Friday, October 29, 2010

America. (Positive Post. Promise.)

I've written for the most part, about what I hate about America. It's not anything special, just a restatement of the principles that perhaps cutting people's feet out from under them and then asking them to jump is not entirely fair. You can come up with an example where America has loudly squawked about human rights or "justice" on an international stage while undermining them just behind the curtain. It's not hard.

But this post isn't about that. The Daily Show and the Colbert Report are holding a rally in DC and it would be the kind of thing I would drop everything to be at, were I in America, and of course: I'm not. My instinct is to dismiss it as something that's bound to fail. It's not affiliated with a political party, though the projected crowd probably skews left, it's on a Saturday afternoon, and they're doing all the things that aren't supposed to be done if you want people to show up.

It's a rally about being reasonable and rejecting the hyper-toxic media landscape. That said, one encouraging sign is Fox News. They're terrified of this thing, which means at least they believe it's something that's gonna have an impact that will be felt. That's a good tea leaf to read.

Yes, the Huffington Post will be there, which is not encouraging. They're the leftist Drudge Report, which is…no good, and they've pledged to have "as many buses for as many people want to go." Hoo boy. But whatever. In honor of the hope of the Rally To Restore Sanity working out, I'm going to talk about an American thing I'm proud of. For me, America's the ability to make yourself in an image you choose and the terrifying freedom of possibilities that comes with it. That, and as a beacon of hope and charity. Thus, I'm going to be talking about a German born mutant with a tail and pointy ears.

Nightcrawler, (left) is a teleporting, blue-skinned X-Man with horns and tail. He died recently in current continuity. (Explaining how will take us off track.) He was born in Germany and worked as acrobat, until his mutation and then he became a freak show. A Catholic, the X-Men picked him up after his mutation and he subsequently saved people literally and figuratively as a matter of course. It was in America that he was begrudgingly accepted and joined a group with a mission where he turned the negatives of his life into positives. America, took him in and set him among like minded people so he could do good.

I mean, yes, the outreach and the kindness based in solidarity is...what I want from America. Not in front of you, or behind you, but next to you. And Nightcrawler is the best example of that. He's not the incredible, Kryptonian strength of America, but the kindness and the terrifying freedom that comes with being able to rewrite your life. He's an immigrant (obviously) that's accepted by America and does amazing things in it. That's why he can stand as an X-Man next to scared mutants who have been shunned and attacked and shot at and say it's going to be okay. He's been through it himself.

That's what I want America to be, for God's sake. I want America to be a terrifying blue monster that can appear anywhere with the smell of brimstone and the sound of BAMF. I think you know what I mean, though. I want America to be that outstretched hand, reassuring the terrified and paranoid that it's going to be okay, a voice that knows this not from believing it hard enough but instead from having lived through it first.

That's what Nightcrawler is, though. He's a guy that's lived through persecution and now helps other people escape it, reassuring them, as kindly as he can and absolutely sincerely, that it's going to be okay. That's an America I can believe in.

Today's song is Rocket From the Crypt's My Arrow's Aim. RFTC is a band that plays traditional rock and roll like it was always meant to be sleazy and toxic. Think an evil Screaming Jay Hawkins, backed by a band of enablers, having just hotwired the vehicle of their careers. Got that image in your head? Throw it away. Here's all the words you need to know: "My arrow is shot. My aim is you."

This is a live version of the love song, meant to played full blast from whatever speakers you've got. Go.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Time and the Hawkman

The title is a play on the name of Batman #700, a celebration of Batman, working in all of the Batman rogues gallery, somehow, with an especially great way of mentioning Mr. Freeze. Neil Gaiman said in an interview that he'd love to call up DC and do twelve months on Hawkman. He's drawn to Hawkman because of his goofy old weapons, huge wings and his museum job. And this, in perhaps the best tie in, was part of him trying to describe his two issues of Batman, cleaning up for his good friend, Grant Morrison. Grant Morrison killed Batman, and Neil Gaiman did the burial and eulogy. Man, killing Batman with one of your best friends has gotta be a great feeling. But this is about time.

Time as the clock is something I'm never going to get ahead of in the case of Subsidized Sincerity, but then again, I set the whole thing up this way. No quarter. Just me versus the clock. Of course, the clock is a different way of saying me. I'm removing my own self-pity of "not feeling" an update. It keeps me from being precious and it keeps me desperately producing something. Time is me. Or, time is a part of me that I ignore at my own peril. I need something to get me to keep producing something.

I need something to show for the time I'm spending here. (Here being defined as broadly as possibly.) So I write it. It also being defined as broadly as possible. People have the opposite problem, I guess, but at the moment, I worry about about being put out rather than burning out. I used to do the same thing when I was working out. I can always go a little further, just to the :15, right, which inevitably would lead to being just a couple meters from a landmark, which isn't that much further either, and trying level one out would knock the other out of wack, which would keep propelling me forward.

Time is a thing that can be used or not. I don't want to be remembered for being too lazy to try. I understand something I believe to be important: I'm going to embarrassed of everything I do right now in five years, so I may as well try to be proud of myself now. Time is a unit, something to be grasped and converted. Or in other words: Time is a resource and it's constantly being spent. Man, what the hell am I buying? Assuming, for the moment, that I'm buying something in five years I'm going to shake my head at regardless of what, then what's left (at least) to me, is buying something that's not just going to make me happy, but something that's going to make me better at what I want to do.

Which, in case you haven't figured it out yet, is thinking and communicating via the written word in English. To this end, I haven't played enough videogames, read enough books, listened to enough music or watched enough movies. I haven't played Silent Hill 2. I haven't played Fatal Frame 2. I know, also, that I'm never going to have consumed enough to satisfy me, but if I wait till I feel comfortable, I'll never get started and forfeit the chance to have done it in the first place.

And so: Spend my time doing it. Now. At this nanosecond. I'm remembered enough for playing it safe and I'm going to be embarrassed by this time whatever I do. I wish I had something more positive to end this with, but I have 10 minutes until my window is over, and unfortunately, time marches on...

Today's song is called the Slowest Drink At the Saddest Bar On the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City by the Lawrence Arms. It's also about doing something with your time, though from the perspective of someone who was scared of changing and took a shower just to pass the time. "What will it say on my snow-covered grave? He had it all. He let it all just slip away," is the relevant lyric. You'll know when you hit the moment, trust me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Many Unpleasant Things

I don't see 2666 being beautiful yet. It's devastating, for fucking sure. The repetition of the women getting murdered hasn't lost it's punch. Hell, I just read the sentence "in August 1995, the bodies of seven women were found" and I think immediately, 2666 is going to fucking start now, finally.

On a mundane note, I wish the book was printed on heavier stock, because at the moment it's paper thin and I don't underline or make notes anywhere for fear of tearing the pages. Then again, when you've got 900+ pages (893 of story, a couple of explanation, and the title page, plus errata), my guess is it adds up quickly.Then again, this is a first edition in paperback. I'm late to the game, so this is what I get. More to the point, I choked down the above $10 price at a Borders of all places, so I don't get to talk.

ANYWAY. Back to the story.

For the last seventy some pages, the story's been based around a detective that is slowly, starting to investigate the deaths of the women. And they've been dying on at the clip of one or two a month. But I interpret the finding of seven bodies in August 1995 as the author saying and here we go. For real this time. That said, I either need a longer attention span, because these 3+ page paragraphs are starting to get to me.

It's only dawning on me now that from here on out, the rape and murder part is only going to get more pronounced.This is not one of those good thoughts. At all. I soldier on.

Aaaaaaand we get to the prison rape bit. I was right. Uh. I'm not going through the mechanics, but I imagine there's an Oz episode or two that will educate you, if you desire such a thing. I would usually be happy I'm right, but prison rape isn't really, the kind of thing I'm stoked on.

I explained 2666 as a book that's crazy to a person reading the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Original title of Girl With…, by the way: Men Who Hate Women.) I read a bit of errata in the back of the 2666 before I started reading '66 in earnest and it talked about a book that swirled around its center. I think of it like a spiral. Hell, there's three whole stories before I get to the story's center, Santa Teresa.

The story about the critics/professors was the furthest from Santa Teresa. I think they only heard about Santa Teresa, or at least went there and didn't stick around. The story about the widowed philosopher had the philosopher move close to (or in) Santa Teresa, but most of the story was about the wife's hitchhiking to meet up with a man she slept and a book that drove the widow crazy. Part number three, about the black reporter, was the person who spent the most time in the city, covering a boxing match that was over (as it had to be) painfully quickly. He ended up being with the philosopher's daughter after guns were drawn and violence was going down.

And now, we're in the city proper where we see from the perspectives of the detectives, the finding of the dead women. There was vaguely mention of it in the first story, more talking around it in the second story and substantiated discussion in the third. I wouldn't call this a story that unfolds so much as a story that is spiraling, maybe downwardly, towards its horrible and truthful center.

Today's song: Silhouette by Thrice. It would be Under A Killing Moon, but, it seems like the murders of women are going to get worse, so I want to save it for when it gets even more out of hand.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Vampires. No Twilight, I Promise.

More station identification time. I don't like the way the Theory Of Justice entries are coming out, so I'm moving them to Monday, to give myself the weekend to chew over the text. Non-Theory of 2666 updates will be Wednesday and Friday. Also: I will be galavanting around Europe come the middle of November so there will hopefully be at least one guest post.

My (incomplete) history of vampires is as follows.

the Count
Count Chocula
Interview with the Vampire.
Blade 3
Vampire: the Masquerade
Vampire State
BPRD 1947

I think of vampires as frightening beings that paralyze. The fact that they could blend in with people and could in fact, be those people is terrifying to me. They could turn on you at a moment's notice and change your life completely. They're terrifying because of their capacity to lurk and seduce. Maybe it's different for other people. Or, maybe that's what makes them really cool for other people.

But after re-reading BPRD 1947 for maybe the twentieth time (it's the only collected edition I have in this country) I realize my history with vampires is a little longer than I recollect offhand.

Like many American children, my introduction to vampires was Sesame Street's Count, a vampiric hand puppet that taught counting. (It made sense at the time. I can't explain it now using logic. There was a vaguely Eastern European accent.) He was nice. He was far less sinister and and far more silly. Chapelle's Show reinterpreted the Count as a pimp, which, (god damn it, why can't I find it on youtube?) makes significantly more sense and is easier to explain using logic.

The next one that I can put a name to is Count Chocula. He wasn't sinister at all, but instead laughable. Okay, I'll take that back. He was probably sinister to my teeth. Aside from that? Nah.

Interview with the Vampire. I read it. I don't remember much of it except being scared by it. I remember it being a page turner and that these beings were hundreds of years old with more history and labyrinthine motivations than anyone could understand who wasn't marked for death. It was my first taste of the real thing. I remember this one being real good.

Blade Trinity was the only Blade movie that appealed to me, mostly because I was a teenager a time when a movie designed to appeal to a teenager would appeal to me. My point: Who wouldn't want to be an untouchable badass firing kill shots at evil creatures with a kickin' soundtrack? (Embarrassing emphasis added.)

The torture scene (NSFW, 2is minutes in) was surprisingly effective for a PG-13 movie and not just because the Green Lantern Deadpool Ryan Renolds was shirtless. It was a scene that was baudy and scornful. It contained the ubiquitous ultimate ante, an innocent white girl, but played with a cunning twist: The girl wouldn't be murdered, but instead, Ryan Renolds' character (a former vampire) would be turned again and starved for blood so bad that the girl would be thrown in for his cell and he would feed on her.

Yeah, the ante being we're gonna make you kill a girl while you in theory have some self-control is hard to call. (I think she was five years old. I don't remember why.)

Dublin, I heard that Bram Stoker based his visions for vampires on the people that all had some disease that made them sickly and pale. That's really it. I don't remember the name of the disease, even. Other things happened.

Vampire: the Masquerade is a much longer story, which intersects with the continuity at different points. I'll hit the high notes. Senior year in college, being an outsider to a group that really caught the blood sucking bug.

The best moment, though, was being at Gen Con 2009 and having a discussion with a person twice as old as I was about whether vampires would move if they didn't agree with the way a particular community was run, in a mobile home that was re-converted for a local blood drive in the convention center.

(Our doctors knew we were crazy. I didn't care. I ate their sugar and drank their orange juice. Suckers.)

I thought yes, he thought no. We didn't get much further than that. Looking back on it from a gameplay perspective, it would probably mess with the mechanics of the game if vampiric citizens just left a city without starting a crazy violent feud. The game wouldn't be exciting without conflict and the easy way to fuel that conflict is to give vampires a limited number of safe spaces to be in and make those safe spaces constantly up for grabs.

Hell: Why couldn't vampires move? It would make life easier for the citizens. I forget what his counter argument was, but I distinctly remember the feeling of embarrassment and pride of being brazenly obtuse and nerdy in front of people who weren't in on it.

Next in line, and almost recently, the third and final arc of Captain Britain and the MI:13, Vampire State. There's so much to say, but I'll just say for the story, Dracula's back and he's undone by his own arrogance. As for images, I'll tease this: vampire ICBMs fired from the moon. Paul Cornell's writing keeps it all running at a speed that says drive it like it's stolen, while Leonard Kirk's art plays it straight, drawing the figures in a traditional comic book style no matter how ridiculous the posture.

Finally, BPRD 1947. Vampires and the supernatural are omnipresent and terrifying threats in the Hellboy universe. There's an apocalypse that always barreling down on the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development in the present day, but as the title suggests, this is set in the immediate post-WWII European environment. Turns out a vampire has been killing Nazis out in the open, and the newly formed operation is dispatched to kill the vampire.

The vampire dies via having his throat slit, with the killer saying the only thing that could undo his fellow vampires is hubris.

But there's one part of the vampires that makes sense to me and that is their taking the long view on just about everything. They will live longer than us, know exactly how to attract us and how to romance us. (Yes, especially that way.) But there's always a distance between themselves and the human bodies, the knowledge that we will burst, bloom and wither and die all in the time it takes a clan to set up a city.

It's...a cagey reminder, at least for me, of my place, the limits of my affectations but also that I am going to die and I do not know when. Yes, tomorrow isn't promised, but as Life Long Tragedy would say, it's sure as fuck coming. I should get to work on that tomorrow, then.

See you there.

I've managed to avoid Phoenix. Apparently they're huge. Never heard them, don't care. But! I do like Daft Punk, and when they show up at a Phoenix gig in Madison Square Garden., I pay attention. (Perhaps Madison Square Garden is a bit big for a gig, but that's an objection based on vocabulary choice.) I have a history with Daft Punk and writing, so here's a tip of the cap to that history. Plus, watch the drummer around 5 minutes in. He is fucking stoked to playing with Daft Punk and it shows.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If You're Looking For a Patsy...

There's a comment at the end of chapter...5 of A Theory of Justice, which I think...well. Here's the best and worst part about utilitarianism: Utilitarianism does not take seriously the difference between persons. That, for Nietzsche, is kind of important.

In glib terms the difference is basically, between a single human being and dudes, generally. Or, in even more glibly: What I'm calling the inverse ninja theory. One ninja is a terrifying, unseen menace that can kill and destroy without sound at terrifying speeds. One hundred ninjas are chumps.

I can't put it any clearer: the difference between people returning passports and stealing from mom and pop stores, the difference between Toshiro Mifune and, uhhhhh, me. En masse, people are really goddamn stupid. 100 million Bon Jovi fans can't be wrong, quoth one ad campaign. On their own, people can be shockingly prescient and fun to spend time with. The difference between people in aggregate and people as persons. The difference between people, anonymously, and persons, individually.

(Note now that Anonymous is a whole other breed and could easily be its own philosophical post. Hrm. Can I do that? I mean, I can, but, if I stop doing Theory of Justice explicitly now...what was it? Breaking a rule is only hard the first time. Yeah. Not 'till I'm done.)

Of course, the difference between people could be terribly little. But it's unknown or, at least, not easily converted into math. The math is what utilitarianism is based on, the idea that good and bad can be boiled down and added up, according not just to number of people but sheer volume of good or bad to all parties.

Nietzsche, of course, would have a heart attack. That individual spark, he believes is the last hope for human beings caught up in the gigantic, globe spanning system.

Today, the best example of people trying to get out of a globe spanning system, or at least one that leaps to mind quickly, is the Tea Party. Their philosophy boils down to less government means more freedom. Everything else spins out of that. They're scared, basically, of the idea that citizens need government to protect them from forces beyond the control of the citizens and believe that by returning to the practices of a time when the world was less connected, it will better insulate the United States. It won't, of course.

But together, they're reduced to pathetic caricatures with lots to talk about, but nothing to say in crazy costumes. Maybe they'd be better when taken individually, I think Niezstche would hope. Utilitarians would throw it out and seeing as one of their primary politicians is not clear on where the American Constitution talks about the separation of Church and State, I think the joke might finally be on Nietzsche.

Bad Religion's Better Off Dead is a song that's almost certainly about a failed relationship now becoming poisonous, but it's applicability here is in one line: If you're looking for a patsy, why not try the entire human race? Otherwise, it's a fantastic punk song, with a chorus that centers around the bitter lyric "the next time I create the universe...". It's under three minutes. It rips. Press play already.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't Think Too Hard

I was writing about vampires, but that's pushed back to Friday. Here's why. It was moving, but not quickly. I ended up putting that down and do other things. I read two pieces over dinner by students about a) there were no stores that sold music in the American form and b) a girl who really, really needed her cell phone.

It made me shake my head and I felt that I had to write something in response. 45 minutes later, I got this.
Rome is Rome, and if I'm going to enjoy it, I can't be thinking about ways to abscond back to the U.S. for other things, I'll miss what's cool about Rome, and post-facto, make the trip worthwhile. Vampires pushed back to Friday.

I'll admit it: It is killing me being in Rome.

Long Island hardcore cultists Crime In Stereo are breaking up and I'm not gonna be at either of their last shows. Planes Mistaken For Stars, a bawdy, feral aphrodisiac of a band, is reuniting for two shows, one of 'em in Chicago. Envy, a transcendent, colossal screamo band that tours America about as often as we elect presidents is coming through with a support bill of three bands, each one good enough to upstage their Japanese benefactors every night.

Batman and Robin, the best Batman comic in 30 years, (think this: the stakes of the Dark Knight, neon-colored in terms of hue and mentality, written by the industry's resident mystic, with art from artists that have long since priced themselves out of anything but covers) is being published right now and there's not a power in the world that can get my hands on those issues. I am living in the middle of a period that will be cited in 20 years using words like historic, game-changing and mind-blowing.

And I'll admit it: I shouldn't be giving a damn about any of it.

This is not why I came to Rome and even if it was, I'd be missing the point. I will miss these things, and if I am to make sure that missing them was worth something, I must act as though I have already missed them and fling myself into the Roman culture headlong. Not that I'm advocating for complete mental transition, mind you. November 10, Bane (the house band of my heart) is rolling through and nothing short of actionable evidence of a chemical attack on Rome's center will keep me from the venue.

I am here, and therefore, not there. In return, I have gotten to go to the Coliseum, the Forum, a lounge based on the one from A Clockwork Orange, seen Rome at 3 a.m. from a well lit bridge, ate gelato meters from the Vatican remarking, yes, this is the dolce vita, slipped into one of Rome's oldest neighborhoods for a drink and god knows that I'm forgetting. (Though, if I do have to give a favorite experience, listening to Slayer in St. Peter's would climb embarrassingly high on the list.)

I haven't yet been robbed or roofied, either, so Rome retains its charm.

The point is this: All the things I miss I will be able to find when I get back. Odds are good both the Crime In Stereo and Planes gigs will be on the internet by the time I return to the troubled stateside, there's already a full set from Envy in NYC uploaded to youtube and I can be certain of an entire day back in the Windy City just catching up with a fellow comic nerd getting me up to speed with the happenings in that hard luck town, Gotham.

And, all those things I've done? They've more or less been in a guidebook. Now that I'm sort of comfortable with the city, who knows what I'm going to find next. Anyway, until I have to go back to my creature comforts and obtuse rock bands, I'll see you on the 990.

I'll admit another thing: I slept on Astronautalis. Hard. I missed him perform at my fucking college coffee house, because I was beefing with the radio station that brought him through. I didn't listen until 2009 when I heard Handmade Handgun on P.O.S.' Never Better. It's a hidden track on the disc, and has some of the best lines on the record. Case in point: "I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't, and be damned if I end up playing Job with God's loving hand on my throat."

Anyway, what's past is prologue. What's now is a mashup of his greatest hits to "top of the pops" kind of stuff and the first track on it (Do You Believe In Life After Thugs) is a full new set of verses, blistering and ready to strip paint. "Rappers miss the subtle stuff, like reading braille with bandaged hands…Baby it's a farce, the indie artsy fable, Warner owns us all, Google ADA label."

Yes, turn this up.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Still Reigning A Little South of Heaven

Last night, I asked a bushy haired stranger, speaking broken Italian and flawless American, wearing a Slayer tshirt the only question that ever ought to be asked of a man wearing wearing a Slayer tshirt: Reign in Blood or South of Heaven?

(Hrm. If you don't know Slayer, then perhaps you've heard of the phrase death to false metal. [It was said by Manowar, but that takes us far afield.] If you think of the kind of perspective that would lead to the phrase death to false metal, Slayer is about what you'd get, a band devoted to its niche without reservation or jokey jokey distance.)

There are many answers to the question. Almost all of them are wrong. Occasionally you'll get some smartass saying Soundtrack to the Apocalypse. They are to be thrown out, since live CDs and compilations don't count. No one in their right mind should say anything, roughly Divine Intervention forward. Reign In Blood is the record that invented the thrash metal genre, a genre that cut the bloated theatrics out of metal with a grimy hardcore punk razor, leaving only the muscle, bone and unvarnished, blinding fury common to both styles. South of Heaven expanded it, perfected it, slowed it down and used it as a leaping off point.

Both have arguments in their favor, but it's a trick question. There is no right answer. Reign in Blood would not be the masterpiece and acquired the imitators that it did unless Slayer produced something which proved Reign In Blood was more than a door leading somewhere and not a enthusiastic dead end. But those people who swear South of Heaven know it could not exist and it would not be so exciting unless something game changing preceded it.

They could not exist without the other. And here I am, not going to a very modern, fashionable, museum because I want to write about Slayer. Slayer, for god's sake. They're an 80's band, right? They're so over. Their influence is that they are unflinchingly themselves, like as Henry Rollins put it, that they are encased in a block of ice between records.

Of course, I didn't have time to say all this at the time. He said he had a wife and I needed to pee. By the time I finished, he was walking out, we exchanged pleasantries, and walked for a couple moments between other people leaving bars. It was at that point, that he and I realized one of the focuses of art, that it gets people talking and hopefully connects them.

I am trying to appreciate old art in lieu of going to very new art museum. (Okay, it's a museum. So it's not that new. But they'd probably turn their noses up at anything less recent than '92.) Certainly they'd laugh at Slayer, or include them as a novelty, a backhanded compliment to a genre they wouldn't consider real music anyway. But I enjoy art that is meant for more than to be criticized as to what it contains or how it contains it, but art that helps foster a connection between the artist and the audience or different members of the audience.

The hope is that in last night, I did not just talk about a piece of art with a guy at a bar, but a person with a shared experience and that the connection (if strange) is something that can be relayed more than an opinion based on an educated guess of the artist's motives. Or, that instead of being an anonymous person, appreciating art passively. For it to really take an effect with me, I like art to be much more bracing.

(For example, I enjoyed Redaction Paintings and Declassified by Jenny Holzer, but that's a story for another time.)

Slayer. Let the music (and the above writing, of course) speak for itself.

Raining Blood. Yes. The song I listened to in St. Peter's. The song that, well, it's a thing. Point is, it's huge and it's a, if not the definitive Slayer song. This was the song used to horrify hippies in an episode of South Park. Understand, the one thing those hippies couldn't stand? Thrash metal, so the South Park crew cranked Raining Blood as loud as it would go. You've been warned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Hate The Way I Get When I Can't Handle Bad News

I made a passing reference to a person being turned insane in 2666, and I'd like to return to it here, as I think it's a thing worth mentioning. The main character (or at least the reader's POV) is Amalfitano, a philosophy professor who married a crazy woman that left him and their daughter without warning. She returns in the early middle portion of the book, briefly, then leaves again, leaving (we are led to believe) a book by Dieste. Amalfitano is cursed by the book (or his ex-wife's memory attached to it), paralyzed, he can't throw it away or leave it somewhere never to be found, so what he does is he puts the book on the clothesline, as if it needs to dry out.

"For a while, he didn't move, breathing with his mouth open, leaning on the horizontal bar of the clothesline. Then he went into the hut as if he were short of oxygen, and from a plastic bag...he took out three clothespins...and with them he clamped the book and hung it from one of the cords and then he went back into the house, feeling much better."

Bolano notes that the idea is Duchamp's, apparently referring to this piece. Amalfitano's daughter asks why he didn't take it down and he can't give her an answer.

Applying that to me, the private point of Subsidized Sincerity is my own book on the clothesline. I don't think anyone ever visited Eleven Names after Zach and Tom left, but I just kept writing because I thought through sheer force of my will i could keep it going. I was wrong. Looking at Subsidized Sincerity now, though, there's no comments, and I frankly don't have the heart to go looking for pageviews, because I get the feeling it's all me.

Not that comments should be a barometer for worthiness of a project, just for a measure of feedback. So at this point I'm doing it for myself. And why am I doing it? To one up Zach, somehow. Why? Because I'm childish and can't let a good project and idea just die. My barometer for that, hilariously, is number of things written for Eleven Names versus Subsidized Sincerity. We had a blow up fight once, in the middle of Eleven Names about quantity versus quality. I was quantity, he was quality. He said that if we keep putting out quality posts, people will keep coming back. (This is a good point.) I said, well, if we don't stick to a schedule, people won't come back and if that means that an update doesn't get another layer of polish, fine. There's another bite at the apple in seven days and people will know when to come back, as opposed to returning whenever they remember we exist.

That I'm committed or at least believe the endeavor to have worked when I "beat" Eleven Names on quantity, is something. I'm not sure what.

The number for Subsidized Sincerity, including this post is 22. The number for Eleven Names is 266. (Hello theme.) Hell, 266 isn't even a real number. There's at least 10 drafts in there, plus 10ish total posts in the beginning trying to figure out how the software works. Let's say 246. And that's including other people's posts on Eleven Names. My contributions, is maybe 75, maybe 100. I think, just by virtue of all the things I did when Zach and Tom stopped, I've done the bulk of Eleven Names writing.

And madness is going back to these things for the well of inspiration and not expecting it to poison me at 1 a.m. when I'm alone. Madness is going over the same things and expecting things to change. (Madness is also a band. They're quite good. But that kind of defeats the purpose of the post. Shhhh.)

Then I go to my AIM chat logs from a couple years ago (the heyday of Eleven Names, in a cruel twist of fate) and see all the things I saved with the idea that I'd come back to later on to try to improve myself. It hardly ever works like that. It's a folder filled by and large, with my failures and the things people think of me and don't tell me directly.

This is a terrible idea and also madness. It compounds my anger with the interest of more self-loathing. I should delete the entire folder, but I don't. I stew in it for a couple minutes, until I remember Brandi's transcendent sunburst in praise of irrationality or "fire under my ass": Inspiration only lasts a few rounds.

I don't nuke the folder, but I look at the folder of my disappointments and failures and I close it. I chew, with yellowed teeth, over the comment that I'm like a baby bird and I can't live on my own. They're right. Most of my best Eleven Names pieces were written because those were the one of the few things I took control of in my life. The rest, I divested myself of control over. I made terrible mistakes. (Which in theory is what college is for.) I've tried and I've failed. Miserably.

When I put it in those terms, I remembered a Samuel Becket quote, paraphrased. Try. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (What it actually is is Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.) Reducing that, I get And where do I remember that from?

Oh, right.

The founder of Issue Oriented, my friend and editor over there, Ronen Kauffman was in a band called Even from thousands of miles away, my friends, through their work, somehow, unwittingly, take care of me. I am saved by their backwash, turning off the computer, squeezing out toothpaste from a surprisingly slender tube and going to bed with a smile on my face.

Here. Have the antidote to all the poison I took last night, a silly little video from The Wonder Years, a band I avoided because I heard they were a New Found Glory stand in. Watching this, I remember how much I liked New Found Glory years ago AND why I still love the much maligned pop-punk genre to this day.

The video has some really good spots of intertextuality (the bleeping of the word fuck, while putting the words fuck you on the screen over people's faces, and the "ding" of a smile from the terrible girl when the lyrics say the narrator expects her to be drunk when she calls. (Plus, the gang vocals of "we all say" over the chorus "my friends all say" just makes me smile.) Maybe this is peculiar to me being a guy, but there's an uplifting spirit to the video and the song that obliterates the clouds over my head.

Plus, I'm a sucker for that chorus and the "my friends help me out" vibe of the video. It's a little superficially similar to New Found Glory's video for My Friends Over You, which also took place in a wrestling ring.

Monday, October 11, 2010

NSFW. Neonomicon 2.

This isn't so much of a review as trying to exhale all these ideas in the corset of my chest and rib cage out. It's definitely not safe for work. (NSFW.) As in, turn back sharpish if you're on a work/shared computer. Like now.

For those of you sticking around: Hi. Yes, reading the writing of Kieron Gillen is beginning to influence my own. Finally. Anyway. This isn't one of those feel good posts. Away we go.

Neonomicon #2. We're only halfway through the story and there's an extended scene (read, the entire second half) where one of the characters gets murdered, and then while watching her friend's body is being dragged out, the other character is raped. By the way, there's gonna be no links to it, or pictures.

To paraphrase the greater internet, DO NOT WANT.

But in this case, it comes from a really, really surprising author, Alan Moore. Yes. Watchmen Alan Moore. Yes, Swamp Thing Alan Moore. Yes, that one, but more to the point, Promethea and fucking Lost Girls Alan Moore. Same one. From a technical perspective, it's foreshadowed kind of well, that in the beginning, one can kind of see that something bad is going to happen to the protagonists.

The requirement of the story, so far as I can tell, is that the place where the event happens, the water is some kind of crazy water that needs terrible things to happen to/around it to get it hot. Really. I'm sure it's used to summon Cthulhu somehow. In fact, were I to guess, that's the next plot point.

I'm surprised, genuinely, by the turn of events. I mean, yes Mr. Moore got me. I'm certainly shocked. I did not expect the thing that was happening here. I'm disappointed in Alan Moore, but then again, he's written a lot of things I admire, cherish and respect, so he as an astronomical bank of faith with me.

So what does that mean in real life terms?

First: It means that I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Second: It means that I'm willing to say that we're only now halfway through the story, so there might be something that, uhhhhhh, look, man, squick. Third: It's a Cthulhu story. Bad shit is supposed to happen. But is this beyond the pale? I've never read a Cthulhu story. This one is certainly out of my comfort zone.

Horror stories do not always mean disgust. They mean fear and terror. Two different things. For example: I don't remember murder rape being a thing Hitchcock leaned on when making his films. But back to Moore. It just seems out of character for him. I recognize his voice (or a particularly good sound alike) in the dialogue throughout, so I'd be willing to bet it's him.

Oh. Covering my ass, this could be a gigantic prank on the part of Avatar, slap Alan Moore's name on a story and seeing how people will contort to defend it. But I doubt it. They work with enough big names that I could see a stunt like this ruining their relationship with people like Garth Ennis or Warren Ellis.

This comes from a man who wrote, in all seriousness, one of the most careful, respectful books of pornography in the entire world, citing the idea that it is hardly ever seen from a female perspective, a guy who wrote an epic tale of love (Swamp Thing) and a guy who tried to create a female centered universe around the idea that ideas can be magic (Promethea).

And he wrote a murder rape. I'm not sure why. It's certainly not for the money. God knows if that was the case, he could get multiple million dollar offers from Marvel or DC just by saying "Hi, I'd be willing to do X number of issues on IP Y," or let his name be used on any of the movies based on his comics (V For Vendetta, Watchmen or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), I say, knowing I forgot at least one.

I'm shocked and disappointed in one of the most fertile minds of the medium. Remember what I said on Friday about being embarrassed by what I wrote five years ago? Maybe this will be the same way. Maybe I'll get over it. Maybe I'll get it. But right now, it's still ringing maddeningly in my ears and I want it out.

As a bit of a palate cleanser, listen to All I Do Is Win. It's a radio song (which means I never would have heard it on my own) and the chorus is so goddamn good, but the first time I heard it, I was on a boat, speeding over the water. Thus, every time I hear the song, I think of wind through my hair and getting lost in speed. Which, I would be willing to bet, is something that the composers had in mind when they wrote the song.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Getting Off Of Square One

There's a file on my desktop called The Question, James. (It's an .RTF.) Inside are less than 10 questions with what I'm going to be doing with all the free time on my hands this week and how I"m going to use that time to either do something good for me, or get ahead on my work or figure something out about myself.

It's more boundary pushing. Trying to force myself into it. Tonight, I'm going to one of the drinking places in Rome alone or with someone. But I'm fucking going, regardless of who else is or isn't joining me. The place I'm staying just lost 95% of the people there, and I'm one of the few sticking around for the next ten days, which means that I'll either go crazy or do something cool. On the plus side, this means that I'll go to a bunch of interesting places in the guidebook that I wouldn't have time to hit up otherwise.

They say "take advantage of the time", but I'm never really sure what it means aside from go to places that guidebooks like and do thinking that will produce results other people will like or at least find productive. Which, for the most part, is good. I finished another book, and not 2666, either. It's a book called Headspace: Sniffer Dogs, Spy Bees and One Woman's Adventures in the Surveillance Society by a Brit, Amber Marks.

It paints a real ridiculous picture of our State apparatuses, that they're all looking for ways to intrusively investigate as many people as possible in increasingly ridiculous fashion, ranging from sniffer dogs to "sabotage salmon." Yes, really. There were parts about Amber Marks in there, about her friends and acquaintances as she threads her way through security personnel and paranoid, suspicious MI5 types.

(Before I forget, I have to acknowledge how ridiculous it is that I already have a massive reading commitment on my plate and I still find a place on it for a book on surveillance through a non-traditional filter. It is pretty nuts. Bodies are dropping in 2666 like sideways rain and it's getting pretty hard to tell who's dead and who's alive.)

Turns out those surveillance services are all looking to nature for their inspiration, using ideas that just feel too ridiculous for the sci-fi of the 1970's. I don't want to spoil it, so I won't say much more than I already said, it's a funny reveal, chapter after chapter. They're also pretty indebted to pseudo-science, which makes me wonder, if this is what PhDs and smart people believe, what that I take for granted in 50 years will be considered ridiculous? Probably a lot more than is fashionable. I mean, I know I was dumb five years ago, but I'm existentially embarrassed having it pointed out to me. This time, 2015, I know I'll shake my head at what I'm writing right now. Science is always moving, but not always in the right direction, so this book provides a sweet little reminder not to get too excited about what I believe.

I never would have bought it otherwise, but it was on sale (I got that, a book on Al-Sadr in Iraq, by Patrick Cockburn and a copy of A Book of Five Rings, the classic by Miyamoto Musashi for five Euros) and the cover was really unique and the different bright colors lined up nicely. Published by Virgin Books, it's a strikingly informal read, but pretty well researched. Of course, the research isn't cited directly, but placed in the back of the book, which makes it hard to quote.

To be fair to those surveillance services, they live in a world where a threat can materialize out of literally anywhere with heads of state, who, as expressed by Tony Blair (talking to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show), sleep at night with the fear that any kind of chink in the armor will be exploited (or perhaps already has) by terrorists who will acquire any kind of weapons they can get their hands on, the more powerful, pernicious and destructive, the better.

They don't want it on their conscience that they let down the people they're administrating, says Blair. I believe him. I may be naive for believing that. But at the moment, I'm looking from the outside in. And maybe in the next five years, I'll know.

90's godfathers Face To Face playing Jawbreaker's Chesterfield King. Uhhhh, that should be a no brainer, listen to it now. But on the off chance it isn't, Chesterfield King is one of the first Jawbreaker songs I ever listened to. It is about a girl, not being able to kiss her, ending up at a 7-11 parking lot, where the narrator gives a toothless woman a cigarette. Anyway. Listen to it. It should make you D'awww.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Justice in Burning Houses?

One of the ideas I read in A Theory of Justice recently was something to the effect of "[The theory] enables one to distinguish what is good from what is right." I was trying to come up with a way to apply that and found nothing. Not a thing and then I remembered something I read earlier on today and I suddenly, I was saved. Here we go.

First things first. All of the facts I'm dropping are according to a Mother Jones article, viewable here.

I'm not sure how I avoided this juicy little tidbit until now. Apparently, a fire department truck in Obion County, TN, showed up to the scene of a burning building (the Cranick's), then watched it burn. On the face of it, that sounds horrible. A fire department is there to help people and save each other from drastic harm from fire. It's insulting, outrageous and unthinkable. This feels wrong on a gut level. The emotion I felt was disgust when I read the story.

Then the details come out.

Turns out the county doesn't offer a fire service and contracts out with the nearest town, South Fulton to provide one. South Fulton's fire department is subsidized by tax dollars, but where the Cranick's lived did not pay those taxes, but instead the county had an agreement with the town, that for $75 a year, the town's trucks would come out to Obion County. The Cranick's didn't pay the fee, and so calls that went to the fire department went unanswered.

Which, reading that last sentence, sounds horrible. It's callous. The fire department only responded when the fire reached the neighbors', a family who had paid the fee. Still, it feels ridiculous. The fire department sat back and watched it burn, because the guy hadn't paid a fee? That's unconscionable.

Well, the county did have a proposal in 2008 to raise funds to converge all the county fire departments and extend service to the county, by raising property taxes less than 1%, a meter tax increase or a subscription service. In short: the Cranicks knew they weren't covered in the case of fire by the county, and then refused a $75 annual fee to be covered by the city closest to them in the case of a fire. When the fire in the Cranick's began to endanger the nearby house which had paid the $75 fee, the fire department did show up to protect their house.

When asked why he didn't pay the nominal fee, Gene Cranick said: "I thought they'd come out and put it out, even if you hadn't paid your $75, but I was wrong." So: The family chose not to insure their property, and then when the thing they didn't have coverage for happened, they called up the fire department and the fire department had to tell them no, they hadn't paid the $75 annual fee, they weren't coming.

From other news reports, it doesn't sound like anyone was in the house when it was on fire, in which case the fire department probably would have responded, regardless of whether the Cranicks paid their fee or not. But, it's not good that the fire department came to the scene of the fire and watched, but it was the right thing to do. It proves a couple points:

1) If persons want play the odds on whether your house will catch fire and save $75 a year, they can, bug ought not to complain when the odds don't come out like they expect.
2) The fire department needs to be able to count on a set amount of money every so often to function. Paying as you go doesn't work for something that needs a lot of equipment and expertise at a constant state of readiness.
3) No, seriously, this is why disaster coverage exists, and perhaps ought to be impossible to opt out of, because no one plans for their house to catch fire.

The media gets a eye-popping headline out of this by painting the Cranick family as the only aggrieved party here, but really, the South Fulton Fire Department made a really tough call. They didn't want to be taken advantage of in a situation where no human lives were at risk. That doesn't make anybody evil and it certainly doesn't make the firefighters scum.

I'm not sure why it took me this long to use Auto Tune the News (it is exactly what it advertises itself to be) here, but the chorus of "it's the smoke, it's the smoke" works well here. It's not political so much as silly. Well, Senator Junkie Einstein begs to differ, but that's another story. Enjoy.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dead and Alive

This is a gimme. I realize I have little to say about (Tyler Clementi) the kid who killed himself because his so called friends taped him banging a dude, then outed him on the internet. I hope, hope that he doesn't get forgotten in 24 months and instead can transcend the media cycle and narrative of "well, our culture puts an incredible pressure on kids to conform and that's terrible, but we're not to blame and we're certainly not responsible."

I'm not hopeful.

Instead of dwelling on that, I'm going to talk about one of my favorite (straight, white, male) authors who writes comics with female characters who don't have double D breasts and and have their heads on straight. (As usual, images aren't mine, I make no claim to them and I forget where I got them from. I think they're done by JH Williams for the first two, Ed Risso (I think?) for the third, fourth by Denys Cowan [purple] and the fifth by Raphael Albuquerque.)

Greg Rucka's post-Marvel comics bibliography (and not just his work with the Question) is basically revelation after revelation. Look at his 10 issues of Batwoman. He created a new Bat-person who'se confirmation as a vigilante felt painful, real, earned and...written today. It's not Bruce Wayne, who'se origin story "parents die, find bats, fight crime" is pretty easy to plug into any context.

Kate Kane's trajectory follows the same arc generally. The straight-arrow redhead gets kicked out of the Marines for kissing girls, becomes shiftless, Batman helps her up, after fighting off a would-be mugger and this inspires her to fight crime. (Oh, and the art is so fucking pretty throughout the run.)

And that's not counting Gotham Central, a 40 issue series he did with Ed Brubaker, focusing exclusively on the cops in Gotham City that aren't called Jim Gordon, in which the shadow of Batman is its own character. He also wrote Wonder Woman for 30+ issues, which expanded her rogues gallery and made reasonable and comprehensible her labyrinthine backstory. An island of warlike women who refuse male company is kind of arcane and easy to relegate into a view that's entirely academic. Putting that island thirty miles off the coast of South Carolina instantly focuses your attention.

Now, add that to his Queen and Country series, a book about the unglamorous side of espionage including assassination of an old Russian KGB guy as a favor to the Americans, the 6 cups of black coffee, sitting all day in an ops room filling out the crossword puzzle, waiting for confirmation so you can give confirmation to someone that will give the confirmation to the people on the ground who are dodging the Taliban (this was written before 9/11, by the way) to get a list of informants out of the country after the journalist carrying it got executed.

(There's also Checkmate, but that's really just Queen and Country in the DCU.)

It's in all of those comics that there's a human cost to all of the terrible things that happen, but also the possibility of rising to face and defeat the challenge, even if we have to improvise a response to a threat that has waited decades to attack us (Wonder Woman), even if there's a psychotic Caroll-inspired terrorist with WMDs and a similarly inclined posse to back her up (Batwoman). He writes characters as three-dimensional persons. He writes those persons the way I want to see them, granular, tired, beaten, with occasional moments of triumph.

Then there's the Question as the thesis of all of the above. Renee Montoya existed in the Gotham City Police Department (in Gotham Central), rising in the series as she got outed as a lesbian, her life began to disintegrate and then her partner got murdered. She found the man responsible and didn't kill him. She just left the Gotham PD, to become shiftless and depressed as a private eye. It was when she was a self-destructive alcoholic that the Question (Vic Sage) paid her a visit and paid her a not inconsiderable sum to do private eye work. They got caught up in the crossover de jour (52) and by the end, Vic Sage had beaten back her self loathing and self-destructive tendencies, but he had lung cancer and died, held by Renee in the snow trying to take him home.

Not that it got any easier after that. At the moment, she might have some millennia long-curse, an after-effect of Darkseid's invasion attempt, which the whole DCU had to scramble against. There's more to those stories, but I leave those to be discovered by you. It's easy to get lost in his stories, because they're internally consistent and the characters feel like they've always existed in their universe.

Cold ending, but it's what I've got. Today's song is Jack's Mannequin playing Crashin. I wish I could find a studio version, but it's not available to me. This version is more immediate than the record, which has a strange distance evident in the recording process for what I'm used to for Jack's. Either way, it's catchy and the lyrics are good. Hopefully, you can live with screaming fans in the background.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Getting Around

Quick hits, because they both have to do with getting around:

1) A girl from Duke's class of 2010 collates her highly detailed fuck list, sends it as a Power Point to her closest friends and of course it gets spread on the internet. The guys, who were named, with pictures, didn't know and didn't consent to being publicly dissected. Fraternities do it all the time, she notes, but that doesn't make it good when she does it. Maybe there is good, though. Maybe it will make dudes think twice before adding to the community knowledge of girls' sexual habits. Maybe it will give them a new perspective on disrespecting people's privacy. I mean, it wasn't done for that purpose, according to the girl, it was done for a laugh amongst friends. But, there is possible good that can come from this.

I mean, this is basically the opposite number of the juicycampus debacle that was basically a clearinghouse for Greek flavored gossip and hearing about which girls are good in bed and which aren't, in that a girl is publicly, and in a way that's comprehensive, spreading privileged information about popular guys on campus, with her name attached to it. I hope her fifteen seconds of internet fame are good to her.

I guess she should have thought when she put it in that kind of a format that it's easy to send around that she probably ought not to make it that easy to spread. I mean, I'm not going to tell people not to talk to their friends about their experiences, but, for fuck's sake, don't put it in a format with an infinite half-life.

2) I finally found a comic book store that has comic books in English (Forbidden Planet, in case you were wondering), which means I had to spend a couple hours going on the hunt. (To be fair, I was looking for a place that had dice, and was told by a GameStop employee that it was a "manga store." But even that was close enough.) Once I closed in, it made me excited in a way that...I hadn't felt in months, like I was finally finding something that I had gone without for far too long. My steps were more sprightly and energized, as if the idea of possible D&D players and paraphernalia was replenishing my HP.

Man, I felt like I had warm blood running through my veins again. I don't mean that in some I'm a/the world is a vampire way, but recognizing a portion of my personality (and prioritizing my unfashionable desires) after a month plus of having it in little, impersonal, and untactile ways. Refreshed doesn't begin to describe it. An invigoration. A full-throated scream after being muzzled? Maybe this is what it feels like to be a toy and have a new set of batteries in.

And that's gotta have parallels. I think I know a couple.

This song is a female vocalized, sex-positive single. It's real good. It's also called I Get Around. I must have thematic consistency.

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