * Colma: The Musical (2006) - Writer/lyricist/composer H.P. Mendoza's ode to being 18, just out of high school, and negotiating the treacherous limbo between teenager and adult in a multi-ethnic cultural limbo sans coherent roadmaps or rites-of-passage is a bracing and engaging musical. Colma is a real city, with more dead residents than living: it's San Francisco's graveyard suburb, a genuine 'dead end' for some, which is the crux of the film. From its opening number, this is fueled by & focused on its two male characters, Billy (Jake Moreno), a amiable but callow aspiring thespian enjoying an immediate measure of success (in regional theater) that goes to his head, and Rodel (Mendoza), a profoundly unhappy gay poet living with his repressive single father (his brother is in prison) and tied to but feeling imprisoned by friends and place. Their closest mutual friend is Maribel (L.A. Renigen), loyal friend and party girl eager to stretch her wings; she is introduced as an equal player but soon relegated to the sidelines, never becoming a fully-fleshed character in and of herself. This isn't so much a shortcoming of the film as a fact: the bonds and tensions between Rodel and Billy, some articulated/dramatized, others not, are the real meat of the story. Mendoza's Rodel steals the show from his first number: prowling toward the audience singing "Colma Stays," with his body coiled, his face registering all the rage and sorrow he bottles up (and subsequently dispenses only via his caustic digs), Mendoza/Rodel is the most compelling presence on the screen.

    Mendoza is the best new musical talent I've seen translated to film since John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and Bruce Arntson and Coke Sam's Existo, with a couple of standout (but not showstopping) numbers packing real power -- the quietest numbers, truth to tell (Rodel and Maribel/the dancers in the graveyard and "Crazy Like Me" are memorable). The musical elements are tightly integrated, character driven and/or propel the narrative, and all but a couple (the bar "Cupid" number seemed contrived to me) resonate, moving with naturalistic style and grace. Director Richard Wong used Colma, CA locations throughout and canny but judicious use of split-and-multiple screens reflects a sharp directorial intelligence at work; at one point, understated staging punctuated with a perfectly timed intrusion of split-screen works wonders. Rodel's situation (as a gay teen outed by a vengeful ex, beaten by his father and thereafter shuttling from floor to floor in friend's rooms) is familiar (My So-Called Life, anyone?) and sympathetic but never played for easy melodrama or pathos: Rodel (as a character) and Mendoza (as an actor/singer) see to that.

    This music has really stayed with me -- prompting me at last to
  • visit the Colma: The Musical website and buy the soundtrack CD. Check it out!
  • And, if you get the chance, check out this film!

    Have a great Sunday...

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    Wednesday, February 07, 2007

    Too Pissed to Post

    So, the Republicans are dodging debate and the vote on any -- any, including the compromise with Republican Senator John Warner that Democrats hammered out (Warner joined the rest of his party voting to avoid debate on his own resolution) -- resolution, even as the body count of US military escalates further in Iraq.

    We can now handily count the obfuscation and its toll in flesh and blood.

    From the beginning, anyone within government circles who told the truth about this goddamned -- and I do mean God Damned -- war, including its dollars-and-cents cost, was unceremoniously ditched by President Bush and his Administration. As the trial of 'Scooter' Libby proceeds, we see just how outrageous this President, Vice President (the literal interpretation of this office now more appropo than it has been since Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace) and his cabinet's behavior truly has been: at one of the most critical junctures of this war they pre-emptively executed, Bush, Cheney et al were too busy attacking another truth-sayer (read "foe"), via treasonous outing of his wife's identity as a covert CIA operative, to pay attention to their dirty little war and its consequences. It's an increasingly fascinating case history, but an absolutely sickening display of the total and abject abuse of power on a mind-boggling scale: they were too busy tarring and feathering one of their own to pay attention to Iraq.

    This is horrendous, monstrous, appalling on so many levels, it's truly incomprehensible at this stage of the game.

    I don't understand why impeachment is so cavalierly dismissed as simply not an option.


    But, of course I do.

    And our Senators are demonstrating again, today, why nothing will be done.

    They can't even agree to discuss this -- their -- fucking war.

    I'm sorry, man, for those of you (especially my friends) who are Republicans, but this, if I am to apply the dualistic rhetoric our current President so loves, is evil, pure and simple. The Republicans, in all their righteous piety, heartfelt convictions and madness, are no longer simply denying reality: they are, by their own definition, doing evil.

    Measure the toll of this latest obfuscation in the hard reality of our own military servicemen and women's body count, and tell me otherwise.

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    Friday, September 16, 2005

    Of Jim, Jobs, and Journeys:

    I've been a bit jib of late, jittery at the juncture I've placed myself in, thanks to recent jeopardous jargon about Jim. Just this weekend, I jumped into a bit of a jam, injudiciously juxtaposing Jim for James's Dad.

    Mystery Solved!
    Thanks to CCS student Elizabeth Chasalow, I finally know who I was talking to last Saturday -- the fellow named Jim, he-who-was-not-James-Kochalka's-Pop -- and without further ado, here's Elizabeth's email resolution to this rather tawdry and mildly embarrassing dilemma:

    "I'm preeeeetty sure the guy you met was Jim Jarvela. He
    was soft-spoken, and leaned in to talk, and I drew him a little alien who looked like it just wanted to hug itself, and then you drew him one too... It's Jacob's dad. (Jacob's the one with the square-ish glasses, brown hair, and chin fluff, if you haven't figured them all out yet) So, there ya go."

    Jacob, natch, is a fellow CCS student. Gee, Jacob, why didn't you say so?

    Thanks, Elizabeth -- that joyously jibes with (and jolts) my jumbled memory -- and jolly apologies to Jacob, Jim, and James. Justice is served! You may judge me a jester, jape or jeer at my jabber, or form a jocund juvenile junto to jail me as a jongleur -- but please, just don't jab my jugular!

    Hope this jejune joking leaves you jazzed enough to join me as I further jiggle my jaw, jotting jovial journal entries in a jiffy.

    If email is any barometer of the national temperature, my having received no less than 42 emails with attachments of the composite photo of past-and-present President Bush enjoying a father-and-son fishing expedition in flooded New Orleans is telling. (I'll spare you the photo; I'm sure you've seen it. Best email lead-in is from Chris Kalnick, sardonically referring to father-and-son Bush "liberating unfortunates from Katrina's flood waters.")

    So is the fact that I have, as of this afternoon, received 27 email variations on the following:

    Q: What is Bush's position on Roe vs. Wade?

    A: He really doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans, as long as they do it on their own.

    Remember, you read it here, uh, 97 times after you read it elsewhere.

    Last week, I announced the upcoming Burlington Literary Festival's one-day comicbook symposium, which is happening next Saturday in Burlington, VT. It begins at 1 PM with an illustrated lecture by James Sturm, continues with the 3 PM panel moderated by yours truly (featuring James Kochalka, Tom Devlin, and Greg Giordano), and concludes with a 7:30 PM evening panel with Alison Bechdel, Harry Bliss, and LJ Kopf.

    I'm really looking forward to the event, and hope to see some of you there. I've already posted tons of information
  • here...

  • ...and the Festival website is
  • here.

  • If you have questions, contact Barbara A. Shatara (Outreach & Reference Librarian) -- or anyone, really -- at the Fletcher Free Library; phone: 802-865-7211 -- FAX: 802-865-7227.

    Again, it's all happening next Saturday, September 24th, at the Fletcher Free Library on 235 College Street in Burlington, VT. Here's the directions, for those able to make the drive:

    Directions to the Library: The Library is located on the corner of College Street and South Winooski Avenue at 235 College Street. We are located one block east of Church Street. The Roxy movie theater is across the street from the library.

    From Route 7 South In Burlington, go through the rotary and stay on Shelburne Road. 100 hundred yards after the rotary bear right on to South Union Street. At the first traffic light take a left on to Main Street. At the next light take a right on to South Winooski Avenue - take your next right onto College Street. The library is immediately to your right.

    From I-89 Take exit 14 west off of I-89 and proceed west on Route 2 toward Burlington. Drive past the University of Vermont. Continuing down the hill, you're now on Main Street, take a right onto South Winooski Avenue. Take your next right onto College Street. The library is immediately to your right.

    Marj and I are looking forward to spending the day in Burlington, though I suspect she'll be bopping and shopping while I'm lopping off sentences and conjugating comicological verbs on the panel. I'm particularly psyched about the evening event, and it's a hoot the Literary Festival has expanded its canvas to include our favorite medium.

    I'll post one more reminder next week.

    There's another upcoming event some of you might be interested in: I am presenting a Halloween Horror Comics slide lecture at the Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center on October 27, 2005. I promise it will be lively, gory, and mucho monstrous fun!

    I'll post more info as that date approaches, but just a head's up for those of you interested -- and yes, the Comic Art in the Green Mountains is still in place at the Museum, featuring original art by yours truly, Frank Miller, James Sturm, Rick Veitch, and James Kochalka.

    Jeez, what a lackluster bunch of drivel. OK, livelier insights tomorrow AM, I promise. Back to work...

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    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Make Mine Stout!

    Later today I'm teaching my first class at CCS, but I'm using this morning to catch up on some non-CCS matters. Read on...

    Check out Cole Odell's comment on my September 8th posting and "Moving Day." Needless to say, I'm not recommending anyone ever jump insane heights into dangerously narrow, shallow pools of water. Thanks, Cole, for making the 'what if' scenario painfully concrete; I hope your reckless and unfortunate Middlebury College didn't suffer any permanent injuries.

    This bemusing letter from my old friend Tim Viereck, aka 'Doc', who reports on a recent event involving his two innocent, unblemished children and the insinuation of malignant Bissette brainspew into his happy home:

    "So I came into the living room this morning, Saturday morning. Videos have been banished for two weeks, as punishment for faulty behavior patterns, and Tamara and Pom are ensconced in an easy chair, she reading aloud. How sweet, how special!

    I read an email, fill in a petition against the repeal of the estate tax, peruse some jokes sent by a friend, as the words drift into my consciousness: "... said grace, his robes moved... shifted and quivered as if hidden limbs were moving... limbs where no human being ever had limbs... "

    SpiderBaby Comix has found my six-year-old!

    I turned his attention to
    Tyrant, and read a couple, but even after one, he said, "That next one doesn't look so good - it doesn't have much blood... I like the blood!", and after two, he went back outside to play.

    To play whatever secret games he plays...
    in the shadows...
    by the ditch, perhaps with little helpless creatures...

    Thanks, old buddy -

    Yes, it was difficult to manage, much less afford, but I did make a real effort to ensure every copy of SpiderBaby Comix was self-ambulatory and designed to target the youngest reader in any given geographic area. Though most readers can't feel them, there are eight spindly legs that sprout when the comix lay undisturbed for a long enough duration, with the genetically-embedded imperative to land in the lap of the most innocent and waif-like of all bipeds in their reach.

    Wait, what's that scratching? Is it coming from that stack of comics -- or perhaps your comic boxes? The feeble but insistent scrabbling of thin, hairy legs....

    Bill Stout is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists and artists, and he has elevated his work into the ranks of classic paleontology and naturalist artists like Charles Knight, Zdenak Burian, and Rudolph Zallinger. My penpal Dan Johnson (who interviewed Rick Veitch and I for Back Issue magazine about a year ago) recently conducted a lengthy, career-spanning interview with Stout, and the first installment is on newsstands now in Filmfax (Plus) #107.

    If that's not enough, my Mirage Studios amigo Mike Dooney also steered me to an online audiofiled interview with Bill Stout which is
  • here.
  • Poke around that site a bit for other engaging interviews with cartoonists and comics personalities.

    Al Nickerson's ongoing online Creator Bill of Rights debate continues: the link is forever posted on this blog (on the right), but if you've not checked it out yet, click
  • here.
  • Prepare for some intensive reading, and once you've digested all that, the latest letter from Al to Dave Sim is posted
  • here,
  • and Dave's latest response is
  • here.
  • The occasional discussion board posts regarding this ongoing discussion have been of interest, particularly the first response to Dave Sim's most recent letter by Scotsman Stu West on Comicon's board, which is
  • here.
  • Kudos to Stu, who immediately picked up where I was going with my reply, which I hope to provide ample historical context for. I'm specifically directing my replies to Al's site, as he initiated this current debate and is archiving the letters in a centralized online venue. Anyhoot, it's a worthwhile debate, particularly if you're working in the creative arts, eking out a living.

    Meanwhile, in day-to-day reality in our country, it's timely to reflect upon the events of the past three weeks. Lest we forget:

  • Daily Kos New Orleans recap

  • Andrew Debly steered me to the September 7th entry in the blog of Tor Books editor Teresa Nielson Hayden, which offers an agonizing account of the obstacles Katrina evacuees faced trying to leave New Orleans, and it makes for sobering (infuriating) reading. Check it out:
  • What We Did on Our Vacation.

  • I'm presently reading The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler, recommended by Alan David Doane, and preparing to interview George Romero about Land of the Dead, which I consider a masterpiece (along with Romero's previous Dead films). Somehow, the two go together with uncanny precision. Now that the Bush Administration has put the lid on photos of the dead from New Orleans (for the same reasons given for not photographing the incoming wounded and dead from the Iraq War), Romero's image of the dead rising from the waters takes on an eerie, almost prescient resonance...

    While there are countless Katrina relief efforts underway, including many from the comics field, one upcoming effort I've been informed of is Phil Yeh's community-galvanizing effort in Houston, which Rick Veitch just fired my way. FYI, Phil has been creating comics since 1970, including one of the first graphic novels (circa 1977). He remains best known for Theo the Dinosaur (1991) and The Winged Tiger (1993), but he has been a whirlwind of activity each and every year, tornadoing into neighborhoods all over the world to host pro-literacy comics and graphic novel workshops in community libraries and work with local youngsters and artists to create colorful public murals. Phil is a true comics and creativity activist, and it's no surprise he has quickly adapted an already-planned Houston event to Katrina relief efforts.

    Phil is seeking donations of comics and graphic novels for Katrina victims. The press release offers the necessary details:

    "Yeh is now working with the Houston Public Library to bring donated books to area shelters for the many people who are homeless due to this tragic event. He also plans to paint a mural with the some of the children in the area's shelters. Publishers and artists who would like to donate books for the relief effort can send books directly to the North Channel Branch Library, Harris County Public Library, 15741 Wallisvile Road, Houston, Texas 77049. Please address the donations to Pat Lippold, Branch Manager. All donations are tax deductible."

    For further information, contact Rob Valentine at (805) 735-5134.

    BTW, Phil's planned Houston workshop is happening, too. "Yeh's graphic novel workshops at both the downtown Houston Main Public Library at 4 pm on September 28 and at the North Channel Branch Library at 6 pm on the 29th will go on as scheduled. The events are free to the public."

    On August 30th, an AP report filed by Jennifer Loven offered the underreported bon mot that President Bush "answered growing anti-war protests with a fresh reason for American troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields that he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists."

    Wait a minute -- isn't that what many of us said three years ago? Does our President even know what he's saying any longer???

    A few emailers asked where I got the poverty figures I cited in one of last week's posts. I'm being pretty rigorous about citing sources and/or online sources that are neither specifically left nor right; that info came from the AP as well, specifically Jennifer C. Kerr's August 30th "Poverty Rate Rises to 12.7 Percent
    Changes Marks Fourth Consecutive Increase," which offers the following insights:

    Even with a robust economy that was adding jobs last year, the number of Americans who fell into poverty rose to 37 million - up 1.1 million from 2003 - according to Census Bureau figures released Tuesday. It marks the fourth straight increase in the government's annual poverty measure. The Census Bureau also said household income remained flat, and that the number of people without health insurance edged up by about 800,000 to 45.8 million people. ...While disappointed, the Bush administration - which has not seen a decline in poverty numbers since the president took office - said it was not surprised by the new statistics....

    The Bush Administration is "responding" to the reality of the mounting poverty and health care crisis precisely as they responded to Katrina: not at all. The last decline in poverty figures, according to the AP report, was in 2000, during the Clinton Administration. From the beginning of the Bush Presidency, all the effective policies instituted by the previous Administration were willfully abandoned, stripped, or inverted, as demonstrated most recently by the horrific underperformance of FEMA (which, under Clinton, was streamlined into one of the most effective FEMA eras in that organization's history). Parallel to that demolition of various poverty-relief efforts, Bush and his cronies have also gleefully realigned the distribution of tax burdens and wealth, even as the current stage of corporate evolution has inflated CEO salaries and packages into the stratosphere, increasing the disparity between incomes to levels unseen since the 1930s.

    The "by the numbers" portion of the AP report is staggering:

    31.1 Million People living in poverty in 2000

    37 Million
    People living in poverty in 2004

    Median household income in 2004 (unchanged from 2003)

    45 million
    People without health insurance in 2003

    45.8 million
    People without health insurance in 2004


    Finally, I needn't elaborate on the recent turn of events with FEMA management (and mismanagement), in which Bush had to eat his risible praise of Michael Brown aka "Brownie" to replace "Brownie" with a new acolyte (aka "Duct Tape Man"). This is indicative of the nature of almost all Bush Administration posts, rewarding political cronies regardless of their true abilities or inabilities, pawning off the responsibilities of and obligations to public safety and key regulatory positions as if Bush were a Fraternity kingpin blessing his circle of frat brothers. It's a vile spectacle now laid naked to the world, though anyone watching has been aware of this and could see this inevitability coming. The mask has been ripped at last from the Phantom's face, and there's no spinning or taking back that moment (maybe now more people can understand Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican party in the first year of Bush's Administration: when, exactly, did Jeffords see the mask ripped away? His autobiographical book on the subject, reportedly ghost-written in part or whole, skirts the revelatory moment).

    It's taken Katrina to at last open more of America's eyes to the reality of our situation. The abuses of power the American public and press have not only endured but sanctioned -- by delusional somnambulism and/or active indifference -- may finally be too blatant for even the most devoted of the flock to remain blind to for much longer. In the wake of the recent revelations concerning Karl Rove's role in the notorious Valerie Plume case, in which arguably the most influential Presidential aide in over half a century was shown to have vindictively breached national security to serve partisan reliation (a treasonous act), the incarceration of NY Times reporter Judith Miller (for an article that never saw print!) has finally put the press on notice. One of their own has gone down; it should be Rove, not Miller, behind bars (while Cheney and DeLay continue to enjoy an arm's length from the dirty deeds of their respective aides and associates, Rove himself is individually culpable this time).

    We've seen a procession of government officials from Colin Powell to "Brownie" willing to fall on the sword for their Commander in Chief. But when Miller went to jail, I hoped that all journalists (not just the few who have been tackling this Administration, against enormous stacked odds) finally realized the stakes of this high-risk "game" includes their own -- themselves -- and that finally honoring one of the fundamental obligations of the press and their importance to a true democracy may be the only hope of saving their own asses.

    An invigorating sign that even the most complacent and corporate of the US media might finally be waking up from their long slumber is offered by Marlene O'Connor, my beloved first wife, who told me this past week about a stunning turnabout in the wake of Katrina on none other than NBC news. Keith Olberman (aka the Bloggerman) was the man; Marlene tracked down an online transcript of that momentous event. It was last Monday night on NBC news, and you can read it for yourself
  • here.

  • ___

    OK, enough of that. Tomorrow, a report on my first day teaching at CCS...

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    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    The Week of the Dogs

    Lousiana, Mississippi, and other Gulf states are now aswim in a brine brimming with the dead. Though the horrific cleanup of human dead has now begun, that soup and the tarn that remains once the waters subside completely will be punctuated with hundreds of thousands of dead pets -- cats and dogs, lots of dogs.

    But the most filthy, toxic dogs of them all stand tall and blather to us now, acting as if the events of the past week can be "made right," that the same debates they've successfully tabled or ignored should once again be tabled and/or ignored, all the while flaunting their utter contempt and indifference to the grim reality of what has happened, where we are, what we have let ourselves become.

    Orwell did not predict so much as he recognized, dissected, and laid open the realities of power-drunk governments and deluded nations: once a populace has been shorn from democracy and freedom, it is totally subservient to propoganda, believing what isn't true and disbelieving all that is.

    Can this latest spin-cycle actually delude America after the events of the past week? I'm already hearing people who are doubting their perceptions of last week as the narcotic of the GOP and Bush spin-doctors kick into high gear, and I find myself wondering how long we, as a nation, can indulge this madness and pretend what is real is not, and what is not real is.

    When the last election went down, resulting in another "victory" for Bush and his cronies, my feelings of anger, resignation, and outrage echoed a previous life experience in the comics industry -- when the direct market distribution system collapsed, and I resigned myself to the inevitable consequences to come (implosion of the market, a monopoly at the helm, the cyclical reassertion of the powers-that-have-been once again vying for domination of the once-fertile marketplace).

    When Bush was re-elected -- sans Supreme Court intervention this time, amid a clearly broken election process tainted by electronic and digital voting methods too easily tampered with sans accountability -- and neighbors who are Bush-supporters crowed, I thought, "We deserve whatever happens to us as a country now."

    Can any sane person continue to drink in the spectacle of the most recent events and not feel their gorge rise in their throat? The President's and his Administration's spin machine is in full cycle now -- and the ongoing and utter disconnect from reality, the absolutely sociopathic lack of empathy on the basest human level should be prompting guillotines to rise and heads to fall.

    We even have our First Mother saying, with nary a hint of shame or black humor, the dead-on equivalent of "Let them eat cake." Read on, below -- where is the collective outrage and will to bring this corrupt pack of power-intoxicated mongrel dogs down? This latest global demonstration of contempt, incompetence, arrogance, and lunacy -- on the heels of Rove outed as the Benedict Arnold of the New Millennium and Halliburton and the pharmaceutical ownership of our government bringing fresh dimensions to the coining of human misery as a profit base -- outstrips Watergate (prompted by a mere bungled robbery of Democratic campaign headquarters, you'll recall) and anything Clinton or his administration ever approached. The nauseating tableau of Bush piously once again conjuring his fucking "armies of compassion/waves of compassion" while maintaining the smug opacity of a sunning reptile makes him the American Psycho to end them all.

    A few recent highlights:

    * Even as Katrina had immediately departed, The White House was heartlessly downplaying the impact, while its key officials (Bush, Cheney, Rice, etc.) vacationed... A reminder: The AP story for August 31st (now as remote a reailty as 9/10/01) actually was headlined, "White House Says Katrina's Economic Impact Is Modest", and read:

    "Hurricane Katrina is likely to have only a modest impact on the U.S. economy as long as the hit to the energy sector proves transitory, White House economic adviser Ben Bernanke said Wednesday. "Clearly, it's going to affect the Gulf Coast economy quite a bit," Bernanke told CNBC television. "That's going to be enough to have at least a noticeable or at least some impact on the aggregate (national) data. "Looking forward ... reconstruction is going to add jobs and growth to the economy," he added. "As long as we find that the energy impact is only temporary and there's not permanent damage to the infrastructure, my guess is that the effects on the overall economy will be fairly modest."

    "Fairly modest"??? An entire city was gone, along with many, many more in Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Gulf Region. Cities and communities were completey obliterated, and Bernanke was already trying to spin this into nothing of consequence!

    * The spectacle of this current Administration's indifference and lack of empathy only becomes increasingly outrageous as those at the highest circles of power become more visible, tour the horrors, and open their insipid mouths... The sickening spectacle of Bush inserting himself into events has reached Roman Bread & Circuses levels of lunacy. It was utterly characteristic of our President to respond to the stunning sky-rocketing gas and heating oil prices with a pithy, "Don't buy gas if you don't need it" ("President Urges Americans to Conserve Fuel If They Can" by Nedra Pickler, AP).

    (It needn't be this way: As my dear friend Diane E. Foulds informs me, things are different in other countries. She sent me the following: "The price of gas at Czech filling stations has risen by several crowns since Hurricane Katrina hit the US city of New Orleans. Petrol is now selling for about 32 crowns per litre, or roughly 5.25 US dollars per gallon. ...the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry has announced that as of January 2006 it will increase the annual transportation subsidy given to disabled people in light of rising fuel costs. The Finance Ministry is also considering giving a subsidy to trucker and other professionals most affected by higher fuel costs." Of course, the Compassionate Conservative thing to do is to merely advise an oil-dependent population, "Don't buy gas if you don't need it." Spoken like a true oil man, George.)

    The jaw-dropping ugliness of Bush waxing with a smirk about the high ol' times he once had in New Orleans as a youth (ya, we can all imagine: snooooooorkt!) is astounding, as is his belief that he is somehow comforting the masses with Good Ol' Boy small-talk chit-chat predictions of sitting on ol' Trent Lott's rebuilt porch. Not of Lott's one and only home, mind you, but just one of Trent Lott's many houses -- Bush said it was "a fantastic house - and I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." Surrounded by sycophants and toadies who applaud these appalling revelations of Bush's true nature, he revels in the spotlight like Caligula, while any sane person in earshot shudders in the firm knowledge that we are fucked. Bush is seemingly incapable of shame -- as if the New Gilded Age bloat of rich bastards rebuilding mansions and palaces has anything but vile connotations in the context of the poverty levels of New Orleans and the vulnerability of those who scraped out livings in the shadow of that porch. Bush is beyond clueless: he is clearly reveling in power without consequence, incapable of grasping not only the Ground Zero of Katrina and her aftermath, but the reality most Americans live with. It all eludes him: the scope of the tragedy, the shameful magnitude of our country's growing poverty (according to the most recent August 2005 US Census bureau press release, the US poverty-level-and-below populace is now at 37 million, up 1.1 million from their 2003 figures), the lack of services for all those on the bottom of this new Gilded Era imbalance of wealth (45.8 million Americans are now known to be without health insurance -- and that's just the available statistics; what about those beneath the radar?). Poverty levels have only increased since Bush took (and I do mean "took") office, but he is nonplussed, and bucking for permanent "tax reform" for the rich and the corporate. Ya, those Americans eking through this coming winter with record-smashing gas and heating oil prices dwindling their meager $44,389 median 2004 household income (unchanged from 2003) can't fucking wait to take in the view from Trent Lott's porch.

    Bob Hebert in The NY Times accurately stated, "Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever by a president during a dire national emergency. What we witnessed, as clearly as the overwhelming agony of the city of New Orleans, was the dangerous incompetence and the staggering indifference to human suffering of the president and his administration."

    As the Editor & Publisher website demonstrates, the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree. The September 5th E&P staff headline reads, "Barbara Bush: Things Working Out 'Very Well' for Poor Evacuees from New Orleans," and the snapshot of 2005's elder Marie Antoinette is complete:

    NEW YORK -- Accompanying her husband, former President George H.W.Bush, on a tour of hurricane relief centers in Houston, Barbara Bush said today, referring to the poor who had lost everything back home and evacuated, "This is working very well for them." The former First Lady's remarks were aired this evening on National Public Radio's "Marketplace" program. She was part of a group in Houston today at the Astrodome that included her husband and former President Bill Clinton, who were chosen by her son, the current president, to head fundraising efforts for the recovery. Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama were also present. In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to Houston." Then she added: "What I’m hearing is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

    As comic historian Richard Arndt commented in his email to me, "Ah, yes. Those lucky bastards."

    * This President's and this Administration's arrogant, pathological contempt for genuine science has finally taken a measurable human toll, and it numbers in the tens of thousands. This storm, this disaster, and this outcome had been predicted and forecast, methods of coping dismissed out-of-hand, and already the conservative pundits are trying to divert that bitter reality into finger-pointing at disenfranchised local civil authorities. I ask those so eager to once again rationalize Bush's lack of culpability: When does the power Bush so transparently boasts about require some measure of responsibility?...

    I don't need to link you to sites conservative readers will dismiss out-of-hand to present this as a fact. Rick Veitch and I cited a National Geographic article earlier in the week, and Fran Friel referred me to an even more thorough and mind-blowing piece from Scientific American, circa 2001, which I recommend you read right now and
  • right here.
  • It's six pages, but well worth the read -- c'mon, read it. You know our President didn't, and won't. But of course, Bush doesn't read Scientific American, do he? We aren't bantering about "evilution" or the absurd notion of "Intelligent Design" as somehow equitable as a science (it isn't) here -- we are faced with the consequences of ignoring cold, hard scientific pragmatism, shorn of religion or ideology as a shield. There is a point where willful stupidity as a characteristic of leadership becomes untenable and truly malicious, and I believe we are finally unarguably there.

    * Meanwhile, money (sorely needed) is thrown at the disaster like a balm from on high, while our national economic present and future has aleady been ravaged by the unnecessary "preemptive" war this President and Administration willfully engaged in, despite overwhelming evidence countering their lies and deception... Before Katrina hit, Reuters had already reported that the Iraq War is costing more per month than Vietnam ever did (go to Alan Elsner's August 31st report,
  • "Iraq war costs more per month than Vietnam").

  • Elsner wrote, "The report, entitled 'The Iraq Quagmire' from the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy in Focus, both liberal, anti-war organizations, put the cost of current operations in Iraq at $5.6 billion per month. This breaks down to almost $186 million a day. "By comparison, the average cost of U.S. operations in Vietnam over the eight-year war was $5.1 billion per month, adjusting for inflation," it said. As a proportion of gross domestic product, the Vietnam War was more significant, costing 12 percent of annual GDP, compared to 2 percent for the Iraq War. However, economists said the Iraq war is being financed with deficit spending and may nearly double the projected federal budget deficit over the next 10 years. ..."Broken down per person in the United States, the cost so far is $727, making the Iraq War the most expensive military effort in the past 60 years," wrote authors Phyllis Bennis and Erik Leaver. ...The total cost of the Vietnam War in current dollars was around $600 billion and there are some experts who believe the Iraq War will eventually surpass that total. For instance, the Congressional Budget Office estimated this year that if the United States managed to reduce its troop deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan to 50,000 by 2010, the cost over the next decade would be an additional $393 billion, which when added to the dollars already spent would exceed the Vietnam total. While there are far fewer troops in Iraq than there were in Vietnam at the height of that conflict, the weapons they use are more expensive and they are paid more."

    And that was before Katrina struck, further increasing our deficit spending to unprecented levels. The Administration continues to doctor the reality of that deficit by simply leaving the costs of the war off the table when discussing the mind-blowing deficit sure to impoverish our children -- my children -- and those now pitching in to take in Katrina evacuees into their own impoverished households.

    This is just more reprehensible duplicity by the authors of this war, who have also kept the other costs as invisible as possible: according to Elsner, these include "the deaths of an estimated 23,000-27,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 2,000 U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors; the social costs of domestic programs slashed to meet the budget shortfall; the loss of income to reservists and National Guard troops who spend long periods away from their careers and businesses as well as the anticipated costs of treating returning troops for mental health conditions as a result of their service." Mental health? How about the thousands returning disfigured, maimed, and without limbs?

    Hebert again in The NY Times this week: "At a time when effective, innovative leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of war and peace, terrorism and domestic security, the economic imperatives of globalization and the rising competition for oil, the United States is being led by a man who seems oblivious to the reality of his awesome responsibilities."

    (With thanks to my friend HomeyDJ) I leave you with something reflecting the reality of the many Americans with brains, souls, eyes, and open hearts, those who have responded to Katrina's wake, the plight of hundreds of thousands, and the incompetency (at best) of our government with true caring, charity, and efforts to aid:

    "The task of man is to help others; that's my firm teaching, that's my message. That is my own belief. For me, the fundamental question is better relations; better relations among human beings-- and whatever I can contribute to that."

    - HH Dalai Lama

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    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    It's been a full week since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and the National Guard are finally visible en masse. President Bush is rambling about "making this right," but there's no "making this right." Too many have needlessly died, waiting for help that never arrived; too many have been left to their own devices for too long; in full view of the world, our President and his cronies have been asleep at the wheel for too long (prompting renewed questions about 9/11 and his and their involvement, non-involvement, and sluggish
    and eventually lethal responses).

    A thought for the week ahead, and one I'm sure no one wants to ponder: Katrina was a natural disaster. She came as a force of nature, without cause or provocation. Katrina just was what she was, and thousands have suffered.

    Whatever you know of what's happened in New Orleans this past week -- however little or much -- remember we, as a country, willfully inflicted that upon the people of Iraq... many of whom still, hundreds of weeks later, still remain without clean water, food, medical aid, electricity. Whatever misery, sickness, and death we see within our own borders, remember we
    have brought that upon others and prolonged their agonies a thousand-fold without provocation (as President Bush himself has admitted, there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11). However bad Katrina's wake, it's worse, and years further along, in Iraq.

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    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    Here in southern VT, we're having a Louisiana-related problem that has become even more disturbing (to say the least) in the wake of Katrina.

    I'll post details and links later this week, but in a nutshell, the Louisiana-based firm Entergy has purchased the Yankee Nuclear power plant. Yankee was among the first nuclear power plants constructed in the US (the second to go on-line, I believe) and it has lived out its life per its original plans: it should be offline now, its useful life over (there's still the waste to deal with, but hey, there's still no profit in that).

    But Entergy, part of the current corporate energy culture intent on maximizing profits, has not only determined it's wise to prolong Yankee's life -- they're intent on increasing its output beyond its capacity, upping production far beyond the parameters the plant was constructed for in its prime.

    They've also managed to lay considerable groundwork for on-site "dry cask" storage of the waste the plant creates, among other dubious management decisions that endanger the lives of all in the region. (I won't get into the missing rod that couldn't be found in its own storage tank for months, or other issues).

    This is chilling stuff -- especially since Yankee is about 13 miles as the crow flies from my home, and given my own experiences with Three Mile Island while living in New Jersey in my post-Kubert School years (sharing a house with Rick Veitch, John Totleben, Tom Yeates and Sue Balinski, we were listening to the PA radio stations we could pick up and charting our escape route out of Dover, NJ to VT; as the threat mounted, we almost fled, and at one point I made the call to my parents -- who didn't know anything about the events at the plant, and thought we were crazy). The hideous irony of the principle of and term "dry cask" storage in the context of all I've learned in the past two years about the devastating floods and storms that ravaged this region in 1927, 1936, and 1938 (before hurricanes were given names) is sobering. There's already mounting concerns about covert low-level radiation releases from Yankee, and the long-term effects on those in its vicinity, but "dry cask storage" seems a particularly perverse concept after having seen extant 16mm film footage and studied photos of the Connecticut River (Yankee is poised on the edge of its Vermont-side banks in Vernon) engorged and raging. Yankee and those "dry casks" would be ripping down-river to our neighbors to the south, Massachusetts and Connecticut, creating untold (and long-lasting -- as in eons) negative effects.

    And that's the best-case scenario: having seen wind-dispersion maps of possible spread of radiation should Yankee Nuclear suffer a non-storm related accident, much of the Green Mountain State would be rendered uninhabitable for centuries, if not thousands, of years.

    And yet, Entergy blithely proceeds with their plans, and have made considerable headway, with the ongoing indulgence of those institutions supposedly dedicated to "the public health and safety."

    Amid all this activity, two simulated emergency evacuations were mounted over the past two years -- and both were disastrous failures. The first suffered most infamously at the high school, where all the buses were loaded with students and then stood unmoving for an inordinate period of time, until being erroneously misrouted. Communications broke down almost instantly, sans any real emergency. Clearly, none of the so-called authorities or best-laid plans were functional on the most rudimentary levels.

    The response: a repeat simulated evacuation, so "simulated" that it didn't involve anyone doing anything, really -- no students evacuated, no buses filled, no real-world activity. That, too, failed.

    Hahahah! No matter. No problem. Pay that no mind. Never mind that in the case of a real emergency, our children would have been trapped less than five miles from Ground Zero. That the main evacuation routes, including interstate 91, would have also been irrevocably choked by vehicles, including parents bound for the pre-determined rendevous points the buses never would have arrived at (if the parents had a clue where that might be, given the simultaneous failure of outmoded broadcast communications and the fact that on the best of days cell phones don't function in much of the village, particularly the area around the school and adjacent routes). Never mind that, or the thousands of other dire effects rippling from the fatally flawed, demonstratably failed planned response from civil and corporate authorities.

    Entergy proceeds, and our state and local government indulges them, with minor obstacles and no real opposition. Corporate culture must be appeased, the beast fed.

    As we continue to see in our food chain and pharmaceutical industries (to name the two most apparent), the institutions supposedly designed, funded and sustained to protect the public good are in the pockets of those very industries they are supposed to monitor, and that corruptive erosion process has been embraced and lovingly nurtured by the present Administration. There is no regard for the public good in the current US government. Surely, the maladroit and sluggish leadership and response to Katrina demonstrates that once and for all, for all (the world) to see.

    It's excrutiating to hear our leaders talk of rebuilding New Orleans. This past February, my parents drove my wife Marj and I through the devastation from last summer's hurricanes in the Port Charlotte, Florida area: blocks and blocks of homes still gutted and abandoned. It was still an apocalyptic scene, punctuated by "Looters Will Be Shot" and the names of the insurance companies that failed the owners spray-painted on their ruined husks. Homes and businesses were still partially-covered by massive blue tarps blowing in the wind that Haliburton lashed and screwed to the structures (at a reported $5000 per structure), not a stitch of renovation or restoration done seven months after the hurricane had struck.

    Privatized, for-profit corporate culture doesn't know how to respond to such events: wars (Haliburton's and other contracted firms' mishandling of providing essential services to the military in Iraq has been abundantly documented over the past four years), natural disasters, etc. require government intervention and support infrastructures.

    There's no profit to be made from people who have been left destitute and homeless; they are no longer viable consumers. Vulnerable. Abandoned. Left behind.

    Our government is now so entrenched in the corporate culture and the lie of "free market" that it is incapable of reacting in any manner other than that of a corporation.

    Relevant to the VT Yankee situation I have mentioned, consider the failed evacuation and response to a simulated nuclear emergency in the timely context of this article from 2004, published in the National Geographic magazine, that most radical of leftist zines (the full article is
  • here).

  • Excerpting the article by Joel K. Bourne, Jr:

    ...It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. ...Those inside ...watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

    But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however -- the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

    The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

    Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

    When did this calamity happen? It hasn't -- yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

    "The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours—coming from the worst direction," says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast.... "I don't think people realize how precarious we are ...Our technology is great when it works. But when it fails, it's going to make things much worse."

    The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. "It's not if it will happen," says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. "It's when."

    (Thanks to Rick Veitch for sending me this link and material.)

    Though I have family and friends who were in Katrina's path and range (none, thankfully, at its center), it doesn't take any stretch of the imagination to picture something similar happening even here, way up north (or Way Down East) in New England. It did happen in '27, '36, and '38; as they are in Lousiana and Mississipi and Arkansas and Texas and Florida and everywhere in the Gulf, individuals responded with compassion and care, opening their doors and homes to those in need, communities mobilized to provide aid and assistance as soon as possible. In an area where geological time can be seen to move if one is paying attention (the Old Man of the Mountain taking his terminal slide), the coming of similar storms is an inevitability; as Penland put it, a "when," not an "if."

    When I see/hear/read of the Katrina survivors, I see/hear/read my children, my family, my friends, myself -- as should we all.

    But I'm not seeing/hearing/reading that from our leaders, save those living the reality in the Gulf Region. The appeals of outraged Gulf region mayors, governors, church leaders, who justifiably feel (have been) abandoned.

    You can debate all you want about what did or didn't happen on 9/11, what the present President and Administration did or didn't know, did or didn't respond to, were or weren't culpable for.

    Katrina was a known quantity before she had a name; the potential for disaster was known; and nothing, but nothing, was done.

    (One can only shudder at the realization that our crippled, depleted public health care system is now facing its greatest challenge, and those in power have only further depleted its ability to respond since 9/11. Look closely at the plight of those two New Orleans hospitals, an ongoing ordeal in which doctors are feeding one anoher with IVs to survive -- know that one of them is a mere half-mile from National Guard and other rescue operations outposts, and shudder.)

    This is as massive a failure of government and betrayal of its stewardship and responsibilities as one can imagine. It is clear, blatant and horrific evidence of the complete bankruptcy of the political philosophies that have labored for so long and with such unapologetic vigor and zeal to dismantle the very government policies, institutions, and infrastructures prior generations constructed in the wake of similar catastrophic events.

    While President Bush struts and puffs and promises and pontificates and mouths inanities (once again, on vacation as disaster struck) and Condy Rice shops for shoes in NYC, we needn't evoke Nero fiddling as Rome burned -- we're there.


    As I mentioned two days ago, cartoonist Al Nickerson has initiated a discussion on the Creator Bill of Rights, hosting a website dedicated to the ongoing exchange of letters. While discussion has spread to other venues (including the Pulse and comicon boards), it seemed vital to stick with Al as the central venue for this debate, if only for the sake of coherent and civil virtual-conversation. The link is a permanent fixture of this blog, at right, and I urge anyone interested (particularly those of you making livings, or aspiring to/working at making your livings, from writing and/or drawing) to check it out. Though comics industry pundits (such as they are) seem to consider the Bill a curio, at best, its importance and ongoing relevance seems self-evident to me -- I won't belabor the point here, suffice to say that issue, among many others, is wrestled with in the exchanges at Al's site, and it's recommended reading.

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    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    I'll write more later today, but suffice to say now it's hard to grasp the enormity of the devastation in Louisiana -- a part of the country I've twice had the pleasure of exploring, including a trip through Houma researching Swamp Thing in '84 -- and the crippling blow that's been dealt by the raw forces of nature. It's been a long time since New England saw anything close -- the flood of 1927 (which I studied at length last year, including viewings of all the extant film footage), the hurricanes of 1936 and especially 1938 -- but we never saw anything like Katrina. New Orleans has essentially been swept from the face of the planet (though reports from the French Quarter indicate that venerable core of the city stands intact), and our leaders are busily downplaying the economic consequences with the same indifference they've downplayed the reality of the wars they've so blithely squandered a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives on. No joke: as a nation, we should have been saving for "a rainy day," eh?

    On the home front, my 19-year-old son Dan called home last night with the heartbreaking news one of his friends had died in an apparent drowning accident. Dan's home with me now, and we're going out for some lunch soon; it has shaken him and his circle to the core.

    Just two weeks ago, he was at a farewell party for a friend he's known since age three who was leaving for Iraq; I never thought I'd see my son going through these kinds of things, but here we are.

    Here we all are, in so many ways.

    The warnings from awake economists during Bush's first three months in office that we would be seeing increasing poverty and Dickensian destitution on a growing scale are manifesting in all corners of our country, Vermont included.

    On the most mundane level, it's coming home. Driving the eight or so miles to Brattleboro yesterday, I passed our local store at 1 PM and regular gas was $2.59; I decided to fill up on the way home. When I returned at 2:30 PM, regular had gone up to $2.85. A station in town was closed with "NO MORE GAS" signs up and their pumps blocked off; in a heartbeat, I remembered scenes of the 'even/odd' license plate lines in New Jersey in the late 1970s, the fistfights among people waiting in lines for hours, even days, the closed gas stations one would pass in search of somewhere to fill up.

    We haven't learned a fucking thing, have we?

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